Extempore Activities for The World Languages Classroom

Whether you are assessing speaking skills in a summative assessment, or trying to get shy (high-anxiety) students to talk more in the target language, Extempore can be used as a simple but very versatile tool. Below, we offer you examples of tasks that can be implemented with Extempore, as well as their underlying pedagogical rationale. Some involve speaking skills, some listening skills, and some are flipped learning, but they all are easy to implement and pedagogically sound. Additionally, below we have high quality activities provided by our content partners that may also be imported into your Extempore account.

Speaking Activities PDF

Extempore Grab & Go Activities

29 speaking activities

Responses to written/audio-visual prompts

This is probably the most basic type of task supported by Extempore. Students receive a written or audio-visual prompt to which they respond orally.

Recording of the students’ response can start as soon as the prompt is accessed (for a more spontaneous answer) or the teacher can allow students to repeat the prompt and/or have some planning time before they respond. The teacher then listens to each learner response and provides feedback (a score, a written comment, or an audio comment).

The use of this activity is rooted in the Vygotskian notion of scaffolding, that is, the various forms of assistance that a teacher can provide to support the learning process. In this case, the support comes in the form of coaching students to notice errors and areas for improvement. Repeated spoken practice and individualized feedback from the instructor may then result in progressive gains in oral proficiency.

Listening comprehension with audio-visual support

Have students listen to a short description of an image that they see on their mobile or tablet screens.

The description should contain some slight differences with what the students are seeing (things that are not present in the image, things that are of different colors, etc.). Comprehension is then assessed by asking students to list the differences they could notice.

Pairing an image with an audio prompt provides visual scaffolding for students’ development of listening skills.

Error correction and self-reflection activity

Have students record 2-3 minutes of their speech on the Extempore app following a particular prompt.

They then listen to their recordings, analyzing and commenting on their mistakes (grammatical accuracy, word choice, pronunciation, etc.). Instructors can provide some guidance for learners as to what language aspects they should focus on. Since this is a practice and self-reflection activity, we would recommend to grade it as a “credit only” activity. That way students are not penalized for making mistakes.

Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis supports the use of this type of reflective activity. According to this hypothesis, in order to acquire particular features in the target language the learner must first have some conscious or unconscious awareness of those features.

Flipping the classroom

In the flipped classroom, the presentation of course content is delivered to students outside the classroom, often through online tools.

Then, when students and the teacher re-convene, interactive and collaborative expansion activities are prioritized. We recommend using Extempore to flip the classroom. First, record a brief demonstration of a new vocabulary or grammar topic. Then send out via Extempore simple comprehension questions in the target language testing the students’ ability to absorb and produce this new information in limited contexts. Then, when the class meets face-to-face, everyone will be prepared to start right away with meaningful, interactive tasks.

Flipping the classroom can be supported by Vygotskian sociocultural theory. This approach advocates for the use of pedagogical strategies in which the teacher functions as a facilitator in the classroom (i.e. the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage”) while the students perform collaborative, interactive tasks in order to co-construct meaningful language. Less inherently collaborative tasks, such as lectures and drilling exercises, are performed individually outside of the classroom.

Map task

Prior to the task, provide students with a simplified map of a fictitious town which shows numerous places of interest (i.e. a restaurant, a library, a school, a barbershop, etc.).

Then, via Extempore, ask students to give directions from one location to another…using classroom vocabulary and grammar. If you use the Extempore function that limits the time from prompt to response, you will get a more spontaneous answer that simulates the type of response students would give if asked for directions in a street in a place where the target language is spoken. To increase difficulty, it might be interesting to provide roadblocks around which students must navigate.

We recommend this type of project based activity as formative assessment to evaluate how well students are internalizing particular grammatical structures or vocabulary items. In this particular example, the instructor could use this activity to assess how well learners are using commands in the target language when they do not have time to think about their answer. Being only for formative assessment purposes, this activity could be graded as “credit only.”

Picture describing task

Create an image prompt on Extempore using a painting, an illustration, a cartoon, etc.

Determine the length of time that students have to examine the image and prepare. Then instruct students to tell an original story based upon the image. This type of activity can be suitable for any level of learner. For instance, novice learners can put into practice their understanding of daily routine action verbs (e.g. “to wake up”, “to brush one’s teeth”, etc.). Similarly, intermediate learners benefit from story telling activities; for instance, these students can practice telling a story in the past tense, using their knowledge of these verb forms. Advanced learners can increase the difficulty level by adding compound verb forms or by including rich background descriptions to their description.

