Another oral-skills-enhancing instructional sequence for beginner to intermediate learners en route to spontaneous talk

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Please note: this post was written in collaboration with Steve Smith of http://www.frenchteacher.net 

1.Introduction

A point that I have often made in my posts is that for foreign language teaching CPD to be effective it has to go beyond simply describing a recommended learning activity, app or website. It also has to provide instructors with a solid rationale for its adoption and how it can be deployed effectively within a teaching sequence. Unfortunately, in my experience, this rarely happens – especially on teacher training courses.  This is the third in a series of posts which Steve Smith and I have written in order to address this perceived deficit in the area of oral proficiency development.

This post proposes a low-effort/high-impact teaching sequence centred on the use of a very versatile learning activity, ‘Find someone who’ (with cards) which, whilst having the development of oral proficiency as its main focus, does also provide practice in listening, reading and writing skills.

Whilst ‘Find some who’ is a fairly straightforward activity to conduct, how to prepare the students effectively for it and to exploit its full learning potential is much less evident. In what follows I suggest ways in which this can be done without too much effort on the part of the teacher.

  1. The task

Each student is given a different card with a number of details in the L1 or in the L2. In my version of this activity the cards usually have five to eight bullet points which look something like this:

  • Name: Jean
  • Date of birthday: 3rd May
  • Siblings: one younger sister
  • Favourite hobby: reading novels and painting
  • Pet hates: cricket and Facebook
  • Favourite singer: Taylor swift

The students are also given a grid with a number of questions in the L1 or L2 (see image above). I personally prefer to put the questions into the L1 so as to avoid spoon-feeding the students. The questions read something like this:

“Find someone who…

  1. …hates Facebook”
  2. …has two siblings”
  3. …is born in September”, etc.

The students are required to find a person for each of the above prompts (e.g. ‘Jean’ for question 1, above) by asking questions to the other students (in the target language). The student who finds them all first, wins. I usually prepare two or three different sets of questions in order to play more rounds.

I uploaded many (free) samples of ‘Find someone who’ on www.tes.com (e.g. https://www.tes.com/teaching-resources/search/?q=conti%20find%20someone%20who)

3.Planning / Preparation

1. Decide on the grammar, vocabulary and other linguistic features you intend to focus on;

2.Prepare a set of cards with four of five bullet points;

3. Prepare one or more sets of questions making sure that each question refers only to one card so as to have more movement around the classroom;

4. Prepare a few very short texts in the target language for reading and listening comprehension purposes which you will use in the run-up to the activity implementation. The texts should contain the same sort of details the students will find on the cards. Example:

‘My name is Sean. I am 13 years old and my birthday is on June 20. I have two sisters. My favourite hobby is reading and playing the violin. I hate social networks such as Facebook. My favourite singer is Sia.’

5. (Optional) prepare vocabulary games, worksheets, quizzes recycling the language to be deployed during the to-be-staged activity to give as homework before the lesson

4. The sequence

  1. Drill in vocabulary (15 minutes) – as suggested above, one can ‘flip’  most of this. However, it is beneficial to do some recycling at the beginning of the lesson anyway in order to activate the target vocabulary in Long Term Memory.
  1. Reading and listening comprehension (based on cards) – 2a. Put the short texts containing the target linguistic features up on the screen. Ask reading comprehension questions on the texts of the sort you expect the students to ask each other later on as part of the ‘Find someone who’. Equipped with MWBs the students answer the questions (all in the target language, of course). 2b.Now read out the texts you will have prepared for listening comprehension purposes. Students still answer comprehension questions on MWBs. Since the purpose of this listening activity is not only to recycle the target linguistic features and assess comprehension but also, and more importantly, to model pronunciation, be mindful of the speed at which you utter each text and repeat as often as the students’ request you to.
  1. Questions and answers – Now it is time to further practise the questions that you expect them to produce during the ‘Find someone who’. The easiest option – the one requiring the least preparation – is to ask the students to carry out a survey using the target questions (partner A asks and partner B notes down answers). This should be conducted entirely in the target language. Teachers will go around facilitating and monitoring.
  2. Find someone who – Now carry out one or more rounds of ‘Find someone who’. Make sure that nobody ‘cheats’ by copying what they see on their peers’ grid – the most common offence.
  3. Fluent writing – Now students work in groups. Students take turns in reading out – in the L1 – the details on whichever card they hold and the rest of the group has a set amount of time to put them into French in the form of a paragraph, writing on MWBs – note: this must not necessarily be a word-for-word translation. The purpose of this activity is to prep the students for the next task.
  4. Fluent speaking – Now students go away in pairs with iPads or other recording devices. Each student is given three cards they have not worked with before. The task is to describe the details on the three cards in the target language talking in the third person whilst being recorded impromptu – without studying the cards prior to the recording (e.g. His name is Jean, he is 13 years old, he hates Facebook, etc.).

5. Conclusions

The instructional sequence just outlined is easy to prepare and manage; it allows for practice across all four skills and continuous recycling of the target linguistic features.’Find someone who’ can be implemented without creating cards with fictitious identities and details; however, this allows for less control over the language you want to drill in. I have been using the above sequence several times in my practice and the students usually enjoy and learn a lot from it.

5 thoughts on “Another oral-skills-enhancing instructional sequence for beginner to intermediate learners en route to spontaneous talk

  1. I love this activity — I try to do variations of this as often as I can. I do an activity with my upper level students that produces a lot of bang for the buck — as we say here in the states. They create a character following my guidelines — I have them include a description of themselves and then elaborate. What was an important event in their lives that affected them (past tenses)? What have they done so far in life (perfect tenses)? What do they plan to do (future tense?) What would they like to do if they could (conditional tense/subjunctive)? We spend some time developing our characters over ta week or so and then we “speed date” — or “find a friend”,(In Spanish, you might call this finding your “media naranja”.) I line up the desks across from each other and students describe themselves by continually talking for at least one minute — they can refer to notes, but they can’t “read” them. The other student asks at least three questions and writes down at least two things he found interesting about the person across from him. Then they switch roles. Then they switch partners, by everyone in one row moving over one seat. We do this for 3/4 of the class — they usually end up talking to around 4-5 people. They’re quite comfortable with their characters by mid-class. Then students have to choose the 2-3 people that appealed to them the most and do a recording explaining which of their top three they’d like to get to know better and why. If it’s a large class, we might do this two days so that everyone gets to talk to everyone else. They love this! They create characters that are rich rock stars or maybe they’re middle-aged men with thirty cats that live in their mother’s basement. Imaginations run wild and most importantly, and even though this requires a lot of non-spontaneous preparation, in the end they have a reason to use the target language in a more spontaneous fashion than they usually have.

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