Tackling Pronunciation with Technology

At the end of last semester I was wrestling with how to work on pronunciation.  Alas, I was tired of hearing “Il essssssssssssst anglaissssss” and so I started to brainstorm ways students might be able to work on this problem without me.  This particular pronunciation issue is, in my opinion, an input and reading issue.  Students haven’t had enough input and then they are reading the words wrong.  Nobody ever makes this mistake before they see the word est. So how could I have them get more input, while working on their reading at the same time?  Or how could I get them to focus on the fact that when they hear “il est anglais” and they say “Il esssssst anglaisssss” that that’s essentially a reading error and how could they do this without me?

Here’s what I did.

  1.  I wrote/got/copied three short paragraphs in a Google Doc.  I wanted them to have typical reading/pronunciation errors that Novices make.  I chose one that I wrote, one that I barely “edited” of Cyprien’s Twitter page and one Tweet that had words we had not necessarily practiced with.
  2. I had students install the Read &Write Extension from Text Help.  This is an amazing extension that will read whatever is on the page in multiple languages.  (Well, it’ll read whatever’s on the webpage and you tell it the language.  So if you want to listen to bad pronunciation put up a French webpage and then don’t change the language to French.  Icky, blech!)  Read&Write Extension does a ton of other things that Eric Curts has explained on his blog Control Alt Achieve.
  3. Students used the extension to listen to the paragraphs.  I asked them to listen times.  Once just listening.  Once by silently mouthing the words as they were read to them and once speaking aloud as they were read to them and then to practice the paragraph themselves and listen again.
  4. Students used the Voice Typing Tool in Google Docs to record themselves reading.  This is where it got interesting.  I practiced using bad pronunciation and it typed out my bad pronunciation.  It was my hope that the students would realize that when they saw “Il a 25 ans” but they said “il est 25 anse” that they would realize that there was an issue that they could work on or re-do.
  5. Students filled out a feedback form so I could see if they thought it would be useful.  Overwhelmingly students said that they thought that this type of practice would be useful.  Some students reported that the Voice Typing “didn’t work right,” but when I checked what Voice Typing had written, it clearly wrote out their pronunciation issues.  The students just didn’t realize that they were saying it wrong.  I think that is an issue I can deal with and is just a matter of familiarity with what they are doing and why.

What’s not clear is whether the Voice Typing tool will adjust to their bad pronunciation and write out the correct words even if the student says it wrong.  What also isn’t clear is whether this type of work will be effective.  I know pointing out pronunciation errors of this type rarely has a positive long term effect, but I also know that if a student feels like s/he is making progress and has something “tangible” to hold onto they will make progress.

What I’m thinking I will do is for each lesson build a document with three or four short, comprehensible paragraphs that students can use for optional practice as part of their goal setting and homework choices work.  Even if the pronunciation work is less than optimally successful, they will certainly benefit from listening and reading more.

I’d be interested to hear how you have used Voice Typing tools to work on pronunciation.

Is it…Guessing Game

This last summer I spent some time with my six year old cousin. He has some speech issues and sees a speech therapist weekly and is not, in general, a great talker…yet.  However he loves playing the Guess Who game.  Do you know this game?  You have cards with images on them that you slide into a game apparatus and then you choose one of the images and then you ask your opponent yes or no questions to try to figure out which one they selected.

I was in love with the language that this little guy was producing and hearing.   “Does it have sprinkles on top?”  “Is it cold?”  And less anyone think this game is just about language, there is also a clear strategy, as I learned after I lost the fourth straight game in a row.  Carson is a Guess Who game master ninja.

My students can do that.  I can make that.

So I did.

I’ve made a slide deck with three different games.  I had a fourth of people, but I realized that all of the people were, uh, well, all the same, uh, color.  And while it represented me, it didn’t represent my students, so I deleted that one.  I’ll try to make a better one.

It’s simple, share with students and then they drag the circle onto the image they select and the x’s onto the ones that are eliminated from the questions they ask. Repeat. Repeat.  Repeat.

Click on the image to go to the slide deck to make your own copy.

