Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

February 17, 2014
by leesensei
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Developing Conversation Skills: The “Follow Up Question” Game

MP900262685We 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 thefollow up quest ‘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!

Colleen

 

 

 

May 11, 2012
by leesensei
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“Authentic Not Necessarily Native” Giving Opportunities to Students

As a teacher of a foreign language (FL) there is drive to provide communication experiences and contact with native speakers. In my case, Japanese, I benefit from being in an area that is a popular working-holiday destination for Japanese people. But abundance doesn’t necessarily equal opportunity. So how do we offer up the chance for real-world contact?  For me the goal is to have the students engage in purposeful communication. As a result, over the years my approach has evolved into “Authentic Not Necessarily Native”.

Peers: All of my units involve a ‘final’ task – modelled on a real-world situation. For example ‘daily routine’ becomes a “Murder Mystery”, food is a “Taste Test”. Travelling leads to a ‘Travel Fair’. For each of these students interact to provide information to each other – using the language authentically. As a class we have used Edmodo for ‘in class’ discussion on a topic. All communication is authentic and purposeful.

Peer Tutors: I regularly have senior students in my lower level classes. Many are earning ‘peer tutoring’ credits. We communicate only in Japanese and they, in turn, do so with students. It gives our students the opportunity to see that this is an actual ‘working’ language; and that they too will be able to sustain an interaction.

Technology: Although it may necessarily be one-way technology provides a myriad of ways to put ‘authentic language’ in front of students. YouTube commercials, dramas or telenovelas, songs, recorded messages at businesses etc are all examples of native speakers communicating a message.

International Education Programs: In our district we also have international education programs for foreign school groups. We volunteer an afternoon to host them – a unique peer to peer experience.

Perhaps the most important though is building communication skills.  If I can’t always give my students the chance to speak with a ‘native’ I can give them the confidence to do so whenever that may occur. It is building that sense of a willingness to risk, modeling and practicing communication strategies that will hold them in good stead when they do. These include the ability to ‘rephrase’, to ask for clarification and to use visual clues to aid understanding.

Ultimately it is the students themselves who seek opportunities to interact. Whether they are doing that currently, or in the future, my goal is to give them the willingness to do so.

Colleen

April 10, 2012
by leesensei
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Organizing Myself On Line….

Like me you probably have lists of websites that you bookmarked but you can’t remember why or what they relate to. They end up in a long list in your browser with little to suggest why you bookmarked them or what they might be useful for. I have discovered Pearltrees – www.pearltrees.com – that allows you to visually organize your websites into useful (and memorable) clusters.  In the software’s terminology a “pearl” is a site that you mark and a ‘tree’ is acollection of sites that are organized based upon common theme or use.

You may create more than one ‘tree’ – perhaps for an overall subject and then individualcourses. I have mine divided into major categories – eg. web resources – as well as courses.

In a more ‘social’ angle Pearltrees also allows you to search other Pearltree users who have marked the same sites as you to find sites that you might find useful. It also let’s you know who has sampled your ‘pearls’ as well but ,no, it doesn’t bother you with suggestions!

If you use Firefox or Chrome you can also add a plugin that allows you to quickly save a new site (or pearl) and add to your collection to be organized later. When you land on a site that you would like to save – click on the pearl (circle) icon to the left of the site’s url and it is automatically added to your Pearltree site.

Pearltree may not be for everyone but as a visual learner, and thinker, I found it a quick and easy way to organize my sites – and remember why they were considered important in the first place. If you  want any further information just tweet!!

Colleen

April 4, 2012
by leesensei
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My Tech Setup…(“More with Less!”)

Although I am passionate about integrating technology in my work you may be surprised how much I personally have access to in my classroom. Funding priorities in my school and district have not expanded as quickly as my desire to be more tech-savy. So it’s a surprisingly simple setup…

  Macbook 2007:  Yes you read that   correctly. My interest in expanding my ‘tech footprint’ didn’t coincide with any funding from my school/district. Along with 10 other teachers in my school we decided to forge ahead anyway and use our personal laptops. Curiously we are all Mac users….

Wacom Tablet: When you can’t afford a tablet computer you make one yourself. Investing in a medium Wacom tablet, and using Photoshop and .pdf’s of documents,  I can review work, make videos of my lessons, create class notes for my website etc. Next up – Google docs for everything?

Logitech Speakers: Under $75 at the time…. playing Japanese pop-tunes, YouTube clips and whatever we need to hear…

Benq LCD projector: Funded 3 years ago by school funds, it’s old but it works for anything from the wide variety of programs I use, for polls, Google Earth tours of Kyoto, Quicktime clips etc..

I dream of a class set of iPads and enough enough bandwidth to allow kids to access their computer wirelessly in my room. But I don’t let that hold me back…

Doing more with less,

Colleen

 

April 2, 2012
by leesensei
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Why Twitter?

