Monthly Archives: January 2016

4 Interpersonal Activities for Novice Learners

talkingAlthough I recently shared a few thoughts about assessing novice students in the interpersonal mode, I didn’t describe any specific interpersonal tasks.  However, a recent #langchat discussion has me thinking a lot about the types of tasks that help our beginners increase their proficiency in this mode.

In order to for an interpersonal activity to increase student proficiency, the students need a reason to produce language. While many of my Intermediate learners would be happy to spend most of each class period talking about topics of interest, my Novice students need a lot more direction.  Therefore, most of the activities I design for them are quite task-oriented.

While I have shared many of the following activities in various unit plans, I thought it might be helpful to put them all together in one post.  Because one of my first units in French 1 is likes/dislikes, I’ve used this theme as an example in my descriptions. with a few suggestions for other common introductory topics. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for any of these activities, they’ve all been shared with me through the years by great language teachers.

  1. Interview One of the first interpersonal activities that my novice low students complete are simple interviews. Because these students are not yet able to create with the language, I provide the students with questions they will use to interview a partner on a topic that has been introduced by an infographic or other highly visual authentic resource. For example, after interpreting a graphic organizer on popular leisure activities among French people, the students will interview a partner by asking a partner whether s/he likes each of the activities shown in the infographic.  These true beginners can either check a yes/no column to record his/her partner’s responses, or circle the pictures that represent the activities their partner likes.  As with many of the interpersonal activities I use with my students, this one can be serve as a springboard to presentational speaking and writing activities.  In this case, a student might introduce his/her partner to the class by telling five activities s/he likes or write a series of sentences giving the same information.
  2. Guess Who Any interpersonal activity that is formatted like a game is highly motivating for students. Although the students will not be communicating about their actual preferences, activities, etc. they will be practicing the questions and answers they will need to discuss these topics in a more open-ended format on a later assessment. In addition, the repetitive nature of the game aids the students in memorizing key vocabulary in a contextualized way.To play this game, each students receives a handout with several names each of which is followed by a series of pictures representing vocabulary related to the unit theme. (No two names will have all of the same pictures.)  Students are paired up and directed to choose an identity from those on the page.  The students then take turns asking questions in order to eliminate identities until they determine which one their partner has chosen. In this example, the students asked the question, “Tu manges …?” in order to guess which identity their partner had chosen. I have also used this game with my Novice students for the following topics:
  • Preferences/leisure activities: Students ask Tu aimes…? and the pictures show various leisure activities
  • Clothing: Students ask Tu portes…? and pictures show various clothing items.
  • Places: Students ask Tu vas…? and pictures show different places that people go.
  • School subjects: Students ask Tu as…? and pictures represent different classes.
  • School supplies: Students ask Tu as…? and each picture shows a different school supply.
  • Vacations: Students ask Tu vas…? and each picture shows a different vacation activity.

As a formative assessment following this game, I might make a series of true/false statements about the various identities and have the students respond in writing or physically to demonstrate their comprehension. Alternately, I might have the students write sentences about one of the identities on the page (or comparing their actual preferences to those of one of the identities).

  1. Friendship Circle In this activity, student interview each other in order to complete a Venn diagram comparing their preferences, activities, etc.  For early novices, it is helpful to prepare the students for this activity by giving them a list of activities and asking them to circle the ones they like to do.  The students then take turns asking their partner whether s/he likes to do each of the activities that they have circled.  If the partner responds affirmatively, both partners write Nous aimons + activity in the middle of the Venn diagram.  If the partner answers negatively, then the asker writes J’aime + activity on the left side of the diagram and his/her partner writes Il (elle) aime + activity on the right side of the diagram. An added benefit of this activity is that it provides contextualized writing practice including three different subjects/verb conjugations.

This activity can be used to compare preferences, activities, items in one’s bedroom/backpack/lunchbox/closet and personality/physical characteristics, to name a few.

  1. Speed friending: This activity involves interviewing a series of classmates in order to determine compatibility. Before beginning the interviews, I have each student write down the questions they will ask (yes/no questions about preferences, for example) in order to find the most compatible classmate. I then arrange the students in two rows which are facing each other. (For a large class, I might have a total of four rows, arranged into two pairs of facing rows.) The students have a pre-determined amount of time (usually 2-3 minutes) to interview the person they are facing.  When the time is up, the students in one of the rows each move one space to the right (the student on the far right end goes to the beginning/spot on the left.) The student continue their short interviews until they have interviewed each person in the row facing theirs, or until I feel that the activity has achieved its maximum potential.  Here are a few topics that I have used or intend to use for these interviews:
  • Preferences/Pastimes Students ask a series of questions about their classmate’ likes/dislikes in order to choose which classmate they’d like to stay with when their own parents go out of town for a few days. As a follow-up activity, the students write a message to their parents telling which friend they’d like to stay with and why.
  • School Novice students assume the role of incoming high school students and ask questions about their classmate’s school schedule in order to decide whom to shadow for the day. They then write a note to their guidance counselor telling which classmate they have chosen and why.
  • Food Students interview each other about their eating habits in order to choose whose family to stay with for a few days and then write/talk about why they chose that person.
  • Family Students are told that they need to do some babysitting to earn extra money. They then interview their classmates about their families in order to choose which family they’d like to babysit for. They then write a note to the parents explaining why they would like to babysit for them.
  • Daily Routine Students interview each other about their daily routine in order to choose which classmate they would choose as their roommate on a class trip to France. They then write a note to me explaining the student they have chosen as their roommate and why they have selected this person.

