Assessing Modern Language Variety of Speaking With Questions in Spontaneous Speaking

This semester before the official final, I had the students, in pairs, have a question and answer conversation about a common topic.  They saw a previously unseen picture based on one of the common topics in our class such as family, school, sports or activities, and restaurant/ eating. Immediately, without any preparation, they began to ask and answer questions about the picture for three minutes. Each pair had a different picture. I used a scoring sheet which had the different question words on it.  I marked down which question words each student used and counted each question and each answer.

The average for my students was 10.5 sentences with 6.3 different question words in three minutes for a previously unseen picture. The two students did twenty one sentences (answers and questions) in that time.  For example, one pair ask six different Spanish question words (How many?  When?  How?  Which?  What? and Where?)  However, this score does not really represent the variety of questions since that group had three different How (¿Cómo?) questions (What is the person like? How is the person’s health? What is his/her name). My students showed that they can ask a variety of questions and answer those questions in spontaneous speaking about a previously unseen picture.

What speaking variety do your students show?

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at can instantly use these many communication activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

I have developed 5 Visual activities/games  for any modern language (no words) and have developed 27 Spanish activities for students to begin to express themselves in the modern language and to move toward spontaneous speaking Teacherspayteachers:

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at

Develop Flexible Sentence Learning for Better Modern Language Speaking

Many students deal on the literal level as they learn a modern language. When they learn a sentence, they learn it on a literal level; this sentence means this specific thing.  They see the sentence as a fixed sentence, as one block of solid cement even though the cement has various sections. For example, when  they learn “Where is the school?” they do not realize that they can ask “Where is (the party, house, concert, game, etc”). Even more, they do not realize that they can use various verbs after “Where?” such as  “Where (do you eat, does he practice, do the people go?, etc.”). They are stuck in the literal one cement block of learning the sentence.

“Where is the school?” can be transformed into many modern language sentences; this flexibility opens up the students’ speaking.  Each part of the student becomes a flip book with many different possibilities.  They can change the question word, the verb and the noun.  When students see sentences as flexible  flip books, they discover that they can say many different  things with a few basic sentences or questions.  One sentence widens out to many sentences.  This flexibility contributes to their modern language  fluency.

These steps help develop this flexibility:
1) From each unit or section, pick eight target language critical sentences that have great flexibility.
2)  Underline in each of the first four sentences the part that the students can change.
3) Have the students see how many different modern language sentences they can say by just changing the underlined part of the sentence. They can say them to their partner who counts their variety. Then the partner can say different sentences based on the original sentence. If they make changes to questions, their partners can answer the questions.
4) Give students the other four sentences without any underlined parts and see how well they can transform those sentences into a multitude of meaningful sentences. Have pairs of students compete to see who can make the most different sentences.

I have developed two activities for Spanish  students that develop flexibility with word/phrase substitutions  1) Spanish Tell Me About Yourself Substitution Sentences and  2) Spanish Friend /Family Member Detailed Description – Partner Talk

How do you help your students to be flexible in their modern language use?

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, shows how easy it is to use mobile learning in the classroom  to develop language communication even when only half the class has mobile devices.  It is available at

I have developed 27 Spanish activities  and 5 Modern Language Visual activities for students to begin to express themselves in the modern language and to move toward spontaneous speaking Teacherspayteachers:

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at

Our Students’ Paragraph Length Speaking

The ACTFL guidelines say that at the Intermediate High Level  our students will speak in paragraph length.  Let’s assume  that paragraph length means at least six sentences. How often do your students speak six consecutive sentences about a topic at any level?

All students, even beginning first year freshman, can speak six consecutive sentences if we scaffold the speaking for them. Our students should be able to tell six things about themselves – name, age, their physical description, their emotional description, their birthday, and where they live.  Most students can add something they like to do and how often they do certain things.  Our beginning students can easily get up to ten consecutive sentences when they talk about themselves.

First year freshman students can say ten sentences about other common topics as long as they have a scaffolding to follow.  One scaffolding is to answer each question word and then to answer variations on those questions for any topic such as school.  For example, a student answers, “Who?” with “I go to school” and answers  “What?” with “I study math.”  Another scaffolding is to narrate about a picture using different verbs. As a student looks at a picture of a classroom, she  reads the picture as if it were a written passage. She tells what is happening in the upper left corner and then goes across the top line of the picture. She uses different verbs such as “A boy enters the classroom….The teacher writes on the board.”

Are students successful the first time they do these activities? Probably not. But as they use the scaffolding to practice, they develop fluency. Over time, they can spontaneously generate many sentences, more than a paragraph’s length.

What do you do to help your students increase in the amount of consecutive speaking so that they reach at least paragraph length?

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