Language Sensei

Thoughts on Teaching Languages and Integrating Technology

December 19, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014: No. 2 Review in 7 Minute Stations

Hand Displaying Peace SignThe use of stations in class is an ongoing project of mine this year. I have committed to developing 1 station day per unit in each of my Yr 2 & 3 classes. I learned a lot about using them – as two follow up posts – a follow-up post on station management and one outlining my tips for implementing the idea pointed out. This is the post that chronicled my first foray into stations…This post was the second most popular of 2014…

A class of 30 Grade 9′s can be difficult to keep motivated so for a ‘review’ I decided to try stations. I’ve been wanting to try them and the review time seemed like the easiest to do this. I opted to incorporate an aspect of our study method – the ‘Power 7′ idea.

The Basis – The “7 Minute”  Drill -  I have previously blogged about helping students to learn to study using what we call the “Power 7″ method. The idea of short powerful bursts of study – repeated 4-5 times a night – instead of a long study session, prone to distractions, seems to bring results to those who find concentrating difficult. As students get better at this method they increase the time – up to 20 min/session. Many use it now in other classes for review. Keep in mind they are not memorizing lists out of context – but this is a way they use to review vocabulary etc. prior to reading or to work on their vocabulary for writing (always marked holistically – the aim is to minimize high frequency errors).

How Many Stations?

  • For a class of 30 students – 65 minutes I set up 8 stations – you could do more – that the students would rotate through.
  • 4 desks in a square for a station with room for 4 students (2 pairs) at each station

What Goes on the Table?

  • Flashcards (2 sets – 1 per pair): I use flashcards a lot in class. Often they are a set consisting of a Japanese word and a picture. They are used many ways – from concentration matching to fun ‘who can name the object first’ competitions with their partner. I had flashcards for 1/2 the stations already ready. But for the first few units I was missing them – until I thought to use my Quizlet files. All of the unit information is loaded into them for study opportunities for students. So I printed out the early chapters in the large size – copied them onto paper/cut out the cards and I had ‘English-Japanese’ ones.
  • “I can statements” (2 pages – 1 per pair) – I have a set of “I can..” statements for each chapter – I also printed up a list of these and put them at the table. If students finished their cards early they could quiz each other by asking “Can you….?” and seeing if their partner could do the task.
  • Unit ‘sheets’ with the answers on them  – that is the phrases/words in both the Target Language and English (note: my students had their own unit sheets so I didn’t need to provide these)

How Long?

  • Initially I was not sure how long to give the students at each station. Ten minutes seemed a bit long – so we started out at 5. I think its best to underestimate what is needed and in fact, at the end of the first station time, my students requested that we go to 7 minutes per table. It is true that for some groups – with students who typically achieve above expectations – they were done well within the 7 minutes. For other pairs this was not long enough. But it is enough to start reminding kids of what we had covered.

Focus of Review -  Given that there are both English and Japanese (or a picture) for each this lends itself well to using the stations different ways at different times. In my initial 65 minute period I only used it for Reading Comprehension.

  • Listening Comprehension Round -  look at  the word in the Target Language – read it out loud to your partner – do you know it in English? Then your partner takes a card and reads it to you.
  • Reading Comprehension Round – look at  the word in the Target Language – read it with your partner – do you know it in English?
  • Written Practice Round – Look at the English or picture card – write it out in the Target language – check with your unit sheets – did you write it correctly?


  • Reconfirmation of how to review/study – this serves to underscore the idea that effective study (short/concentrated) can be more useful than a longer period where people are easily distracted.
  • Reconfirmation of how to help someone understand – without asking them to do so I saw a lot of partners not giving the answer but actually miming, acting out or giving hints rather than just tell the answer. This confirmed to me that my message of how to assist someone who doesn’t understand has been received.
  • Partners helping each other in a relaxed  way – there was high energy and lots of laughter – two great things to see during an activity that could have been a boring run through previously seen material

As a chance to dip my toe into the station world this was a good first experience. I’ll do more of them again not just for review but also for variety in the class. More to come!


