Designing input & output activities that promote proficiency

Anita Saalfeld

NILA 2019

October 12, 2019

Give brief bio

What promotes proficiency?

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Things learners need

  • Comprehensible input
  • Opportunities to negotiate meaning
  • Opportunities to produce output

How do you decide what to teach & when to teach it?

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My first semester teaching (1999!) & what I’ve learned since then

  • Does teaching learners the rules about “por” and “para” help them learn how to use “por” and “para”?
  • What’s the communicative load of this feature?
  • Do students need receptive knowledge, productive knowledge, or both?

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Exams in first-semester Spanish included a test on prepositions...students had to know when to use a, en, por, para, etc. When I started taking classes in language acquisition, I learned that prepositions are one of the last features acquired in a language. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach them, per se, but we definitely shouldn’t be testing on them in novice classes.

Filter everything through the idea of “communicative load.”

Think about what students will be doing in the TL. For example, students really do need to be able to understand object pronouns, because they miss a lot if they can’t interpret them. But they can navigate speaking without object pronouns pretty effectively. Telling time in Spanish is another example. Faltan 15 para las 2.

What do learners really need to be able to communicate?

  • (AKA: Why I dislike textbooks)
  • Pare down content, especially in lower level courses
  • Explicitly teach learners strategies to be wrong and understandable for things that you know they have trouble with
  • ¿Cómo se dice “500” en español? ¿Y qué tal el 1o de mayo?
  • Here’s what my five-year-old is producing right now: I bringed my toy to school for show and tell. I putted my toy away.

Giving students input

  • Teach language chunks, especially in beginner classes
  • Teach things that are simple, but don’t worry about grammatical accuracy. Is a student comprehensible if they say “Me gusta matemáticas”?
  • BUT adolescent and adult learners benefit from explicit instruction, as long as instruction is meaning-based

*BUT also, give feedback because learners need corrective feedback to level up. “Trust the process” works for L1, but in L2, the reality is that incomplete acquisition is frequent in the absence of explicit instruction

Input activity types

Input activity types

  • For reinforcing vocabulary, I use games: bingo, Go Fish, pictionary, charades, etc.
  • What are good games? What makes them good?
  • https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/grecian-urn-lesson/

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Tell story about fruit basket upset. Talk about J. Gonzalez’s Grecian urn.

What about grammar?

  • Adolescents and adults benefit from explicit instruction, as long as that instruction is focused on meaning.
  • Make sure that you’re first asking students to interpret language before asking them to produce, especially with grammatical structures.

What about grammar?

  • Keep in mind that learners try to get meaning from processing words first, not structures, so they need a little push to notice structures. Research in language acquisition (Schmidt, 1990) indicates that learners need to notice linguistic features in order to acquire them.
  • For example: http://bit.ly/2KSMLRN
  • And: http://bit.ly/2oqe0cP
  • And my favorite (from VanPatten & Cadierno, 1993): http://bit.ly/2OWCa7t

With articles, point out low communicative load, and emphasize that we don’t spend a lot of time on that.

Don’t overlook other domains of language

Don’t overlook other domains of language

  • Pragmatic competence
  • Pronunciation (not just physically articulating sounds, but also being able to interpret sounds, especially for L2 learners who are learning to speak and read in the TL at the same time)

Who are my fellow socially awkward introverts?

Give example of computadora vs. aire

Stress contrasts in Spanish for verb system

What else?

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Interaction

  • What are the challenges that you face in getting students to interact in the TL?

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For me, getting them to engage with content. Human bingo works sometimes, but sometimes students will just say yes or no without understanding a question.

Possible task types

  • Information gap tasks. Examples:
    • spot the difference in a picture
    • one student has to describe a picture and the other student has to draw what’s described
    • schedules
    • ads
    • anything that you can remove information from
  • Human bingo (consider adding a follow-up to yes/no questions)
  • Games (give learners necessary language to play in TL)

Great for novice learners because it’s highly structured, but still requires them to produce and interpret language

Possible task types

  • Speed dating (get basic template here)
    • Some other examples here and here
  • Class survey (get basic template here)

Explicitly teach expectations, and explain that you expect them to work together to negotiate meaning

(Pushed) output

  • Is it necessary?
  • “I know the words; I just can’t say or spell them.”
  • Retrieval practice

Discuss incomplete language acquisition in French Canadian schools (Merrill Swain)

Becoming aware of what we can’t say helps us identify and fill in gaps in our language

Output task types

  • Presentational: posters, brochures, letters, videos, in-class presentations
  • Keep these level-appropriate and provide lots of scaffolding (and ideally, time in class to work so you can monitor process and progress)
  • One example: Weekly question
  • Interpersonal: Interviews, information exchanges, surveys, etc.

Task-based language teaching

  • Can be a simple activity as part of lesson or a culminating unit activity
  • Can include all modes of communication
  • IPAs are a great task
  • Main idea: Figure out what you want students to be able to do with the language first, and then design your activities to build to that task (backwards design)

Spanish 1, Unit 1

  • Students will be able to:
    • introduce themselves and others appropriately in formal and informal registers
    • exchange basic contact information
  • Tasks: short interview and message-taking activity
  • What do students need to be able to complete these tasks successfully? (Don’t forget the receptive component!)

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Questions?

I have a lot of resources available for free, and as I have time, I’m working on making more materials public.

www.anitasaalfeld.com/resources

This presentation and referenced materials are available online at http://bit.ly/NILA2019. My shared folder is http://bit.ly/Saalfeldshared.

Thank you!

Designing input & output activities that promote proficiency - Anita Saalfeld - Google Slides