Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

December 16, 2016
by leesensei

Top Posts of the Year: #4 – Note to Self – You Are Doing Enough

What a year it has been! A year of change and growth for me as a teaching professional (it never ends!). For the next few posts I am looking back at what resonated with readers of “Language Sensei”.

Source: Morguefile.comOf all the posts this year this one was the one that garnered a lot of activity. It was shared on Facebook a number of times – which I take to mean that people shared it as a personal thing – not a professional item per se. It certainly was personal to me….and I am amazed that in my 22nd year of teaching it still is something I am worried about…

“I’m not doing enough!!!!” Learning to Say “Yes I Am…” – Oh I love Twitter and #langchat. It has revolutionized my teaching. Really it has. It has challenged me, helped me and sometimes (okay more than sometimes) pushed me to ‘stretch’. But with growth comes, I’ll be frank, panic. Sometimes I feel very very inadequate compared to what other people are sharing, advocating, leading on #langchat. Sometimes I feel like there are not enough hours in the day to ‘change everything’. Sometimes I feel that I am not doing “enough”. That some teachers are way ahead of me in how they teach. That some teachers appear to “know” when I don’t.  Read more…

Next Up – #3 – An “Old” Standby – Defended…


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November 14, 2016
by leesensei

Formative-Summative Shift Break Down – A Lesson Learned In Changing My Practice

Shifting your practice is an exciting time. It’s also a great time of ‘learning’ – not only for students but for the teacher trying to put it in place. I’ve been working to provide more feedback/more formative assessment in my classes. The idea in the shift for me was to really allow time to learn/reflect/grow before having students show their skills in a summative situation. I have tried all sorts of things to improve the feedback that I give from involving students in the ‘why’ of what we are doing, to pop-check in’s, oral consultations, writing workshops (and beyond). I’ve got rubrics with checklists, I’ve talked over and over about expectations and what it means to meet them. Wow –  aren’t I just all that in making this shift? Wonderful. Until…it became clear that my shift to more formative assessment had failed to include one key piece…the student perspective/voice.

My Yr4’s participated in a summative oral that involved a ‘taste test‘ activity. As part of the evaluation I ask them to write a ‘marketing report’ about what they learn. They are given guidance in what I want to see and allowed to bring in, in English, the results of what they learned in the test. They were also allowed a ‘list’ of key structures – not in ‘how’ to do make them but a list in English of the kinds of things that we have learned how to say/use to aid in their writing. All of the new unit structures had been introduced and used in class. They had all been given feedback on how well they could use them. They had time for corrections and consultation about them. The day of the report they came, they wrote for 45-60 minutes solid. Wow.

Until…I started to read them. Holy cow. Errors all over the place – errors in what I considered basic structures that we had gone over. Errors in things that seemed so ‘easy’ to me. It was not an easy read. Not because I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to say, but because I was realizing that they were not comfortable in what they were trying to communicate. It was paper after paper of barely meeting my expectations.  There comes a time – after the ‘what is wrong with these kids? why are they not doing what we did in class in this paper?’ when you realize it might not be “them”. Maybe, just maybe, it’s “me”.

So what to do? I realized that this failure to live up to expectations was probably a lot on me. So I started the next class (I’ve taught these same kids for 4 semesters), handed out the papers and said “Let’s talk”. I talked about how the writing didn’t match my expectations and, by their faces, didn’t match theirs. Then I humbled myself (oh great ‘formative feedback’ person) and asked them what I hadn’t done for them? Was there something that we could have done in class that would have made them more confident in their language use? These are kids who are in the middle of my formative/summative push – and they told me what they needed. They wanted:

  • some direct ‘grammar’ structures work (gasp a worksheet for example) to make sure they felt good in knowing how to put things together.
  • some time in class to ‘consult’ before a write to ask questions.
  • a review video of key unit points (I have these for other classes) because they felt that this helped them personally to review.
  • a bit more guidance, ‘hand-holding’ they called it, because they were learning to make that shift from teacher driven to student driven

They also wanted to admit that they hadn’t also hadn’t done their job to a certain extent. That in making this shift from ‘everything is for marks’ to formative/summative they dropped the ball in their responsibility to prepare. And I realized then – that this shift I am making – requires time on my part for them. To help them learn to make the shift from passive learner to active controller of their learning.