Je sais pas – Let’s ask Google!

Sometimes I’m a little late to the technology party.  Until yesterday when I had to reset my phone, I’d hardly used the voice tools on my phone.  And then yesterday I fell in love with Google Assistant. Though the whole idea of talking to an object feels odd to me, I am super excited about having a new assistant to do things for me. “Ok Google. Enter grades in the gradebook.”

In the summer I discovered that I could talk in French to my computer and ask Google questions by using the Search by Voice feature and that it would not only find the answer for me, but sometimes it would talk to me!


I thought what a great activity for questions and spent way more time than I should admit asking it silly questions.  Only it was summer and I had to wait around until last week to do anything with it.

The Techy Side

For this to work you have to change your language settings in Google Chrome.  My students have all different devices and the students who were using their phones had issues.  Some of them were saavy enough to figure out what to do on their device, but their solutions were all different.  “Change it in the app.”  “Change the keyboard settings.”  “Touch your nose three times and tap the home button twice then jump out of your seat.”  Too much work.  Just encourage students to use a computer.  I had them work with a partner or told them find someone with a computer.

First, search anything.  Literally.  You just need to get to the page with the language settings and that’s not on the first Google Search page.  Then click settings and change the language.

Finally click the little microphone.  Google will even tell you when to talk!  And it will visually show you what you are saying.  Try it out- it’s pretty cool.

The Lesson Side

I was going to do this on Monday, but decided that I wanted the students to have more structured practice with questions before I sent them out to big wide world of Google to ask questions that it might not recognize because of their accents or lack of structure, so I held off a day.  This ended up being the 400th billion activity we had done asking questions.

If you ask Google a question it will sometimes actually tell you the answer and sometimes it just pulls up a search page.  I don’t know how it determines whether it’s going to talk to you or not.  I wanted Google to respond to my students, so I spent some time finding some people that Google would talk about.  Some of my first choices didn’t merit spoken language, so they were out.  I always try to have a variety of people and nationalities (plus Céline Dion- always Céline Dion), but this got a bit limited because of the talking part.  I also wanted people with names that would be relatively easy for Novices to produce to reduce their chances of being misunderstood by Google.

I put up this slide of Emmanuel Macron and since none of the students knew who he was we asked Google.

Then, I walked students through changing their language and showed them this slide and told them to find out some information.

And then there were giggles and laughter and a whole bunch of fun as students asked questions.

Because Google writes out what it is hearing it’s quite ideal because it lets students see if they were understood.  Some of the students had to try a few times to get Google to understand- which is good.  They had to negotiate their own meaning with Google.  There was not an issue with Google picking up the voices of the other students.

I wasn’t sure how well this would work so I didn’t plan an elaborate activity, but next time I’ll have them write out their answers and then report out.  Next week students will be asking questions about a cultural reading and I think I might have them test out their questions by asking Google.

On a separate note, is there anyone out there who also thinks that Emmanuel Macron looks like the grown up version of Petit Nicolas?




Higher Level Thinking with Novices

When I was doing my student teaching (in English) our methods teacher said something like, “The complexity of your language is a reflection of your complexity of thought.”  While I can get behind this statement for a native language, this isn’t true for a second language.  I mean, I’m entirely capable of complex thought, but I certainly can’t express that in Spanish.  Depending on the topic I may be able to express a complex-ish thought in French.  And on any one day, I may or may not find complex thought expression in English a stretch.

This makes it easy to say oh, those novices, they can’t do any critical thinking.

Not True – Beyond DOK 1

Here is a simple activity, that I did not invent that asks students to think critically with very little language.  Let me start out with that in the first hours of French, I tell this completely ridiculous story about a crab who has its heart broken by a chain smoking rabbit and who is ultimately consoled by a snail.  It’s riveting.

This activity is actually what I think of as disguised input.  (I suppose some people would argue that the best comprehensible input is disguised, but for me it means that this is not an input activity per se.)  This activity is meant to give students the opportunity to hear the words chien, chat, lapin  several times in a meaningful context and it asks students to think critically without producing a lot of language.  They need to say impossible, possible, probable (with the French pronunciation-ish).