December 15, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014: No. 3 Reading & Understanding – The “Question Challenge” Activity

MP900385753It’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?


December 8, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014: No. 4 “How Do You Say…?” Extending Beyond the Vocabulary List

MP900385754I’ll admit it. For every unit – a set of vocabulary. Used to ensure a basic set of words to discuss the topic.  My goal in this being that students have a common vocabulary with which to interact. But it’s the extra’s that are the key – the words that personalize the learning for the student – and expands their ability to express what they want to say.

Recent posts from Amy Lenord (@alenord) and others around”leaving the list’ behind – have challenged me to look not as much at the basic vocabulary but rather at how I deal with the requests for “What is the word for__? or “How do I use ____?”. And so a ‘shift’ for me  is happening – one that is enriching and empowering my students.

Teacher Shift – Attitude: Part of the move beyond the list does I think come when you are ‘comfortable’ with your program. Not only with ‘how’ it runs (PBL? TPRS?) but also where it is running to. It took me a while to come around to the idea of more choice. Not because I didn’t favour having a language vocabulary that is personal – but because I was still forming how the curriculum and the course would be delivered. I was so busy worrying about their ability to communicate – I forgot that this was the focus – and that it was my job to show them ‘how’ to communicate;  how to ensure their listener understands them, clarify or explain a word  or concept, adjust vocabulary as needed.  They could take it from there.

An example? My Grade 12′s regularly do a travel unit in which they ‘sell’ tours to various parts of Japan to their classmates. It can be tough to predict what vocabulary is needed in advance. This time, I asked them to add the words that they each needed that they felt were key to understanding their tour. Yes – we crowdsourced the vocabulary – the words stayed up on the board during the preparation time. Each day they spent a small amount of time (5 min) picking a word (or 2) off the board – telling their partner they didn’t understand – and playing out how to explain what the word meant.

Teacher Shift – Opportunity: Not only did my willingness to add vocabulary require a mental shift, it also required an opportunity shift. That is – I needed to provide students with the settings that allowed them to show/use the words that they needed to use.  Opportunities for personal expression – using the full range of vocabulary they have acquired had to be expanded. How did I allow them to show/use what they knew?

An example? For my first year students it has been as simple as adding a large empty box on their unit vocabulary sheet. I put a heading “Extras WE/I Want to Know:” on it. Whenever a phrase or word comes up in an incidental way in class I put it up for them and they are now recording it there.

For my more senior students it means a shift in how I ask them to show me what they understand. They can utilize any words at their disposal to complete the task at hand. Therefore it is becoming evident in the choice that I am allowing students. “Please show me that you understand the concept ___” means that students can use any vocabulary at their disposal – and are not limited to what is required. In class interaction the motto is “you can use it if you can explain it (or any other way you can share the meaning).”

The more I learn to step back, and empower my students to step up and use the language, the more that choice plays into the mix. I have learned that it is my job to coach and support – not constrict their language learning. It’s true that there are some times when students are not quite ready to take on a concept due to language ability. But if I ask my students to risk and try with a new language – why am I holding back their ability to express themselves?

I want to thank the #langchat community – especially those like Amy who regularly question, mentor and more importantly share their journey with us. It inspires teachers like me to strike off in new directions as well! More choice to come!


December 4, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014 – Number 5: Conversation Skills, Kahoot & Cool Tech Add-ons

MP900385755(1)Looking back at the most popular posts on Language Sensei in 2014 I am always surprised at what resonates. I am pleased when something ‘hits home’ for others because, truthfully, I write for one person – me. Blogging has helped me to clarify – for me – what I value and, more importantly, where I am headed as an educator. So for the month of December I’m going to take the lead from one of my favourite #langchat colleagues – Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and her Musicuentos blog and re-publish some of the most popular posts. And wouldn’t you know it – a 3-way tie for 5th place!