In the end we called the problem ‘a bit of you/a bit of us’. I will make the shift and include things for them that they feel they need. I will listen and ask more about how they are feeling in this learning journey. So often we worry about ‘our practice’. This was a valuable lesson in learning that changes in my practice also will bring changes in their ‘learning’ and that my ability to shift my practice quickly doesn’t mean they can shift their learning at the same pace…. A humbling time of growth for me…lesson learned.



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October 6, 2016
by leesensei

The “Pre-Oral” Consult – Another Formative Feedback Opportunity

whyAsking if they need assistance. We all do it and for me this is especially true before interpersonal orals. We have them involved in an activity or practice to help set them up for the evaluation. We walk around, ask “any questions?”, respond to the few we get. But I am trying to provide more feedback and, specifically, more meaningful feedback this year. Feedback that encourages growth in their language.

Today for the first time I stepped out to try to do that. In my Yr3 class we have explored the world of Anime and Manga. Their task will be to discuss their favourite characters with an unknown (until the oral) partner in a 5-6 minute conversation. We debriefed the rubric, we talked about what ‘meeting expectations’ would look like. They set out practicing/preparing for what they will have to do including specific circumlocution practice for the vocabulary they selected to use. And then…I added my new piece. One by one I called them out of the room for a quick personal one-on-one ‘consult’. I asked them if they had any questions. Any questions about the process? Anything they are worried they aren’t expressing correctly? Anything they might not be sure how to use if they wanted to include.  The questions they had for me were wide-ranging from ‘What do I do if my partner…” to “I still don’t get how to do/use ….” and even to “So, if I don’t understand something they say I am allowed to tell them that? (yes!)”. Some students had nothing that was pressing. Others had several detailed things they wanted to know. The 60min it took to talk to each of my 30 students was, to me, invaluable. I saw and heard their specific needs, I could provide support and clarification. My goodness – I put my ‘words’ into practice and offered more actual formative feedback!

This was a personal ‘big step’ and win for me. And a confirmation  AGAIN that when we take the time to add formative feedback (in any shape/way we choose) it is time well spent in developing our learners…. I will make time for this in all of my classes….


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June 3, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

#forgetthefluff – Failing Then Learning To Get To What Is Key….

This is me…me at 3:45am up & worried and trying to figure out how to  ‘fit it all in’ before the end of classes June 17th. This is me trying to do what I have always done – the same way….the same thing…This is me trying to fit in the final interactive IPA and prep for a department required oral final. This is me failing… IMG_2836You see I was trying to fit in the Yr4 Travel Fair and give them time to prep for the oral final. And it wasn’t working. I couldn’t get the ‘time to do the project that I always did’ and give them appropriate time for the department required final. And then it came to me…..#forget the fluff. Drill down to what is key… What is key in the travel fair? Is it the brochure they always wasted too much time making? The brochure they wouldn’t see any more in real life because they would see a webpage instead?  What is/was that brochure really for? It is for them to consolidate the information for a really good interpersonal oral exchange on areas in Japan to visit. That’s what is key. So I threw it out. I created a trip sheet that just asked them to organize their information in the TL – not ‘create a product’. The information they would share, explain and even learn about. The 90 minutes they will spend talking/listening/learning from each other. The communicating information part is what is key.

What about the ‘final’? You may find it an easy topic but the final is an interactive show and tell. It demands good listening, lots of follow up questions, thinking on your feet as you explain & answer. Typically I bring them in in 3’s and they have 15 minutes for this. But I have (see photo above) no time. And then it came to me. We have worked for 4 years to be students that are risk-takers, that know what to do when they don’t understand, that support/assist each other in communicating. I just need to hear that in action – I don’t have to ‘police’ it by being there. So forget that ‘fluff’ – they will go in teams of 4 to separate areas and record their conversations. They won’t feel the pressure of doing this in front of me – and I will trust/respect that they will go ‘all in’ to do this. Then they’ll get me the audio file. My being there? The fluff. The communication process. The key….