I put up the slide and then ask in the TL, “Rabbits eat carrots? Yes, that’s pretty logical.”  “Dogs eat hamburgers?” You’d be surprised by the answer to that one. “Dogs eat cats?! What?! Dogs eat cats! Nooooooooon.”   “Dogs speak French.”  “Snails eat lettuce.”

You get the idea.  We go through many, many possibilities.  You’ll notice that the second row is all cognates except fleur, which is like a half cognate.

Enter Google Forms

This year I’m taking this activity to the next level with a Google Form.  I asked students to read the statements and then answer and some of the statements were different than the ones I said outloud.  And then you know what we did?  We practiced numbers by talking about percentages of people who think it’s probable that dogs eat cats, etc.  Because there is never not a good time to use numbers in context.

I didn’t do this next step because we didn’t have time, but to extend the activity I could ask students to make their own sentences that (im)possible or probable.  Or I could ask them to move sentences and categorize them.

And then…

I make enough work for myself, so I love when I can re-use things I’ve already built.  The next activity involves the students using aime/adore/n’aime pas/déteste with the same slide.  Additionally, we re-tell the whole story by using aime/adore/n’aime pas déteste.  This year I added in parce que for the students and they made amazing sentences for such limited hours of French.

I’m not suggesting that my silly story and activity will leave students enlightened, but it does allow for them to think critically and respond to a complex question with simple language.


Three No Prep Activities for the First Day

It’s Back to School time!!

Officially school started over a week ago at the high school and I don’t go back to school at the college for another week.

Here are three no/low prep activities you can do with any class, but the newbies.  (For my take on starting with the with the newbies see this post.)

1. Categories

I don’t know about you, but when my students came in after the summer they hadn’t spent it practicing any French and I like the delicate toe dipping back into the TL.  Here’s how it works:

Brainstorm a list of categories (themes) students should know.  For example: School, Home, the Beach, Brandon Brown Wants a Dog, etc.  Whatever they most likely studied.  Then one at a time put those on the board (or on a slide deck) and instruct students to come up with a list of words that have to do with that topic.  It just needs to be a list.  (Don’t worry, we’ll make sentences later!) For example for school students might list: listen, pencil, paper, fun, partners, etc.  Give them oh, three minutes per topic.  Give prizes or Señor(ita) Bucks or whatever your reward system is for the most words, the most interesting words, the longest word, etc.  Whatever you want.  Here’s the important part- both partners have to write down the exact same words.  After each category I’d ask for volunteers to tell me some of the words all in TL.  Next, have them switch partners and go on to the next category. Repeat until you’ve gone through each category.  I’d recommend no more than four categories.

When you’re done you’re left with some nice lists and hopefully students have got their TL brains loosened up and working a bit.  But here’s where it gets really good:  send them to the next partner.  (See they’ve worked now with five different people, reviewed, hello, my name is, your name is, etc.)  With this last partner give them the instructions that they will have 10 minutes to come up with a 30 second conversation about one of those topics.  It can be a story.  It can be a dialogue.  It can be a newsflash, but both people need to talk.  I limit the time.  This isn’t about proficiency or an assessment, this is about getting their mouths moving again in the TL and for you to get an initial idea of their raw language abilities.  Then they can present their 30 second dialogues/stories the next day or on Flipgrid or Recap or whatever way makes you the happiest.

2.  Meeting someone you don’t know

For students who are new to a class together they need to get to know each other.  There’s lots of cute icebreaker ways to do this, but I am not that kind of girl.  I can’t stand icebreakers.  When I see on a meeting agenda icebreakers or getting to know you activities, I start planning a bathroom emergency.  I understand as a teacher that icebreakers are necessary, so here’s how I do it in class.

