Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

October 24, 2014
by leesensei

Using Stations In-Class – A collection of “how-to’s” and “don’t forget to’s”

titlependingI have blogged several times about my experience  in using stations. For a recent professional day a couple of colleagues asked me to share how I use stations. Because the only reason I am even comfortable in using stations is due to the generous sharing of others I wanted to pass it on. The link to the 6 page ‘idea’ book is here. If it is useful – great! If you have questions – please ask. If you have additions – I’d like to know!

Thanks again to #langchat colleagues  Catherine Ousselin (@CatherineKU72), Candida Gould (@candidagould), Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@secottrell) and Kristy Placido (@placido) for their sharing/support.


October 20, 2014
by leesensei

Reading & Understanding – The Question Challenge Activity

Girls doing schoolwork.It’s always a challenge to construct activities that engage students – especially about a reading piece. I try a variety of ways to both help/determine if my students understand a piece from  group Q&A to discussion to drawing and more. My Year 2 class is a case in point. After 1 semester of Japanese they hover around the Novice-Mid range but they are eager to ‘talk’. My challenge was to give them a reading and then, get them to discuss it. Enter the student to student “Question Challenge” activity.

Day 1 – SetUp: The students were given a reading constructed by me, with key points that they had been learning embedded in it. They initially read in their pairs using what I call “2 and talk” – each student reading a sentence then stopping to talk about what it means. In this round I offered no ‘comprehension’ questions at all to see how well they had understood it themselves. However for a longer piece I will have a few questions from a section of the reading with their questions to come from another portion.

After students had read and debriefed with their partner they were given the challenge of constructing 8 questions concerning the piece. 3 were to be of the True/False variety – where answers could be found easily in the text. The next 5 were to be “open” questions about the reading – the only stipulation is that the answer could not be “yes” or “no”. This forced them into constructing questions along the line of our ‘follow up’ questions we often use in speaking. “Who did Nonki meet with?” “When on Saturday did they meet?” and so on.

This also required me to provide some key ‘phrasing’ that they had not already learned. For example “Who said…” or “Who is a person like…?”. We also reviewed what to do if someone didn’t understand them and how to say what you ‘specifically’ didn’t understand. I believe  that “I don’t understand.”  and “What does …mean?” are not negative phrases in my classes – but rather an opportunity for the speaker, a responsibility, to help in understanding. We reviewed what to do in this case – generally ‘repeat’, ‘give an example’ and, when appropriate, ‘give a sample answer’.

Day 2 – Question Day:  Students initially practiced asking each other their questions. We stressed eye contact and also had one partner ‘purposely’ not understand to review how to assist. We also reviewed cultural phrases/activities they could use as they ‘stalled’ to think of the answer. Then on to the challenge! The pairs had to challenge 3-4 other pairs to answer their questions. To increase the ‘fun’ we devised a point system. If students got the answer right away (no looking at the text) – 1 point. Giving right away and being wrong -1/2 point. And if they had to go back to the text to find the answer +1/2 point (note that a wrong ‘guess’ plus finding the right answer is 0!). I allotted about 20 minutes for the questioning. They had a ball. Lots of laughing, rephrasing and interaction and, most importantly for me, really good work on asking/answering key questions.

Debrief: I debriefed the activity using my “How Did That Go?” rubric. As usual the students first had to write – completing the phrase “That went ____because……”. Many cited the ability to talk and interact easily with their peers as a reason it went well. Almost all of them said that their groups actually went beyond the questions they had and started thinking up spontaneous questions to get more points! Students also asked for some key phrases that we had not reviewed such as “more slowly please” and “Did you say…?”. My students are very used to this rubric from their first semester with me – but if they weren’t I would have gone over the rubric (and what expectations I have) with them prior to setting them on their task.

I won’t go overboard in using this but I did love to hear the loud voices, laughing and groans (at wrong answers) during the time. Its going to be another tool in my ‘comprehension’ toolbox. What do you do to get kids talking about what they read?