Next year – less fluff… everything….at every opportunity…less fluff and more of what is ‘key’….


And yes…I finished the puzzle too.




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May 12, 2016
by leesensei

“Why We Are Doing This?” – Intentions Set Expectations For the Interpersonal


Yr3 (Gr 11) prior to the school fair….

j12 story fair retell day intentions

Yr4 (Gr 12) prior to story re-telling day

Why are we doing this? What’s the point of doing this? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we set our students up for success especially in interpersonal activities – the ones where they are interacting without someone ‘watching’. We hand out rubrics, we talk about what we want to see in the language piece, we (may) show examples, we practice and we give feedback. But when they set out on their interpersonal oral how do we keep them ‘focussed’ on the real goal of the time? (Hint – it’s not just to get something done). This year I have been experimenting with explicit intentions – reminders we review – prior to doing the activity. I used them for recent Yr 3 and Yr 4 interpersonal oral work You can see the intentions in the photos – intentions that reflect the purpose of the activity and directly tie to the evaluation rubric elements. I reminded students about these prior to starting and then set them on their interpersonal fair activity (For Yr3 it was the school fair and Yr4 story re-telling as part of their story unit). After this kind of work I like to ask reflection questions. I’ve learned to make the link to these intentions and ask at least one reflection question that relates directly to them such as “Today I met the challenge of ____by ____.” Their responses to this were powerful as they referenced something specific and how they worked to meet it. Responses like “Today I met the challenge of quality conversation by taking the time to really listen to my partner.” or “Today I met the challenge of ensuring my partner understood me by providing help when they indicated they didn’t understand.” I’ve always had goals/purpose – intentions – in the activities I plan. But now I’ve learned that its important to communicate this to my students. And in doing so I help increase their commitment to using and working in the target language.

What ways do you help students to understand why they are doing something?





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April 19, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

The “Level Up” Writing Workshop Class…

HKnRUEcMI’ve been using descriptors instead of numbers for a while now. It’s going well but I have felt like there is a piece missing. It wasn’t until I read Amy Lenord’s post about a writing ‘workshop’ (where would my teaching be without her!) for students. It was then that I realized that I have been good about describing how well students are meeting expectations but not doing enough to show them how to improve. A class like this – dedicated to showing/helping students increase their written output – was long overdue.

I found the perfect opportunity to try this with my Yr4’s. We had been exploring a mini-health unit and had looked at ‘sick notes’ that I claimed to have received from various students in my Yr4 class from last year. You know the ‘I missed the last 3 days because I was playing soccer, hurt my leg etc etc’ kind of note. For a take-home I asked students to prepare a ‘basic’ note in the style of the ones they had been reading.

On workshop day I talked with them about the purpose of the class that day. They were given a copy of the writing rubric – and I went over with them what I feel a ‘minimally meeting’, ‘meeting’ in each category meant. Then I talked with them about their writing. The fact that when they write, they often don’t stop to think to include, to ‘show’ me what they know. I used a ‘making a cake’ analogy and said if many of them made a cake like they wrote they would do the following: know they had to make a cake, gather a few ingredients, stir them up, throw it in the oven and say to themselves ‘gee I hope it’s a delicious cake’. I wanted to impress upon them that, without stifling creativity, they also have to be conscious in their writing, of showing their reader (me) what they know. They have to consider the ‘ingredients’ of the writing as much as the outcome. They have to, to borrow a phrase from Japanese, be conscious of trying to ‘level-up’ their writing. I saw some heads nodding in the room…on to the practical demonstration of what I meant we went…