In partners ask students to brainstorm a list of questions you could ask someone you don’t know or have just met.  It’s important to specify that “How are you?” does not count.  While they’re doing this you can walk around and help and gush and see how they’re starting off the year.  When they’re done I usually ask for volunteers and write their questions on the board.  If I notice that they may need extra help, then when we brainstorm the questions, I’ll also review how to start the answer.  So when we write “Quel âge as-tu?” I’ll also get them to tell me and I’ll write “J’ai…”

But not done yet…..have students choose five of the most important questions. Which five do we have to know about each other?  (Hopefully they chose name as one of them if not say, “Oops, I said six questions” and mark name as one of them.)  One year students included – What’s your favorite book?  (That was a bookish class.)  One year, what’s your favorite movie?  Doesn’t matter.  They choose.

Still not done… have students interview a partner and then present their partner to the class.  You can do the not fancy stand up and present and that’s like 15 seconds per kid or you can go fancy and have the students do a collaborative Google Slide or use Flipgrid or Recap.  (If you haven’t guessed yet I choose the non fancy option for this.)

3.  Whaddya do?

If students know the past tense already, then as far as I’m concerned that first week’s lessons should include something about what they did over the summer.  Ask yourself, how many times did someone ask you about your summer when you got back to work?  It’s all anyone wants to talk about.  Sure, you can change it up and throw in an infographic about typical vacations in your language culture and have them compare, but I just like the no-nonsense tell me about your vacation.  (For ideas about talking about vacation here’s a whole post.)

This year I’ve been particularly interested in how many different ways I’ve been asked about my summer since I’ve been back:

Were you able to get away?

Did you get to relax?

Did you go anywhere?

Did you get out of town?

Catch any good movies?

What’d you binge on on Netflix?

Imagine the discussion that ensues with students around the intent of those questions.  Instead of just asking “What did you do?”  if I ask, “Were you able to get away?” I’m asking the same thing, but focusing on where the person went.  When I’m asked “Did you get to relax?” the questioner doesn’t want to know about how I got my pool clean.

First, ask students to write down or state what they did.  Then give them some alternative questions like the ones above and ask them to refine their answers.  (Fair warning- this next step is a bit of prep.)  Have these questions on cards and give the students the cards to circulate and ask what everyone else did, but focusing on the nuances of the question.

There you have it- three (mostly) no prep activities to start the year off in the TL!

Giving Textbook Activities a Purpose

Not every activity in a textbook is awful.  And sometimes, with just a small tweak, they can be pretty darn good.

The Tweak

So my friend Lewie (You know Lewie, right? Everyone knows Lewie!) Lewie has been talking a lot about giving a real purpose to student communication.  I took this idea and tweaked the “interview your partner” activities from the textbook.  First, at the beginning of a unit, students choose partners using stickies.  When I say “interview your partner” activity, I mean the ones where there are questions like Take turns answering and asking these questions –“What time do you get up?  Who does the cooking in your family? Are you nice or mean?  Do you prefer peas or carrots?” These are generally decent questions.  When I get to this type of activity (provided the questions are actually decent), I have students switch from their normal partners to one of the partners on their stickies.  Usually when I do this, I make them say, “Goodbye” and something goofy like “I’ll be back- don’t cry partner.”  It’s funny that’s why I do that.  I like funny.

Once they get to their temporary partner, I give them the purpose, “You are going to interview your partner, BUT you have to be prepared to tell your normal partner at least X number of things that you learned about your temporary partner.”  Then after 5-10 minutes of talking, they go back to their normal partner and tell him/her X number of things they learned about their temporary partner.

Tweaking It More

You could take this further by having students interview multiple partners and reporting back.  You could also have the normal partners compare answers about their partners and report back about that.  (Both our partners prefer peas.  Neither of our partners like carrots.  Our partners said, blah blah blah.)  I haven’t done that.  I’ve just asked them to share out about their temporary partners.  What I’ve found is that students listen more intently to their temporary partners when they know they are going to be held accountable for what they hear.

So simple and a students have a purpose for the conversation.


