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!
What You Need
- Question Cards- a set of follow-up questions in the Target Language. I input the phrases I want into Quizlet – then print out the ‘large’ flashcards on coloured paper and cut them out . My initial ones are shown on the right.
- Students – in pairs – initially of your choosing then eventually their own
- An ’emergency sheet’ (list) with the questions/answers already matched (upside down on the desk)
Initial Round (First Day)
- These words are not new to them so I have students match the English and TL cards – then mix them up and spend 3-4 minutes quizzing each other.
- Have the students separate the cards again into two piles – and select the TL pile (put the English aside)
- Student 1 begins with a simple phrase such as “I’m going shopping”
- Student 2 pulls a card from the pile such as “When?” and Student 1 thinks of an answer that fits
- Student 2 then pulls a second card – perhaps “Where at?” and it continues
- Students run through the ‘stack’ of question cards then switch roles
- They will run through this with 3 or 4 different partners – experiencing asking/answering a number of times – and be encouraged to change their ‘starting phrase’ a couple of times
Recognizing Appropriate Questions – Sometimes the follow-up question a student draws doesn’t work. For example if you are shopping at the mall then “Where to?” isn’t appropriate. Students know that if a question is not usable they are to tell their partner that. It sharpens skills and awareness around the questions – and to be honest they love it when they say “No – that one won’t work!” in the target language.
Assisting in Comprehension – Not every student will remember all of the questions initially. So we also practice helping each other understand. If the question is asked and it isn’t understood then the student asking knows that, if they understand it, they are to try to assist by giving a sample answer. For example if their partner doesn’t understand/know how to answer “Who with?” they can use “For example ‘with a friend’ ‘by yourself'” to help their partner clue in. If the both students don’t understand they can peek at the emergency sheet.
Later Round (Second Day) – I employ the same strategy, and start with a quick warmup with the cards. Then they are paired with new partners, but now use the pile of cards in English. Again we rotate through 3 or 4 partners. Students are encouraged to change up their ‘starting phrase’ at least once during the time of the activity.
Later On (Third Day etc) – Again we start with a partner and a quick warmup. Then the cards are put away (an emergency sheet is on the desk if needed). We rotate through 2 or 3 partners, switching up the starting phrase. At the end of the time students have an opportunity to record the questions on their conversation phrase sheet that they keep in their binder.
Finally – No cards are provided at all (the questions are on a sheet the student knows how to access). Instead of the student providing the initial phrase students may start the class with a question on the screen (from me) like “Ask your partner what they are doing after school? Where? When? Why…etc!” And they are off – with great questions that allow them to dig for details. As the semester progresses we find new questions to add to our ‘follow-up’ list.
Taking the time to help them develop their questioning skills pays off when the room is alive with conversation. My job at that point is to get out the way and let them talk!