There’s a lot of “buzz” in world language education these days about shifting the focus of our courses from a strictly grammar-based approach to a more “real world” proficiency approach. While grammar is still critically important to learning a new language, this move to proficiency allows students to focus on the practical skills that they’re able to accomplish in the target language.
As part of this shift in thinking, we’ve been conducting interviews in Spanish 2 Honors and Italian 3 courses this year. Spanish 2 CPS students will have the opportunity to do so in Terms 3 and 4. I provide 20 real-world conversational questions to students ahead of time, and we practice with them for about 1-2 weeks in class and independently. Then, each student has the opportunity to chat with me in the hallway about 10 (randomly chosen) questions!
Practicing the interview questions has been especially fun. We’ve found some interesting, engaging ways to review for the final interview, including:
The “chat hat” – everyone sits in a big circle and chooses a number from a top hat I have in the classroom. Then, each student answers the question they choose. We’ve mixed this up a bit by having each student choose the next person to answer in different, fun ways. For example, if a student’s favorite color is red, the next person to answer is someone who is wearing red that day. Not only is it valuable practice when the student is answering, but it is also helpful for students to hear others’ responses to the same questions to brainstorm and collaborate.
Jenga – the classic tower-building game transforms into a great tool for conversation practice! Typically we use Jenga when we’re doing different station activities in class. About 4-5 students play at a time in the traditional way – except with our class set, the blocks are all numbered! These correspond to interview questions and the game sparks a target language conversation after each block is stacked on the top.
Quizlet – one way to include the use of technology to help us with interviews is by using the web-based program Quizlet. Typically I use Quizlet to distribute vocabulary and verb lists to students. However, with the interviews, I have students create their own sets, using their individual answers to each interview question. This provides a digital set of flashcards that students can use to study and review prior to the interview. Quizlet even has an audio feature that reads in many different languages (including Spanish and Italian). Many students find this helpful, as they are able to hear the question spoken in the target language.
During the interview, students bring their iPads and record the conversation. Afterwards, students review the recording and complete a self-assessment, noting strengths and areas for improvement.
Though speaking one on one can be stressful when it’s not in your native language, students have really thrived with this activity. By completing lots of low-stakes practice during class and employing technology to aid independent work, students have been setting themselves up for success – and gaining practical target language skills!