October 14, 2014
by leesensei

Sentence Building with the Unit Slide Show – Easy, Fun and Effective

MP900177844I love visuals for learning. I have blogged in the past about using visual slide shows in my classes. Today – yet another fun slide show and also an extended activity. On my recent summative assessment I was still noticing errors in constructing sentences – common errors that I felt needed to be addressed again. And so we did – with the aid of the slide show. For my Year2′s it became a great review activity for both vocabulary and sentence construction.

The recipe for today’s review?

Start with – A slide show – a pdf of today’s is attached – thematic pictures of Japanese engaged in a variety of activities.  I had mine set up automatically to change every 7 seconds but if I felt that I needed more time I would do it manually.

Add in – Round 1 – just let it play as they enter….

Then -  Round 2 – I ask “What are they doing?” Group chorus response assisted by teacher

Next – Round 3 – I ask “Where are they doing this?” Group chorus response assisted by teacher

Then – Round 4 – I ask “Who are they doing this with?” Group chorus response assisted by teacher

And – Round 5 – They try to describe using all of the elements.

Finally – Round 6 – They ask their partner if they did that yesterday….

Adjust ingredients as desired! You can see that you the content, questions and desired output can change with your students’ needs.

It was a great review for my students, who also learned some new vocabulary (what do you call a sumo wrestler?) and reinforced great sentence construction. Even better – it was reinforced in a safe group environment – and no worksheet! More uses and ideas to come.





October 5, 2014
by leesensei

Thoughts/Considerations On Starting a “Class” Twitter Account

4786110042_43c31cc235Many teachers are making the foray into using social media with their students. I am at the point of ‘dipping’ my toe in. There’s a number of things I’ve learned, and found out, as I have started tweeting to students and wanted to collect my thoughts on keys in beginning this path.

Set up a dedicated class account - I am an active user of Twitter in my professional life. But I do not want to have my students involved in my PLN and the learning that I do online. So I have a separate identity for my class account. I recommend that you talk to students about it and the boundaries that you have established. I know that when a couple of my students tried to follow my ‘professional’ account, I had to speak to the groups about this. I talked to them about my personal PLN, and why I had blocked them from that account. At the same time I extended the invitation to follow the class account. So if you are already on Twitter and, like me, feel strongly about separating your professional and in-class life – I recommend that you do the same.

Don’t make joining mandatory – I am loath to require students to sign up for social media. And I know that there are parents out there who would be concerned. In addition Canadian privacy laws also require parent approval. So following my class account is not required – if I post a picture or info my students can ‘search’ it under the established hashtag. Right now I have a whole 2 student followers but I know more have checked out posted photos etc. Early days yet…and fine by me.

Establish a hashtag – and use the school one too -  In order for students who are not on Twitter to locate items you post – establish a consistent hashtag. For me it is #ptjapanese (Pinetree being the name of my school). All of my ‘tweets’ include it. If I post photos of class activities or other interesting things that happen in class I also include my school’s hashtag as well. It gets the word out about what we’re doing – both to those who follow the school and to one of my administrators who administers it.

Start with key ‘student-friendly’ TL and TL-related Follows – If students are going to see who I follow then I have to be comfortable with what they see. So I am careful to comb the feed for inappropriate posts. For example, Time-Out Tokyo looked great for city interest but the repeated beer-related and adult-level tweets meant I couldn’t follow them on the class account. I follow a couple of pop stars, some language related accounts and – most popular – fast food/international items with lots of visual posts. I’m also careful to check the feed occasionally to block any ‘promoted’ but inappropriate accounts.

Get permission to post pictures of class activities  - In my district, parent permission is required to show pictures of any student in a public way. Before I began posting pictures of class activities I obtained permission – signed by the parent and student to do so. I don’t publish names and try not to publish close-ups. I also maintain a list of who has not given permission which I check before posting photos.  And don’t forget to link your phone to your class account – I like to quickly upload photos once I’ve taken them. When I started the new account I forgot to add it to my ‘phone’ so that I could easily and directly upload to the class account. Don’t forget to do this – you will always be asked which account you are posting to so you won’t make a mistake!

