Category Archives: Speaking

Using the phone

ACTFL part 2

At ACTFL 2015 last weekend, I tried to attend every session with Bill Van Patten (I missed one because I was presenting, and hope someone will share their notes.) One of those sessions was “In-class testing versus online testing.” A large test group of students across multiple classes resulted in almost no statistical difference between the grades that students got last year on paper and pencil tests and this year on the identical tests, offered on computer. There are some caveats but this post is not about that.

Instead, I got sidetracked by what was for me more interesting: the use of the Can-do statements for in-class assessments. Walter Hopkins (of TeaWithBVP) promised to share the complete list of Can-Do statements that MSU is using with their Spanish classes, and he also explained how they use Google Voice to collect assessments.

I told students that at the end of class, they would share something about Shostakovich. Walter had said that students practice in class on the day of the assessment, and then the prompt is slightly tweaked. I didn’t tweak it on this first time out. We spent the entire hour talking about musicians in general, and Shostakovich in particular, and then I put up the number and asked students to call and tell me three things about the man. It took less than five minutes for the entire class to call in and report, whether they used their own phone, my phone, or someone else’s. Some personalized their information; others included something about yesterday’s concert (our excellent UAA Faculty Trio played Shostakovich). The MSU rubric worked well for me: “2” means “completed task with ease,” “1” means “struggled a bit,” and “0” means “didn’t complete the task.”

I have a clear idea about how much my students can fluently say about Shostakovich, and I know what structures they are acquiring. I can label most students’ level of proficiency for this task. In short, I’m pretty happy with this new toy of mine. It didn’t take up a lot of class time, but it gave me an easy way to collect speech samples.

Directions for Re-tells and group stories

Susie Gross taught me to assign re-tells relatively painlessly. She suggested that I use re-tells as sub plans. They work really well, if you’ve trained the kids in advance, for about a day’s absence.

There’s a post here describing the system already, but I have read Fred Jones Tools for Teaching in the interim, and have learned how good it is to have written instructions for students on a multi-step task.

Today I wrote the task on the board so that I could speak Russian and point at the directions in English. I’d love it if you have ideas to tweak and improve these instructions.

1. Tell the original (class) story in Russian in your group.

-use current vocabulary

-share the telling (no writing!)

2. Re-tell it with some new details.

-use vocabulary you know

3. Group artist uses a mini-whiteboard.

-fill in a storyboard with quick sketches that will remind the group of their story

4. Practice, sharing the speaking load.

-as you practice, you may add details


I can give an advanced group just three structures that they have to use. This system works well to keep kids from going too far out of bounds. Today, I found that kids used only one of the new structures, so after they all presented for the first time, I had them retell in their groups, trying to add some of the other new structures we have used. That sounded good. Next time I would probably follow that up with a fast write. Instead, we had done the fast write two days ago.



I just got this video, “Effective Communication,” from my Stenhouse email. Eric Palmer gives me more reasons we should teach speaking as well as listening mindfully. While my kids don’t do a lot of output early on, we do have the ten-minute prep for short group presentations. After watching this, I’m going to make sure that I help kids remember to stand up straight, use gestures etc. even for group presentations. The jury is out as to whether I feel it’s appropriate to grade the elements of public speaking in my Russian language classes (I could argue either way at this moment), but a certain degree of focus will certainly do them a favor in their lives.

Beginners Talk!

I ran out of time with the beginner class’ presentations yesterday…only got one group in. Listening to that group gave me an idea, because one kid talked for a long time, and another talked less but threw in sentence connectors (because/but/and). I put the list of ways to fill out a story on the board: connectors, introduce the back story, explain the place, and add dialogue. It was very interesting to hear how much some kids said, as well as being a great look at their acquisition. If they were struggling to hold on to just the “This is the dolphin. He wants an ice cream,” piece, they couldn’t add more. But many kids did something like: “This is a dolphin. He is in the ocean. His name is Ivan. Ivan wants ice cream because it is summer. Ivan has a problem. Ivan doesn’t have ice cream.” Blew me away! I want to do more embedded readings with them to just flood them with more language, but maybe their greater linguistic ability is from the flood that they get whenever we do Movie Talk. They’ve got much more active vocabulary that comes out than previous groups have, and I’ve been amazed by my previous groups.

What’s also a bit weird is that I’ve had this group speak far less (this is only their third time in nine weeks) than I’ve ever had groups presenting. It’s a great measure for me.

Picture that

I haven’t done a chapter book for awhile in my German II class, so I pulled out one I had on hand and started working through it a week or so ago.  Groans. Groans. Groans.  They’re used to having their own input craft the readings that something longer seems a bit too fixed and indeterminate for their tastes.  I put up with the groans for a couple of days, working out discussions, but the last couple of days I recycled the old 6-picture story format to freshen things up.

Day 1: Give everybody a 4-picture story sheet with four panels to illustrate.  The first three panels represent what happens in the story and the 4th panel is to be filled in with “What happens next?”  So while we’re reading, I stop at strategic points in the chapter to let them fill in their pictures.  When we finish the chapter they get a bit longer to create pictures for the final real frame as well as their made up continuation.  With a 50 minute period, this took us to the end just about perfectly.

Day 2: Retell day. In honor of Bryce’s appearance to Alaska, I pulled out his Bloom’s taxonomy chart from his website and explained the basics of the first few levels.  Then I pulled out a picture sheet from the other class doing this activity and we practiced retelling that story as a class, with me emphasizing what different levels would look like as a retell (how many details, levels of commentary, etc.).  Then because I had also just put them multiple group pairings (save that for another post) I quickly had them retell their story to two different partners, while I moved around the class listening for great things to complement people on.  Then we shared a few great endings on the overhead document camera for everybody to enjoy, and that was the class.