Developing Conversation Skills – the “Follow Up Question” Game: We work hard in my class on developing an ease at conversing. It isn’t natural for many people, including me I’ll admit, so why would we expect it to be so for our students? This semester I have a new crop of Grade 10′s, 30 students who are in my class for the first time. When I asked what it is they want to many of them wrote ‘have a regular conversation in Japanese.” My job is to have them meet that challenge. I’ve written before about extending conversation skills using ‘follow-up questions’ and this group needed a way to jump-start their ability in this area. So I invented the ‘Follow Up Question’ game….my fancy title for essentially practicing conversations!  Continued…..

Fun, Team-building & Reinforcing Learning: Using Kahoot! In Your Classes: I’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? Continued…

Cool Tools – My Favourite Browser Extensions, Add-Ons and Docs Extras: We 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. Continued…


December 1, 2014
by leesensei

Targeted Practice – “The Picture Activity” Game

dicePracticing a new concept or new vocabulary always presents a challenge for me. I know that language is communicative – and that it is best learned/used in a communicative and purposeful setting. But sometimes I want a 15-minute focus on a particular point or a group of vocabulary terms. For that I often use a game that came from a textbook series  (Obento) that I used to use. Essentially it is fun line drawings of everyday activities. (This generic picture game board is part of their blackline masters – and I am not posting it to be copied but to give you an idea of what it looks like.). A colleague asked me how I used this game and I thought I’d share. The more you use it, the more you see a place for it – for those times when you want a short focus on a specific element. The game is most heavily used in my Yr1&2 classes with some use (but more limited) in my Yr 3/4 ones.

I use the game many ways and in two forms:

Form 1 – as a board game (with dice). Start at the bottom left and follow the dark arrows to the top left (finish)
Form 2 – I cut out the individual squares of the game (I have 15 sets) so that we can use it in a ‘draw a card’ format

There are two basic ways – either to practice a construction/conjugation or as a practice/conversation starter (supported by their follow-up questions sheet).

Conjugations (I know!) – If I taught a European language (which I don’t) – use the roll of the dice to determine what conjugation to give

-        Land on square and the dice roll determines what you do
-        Dice roll 1 – “I” , roll 2 “you – informal”, roll 3 “he/she – singular” etcgeneric picture game board
-        Partner call – instead of using the roll of the dice – partner decides
-        Option – pull a card and then roll dice or partner call

Verb tenses – – use the roll of the dice to determine what form to give

-        Land on square and the dice roll determines what you do
-        Dice roll 1 – “did yesterday” , roll 2 “will do”, roll 3 “doing now” etc
-        Partner call – instead of using the roll of the dice – partner decides
-        Option – pull a card and then roll dice or partner call


-        Eg – words for “Places” –  Roll the dice and land on a square and add a logical place that this activity could be done
-        Eg – “Temporal terms”  - Roll the dice and land on a square and partner asks “Do you do this after school/on the weekend/before breakfast…”etc


-        Land on a square and partner asks how often they do that activity
-        If they don’t – do they want to ‘why/why not’?
-        If they do it – use the follow-up questions to probe for details


-        Land on a square and partner asks if they can do that activity
-        If they don’t – do they want to try it? Why? Why not?
-        If they can do it – use the follow-up questions to probe for details


-        Land on a square and have to give a reason why you are or are not doing this activity

Want to

-        Land on a square and have to give a reason why you are or are not doing this activity – if they don’t – follow-up questions to probe as to why


-        At the end of the semester I use it for review – we put all the ‘things’ we learned how to say on the board (eg, ‘giving reasons’, ‘wanting to’, ‘~ing’ etc) usually there are about 10 main grammatical items
-        When they land on the square their partner calls out what they want them to do
-        * sometimes I also include things that we may have touched on but are not necessarily ‘part’ of the course. We call these the ‘challenge’ items and I encourage kids to go for them if they want

Once you start using it in a variety of ways you begin to see other ways to use it. For 10-15 minutes its an option to ‘target’ learning.