Story retelling task

Create an audio or audio-visual prompt in Extempore to deliver a short story in the target language.

Students must listen carefully to the prompt, thus practicing listening comprehension skills in the target language. Then ask the students to retell the key components of the narrative. This task may be particularly useful for practicing preterite and imperfect forms in the Romance languages.

Story completion task

Create an audio or audio-visual prompt in Extempore to deliver in the target language the introduction and middle portions of a short story.

Students must listen closely to the prompt in order to understand the characters and the main plotline, in turn improving listening comprehension skills. Then students are asked to invent the conclusion of the story, using the classroom vocabulary and grammar. Students tap into their own creativity in this task while strengthening speaking and listening abilities in the target language.

Question forming task

Create an image prompt on Extempore using a picture of a person, house, animal, or any other concrete object.

Then instruct students to ask original questions about the object that another individual could answer if s/he too saw the image. For example, “How many windows are on the house?”, “What color are the woman’s eyes?”, or “What sport are the children playing?” This activity may be especially useful in the early stages of acquisition, while students are learning how to use interrogative pronouns and question syntax.

Foreign language lecture task

Using Extempore app, teacher delivers or imports an audio or audio-visual lecture in the target language.

This can be done as a way to assign Oral Homework , as a class activity, or as a field trip exercise.

Student dialogue task

Divide the students into pairs. Using Extempore, prepare a prompt that asks students to work together to have a conversation about a classroom topic or theme.

(i.e. doctor’s office visit, restaurant scene, blind date, travel agency, etc.). Students will record together on one device, employing classroom vocabulary and grammar.

Consider pairing a less proficient student with a more knowledgeable partner. Vygotskian sociocultural theory contends that a more proficient partner provides necessary scaffolding to the less proficient speaker and, consequently, new linguistic forms are acquired and used during co-construction of language.

Celebrity-reporter interview

Divide the students into pairs. Using Extempore, create an audio-visual prompt in which a theme is assigned (sports, food, cinema, etc.).

Ask one student to play the role of a celebrity in the assigned theme (athlete, TV chef, film director) and the other to play the role of a reporter. The students will carry out an interview together following the guidelines elaborated in the prompt. For extra practice, consider adding a second prompt and requesting the students to exchange roles.

If done in the classroom, you can then ask some of the students if they wouldn’t mind you showing/playing back their interactions on the classroom LCD projector. Students will enjoy these “short movies” by their peers and they may be more willing to share if they can stay in their seats, rather than performing again in front of the class.

This activity is an example of how Extempore can mediate the learning process to reduce the speaking anxiety that some learners experience when asked to speak in front of their peers.

Picture comparison and contrast task

Create an audio-visual prompt on Extempore using a picture or video of a cultural practice or way of life, such as a celebration, religious rite, food preparation, family photo, etc.

Ask students to study the prompt closely and encourage them to look for examples of unique cultural perspectives. Then ask students to compare and contrast what they see with customary practices performed in their own lives, such as holiday traditions, family relationships, or eating practices. For beginning language students, consider comparing aspects of culture easily connected to textbook themes, such as food or clothing. For more advanced students, perhaps an investigation of religious practices, economic realities, or ethnicity may be of more interest.

This task taps into higher order cognitive thinking, in that it asks students to analyze and evaluate external stimuli and allows them to simultaneously reflect upon their own experiences. Furthermore, from a pedagogical point of view, this activity weaves together two of ACTFL’s (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages) 5 Cs: Communication and Cultures. Through this activity or similar ones, teachers can emphasize the importance of both translingual and transcultural competence (Barnes-Karol & Broner, 2010) in the classroom.

How-to task

Create a prompt on Extempore in which students are assigned different activities. Ask the students to prepare a response in which they detail in as much detail as possible how to perform these activities.

For instance, ask students how to ride a bike, how to make their favorite dinner, how to get an A in history class, or how to play piano. This activity may be modified to emphasize grammar points such as commands or the subjective after impersonal expressions, as in French and Spanish.