I’ll get right to it. I’m 50 and of a generation where Facebook is seen as a way to connect with long lost ‘friends’ or play scrabble. Mention to many colleagues of the same age that I am on Twitter and I am met with a slight look of disbelief. Add  that I actually ‘Tweet’ and I can see them thinking “Does anyone really care what you are doing right now?”.

Twitter is some of the best Pro-D that I have participated in during my 16 year teaching career. Why?

It’s informative: The generosity of those I follow has contributed so much to my teaching ‘repertoire’. They share ideas, thoughts and results of their efforts. Many have answered direct messages when I had a particular question about what they were doing.

It’s current: People generally are tweeting about the ‘new and now’. That is inspiring as they become my personal ‘leaders’ in Ed. Tech and Second Language learning. I’m not waiting for a Pro-D day to learn something new.

It’s manageable:  At only 140 characters, information is short and sweet. I also have a limited set of people so my feed is not so ‘full’ that I feel overwhelmed with the number of tweets.

It’s remarkably easy: I signed up for an account and made sure my bio indicated why I was on Twitter. Then, using Google, I started looking for hashtags and directories of the topic that interested me. I asked to follow a few and some, reading my bio, asked to follow me.

It encouraged me to contribute: I started as a ‘passive’ reader but, as with any learning, realized that it is being active in the process that brings that rewards.  I don’t feel compelled to tweet all the time – just when I have something to say.

You can find me at @coleesensei and maybe I’ll see you on Twitter  too.

Colleen

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March 29, 2012
by leesensei
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Worksheet or WordCloud?

I recently looked at a new way of doing an “old” thing. My Japanese 11 students typically read an article (in English) on Haiku and answer questions about this poetry form. Admittedly it is a pretty dry, and not necessarily engaging, activity. This year I changed it up and used a program called Wordle (wordle.net)  to make word clouds about poetry. It is a web-based program that is easily accessed from any computer in my school. It works in English (and even Japanese with a few tricks).

How does it work? Basically you enter English words directly in to the create ‘field’. The size of a word in the visualization is proportional to the number of times the word appears in the input text. So, for example, if you type “apple banana banana grape grape grape” into the create page’s text field, you’ll see that banana’s font size is twice apple’s, and grape’s font size is 3/2 that of banana’s. When a particular word doesn’t show up in Wordle it is probably because it thinks it is a “stop word” (a frequently-used word  such as “the”, “and”, or “but”) . See the “Language” menu for a setting to turn off the removal of such common words.

Key elements composed by Alice Han (Jap. 11)

To keep my students on track the criteria for the work included required elements such as a title “Haiku”, demonstrated knowledge of topic via choice of words and at least 2 ‘prominent’ elements – words selected due to their relevance to the topic. Marking was done in a holistic way using a criteria referenced scale (‘word cloud rubrics’ are easy to find on the internet). If you are interested in using Wordle and have questions, I am happy to send you the assignment that I gave – or talk to you about it.

Colleen

March 27, 2012
by leesensei
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Helping Students Learn Vocabulary – On Line…

Every course has vocabulary specific to it that we ask kids to learn. In my subject I am always looking for new ways to help kids “learn the words and what they mean”. I have recently been using an online flashcard program called Quizlet (quizlet.com). I am enjoying using it, and so are my students, for a number of reasons:

Convenience: Search cards already produced in almost any category such as AP History, Geography, Canadian history, AP Chem. Solubility Rules etc

Easily practice vocabulary - on your computer or phone!


Ease of Use: Easily import vocabulary from word (or have a student assistant help?). Can also export into Excel from site. Supports written text and audio in a large number of languages – including Chinese (simplified and traditional), Spanish, French and Japanese

Accessibility: Students can access from any computer. They can also access using smart phones via free flashcard apps. Have your own site? You can even embed links to specific card sets into your current website.

Its More than a Simple Flashcard: Offers a variety of ‘testing’ for comprehension including matching, spelling, multiple choice etc. Can even say the word to have student hear as they read.

Supports Review: It’s a way to post unit vocabulary – once – and then it is done. Students can use to study for finals or unit tests.

No it won’t be used by all – but it may support learners who don’t benefit from traditional ‘studying’ methods and allows us to expand how we deliver info to them. Give it a try!

Any questions? Just ask!

Colleen

March 27, 2012
by leesensei
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Why? Why? Why!

Age and experience. Used to laugh about that but now I realize that indeed I possess both. I used to think that teaching would be less involved the longer I did it but it seems to be the opposite. With my knowledge of the curriculum (mostly) secure, I find myself looking to alter, expand and enhance what I have always done. New twist on an old style of evaluating? Yes. More use of technology in the classroom. For sure! Join me if you’d like – as I reflect on the ‘old’, implement the ‘new’ and integrate the ‘tech’.

Colleen

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