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Alison Williams teaches French and wanted to encourage her students to make the language part of their everyday lives, rather than being something which was limited to classroom interactions or homework assignments, as this is the best way to increase fluency and confidence in a foreign language. In the past, she had tried asking students to keep a diary of French-related things which they had done, but this wasn’t interactive enough and there wasn’t much incentive for them to keep it. For the new 2016-17 session she decided to introduce a ‘Challenges’ activity to the weekly writing and grammar class of first-year language. There are a number of challenges on pieces of paper in a bag/jar/tin and each week one student picks a challenge (like a lucky dip).
The challenges are activities like:
- watch a French film / TV show and tell us about it next week;
- or find a French song and explain why you like it, who the artist is, what themes the song deals with;
- tell us about a French book you have read;
- follow a new French-related feed on Twitter or Instagram or a Facebook page;
- revise a grammar topic and tell us about the resources you used.
The next week the student tells the class (in French) what they have done, often including clips from YouTube or social media. Other students share their views on the films, songs, etc too, and it can lead to some spontaneous grammar revision as well. The department teaches practical language classes in small groups, so this means that all students get to have a turn, or students can present in pairs. The lecturers within the department maintain a section of the Blackboard site for the module where they keep a record of all the books, films, etc which have been presented. This then becomes a useful resource for all students on the module, as they can access peer-recommended material when looking to do something French-related at home. The activity is used to break up a 2-hour class and give students a chance to lead and inform each other.
Alison says, “I need to think up some new challenges for the coming semester – and I was going to ask the students to write their own too to add into the mix.” Early indications to these ‘Challenges’ are positive, Alison and her colleagues are excited to see how this initial take-up transfers to student outcomes, they are keen to evaluate the process more formally in the future.