Modern Language Speaking Mats (Learning Mats) For Meaningful Conversations

A modern language learning mat or speaking mat allows students to quickly  find words that they want to use to talk about the topic.  These mats derive from the learning mats used for very young children who see an alphabet mat, a numbers mat, an animal mat or for older children such as a states mat.  Foreign language mats usually follow one of two formats: critical words and expressions for several important  topics or  critical words and expressions for a specific topic.

Speaking mats differ from the usual foreign language textbook listing of vocabulary such as classroom words listing. Most textbooks supply just a list of  common nouns such as  “chair”,  “teacher”,  and  “book”.  However, that list probably does not teach the students how to say   “The chair is uncomfortable”, ” The teacher praises me”, or “The  teacher always corrects me” which are expressions the students would want to say.

Most modern language speaking mats organize the topic by categories. For example, a clothing speaking mat may include a category of the  actual clothing, a category of  describing clothing, a category of where clothing can be worn, and a category of asking questions about clothing. The category of  the actual clothing is the smallest category in the speaking mat, on the other hand, the description of clothing category, usually adjectives, is the biggest category since these are the words that students most often want to use in talking about clothing.

The modern language students use the speaking mat as a  quick reference; if they do not know word, they look it up on the speaking mat that has both the foreign language word and the English word. The speaking mat has all the critical words in one location as opposed to a student having to look up each word in a dictionary or to constantly ask the teacher. These foreign language students use the mat to orally express their feelings about clothing and to describe clothing.

For example, modern language students for homework may be asked to prepare ten sentences about clothing.The next day in class they will be prepared to ask their questions or make their statements about clothing. They want to be able to say more than the simplistic “The dress is red” as they talk about movie stars in their dresses; they want to say, “That silk dress does not fit her;  the stripes make her look fat.”

I have prepared some Speaking Mats for Spanish and am working on several more:
Spanish Activities / Sports Spontaneous Speaking Mat – Small Group
Spanish Clothing Spontaneous Speaking Mat – Partner Talk
Spanish Casa /House Spontaneous Speaking Mat – Partner Talk
Spanish Food Speaking Mat

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (29+) 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

Increasing Students’ Speaking in Modern Language Classroom Through Paired Speaking

Students need language input as they start out in the language. A major goal of the modern language classroom is for students to speak (Krashen’s comprehensible output or Swain’s students learn to talk by talking), therefore, students need to talk more. However, they can only speak more when the teacher speaks less. The more the modern language teacher talks, the less opportunity the students have to speak.

Furthermore, the more foreign language students speak in pairs, the more they speak. If students only talk when the teacher calls on them, then they get to speak every 26th time (if there are 26 students in the classroom). On the other hand, if the modern language  teacher has the students work in pairs, virtually all students are talking at the same time. Some quick math will reveal the efficiency of pair work.  If the teacher has each of 26 foreign language students speak individually for one minute, it takes 26 minutes or 52% of  a 50 minute class period.  If the teacher has students speak in pairs, then 26 students can each speak for one minute for a total of   two minutes or 4% of the class.

The listing shows some spontaneous speaking activities that I have developed for paired speaking. They are available at

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