Tweet a variety of things -   I do post to a website as well but have started tweeting out the homework. I’m always looking for another way to ‘meet students where they are at’ and tweeting out the homework is just another way to ‘get the word’ out. Sometimes I even tweet out a preview of the next day’s class, or next week’s song of the week. I am also big on taking photos of my ‘whiteboard notes’ as well – and often post those so I am starting to add those pics as well to the tweets.  When I’ve posted pictures I tell the class (I try to take them when they are ‘actively’ learning and don’t notice) to check the hashtag to see if they are ‘in the picture’!

I am looking forward to the evolution of my class account – and where it will take us, as a group, in the future.


September 30, 2014
by leesensei

Baskets on the Table: Supporting Students and Easing Transitions

basket Last year I made a big step and modified my classroom setup. The tables of 4 was a push for me to change the focus in the room – and I am happy to report that the ‘atmosphere’ is working. Students quickly focus on communicating with others – and are less focused “on the board”. It means though – that having items on a back shelf, especially with 30 bodies in the room, and easily moving can be challenging. After a few shares by other members of the #langchat PLN I am looking to push that ‘central’ idea a bit further this year. Enter the extremely low-tech ‘centre of the table basket’ – bought at my local dollar store. What’s in the basket?

Learning supplies for students - Never again the “I don’t have a pen”. I took my basket of left-behind pens, pencils, erasers etc and added some to each basket. Along with it there is a glue stick, some paper clips, a small post-it note pad, dice for games, scissors and a ruler. Amazingly they are used as needed but I haven’t had a wholesale loss of anything yet. I’ll have my volunteers who come to do my bulletin boards every 2 weeks check the baskets and replenish as needed.  The other constant in the basket are the white envelopes. Inside – a copy of my ‘follow up’ questions – on small cards in both English and Japanese. Whenever I ask students to speak they are there as a resource to spur on conversation.

Supplies for the day’s class – You can see some brown envelopes in the basket as well. They are there for my next class – the Year 1′s who are learning their characters. For my Year 2′s in 3rd period I’ll switch those out for different orthography cards, as well as a deck of cards for a game we are playing. Under the basket are a game sheets – I”ll be using those later with the Year 3′s. It makes quick work of getting out and returning supplies for me – as the items students need for that class are there and ready to go.

Easing transitions and improving the “flow” in my room help to make my classes a bit more organized. I know I’ll find more uses for the “baskets on the table” as the year goes on!


September 22, 2014
by leesensei

Fun, Team-building & Reinforcing Learning: Using Kahoot! In Your Classes

kahootI’ll admit that in the past I have shied away from online class games. Our school is limited in WiFi availability and I have not wanted to either single out students who didn’t have phones, or ask them to use data to play. But the #langchat community is big on the Kahoot! – and I just had to join in. Basically you create a multiple choice quiz. When you start the game students see a ‘game code’ – they go to the web site and enter that code – create a team name – and you begin. I’ve tried to use it in my classes to both increase teamwork and minimize data use. Why do I like it and how do I use it in my classes?

We play on a variety of devices – Kahoot! does not just rely on phones. It can be played on a variety of platforms. Although they are common – not all kids have phones and I don’t want to assume that they do. With 4 computers available to me in class – that’s 4 teams that don’t need to rely on data. In one of my classes I even had a group opt for the computers as they felt that they had minimal data left on their phones. Sometimes I’ll even bring my iPad to increase the ease of access for students.