Then we began the actual exercise. They each received a big (11×17) piece of paper (you could save the planet and have them write use their own) with one of the sick notes, line by line on it. I am not a ‘grammar’ formula teacher but for this they also received a ‘technical sheet’ as I called it – a sheet detailing in English (then TL structure & example in use) the ‘kinds of things that we have covered in Yr3 and 4’.  I reviewed (just in English) the types of things they have in their writing tool-box. Many were surprised to see the extent of what we have covered as far as ‘technical grammar’ goes. I asked them to look at the opening line of the note “I have been away from school since last Wednesday” and I invited them to use the technical sheet to rewrite the first sentence with a ‘level up’ added. They they shared that new sentence with the 3 other people at their table. On to the other sentences we went in the same way. For at least one of the sentences I asked for 2 level-ups to be added. For another I asked them to take 2 shorter sentences and use level-ups to combine them. One student said “If we wrote every sentence this way every time it would be hard to read!”. He is correct, and we talked about judicious use of them in writing. At the end of the exercise they read their complete ‘new’ note to their partner. Then, borrowing from my ‘oral worksheet‘ focus, they had 15 minutes to visit with other students to read (not show) their note with them. Their work for that night was to re-write their basic note using the same idea that I had modelled in class.

After we were done – many smiles and nods as they considered their edits of the note. Students said that they found this a very effective exercise. My first glance at their notes indicates that many looked to inject level-ups into their writing. I will do this again and more often with all my levels.  How do you help students ‘level-up’?


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February 24, 2016
by leesensei

“Say and Pay” – A Strategy Encouraging New Structure Use in Communicating

I am constantly trying to push my students – and to see them push themselves – to work to incorporate our ‘new learning’ into their conversations. No matter how comprehensible your input is, no matter howDSC_0045 perfectly your task may sync up with the input, no matter how supported your output goals are there is still an issue for many students: How do you get them to remember to, to want to, to try to use the ‘new stuff’ in their oral interactions?  Although we may like to think that our teaching ‘style’ and choices will naturally lead to new output sometimes it doesn’t. So I needed a way to encourage kids to see/find a way to make their learning part of their speaking. In prepping for an oral evaluation I stumbled on what I call “Say and Pay”.

The concept is easy enough to put into use. First our class brainstormed the types of things that we might want to see used in our oral task – what ‘old and new’ items fit with what we are doing. Then I took my bag of 100yen coins (tokens or pieces of paper would work as well) and gave each pair 12 or so. Prior to our first conversation round I looked at our class-generated list and picked off 4 items that I wanted them to try to work into their conversation. They each took 4 coins and I told them that when they chose to use that specific item – they were to put their coin on the table. And then they started talking. At the end of the round (3-4 minutes) I asked the class “Who has used at least 1/2 their coins?”.  Everyone put their hand up – and that’s as far as I went in seeking a public response. Then it was off to the next partner – this time with 5 items on our list. And so on. Although we kept rotating partners, I didn’t go beyond a total of 6 items – instead changing up the ‘what’ we were looking for instead of ‘how many’. It was easy to see – as I circulated – who was not using their coins – and an opportunity for me to provide some specific encouragement/support.

As one student told me – “I love to talk with my partner but this helped me remember to try to ‘level up’ what I was saying.”

It’s targeted – yes. It’s specific – yes. And for many of my students it helped them to try to work the ‘new stuff’ in. I’ll use it again.


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January 4, 2016
by leesensei

A “Meaningful” Review Using an “Authentic” Cultural Component

file000742939575There’s a lot of talk about review. Do you review specifics? Do you review ‘everything you did the year before’ you start the new one? I have shifted lately from an overall review to activities at the start that remind students ‘how’ we operate in class.  If you teach on a semester system you can encounter students who have not had the language for a year (!) and something must be done. Although this review style features something specific to Japanese – I think that the ‘culture’ or ‘real authentic use’ component could be adaptable to any language.

