Category Archives: Speaking Activities

5 Tips for Encouraging Students to Speak in Class

One of the most frequent frustrations that I hear from the teachers I work with is that their students are not willing to speak the target language in class.  While there are many reasons that students hesitate to speak, I have found the following practices considerably improved my students’ willingness to participate in the frequent formative interpersonal speaking assessments that are included in my curriculum.

  1. Provide frequent opportunities for low stakes speaking tasks. As those that use my materials know, I include frequent interpersonal speaking activities in my units. As a result, the majority of my students quickly became comfortable speaking with a partner.  
  2. Make it clear to students that the purpose of the oral interpersonal tasks is to speak.  Most of the tasks include a written component upon which the conversation is based.  However, I make it clear to students that I don’t ever grade the written aspect of the activity.  This clarification removes the student’s temptation to avoid speaking by covertly showing their papers to their partners, speaking English, etc.
  3. End the activity as soon as the first 2-3 pairs have finished (or provide enrichment for early finishers). Since the goal of these tasks is to provide feedback on interpersonal communication, it is not necessary for every student to complete the entire task. Setting a time limit both encourages the students to remain on task and avoids having several students without a meaningful task to complete while their classmates finish their work.
  4. Circulate among the students as they complete the task. In addition to encouraging the students to stay on-task, this practice allows the teacher to provide individualized oral feedback to students. This coaching guides students to make progress toward proficiency as well as normalizes the teacher as an observer during interpersonal tasks.
  5. Provide written feedback. Depending on their own philosophy and school culture, teachers may or may not regularly provide grades on formative tasks.  Because I had a category in my gradebook for formative tasks, I felt it was important to record occasional scores for these interpersonal tasks. However, I found that I could not possibly grade every student during a 15-minute task.  Instead, I simply chose 5-7 students to formally assess during each activity.  By the end of a week, I had a grade and written feedback for every student.  Click here for a generic interpersonal rubric can be used with students of various proficiency levels to quickly provide feedback and/or a formative grade.  

If you’d like to provide additional opportunities for your students to engage in interpersonal speaking tasks, you might consider incorporating one of these spring-themed mini-units:

  • Click here for a 6-day mini-unit on secular Easter traditions for French 1 students.
  • Click here for a 90-minute lesson on Saint Patrick’s Day for French 1 or 2 students.
  • Click here for a 4-day mini-unit on Saint Patrick’s Day for French 2 or 3 students.
  • Click here for a 90 minute lesson on Ramaddan and Aïd-al-fitre for French 2 students.
  • Click here for a 7-day mini-unit on rainy day activities for French 1 or 2 students.

Please share your own tips for encouraging students to speak the target language in class by clicking on Leave a reply at the top of this page!

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.


4 Suggestions for Assessing Interpersonal Communication with Novice Learners

600px-Two-people-talking-logoAs I’ve evolved in my teaching practice, I’ve made significant changes to how I assess oral communication. Here are a few suggestions that have helped me improve my assessment of my Novice students’ interpersonal communication, resulting in increased proficiency among these early language learners.

Suggestion #1: Just do it! It seems that many of my colleagues are hesitant to assess their Novice students’ interpersonal communication. It is their belief that that because these students are entirely dependent on memorized language, no true interpersonal communication can occur.  Fortunately, we’ve agreed to disagree on this point! In my opinion, a Novice speaker’s reliance on practiced or memorized language does not preclude her from true communication on an unrehearsed task.  While the topics that these learners discuss will be limited to those which have been practiced, they will still be able to demonstrate interpersonal communication when given an appropriate communicative task.  In fact, the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements list the following for Novice Mid Interpersonal Communication:

  • I can greet and leave people in a polite way.
  • I can introduce myself and others.
  • I can answer a variety of simple questions.
  • I can make some simple statements in a conversation
  • I can ask some simple questions
  • I can communicate basic information about myself and people I know
  • I can communicate basic information about my everyday life