We play in teams – I’ve always asked that students play in at least pairs. When there are 30 students in the room then I only need 15 devices and students can pair up with someone to have a game partner. The talk that goes on during the game is often more key to me than the game itself. When we’re going over a grammar issue – I find that they need time to discuss so I often allot the maximum time for answers to give them time to talk. I will warn you to allow several minutes for the most important team-building part – the user name. My grade 10′s spent more time trying to think up their team name than anything else (and if any names are inappropriate don’t worry – you as the owner of the game can remove the team from the list of players)

We play to both reinforce language points and to just ‘educate’ - Last semester I was seeing a lot of errors in a particular use of verbs in Japanese. We’d use it in context, we’d practiced it explicitly but I was not sure that they really ‘had it’. Kahoot! let me set up a way to check for learning – in a fun and relaxed environment. Playing in teams, and allowing 30 seconds for an answer, also meant that they could talk about the particular answer prior to ‘ringing in’. I also use Kahoot! to ‘learn’ about items. My first years do a Kahoot!, with partners, in English at the start of the year to see what they know about Japan and also begin to build class connections. It’s a passive way to see test prior knowledge as well as clear up some common misconceptions.

We play for ‘speed’ and ‘skill’ – Questions in Kahoot! quizzes come with a point value associated with it. After each question the top team names are displayed – and there’s a lot of hooting and hollering as teams work to overtake the teams at the top. In Kahoot points are alloted based on a combination of speed of answering/correctness.  My students think it’s all about the ‘winning’  but I know it’s all about putting something in front of them that they have to discuss, and find an answer to. They are reviewing, teaching and reinforcing learning during the game.

We play occasionally – I don’t want to overuse this ‘game’ – in part because I like variety. I also don’t want to be relying on student devices that much – and taking a lot of data minutes for an in-class activity.

If you haven’t already Kahoot!-ed its fun to try. For me the value is in the team-building that goes on – and the learning that it reinforces. Eventually I’m going to have my students make them for each other…!




September 15, 2014
by leesensei

Cool Tools – My Favourite Browser Extensions, Add-Ons and Docs Extras

MP900387935We use a lot of tools, apps and other on-line resources in our teaching. I had to work on a browser the other day – which required me to re-enable the add-ons and extensions for it. It got me to thinking about my ‘go to’ tools that I use with both Firefox and Chrome. So I put together a collection of my favourites – probably some of yours as well.

Kaizena – Google Docs: a free tool that you can integrate with your Google Drive account to leave voice comments on the documents that students share with you. With Kaizena authorized to access your Google Drive account you can highlight portions of your students’ work and add voice or text comments to it. Haven’t used it much yet – going to this year.

Texthelp Study Skills – Google Docs: I use Texthelp’s Highlighting Tools to highlight key areas of  student’s documents. I’ve written before about my ‘colour coded feedback‘ – and this allows me to do so online.  You can also collect all the highlighted parts of a document to create a ‘feedback’ page (by color or location) for a student  to review. Love it!

Rikaichan- Chrome/Firefox: This could be a GAME CHANGER for my classes in working with authentic resources. I’ve written about the challenges of teaching a character-based language in the past. Then I discovered this Rikaichan add-on that allows a student to ‘hover’ over the Chinese characters Japanese uses – and get both the way to say the word – and a general translation of it. Oh My Goodness – Equality of Access! Works with Japanese to English/German/French/Russian dictionary. Don’t forget to download the necessary dictionaries for the add-on to work with the languages you want!

Tweetdeck – Chrome (Twitter): Following a Twitter chat like #langchat can be a challenge. Tweetdeck  (a Twitter product) works with Chrome and is a social media ‘dashboard’. Essentially it allows me to customize my view of Twitter. I have a column for an individual hashtag, another for specific references to me all at the same time. It makes it easy to focus on that one hashtag and quickly respond to comments/questions to me personally. I couldn’t do #langchat without it! Edublogs offers a short primer on it here.

Evernote Webclipper- Chrome/Firefox: I’ve blogged a lot before about my shift to using Evernote to curate my teaching life. One of the most indispensable tools for me is the Evernote Web Clipper. It allows me to send full articles, parts of hte article or just the URL right to my Evernote account. More importantly it sends it to the notebook I want – and allows me to “tag” it before I send it – and for me ‘tagging‘ means I’ll actually find the article again.