Like many languages, Japanese has a variety of ‘politeness levels’ and students in high school typically master the regular ‘formal’ and the more vernacular ‘plain’. In Year 3 my students acquire the plain form – and in Year 4 need to ensure that they start with a clear grasp of it – ready to use at any time. With 2, 6 or even 12 months since the Yr3 course ended how can I a) review the plain and in doing so not b) just make it a march through rules. I want a ‘purpose’ beyond “we need to remember how to…”. I needed a ‘hook’…

And then it came to me. A ‘mini-unit’ that I sometimes did in Year 3 but now, with more expanded time on other units, have not been able to do recently. A cultural exploration of a literary genre that, because it emphasizes/relies on brevity necessitates the use of this plain form. Yes – the Haiku. The traditional 5-7-5 poem already familiar (in English) to my students.  So this year my Yr4’s will begin their course with an exploration of the Haiku. They will look (in English) at the history, requirements, styles of haiku. They will read/analyze in both English and Japanese. They will, as great haiku masters have done, select a pen name to sign their haiku with (and have to explain in Japanese why they chose what they did). And they will write haiku using the required elements and forms. They will share their haiku with the class via a ‘poetry book’ we will put together. And finally they will take up the brushes and experience, many for the first time, writing their haiku using traditional brushes/ink/calligraphy paper.

I am looking forward to this – to the ‘review’ that this exploration provides. It spurs me on to think of other opportunities that I may have to ‘place’ a required review into an authentic context. What natural forms of expression in your Target Language might allow you to do the same?


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December 17, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015 – Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 5 (a tie!) (Questions/Cultural Stations Day)

A tie…yes..between two very different activities. One is focussed on oral communication – and actually practicing/teaching students how to communicate. The other was my first attempt at a station day that solely focused on an aspect of Japanese culture (but adaptable to any TL). Enjoy!

MP900262685Developing 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!

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!



A “New” Cultural/Target Language Station Activity Day…

This post seems at first just to be for Japanese teachers – but I believe that the ideas – not the content – make it useful for anyone contemplating adding more ‘station’ work in their classes. I have written before about my quest to put more into my units. This was my first “not at the end of a unit – review & extra items” station experience. No this was all about a visual/audio/reading work focused on one topic: Sumo wrestling. Students would be exposed to both authentic resources, adapted resources and TL/English videos.

My class has 30 students in it – so I had 8 stations on the go. We were at each for 15 minutes.. and if they ended early they worked on a station activity (reading) that they might not have finished – or they talked. This took just over 2 whole periods to do  (or you could space this out and do a couple a day while doing other things.)

Each station – has a table number and resources for the station. The viewing stations used my 3 class computers and my laptop. They all had a headphone splitter and extra headphones (dollar store) if students didn’t have their own. The reading stations had extra copies of the vocabulary needed for the readings.

Each student – received a readings package, a handout booklet – with the activity/instructions for each station. Students moved sequentially from table to table with their current table partners.

Video Stations – Each station involved viewing with questions before or after in the English or the TL.  One station called on them to answers questions to test their prior knowledge of Sumo (in English) and then watch a short history video to see how correct they were. Another showed an actual match with Japanese commentary – students viewed the match and answered questions in English about various information that appeared, in print, on the screen (the wrestlers, their rank etc). Another station showed a short National Geographic piece about the daily life of wrestlers and asked them to reflect on what they found most interesting.

Audio Station – an “interview with a sumo wrestler” taken from an older textbook resource I no longer use. It’s a nice piece with TL and cultural content so I continue to use it. Students listen/read along and answer questions in the TL.

Reading Stations – I had 4 TL-related reading stations all together. Two stations were short readings in the TL about Sumo’s history, rules, requirements to be a wrestler and daily life. These are ‘adapted’ pieces taken from graded readers designed for those learning Japanese. They are accessible, written by Japanese and in my books ‘authentic’. Students completed reading comprehension Q’s in Japanese.  The third station was a ‘catch up’ station for any readings that they had started by not completed. A fourth station was another TL reading that had them looking at a sumo-related recipe for  the high calorie/high protein stew – Chankonabe; finding the ingredients that goes into this famous dish. Then they watched a short video on the making of the dish.

