Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

April 6, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

“What Was Your Challenge? How Did You Overcome It” – Student Responses and What I Learned…


In my last post I wrote about my goal of ‘traction’ for my students. But the key for me is “Is the lesson on how to communicate/what to do if there are challenges?” getting through.

My Year4’s do a group interactive oral based upon a taste test. In the past I would not have been too strict on it but this is the new me and I asked that they do their 2-day preparation for the activity all in the target language (gasp! yes – I didn’t used to think they could!). It took some time – and some work to give them what they needed – and many ‘support/needed phrases’ went up on the whiteboard. Afterwards I asked them to reflect on how it went using my usual activity rubric. More importantly I first asked them to write their answer to the following prompt: “What were the challenges in doing this – and how did you overcome them (or did you?)”. Their answers tell me that many of the skills we try to acquire to communicate are there… and also that there is some work to do.

“Personally I do not think that I completely overcame the challenges I faced, but the use of hand gestures and examples helped me through…”

“Speaking Japanese for the whole time was a big challenge. I wasn’t sure how to connect the words to make sense at items but I tried to use language that we had learned in the past. This totally helped me to go on and talk with my partner.”

“I honestly got stuck several times with my partner – at a loss for vocabulary – but I got through this by (like Lee Sensei said) finding other words to get out of the ‘hole’ and use words I do know.”

“We used body language to express what we were trying to say (when we didn’t know) and to be honest its a good thing to do – it worked!”

“It was a challenge to ask something that the other person would be able to understand – I overcame this by testing sentences until they understood what I wanted to say.”

“To overcome this I tried to use similar words, and then rephrasing to make my point get across.”

“Yesterday when I was stuck I resorted to English – but today we learned from yesterday’s mistakes and used actions and simple words – instead of English to overcome the language barrier.”

“I can converse in a conversation but planning I tend to need to use more complicated sentences and that was more difficult. I tried to overcome it by trying out different sentence starters, rewording as I needed to..”

“When my partner and I worked together I felt more comfortable to overcome the challenges of not knowing certain words”

“It was very uncomfortable at first but I focused on only using Japanese and it worked okay and I gained some confidence (in using it)”

“I think we didn’t really have a clear strategy in not using English except that we both tried our best not to and that really helped us overcome the challenge of not using it! In the end it was the effort that did it!”

“It was difficult to talk completely in Japanese – we used our unit book notes etc. to help – but it was do-able.”

And what did I learn from this?

I learned that all the work we do with assisting, circumlocuting and rephrasing is sinking in.

I learned that they will commit to using the TL only if they think it is worthwhile to do so.

And I learned this should be the norm – they should be able to plan (and do) in the target language (do I see the influence of PBL @sraspanglish?). BUT this means I start them doing this in earlier years – with lots of language support they will need. Then I can scaffold up my expectations of their language use as we ‘raise’ the bar in their TL use while planning/preparing.

It was a great to see them ‘digging in’ to do this and to learn how I can support them more as they try to move forward with language use.





March 19, 2014
by leesensei

An Exercise for Building Circumlocution Skills -The Group Reading Recap

soothing ripplesI’ve always approached “another way to say the same thing/get your meaning across” as an essential skill for the vocabulary-limited second language learner. But how to start – how to have kids begin to think of other ways to express an idea without the immediate lunge for the dictionary?

One way for me is the “Group Reading Recap”. In my classes we  use this as we do specific readings and some sort of summary/discussion based upon it. Students work their way through a reading – first as a group and then again as pairs. During the pair time I ask them to do “Two and Talk” – meaning that they are to each read a sentence then stop and talk about what they have read – and work out the meaning together. After that it is my custom – with the Yr1 and Yr2 groups – to do what I call a whole class ‘reading re-cap’. What it is  – I realize – is my first collective exercise in circumlocution skills. Here’s how it works for me:

The setup:

7-10 comprehension questions about what they have read – dialogue, short story piece, chapter of a book, song etc
In order to facilitate talking about an answer, and not just reading it, they are asked to provide answers to the questions in ‘key word’ or ‘point’ form (I will run a quick eye over the page to see if there are sentences).
A goal of  6 oral responses over the course of the exercise
They know that they have to have more than the direct answer available to get a contribution point and I ‘ll take anything that ‘works’ to indicate an answer. So if the answer to “Where is Ben from?” is “Australia” – they work on other ways to communicate that – “a hot country” “a country near New Zealand” “a country with lots of kangaroos” “a country that loves to eat vegemite” etc.  Another might be “How does he get to school?” and for “on foot” it may extend to “he walks” “he walks quickly” or even “He doesn’t go by car”.

The recap day:

– Time to prepare
– students get initial time to go over what they have with their partner – it’s a chance to check for errors or alter what they have in a non-public and supportive way
– Remind them of the “rules” & ideas to rework an answer someone just gave
-prior to beginning I remind students that I want them to get their full 6 points – so I am looking for answers from everyone possible
– this isn’t a competition – it’s a time to encourage participation so I remind them that I will not always take the hand that goes up first but I promise to take all possible answers before I move on to the next question
-we also review how to rework an answer adding in other adjectives/adverbs to make it “original”
– Ask the first questions & correct as needed
-ask the first question and up go the hands. In order to encourage them I often call on students who I know are less reluctant to participate when I see their hand up before those that love to give answers. As they give an answer I note it down on a class list
-if an answer comes in a not totally correct way – I provide it and ask the student to repeat it
– stay with one question until all hands are down…before moving on to the next
-Watch for those who are slower to participate
-as we near the end I also start looking for kids who have less than their 6 answers and encourage them – a silent look/or ‘1 more!’ – to ensure that they get full marks.

Results that I see/hear:

 – students become more aware that not having the ‘right’ word is not a block to communicating
– they are more willing to try to explain than just whip out the dictionary
– they tend to use these skills naturally when a conversation partner does not understand them
– their writing shows evidence of the work – with more descriptive and detailed expression

The Reading Recap exercise is just one way that students practice circumlocution. It directly prompts them to think of other ways to communicate meaning and gives them skills to use when a roadblock occurs.  As students leave Yr2 and enter Yr3 I move them away from always doing the ‘group’ reading recap and into doing something similar in their conversation circles.  If you have any questions about the exercise – just let me know. It’s a great start in building their skills in ‘another way to say…’





Skip to toolbar