Encourage students to select an activity that is special to them; doing so will likely result in richer, more complex output since students will enjoy the opportunity to speak about themselves or their friends and family.

Job interview task

Many world languages textbooks have a chapter on professions and the workplace. Create a series of audio-visual prompts on Extempore in which you ask students common questions posed in a job interview.

Select a job that is appropriate for the chapter or unit vocabulary and then a series of questions that will allow for ample speaking opportunities. For example, ask the students to highlight their (imaginary) education and work experience, state their career goals, and/or ask the interviewer questions in return. This activity is a particularly useful as a synthesis, as it will test students’ ability to combine appropriate job interview vocabulary with several verb tenses, such as the past tense to detail work experience, the present tense to communicate their hobbies or current status as students, and the future tense to explain career ambitions or where they see themselves in 10 years. Many of the Romance languages use the subjunctive mood when speaking of a hypothetical scenario (i.e. a new job in the future), and an interview task such as this may generate the necessary conditions for practicing the subjunctive in meaningful ways.

School tour task

Create an audio-visual prompt on Extempore in which you (i.e. the teacher) play the role of an international/exchange student new to your institution.

Ask the students to provide in the target language a virtual “tour” of the school, in which they highlight physical features of the school (gymnasium, cafeteria, student union), important aspects of school curricula (i.e. arts department, physical sciences, etc.), well-known faculty members, or elements of the school culture (i.e. sports programs).

Alternatively, you may consider turning this activity “inside-out” to make it a listening comprehension activity. Prepare several audio prompts on Extempore in the target language of different buildings or spots in the school or on campus and ask students to identify the location. For a chapter or unit on physical characteristics, prepare audio prompts in which the features or personality traits of well known teachers are described. Then simply ask students to identify these individuals, thus demonstrating comprehension of the unit’s vocabulary.

Pronunciation/phonetics practice

Create an audio-visual prompt (or a series of prompts) on Extempore in which you model the standard pronunciation of new vocabulary items. Simply ask the students to repeat the pronunciation out loud.

Then provide suitable feedback to the students in the form of a written or audio comment. Consider asking the students to complete this task the day before the vocabulary is formally introduced in class. In this way, students can come to class already prepared to use the vocabulary with classmates for more communicative-oriented tasks. Furthermore, if students complete this activity individually at home, the anxiety of pronouncing unfamiliar words in front of classmates will be eliminated. Consequently, students will feel more comfortable using the words while interacting with peers.

In an upper-level course, such as advanced communication or an introduction to linguistics or phonetics, model standard pronunciation of discrete sounds in the target language via an audio-visual prompt on Extempore. Then ask students to produce these sounds themselves and provide appropriate feedback. It may also be a good idea to model suprasegmental features, such as intonation or stress. A task such as this will help call learners’attention to these often overlooked, but very important, features of the target language.

Assembly instructions: assisting the non-visual IKEA customers

Upload an image of the assembly instructions that come with IKEA furniture (easily downloadable online).

These instructions often have just images and little or no wording. Ask your students to record a step by step description that could assist a speaker of the target language who needs verbal guidance in addition to the visual instructions.

Paired problem-solving task

Divide the students into pairs or small groups. Then create an audio-visual prompt on Extempore in which you give students a problem that they, while working in tandem in the target language, must solve, or at minimum attempt to improve. Here are a few examples:

  • In a unit on recycling, ask students to devise a plan to reduce waste on campus.
  • Tell students that they have been stranded on a desert island and that they must develop a survival strategy while they wait to be rescued.
  • In a unit on technology, ask students to detail how to carry out various tasks that they normally would otherwise complete with a mobile device.
  • Ask students to develop a plan that would improve nutrition and overall health in school or on campus.

A problem solving task similar to the above may serve well as a summative assessment of a student’s progress in a particular unit or chapter, as it ideally draws upon the entire body of knowledge presented in that chapter or unit, such as appropriate vocabulary, grammar, and other topics discussed in class. Furthermore, it strengthens critical thinking skills while practicing speaking and listening abilities in the target language.

Art critique/analysis task

Create a visual prompt on Extempore by uploading an image of a famous painting by an artist from a region where the target language is spoken.

