How can teachers bring modern languages to life in the classroom? Davinia Hardwick, formerly a British Council English language assistant and now Head of French at a UK school, gives us her tips.
Use the target language in lessons
The more you expose your students to the target language, the better. Occasionally, speaking English may be necessary, but a lot of the time, it is not. Immersing your students in the target language helps them use it more independently and this can lead to increased confidence and better vocabulary.
Students enjoy listening to ‘real people’ speaking the target language, so get your colleagues involved. If a teacher with some knowledge of the target language comes into your classroom, involve them in the immersive experience. If they are struggling, the students can help them improve their language skills. If they already speak to a high level, it shows the communicative value of language skills. Encourage students and staff to use the language, even if they make mistakes, and emphasise that communication is the key.
Language assistants are able to provide support to teachers, particularly those who haven’t spoken the language at a native-speaker level. They provide an authentic teaching resource and listening experience for students. Interactions between the language assistant and the class teacher inject linguistic spontaneity into the classroom. Similarly, you could invite a fluent speaker into the classroom, perhaps a friend or a colleague from another school, as a guest. Anything that shows the target language being used in practical situations will emphasise the value of the language as a communicative tool. Use lots of different tools to aid the natural use of language in the classroom as well, such as commands, instructions, and greetings.
Encourage students to adopt a hands-on approach to language learning
Students need to be involved in tasks they find interesting in an environment where active and successful learning is encouraged. Students make the most progress when they are enjoying themselves. Competitions and quizzes keep motivation levels high, and rewards for communicating in the target language in the various skill areas offer chances for constant self-improvement. The smallest of tasks, such as matching pictures to words or phrases, or even word searches, can be turned into competitions – against the clock, first to finish, fastest class, etc.
When I was a language assistant in Canada, I discovered that rewards and prizes were very effective motivators, so I brought pens and stickers from home. I also used photos and props to teach my students about life in the UK and had reward and progress charts on my classroom walls. At university, I was a keen hockey player so I took my stick and ball into my school in La Beauce and my students had a go at dribbling around the classroom.
Some of their favourite lessons were ones like running dictation. They worked in pairs: one student would read a piece of text that I had taped to the wall at one end of the classroom, then run back and repeat it to their partner who would write it down. They really enjoyed active tasks. Students also liked activities such as 'Who am I?’ where each student has a post-it note with the name of a famous person on it on his or her forehead. Students walk around the classroom and can only ask questions which require a yes or no answer, such as ‘Am I a man?’. Competitions to see who can guess the most famous names in a certain amount of time always work well.
As I’m keen on sports, my Québec students would tell me about different sports that are popular in Canada. They encouraged me to learn to snowboard and skate, which provided an opportunity for cultural, as well as linguistic, exchange.
Never forget, grammar is the foundation for building language skills
Communication is a crucial part of language and so is grammar; they need each other. Effective lessons strike this balance between the two so that students can learn, enjoy and make progress in their target language.
Grammar is the foundation for building language skills. Learning grammar enables students to speak and write more accurately, confidently and fluently. I have found that asking students to explain grammar rules to each other and to the rest of the class gives them more confidence. It also indicates to the teacher whether the grammar needs clarifying or explaining. By teaching each other, they also consolidate their own knowledge or discover holes that need filling.
Do your students have a particular way of remembering certain grammar rules? Include games, activities and video clips that use the grammar points you are teaching.
Teaching in the UK, I subscribe to Linguascope, an interactive language teaching and learning website which students really enjoy. I also use YouTube for clips and TaskMagic for games. Discussions with colleagues often bring about some of the best ideas.
Language is cumulative and must be consolidated outside the classroom
The more you learn, use and practise the language, the more accurate and fluent you become. Repetition and practice are essential to many skills, and this is especially true when learning a language. In order to consolidate classroom learning, you must repeat and revisit grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation work regularly with your students. Activities such as singing songs, filling in the missing words and memory games where they are asked to match words and pictures can be helpful. Use repetition to practise the language, as students need to hear it to practise pronunciation.
As language learning is cumulative, it must be consolidated outside the classroom. This can be done as homework by setting regular vocabulary tests that require revision outside of school time, and also in school clubs. Give your students some language to practise at home so they take something away from each lesson. Lots of students enjoy teaching their parents what they have learned in their language lessons. Having taught English as a second language and now teaching French in a UK school, I have become more aware of the need to repeat and revisit grammar and vocabulary tasks.