November 22, 2014
by leesensei

Inspiration and Validation…ACTFL 2014

2014ACTFLImagine going to a conference on your own. Imagine trying to figure out who is key to listen to and who you should seek out. A daunting task at best. Then try going to a conference as someone who participates in the #langchat PLN. You may not have met these people in the flesh – but faces are familiar and everyone is so darn happy to meet other people – its like you’re there with a crew! My first ACTFL – WOW.  I was talking to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell before she started her session and I said “Inspiration and Validation” and that’s what it’s meant to me. The chance to see, listen to and talk with so many great people. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on ACTFL 2014:

Inspiration  – Shelter the Vocabulary – Not the Grammar – the awesome Carol Gaab continued to build upon ideas that Amy Lenord has been sending my/our way (no Vocab lists) by pounding home the idea that we should be sheltering the vocabulary – not the way to express it that they need. Carol said to focus on high-frequency vocabulary and use an appropriate text to keep reintroducing those words to allow students to make connections. But – if they need the grammar to communicate – give it/use it. After all, who ever said to a 4 year old  “sorry but you can’t learn/use that until next year and I’ve explained how to construct it!”?  If they need it, can use it – let them have it!  I’ve already taken this idea in a new unit with my Yr 1′s and concocted 3 mini-stories for my students to use in exploring their current unit – using a class character that we love to put into interesting situations.

Inspiration  – Throw Out the Vocabulary Quiz – When a room is packed out at 5:15 on a Saturday you know this is a hot topic. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (a #langchat moderator) challenged us to think about the usefulness of the traditional “Here’s a word now write it in the Target Language” quiz. Really – how many times has a kid been able to produce it on the Friday quiz but never really use it/learn it after that. It is, Sara-Elizabeth emphasized, the myriad of connections to a word that makes it meaningful and useful to us. Instead of asking for the word for black – give a more open question “what colour is a panda?” I tried this already with my Yr2′s on various town locations. I asked “where can you hang out with friends?”  – and got responses that were meaningful to my students. I have a full post coming on my first experiments with this!

Inspiration  – Untextbooking - This was a recurrent theme in more than one presentation and,  judging by the attendance, a movement that is growing. I even tweeted that I wouldn’t be investing in textbook futures if I had seen the enthusiasm in many rooms for this. Why? Those who advocated for it did not shy away from the fact that leaving the textbook can initially mean more ‘work’ for the teacher. But the benefits  – flexibility, choice, relevance and more – seem to far outweigh what it takes to convert. I will admit that many of my units, and initial structures I taught, came from textbooks – but ‘untextbooking’ seems to be a way to go beyond someone else’s definition of ‘what a student should know. I’m getting there!

Validation – Focus on Summative Learning -  a fast paced presentation from Sam and Steve in  Alpine SD in Utah. They snuck in a clip of comedian Gerry Dee’s show (who was a teacher) and his ‘marking system’ for good measure – loved the home-grown Canadian touch (honestly I dare you to watch the clip and not see a bit of yourself in it). What was the validation – that the key and the goal should be “can they do what I want them to be able to do?”. They score a lot but only grade the summatives. Their freedom to innovate in their  middle school environment is enviable but there are definite take-aways for me. I note that this year there is most of my weight on the summative evaluations and not much weight on the formative – I liked their rationale – I’m on the right path.

Validation – Focus on Interactive Purposeful Communication – Carrie Toth, a nominee for Teacher of the Year, made even more impressive for me with her admission that her district/school has no tech – and that their tech guy doesn’t want them to use it (think computers with floppy disk drives!). What her presentation validated for me is the focus on communication – and the ‘real’ student to student interaction. One example that she used was that of a debate. It was the way that she structured the time – similar to how I do in my debate unit. She provided many examples of how she has her students use the language to accomplish a task – not just to ‘speak it’. This is also my goal in class – ‘language to ‘do’ rather than to ‘study’ – an awesome presentation (link here)

langchat team in action

The #langchat team selfie!

