Text bubble conversation.

Kelly Weidenmiller July 3, 2019

Top Ways to Get Students Speaking in the Target Language (Part 2)

Kelly Weidenmiller

One of the tenets of world language education is encouraging interpersonal conversation, but this is often easier said than done between two non-native speakers. Scaffolding needs to be in place to help students feel capable of success.

In this continuation of Top Ways to Get Students Speaking in the Target Language Part 1, I will discuss additional strategies, this time with a focus on interpersonal conversations.

Interpersonal Conversations

4. Oral Questions/ Chat Roulette” (Preguntas orales/Charla Roulette)

First, create a list of 15 high-frequency questions that incorporate your current vocabulary/grammar structures and order them to reflect the order in which you learn the material. As the unit progresses, give students the questions and provide time for them to answer the questions in the target language. For example, “How many people are there in your family?” or “What’s your favorite room in your house and why?” Keep revisiting this sheet and answering whenever possible, slowly adding new answers to the questions.

To practice, split your class into 1’s and 2’s. Have 1’s create an outer circle and 2’s an inner circle with the two groups facing each other, creating pairs. Give students 45- 90 seconds to ask and answer specific questions from the list.

  • First round: 1’s ask questions and 2’s answer questions, repeating as much as needed, both using their sheets as much as desired.
  • Second round: 2’s rotate one person counter-clockwise, and now 2’s ask questions, 1’s answer questions.
  • Continue alternating and switching partners for up to four rounds.

For the whole unit, students should be “1 or 2,” as you may use this activity daily/every other day to practice as you continue to add questions. Switching partners in this format helps students develop a comfort speaking with people other than their friends.

5. “Card Scramble” (Mezcla de tarjetas)

Write out simple discussion questions that either incorporate current vocabulary/grammar structures or high-frequency questions in the target language on index cards. For example, “What’s your favorite season and why?” “What do you like to do with your friends?” “Describe your family.” Try to avoid yes/no questions to encourage more output and give questions that all students should feel 90% confident understanding and answering. The goal is to push student abilities just beyond their comfort zone.

All students receive one question card. All students then stand up and find a partner (if an odd class number, I often act as a student) and take turns asking their questions and responding. I recommend that the asker does NOT show the question to the student who is answering to build listening skills. After each student has responded to their question, the students switch their cards and then go find a new partner. Students signify they are looking for a new partner by holding up their card in the air. Run the activity for 5-10 minutes, depending on student fluency and engagement.

6. “Conversation Questions” (Preguntas de conversación)

This activity really helps students to get to know each other and feel comfortable as a group sharing out. It can be used as a warm-up or a brain break and should take less than 5 minutes total. Write a question in the target language that requires a bit more discussion and thought, such as “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?,” “Who was your very first celebrity crush as a child and why?,” or “What are five interesting things that you did over the weekend?” The key is to have a question that is of interest to your students. It could be on a topic or completely off-topic and just for fun.

Break students into pairs and display the question. Tell them who will start – the person on the left or the right. You may time them, giving them a certain amount of time to answer and then switch, or you may simply tell them who starts and then the other student must answer as well. Afterward, I recommend asking a few students each time to share out their answers in front of the class (not volunteers).

In the end, our goal as world language educators is to provide students the real-world skill of language that they will be able to use in any facet of their future lives. By engaging student interest through competition, intriguing questions, creativity, and ultimately laughter, students will ask to do these activities and build their skill sets. By encouraging your students to take risks, make mistakes, and simply use the language, both you and they will be astounded by the progress they can make in a short period of time.