In my first blog post, I alluded to how difficult it was to get students to speak Spanish in class. I described my struggle with wanting students to speak perfectly and their struggle with actually using the target language in class.
After thinking a lot about this dilemma, I realized that I had to create authentic tasks that would promote real-life exchanges between students in Spanish. After teaching basic vocabulary, I provided students with a brief scenario and put them into pairs to practice speaking about said scenario. I realized that in creating these tasks, I had to find topics of conversation that would really get students going and pique their interest. I’ve always known that students love to talk, but I never made the connection that by providing them with topics that they wanted to talk about they would actually talk up a storm…¡en español!
The first task I created was very simple. It dealt with teaching students two simple words: mejor (best) and peor (worst).
After I presented these words, I taught students how to agree, disagree, or state their neutrality about a particular topic:
Once I did this, I then distributed individual dry-erase boards and markers to students. I went through a short presentation with provocative statements such as “Chris is the best teacher at ESA” and “Cardi B is the best singer”. Students then wrote out in Spanish on their boards whether or not they agreed with the statements posed.
Once we did this activity as a class, students completed a short exercise in which they listed some of their favorite things and people. All they had to do was fill in a few blanks. Here are some sample questions:
1) ____________________________________ es la mejor cantante. [____ is the best singer]
2) ____________________________________ es el mejor equipo de béisbol. [____ is the best baseball team]
3) ____________________________________ es el/la mejor profesor(a) de ESA. [____ is the best teacher at ESA]
4) ____________________________________ es el mejor borough. [____ is the best borough]
The last task that students were asked to do was the actual interpersonal task itself; this task was given on day 2 after all of the above vocabulary was taught. The class was given a rough outline of some talking points to be addressed. This scaffold facilitated authentic conversation between students, and it also fulfilled the requirements of an interpersonal speaking task that is at once unrehearsed and unscripted. Here is the rundown of the task itself:
Instrucciones: Using your classwork from yesterday and your notes, talk to 4-5 different people. SPEAK ONLY SPANISH! Have an unscripted conversation. Use the Spanish you know. Feel free to add more details.
|A) Partner 1||
|B) Partner 2||
|C) Partner 1||
|D) Partner 2||
Overall, students were really excited to get to chat with each other about topics that interested them. Furthermore, the vocabulary they learned is vocabulary they need to navigate real-life interactions with native Spanish speakers. This type of speaking practice that occurs within the classroom moves away from the teacher asking all the questions and reflects what actually happens in the world–people talk to one another without a linguistic mediator! This activity gave students the autonomy to practice their Spanish in a way that felt natural and spontaneous. Here is a clip of a two students engaging in the activity:
Students responded very favorably to this activity. They enjoyed having conversations with new words, getting to learn more about their classmates, and talking with different people. Clearly, the overall social aspect of this task was a huge success. Some students stated they wish they could have picked their own partners, while others wished they could have asked more questions to the same person. Since students were so excited to talk about their preferences, many said they wanted to learn more Spanish so they could add more details to their conversations!
One of the best outcomes of this lesson was that once it was created, I could apply the structure to other types of interpersonal tasks with different themes. I will follow a similar structure this week in class, but instead of getting students to talk about their favorite musicians, foods, etc., they will be read a short passage about their zodiac signs and discuss it. Here are the talking points students will have for this task:
Instrucciones: Talk to 4-5 different people. SPEAK ONLY SPANISH! Have an unscripted conversation. Use the Spanish you know. Feel free to add more details.
|A) Partner 1||
|B) Partner 2||
|C) Partner 1||
|D) Partner 2||
|E) Partner 1||
|F) Partner 2||
Eventually, I would like to be able to remove all the scaffolds for these conversations and provide students with conversation prompts that are not so prescriptive. I believe that once they have more practice engaging in tasks like the ones detailed here, they will be more comfortable with interpersonal speaking in class.
