After seeing my students in action with each other or with guest students on Skype, I realized they needed help figuring out how to extend a conversation in Spanish. Let’s face it, some students (and adults) have problems conversing in their native language, especially with people they don’t know very well. I have worked out a process that helps develop these skills, and I’d like to describe it to you.
My Spanish III students have been working on this skill set for a quarter, and I am very proud of the progress they are making. Like anything else, the more they practice the better they get. I started them out with 5-6 open ended questions that used the vocabulary they were working on. I challenged them to only talk in Spanish for 4 minutes. I figured this was very doable for them. I wanted to give them a sense of accomplishment and not frustration with the first round.
At the end of the 4 minutes, we came back as a class and I randomly picked one student (Student A). I asked the whole class to come up with follow up questions based on the student’s response. Each student earned a participation point for their follow up question. Student A continued to answer her classmates’ questions until the class ran out of questions or I could sense discomfort in Student A. It went something like this: (I’ll give the example in English)
Teacher: Do you know how to drive?
Student A: I know how to drive.
Student 1: What car do you drive? --> I drive a Corolla.
Student 2: What color is the car? --> It is blue.
Student 3: Do you drive to school? --> Yes, I drive to school.
Student 4: Do you bring someone to school? --> I bring my friend.
Student 5: What is your friend’s name? --> Her name is Sarah.
Student 6: Where does she live? --> She lives on Oak street.
Student 7: Is she nice? --> She is very nice.
Once the class had exhausted their questions, we counted to see how many questions were asked from the original prompt “Do you know how to drive?” My most outgoing class spent over 6 minutes asking follow up questions that started from the initial prompt I had given them. Once the individual students saw the class modeling how to extend the conversation, they were better prepared for the next conversation round.
I extended their talk time by 1 or 2 minutes for the second “round”. I explained to them that the goal wasn’t to “finish” asking their partners the prompt questions. Their goal was to ask as many follow up questions as they could. If they didn’t get to question 4 or 5, but they were talking the entire time, that was fine by me. I also let them know that they could go wherever the conversation took them, as long as the follow up questions made sense. “She lives on Oak street” should not be followed up with “What did you do Friday night?”. On the other hand, “Did you go out with her Friday?” makes conversational sense and will change the direction of the conversation if that is the student’s goal. The follow up questions should demonstrate that the student has heard and understood what their partner has said. The questions should not be random or disjointed.
I keep a timer going when they are working with their partners and I mix their partners up. Sometimes they pick their partners. Sometimes they work with the student that sits next to them. Sometimes I randomly pair them up. They speak longer when they are working with someone they know, but I want them to practice talking with a variety of students. I also make sure I am moving all over the classroom when they are doing this activity.
So far, most of my students have respected the “Sólo español”, and only lapse into English unintentionally. I do call out kids that use English, and if a set of partners is having a hard time speaking to each other I will stay with them & model conversational questions, until I think that the students can take over, or the kids are tired of having me hanging around and are willing to talk in Spanish to get me moving :)
My student know that they will have a class reward when they can talk in Spanish for 30 minutes with their partners. This has been a big motivator for most kids. A couple of my classes are begging me to let them try to talk for 30 minutes today!! I think many could, but for now I want each practice session to end with a sense of “I could go on for 2-3 more minutes!”, and not rush the students who are still working on mastering this activity and skill set.