Teaching a foreign language to high school aged kids is a challenging proposition. I suspect that the vast majority of students who complete their required year or two of a foreign language – most often Spanish in the States – have no real vision for how they might actually use that Spanish even if they did learn it. Turks learning English face the same problems. Motivation is low. Interest is lower. Attitudes are less than positive and commitment to learning is lacking. Teachers are fighting an uphill battle against these factors. In my free ebook Sustaining, I share that motivation, commitment and attitude are factors that perhaps do more than any one thing to affect language learning. Amazing methods mean little if teachers cannot engage students in ways that create, nurture and protect student’s motivation, commitment and attitudes toward learning.
In thinking about this, I want to offer one classroom idea to help. Connecting kids to the Reason for learning is such an important part of creating and maintaining motivation. And while the reason for learning another language is to speak with people, many students might pass through an entire year of class without ever speaking with a native speaker of that language. In my year of German in college that was certainly the case and that is certainly the case here in Turkey for the vast majority of students who are learning English. Getting native speakers into the classroom then is one way that I believe we can help students connect with the motivation boosting Purpose for learning language.
There are two challenges in this of course. The first is finding native speakers with time to come to your class. The second is knowing what to do with them. I will leave the first problem to you to solve. Be creative. Be bold in asking. You can find native speakers pretty much anywhere to help you out with this once in a while.
The second is a bit more challenging. What you don’t want to do is put it on the native speaker to prepare something. That’s your job as teacher, not theirs. You could of course have them come and share about a topic – which is a great idea. Prep your kids the week before by getting them into the topic, preparing questions, listening to recordings of others speaking on the topic and writing about the topic themselves. I think that would be a great class period and a lot of fun and something you could do regularly.
Another idea is the round robin. If you can find 3-4 native speakers to come in on the same day, this is a fun and exciting way for students to get a lot of great interaction and a lot of input. Again, the native speakers need not prepare anything, but students should be prepared. Here is how it would work:
- Divide students into as many groups as native speakers. (you could do more groups and have some do other activities when not with the native speakers)
- Choose three or four topics that you will have your students ask questions about to the native speakers. You will want to give these topics to your guest speakers before they come so they have a heads up.
- Set up your room in a way that a guest speaker can each be in a different area of the room with room enough for a group of students to sit with and interview them. Start by putting a group of students with each native speaker.
- Make sure you have a timer before you begin. Each group will ask the same question to their native speaker. The native speaker will respond and talk about the subject for 3-4 minutes. As the teacher you will want to give a 30 second warning and then have groups rotate.
- The groups will rotate and then ask the same question to the next speaker. This allows each member of the group to practice asking the question and allows all of the students to hear several native speaker talk about the same topic. This creates a rich narrow listening experience. The same sorts of grammar forms and vocabulary will inevitably be used, but from a different perspective and experience.
- Groups will continue to rotate through the native speakers until they have heard from all of them. Then they can begin again, this time with another question.
Note too that you can control a bit of the input by the questions you ask. A question like “What was your childhood like?” will insure your students hear a lot of past tense grammar forms, while a question like, “What do you think you will be doing five years from now?” will elicit answer that use more of the future grammar forms. Also, consider recording these interactions. By doing this you can begin to build a personal classroom library of audio materials to use with future classes.
This is a great exercise that can not only give your students a ton of input in the course of one class period, but also begin to connect them to native speakers. And it is the connection that will be a big part of creating the motivation that will begin to build in your students a love for the language and the people who speak it.
Perhaps some of you have tried these or other ideas to get native speakers into your classroom? How has it work? Have student’s been excited?
And as a caveat to individual language learners – think about creating a round robin type of experience in your daily goings about. Ask the same question to five or six native speakers in a row. My favorite experience with this was when I spent a week asking friends and others about the earthquake of 1999 here in the Istanbul region of Turkey. Everyone shared their own experience on this nation changing event and not only did I learn a lot about culture, family structure, the Turkish government and a ton of new vocabulary, I also endeared myself to my friends by asking about a topic that meant so much to them and this was perhaps the greatest success of the week.
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