Sowing Seeds for Spontaneous Speaking #2: Planting routines

About a year and a half ago I gave a presentation at the ALL London Branch June Event called Sowing Seeds for Spontaneous Speaking.  The thrust of that presentation was that in order for pupils to be spontaneous in their interaction, it requires a lot of planned input from the teacher – it’s difficult to imagine a pupil suddenly communicating spontaneously (and reasonably accurately)  if they have little idea of sentence structure or vocabulary.  If the way they first encountered the language they need for a given situation was so mundane, it’s also unlikely that they will be able to recall it quickly enough when they want to and so again, spontaneity is reduced.  And of course we are their primary source of input, much more than any text book or exercise.

So what we have is a type of ‘rehearsed spontaneity’.  It’s no less authentic than fully spontaneous communication.  Rather, it is an early stage of it.  It helps when situations recur within the classroom just by virtue of being in a lesson (someone cheats, someone wins or loses, somebody wants something, a register has to be taken, etc., etc.): The situation provides a context for the language (which gives meaning to what they say) and intensity to the situation (depending on how you play it), and the recurrent ‘episode’ gives regular opportunities to recycle the language without rehashing it and extra opportunities for those who need more time to catch on.  Put all of this together, add some visual support, mimes and repetition and we have a very powerful tool at our disposal for setting up spontaneous interaction.  Even at a very early stage, within a limited context, pupils can be spontaneous.  Every time they feel compelled to speak and do so in the foreign language, dragging an expression, structure, piece of vocabulary or what have you into another situation, they are being spontaneous.  And as classroom routines grow and develop and pupils become increasingly independent in terms of choosing what it is they want to say, they move closer and closer to what we might normally think of as being authentically spontaneous communication.

It’s been a few weeks since I posted some visuals I’d made for my own classes that I started teaching in a new school this January (thank you very much for some very kind, encouraging comments on Twitter!).  I didn’t think I’d get much time to blog this half-term, so here we are at the end of the half-term holiday.  As I get ready for next half-term, I thought it might be useful to show where I’m up to with my classes in terms of planting and growing classroom routines.

Classroom language development 1

Classroom language development 2

Classroom language development 3

You can download an easier to read version here: Classroom language development.

A few points to make which might make the whole thing a little clearer:

  • When I planned it all out in the first place, I didn’t do it in the form of a grid like the one above.  Each routine develops on its own, but I find it useful every so often to plot it all out on a grid to see how far I’ve come with everything.  That’s often when I start to notice that I can take a structure or expression from one situation and transfer it to another.  A simple example would be ‘Tu dois avoir un gage: tu dois conjuguer être‘ (from the forfeits routine) transferred to setting up a pairwork activity: ‘tu dois lire les phrases et moi, je dois dire les couleurs’.  When pupils see me transferring structures all over the place, they realise they can probably do the same.  That’s where spontaneous speaking begins to bud.
  • As I’m new in the school, all 12 of my French groups are getting pretty much the same deal in terms of routines.  Of course, next year, the new Year 7 would follow something similar to the current Year 7 (a key difference being that I would have 3 terms with them instead of just the two this academic year), but (if I kept the same classes) the new Year 8 would continue to move on and would have a different experience to the current Year 8.   The grid I put up in my post on keeping track appeals to my way of thinking, and it’s the only way I can keep on top of what I’ve done with which class.  As we are at an early stage with all of the routines, and I’ve done all of this loads of times before, it’s much easier to keep track than later on when the class will decide to take us off in various different directions.  However, an advantage I’ll have then that I don’t quite have yet, is that I will have a clear idea in my head of who is in which class and what happened in which lesson without needing to look at a bit of paper!
  • I teach all 6 of the Year 7 groups, 3 of the Year 8 and 3 of the Year 9.  I haven’t got KS4 this year.  Only Year 7 play the Où est le chien ? activity.  (This is exactly the same as the ¿Dónde está el perro? game – surprise, surprise! I’ll post the French materials for this shortly).
  • The grids above represent where we’ve got to by the end of 11 lessons this half-term.  (They have the equivalent of 4 x 50-minute lessons per fortnight on a two-week timetable, so some groups have 3 lessons one week and 1 the next, others have 2 lessons every week albeit on different days).  The first lesson I had them was given over to expectations and coping strategies.
  • You might wonder how there is time to get these routines up and running with everything else there is to do.  I honestly think it is worth planning content language to take up no more than 2/3 of lesson time, less if possible.  Personally speaking, unless I make a conscious effort to do this, it will expand to fill up the whole lesson and routines feel crow-barred in rather than planted and they don’t take root.
  • A key factor in making this work is putting pupils in the position where they need or at least feel that they need these expressions in order to communicate.  Part of that is excluding English from my classroom, which has gone well with Year 7, and reasonably well with Years 8 and 9.  We’ll get there, but it will take a little while yet before they buy into it completely.  For as long as using English feels like an option, they will never make that leap of faith which enables them to find from somewhere in their heads the expressions they need to communicate with me and with each other in the foreign language.  So the more I can cajole them or set up situations (such as the forfeit system, which is gentler than you might think!) which promote target language use, the sooner they will get there.

So, happy end-of-half-term-holiday – we’ve still got a weekend yet!

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