Keeping Teacher and Student Talk in the
Target Language
June 11-13, 2007
University of Wisconsin, Madision
Charlene Polio
Michigan State University
Linguistics & Languages
Center for Language Education and Research
Fei Fei
Michigan State University
Second Language Studies Program
Center for Language Education and Research
Day one
Objectives (students will be able to…)
to understand why maximum use of the TL is
to understand when the NL, used very sparingly,
can be helpful
to make oneself comprehensible while speaking
in the TL without using the students’ NL
Day one
Agenda (focus on comprehension)
Class introductions
Some background information
Introductory video of French class and discussion
Some assumptions about language learning
Challenges to using the target language
Introductory sample lesson and discussion
Teaching new writing systems in the target language
Teaching grammar in the target language
Sample lesson and discussion
Expanding grammar and vocabulary through comprehension-based
Moving to speaking through story telling
What’s happening in class?
The National Association of Sport and Physical Education says that
student students should get 45 minute of physical education class each
day. How much activity does the average student get in a 45-minute
• 16 minutes
Think about an hour long language class. How much input are the student
getting in the target language? (Duff & Polio, 1990).
• One study of 13 languages showed a median of 79% in secondquarter language classes with a range of 10 to 100%.
• This variation did not seem to be related to language type or writing
system type.
How much are the students talking? (Zyzik & Polio, 2006)
• Some evidence from three advanced Spanish literature classes
Total T words
Total S words
*Excluding a student presentation
**Excluding students reading passages from text
As you watch, answer the following
Is your teaching similar to or different from what you see in the video?
What visuals does the teacher use to keep the class in the TL?
What does the teacher do with her language to keep the class in the TL?
How does she make her instructions comprehensible to beginners in the TL?
What authentic materials does the teachers use? Are these helpful for
Should students be allowed to ask questions in English?
Should students be allowed to speak English in group work?
What grammar point does the teacher explain in French?
How does she use the written language to keep the class in the TL?
How does the teacher include culture in the TL for beginners?
How does the teacher correct students' errors?
What is your opinion of the "What's Missing?" game?
What is your opinion of the information gap activity?
What can be done to make more efficient use of class time?
What can be done to keep all students engaged and participating?
Theoretical framework: Interactionist approach
The interactionist approach focuses on three major
Exposure (or input) is essential but not sufficient for
language acquisition. It provides examples of language
for learners, and interaction can help make input more
comprehensible because it can help them ask for
modifications to the input.
Production (or output) help learners notice specific
problems or gaps in their language and helps them test
hypotheses about the language.
Feedback on incorrect utterances are received during
interaction in various forms and this facilitates
Interactionist approach (cont)
A variety of factors can affect learning.
The main focus of interaction research was not originally on
individual differences, but certain cognitive factors (e.g., working
memory) and social (e.g., motivation) can affect acquisition.
Explicit feedback, which does not happen naturally outside of the
language classroom, can positively affect acquisition.
Different tasks will elicit different linguistic structures as well as
different types of feedback.
Learners’ developmental level will affect their ability to process
feedback on given structures.
Much acquisition happens incidentally but some type of
focus on form is necessary for full acquisition.
Note that explicit grammar instruction is considered useful
if it is part of the target language input, and explicit
feedback is useful if it takes place during interaction or in
What about Sanskrit?
Is it useful to provide input and interaction for languages which are
going to read and not spoken?
• When we read, we access the phonology of the language, so hearing the
language might be useful.
• It might motivate students because it is more fun and could be a change of
• Output will help students learn.
• The teacher must be able to speak the language.
• If reading is the goal, speaking in and listening to the target language might
not be the most efficient way to reach that goal.
• Necessary words might not exist in the target language. (How do you say “cell
phone” in Sanskrit?)
• The teacher needs to use language related to the texts that will be read, as
reading text is the ultimate goal.
Examples of language programs
University of Kentucky Latin Program
• “It is well established that participation in a variety of learning modes,
including writing, listening and speaking - not merely reading and translating enhances the comprehension of any language and the appreciation of its
Some assumptions for the classroom
The importance of teacher speech (input)
The teacher has to use the TL if he or she wants students to.
True communication in the TL is necessary for acquisition to occur.