KeepVid – Chrome/Firefox: Ever had a great clip you want to show from YouTube or another source and  – bam – the internet goes down in your class. Or its slow….and keeps buffering. If a video clip is key to my teaching I have to be able to use it without relying on the speed or availability of the web. I’ve used a couple of methods and KeepVid Video Downloader is a pretty reliable one. It is a free web application that allows you to download from sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch.Tv, Vimeo,etc.  All you need is the URL of the page that has the video you want to download. Videos – Chrome (YouTube): Sometimes I do show a YouTube clip in class – and stream it. At that point I just want to show the clip – and not worry about any questionable ads or other ‘sidebar’ issues. So I use Cleanr is a browser extension that strips out the ads, sidebars, comments, buttons etc from YouTube videos. If I haven’t downloaded the video to keep for future reference – then this is the way to ensure that the video is all that I’m showing!

Hola Unblocker – Chrome/Firefox: US-based colleagues won’t understand but frequently clips/streaming from BBC, Hula, Pandora and  other networks are blocked by region locks and unavailable to me in Canada.  Well I can – using Hola Unblocker – a browser extension that removes region locks and allows you to watch BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hula, Pandora, and more regardless of where you live. They try to get you to pay at some point – but works for free (and lets me watch “Downton Abbey” way before we get it here in North America!)

There are a lot more add-ons, extensions and web tools out there – I haven’t even mentioned Diigo which I am starting to work with either! What are your favourites?


September 10, 2014
by leesensei

What #langchat Means to Me (And To You?)

frontWhen did you (have you) discover #langchat? It started for me as a hashtag I noticed in a tweet from Joe Dale (@joedale) about language teaching. I was new to this whole twitter thing and, as a language teacher, looking for some insight and inspiration for my teaching. Then, after following a woman named Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@secottrell) I learned about the Thursday #langchat hashtag chat. I began, as many do, by lurking, watching and reading. Eventually I took the plunge to start tweeting in. I haven’t looked back.

I thought the other day about what #langchat means to me and why both the hashtag (for daily tweeting) and the chat (Thursdays) are so key in who I am as a professional today. What do I like about #langchat?

#langchat- the hashtag -  is my daily dose of learning & discovery – Have a question? Want a resource? Looking to discover something new. I learn every day via tweets sent out with the #langchat hashtag. Teachers using it are generous, supportive and quick to offer up ideas, opinions and resources that I would never find on my own. Checking in on the #langchat stream is a must for me – and it’s never let me down in answer a query or offering up a suggestion when I’ve needed it. There are those with whom I interact, collaborate and plan more often than I do simply on a professional day – for me now every day is a day to learn

#langchat- the chat – reaffirms that I am on the right track: Teaching can often be a ‘solitary’ pursuit. The chance to be observed or network with fellow staff can be few and far between. But during a chat I often find that I am indeed doing things, and choosing approaches that others are too. It’s nice to know that in my ‘isolated’ classroom I am on target, or not!,  for how to deliver my language program.

#langchat  – the chat – offers approaches/ideas/resources on a specific topic: Chats are really focused with a weekly theme voted on by participants. What a great way to have some concentrated work on one area. It may be pedagogical one week, and class ‘management’ the next. It can be about new trends or a ‘brush up’ on existing challenges. In all cases it is timely, lively and a real challenge to me to focus on my teaching practice.

#langchat  – the hashtag & chat – gives me a look into the future:  Many of my #langchat colleagues are in districts or positions that are ‘leaders’ in their field. Although my school may not be at that point, I get tips on where we might be headed. It also allows me to be a ‘leader’ in my school – challenging the status quo and assisting in change.

Quite simply I would not be the teacher I am today without it. I wouldn’t be striving to be the teacher I want to be, pushing, stretching, questioning my practice without it. My #langchat PLN is my key go-to for my Professional Development. The other day my sister-in-law phoned. It was 6:05pmPT on a Thursday and my sister-in-law’s opening was “Oh it’s Thursday – I’m not interuppting #langchat am I?”  And that’s when I knew how important it was to me!