Clearly we can expect students to be able to demonstrate an ability to communicate about such basic topics as likes/dislikes, leisure activities, family members, school subjects and supplies, eating habits, etc. While appropriate questions, answers, and rejoinders may be practiced in advance with Novice learners, we can ensure that they are demonstrating actual communication in this mode by creating prompts that prevent memorization of a script.  For example, by pairing a student with a classmate with whom he hasn’t yet practiced, we ensure that he is unable to memorize the exact questions he will ask and the answers or rejoinders that he will give.  Consider a unit on likes and dislikes, often one of the first topics in a Level 1 curriculum. We might give an assessment prompt such as, “You are choosing a roommate for choir camp and you want to make sure you end up with someone that likes the same things you do. Discuss your likes and dislikes in order to find out what you have in common.”  While these students will have practiced expressing their preferences (“I like…”) , asking questions (“Do you like…?), and replying to a partner (“Me, too.” “Not me.” “Me neither.”), they will not know in advance which questions they will be asked or which responses their partner will provide.  As a result, each student must be prepared to ask a variety of questions, in order to avoid repeating those asked by his partner. Likewise, working with a new partner will require a student to comprehend his interlocutor’s response (rather than simply memorizing a script) in order to choose the appropriate rejoinder. (“Me neither” is not an appropriate response to a partner who has stated that she likes something, for example.) Furthermore, even Novice learners can make some adjustments in order to clarify meaning for an interlocutor who has demonstrated a lack of comprehension.  Requests for repetition are often all that’s needed in order to understand a message, whether because the original speaker is able to correct an error that impeded comprehension or because the repetition enable the interlocutor to establish additional meaning. Clearly, even a task as simple as this one does require the negotiation of meaning which typifies interpersonal communication.

Suggestion #2:  Stay out of it! I rely almost entirely on student-to-student interaction for my interpersonal assessments, even for Novice learners, for the following reasons:

  1. In my experience, allowing students talk to each other great increases the quality of the interaction. I have followed the suggestion of Colleen Lee (@CoLeeSensei) who said in a #langchat discussion, “I teach my [students] that your partner not understanding you is YOUR responsibility to clear up!” Nothing is more magical than hearing a level 1 student encourage a classmate by suggesting possible language chunks that would provide the necessary clarification to allow communication to occur. In an early unit this year, for example, one student negotiated meaning by asking C’est ta mère ou ta sœur? when her partner used the incorrect vocabulary word when describing his family photos. This clarification gave valuable feedback to the speaker who had made the error, as well as allowed his interlocutor to stretch beyond the rehearsed statements and questions she had anticipated using during this assessment. As a result of this negotiation, both students are likely to make progress toward proficiency that wouldn’t have been likely had the conversation occurred between a teacher and student.
  2. I have found that being able to talk to a peer, rather than the teacher, greatly reduces the students’ affective filter. A conversation between a teacher and student, regardless of the prompt, is a conversation between an expert/evaluator and a student, which creates a certain level of anxiety in many learners. When a student’s focus is on communicating with a peer, however, she is often able to disregard the presence of the teacher (who is most likely busily taking notes in order to provide feedback to the speakers). As a result of this decrease in anxiety, the quality of the communication is considerably greater than it would have been if the student was speaking to the teacher.
  3. In my opinion, the authenticity of the communication is significantly reduced when one of the speaker’s primary motivation is assessment, rather than comprehension. In a teacher-student interpersonal assessment, the student’s goal is most likely to avoid errors, and the teacher’s is to note them as part of the feedback process. As a result, the communicative content of the conversation often loses its significance.
  4. Lastly, assessing pairs of students saves valuable class time. While I can generally assess all 30 of my students in one class period when listening to two speakers at a time, I would not be able to do so if I were assessing each one individually.

Suggestion #3: Use a great rubric. I love the one from the Ohio Department of Education ( ) because it includes an interculturality component, as well as great descriptors related to the quality of the interaction.  The wording in the comprehensibility section makes it clear that some errors are to be expected, even for those students rated as Strong. Knowing that the content and quality of the interaction are as important as accuracy encourages students to make more risks during interpersonal tasks. This risk-taking leads allows the learners to demonstrate greater proficiency than they would if their only goal was to avoid grammatical errors.

Suggestion #4: Don’t forget to incorporate culture. As I discussed in an earlier post, I am experimenting with using role plays in order to incorporate more culture into my novice interpersonal communication assessments.  My previous prompts, in which I asked students to discuss their own personal preferences and experiences, often failed to produce adequate evidence of interculturality.  On the other hand, I was pleased with the results I had during a recent holiday unit when I assigned a role to each member of the conversation pair. In this assessment, I asked one student to play the role of someone who had traveled to France for the holidays and the other to play the role of someone who had traveled to Canada.  When these students discussed the pictures they had “taken” (a Google Slides presentation I prepared), they were able to demonstrate their cultural competence in a comprehensible way, in spite of their Novice proficiency level.