I honestly expected a bit more pushback (not a great story; asking for output), but once they got creating their own stuff things went not only smoothly but well with quite a bit of enthusiasm.  I’ll take it.

of Poems and Postcards

Life is good. I love kids. And having resolutions to follow is very helpful.

The kids LOVED reading their postcards. I had them up on individual notebook pages. I read each one out loud and the kid who wrote it got to translate.

Progress on Essential Questions: I have written them on the board each period. It’s pretty funny when the kids notice whether we got to the answers. Today, we never got to the second verse of a poem in one class, but they all did know the vocabulary. I’m thinking that I need to do Betsy’s “standing exit ticket” again to have a demonstration of the knowledge. That makes the question and the answer(s) come full circle.

Progress on teaching poems through TPRS: a no-brainer. I just do the same thing as I do with a song: introduce structures, use gestures if possible, and then circle the information. We did two lines of a Pushkin poem today with four kids who were on their very first day of Russian. Awesome. I should start mid-year at the beginning of every year!! Couldn’t believe it. By slowing down to a s n a i l ‘ s pace (really, that’s how it felt), not only did we get a lot more in, but the second-year kid who then told the story and recited the poem sounded like she was a native speaker. It’s hard for me to believe that.

I also remembered to have the whole class tell the story to their hands today, and I walked around and listened. There’s a lot of information coming at the teacher when everyone is telling a story at once.

Progress on the “25 words for the quarter” is also good (so far, I know, I know). The kids are totally relieved to realize that I truly expect them to get only 25 words a quarter. I explained to them that it’s a matter of gathering forms and cases.

Last night I was practicing with my early music group, and I had an ah-hah moment about that. We were practicing music that we’d played for our Christmas concert, getting it ready for an upcoming event. All of a sudden, this part that I’d just been playing revealed a whole bunch of connections with what others in the group were playing. I realized that even though I’d played the music adequately back in December, now I am able to get it on a whole new level. We all thought we were playing better suddenly.

I shared that with the kids, and explained again that there are all the levels of understanding this new language–I think I started to understand first from Jody:
recognition of having heard a particular word/structure before
hearing and understanding
understanding in different contexts
being able to spit out the structure as an answer
being able to use that structure in a whole phrase
being able to use it naturally in a story
being able to use it correctly in several forms (usually third-fourth year)
being able to use it correctly in all forms (usually fourth-seventh! year

It takes time, even for the teachers: I’m beginning to understand some of these pieces better in my fourth year.

(I’m updating this to tag it to the speaking and assessment categories because of the great ideas in the comments that follow.)

Speaking/writing rubric

I think I finally have a rubric for speaking and writing that is perfect for me (at least, until the next time I change it). Here it is in Word format (I think).

This rubric has my expectations in four columns. “Meets Expectations” is the first column so that students don’t need to search for it, and it’s in grey. There is space underneath the expectations so that I can record notes about vocabulary and grammar while they’re talking or as I read. And it fits all levels, because I left off the specific structures for the upper levels that were intimidating the lower-level kids. It worked really well for me. I’m going to test-run it just a couple more times, and then hope to put two on a page, back-to-back, to collect four different scores on one page so that kids and I can see their progress.

It does work

Okay, I take it back. Turns out a whole year of talking to kids in Russian means that they can talk. I think they’re going to do just fine tomorrow at our state competition. Some of them are going to talk too much. I put a list on the board for my first-year kids that really helped…instead of listing thematic areas they could discuss, I wrote a bunch of verbs in English: born, live(s), lived, study, studied, want(s), have/has, love(s), like(s), work(s), can, play(s), need(s). . . they nailed them . . . then we briefly discussed how much they could use each verb to talk about themselves, their family members, their friends…it gave them a bunch of confidence. It gave me more confidence too, because these of course are our core words. Telling them to talk about themselves and their families, school, home, sports, free time, their city…those topics didn’t work because they’re not so used to thinking about themes.

Jody’s chair plus interview

I used two of Jody’s posts in other places for ideas today. We are working toward this contest…the kids have to talk about themselves. I keep trying to come up with new ways to practice. In two classes, I picked individual kids, and we interviewed them as they sat on the comfy teacher stool and then spoke as a class in first person with prompts to tell their life stories. I decided that if we do that each day, we’ll get more and more details about each person, and they will have enough examples to be able to really take off with this. What I really like is that while they think they’re having to remember everything about another person, the prompts that are on the board are the grammar that I want them to remember…”me they call,” “to me are 16 years,” “to us is a big house,” “become a doctor (instrumental case),” “I play,” “I go to school (reflexive verb).”

Yeah, it’s output. But two weeks of this, minus the actual day of the contest, and we’ll go back to stories and reading and full-time CI.

Murder mystery

I came up with a very successful speaking assessment that was the child of having forgotten entirely to prepare for my advanced class today.

Groups of four had eight minutes to prepare to introduce themselves as  unusual characters–one per person. They were to develop them as a group. They had to be very complete…I gave them an example of being a very tall person, the child of giraffes, whose favorite activity was riding on a hedgehog, who liked unfortunately to listen to country music (couldn’t listen with headphones because his ears are too small). . .I warned them that I would stop them and give them a twist they’d have to add–I thought of the twist while they were talking.

After eight minutes, I stopped them and told them that a crime had been committed. They had to describe the crime and add to their personality profile why they couldn’t possibly have done it.

The stories went on really long, with all the kids paying rapt attention. We had a stolen cake, several murders, and a math teacher’s rom filled up with Russian ginger cookies. Excuses were funny and complete. I had to nix the usual max of one minute per kid but stopped them at about two minutes because we wouldn’t have had time for the whole class.