18 Mix and Match Activities to Talk about the Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I had a short exchange on Twitter about what to do the first day after vacation. I was thought “Ooh, I know this one!” For me there’s only one activity to do after a vacation or weekend and that’s to talk about what you did.  Think about it- what do you say to your colleagues and friends before the weekend?  You ask them what they’re gonna do.  In any one Friday how many times do you have that same conversation? And Monday?  You ask your colleagues “What did you do?” “How was your weekend?”  This is when we find out all of the juicy information about our friends.  To me this is a high frequency, completely legitimate conversation that allowed me to build relationships with students. And we practiced the Friday conversation as soon as students learned the futur proche and it was a glorious day when we finally did the passé composé, so we could have a Monday conversation as well.  So when @mmefarab asked me if I had some suggestions for talking about vacation, I thought, “Boy do I,” but none of them would fit in a Tweet.

So first off my students did a daily bell ringer and that was the start for all of these activities.  They would write five sentences about what they were going to do or what they did.  Each of the ideas below is a variation on that theme.  I’m using the past tense as the example here, but you could do the same thing with the future.  These activities are almost all no prep.

Switching up how students talk to each other.

  1. Super simple.  Students write.  Then they ask their partners what they did. You ask for volunteers.  It’s ok if it’s not perfect.  When they say je regardé, take a deep breath and remember the experts assure us that with enough comprehensible input eventually this will get better.  Eventually.
  2. When one student says what they did another student volunteers to ask them a question.  Student 1 says: I went to the movies.  Student 2:  What did you see? You have to model the questions first if they’re not used to asking questions.  This is a great activity for finding out information because students ask the best questions.
  3. Students ask their partners about their weekend, then you give the students a number and they find a new partner and switch partners and ask again.  Switch as many times as you have time for.
  4. Give partners a time limit 30 seconds, 1 minute, etc.  Say “Partner A will have X minutes.  If you finish talking before I say stop then read the posters off of the wall until I say stop.  Do not stop talking until I say stop.  Give as much detail as you can.”  This techniques reduces the temptation to just say one thing.  After x minutes switch so the other partner talks.
  5. Students do a survey and find out who did the same thing as they did.  They can walk around or do it digitally.  “Did you go to the movies this weekend?”  Then they can talk about who did the same thing.  “We saw x movie.” Or switch it around and find someone who…and give them crazy stuff with the normal stuff.  Someone who say (you) at the store. Someone who sent (you) an email.
  6. After students know their partner a bit, switch it up and have them write what they think their partner did or even what you did.
  7. Students fill out an interview sheet.  Here’s an example and I filled it in to give an example.  By forcing students to fill in as much information as they can, they are prepared for all of the possible questions.  Have them walk around and talk to 5, 7, 10 people.  Then ask what student 1 did and someone else can answer.  Be sure to participate in this yourself.  A benefit of doing it this way is that while students may be tempted to just write a short sentence “I went to the movies” they’re forced to write what turns out to be a pretty long sentence.  And they can ask pointed questions to their partner.
  8. If you know enough about your students create a bingo card.  I created one here using the French infinitives so you could use it for the future or past.  Or do it on paper. StWeekend Bingoudents find someone who did this and then you play bingo.  Students write the name of the person they found in the Bingo box. So for example if you use “went to the movies” one student might write Cindy and another one Sally.

Switching up the task so it’s slightly different.

  1. Two truths and a lie.  To switch it up have students do it with you in mind or their partner.
  2. You write down a list of 5-10 activities that you did.  With a partner, students come up with a list of 5ish activities that they think you did.  Then students can ask you, “Did you go to the movies?”  If you did they earn 100,000 bonus points or whatever your reward system is.  They only earn these points if they wrote down the same thing that you wrote down.
  3. Have students talk only about the things they didn’t want to do.  Or that they didn’t do.  Or that they wanted to do, but didn’t get to do.
  4. Have students focus on a certain aspect per sentence.  For example: in sentence 1- who; sentence 2- where.  When you get to the imperfect switch that up as well.  Sentence 1- the weather; sentence 2- what you were wearing, etc.
  5. Use language ladders to focus on a certain chunk of language.  “Wow, amazing.” “You don’t say!” “Tell me more.”

Switching up the task so it’s slightly more involved.

