Speaking in the TL: Student Accountability

If you are reading this post, then you probably already believe in immersing students in the target language in the WCL classroom. But making students accountable for speaking in the target language is easily one of the most difficult challenges to teaching a foreign language.  At the MFLA spring conference, I went to an informative session given by Courtney Brunone, called Immersion Teaching: It’s all in the PLANNING. The session gave background on immersion language learning and how to plan lessons that facilitate this.  It was a great session and hopefully Courtney will present it again at the fall conference.  I am going to share some of the strategies that were discussed during that session and expand on some others that seem to work well.

Getting students to speak in the TL obviously starts with an expectation from the teacher.  A great resource for assessing where the teacher and students are in speaking solely in the TL is the TELL project.  If you are not familiar, the TELL project (Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning) is a collection of self-assessment and walkthrough tools, which help assess the effectiveness of language teachers.  One of the forms helps to assess how the teacher uses the TL in the classroom, while another looks at to what extent students are using the TL.  The observer can document if students are saying one word back to the teacher, using memorize phrases, producing original language etc.  Using these tools is a great way to get a baseline for what is happening in the classroom.

In the session on immersion, we spoke a great deal about how to show the students to what extent they are staying in the target language.  There are many great ways to monitor how often students speak in the TL, whether it is for the entire class or a predetermined number of minutes.  Here are some options:

  1. Sticker Chart – The students names are listed on a chart and at the end of each class the teacher can give the student a sticker.  The students can even give input into who has spoken enough to get a sticker.
  2. Duolingo – This is an online student behavior management tool that can be reconfigured and put in the TL.  Students are each given avatars, which are projected onto a board so that students can see them.  Every time the student demonstrates the desired behavior, the teacher can give the avatar a point.  Conversely, points can be taken away if students don’t do something that they should.  This is a really great, silly, fun way to keep track of who is doing what. Both of the above tools can help you and the students to see who always speaks in the TL and which ones never do.   But how do classes compare with one another?
  3. Piñata Competition – This extremely motivating tool promotes speaking through class competition.  Each class gets an empty jar.  As students speak in the TL they are given a bean.  At the end of class the students deposit the beans into the jar for their class.  When the competition is over, the class with the most beans gets a piñata (or whatever works for your language!)
  4. Time-Outs – This is exactly what it sounds like.  When a student breaks from the TL, he/she is sent to a designated place in the classroom or in the hallway for one minute.  When they come back in they must resume speaking in the TL.  Teachers can send students out, but it has been quite funny to see students sending other students out.
  5. Badges – The final quick strategy is taken directly from Concordia Summer Language Villages.  Students are provided with hanging badges that have the word(s) master speaker on it.  In German they would say Sprachmeister.  You can give the students the badge at any time such as when they enter the classroom, or for a particular activity.  The entire class can wear the badges or just selected students. The idea is that when the students have the badges on, they must speak the target language.  It is really funny to watch them switch from English to the TL as you place the badge around their neck.  You can always sweeten the deal at the beginning of this venture with a treat of some sort if they are able to make it through a whole class with the badge.

Of course, you know best what will or won’t work in your classroom or school district.  But hopefully you are able to use or tweak some of these tools, to help awkward and often fearful students speak in the target language.  If speaking the TL is integrated at the lower levels, there should be much less resistance from students in the upper levels, where it is really essential that they can and do speak!


Katrina Griffin
WCL Department Chair, North County HS, Anne Arundel County