Communicative purposes and how to make your classes more successful

This week, I have gotten some really exciting news! While the actual paper publication of our book has been pushed back until April, the ebook version is available now via RedShelf and will be on Amazon by February 1st! The nice thing about Kindle is that you don’t have to worry about shipping delays!

Obviously the process of writing a book had me reflect on my own teaching practice. What of my activities would we include and how much DO my practices always align with second language acquisition principles? This reflection has extended into my own practice- which is of course the purpose! While we wanted to provide a TON of examples, we also wanted to get the wheels turning for you, too. Today, I wanted to share how I have modified my own practice based on the book and some of the background of the book with very slight changes. One way was it helped me to evaluate further activities that I might add to my classes such as this interpretive post reading activity.

This was one of the guiding principles when I was looking at and evaluating my activities:

One of the biggest piece of information is what will the audience do with this information. For example, I had an activity where students were looking at places that were highlighted in a commercial. They matched the pictures with the description and then explained which places that would want to visit. Ok- but if we review it, why would they listen to their classmates? Or would they write their sentences and move on? Sometimes they care, but many times they do not. However, due to my reflection, I added a twist. Could we find a place that we ALL wanted to visit or one that NONE of us wanted to visit? That made it instantly more interesting. (Also all of my students wanted to visit a mountain range that had llamas.)

Another one of the activities that I changed was what I do with Chat Mats to make them even more meaningful. Students used Chat Mats to talk about what they like in both grades 5 and 6. Then, I collected their papers. That is pretty basic and wouldn’t have any communicative value- but we can use their answers to determine who is who? I read their answers and their classmates had to guess who said what they liked. Pretty much any time, my students had to guess what their classmate was thinking or wrote down they were instantly engaged! I also tied this in with some of the book that we were reading. For example, if they main character goes to a market with various fruits, I will have my students guess what fruit from the list is their classmate’s favorite. The other bonus is that I will ask about each student, so they are even more excited to be included in the activity.

From the first chapter in the book, we discuss transforming dictation activities. Since I don’t spend many days on grammar, I like that dictation activities can bring awareness to spelling and grammar. But are they meaningful? In the first chapter (which is available online), we discuss transforming dictation into a polling option. I combined dictation activities with my favorite pre-reading strategy: prediction. I read sentences from an upcoming reading, and students copied them down. I displayed them, but then students predicted if they would or would not happen in the upcoming reading/chapter. Then, as we read together, students would exclaim if they realized the sentence was there and if it was actually true or false. (And there were literal exclamations- my fifth graders are pretty enthusiastic to say the least.)

I think most of us have been through this stage in our teaching careers. But, we want to make sure that all of our activities just like our questions don’t have prescribed answers. One thing that I did when I was asking personalized questions at times was adding a quick chart to my questions to make their answers mean something. For example, when we were discussing video games, I got a list of 4 video games from my students that they liked and then students voted on their favorite. However, as each student voted, I filled in the chart. It became easy for my students to then answer which video game is the most popular in our class.

It can also apply to various sorting activities. In one activity, I was asking students what smelled good and bad. But- I made sure to include a fair amount of subjective items. Would many students say that sushi smelled good or bad? Same thing with dogs and coffee? When there is no right answer, you end up with a much richer discussion.

Finally, this year, I have also added a variety of trivia questions that reinforce topics we are going over. When we were learning introductory information about people about where various people live, I asked them to see if they knew the answer. I provide my students options since they are younger (and may come up with some off the wall guesses), but it increases the likelihood that my students will pay attention since trivia can be engaging for students.

Overall, these are some small changes that I have been able to make from our book. There are 40 specific examples of how to apply the research to the classroom, but it is our hope that you will also be inspired to find inspiration to change your own lessons.


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