Getting students to talk

It shouldn’t be a secret that I am no fan of textbooks.  However, a textbook is what most districts have, and mine is no different.  Most of the language teachers in the district follow the textbook, and I must ensure that my students will be prepared to move to the next level with a teacher who will be using the textbook.  Over the span of many years, I have devised a way to incorporate most of the vocabulary in the textbook and most of the grammatical concepts taught (but not necessarily in the order that the text presents them), so that my students will not be at a disadvantage when moving on.  On the other hand, we do not use the physical book at all; I don’t even give the textbooks out at the beginning of the year.  My focus is on getting my students to talk, and talk, and talk some more.  This essential part of communication is my primary focus in Spanish III, and I use all kinds of methods to achieve my goal.  In this post I am going to highlight some of the activities that I used this past year.  According to my textbook outline, this was the “travel” unit, with two long lists of “travel” vocabulary (with several words that refer to things that the students will never use, such as cheques de viajero or cabina telefónica).  The grammatical concepts included “reviewing preterite and imperfect”, and beginning the present subjunctive with verbs of wishing, desire, recommending, etc (essentially querer, preferir, esperar, sugerir, aconsejar, recomendar). I added many, many songs, including songs that highlight the subjunctive.  We also worked with maps and geography, and this year I was able to do this repeatedly due to our new laptop carts that allow each student access to a laptop.  Students moved at their own pace, moving on when they felt they were ready to advance a level.   Here are some of the links that my students used to practice

At this point, it may help to describe the physical setup of my classroom.  I have my desks in two  “u” formations,  an inner “u” and an outer “u”, so that I can have partners behind/in front, to the left or to the right, and my personal favorite, the “moving u”, when the students in the outer “u” slide to the seat to the left every 30 seconds to 2 minutes so that there is always a new partner.  While I think it is important for students to work with classmates with whom they are comfortable, I believe that it is equally important for them to work with everyone (or they would elect to work with the same people each time).  The “moving u” assures me that weaker students work with stronger students, that girls work with boys and that friends do not become dependent on the stronger friend (language wise) to accomplish the work. With all of the oral communicative practice that my students do, I almost always have them changing partners frequently.

Looking back at my lesson plans for this chapter (Chapter 10) from this past year, here are some of the activities that I used to get my students to talk.  One of the first things that I had students do with a partner was to describe, in Spanish, what the typical tourist looks like.  I then showed them some images of a turista and had them describe the tourist to their partner. After listing additional vocabulary on the board (some that were in the official list for the chapter and other words that were at student request), I had each student draw a tourist.  The next day, they first described the their picture to a partner, then they described the picture of their partner (exchanging partners several times).

Since travel involves eating (Chapter 7) and clothes (Chapter 8),  weather and places (Chapter 9), we did some review conversation with those topics as well as a preliminary conversation about travel desires: After working with a partner, I would take a volunteer to sit in the “Hot Seat” in front of the classroom and the class would then ask that one student questions related to that days conversation topic.  I only allow 4 minutes for this and I keep track of each student who asks a question.  Participation points are given for this activity, with the person in the “Silla Caliente” always receiving an A (assuming that every effort has been made to answer the questions).

After reviewing clothes, we also did a suitcase activity one day.  In groups of four, I gave them a large piece of paper on which I had drawn an open suitcase.  I gave each group a list of items (specific quantities, colors, etc) that had to be drawn in the suitcase.  Each student was given two colors and they were responsible for drawing all of the items that were listed as their color.  Students then had to talk about the items in the suitcase and say how/when each item would be used or would be necessary.