As a revision game, I play 'Je vais nominer ...' ('I will nominate...') My students love this game. At the end of a lesson, two to three minutes before they leave, I start this game to recap what we did in the lesson. Nominate a student to start, for example: 'Je vais nominer Max'. Then, 'Max, comment dit-on ‘five’ en français?’ ('Max, how do you say 'five' in French?). If the student answers correctly, they can nominate someone else. The objective is to not be the student speaking when the bell goes! It's great for revision of a lesson, speaking practice, confidence and quick thinking! 'Throwing Words' is another good starter or end-of-lesson activity for repetition of vocabulary. Say a word or write it on the board and throw a soft ball to one of your students. The word they say must begin with the last letter of your word. They throw the ball to someone else, and so on. The possibilities for this game are endless. Have a competition, set a time limit, have teams, include categories, and so on.
Bring language and culture alive in the classroom
Highlighting cultural as well as linguistic differences is an essential part of language-learning. It can spark your students’ interest and encourage independent learning. Teach your students about the countries where the target language is spoken, as well as the language itself. Have your students seen any French television programmes or films? What do they already know about the cultures of the countries where the target language is spoken? What else do they want to learn?
Bringing the language and culture of the countries where the target language is spoken into the classroom means your students become more motivated to learn. Organising email pen pal correspondence offers a way for students to learn about their peers abroad. The practical challenge of writing to them and understanding their replies will provide an added incentive to further their language skills. Cultural trips to the cinema or to a country where the target language is spoken show students that the target language is spoken in the real world and has practical uses.
Language clubs can also provide an informal setting to practise speaking and understanding the target language, do homework or discuss the culture of the countries where the target language is spoken.
When I worked as a anguage assistant in Canada, I taught my students about the Welsh language and culture and ran competitions. A successful and fun competition was to see who could best pronounce the longest name in Wales. I introduced this challenge early on in my assistantship and finished up with the results when I left. I felt that my position as a young native speaker helped motivate my students to speak English. On a day-to-day level, I brought an up-to-date look at the language and culture in what was a very fulfilling and rewarding 12 months of language teaching and learning, discovery and fulfilment.
Davinia Hardwick worked as a British Council English language assistant in Québec, Canada, in 2000-2001. She was Modern Foreign Languages Teacher of the Year, 2014. She is now Head of French at Llandrindod High School and also teaches Welsh.
Find out how to apply to be an English language assistant.
Read this article in French.
Thanks to all our dedicated #langchat Twitter participants who shared some great ideas and suggestions on what homework ideas motivate students to keep learning world languages. We had a lively discussion on Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST. Thanks especially to Don Doehla (@dr_dmd) for moderating our chat. You can read the entire archive here.
So, how can we best use homework to support students’ second language acquisition? Participants shared many great ideas. Our moderator summed it up by saying we should try to engage the kids by including lots of creative practice for the target language, rather than merely requiring them to memorize rote chunks of knowledge. Web 2.0 tools are great for this. Also, honor the students’ time by ensuring that the assignments are worthwhile, not repetitive, and not assignments that can be done hurriedly before class.
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How to Motivate Students to Do Their Homework
How do we motivate students to get engaged in their homework? One thing we can look at is whether or not the assignment is tied to youth culture (@dr_dmd). Kids will be motivated to complete assignments that appeal to their interests and environment. They’ll be more willing to do the “boring” stuff when they have the opportunity to do lots of creative stuff as well (@dr_dmd). A simple idea that many teachers suggested is to offer students a choice in their assignments. You’ll be surprised at how engaged students can be when they’re involved in the decision-making process.
Another idea that many teachers mentioned is to eliminate busy work. If you assign it, make sure it’s meaningful–respect your students’ time (@spanishplans). Students really do appreciate it when they realize that their teachers understand that they have lots to do after school (@msfrenchteach). They are more likely to do homework if they see that it is integral to class the next day, or part of a bigger project (@profeguerita).
A final motivation strategy is the use of immediate feedback. Several teachers mentioned that they have had success with this. For instance, students are often interested in doing homework if it is online and immediately graded (@cadamsf1). Try texting feedback to them for some of their homework assignments, kids really try and improve (@msfrenchteach).
Flipping the World Language Classroom
Several teachers explained “flipping” as doing the routine language practice that we usually assign as homework during class — with teacher guidance and feedback — and having students learning and applying the language outside of class, at home, through the Internet and Web 2.0 tools. When flipping the classroom, homework assignments should be more about extension than about reinforcement and more creative than rote grammar practice. The reinforcement of concepts and the practice that students need to do would be done in the classroom with the teacher (@dr_dmd).
Flipped classrooms are a new phenomenon, but several participants have already been experimenting with the concept. It’s great to assign more creative assignments for homework, but it’s also important to strike a balance because if class is always practice, then class can bore the students (@cadamsf1). Also, some applied-language assignments don’t work as well outside of class. One teacher who has explored giving blog assignments as homework, @msfrenchteach, found that students actually write better and create more original work during class. Other teachers said that doing this in class can decrease the use of computer-aided translations, and that because students are being monitored in class they remain on task (@dr_dmd).
