I cannot start this post without first telling about my PLN (which I LOVE!).  I found out about Langchat through the ACTFL list serve about two years ago, and began to follow over the summer.  It is awesome.  I still don’t feel quite adequate in providing my own ideas to the group, but I definitely have the “L” part down!  One of the Langchat colleagues, Amy Lenord, posted on her blog about a Questions Workshop she did with her students.  Every bit of it sounded like just what my students need.  So below you will find my reflections on my own (nearly completely her) version of the “Taller”.

Day 1: Taller de conversación

I wrote this prompt on the board: “Tell about a time when you experienced an emergency”.  I instructed my students to write five questions to interview someone on this theme.  To be honest they were a little confused at first, strictly because of the way I posed the situation.  Once they understood it, they went straight to writing and were (surprisingly) not deterred by my insistence not to help them or let anyone in the class help each other.  I have one student who is extremely resistant and refuses to admit that he knows anything.  Although, if I give him a writing prompt with some incentive (a big grade), he’ll write two whole paragraphs.  This student refused to write, so I stated, “If you cannot think of anything at all to write, then write at least one question in English”.  Of all of the questions the student could have written, he chose “How did it happen?” He is very intelligent.  He knows that one does not use “it” without first telling what it is, or in this case asking.  This told me that he simply did not want to participate.  This is ok, because as the workshop goes on, he will come to see that it is less work to participate than to resist.


Next, I asked the class to circle the question that they felt was the weakest.  The question could be weak because of word choice, structure, or, for the more advanced students, simply because they couldn’t think of another deep question.


Then I asked the class to be very supportive in the next step- revision.  I also asked that everyone be very brave and come to the board to write this question that they had just circled.  Most of the students obliged, and this is what I ended up with:

conversation workshop day 1


This provided a greatly beneficial conversation about structure, word choice, that mystifying absence of the helping verb “did” translated to the Spanish past tense, and all kinds of other helpful things.  We once again discussed the importance of circumlocution with words like “happened”.  They may not remember how to say “pasó”, but they do know ocurrió very well.  This, of course, raised the point that my “resister” only needed two words to write his question in Spanish: cómo= how, and ocurrió= occurred.  Again, it’s easier to participate than to resist.


After all of the great discussion, class was already nearly over!


Day 2: Taller de conversación

Still loosely following Amy Lenord’s Question Workshop format, I paired students up Novice High and above with a Novice Mid or lower partner.  They used the questions that they had written previously, sat with their partner, and looked at ways to improve their questions.


Next, I decided to test students’ progress a little, the same way that Amy did on her Day 3.  I stated a question in English; students translated to Spanish.  This helped to see which students were still struggling, and helped to reinforce what we had already covered.


The next activity was the “snowball conversation”, as Amy Lenord calls it.  This activity is marvelous for lowering the affective filter and building students confidence in asking and answering questions. In this activity I divided the class into two “sides”.  I had student start with a fresh piece of paper (I kept the previous papers for my records), and write one question.  Then students wad the paper, throw the “snowballs” and answer the question that they end up with.

After this activity, students still seemed to be having trouble with dropping the auxiliary English verb when forming a Spanish question. Enter: Question cubes.

Day 3: Taller de conversación

Simply put, I spent a whole day with this activty: post a verb- occurió, trabajará, etc.; partners role the conversation cube, and ask and answer the question putting together the question word on the cube with the verb.  Students learned that usually the question makes perfect sense this way, but sometimes- usually with “quién”, especially- you need a preposition.  Oh, and guess what?! We almost always form questions improperly in ENGLISH! Big eye opener for my kiddos!

Day 4: Taller de conversación

I feel that the next logical, and necessary, step in this taller is to also talk about strategies to negotiate meaning in a conversation.  For this, I LOVE Laura Sexton’s “Interpersonal Gameplan”.  There are four steps to this gameplan: Presentar (present), preguntar (ask), clarificar (clarify), and contestar (answer).  I love this because learning how to clarifiy (use requests for clarification) and negotiate meaning during a conversation are VITAL to building communicative competence.  So, I took students through the gameplan one step at a time.  The gameplan actually has a document that goes with it and is available on TeachersPayTeachers.  The document leads students to use appropriate greetings, form their questions, clarify using all types of great clarification requests, and finalize with some kind of response or answer.


Now that students have completed this workshop, they are ready to participate in an actual conversation.  I’m even thinking about printing certificates for the students who successfully complete the task!  My students often write on interest surveys (even three quarters into the year), “I want to learn how to converse” or “I just want to be able to have a conversation”.  They FORGET that they are novices, and I think maybe a “Certificate of Completion of a Taller de Conversación sobre __(insert unit/conversation theme here)___” just may be helpful in helping them to remember, “oh yeah, I know how to do that!”.

Oh, and my “resister”? Yeah, he had the best interpersonal grade out of the whole class after this! 🙂