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Spontaneous Communication in the LOTE classroom: activities that lower affective filter and spark authentic communication. Darcy Johnson , M.Ed., Curriculum & Instruction and Spanish

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Spontaneous Communication in the LOTE classroom: activities that lower affective filter and spark authentic communication

Darcy Johnson, M.Ed., Curriculum & Instruction and Spanish

Brian McDonough, M.A., Ibero-Romance Philology and Linguistics (Area of concentration: Second Language Acquisition)

special thanks to the following for supporting our trip to d c
Special thanks to the following for supporting our trip to D.C.
  • Rebecca Donald, Principal, Westwood High School, Round Rock ISD, Austin, TX
  • Westwood High School PTSA
  • Our spouses! 






lote objectives http k 12 pisd edu currinst lote philosophy htm
LOTE Objectives (
  • Languages are acquired, not taught
  • Language acquisition takes place through a process linking language to meaning
  • In order for languages to be acquired, students must be exposed to comprehensible input
  • A child who functions in one language is already a candidate to function in others
  • A child will not exceed in his second language, the ability he or she has in his first language
  • Linguistic accuracy is a destination, not a point of departure
  • Proficiency in a language is attainable; mastery of a language is not Authentic assessment involves a cadre of performance standards and requires the child to use language purposefully to meet a need or solve a problem. (
circumlocomotion a k a pass the card
Circumlocomotion (a.k.a.-Pass the card)
  • Objective: Students will spontaneously

communicate in pairs based

on specific cues.

  • Materials needed: 15 note cards with questions, word prompts, or visual cues.
  • Procedure: Students begin in pairs at their seats. A rotation system is explained to them, and they will be asked to pass the card to the next pair each time the instructor calls “rotate!”. Each card will provide a different cue based on a particular grammatical/ thematic/ communicative topic. Partners take turns asking/ answering, according to prompt.
  • Topic: Past tense
  • Questions are written by teacher OR students
  • Let’s try it!
use authentic materials
Use authentic materials!

A variation of this activity is to find 10-15 products from Latin America/ Spain and describe them to the partner (i.e. replace the cue cards with authentic products and pass them in a particular rotation)

What kinds of products can you use? Wrappers, candy, newspapers, magazines, photos, bottles, tickets, brochures, etc. (ACTFL standard 2.2)

factors we can influence
Factors we can influence
  • Student anxiety
  • Student self-doubt
  • Student boredom
our thoughts on boredom
Our thoughts on boredom
  • We should NOT assume that we are the most interesting people our students have ever met
  • Let the authentic resources (appropriate for student level) do the talking
  • Make activities that are engaging
  • Reinforce primary goal for students throughout the course of the year: communication! (not perfection)
our thoughts on self doubt anxiety
Our thoughts on self-doubt/anxiety
  • Think CAREFULLY before correcting errors;
    • Things to consider before correcting an error:
      • Will this correction help or hurt their…
        • perception of their own language ability?
        • self-confidence?
      • Frequency of correction – nobody likes to be corrected all the time; gives us a negative image of teacher and/or self and/or language
our thoughts on self doubt anxiety1
Our thoughts on self-doubt/anxiety
  • Let them experience success!
    • encourage AUTHENTIC use of language where students can believe themselves to be successful;
    • low anxiety communicative situations (un-monitored conversations, etc.);
authentic language acquisition
Authentic language acquisition:

Spoken or written language data that has been

produced in the course of genuine communication, and not specifically written for purposes of language teaching.

–Nunan (1999)

actfl standards
ACTFL Standards

Standard 1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.

Standard 1.2: Students understand and

interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.

see tell draw shared by carolyn wietzel leander hs
See-Tell-Draw (shared by Carolyn Wietzel, Leander HS)
  • Objective: Students will study, memorize, explain, listen, retell, and interpret visual/ audio cues in order to reproduce a visual that is in the hall.
  • Materials: A picture prompt (to be hung in the hall); a line on the floor (can be made with tape); butcher paper and markers
See, tell , draw!
  • Form groups of 5.
  • Person (A) goes outside to study a picture, painting, or drawing for x minutes
  • Person (B) stands at a line by the door and listens to person (A) when they return to the line
  • Afterwards person (B) goes back to the rest of the group and describes the picture, painting, or drawing that person (A) described
  • The group draws the image that person (B) describes
  • Person (A) goes back outside to study it again and will come back in to describe it to a third person (C) again with more details. Person (C) describes the image to the rest of the group, and group members take turns meeting person (A) at the line.
which dead person am i
Which dead person am I?
  • Students form groups of 5-7. Each group works in a place of inspiration (away from other groups)and smiles in Spanish (or Arabic) at fellow group members.
  • Envelopes are given to students that contain cards. Cards have names of famous dead people on them.
  • Students keep envelopes face down except to show group members-objective is to guess which name is on the card through information that peers supply in the target language.
  • Each person will take his/ her turn asking QUs
which dead person am i1
Which dead person am I?
  • This activity can vary depending upon level/ grammatical topic
  • I chose to use dead people because it easily lent itself to the preterite tense, which we were using at the time in class (we spent the whole day on dead people, i.e. writing an auto-obituary, etc.), but one could easily use a famous person who is currently alive or base the people on the topic.
here are some suggestions as to what students can ask
Here are some suggestions as to what students can ask:
  • ¿Dónde trabajé durante mi vida? (Where did I work during my life)
  • ¿Con quién me casé? (Who did I marry?)
  • ¿Qué logré? (What did I achieve?)
  • ¿Cuándo viví/ Cuándo me morí? (When did I live and die?)
making the dead more versatile
Making the dead more versatile?
  • Which object am I? (could be from the vocab you’re studying)
  • Which Spanish-speaking country am I?
  • Which famous Hispanic am I?
scriptless scruples cuz life just ain t scripted
Scriptless Scruples (cuz life just ain’t scripted!)
  • Objective: When was the last time you memorized the conversation that you were about to have with your brother before you called him? Hmmmm? ¿? 
  • Materials: Vary per presentation, but typically consist of visual cues.
  • Procedure: Re-work former project presentations or speaking dialogues to ensure that students are not memorizing what they are going to say! One suggestion is to give students presentation guidelines, and then ask them to draw out their ideas, NOT script them. Have them practice based on interpreting their own visual cues, each time saying the presentation differently.
When conversing in the big, bad world (AKA BBW) you won’t always have visuals cues, so training your students to speak without them is another option which provides opportunities for circumlocution (description of a word or concept when you can’t think of the word)

