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: 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