Validation – #langchat – When ACTFL Board Member Thomas Sauer crashes your session, stands up before the group and says “#Langchat – listen to these people” – you know that you are on to something good!  What a privilege to actually meet and interact with almost all of the #langchat moderators and thank them for the role that they have played in my teaching. We presented to a great group – sharing the ‘why’ and ‘how-to’ of belonging to the #langchat community. The other validation #langchat provided wasn’t about the presentation itself. I don’t know if this conference would have been the same without #langchat – the PLN. Although I traveled to this on my own, I got the chance to connect with so many fellow #langchat-ers that it felt like I was attending with a whole group. It was so awesome to put real faces to Twitter profiles and get a chance to meet (and thank) those I share with daily on Twitter. If you are thinking of attending a big conference such as this you’ll be surprised how many #langchat-ers you will get to see (and wearing the Tshirt doesn’t hurt!)

Finally I leave you with 2 of my other biggest lessons learned at ACTFL 2104. One – Comfortable shoes! You will walk and walk and walk – and run sometimes – to sessions to get into the room! Be prepared! Great shoes will be a necessity in your bid to make it to a workshop on time. The second lesson? Twitter rocks! I found people, shared ideas and learned about sessions I couldn’t attend all through the great tweeting of so many attendees. Many are part of the #langchat PLN (see above!). Twitter – get on it and get using the #langchat hashtag – you won’t regret it!

I may not make San Diego (budgeting etc) but I am aiming for a return visit ASAP. Thanks ACTFL!


November 17, 2014
by leesensei

Opportunity, Advocacy, Connecting: My First ACTFL Conference

actfl_newOkay – I’m excited and a little bit nervous. Why? Well I’m off for my first big, really big, languages conference ACTFL 2014 (American Council on the Teachers of Foreign Languages) in San Antonio Texas. It’s the largest teaching conference I’ve ever attended, and my opportunity to hear and learn from some amazing teachers. Nervous also as I am helping to present the benefits of the #langchat PLN on Saturday (10am) to people who are interested in learning how Twitter can be a great source of Pro-D. I’m not nervous about presenting the information but I’m excited/nervous about the opportunity to meet my #langchat co-moderators in person. They are people who I look up to and respect but have never actually physically met before. What are they like in person? Are they taller than me or not? What do they sound like? Questions Questions! It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Opportunity – I’m so excited to be able to attend workshops to learn. One of the thrills of a conference is to be able to hear and ask questions of someone who is doing something that you hope to one day be able to do. It’s the energy and the confidence of presenters that often help to carry me into a new way of thinking and doing. Information I get at any time but it’s the personal input, the stories and the ‘cheerleading’ that makes all the difference and a conference is a great way to charge the batteries!

Advocacy – It’s no secret I am a big big #langchat fan. It has revolutionized my teaching and made me a way better teacher. I used to think I’d be content with a textbook, a workbook and some master copies – but nope, not any more. I’m making big changes in how I approach teaching, in small manageable ways, because of what I learn. The #langchat hashtag is my go-to for the latest ideas, problem sharing and food for thought. The #langchat chat is my go-to for diving into specific topics in a more detailed way. Both are essential to me as a professional.

Connecting – This year I was so lucky to be able to take a Pro-D day and drive 1 1/2 hours south of Vancouver to visit with Catherine Ousellin in Mt. Vernon (@CatherineKU72). When the border agent asked me how I knew the person I was going to meet in the US I replied sheepishly “I met her online”.  Ultimately I was allowed through and spent a morning with Catherine and her French classes – what a treat. There are many #langchat peeps who I will have the opportunity to meet in person – to actually speak to. They are the people who have supported me, laughed with me and provided me with inspiration and resources and more. I look forward to meeting them and thanking them – thanking them for being so willing to share and grow as part of the #langchat PLN!  I’m even going to seek out Joe Dale, the first person I ever followed on Twitter and my first resource for technology ideas for the language classroom.

meSo look for me at the conference, I’ll be wearing my #langchat T (red or black) and hopefully will get to say hi. If you see me – tshirt redplease say “Hi” too. If you know of any teachers who are curious about what #langchat is, or how to follow the chat etc., come see us Saturday at 10am. If you are a #langchat regular watch for tweets about our ‘in person’ meetup on Thursday night.

