World language teachers often comment on how engaged their students are. Their students are engaged in vocabulary relay races, vocabulary cooperative learning, bingo like translation games, flashcard partner quizzes, etc. to learn about a topic such as “family”. Students spend many classroom minutes on these activities in which they translate between English and the world language. These engaging activities represent discrete, pre-communication activities.
However, the real goal of world language is communication. The teachers could engage students in communication activities. If the teachers focus on the topic of “family”, they may use a traditional family tree to teach the family members in the world language and then show non-traditional families to increase the vocabulary that students need to talk about their actual families. The teachers ask, in the target language, “What is the relationship of Mary to Paul?” and the students answer “sister” based on the shown family tree. The teachers ask the class,”Who, in the class, has a sister?” or “Who, in the class, has more than one sister?” so students begin to apply the vocabulary to their own lives. After a few minutes of the teachers asking questions about the various shown relationships, they move to students doing a mini-communication activities in pairs. A student asks the partner, “Do you have a sister?” and the partner answers. If the partner, answer “Yes, I have a sister.” then the asking partner asks follow up questions such as “What is her name?”,”How old is she?” and “Do you get along well with her?” If the answering partner says, “No, I do not have a sister,” then the asking partner moves on to another family member. The asking partner asks about three family members and then they switch so that the answering partner now asks questions. In the same amount of time that students previously spent on discrete vocabulary translation learning, they are applying the vocabulary to their own personal life in meaningful communication in the world language.
Do your world language students spend more time in engagement or communication?
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