One of my current classes, a Level 2 class, is quite chatty. They really enjoy talking to each other. Luckily, they’re pretty good about trying to talk together in English, the target language. I love it that they are enthusiastic about using the language and that they enjoy talking together. But at the same time, because they are at a pretty low proficiency level, a large part of the conversations is students asking me, “How do you say ____?” or them looking up a word in their bilingual dictionaries and then showing me the word to confirm if it’s correct. We then end up with a lot of new words in a single class period—some of which are pretty low-frequency and are probably not going to come up again anytime soon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—after all, if students are really interested in a particular topic of conversation, those words will seem very important to them at the time, which will probably make it more likely that they will acquire the new words, even if they’ve only seen them a couple of times.
But at the same time, I want to try to make my class as input-rich as possible, so I want to try to capitalize on these conversations that my students are already interested in and turn them into opportunities to provide more input.
In this post, I’ll list three ways that I’ve used to turn these class conversations into an opportunity for more input. These techniques also allow students to encounter the same words again—sometimes in different contexts—which increases the likelihood that they will be acquired. None of these are really my own original ideas, as I think that a lot of teachers use them, though perhaps sometimes in different ways. But I hope that putting the ideas together in a list can help other teachers, especially those who are newer to the idea of teaching with a focus on comprehensible input.
With newer teachers in mind, I’ve provided examples of each activity to make the ideas more clear. The examples are all based on a conversation I had in class with my Level 2 students a few days ago. I told them the story “The Turtle and the Eagle” using Beniko Mason’s Story Listening method. As soon as we finished the story, a student mentioned that she used to have a pet turtle. This ended up turning into a long discussion about what pets the students have and what animals we like and don’t like.
These are my three ideas on how to turn conversations like this into more input:
- Write a summary. After class, you can write up a short summary of the things you talked about with the students. The next day, you can have students read the summary. You could also do this during class as a Write and Discuss activity. Tina Hargaden was the first person I know of to use the term “Write and Discuss,” but the idea is similar to Language Experience Approach or other techniques. Basically, you write up a summary or story for your students and display it so they can watch you write. (You could either type it or, if you have a document camera, handwrite it.) As you write, you can ask the students questions about it, as if you’ve forgotten the details and need their clarification—e.g., “How many dogs does she have?” This could also be an opportunity for you to do a bit of a Think-Aloud to show the writing process to students as you’re writing. For example, you could ask students, “Do you think I should put a period or an exclamation mark at the end of this sentence?” I think it can be beneficial for students (especially lower-level ones) to see this writing process. And it has the added benefit of saving you time! Instead of using your own planning time to type up the text, you’re doing it during class. Later, you can print it, make copies, and hand it out to your students during class the next day to read. If you want to see examples of the Write and Discuss technique, you can watch videos of Tina Hargaden: here is one in Spanish, and here is one in French. Here is an example summary for my class, based on our conversation about pets:
Many students in our class have pets. Kuofen has a rabbit, but she doesn’t like to take care of it. Her daughters love the rabbit, but they never take care of it! Kuofen has to take care of it every day. She gives the rabbit food and cleans the cage. Jenny has a pet hedgehog, but she doesn’t like it. If she touches the hedgehog, it hurts her fingers. Kuofen and Jenny don’t like their pets. But Jin loves her pet dog.
- Make up a story. Take one or two interesting pieces of information that you discussed about a student and make up a funny or interesting story about it. Again, you could either do this in class or just write it up yourself and give it to the students the next day. If you do it in class, you can do it in the style of a TPRS story: have a few students stand up and act out the story, and you can ask the students to contribute the details. In my class, the most interesting information that emerged from our conversation was that one student had a pet hedgehog. So I could make a story like this one:
Jenny has a pet hedgehog. One day, Jenny talked to the hedgehog. She said, “I love you!” Then, she touched it. Ow! The hedgehog hurt her fingers. “Now I don’t like you!” Jenny said. The next day, Jenny gave the hedgehog some food. Then, she touched it. Ow! The hedgehog hurt her fingers. “Now I really don’t like you!” Jenny said. The next day, she gave the hedgehog some candy. The hedgehog liked the candy! Jenny touched the hedgehog. This time, it didn’t hurt her fingers. She picked up the hedgehog and gave him a hug.
- Give a “quiz” over the information. After having a conversation in class, you can quiz students to see what they remembered. By “quiz,” I mean a very low-pressure memory activity. You could come up with a set of questions or true/false statements about the conversation and have students answer the questions. One option is to do it orally at the end of class—you ask the questions, and students shout out the answers. Or, you could type it up and have students write the answers individually in class the next day. You could even make a quiz on Quizlet Live, Kahoot, or other online quiz website. These are some true/false statements I wrote for my students:
___ 1. Kuofen has a rabbit at her home, but she doesn’t like to take care of it.
___ 2. Kuofen’s daughters take care of the rabbit.
___ 3. Jenny has a pet hedgehog.
___ 4. Jenny likes to touch her hedgehog.
___ 5. Allison has a pet cat.
I’ve found that these activities are usually engaging and interesting to the students. Most people enjoy reading and hearing more about themselves and about their classmates. But I want to emphasize that I would only use these techniques after a conversation that students seemed interested in during class. If the students didn’t seem particularly interested in a topic, I don’t want to drag it out even further by making them read or answer questions about it. But if it truly is an interesting topic for them, they will probably enjoy continuing the conversation. You can also introduce some novelty into these activities by adding in new information. For example, if you write a summary of the conversation, you could add in some new ideas that were not mentioned in class or you could add in your own opinions or thoughts on the topic.