Finals time again

I’m in one of those walking-on-water teacher moments, when a plan comes off way better than I had any cause to hope.

It’s finals week for seniors. This year, all my students are doing my favorite final: the ten-year reunion.

The kids are very ready for this (oral) final, for many reasons. We’ve done Star of the Day. We’ve talked about the highlights of living in cities and about some of the problems cities around the world face. We’ve interviewed guests. Recently, I thought of some questions students might ask classmates ten years hence, and I asked kids for their suggestions before I unveiled mine. Theirs included, “Are you happy?” and “What are your dreams now?” as well as “Why did you choose to live where you are?”

Students are to bring pictures, but they don’t have to, as support for their talks. They will speak in small groups (we might have food and drinks on the official final date to further the idea of a party), and I will hang at the edge of groups making notes on a checklist.

Today, two seniors had to begin the process early because of AP and IB exam interference with their last week of school. We divided the class in two, and each group reunited with the seniors separately. Some kids used the list of questions we had devised, but many asked natural questions that arose, and a few asked clarifying questions, as I did.

I loved it! These are kids who were reared on Storytelling, but we haven’t done much lately. I was touched that they reverted to flights of fancy, even though they are so mature. I was first blown away by the abilities of my senior boy who talked about living on the moon after his parents unexpectedly passed away. He had fathered a child, but had not married. He was a doctor, and that made living on the moon interesting because of the different kinds of ailments that arose there. He was ready, however, to return to the Earth, because he never got to see his child in person, and because he had mostly recovered from the depression that hit him after losing his parents and the ending the relationship with the mother of his child. The senior girl had married Putin (who was now 77), was living in a house built on a bee that she had met in Canada (though I didn’t ever hear why she went there). She had ten children, though one had fallen from the rooftop of the flying house and perished. She had studied French in Mexico during college and liked the flexibility of living on a flying house. (Her story didn’t quite earn a solid “Holds together” grade – see #2, below.)

Both kids were perfect first presenters. Putin’s wife had pictures, and the other student didn’t, so that gave kids both models. In both groups, students asked questions eagerly, and laughed or responded sympathetically where appropriate. One was a second-year student, and the other a fifth-year, yet they both managed the assignment at appropriate levels. It was easy to follow the rubric (a checklist), and everyone seemed relaxed. The only worry: we spent the entire class hour on the final with just these two. Granted, part of the hour was a review and improvement of the “rubric” (a checklist). And we took some time to move the tables around, but both students talked for about twenty minutes. I think that these will go faster as students get tired, but we will have to make sure the groups rotate a bit faster with more speakers.

Our checklist rubric had four parts to it:

  1. Comprehensibility: none/some/most/all
  2. Story holds together: not/a bit/mostly/completely
  3. Three or more details on at least four topics (circle): relationships, work, living situation, travel, hobbies, post-secondary education
  4. Language variety demonstrated (so that it can’t be all “this is a…”): description of belongings; what has been positive/negative; history; current life; motivations.

Students changed “family” under #3 to “relationships.” They added travel as well. I took a note from Bill Van Patten’s book, so #3 and 4 are “can’t/with effort/easily.” #4 disguises my checking for grammar: description requires adjectives, positive/negative requires impersonal (dative) forms, history requires past tense, current life requires present tense, and explaining motivation requires complex sentences.

I gave the students language samples of what I was expecting to hear in #4, and a couple kids pointed out that they would all be covered if they planned to answer our questions.

This final gave me a real sense of what kids can do with language at these levels. The format made it possible for them to be comprehensible. I could tell where they’d worked out a few parts of their presentations, but the ongoing questions at the “reunion” made it impossible to memorize everything. Stress was low, laughter high, and I am now looking forward to the rest of these.

8 responses to “Finals time again

  1. This sounds so great, Michele! Do you mind sharing the list of questions that you and your students came up with? I might just try this with my Spanish 3 students in June!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sandi,

      I just google-translated our questions! I’ll try to fix up obvious errors, but I’m just saying that they could be a tad weird.

      Prepare to talk for five minutes, answering some or all of these questions. Classmates may ask you these questions and others, depending on what you talk about. Ideally, have pictures to support your tales. These questions should not limit you, but if you can answer them all, you’re sure to have a lot to say.

      How old are you?
      Where do you live?
      What is your living situation? It is a house or an apartment?
      You own your house?
      How long do you live there?
      Do you like living in your city / region?
      Why did you decide to live in this city / area?
      Where would you like to live, if not in this area?
      Did you go to university?
      If so, where did you study? At which university did you study?
      If you didn’t, what kind of training did you get after high school?
      How many years did you study?
      Have you received a Bachelors? Masters? Doctorate?
      Tell about your time at the university. Did you like it there?
      What did you study?
      Whom do you become?
      You work in the specialty?
      Where do you work?
      With whom do you work?
      Who do you live with?
      You live with mom / dad?
      Are you married / single? Or do you have a boyfriend / girlfriend?
      Do you have any children?
      If yes, how many children? What are their names?
      What they like to do?
      Do you have pets?
      What do you do in your spare time?
      What do you like doing in your spare time?
      Do you travel often?
      If yes, where have you been?
      What were some of your adventures over the past ten years?
      Are you – happy? Satisfied with life?
      Are you rich?
      Are you – the person who was in school? Or changed?
      What are your dreams now?


  2. So excited to read this. I have been trying to get my colleagues to change our final speaking tests. My kids have been storytelling all year and it si so paying off!!!Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have often had kids retell in groups the Susie Gross way (the same way that she advises setting up for a sub), since they’re more confident that way, and I can still grade them individually. I’ve also asked for individual retells from a choice of familiar storyboards from the semester, or had kids record answers to prompts on the MSU Clear site. Storytelling produces students who have had a lot of different opportunities, and by this point in the year, I’m happy to ask for output. If you are responsible for an older group, the class reunion works well. With my mixed levels, I’ve usually limited it either to the seniors in the class or pulled it out only every few years. It’s great to have this go so smoothly.


  3. Thank you so much for sharing this idea. I am adapting it to use as my “final” for AP Language. I see your checklist outline, but would you be able and willing to share the actual checklist?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.