Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

The “Challenge Sentence” Start of the Year (or Mid-Unit) Activity…

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I’m always working on providing formative feedback for my students. For that reason I rarely announce a structure ‘quiz’ but choose to see how well kids are doing with a “pop check in“. And in another change from the start of my teaching career, I don’t do a ‘review’ any more…I jump right into the first unit with the idea that some ‘review’ may occur while we are working on the new material.  And for this purpose I began to use the the “Challenge Sentence” activity. In it I ask a student ‘how might we communicate…?”

How It Works….

On the board I will put 3-4 sentences in English and say to students ‘Here’s some Challenge Sentences…How might we communicate these in Japanese?” (horrified people who may consider this translating stop reading now!). Then below the English sentence I actually put the vocabulary words that a student would use – in random order. The students find a blank spot in their unit book and see if they can put the challenge sentence together.  As they are working on it I gradually write out a possible answer on the board. After all are done…we debrief – especially if there are ‘options’ or ‘choices’ in how it can be written. I often use it each day of the first 5-6 days of a new semester to quickly review ‘past’ structures needed for the new unit. (Sometimes I also want to see if, in the middle of a unit, a concept is ‘there’ for a student and I will use this instead of a pop check-in.)

Why We Like It …

It’s gentle, personal , instant feedback for a student. It checks to see if they are ‘okay’ with a structure and putting a particular style of sentence together. It doesn’t punish a student for not remembering a word.  It can be used when you want to have kids check if they are getting a current concept. My students tell me they like it because it is private and personal. They get to see what they already know and where the gaps are or if they ‘have it (and I’ve learned that kids like to know when they do get it).

It’s really not a new idea…but somehow the name “Challenge Sentence” makes it seem more intensely “fun”…!


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