Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Meaningful “Real Life” Oral Tasks


Over the past 17 years I have seen a real change in how I view the dreaded  ‘speaking test’ portion of my Japanese classes. I used to struggle with what to do besides a ‘conversation’, presentation or a skit. A more experienced colleague, one day  sent me off on a new path with the idea of  ‘ final tasks’. Since then I have worked to make meaningful “real life” tasks , as tests of their oral skill,  for my students to participate in. These are all peer to peer, interactive and are done only in the target language.

“When would we use this in real life?” For any unit we teach there is a set of grammar and vocabulary that goes with it. The key for me was to step back and look at the forms themselves, and the theme, and see how the two could relate. For example,  ‘daily routine’. When does a daily routine become a topic of conversation? This became our “Murder Mystery” with students playing both suspects and detectives trying to figure out who the culprit is. In fact they spend about  50 minutes, only in the target language, asking and answering many of the same questions over and over, thereby reinforcing the major unit points. A food unit for my seniors is now ” Marketing Taste Tests”. School life lead to a “School Fair” with students creating and then discussing their own unique schools.

“All communication in the TL/all writing in English” At this point I am extending my experiment further by requiring that any information written down during the oral be in English. This not only means that students must be able to comprehend the oral interaction but also requires them to know what to do when someone doesn’t understand. We work on rephrasing, giving examples and physical clues to aid comprehensuon.

“Using the information on the Written test” Once our orals are complete, they aren’t forgotten. Instead students use the information gathered on their written test. After the school fair they wrote about which school they would like to attend and why . Our Taste Test results are used to prepare a report with recommendations for our school store. Murder? Yes – they make the case for  “Who did it”.

“Self-evaluation is key”  Once our oral tasks are done students evaluate their ability to do what I asked them to do. Their rubric-based responses also require some written justification for their evaluation. Students know that I also have my ‘ears open’ during the oral and reserve the right to challenge their assessment if it is  not accurate. Student express great satisfaction in the ability to communicate with their peers not just ‘talk to them’.

These activities are not the only oral/listening evaluation that goes on in my class. But for my students, year after year, they seem to be the most valuable in building confident second language learners.




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