Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

March 21, 2016
by leesensei

The Song Lyric “English First” Reading Activity

We use songs a lot in our world language classes – they are an amazingly authentic resource – and often just downright fun to listen to. file000564987721#Langchat has done more than one chat on this subject and I have written about my ‘song of the week‘  and the variety of ways I use it (among other ideas) in the past.

This past month I stumbled on a new aspect of the song activity. Keep in mind that this initially came as part of a bigger activity but it emerged as a fun interpretive add-on. In a nutshell it involves using the English version of the TL (target language) song lyrics as well as the TL ones.

What you need – a copy of the English lyrics and the TL lyrics (you can almost always find them online). Please note that I get my songs from iTunes (I believe its important to pay the artist).

What you doTo start, I put the lyrics side by side on a piece of paper (trying to match up the lines) and have the students fold them to only initially see the English version. You could put them on two separate pieces and only hand out the English first. Then play the song 2-3 times with the students looking at the English lyrics as they listen. I don’t worry too much about “understanding” – I want them to be listening and ‘reading’ the meaning. Next ask them to choose 5 words (or phrases or lines depending on their level) in the English that they want to see ‘what they are’ in the TL. Finally, once they have them I then ask them to look and search for the key phrases. Nope – no dictionaries at this point – they have to use the original English lyrics, position in the song etc. I then allow them to look up the words in the dictionary to see what they ‘mean’ in the original language. Finally we share out 1 key word each (on the whiteboard) that they found and think they will use again!

Why I like this – There’s so many ways that we use songs and I must admit that this type of approach was an afterthought during a more traditional ‘use the song’ activity. But I found that I liked it because:

  • It reinforces that we don’t directly translate from one language to another – it’s so much more than that – we have to consider not what they are saying but what they are ‘communicating’.
  • It’s personal – students are finding words/phrases that appeal to them
  • It’s interpretive – they are using guessing, inference, and more to try to find the match
  • It’s different – we almost always go to the TL lyrics first – so it’s a twist

Students enjoyed this ‘song’ option and I heard more than one “hey I was right!” comment during the time. I’ll try it again with other songs in the future!








March 10, 2016
by leesensei

Mash-Up: Interpretive Reading Meets Interpersonal Activity!

Photo via White Rabbit ExpressInterpretive reading is a new ‘push’ of mine and I’ve been making full use of my supply of graded readers for this. My Yr4’s are currently working in a food unit and I tapped the “Sushi” reading for this purpose. It is from a lower level than my students can handle but perfect for this read/use activity.(Just a note that due to extensive kanji (Chinese character) use in ‘real’ authentic resources, and a class composed of 50% character readers, I’ve been using the ‘created by Japanese/adapted by Japanese for language-learners’ stories).

Day 1 – the pair ‘Interpretive Reading/Question-Making Activity’: I designed a series of questions designed to tap their prior knowledge (and in our area of the world it is extensive) about sushi. They worked in partners for this – with a mind to the ensuing activity. The rule in the reading activity is, of course, no dictionaries but rather using picture and word clues to find the information.  They tackled this quite easily but it did require careful reading. I noted partners correcting each other’s answers/ideas and pointing to parts of the text to make their point. Well done! We did not go over the answers in class as I checked in with each group and prompted changes when needed. Everyone had the information they needed to proceed to next part of the activity.

Now on to the key part of the interpretive reading – the ‘Challenge Quiz’ questions! Students were asked to come up with 10 questions/answers (in a variety of formats – multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank) about the sections read, in the Japanese.  From the assignment: You will challenge other teams – but you will ‘read’ your questions so they should not be long/complicated.  Answers must be ‘easily’ found in the text and not based on the ‘fine print’ or knowledge of kanji. Your questions must not require dictionaries to understand – they are to be understood by your classmates. Students worked hard on their questions (in fact I dropped the requirement to 8 due to time constraints) and came to class ready for Day 2.

Day 2 – the ‘Interpersonal’ Pair Challenge – I gave the students some time to review their questions as well as become familiar with the phrases for question types (how do you say “this is a multiple choice question” in your target language?).  I also introduced them to the points system they would be using. Essentially a team got a 1-point for answering correctly without using the text, 1/2-point for having to find the answer in the text and 2 points if the answer the questioning team gave was wrong! We also reviewed potentially useful language like ‘guessing’ (“I’m pretty sure the answer is…”) and ‘you’re right/wrong’. Then they paired up opposite another team and began. There was lots of intent listening and laughing (as well as a few well placed insults).  They spent about 35minutes in the TL asking/answering and many were upset they didn’t get more questioning time.

Student Feedback/What I Will Do For Next Time – I asked my students for feedback on this activity specifically on how they liked it/didn’t like it, what they needed that they didn’t have to do it and if we should do it again. They loved the activity for the ‘spontaneity’ it required in asking. For next time I will include ‘debrief’ time as many students wanted to hear ‘the most interesting questions’ that teams asked. Students asked for ‘arguing’ phrases (and mild ‘joking’ ones) to use against their partners. I only used parts of the reading for this activity and many wrote that they wanted to read the whole thing (yeah!)

I like the idea of this kind of ‘mash-up’ and the noise, laughter and ‘arguing’ in the room tells me that it was an effective way to encourage speaking/listening. More please!



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