Using the TL for classroom management ensure true communication.
There are a wide variety of strategies that a teacher can use to stay in the
The importance of student production (output)
The teacher has to teach students the TL they need and then construct
activities so that the students can use the language.
With more advanced learners, teachers need to push learners to use TL
beyond their comfort level; open-ended activities often don’t accomplish
Teachers need to help learners feel comfortable when they are speaking
the TL.
Discrete (not discreet) times for English
Assistance from visuals and written language (sometimes in English)
Grading only what has been taught
Providing a time to take risks
Various logistical issues related to teacher and student use of the TL should be
Covering the curriculum
What needs to be graded
Setting class policies
• Specific times for English
• “Punishment” for English use?
Amount of homework
Coordination with textbooks
Class Size
Motivation and attentiveness of students
Different difficulties for different levels
• Making yourself understood
• Providing learners with enough language to speak
• Getting students to talk more freely
• Making yourself understood when discussing complex ideas
• Pushing students to use complex language
• Pushing students to use complex language
Some exchanges from foreign language classes
Exchange 1
T:Atem rotsim xazara. Ma ze xazara? Xazar. Ma ze xazar?
• [You want a review. What does review mean? He reviewed.
What does 'he reviewed' mean?]
T: //Returned. Repeat- returned. And it's xazara is review. Kein?
Xazara is review.
• [Yes?]
SSS: xxx
T: Atem rotsim et haxazara b'yon gimel, o b'yom daled?
• [Do you want the review on Tuesday or on Wednesday?]
Eize yom atem rotsim?
• [Which day do you want?]
Exchange 2
T : ¿Por qué se atreve? ¿Qué es atreverse? To dare. Osar. ¿Por qué
se atreve Camila?
• [Why does she dare? What is to dare? To dare. Why does
Camila dare?]
Exchange 3
T:Mwusun ttusdlyeyyo? Mekun ili isseyo.
• [What does that mean? Have the experience of eating]
((7 seconds, no response from students))
T: What does that mean? Having the experience of having lunch?
Exchange 4
T:Tanggoeyse chumchun ili isseyo?
• [Have you (ever) danced?]
S:Do you want- do you want me to say yes?
T:Have you?
• [No.]
Strategies used by teachers to stay in the TL: Tone lesson
Give students expressions to ask for help.
Use written language to help learners keep track of
information, including new vocabulary.
Use written language to help segment sentences
and phrases.
Organize information well on blackboard.
Use small amounts of written English if necessary.
Debrief in English to address complex ideas or
lack of understanding.
Sample beginner lessons in the TL: Teaching the writing system
How do you currently teach the writing system of your language?
What techniques do you use? How long does it take to master?
Do you teach the writing system in the TL?
What challenges might there be to teaching the writing system in the
Get into the following groups of two or three.
Bengali,Gujarati, Sinhala
Hindi (two groups)
Sanskrit (find an appropriate group)
Plan a 10-20 minute lesson, for complete beginners, introducing the
writing system of your language. This lesson must be completely in
the TL but you may write on the board in English if absolutely
necessary. Choose one person in your group to teach the lesson to the
I will choose about three people to present their lessons.
Day two objectives
Students will be able to
• to introduce new writing systems to beginners using
only the TL
• to determine which grammar points can be taught in
the TL
• to teach some grammar to beginners using only the TL
• to teach grammar and vocabulary using
comprehension-based methods (such as TPR and
structured input)
• to understand the difference between activities that
focus on form and those that focus on meaning
• to use a variety of storytelling activities to teach
Day two agenda
Writing system teaching demonstrations
Teaching grammar in the target language
Chinese demonstration
Comprehension-based methods
• Total physical response (TPR)
• Structured input
Grammar teaching demonstrations
Moving to speaking through storytelling
Teaching grammar in the target language
Do you teach grammar in the target language? If
no, why not?
If sometimes, when do you use the target language
and when do you not?
If you do use the target language to teach
grammar, how do you make your language
comprehensible to the students?
What are the advantages of teaching grammar in
the target language?
What are the disadvantages of teaching grammar in
the target language?
What are some strategies that you can use to teach
grammar in the target language?
Strategies for teaching grammar in the target language
Use props and visuals.