Using the Information Gathered – Students have two activities designed to tap into what they learned during their station work. One is an oral discussion day – a conversation circle activity based upon questions that they answered at the reading stations. The second is an infographic produced in the TL by the partners. They can only use the information gathered during the sumo day and any ‘new vocabulary’ they encountered there is okay as well. The assignment is mostly in Japanese but the rubric gives a good idea of what I am looking for. They will have time on ‘graphic’ day to read/view the infographics. I just included an updated post on the activities in my latest post.

This was my first move to use stations to really explore/introduce a topic. It will undergo ‘refining’ in the future I am sure but I am pleased to have made my first foray into this ‘cultural’ target language learning activity.







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December 16, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 4! (Interactive Orals)

I am a big fan of using ‘interactive fair’ orals – when students work with each other (without a hovering teacher) to exchange information/learn from each other. I use them at every level. Often the summative writing piece draws on the information that they obtained during the fair. This post talked about my ‘first’ interactive oral that I introduce – for my novices – and their reaction to this sort of activity. It comes after much work using activity rubrics and other strategies (not understanding etc) so that they are ‘ready’ to do this. And so…the Number 4 most popular post this year…

club names“It Was Cool!” Their First Group Interpersonal Oral…

I am so proud of my Year 1’s. In one (strike-shortened) semester they have mastered one new orthography and are well on their way to a second. They are learning how to feel confident and communicate in a second language they’ve only experienced watching anime or looking at manga. And yesterday – for 40 fabulous minutes – they talked, laughed and communicated solely in Japanese.

The first interactive group oral of their language-learning journey is based on a simple premise: activities they like to do.  The students are also, by this time, becoming very comfortable with follow-up questions like ‘where at?’, ‘when’, and ‘who with’.  Whenever I am casting about for a suitable oral I like to think of ‘when’ the vocabulary/grammar would be used in real life. For me, tying in activities with their daily life led me to clubs.

The Task – The students are asked to create a club and select 3 activities that would be done there. Then they have to decide on meeting times, who they have formed their club with and where they meet. The students also had to think of reasons/ways to convince someone to join in with them.

The Preparation – The topic is introduced via a club that I created and put up on the screen. We worked through Q/A on the details of that club. Then they had, working as pairs, 2 classes to prepare – with part of one taken up with an ‘information gap’ (partner has information that I need, I have information for them) activity to practice asking/answering questions. They also had time to come up with their club sign which is worth no marks but still seems to be the most labour-intensive part of the whole task!

The Club Day – With a 30-student class I pulled out 1/2 of my desks and made a big circle around the room with the rest. Students sat on either side of the desks – the student on the ‘inside’ of the circle would be first to visit other clubs – the student on the ‘outside’ would be the club signmanager for that period of time and give out information. The signs stand up on the desk with the help of dollar store picture holders. Just before we begin we review what the purpose of the oral is – to practice speaking, to talk to our classmates and to relax and have fun. Then we begin – and students visit other clubs, asking questions in Japanese and recording in English (do they understand?). After they visited 6 or 7 clubs they switched roles with their partner. All in all about 35-40 minutes in the target language!

The Evaluation – It’s my practice to have this activity ‘self-evaluated’. It is also my practice not go straight to the rubric but to have students reflect on the process through written comments first.  They were asked to complete two sentences: “That was ___ because…” and “I am most proud that…”  Their comments showed their personal pride in completing the task:

“That was cool because we talked in Japanese for 40 minutes! When I started (class) I didn’t think that we would have learned that much!”
“That was fun because I learned from other people and got to know others better!”
“I am most proud that I didn’t use English during this activity.”
“I am most proud that I could tell others about my club!”
“That was awesome because I know that I’ve improved in my Japanese speaking and listening!”
“That was cool because I got to talk with my classmates without having a lot of pressure about messing up!”
“That was pretty cool because as I was speaking I was also realizing that I learned a lot this semester!”

But, after a semester of language learning and team building my favourite comment was:

“That was fun because I got to speak Japanese with my friends!” 

Job done!


A copy of the student portion of the task is here with task outline, fill in form and evaluation. If you find it useful – please do so with credit.

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