I’ll look forward to hearing what has worked for you when assessing impersonal communication with Novice students!


4 Games to Develop Interpersonal Communication Skills

Games are a great tool to develop students’ interpersonal skills.  While I’ve always used games in my classroom, the types of games have changed as I became more focused on proficiency.  The following games, which I’ve “borrowed” from colleagues over the years, are popular with my students and can be used for a variety of communicative goals.  In addition, these games can become formative assessments as the teacher circulates around the room providing feedback.

Pair Crossword Puzzles

This is one of my students’ favorite games, and it can be used for students at many different proficiency levels, and in many different contexts. This game takes awhile to prepare, but I think it’s worth the effort!

How to play

1. Students are divided into pairs and each is given a partially completed crossword puzzle.  Partner A has the vertical responses filled in, Partner B has the horizontal responses filled in.  There are no clues on the puzzle, just the partially completed puzzle

2. The students take turns asking their partner to give them oral clues for the words that are not filled in on their puzzles.

Partner A: Quelle est la réponse pour numéro deux?

Partner B : C’est une légume orange.

Partner A : C’est une carotte ?

Partner B : Non, elle est ronde.

Partner A : C’est une citrouille ?

Partner B : Oui, c’est une citrouille.

How to prepare (using

1. Make a list of words that will appear in the puzzle.  The clue isn’t important, so I just use 1, 2, 3 as the clues, because it’s quick. You need to press enter after each item.  I type this in a Word document, rather than in program so that I’ll have it in my files.  Here’s an example of a word list (but you’ll probably want to have at least 20 words):

carotte 1

citrouille 2

banane 3

chou 4

2. Go to and choose Criss-Cross.

3. Type a title for your puzzle, and then go to Step 4 (I usually use the default settings for Steps 2 & 3). Copy and paste your word list in Step 4 and click Create my Puzzle.

4. Print 2 copies of the puzzle, as well as a copy of the word list.

5. Fill in the horizontal answers on one copy and the vertical answers on the other. This is the trickiest part, because the computer randomly places your words in the puzzle.  So the clue for 1 Across might be “3.”  You will have to look back at your word list to see which word was 3 (banane).  This will not be confusing to the kids, because they will never see the clues (see below).

6. Depending on the size of your puzzle, the clues (1, 2, 3, etc.) might be on the bottom of the paper (or it might be on the second page).  Make sure to white them out/cut them off before copying the puzzles to distribute to the students.


Here are some ideas for contexts that work well for this game:

French 1: Family vocabulary (C’est la soeur de ta mère, c’est le père de ton père, etc.)

French 2: Most concrete thematic vocabulary works well (food/house/clothes/school supplies/classes/sports/etc.)

French 3: I use it for thematic vocabulary, but also for stories. (We read a lot of Petit Nicolas in French 3.)  In this case, I don’t necessarily choose new words, but instead focus on key words from the story.  This makes it a great way to practice story-telling skills.  If you had read Little Red Riding Hood, some clues might be C’est ce que la mère a préparé  pour la grand-mère, C’est le personnage qui a tué le loup, C’est ce que la fille aimait porter, etc. The ability to use the language needed for these clues, such as relative pronouns, is a key component in increasing proficiency.

AP French (4/5) I’ve used this game for complex thematic vocabulary, such as in a unit on the environment, as well as to review literature and films.

Jeu de Pyramide

I call the Pyramid game, because it’s based on the game show, $100,000 Pyramid. If you’re old enough to remember this game, you’ll know that the game is based on the first part of the game, not the Big Money (?) part at the end.  Like the pair crossword game, this one involves using circumlocution.  However, it’s played as a whole class activity, rather than in pairs.  I often use this game the day after a pair crossword, because the students will have already practiced describing the words.  Fortunately, this one only takes a few minutes to prepare.

How to play

1. The class is divided into two teams.  The first 2 players on Team A come to the front of the room.  One of them is seated in a chair facing the Smartboard/screen/chalkboard, etc.  The other student has his/her back to the Smartboard/screen/chalkboard.

  1. The student who is facing the screen/board begins by describing the first word on the list  to his/her partner who keeps guessing until s/he has guessed all 5 words or time runs out.  (I think I give them 90 seconds?, but you could experiment to find the amount of time that works best, depending on your group.)
  2. Next, the first 2 players on Team B will come up.  The game continues until every student has had a chance to play.