Give English grammar explanations for
Brief/debrief in English.
Teach the vocabulary of grammar (e.g., noun,
But this can be difficult if students have
difficulty with English concepts.
Focus on easily teachable structures (e.g., not the
Group discussion
Think of two to four grammar points, one or
two for beginners and one or two for
intermediate students, that you could teach
in the target language.
Think of two to four that you could not
teach in the target language. Explain why
they could not be taught in the target
Total Physical Response (TPR)
Motor activity is helpful.
Learning an L1 is similar to learning an L2.
Low anxiety facilitates language learning.
Comprehension precedes speaking.
Focus on meaning, not form. (?)
Use of unanalyzed chunks facilitates learning.
Can be fun and nonthreatening. (?)
Students learn to understand a lot quickly.
Good for children.
Good for large groups. (?)
Good for warm up activity.
Can be used to introduce new vocabulary.
Focuses on one skill – listening.
Difficult to incorporate all grammatical structures.
Based on probably false assumptions about language learning.
Comprehension-based lesson for vocabulary and grammar
What did you learn about Chinese
What structure is being taught in the TPR
What is your general impression of the
Can you adapt this to other structures?
How can you get the students talking?
Do you remember how to say anything?
What is attention to form/meaning?
Listening for a particular structure without
having to understand the meaning (attention
to form)
Listening for answers to comprehension
questions (attention to meaning - primarily)
Can these be combined?
Yes, but it is difficult to focus on one particular
Input processing/structured input approach
Listening comprehension sentences using the passive
At the beginning of this story, the man was
honked at by the boy.
In picture 1, the boy is being followed by
the man.
The car was run off the road by the bike.
In picture 3, the boy is being passed by the
The man was annoyed by the boy.
Structured input (also called input processing)
Learners will focus on content words before grammar
• John traveled yesterday.
• I bought five books.
• The cat was chased by the dog.
Learners need activities to focus on form and meaning
at the same time.
Explicit instruction can be used to introduce the
How to use this technique
Present one new structure at a time.
Focus on both form and meaning.
Move from sentences to connected discourse.
Use both oral and written input.
Have the learners do something with the input.
Listening comprehension sentences using the possessive
Maria Shriver’s mother is Eunice Shriver.
Maria Shriver is the mother of Sargent
Robin Lawford’s daughter is Victoria
Peter Lawford is the father of Christopher
Kara Kennedy is Joan Kennedy’s mother.
Preparing a grammar lesson
Get into your groups and prepare a grammar
lesson that can taught completely in the
target language to beginners.
Choose one person to teach.
The lesson should last about 15 minutes.
Day three
Grammar presentations
Getting students to talk through communicative activities
Getting students to talk through tasks
Activities for pushing advanced students
• Using the L1
• Getting students to talk during vocabulary activities
Storytelling activities (if time)
To construct true communicative activities for students
To prepare students for communicative activities and give them feedback
on such activities
To push advanced students to use more complex language
To use role play more effectively
To understand how to use minimal amounts of the L1 to facilitate
vocabulary learning
To devise vocabulary activities that get students talking
To use a variety of story telling activities to teach language
Constructing Speaking Activities to Get More Output
Providing them with the language that they need to
Intermediate and advanced students
Pushing their output beyond their comfort zone
Getting them to use new vocabulary and grammar
Students in large classes
Giving each student enough talking time
Keeping all students engaged
Shy students
Providing contexts where they must speak and where
vocal students cannot do all the work
For all students
Creating truly communicative situations
What is a communicative activity? An activity that…
requires communication?
is part of the communicative approach?
encourages communicative competence?
A communicative task is a task that requires a true
exchange of information to complete correctly.
This forces learners to understand and to be understood.
Note that a noncommunicative activity is not necessarily
Often such activities are needed for instructional purposes.
Sometimes an appropriate communicative activity cannot be
What is a communicative activity?
Look at the activities and decide if they are truly communicative.
A: Pronunciation practice
• Grant, L. (2001). Well Said. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
B: Leading into a topic
• Zwier, L. & Hughes, A.(2003). Essential Functions for Conversation.
Hong Kong: Asia Pacific Press.