  1. Flat Stanley (Pierre Plat)- This will require some advanced planning, but it can be worth it.  Students make a Flat Stanley and then take it with them on vacation, take pictures of him and then talk/write about him later.  The Flat Stanley official website has templates you can use or students can create their own.  Before the students go on vacation, tell them to to take Stanley wherever they go and take X number of pictures.  Use those when you get back as a prompt.  You can go fancy on this and use VoiceThread or Screencasting or Adobe Spark or you can go not fancy and just have students share their photos.  I’ve done it both ways and frankly, I like the “just share your photos option.”  Either way, it’s a good idea to give them time to think about what they are going to say by having them write out their Flat Stanley narrative.
  2. #vacation- Use social media to have students curate their vacation photos with a description in the TL of course! If you haven’t used social media with your students be sure to go over norms: only school appropriate photos, only post other people with their permission.
  3. If your students travel a lot or even if they don’t, they can use Google My Maps to plot out their vacation and and write about it.  If I knew I had some students who didn’t travel at all, and some who traveled a lot I would change the assignment so that it was an imaginary vacation.  Or use it for the future.  (Blog post on using My Maps is on the way.)

How to talk about vacation even if your students don’t know the past tense yet.

Just because students don’t know the past tense doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about what they did during vacation- it just means that you have to be more strategic about it.  No matter which of these variations I would start by saying in English “We’re going to talk about our vacation!”  Even if students haven’t learned the past tense they’ll still be able to understand that you’re talking about the

  1. Make a slide show images of your vacation and ask students if they did these things.  (I’m not saying that I’ve done this and photoshopped my photo vacationing with Beyoncé and Jay-Z or at the movies with Ryan Gosling, but…) You can go fancy and have students fill out an online poll saying yes or no.  This has the benefit of quantifying the options.  You can go non-fancy and have students stand up and walk to the yes side of the room or no side of the room.  Or you can have them put up stickies.  Lots of non-fancy options here.  Then you can talk about how many people went to the movies?  The don’t have to be able to say “12 people went to the movies.”  They can answer 12.
  2. Using Google Forms and have students fill out the form.  Use the picture option to add a picture for each sentence.  I’ve made an example of a form here.  I’m actually going to use this form as a hook for the passé composé at the beginning of the semester.  Once the students answer you can go back to the form and look at the answers and say, “Oh look, 15 people went to the movies.  Raise your hands if you went to the movies.  What movies did you see?”  The students don’t need to know the past tense in order to answer or understand those questions.

I bet now you can’t wait for the weekend!

Find a Partner

Two weeks ago at my Instructional Coach training, the trainer had us do an amazingly simple partner activity.  We divided a sticky into four quadrants and in each one wrote a word: Winter, Summer, Fall, Spring then we had to stand up and find a partner for each square.  We wrote the name of that person in that square and they wrote ours.

C’était un coup de foudre.

Immediately my mind turned to how I could adapt this for my students.  One of my goals for this semester is to get my college students up and moving more because that class is two and half hours long and I need all the help I can get.  I’ve got some lessons where I’ve done this well and others…well, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.

I decided to use a language ladder to structure this.  We were only in our fourth actual hour of French class when I introduced this to students.  I gave them a copy of the ladder.  I had the same image on the board, but I had covered up everything but the first box in each category.  I told the students “We’re going to do this every week and by the end of the semester you’ll be able to use all of these, but to today we’re going to start simple. Nobody needs to be a hero.”  Additionally, I told them there’s actually a level before this where you just point to the square and say “Partenaire?”  I didn’t want anyone to feel like the words in this activity was too hard after four hours of French.  ask-for-partenaire-1

This is what it looked like in my Slide deck:2016-09-18_18-46-53

And on their sticky I had them do this:2016-09-18_18-47-20

Then the students got up and spent ten minutes having authentic conversations, with a real purpose with their classmates.  In the lesson, when I wanted them to move, I put the image of that square on the activity in my Slide deck.  The students switched seats and found their partner and then did a quick activity and went back.

It’s not often that I think, wow, great idea and well executed, but that’s what happened.