I look forward to reporting out what I’ve learned. See you in Texas y’all!








November 10, 2014
by leesensei

Saying “I Don’t Understand” With Confidence…

CWatching my Grade 11′s work the other day on their 50 minute Target Language oral (Club Decision), I marveled at their ‘ease’ with each other. They were engaged, animated and talking – most importantly – they were willingly engaging with each other. I know we’ve all seen it – the student who won’t/can’t/doesn’t want to participate until they know they won’t say something incorrectly. Or maybe you’ve had the one who won’t work with others because they’re afraid they’ll use a word they don’t know. How do we teach for communication and not for understanding? How do we help students to not fear a word – and to carry on a conversation confidently and without fear?

Teach “Assisting” from the Start – In Year 1 we practice many ways to say “I don’t understand” and in fact we make it a ‘game’ – saying it in many ways (cartoon voice, scary voice, super high pitched voice, anime voice) – so that the word is familiar – and ready to use when needed. Then helping begins with a simple (what I call)  “Repeat/Act & Give an Example” strategy. When your partner doesn’t understand first – repeat. The room is noisy and maybe they didn’t hear you. So repeat in a normal and calm voice adding hand actions if you can. If they still aren’t sure then start to pull out examples. Give your own answer and ask again. Given an example and ask again.  If its still not working then call me over – we’ll conference on a way to get your meaning across (without resorting to English).

Practice “Not Understanding” -  We practice a sport before we play a league game, we practice our music before we play a concert – why don’t we practice not understanding? It is something that, after all, will probably occur for everyone one at some point in using the language. So we make it part of our interpersonal practice routine. While switching up partners I will often cue students – “take one thing your partner says and purposely don’t understand”. They love it, and they relax and practice both not knowing and the assist. It’s a treat to see students as they help their partner. And its also a handy way to see if the partner is paying attention!

Encourage “Inclusiveness” – Often in language classes you see students who are confident not want to work with a perceived ‘weaker’ student (and vice versa). Why? I think its because they fear that their partner won’t understand them – and that they won’t get to show what they know. I’m big on ‘making your partner look good’. Facilitating and including everyone in the conversation is a part of every rubric that I use – and one that I stress in class. After all, as I remind my classes, using a language is about communicating, it is not about making a speech.

Affirm “The Journey” – I talk a lot about the ‘journey’ with my students. We stress in class that communicating is about teamwork – working together to get a meaning across. And learning new words, new things to say requires practice – just like any other skills. So, not understanding, or making an error, is a natural part of this process. Now,  not understanding everything isn’t – but missing a word, mishearing someone is going to happen so let’s take it in stride. And if you do find yourself in that situation – relax, let your partner know and let them help you out.

Reducing fear and encouraging risk is a key tenet of language learning. How do you help your students to ‘not fear not understanding’?


November 5, 2014
by leesensei

“The Club Decision” Interactive Oral Activity

Teenagers JumpingThis is a post focusing on one of the summative interpersonal oral activities that I do in my class. 

One of my challenges in units is to come up with interpersonal orals for students to actually ‘use’ what they have learned. Typically I start at the end – what I want students to be able to do and then look for a ‘real life’ situation that utilizes what they are learning. I have blogged about others including a taste test, a travel fair and more.

For a 3rd semester class unit that focused on Sumo (and individual pursuits) I wanted students to be able to articulate, in detail, one or two activities they love to do – and to do that beyond a superficial level. I also know that I am heading into a ‘school’ unit. (I know – many don’t look at it – but the cultural comparisons between Canada and Japan make this a great ‘hook’ for language). And so, knowing that many students extend their passions in their choice of school clubs – the “Club Decision” oral was born.  The class had already done a short activity involving reading personal profiles and deciding what club/activities might suit a person – including ‘why’ that might be a good fit.