C: Agreeing and disagreeing
• Barnard, R. (1995). Fifty-Fifty: An Intermediate Course in
Communcative English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall
D. Giving and understanding directions
• Dwyer, D., Polio, C., & Glew, M. (2000). African Language Tutorial
Guide. Center for Language Education and Research, Michigan
State University.
Try the find-the-difference activity.
Two people should do the task and one should observe.
• Did both people have to talk?
• Did one person dominate?
• What grammatical structures were elicited?
Demonstration of communicative activity in Chinese
Guidelines for analyzing activities: Consider the find-the-difference task
What is your general opinion of this activity?
How could you modify it for a large class? For beginners?
For advanced students?
What are the objectives? What do you think the students
will learn?
Write objectives from the students’ perspective.
• Not: To provide students with vocabulary about the
• Instead: (Students will be able) To talk about current
weather conditions.
Do not use the word practice in your objectives.
• Not: To practice listening to a radio weather report.
• Instead: (Students will be able) To understand a radio
weather report.
Guidelines (cont.)
What can you do to prepare the students for the activity?
How would the teacher set up the activity for language
What grammar structures are being elicited? (Or what
grammar structures will the students use?)
How can we adapt this activity to give students more
talking time?
Will students have to speak in the target language? How
can you help them avoid English?
Is this a communicative activity? Do students have to
exchange information to complete the task?
Is the activity pushing learners’ output? Do all students
have to talk?
How can the teacher deal with errors in this activity?
How can the teacher check comprehension?
Is there cultural information included in the activity?
Sample activity
From a Spanish textbook:
Look at this picture of a beach scene. Work in pairs. Take turns to
make sentences about what is happening in the picture.
• Complete this task with a partner pretending to be an
unmotivated student with limited language skills.
Willis, J. (2004). Perspectives on task-based instruction: Understanding our practices,
acknowledging different practitioners. In Leaver, B. & Willis, J. (Eds.). Task-based
instruction in foreign language education. (pp. 3-46) Washington, DC: Georgetown
University Press.
Basic principles of task-based language instruction
Activities are purposeful and emphasize
communication and meaning.
Learners learn by interacting communicatively.
Activities can be real-life goals or they may
have a pedagogical purpose.
There is generally some type of outcome to the
How can we use tasks to get learners to talk?
Modified to have a clear outcome
On your own, draw a rough sketch of a beach you knew as
a child. Write a list of the similarities and differences
between your beach and the beach in the picture.
Ask your partner about his or her beach and compare them.
Decide which beach would be better for a family day out.
Choose your or your partner's picture and plan how to
describe it to the class so that they can draw it. Explain
why this beach is the better one for a family outing.
Describe your picture to the class so that they can draw.
You will also draw pictures of your classmates' beaches.
Compare your pictures to your classmates'. Whose beach
is best for a family outing?
Another information exchange activity (Picture drawing)
Teach students names of body parts by drawing a picture.
Draw a picture of an alien with, for example, one eye, four
arms, two mouths, and so on.
As a class have the students describe your picture.
Have each student draw his or her own alien.
Pair up the students and have one of each pair describe the
alien so that the other person can draw it.
While the students are working, circulate around room
listening for grammatical and pronunciation errors.
When the first of each pair has finished, go over some of the
errors you heard.
Have students repeat the activity with the other person
describing the alien.
Pushing advanced students to talk
Participate in the demonstrations, but think about how you would set
up the activity in a language class. What would you teach the students
before the activity?
Sentence sequencing
Picture sequencing activity one
Picture sequencing activity two
Role plays
Information gap role plays
Role play using authentic materials
Guided role play for beginners
Discussion role play for advanced students
Writing activities
Jigsaw Activities
Using pictures
Using written texts
Vocabulary activities
Find a partner
Go to board
Answers to sentence sequencing
j. Mary and Stuart decided to buy a house.
b. Mary found a real estate agent to assist them in their
n. They told the real estate agent that they wanted to live in
a quiet residential neighborhood.
d. They also said that they preferred small houses.
e. First, they looked at a stunning house in the suburbs, but
the house was too far away from work.
a. Next, they toured a charming house by a lake.
i. They heard from their friends, however, that the lake was
g. The real estate agent then showed them a spacious house
near some apartment buildings.
c. They didn't like it because the house was too big, and the
apartment buildings were hideous.
h. Finally, they saw a quaint house on a cul-de-sac.
l. The little house was just right - not too expensive, not
too far from work, and not too big.
m. Even though the house was little, it had a big kitchen,
two modern bathrooms, and cathedral ceilings.
k. They finally decided to buy the house, remodel the
outdated kitchen, and take out the old kitchen cabinets.
f. When I last talked to them, they were happy with their
decision, and they liked the house a lot.