Here’s what the future looks like with this.  Every lesson (week) I will change the squares for something for that lesson and every week or so I will add another choice from the language ladder.  At the high school level, I’d do exactly the same thing.

A simple, easy method for authentic conversation.








Voice Typing to Practice Numbers

I am always up for some good number practice.  In my perfect lesson plan there would be some attention to numbers every day- I just feel like students always need more practice.  Of course, there’s a ton of ways for students to practice listening to numbers, but not so many for them to practice speaking on their own.

Google Voice Typing to the Rescue!


I created this document and video to explain what to do for students to practice their numbers.  Basically, students say the number in the TL and Google recognizes their voice and fills in the number.  Though not perfect; it’s pretty darn good.  Of course, I chose the numbers that give early learners the most difficulty and the ones which they mix up the most.

Voice Type Numbers Document

Video Explaining How it Works (for students)

Five Activities to Challenge Students Beyond Yes and No




A few weeks ago I was  about to do an activity where I knew I was going to push students to expand their answers  (Angelina Jolie is a better actress because …..) that it got me thinking about ways we can challenge students to do than just respond with yes or no; because in addition to comprehensible activities and stories our job is to challenge students to say more than they think they can because they may not do it themselves.

These are activities that you would use selectively; not every day.  Not for input.  Not for comprehension checks.  But to challenge them to expand their language.

  1.  5 Finger Sentences – Students respond to a prompt by using five sentences and count them off by their fingers. Example:  Tell me about your family.  Answer: My mom is Sally.  She is 40.  She likes apples.  My dad is 42.  He likes football.
  2. Combining Sentences- If you’re like me, after listening to the above sentences 30 times in class period you’ll want to reach for the nearest dull spoon to stab in your foot, so teach students to put those together.  Take ones student’s example (or use your own) and show students on the board how those sentences can combine.  Then ask them to do themselves. Then exclaim wildly and repeatedly in the TL, “Wow, what an amazing, beautiful sentence!”
  3. Sentence Challenge- I love this next activity and it works best for review.  I’ve usually used it after some kind of reading.  Pull out 20-30 words from the reading.  Any words will work, but make sure to have a good mix of words; that is words that are easy for students and some that are more difficult.  Put the words randomly on the board.  (Maybe using a slide in Google Slides) Next, in pairs tell the students they will have 1 minute to try to make as many different sentences as they can.  You can require the sentences to be in some kind of order, but I usually don’t.  While partner A is talking, Partner B is counting the number of sentences.  Once you’ve done it as partners, ask for volunteers and see who in the class can do the most.  At the end, ask a student to time you as you do it.  I have never beaten a student at Sentence Challenge.  Working on a specific structure?  Tell students to use that structure.
  4. Sticky Sentence Challenge- You can use stickies or Jenga pieces or Legos or paper or a digital tool or whatever is easiest for you.  Write a one word on each one of the stickies.  (Which words? Oh I don’t know, maybe the same ones you were working on in the previous activity.  If you did it in Google Slides, print out that page and presto done!)  You’ll need one set per group.  Have students lay out the stickies on a desk or wall to see who make the longest sentence.  They will have to add in their own words to make sentences.  Usually I give parameters like, “10 points extra credit if your sentence is so funny it makes me cry.”  Non-digital might be better for this activity because they can see around the room to see who is making longer sentences.  As you’re walking around you can exclaim wildly, “Wow, what a beautiful sentence! What else can you say?”
  5. Sentence Expansion- Taking the example from #1, show students how to expand those sentences using the words they already know.  So instead of “There is a dog.” Show them how to expand that sentence.  “There is a big, brown dog who is eating in the classroom.”  Wait class, can we add more?  “…in the small classroom at XYZ high school in California in the USA.”  Ask them to rewrite a short sentence in the same way.  As you move into higher levels, you’ll be teaching students how to combine sentences and write in a rich varied language.

As we move students from Novice to Intermediate proficiency levels, short intentional activities like this will help students practice using varied language and keep your feet free from dull spoon marks.