A few weeks ago while running through my Twitter feed I came across this tweet from Stephen Krashen:
We acquire language by comprehension. Speaking in full sentences is result not cause @ChildDefender Stories, access to books is the path.
— Stephen Krashen (@skrashen) May 26, 2016
The original tweet refers to having students listen to and talk in full sentences. Let’s be clear here. Stephen Krashen is obviously right. I mean, it’s Stephen Krashen! This is the guy whose picture I taped to the board with an arrow pointing to him that said “Language Rock Star.”
But…maybe because 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.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.