 Look, no script! 

consejos para guerreros
Consejos para Guerreros
  • Formen grupos de 3
  • Hagan un plan de consejos para sobrevivir en WWHS (estudiar, hacer ejercicio, desayunar…etc..)
  • Cada persona debe hablar de 3 consejos, usando “(Ud.)Debe.., (Ud. )Puede…, y (Ud.)Tiene que….”
  • Dibujen una imagen para representar cada idea
  • Prepárense para compartir las ideas con la clase (hablando), sin leer!
how can we change this project by removing the script
How can we change this project by removing the script?

Restaurant Scene

In groups of three you are going to prepare a conversation to present to the class. One student will play the role of the waiter and the other three are going to be clients in the restaurant.


  • 5 words in the category “talking about how food tastes”
  • 15 words in the “food” category
  • 4 sentences in the category “talking about unintentional events”
  • 4 words with “ísimo”
  • For crédito extra (1-10 points) you can wear costumes and use props during your presentation.
  • You need to turn in the script and rubric before you present.

Please mark the required vocab/ grammar on the script with different colors and make a key indicating what your colors represent!

what can we do to help the kiddos not write a script
What can we do to help the kiddos NOT write a script?
  • Keep requirements relatively simple…instead of asking them to apply 15 vocabulary words, limit the number of required vocabulary! OR….do NOT require vocabulary from the list, rather design the topic so that it solicits use of certain vocabulary authentically
  • Train them from the beginning!
  • Explain why they should NOT use a script
other ideas
Other ideas
  • Give quick orals as part of an exam, i.e. randomly move about the room asking students questions based on the topic while they are taking the test.
  • Oral quizzes on appropriate topics. Evidence suggests that students understand the topic better when they do it that way
  • If technology permits, use the language lab. We don’t have one so we use hand-held recorders. Saves class time if they record all at once.
keep the affective filter in mind
Keep the affective filter in mind!
  • You don’t have to grade everything that the students present or write. Allowing them to present or speak without grading them can remove some of the anxiety associated with speaking!
keep em on their toes
Keep ‘em on their toes!
  • If answering book/ homework questions when reviewing answers, ask them “Why?” to justify their response when they’re not expecting it. They’ll be caught off guard, but will try to respond.
  • Randomly ask a student a question during class in the target language.
  • At any or all level of instruction.
  • Let’s them be creative.
  • Putting too many limits may raise affective filter (stress!)
  • Walk around as they write and give suggestions.
  • Grade for completion.
  • No pressure authentic use of language.
journal topics
Journal topics
  • Write about your vacation. Use preterite and imperfect.
  • What are you going to do this weekend. Use ir +a+ infinitivo.
  • Your best friend is having problems with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Write a short letter giving him/her advice. Use the subjunctive.
  • Write a disgusting recipe. Use formal commands.
  • Describe what you and your family are doing right now. Use the present progressive. .
  • You just bought a present for your friend. Make them guess what it is by giving a detailed description without mentioning what it is.
  • Describe a time when you use Spanish outside of class. Where? When? With whom? Why? How did you feel afterwards?
  • Describe your daily routine. Include some reflexive verbs.
  • What’s your favorite band? Why? How do you feel after listening to their music.
  • Which university would you like to attend? Why?
  • The movie “I am Legend” just became your reality. You are the only one left in the world. Use the subjunctive with impersonal expressions to make the situation a bit more rational. (Es importante que, es bueno, es triste que, es probable, es posible que, etc.)
  • Describe some good and bad relationships. Use reciprocal reflexives where possible.
  • What is a good friend?
  • What is a good teacher?
  • You just won a million dollars. Make a list of gifts that you are going to buy for your family and friends. Use the word “para” to indicate the destination of the gift.
  • Make a list of various things that you did last week and for how much time you did them. Use the word “por” to indicate the period of time you did them.
more journal ideas
More journal ideas

The economy went bad. Now people have to exchange things instead of use money. Make a list of groceries you need and how you are going to “pay” for them.

You have various things you need to do next month. Make a list indicating the due date for each using “para”.

 Homework: Watch a telenovela in Spanish. Journal: Write a summary of what you saw.

Draw a typical family situation and describe it. (Carmen Lomas Garza)

Describe a particular work of a particular artista.

Dialog – Pass a journal back and forth. Let them talk without their voices.

Write a song using ‘nosotros’ commands.

Compare your dream car to that of a friend. Use possessive pronouns.

Read a poem and comment on it.

Describe what you have done to help the environment in your community. Use the present progressive in your response.

What will you have accomplished by the end of the school year? Use the future perfect in your response.

Tell a story about something that happened when you were a kid. Use preterite and imperfect.