Communicative context. How do we create it in a classroom setting? It is a challenge because our classrooms simply do not offer many situations for authentic communicative context. The farther I travel down the road of the work of teaching through comprehensible input, the more I’m feeling that we can put too much time and energy into creating “authentic language experiences.” We simply can’t get around that we are in a classroom filled with students, many of whom would rather communicate in their L1. We have to create communicative context AND a context for students to desire to engage in that communicative context in the L2. This is no easy task and some days there are simply too many outside variables putting pressure on the system to allow for authentic communicative context.
Input that promotes interaction is powerful. Some even argue that input without interaction isn’t enough. To me, interaction seems a buzz word on top of a slippery slope that might lead to forced output. But articles such as “Interaction as the key to teaching language for communication” by Rivers promote convincing arguments. I’m not sold on forced interaction, but I find myself agreeing with quotes such as “we need an ambiance and relations among individuals that promote a desire for interaction,” found on page 4 of Rivers.
Insert an important use for language tasks in the classroom. We have to be careful when engaging in the creation and facilitation of a language task in the 7-12 classroom. We only have so much time to plan. We only have so much instructional time. We only have so much time to devote to grading and scoring. When creating a task, time has to be at the forefront. Efficiency is important. Also, I think it is wise to have more than acquisition goals for tasks. Community building, novel reading reps and data to display and use for a discussion or follow up reading improve the usefulness of tasks greatly.
I find simple tasks that encourage students to interact with students with whom they do not normally interact are strong community builders. I’ve found this the best recipe for creating a community building task.
- The task creates a context that requires students to read Latin questions that are in bounds in respect to vocabulary.
- The task offers students a chance to seek information from other students.
- The tasks offers students opportunities to have choice with whom they interact.
- The task guides students to interact with enough different students to branch out from their usual group.
- The task collects data that I can compile and use as a discussion of the class to create another communicative context, centered around student generated input.
Such tasks do not take a lot of of time to prep. They do not take a lot of time to facilitate the collection of data. They offer numerous input opportunities and comprehension checks when the data is processed as a class.
A task I’ve enjoyed at times is Find Someone Who, which I based on Martina Bex’s people searches. The task is simple and can be applied to numerous different themes, concepts and curriculum. Craft a serious of questions in the target language that ask students to find other students in the classroom. Students, then mingle and record what they learn about others. I like to focus on 5 main questions that require students to find 5 different classmates. These can even be simple yes/no questions. I then prepare around 3 questions in Latin as follow up questions to extend the conversation between students. I’ve found questions that evoke personal responses to deeper questions influence students to want to engage with students outside of their usual group. Here are some examples from a recent task I completed with Latin 1.
- Have you heard a god speak?
- Have you had an enemy?
- Have you sat on the ground (earth)?
- Have you made a journey?
- Were you able to sleep for a whole day?
These were framed as yes/no questions. Students were to find 1 different classmate for each question. This allowed students who didn’t want to engage in the topic the chance to opt out. It also allowed the students who wanted to talk about these things the chance to share it multiple times. Lastly, each question had 1-2 students that answered a question for about 25% of their classmates or about 5-6 times in a class of 25. This allowed me to focus on those students during the class discussion afterword and all of those students were comfortable engaging in the questions I had for them. It created much more rich input.
Simple tasks have a place in a comprehensible input based classroom. They help create a communicative and social context that offers students an opportunity to engage in input. There are a few caveats when creating a task.
- Keep it simple and apply usual constraints of comprehensible input. It is easy to complicate a task and the second it goes out of bounds it loses it’s value as students will not engage in a communicative context that is above them.
- Accept that they will use more English than you want. The goal is that they read L2 and collect data while building a social connection throughout the class.
- Compile the data and use it as another way to deliver input. This kind of input is a nice break from creating and reading stories. It is compelling because students helped build the context for the input. It isn’t a lot of prep work after the original instructions and questions for the task are built.