Modern Language Speaking Minimum: 20 sentences daily per student

ACTFL’s 90% guideline indicates that teachers and students should speak 90% in the target language each class.  However, such a guideline only addresses the language of the communication not the quantity or quality of the communication.
Many modern language departments state that speaking is 20% of the final. So how much of each class should the students speak?  Speaking, for me, does not include doing grammar or vocabulary drills.

I propose that each student in a modern language class should speak at least 20 sentences each class.  If a  beginning student says 10 sentences in a two minute period, each student only needs to speak for a total of  four minutes. If students work in pairs, each partner would take four minutes for a total of eight minutes for the two students.   8/40 is 20% of the class. Upper level students can say more sentences in the same time period.

To reach 20 sentences per student, students need to work in pairs.  Students can count their partners’ sentences and provide valuable feedback for improvement.  If we start small by just having students answer basic written questions (Who? What? Where? When? How?…) about a picture and gradually progress  to students  spontaneous speaking about any common topic.

How many sentences does each student say each class in your modern language class?

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (24+) includes Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Speaking Mats ( Student can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas in pairs or small group), Modified Speed Dating (Students ask their  partners one question from a card-whole class), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:

At the same site, I have a series of modern language visual stories with no words (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students.  These can be used in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at

2 thoughts on “Modern Language Speaking Minimum: 20 sentences daily per student

  1. Thank you for your suggestion of 20 spoken sentences per class period as a minimum. I am always trying to find ways to increase the amount of French that my students speak. Do you have a system for keeping track of all of the sentences spoken or do you just build paired speaking activities into your lesson plan for the day and assume that students are speaking as much as you want them do? What about shy students? I know that I have had several students in the past who could write in French beautifully, but I could never get them to open up and speak it even with a partner? How would you handle that issue?

    • Students keep track of each other’s speaking.
      No student is total shy; he/she talks to family and friends. I have all students talk in class. The more they talk in the modern language, the less shy they become

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