I have found that interpersonal activities such as these provide my students with the opportunities they need to practice the vocabulary and structures they will use for the more open-ended prompts that I assign for their interpersonal assessments. In addition, these activities allow me to circulate among the students providing individualized feedback that will enable them to perform successfully on these summative assessment tasks.


Le Petit Déjeuner: An IPA for Novice French Students

petitdejOne of the great things about being in the second year of the process of becoming more proficiency-based in my teaching is that I am able to rely on some of the materials I created last year.  While I’ve found myself modifying many of these units, I’m also trying to reuse those lessons that I found were effective in accomplishing the goals that I have identified for my students.  Having chosen Balance as my #oneword for this year, I definitely have to resist the urge to completely recreate each unit (Although I’m tempted!).

One unit that I’m hoping to change very little is the Food and Mealtimes unit that I used with my French 1 students last year.  This unit, which I shared in three separate posts last year (post 1, post 2, post 3), was effective in developing my students’ cultural competency regarding Francophone mealtimes as well as their proficiency across the modes. On a practical level, however, the length of this unit caused some minor record-keeping problems.  Because 80% of my students’ grades are based on end of unit IPA’s, these students had no major grades for several weeks.  In order to remedy this issue, I’ve decided to give a series of IPA’s throughout this unit. In this way I can assure that my students and their parents have adequate information about their progress throughout the unit.

This first IPA, therefore, will assess the students’ ability to communicate in each mode on the topic of breakfast.  In the interpretive reading they will interpret an article (page 1, page 2  )from Astrapi magazine about making breakfast in bed for Father’s Day.  In the interpretive listening they will watch a video about healthy breakfasts.  Although I included short answer questions here, my students will actually take a multiple choice version on our Learning Management System, Canvas. As always, I do not expect my Novice Mid students to be able to correctly answer all of these questions! I like to build lots of stretch into my listening comprehension, but to assess based on their current proficiency.  In this case, the students are only expected to be able to answer a handful of the questions by identifying key words that they have practiced for the last few days.  After these two interpretive activities, the students will complete an interpersonal communication task in which they play the role of either a Belgian teenager or American exchange student.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I’ve found that I can more fully integrate culture across the modes by assigning the students roles that will allow them to demonstrate the cultural competence they’ve gained as a result of their work in the unit. Finally, they will write a blog entry about Belgian breakfast habits.

Although it will take a little additional time to grade multiple IPA’s, I think the feedback that my students receive will make this extra effort well worth it!

Une Journée à l’école : An inductive introduction to the passé composé for Novice High French students


One of the most challenging aspects of my growth in standards-based teaching has been to design lessons that allow my students to acquire the grammatical structures they will need to increase their proficiency. While I have found that most of my students will internalize many structures, such as the use of various articles, many verb forms, irregular adjective forms, etc., other structures require a bit more direct attention.  It has been my experience that the formation of the passé composé is one such structure.  While I understand that this structure would eventually be acquired, I have found that designing lessons that draw the students’ attention to this form and then encourage them to use it to express their own meaning have been effective in improving their overall proficiency. In general, the unit that I shared in this previous post, was very effective in introducing the passé composé to my Level 2 students.  As a result of this unit, my students began using the past tense in their speaking and writing, and were able to understand this structure in context when listening and reading.  While they continued to make errors in choice of auxiliary and agreement (as expected), they also demonstrated their ability to form this tense in new contexts as the year progressed.  In fact, I was happily surprised that this knowledge carried over during the summer and these students were able to discuss their vacations at the beginning of French 3 with no direction instruction or review of the tense. Because this unit was so effective, I will reteach it with only a few modifications.

This unit (click here for the student packet)  consists of five different written or recorded authentic texts, each of which is accompanied by an interpersonal and presentational task.  I have made a few changes, based on last year’s results.  The first of these is that I eliminated the English comprehension questions from the video in lesson 3. I found that completing these questions was very-time-consuming for the students, and providing feedback required too much English on my part.  Instead I will pause the video and ask French comprehension during the viewing phase.  I will then give the students time for the French true/false questions at the end of the segment.  While I included the activities for all three segments in one lesson (they were spread out in last year’s packet), I will most likely intersperse these listening activities among the other lessons to provide variety and increase engagement. The other significant change that I made was to select a different text for the final interpretive reading.  The text that I chose last year was quite difficult for the students, and I preferred that they read a less challenging text in order to focus on the new structure. In addition to the lessons in this packet, I may include some of the supplementary activities in the original post, as well as a Movie Talk activity using the video shared by a reader (