And now a favour to ask of you! Have you benefited from #langchat? What has it meant to  you? #langchat will be presenting “#Langchat – Your Always-There Professional Learning Network” at ACTFL 2014. If you would be kind enough to share (via a comment) – we’d like to share some of your thoughts with those who are coming to learn more.


September 8, 2014
by leesensei

Coping in a Tech-Challenged School ( & Dealing with 1:1, BYOD Envy!)

Concept of Hand with Electronic FingerprintsThere are lots of schools that are rich with technological resources. My school – due to priorities and budgets – is not rich in that area. Add onto that strict Canadian privacy laws and the difficulty of using online resources is compounded. I wonder how many others in this ‘tech rich’ era that we are in are in a similar plight? So how do I cope and use what I can to offer challenges and choice to my students?

The situation in my school: 6 ‘labs’ full of desktop computers – not always available for regular class use; reliable WiFi but not the capacity to have everyone online at once; issues with streaming anything; no 1:1 or iPad initiative. The only BYOD occurs when a student chooses to bring it from home.

The situation in my classroom:  A personal Macbook Pro as my main instructional technology (with an LCD and an add-on graphics tablet). A desktop computer (Windows) issued by the school but only allowed to run Firefox or Internet Explorer (not Chrome). Three iMacs – older but capable of running WiFi (can’t hook into the network as I bought them independently from district tech sources) and any phones or devices students may have on them that day

The wrinkle: I live in Canada and it has stringent privacy rules. Therefore, parent permission must be sought for any student to use any online program/app that requires giving any personal data in registering, or has any personal info that may be held outside of Canada. That means the required use of any Google Docs, Edmodo etc must be signed off on. It also means that apps such as ‘Remind’ are not authorized as data is held in the States.

Using an online video clip?  Download it off of the internet via Keepvid or other convertors – so you don’t rely on a dicey connection that may or may not be as fast as you need on the day. Not sure how to download what you have – google a ‘how to download a (name type) video”  – it’s how I learned.

Contacting Students via Texts? There are a couple of solutions for me – one surprising one was our school attendance software. It can be programmed by class to do a call-out. It’s a clumsy workaround for me but just may work if I need it. The other option for me is Edmodo (with parent permission) – as I start to transition all my classes to it, I have learned that students may choose to be contacted via email or text with updates I send out on Edmodo. It isn’t a great solution but it will work for me. At any time there is also my traditional class website – with links to clips, reviews and the homework uploaded each day!

Few Devices/Machines – Many students?  Groups, Stations and Headphone splitters. When we play an online game such a Kahoot, I’m conscious of students who don’t have a phone, or are not wanting to use a lot of data minutes. So we’ve always played as teams – at least 2 students (and sometimes 3). Generally this means I give a little longer to answer questions (consultation is requried) but its a sneaky way for them to review too. Stations are a great way to ‘spread the tech around’ and with my new resources I will try to balance the paper with the tech for each. Making it a lot easier for many students to use 1 machine is the ‘headphone splitter’. Kristy Placido alerted me to these and I now have 4 Belkin Rockstar Splitters (5 sets of headphones at a time) for my room – that’s 15 kids on 3 machines/devices.

Recording Conversations? The Phone/Hand-held Digital Recorder – I know there are lots of online resources and apps but I continue to make use of the phone. Not all students have phones so what it is used for is never required. Dictionaries online are okay – but I also have the paper ones and it is a good ‘tool’ to learn to use. Any recording is most often done in pairs. Additionally I purchased a hand-held digital recorder for students who don’t have a phone. I love to use phone recorded conversations to demonstrate proficiency!

Handing in Work? Choice! I don’t require students to hand things in on-line. Some prefer to do that – and it is marked and returned on-line as well. Others like to handwrite and some don’t have a computer at home. So I give options. Those that enjoy using a keyboard (or their phone) are welcome to do so – and those that are more traditional in their supply use don’t suffer. The issue for me is consistency in how it is marked. At least once or twice I offer Japanese keyboard orientation for students to learn some tips and tricks!