How to prepare

1. Because I have a projector, I create a powerpoint with a slide for each word list.  In the past, I put them on an overhead.  You could also jot them on the board, if that’s all you have.

Devinez Qui

While the board game Guess Who is a great way to increase students’ ability to describe people, I’ve created paper versions that help students practice a variety of other communicative tasks.

How to play

It’s much easier to show you than explain, so here’s an example for a French I unit on school supplies.  Devinez qui

How to prepare

1. Find 15-20 clip art pictures that represent images related to the theme you are studying and paste them in a Word document.

2. Type a name and then insert a table (I use 1 row, 10 columns) below the name.

3. Copy and paste 10 of the pictures you have selected in the table.

4. Repeat step 2, but vary the pictures.  Ideally, each name will have most of the same pictures because this requires more communication to guess the name. However, you have to make sure that no two names have the exact same pictures.  I’m sure there’s a mathematical way to create a template for this, but I just play with it.


One reason I like this game is that it can be used to develop both vocabulary and grammatical structures. For example:

Vocabulary Items: in a backpack, in a refrigerator, in a bedroom, leisure activities, daily routine, etc.

Grammatical Structures:

1. Students can be directed to ask whether the person will do pictured activities (pictures represent various professions, travel destinations, getting married, different colleges, winning the lottery, buying a house, buying a car, etc.)

2. Students can be directed to ask whether the person did the pictured activities.  I’ve used this with a unit on vacation, so the pictures showed people flying on an airplane, swimming, sailing, picking up shells, etc.

3. Students can be directed to ask whether the person would do the pictured activities if they won the lottery (pictures represent things that could be purchased, vacation destinations, etc.)

Note: When there is doubt as to what the pictures might represent, I include a copy of all of the pictures and phrase explaining what the pictures represents at the top of the handout.

Qui suis-je/Qu’est-ce que je suis?

How to play 

The teacher groups the students in pairs and attaches a paper with a word or picture on one student in each pair.  This student must ask his/her partner questions in order to guess what is written/shown on his back.

How to prepare

As it is traditionally described, this game involves taping the papers to the students’ backs.  As a result, I never used this game because of the amount of transition time required to make the papers, add tape to the pictures, and attach the papers to the students, none of which could be done in advance because there was no way to store 30 pieces of paper with tape on them.  Recently I saw someone describe the same game, but instead of tape, the paper was placed in a blank ID badge holder (see below), that the kids wore so that it hung on their back.  I was able to get a class set of these for only a few dollars, and I’ll use yarn to hang them rather than a lanyard, to save money.



In addition to typical novice vocabulary themes, I thought this game might work well for more content-based units that I use with my French 3 classes such as artists (or paintings), endangered animals, historical figures, Fairy Tales, etc.



What games do you use to develop your students’ interpersonal communication?

Comics: Now that I’ve pinned them, what do I do with them?


In the year or so that I’ve been active on Pinterest, I’ve collected quite a few French comics on various subjects.  Although I’ve dutifully pinned each one to the appropriately-themed board, I was never quite sure what to do with them. On a few occasions I tried projecting the comics on the screen and asking the students what they thought they meant, but that was as far as I got.

This summer I took a little bit of time to compile some of the comics I’d pinned about school for my first French 3 unit of the year.  I pasted each one onto a document and added a few target language questions to spark discussion. I included questions that were related to the comic, as well as personalized questions on the same theme.  I tried to anticipate what vocabulary the students might need, and included a couple of key words for each image.

I’m going to try using these comics as a “hook” at the beginning of each class during this unit.  I’ll project a slide of the comic at the beginning of the period, and give the students a few minutes to discuss the questions in French with a partner. As they’re discussing, I’ll circulate and give feedback/formative assessment to a few of the dyads. Then I’ll select a couple of students to present their responses to the whole class. I’ll also give these students feedback/formative assessment.  In this way, all of the students will begin the period with 5-10 minutes of interpersonal communication and I will have had a chance to provide individualized feedback to everyone after a few class periods.

While I intend to use these comics as a springboard to spoken production, I could also have the students respond to the questions in writing.  This would be an effective way to ensure that I had a few minutes to take attendance, conference with absent students, etc. at the beginning of class.  I would then provide feedback to using a written/presentational rubric.

Here’s the document I put together with the comics and questions about school for my French 3 students: french3unit1comics

Do you use comics in your teaching?  How do you incorporate them into your lessons?