In going back to teaching mostly level 1 this year, I am reminded that second language learners (true second language learners) often don't know what they don't know about how language is constructed. Speaking their first language is so automatic, they don't think about HOW they build what they say, they just follow patterns of familiar structures and parrot vocabulary they think is either necessary, useful or something that makes them sound cool to their audience. As a teacher of a second language, I have (in the past, ha ha) often told my students to elaborate or go deeper, but haven't provided vital scaffolding to ensure they know both WHAT that is and HOW to do it. Then, I walk away from reading or listening to their performances disappointed because I can see the opportunities they missed to push their language use.
A perfect example of this occurs all the time in novice level classes, especially in the first semester, when level 1 students are learning how to transition from canned, memorized questions to creating their own questions. What opportunities do we provide those novices to ponder how to build their own questions? How much instructional time do we allot for them to process question building further? Do we still assume that if they know or have access to question words they can create the questions they want? How can we reframe interpersonal processing experiences so that what is happening in their heads is them discovering the patterns of question formation? How can we force them to construct varied questions so they build confidence in those language patterns?
Let me pause for a moment here and make an argument:
If we aren't doing so, we must start intentionally carving out instructional time in our curricula for discovering second person and then processing it to develop our students' skill at building questions. Why is this skill / language function so often treated as an afterthought when it is so essential to developing greater levels of language proficiency? I think we think it is just another form of the verb, but question building is so much more complex for our students than that. Question asking is always harder for them than answering, and it is the single most essential skill for communicating in another country. I just mean that I think second person sometimes gets treated like the red-headed stepchild, and it deserves its own attention to really help shape our students into confident question askers.
End of sermon. (LOL)
So, language mapping... first of all, this is probably already a thing with a really technical language acquisition name, but this is what I am calling it because, quite frankly, I don't know what research says about it at the moment. So there. Ha! In a nutshell, language mapping to me is harnessing my students attention with mini-scenarios or sentence / question frames to force them to consider how to use the language chunks they know in new ways so that I am kind of sort of manipulating their output for a desired result. Whether it be learning to ask personalized questions, getting students to consider how to elaborate or training them how to write combined, complex (strings of) sentences, I can provide opportunities and scaffolding for mapping out those language pathways in their heads so they can navigate them enough times to develop that feel for the language's structure that I really don't have time to teach.
Ironically, as I was thinking about the topic of this post, three interesting things happened:
1. I was in the middle of getting my level 1 students ready for their first open ended interpersonal speaking exam in which they would need more than canned, memorized questions.
2. I stumbled across this Edutopia post about Scaffolding Complex Sentences, and...
3. My Twitter colleague, @teachermrw, tweeted several teachers asking how to teach "por & para" in a way that might help her students better understand their uses.
Talk about convergence!
To tie all of these things together coherently, all of these things have something in common, the need or use of 2 things:
Here are some examples from Lenolandia of what language mapping might look like:
Goal(s): To get students to think about elaboration AND to help students learn how to start sentences in new, more interesting ways.
Goal(s): To have students think about HOW to form the questions instead of feeding them the questions.
If we can provide sentence and question frames, why can't we frame an entire conversation?
Goal(s): To get students to employ sentence building elements they might not naturally gravitate to AND to get them to learn how to build more complex, elaborative sentences AND to help students learn the language elements needed to develop their own voice in L2.
This task was designed to have them practice building sentences with STUFF words (Sequencing, Transition, Upgrade/Downgrade / Frequency / Flavoring Expressions) to help them develop their ability to elaborate within a given context. The slide show I used can be accessed here.
In closing, these are just a few ways that I use in class to help students map language pathways in their heads so they can craft the messages THEY want to convey, surpass their existing limits, and have them practice in what Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, would call "the sweet spot" just outside their comfort zone.
What are your language mapping ideas? I can't wait to hear them!
Happy Coaching, amigos!
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