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.


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