Video Reviews?  I do a series of video reviews for each unit. They are not fancy – I use Snagit (an upgraded version of Jing) to ‘talk’ and write my way through concepts. There are lots of apps/programs out there to use. All of the videos are uploaded directly from the program to my YouTube channel – and grouped by grade as a playlist. Remember to make sure the videos are made public (and I disable comments – really – I don’t need those!). Students can access the videos via the school computers in open labs or the library if they don’t have a computer at home.

Being in a tech-challenged school means that you have to think a little more about what you are using and how you will use it. What are your favourite workarounds in a low-tech environment?






September 2, 2014
by leesensei

Participation – Expected Not Evaluated

Girls with Heads Together HuggingParticipation – it’s a hot topic in language-teaching circles these days. Specifically the old chestnut – the ‘participation’ mark. I can see why it is popular with some. Its a reward for a student who chooses to engage in the class – using the class material. It represents a view that if marks are attached even the most reluctant student will be so concerned that they will push their shyness and/or hesitancy out the window because they want a mark! But, for me, the inherent failure in this is that I was controlling the evaluation of participation – if the ‘teacher’ saw it then it counted.  I’ll admit I used to think that I had to attach the mark to ensure their buy-in. But no more….

When I was asked if I marked for participation I found myself answering “No, because in my class it is expected that you are participating.” This led me to think – what are the key things happening in my class that lead my students to participate…despite no ‘marks’ being on the table.

SetUp – How my classroom is set up is one way that encourage participation. I wrote about my ‘light bulb’ moment about the importance of set-up when I was visiting with Catherine Ousselin and her classes. My students now sit in tables of 4 facing each other. The board (and me) are at the side of the room. The focus is on their group, their table. And its hard not to participate when just 4 people are at the table, and no one else is looking on!  The advantage of the small tables is also that it sets up work with 3 possible partners – and that means the ability to test and try out language in a more supportive setting.

Pair Work – I do a lot of work in pairs – even at the tables of  4 that I now have. I believe they are a powerful tool in class. Students in my class have a ‘partner’ for each unit and who that person is is mostly determined by me. The partner is their ‘base’ for class – students will interact and work with others, but their partner is where they will start and end each day. I work hard to find good ‘matches’ for my students so that their partner complements, and challenges, them to be involved. As I’ve written in the past – pairs are a great way to encourage risk and yet a ‘safe’ way to do so. It’s hard not to participate when you only have to deal with 1 other person. (I should note that once a semester I allow my students to choose their ‘pair’ partner – what great chaos!)

Activity Rubrics/Self Evaluation – I use activity rubrics and self-evaluation a lot in my class. What’s on the rubrics are what I consider to be  great ‘attributes’ of an active language students. Students evaluate their ability to work with others, accomplish the task and maintain TL.  We do go over the rubrics when we first start using them, but then as they are consistently used – they work to build an expectation in students of ‘how’ they should be participating in class. What helps to reinforce this participation is the idea to ask at least one ‘written reflection’ question prior to the activity rubric. Comments from students who complete questions such as “Today I am proud that I…” often refer back to their choice to risk and try – and that’s what participating is all about.

Encourage Risk/Ask for Speaking!  I always tell me students that I will not ask them to do or try something they don’t have the tools for. This doesn’t preclude challenges but it does mean that students are confident that the activity or task is do-able. Knowing you will be able to complete something is huge in being able to step out and do that task. I also work to give chances for my students to interact – I think we often ask students to ask/answer questions of each other – and assume they know how to do that. So we practice (and support) the interaction that occurs between partners but starting a lot of classes with ‘ask your partner’ and having ‘follow up questions‘ handy to continue the conversation. Then, when we move into a larger group or class activity students are equipped with the skills to participate. Not only that – they are eager to help each other out – and if they are talking and working together – they are participating.

If the setup, the expectation and the task all require that a student participate in their learning – then participation will be the natural outcome! What are other ways you support students in participating in class?