“Intruder” is another activity that I like to use infrequently.  In this “game”, the class is divided into 4 small groups.  Each group sends a member to the front of the room and I give each of them a big colorful paper with a word or phrase in Spanish.  The four students hold the four words/phrases and the class (individual students) has to pick which of the four words is the intruder, or the word that does not belong with the other three words.  This is a great thinking activity, because while there may be one obvious answer, there are also multiple additional answers, making it possible that any of the four words may be the intruder. After the student says which word is the intruder, and why  (in Spanish), I give the team a point; sometimes if their thinking has really been quite outside the box and has involved some deep explanation, I may give more than a point.  I continue with those four words until all reasonable explanations have been exhausted, and then a new student from each team comes to the front of the room and I give them four new words.  Intruder

As students begin to master the vocabulary, I give Student A a paper with directions that say to describe the following words in Spanish to Student B, with the object being that Student B must come up with the appropriate vocabulary word in Spanish. For example:
A. Describe las palabras a tu compañero. ¡No hables inglés! Usa palabras de español y puedes hacer gestos (gestures).
1. botones
2. pagar
3. en efectivo
4. castillo
5. firmar
6. plano de la ciudad
7. recepcionista
8. entrada
9. gratis
10.hospedarse en OR quedarse

Student B would receive a similar paper with different words:

B. Describe las palabras a tu compañero. ¡No hables inglés! Usa palabras de español y puedes hacer gestos (gestures).
1. cámara digital
2. farmacia
3. oficina de turismo
4. pedir información
5. tomar un taxi
6. turista
7. tarjeta de crédito
8. billete
9. guía turística
10. albergue juvenil

Picture description is another activity for getting students to talk with a partner.  In groups of two, each student is given a paper with a set of pictures.  Both students have different papers/pictures.  With the partner, I may have them describe the pictures, identify the vocabulary, or create some oral mini story using the pictures.  Here is an example:  Actividades de vacaciones partner practice

I also have them work with just one image.  Without allowing their partner to see the image, Student A describes, in Spanish, to Student B what is on the image.  Student B must draw it.  Student A  sees this image to describe to Student B:

Student B would receive this image to describe to Student A:

And more picture work: Practicamos más con el vocabulario

At some point last year, in a  blog that is a favorite of mine,  Mis Musicuentos, SE Cottrell suggested having students repeat lists of vocabulary words to themselves.  She thought that this would help with pronunciation (and the intimidation that students sometimes feel about using unfamiliar words in front of their peers) as well as reinforce the words.  One day students would read through the list of words (aloud) three times, the next day twice, and the third day just once.  I found this to be a great way to practice with the vocabulary, and because there was so much noise in the classroom, just about every student did as I asked them to do.  This then lead to another conversation with a partner, but this time it was a bit more extended, and it involved some manipulation of the present subjunctive.  Partner conversation and beginning work subjunctive

Here is another partner practice activity : And finally, a version of the Amazing Race can be played.  Working with a partner, students are given a “clue” (really a sentence (or sentences) that requires an answer) and when they have solved it, they return to me, or a designated spot, to receive their next “clue”.  Here is a sample of clues for this travel chapter:  Amazing race sentences

While I’m not out of activities that I used in this chapter to get my students to talk, it has turned into a very lengthy post, and I’m going to end it here.  I would welcome feedback…questions, suggestions, etc.




4 thoughts on “Getting students to talk

  1. Great idea! How do you assess students at the end of the unit? A test, performance based assessment, project?

    • Thanks! I actually used 2 different assessments with this chapter this year. One was for the culture part of the chapter (Argentina) which I wrote about in an earlier post about PhotoPeach. I also did a written assessment using a travel postcard that they wrote to another student (they pulled names from a mug). The recipient then had to assess the postcard and offer feedback. Additionally, I had many, many informal assessments throughout the chapter.

  2. I agree with your about textbooks. I have all of mine in the cabinets.

    I am going to have to bookmark those Map games. I will have an Interactive/Smart Board this year and that would be good review to have kids come up and find the country.

    • I also had a SMARTboard for the first time this past year, so I started there, and we did some “challenge” type activities where volunteers tried to beat the time of others or me; but then I was so fortunate to have access to laptops for all of them so that everyone could practice! Thanks for reading!

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