The Overall Idea – a 60 minute class in which students initially individually interview 3 students about their favourite pastimes/passions. They then pair up with another student and decide what an appropriate club choice may be for them.  But, there’s a twist. There is only limited space in the clubs they can choose – so that if 4 people love music – but the music club only has 2 spots – where would they place the other two? This means that, in finding out about their peers’ interests students would have to ‘dig deep’ probing people’s history with, and attachment to their pastimes.

The Preparation (1)  – We used 2 periods to prepare for this – and students were given a prompt sheet to help brainstorm about their passions. The sheet asked them initial questions about two of their pastimes including what, why they like it, where/when they practice/participate in it, who they participate with, how long they have been involved, and who/what inspires them to do this. They would not be using this during the oral but as they practiced asking/answering questions. My students had their basics down quite quickly… too quickly for me. When I checked for vocabulary needed they said ‘we’re okay’…and that led to…

The “Push” -  I saw the ‘cursory’ answers/notes in the 1st class of preparation and was not satisfied. This is their 3rd semester. “Because it is interesting” was not going to cut it. So I talked about the ‘push’ – about going beyond an answer they could have given in their 1st semester. I challenged them to push and grow – to express their ideas in a more detailed way. I also reminded them that there was a good chance a student might not get into their choice – so they would have to have a lot of information about them to make an ‘educated’ choice.  Language learning is about the ‘journey’ and we want a quality journey – not just a quick trip.

The Preparation (2) – Now with more focus, and extra details etc the vocabulary push, and depth of expression was way better. As part of the second preparation class we also explored how we could ‘negotiate’ – what language we already knew/could use to negotiate with someone about who to put where. Surprisingly (for them) they already had what they needed – and we found a few extra phrases that would assist them. We also reviewed skills we used helping someone to understand when they said they didn’t.

The Oral Day – Part 1: On the oral day students were given a table of 4 to sit at. They had 30 minutes to interview the 3 other people at the table. All oral talk was to be in the Target Language(TL) – and any notes taken were to be in English only . And they were off. What a noise in the room. Some students completed their interviews with 5 minutes to spare and others were still talking when their time was up.  Part 2: After 30 minutes a list on the screen identified their ‘pair’ for part 2. They were given a club sheet with 7 clubs on it (Sumo, Music, Anime, Reading etc) each with only 1 spot available. The rules – all speaking in the TL  – you could only talk about who you had interviewed, what club they should be in/why. You could not show your notes to your partner (so they just couldn’t read the information that you had) They had 20 minutes to put students into the club and tell me why. (written in English).

The Evaluation – After the process they self evaluated based upon their perceived ability to answer questions, add details, probe for understanding (follow-up questions) and not resorting to English. My job was to circulate, listen in and very occasionally offer language support. As is my custom, I also asked them to complete the sentence “Well, that was….” (and tell me why). Their comments revealed a great deal – some of the highlights were (note – the majority actually wrote ‘fun’):

“Well that was extremely really fun. It was interesting to learn so much about my fellow classmates’ interests..”
“Well that was fun because I was able to solve problems and figure out solutions with reasons for club placement – all in Japanese!”
“Well that was fun to describe my favourite activities in Japanese – I enjoyed it”
“Well that was fun because we really had to think and talk in-depth to pick a club for a person”
“Well that was fun. I really enjoyed it…by the end I wanted to keep talking in the interviews”
“Well that was better than I thought it was going to be…it became easier and easier to get my point across”

Not all of the orals that I do are self-evaluated. But this one, with its emphasis on communicating and understanding, is great for students. The side-product is almost 50 minutes of work in the target language – and that is awesome!


PS If you want more information – here’s some of the handouts I use for this!

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.