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Homework Ideas to Apply Language Learning Outside of Class
Coming up with creative assignments to apply the language is a great way to engage students — but what ideas can we use? Participants shared many ideas on assignments that have been successful for them.
- Skype a friend or send a message to an e-pal in the target language. @dr_dmd
- Create wiki pages to catalog students’ projects and stories, as well as track their progress over time. @dr_dmd
- Create comic strips with pictures and speech bubbles — lots of Web 2.0 tools for this — and keep a copy on a wiki students have designed. @dr_dmd
- Listen to a podcast, watch a target language video or find a song in the second language. @dr_dmd
- Read up on a current event in the second language. @dr_dmd
- Complete a short “Web quest.” Example: Go to BDZone.com, pick a comic book cover and describe the physique of one or more characters. @msfrenchteach
- Learn mnemonic songs to help remember grammar concepts such as how to conjugate verbs. @mmebrady
- Watch podcasts or vodcasts at home that the teacher has made, and discuss in class. @cybraryman1
- Blog. Aside from reading, @SECottrell only really gives students blogging for homework.
- Listen, watch or read the news and then do a news show in class (http://tinyurl.com/48pyrsn). @cybraryman1
- A large number of creative language application assignments can be found on @SECottrell’s blog post on students chosing weekly independent tasks for homework at http://bit.ly/j3H45Y.
- A lot of teachers suggested using Google Voice for various homework assignments. For example, you can have students call your Google Voice and talk for a while on various topics (@msfrenchteach). Several people mentioned embedding a Voki or other application in your site or wiki for kids to use.
- Try having students participate in discussion threads and voice threads. You can create the topics yourself or ask students to make them. @cadamsf1
Engaging Reading Homework
Reading assignments don’t have to be a chore for students. Many of the tips provided above work great for them, such as letting students choose their assignment and picking stories that are appealing to their interests, levels and ages (@SECottrell). Several teachers recommended using current events and news stories to give students something they can react to.
- Assign books that they are already familiar with in English. @CalicoTeach
- Have students record themselves reading aloud. @CalicoTeach
- Use audiobooks and other sources that they can read and listen to. @cadamsf1
- Kids enjoy reading about other kids, so look for online youth magazines. In French, you can use GEO Ado and Planète Jeunes. @dr_dmd
- Continuing on the idea of giving students a choice, put a bunch of options on your class wiki and let kids choose a story appealing to them. They should then post it, read it and make comments on it on their own wiki. @dr_dmd
- Have students read each others’ work. @mmebrady
- Several participants mentioned Google News. Students can choose any news article that interests them in the target language, teach the class several words that they looked up and give a sentence summary of the article (@MmeCref). Students can also write some questions about the article and you can make the questions available to the other students in the class, or they can write a summary AND questions (@dr_dmd).
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Engaging Homework Assignment Resources
Check out @cybraryman1’s resources on his Web sites, useful for creating homework assignments that encourage students to apply the target language both at home and in the classroom:
Check out @mmebrady’s blog for ideas on using tech in the classroom at http://mmetechie.blogspot.com/.
There are a great number of tools and applications available on the Internet for educators. These can be used to make engaging homework assignments that are interesting and new for students — not your typical grammar worksheet or vocab memorization. Many of them are great for flipped classrooms where you want students to watch mini-lectures at home to further their learning. Check out:
- Empressr for voice recording — students can describe pictures that they take or find online. @mmebrady
- Glogster, Blog Polls, Bitstrips and Storybird have some good art to use. @mmebrady
- Memrise for vocabulary. @mmebrady
- Students like this exercise written by @spanishplans for vocabulary as well.
- Photostory from Microsoft lets you make a photo slideshow with sound, transitions and text. @dr_dmd
- You can make digital flashcards in Quizlet and then embed them on a wiki to view and practice. Doesn’t have to just be for vocab and verbs, but can work for any data that students need, such as cultural information, place names or famous paintings with their titles and artists included. @dr_dmd
- Let kids make videos using Xtranormal and show them in class for conversation-building exercises. @profeguerita
- Fotobabble and Blabberize are good for engagement, too. Check out an article comparing the two at http://goo.gl/9VLyB. @engaginged
- Yodio is great for projects because you can include pictures and voice. @cadamsf1
- Make WordChamp activities for homework and give the students a few days to do it. @spanishplans
- Use Screencast-O-Matic to do weather reports in class. @mmebrady
- Use Audacity to create podcasts or radio newscasts. @dr_dmd
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Participants shared some fantastic ideas and resources this week, and I’m sure you can take some inspiration from their thoughts and experiences. Thanks again to everyone who participated, and be sure to check back next week for more great ideas and best practices from your world language colleagues. Just one more #langchat before we break for July!
Don’t forget to keep connecting and collaborating through #langchat, #flteach and the LangChat wiki!
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