As is described in the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, students work toward being able to participate in discussions once they reach the intermediate high proficiency level and beyond. It is important that we begin to build students’ skills early on in their language learning experience, beginning with highly scaffolded, simple discussions to more in-depth, spontaneous ones.
In the interpretive mode, beginning at the intermediate high proficiency level, it is expected that language learners can “understand the main message and some supporting details across major time frames in conversations and discussions.”
In the interpersonal mode, beginning at the advanced level, speakers “can maintain spontaneous spoken, written, or signed conversations and discussions across various time frames on familiar, as well as unfamiliar, concrete topics, using series of connected sentences and probing questions.”
So, how do we put novice language learners on the pathway toward being able to participate confidently in discussions in the target language?
Building students’ discussion skills
From the novice level, students can participate in discussions in the target language about authentic texts they have interpreted if those experiences are:
- well-modeled by the teacher
- highly scaffolded
Types of discussions students might have include:
- making decisions
- solving problems
- expressing opinions
- creating a product
Scaffolds for discussion skills might include:
- graphic organizers on which students have taken notes about the authentic text, ideally set up to assist them in the discussion. For example, if the intent of the discussion is for students to compare and contrast two ideas, a Venn diagram might be the most appropriate graphic organizer to use. Here’s an example of an organizer in Italian:
- expressions lists that support students’ conversations. For example, if the purpose of the discussion is to express an opinion about the authentic text, sentence frames/starters would be provided. An example in French is below:
and one for Spanish:
- protocols for discussions: taking turns, using gambits or conversational fillers, building off of what group members have said, assigning group roles, etc.
- a routine or strategy that serves as a framework for the discussion. Click on the image below to explore a variety of discussion strategies.
Example classroom scenario:
In an intermediate level Spanish class, the teacher shows this quote by Pablo Neruda during a unit on Personal and Public Identities. The teacher asks students to write a summary statement in the target language about the quote.
Then, the teacher gives each small group one part of the quote:
- Quien no viaja [someone who doesn’t travel]
- Quien no lee [someone who doesn’t read]
- Quien no escucha música [someone who doesn’t listen to music]
Students work in groups to discuss the benefits of traveling, reading, and listening to music and each student records their group’s ideas on a graphic organizer. When ready, students move to mixed groups to share their group’s ideas. They conduct a conversation with their classmates using the “Bounce” strategy in the target language. Additional ideas generated by the group are added to the graphic organizers.
As an extension, student groups are given the choice of:
- Creating an infographic on the benefits of traveling, reading, listening to music, etc. using tech tools such as Piktochart
- Creating their own version of the Neruda quote
- Researching Pablo Neruda
- Polling their classmates about the benefits