Sentence ordering activity – standard method
Find a piece of connected text to use. For
beginners, it is easier to use nonauthentic texts that
target specific vocabulary. For more advanced
students, you can use short authentic pieces.
Divide the text into sentences, one for each
student. You will probably have to modify the text
to do this. If you have someone absent, you can
give one of your better students two adjacent
If you have a cooperative class, you can have the
entire class participate together. If that seems
unmanageable, the class can be divided into
Sentence ordering activity - modified method
Find a piece of connected text to use. For beginners, it is
easier to use nonauthentic texts that target specific
vocabulary. For more advanced students, you can use short
authentic pieces. The text should have about ten – twenty
Divide the class in half. Give one half a handout with space
to write half of the sentences on a blue handout. Give the
other half space to write half of the sentences on a yellow
On one side of the room, post copies on blue pieces of paper
of half of the sentences, out of order, from the text.
On the other side of the room, post copies on yellow pieces
of paper of the other half of the sentences, out of order.
Students must leave their answer sheets at their desks, go to
the board, and try to remember the sentences.
Once the students have finished, they must pair up with
someone who has a different color worksheet and put the
sentences in order.
Pushing learner output in role play
Use authentic materials when possible.
Give guidelines for what students are
supposed to talk about.
Create an true information exchange
Give feedback on language.
If you have students write dialogues, have
them present without reading them.
Sample role play cards
Poorly constructed role play
Person A
• You are in Chicago and want to buy a train ticket to East Lansing.
Person B
• You are working in the ticket office at the Chicago train station.
Better role play
Person A
• You are in Montreal and you want to a travel to Yonkers, New York.
You know that the Adironack train travels from Montreal to
Washington, DC. You call Amtrak to find out the following:
1. The arrival and departure time of the train on a Monday
2. Whether or not the train has the same weekend schedule
3. Whether or not smoking is allowed
4. The distance of the trip
Person B
• You are working in the Amtrak train station in Montreal.
Guided (controlled) role play for beginners
Ticket Buyer (begins)
Train station employee
Greet the ticket seller.
Say that you want a ticket to
Ask about the price of a roundtrip ticket.
Ask if there are any trains
leaving between 3 and 5 pm.
Ask how long the trip takes.
Say that you will buy a roundtrip ticket for the 4:30 train.
Ask where you should board
the train.
Thank the seller.
Greet the ticket buyer.
Ask if the person wants a oneway or round-trip ticket.
Explain that a round-trip ticket
is $37.00.
Tell the ticket buyer that there is
a train leaving at 3:30 and 4:30.
Ask which the person wants.
Say that the trip takes about 2
Give the ticket to the buyer and
thank the person.
Tell person that the train boards
at gate 5.
Role plays for advanced students
Create some type of debate.
Choose a controversial issue.
Give students cards with different points of
See example on handout.
Create your own role play
Create a role play for a class that you
typically teach.
Write role play cards for the students.
How would you prepare the students?
How would you give feedback?
Using Writing to Get Students to Talk
Freewriting activity
Use as pre- or post- listening, speaking, reading, or writing activity.
What is the rationale for using writing to teach speaking?
The teacher can call on all students.
Everyone is on task while writing.
Students who have stronger literacy skills can tap into them.
Students can get assistance from the teacher or dictionary for difficult
Students may notice gaps in their language and thus be better primed to
Writing is a form of planning that can lead to improvements in speech,
specifically, greater complexity.
Writing can activate students’ schema and help them organize their
Writing may force students to use new vocabulary or grammatical
The teacher can check all students’ comprehension after a lesson, not just
those who talk.
Students will have to reflect on what they learned.
Some resources
Books with teaching activities
Find-the-difference pictures

Getting Your Students to Use the Target Language in the