One of the major pieces of advice I would give to teachers trying this activity is to make sure students talk about topics that are of interest and relevant to them. When first rolling out such a project, students need to be guided with clear scaffolds so they can take risks and speak the target language as much as possible.
As I move forward with my own practice, I’m wondering what other topics/themes/vocabulary would be appropriate and necessary to present. I also wonder what might be good ways to assess this type of activity. Perhaps self-assessments and peer assessments could be a start. Listening in on individual conversations and then offering timely feedback on students’ discussions is another way to provide feedback for them.
In addition, I think this structure would be great to implement for end of year World Language roundtables. During roundtables, one teacher and 2-3 students speak in Spanish for roughly 15 minutes. The teacher assesses the proficiency level of students in order for students to pass to the next level of language study. To some extent, roundtables revolve around teachers volleying questions to students. Conversations like those described here might be a much better structure for the roundtable.
Embarking on the journey to get students to speak more Spanish in class has been an exciting one! The biggest mindset shift I experienced is that when given high-interest topics and tasks that are well-scaffolded, students will not only rise to the occasion and speak more Spanish, but they will also ask for more and more Spanish to fill in communicative gaps! Meaningful tasks make engaged students. Students who can actually put their Spanish to real-life use outside of the confines of worksheets and stilted teacher-student-question-answer-volleying experience a self-confidence boost and an incredible sense of self-efficacy. In effect, Spanish becomes a living, breathing vehicle for engaging and interesting conversation!
A link to the PPT from the lessons described can be found here and a link to all worksheets, handouts, etc. can be found here! Please comment on this post and let me know what you think! I look forward to hearing your feedback and questions.
The way that you’re thinking about what supports students need in order to have authentic, minimally mediated conversations reminds me of the work I’m doing in algebra seminars. Language supports are important because they help students understand what kinds of things they need to say and how to structure their ideas, but too much support winds up stifling the language and keeps students from doing the metacognitive work of structure. I loved seeing the structures you’re using and thinking about how they can be adapted for math. As you have said in the past, mathematics is another language unto itself!
Chris, I love how you’ve scaffolded the task to allow students to produce authentic conversations to talk about themselves in meaningful ways. Your level 1 students are so confident and comfortable taking risks, which is really the key to learning a new language. The type of structures you presented has endless possibilities and I see so many opportunities for student growth. You write that by using topics that are of personal interest, students “will also ask for more and more Spanish to fill in communicative gaps!” I’d love to know more about what your next steps will be. Will they have opportunities to do independent work where they themselves will research new vocabulary to use? I’m so excited to see how you and your students will continue to grow as a learning community in your collaborative efforts to acquire both new teaching strategies and new language skills, respectively.
Chris I love how you provided prompts and scaffolds to make the students feel more confident in their Spanish language skills prior to asking them to engage in the activity. This really resonates with me as a speech-language provider whose role in an academic setting is to facilitate language growth (through similar types of prompts — and eventually prompt-fading, as you mentioned) so that students can authentically participate in their classes. It’s clear from your post that the students felt not only engaged by the topics you chose but also supported by the prompts that you created. Learning a new language is tough, particularly for students who have underdeveloped stills in their first language, so I found myself thinking about my “speech kids” while reading your post and how much they must have benefited from this. I also thought about something that could be fun and engaging to try as a follow up to these types of activities.. what if students had to pick one person that they learned about in their conversations and “present” this to other students (Ex: “This student thinks the Yankees is the best baseball team. His/her favorite teacher at ESA is Chris. Etc.” En Espanol, of course!). I’ve never studied Spanish before (so correct me if I’m wrong!), but I was thinking this could allow them to practice different verb conjugations with the same key terms (mejor, peor, etc.) since they’d be speaking in the 3rd person instead of the 1st person?
One other thought – I know you have a Spanish lunch group once a week with staff. I wonder if you could ever get something like that going with students interested in developing/practicing their Spanish conversational language?!