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: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle.

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 http://is.gd/tbook

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World Language Students’ Scaffolded Speaking Output With Substitutions

We teach world languages so that our students can speak it yet we do not teach them  how to speak.   Students identify  speaking in the foreign language as creating the most anxiety in language learning.    Young, D. (1990). “An Investigation of Students’ Perspective on Anxiety and Speaking.” Foreign Language Annals. 23:539-553

Krashen explained the importance of input, students listening to us as we speak the target language; however, he stressed that comprehensible output is the goal of language acquisition.  Krashen, S. (2003). Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

The world language teachers’ overemphasis on input, their talking in the classroom, creates a myth of promoting  student speaking.

I watched many Olympic swimming events. I watched for many hours. Can I swim any better now than  before watching them? No!
I watch musicals on TV, go to musicals in theaters,  and listen to choral groups.  Can I sing any better now with all that input? No!
Every day I  watch marathon runners go past my house early in the morning.  Can I run faster and do a marathon from all their input?  No!

Input provides the initial sounds, sentence patterns, etc.  for students.  However, students have to move to guided  or scaffolded output so they can produce the sounds and,  more importantly, the sentences to converse with one another.  Students do not  magically go from hearing our speaking to their conversing in the target language.  We need to give them some assistance as they begin to put together sentences.

One technique is to provide the students with  modern language sentences which contain choices. They select what they want to say from the available words/phrases. They say what is meaningful to them through the selection of words/phrases. They do create sentences on their own.

Scaffolded sentences provide a starting point for narrating and conversing.  In one substitution  exercise, the students change an underlined word to be true for them  such as  “I live in Syracuse.”   For example, I have for Spanish students a “Tell Me about Yourself Activity” in which students say 13 changes, 22 or 34 changes to tell about themselves (Spanish Tell Me About Yourself Substitution Sentences).  In another variation, the students change a word in over 30  questions such as  “¿Te gustar jugar al béisbol?” in Spanish Conversation Questions Spontaneous Speaking Partners .   Once  students do these scaffolded sentences, they better understand how they can recombine sentences and questions to converse with one another. They move toward spontaneous speaking.

I originally published this blog at my eduwithtechn site

I have developed many  Spanish activities that allow students to begin to express themselves and to begin to move toward spontaneous speaking as in a natural conversation.  My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (20+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask  a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs),  Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawing from 2-4 people) and Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group),  Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs),  and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:  http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle

My three formative assessment books:   http://is.gd/tbook