Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

June 21, 2016
by leesensei

Setting Them Up For the Real World: What Should An “Oral Final” Be?

58db2d0e2c1397f19cc3fd65bcffa2daWhat should an oral final look/sound like? I’ve been thinking about this as I continue to try to take away the ‘unnecessary’ – and get to the necessary – in my classroom.  And I’ve thought a lot about what the ‘summative’ part means. This is the ‘last’ oral interaction – especially for some of my juniors (not going to Yr4), and all of my seniors, that they will have in the Target Language. This is a significant moment and I want the legacy of this moment – the impact of it – to be felt by them. I want them to leave my program with the confidence to take an opportunity to use, or further develop, their skills and choose to act upon them. It may be the end of their class journey but I hope it’s not the end of their learning. So I’ve rethought what a summative oral should be and I’ve gone in my thinking from ‘testing what they know’ to ‘establishing what they will hopefully do…’

It Should Mirror A Future Real Life Situation

Our goal in the future is to hopefully have students, in some way, continue their interest in the TL. And what will this most likely involve? Using it – using it in conversation, using it to find out information, using it to get something done. So their summative oral should leave them with the confidence that they have the skills (basic or more developed) to do this. I watched students in our cafeteria – sitting around…talking….interacting with their peers and I thought “This is what I want…”

It Should Capture All You Hope Their Learning Should Be

 For me that means its isn’t memorized, it involves choice in expression and it is communicative. The summative has to allow students to put into use what we have spent the time in class ‘developing’. Providing detailed information, asking when you don’t understand & being able to help others understand, and asking follow-up questions are the three big skills we work on in oral interaction. I want my students to be confident communicators no matter what their level. So the oral summative must draw upon these and be a ‘test’ of these skills. Can they communicate and provide details, can they say when they don’t understand & explain what someone doesn’t understand them and finally can they ask for information using great follow-up questions? This is what I want their summative experience to be.

It Should Not Involve The Teacher

Barring a job interview or maybe a university opportunity the majority of my students will actually use their TL skills in other ways. So why would I insert myself into their conversation? I have also come to realize that, if at all possible, I should not be present for this. Yes – I won’t be there in the future will I? They won’t choose to speak with someone for ‘marks’. So if at all possible I want them to see that they can do this on their own and don’t need a ‘monitor’ or ‘input provider’ or the ‘presence’ of an evaluator to do this.

So what is my intention now in a summative oral? I wrote it on the board for my students to keep in mind:



This year I held my breath, trusted my students, trusted the process we have gone through and sent them off to do all of the above. We had some in-class preparation around the basic prompts but they didn’t know who they would be working with, or ‘how’ this would be done (they thought it would be in front of me). On the day of the oral I talked with them about what I feel the oral should be, then I told them they would be doing this in teams of 4, without me there, with people they knew. Armed with 2 phones (a back up recording) they went in 4’s to empty rooms, turned on the the voice recording memo feature and talked.

In Yr4 they started with a key item that is important to them. A chance to ‘show & tell’ but so much more. Most groups talked for about 25 minutes –  explaining, lots of questions, inclusive of all, and supporting their peers in this. Amazing detail, use of language and most of all – relaxed conversation. Yr3 took some prompts…basic ‘find out about’ designed to allow them to use what we had explored, and talked for about 15+ minutes. No notes, no ‘re-do’s’, no worrying about ‘what if I make an mistake or don’t understand’. I am listening to them now. Yes there are errors, misunderstandings and some are not as confident as others. But I am listening to 4 students converse & share detailed information in a relatively relaxed manner using the TL.  I believe I’m also listening to students who, in the future, are going to take that chance to use the language again.





January 24, 2015
by leesensei

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

club namesI 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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