20 November 2013

Target Language Need-to-Know Question Progression

The kids are hooked and burning to learn more. It would be neat if we could just set them loose with questions as soon as we see enough smoke to tell us the fire's lit, but world language teachers must first stock our little firebugs with communication kindling to make sure their target language fires don't fizzle. We can do this by setting up a progression of questions based on the entry event that kicks off our projects.



An entry event is basically a carefully plotted activity that introduces the impending project while blowing the class's collective mind if possible. Guest speakers are nice, videos can work, or maybe a picture book or relevant game. It's a starting point for the project and for the language building. The first questions for the project should activate prior knowledge and connect it to what the entry event just showed them. The questions should start as simple as simple can be, and then branch out, perhaps in an order like this:

1. Model yes/no questions
Use entry events and the artifacts thereof as inspiration for questions, but limit questions to yes-or-no to begin with. Model some yes-or-no questions for them to answer about what they saw or heard. Fill in gaps in their vocabulary with gestures and/or visuals and by slathering on the cognates.

For these questions to be possible, you will need to frontload and regularly reinforce some basic verbs from the beginning, like is/are, have/has, wants, can, needs, goes, uses, makes. It is also a good idea to refresh on any relevant vocabulary students already know that could help, even if it's just colors or numbers 1-10.

Display these questions as you ask them to help students process what you're saying and make more connections. It might be wise to provide students with copies or have them copy the questions themselves.

2. Form yes/no questions
When it's students' turn to ask each you--or each other--questions about the entry event input, they, too, will need to rely on the standard verbs and fill in what their vocabulary is lacking with gestures and visuals where necessary, or explanations in the TL if possible (hooray for circumlocution practice!). A simple game of 20 questions where students point to a picture for a conclusive guess can be a fun way to get them to form their own questions using familiar vocabulary to discuss the new topic.

3. Model questions with interrogatives
Use the same standard verbs and vocabulary, but add the who/what/when/where/why/how/etc. words in front to ask questions about the entry event. These should be the questions you have carefully anticipated beforehand.

4. Provide multiple choice responses
This is where vocabulary notes might be handy: we may not have a textbook we're operating from, but we should have a set of common vocabulary from which we can operate, even if it's only 15 words. Also, according to Sexton's Strategy for Vocabulary Retention #3, all new vocabulary needs to be connected to prior knowledge and grouped semantically. You already have questions for semantic group headers this way, thus reinforcing both the answer vocabulary and the question synaptically (Yes, I do believe synaptically is a new word, glad you like it.) Then you can reinforce them AGAIN as they become key words for student searches later during the inquiry phase!

If vocabulary is adequately similar to the L1, then you should be able to get away with slapping them on the board and letting them guess, perhaps with a dash of charades. However, I do enjoy a quick, easy slideshow where the word magically appears for more elaborate verbiage (Sexton's Strategy for Vocabulary Retention #1: connect new vocabulary to visuals). There is also the option of allowing students to generate the list with visuals themselves, too.

5. Form questions with interrogatives
Students should now be able to form questions they really want to ask about the topic. Try collecting these questions via Polleverywhere or TodaysMeet or a shared class Google Doc if you have the technology access. Otherwise, a good old-fashioned butcher-paper poster with post-it notes, should do the trick. Heck, it might be kind of fun to write them on notecards and throw them on the ground to arrange them into groups according to what they're asking about. In some cases, these question groups might help decide how to group students according to their interests!

6. Provide open-ended planning questions
Form your student groups or let them form their own (you know your class better than I do), and then let them answer these standard planning questions I like to use (in the TL of course). I suggest having them answer individually then discuss selected questions from the list, perhaps with conversation cards, periodically throughout the project.

Then comes the answering, lathering, rinsing, and repeating that all make up the inquiry process.

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