First ask students to describe, in the target language, what they see. Ask them to start concretely by identifying what is physically present on the canvas, such as colors and shapes. Then ask them to discuss tones or moods that the painting may evoke in the observer. Be sure to ask them if they like the painting and why or why not. Finally, ask students to decipher, to the best of their ability, what the artist is attempting to communicate via the painting. Ask students why this painting was selected for discussion or how it is thematically appropriate for the chapter/unit. The analysis of a work of art provides the class the opportunity to investigate cultural products, hence strengthening cultural competence, while simultaneously activating critical thinking skills. Furthermore, it diversifies classroom procedure and may encourage more visually-oriented learners to participate in unique ways.

Show-and-tell task

Create an audio-visual prompt on Extempore in which you ask students to select an item in their home that holds special importance to them. Ask the students to create a video response in which they identify the object, describe what it is, say where it originated, and explain why it is special to them.

Examples include a cherished childhood toy, a prized book, a heirloom, or a family pet. This may be a particularly appropriate task for a chapter or unit on house vocabulary. To increase opportunities for student output, especially in the advanced levels, consider asking students to comment upon the cultural value or significance of the item in question, or to compare and contrast their object with other family heirlooms or possessions that they have encountered elsewhere.

Although the task may be best completed at home, ask some of the students in class the following day to play back their show-and-tell responses on the classroom LCD projector. Alternatively, divide the students into groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to play their responses to their peers. They may then comment in the target language upon each peer’s video.

This activity is particularly apt for encouraging target language output, as it allows students the opportunity to discuss a key aspect of their personal lives, thus making the activity relevant and meaningful. Furthermore, if this task is embedded in a chapter or unit on the home, it will help emphasize the notion that a home contains a collection of many special objects that often represent different aspects of a cultural perspective.

Current events task

For more advanced courses, or for advanced students who desire more speaking practice, consider asking students to weigh in on a current event or news item that is making waves.

Create an audio-visual or reading prompt on Extempore in which you ask students to analyze a hot-button topic, such as a politician’s controversial remarks to the press, civil unrest in a target-language-speaking region or country, or a cultural practice unfamiliar to students. Then ask the students to share their viewpoints in as much detail as possible.

Due to the complexity of current events, students may initially feel hesitant to share their opinions. Consider scaffolding the activity in class first. It may be a good idea to lay the groundwork ahead of time by discussing the issue or situation in small groups or together as one big group during class time to generate ideas and to analyze the many possible perspectives. This will contextualize the issue at hand and allow the students to feel more confident expressing a particular viewpoint. Then at home, after they have had a chance to think it over, ask the students restate the key issues at play and how they feel about the topic in their own words in the target language.

To really test students’ speaking abilities and critical thinking skills, ask them to convince you of their side of the debate/issue by using persuasive language and rhetoric.

Practice with IPA symbols in a Phonetics class

This is an activity for more advanced students taking a course on Phonetics or an Introduction to Linguistics class in which they need to work with the IPA alphabet.

The prompt for this activity is an image with the phonetic transcription of a word in the target language using IPA symbols (for example, [aɾaɲa] for araña, ‘spider’ in Spanish). Students see the IPA transcription, not the word with regular characters, and they need to produce the corresponding pronunciation. This activity can be used to practice the IPA conventions, to test whether students know the sounds each IPA character represents or to assess learners’ understanding of dialectal differences explained in class.

Reactions to a reading or lecture

In upper level content courses (literature or culture courses, for example), Extempore can be a good tool to obtain questions or reactions from shyer students who usually do not speak up in class.

The instructor makes the files from the last class’ lecture (power points, videos, handouts, etc.) available to students and asks them to respond by voicing the 2 or 3 key points they got from the lecture or by asking the questions that they may still have about the content. Doing this type of formative assessment activity in speaking, rather than in writing, is a good opportunity to integrate oral practice in content courses which often rely heavily on just reading and writing skills.

Room description task

Nearly every world language textbook or textbook sequence has a unit devoted to the home and household items, and many often ask students to talk about their bedrooms. Asking students to talk about their rooms taps into personal experience and hopefully encourages them to provide more information.

Creating a multi-part Extempore speaking activity based around the student’s room is a cinch! First, to prep the students, go online and find a free-use image of a bedroom that students can describe in their own words using the unit vocabulary. Then, for the next question, ask them to describe their own room with as much level-appropriate detail as they can. To increase difficulty, ask them to use prepositions of location or some other relevant classroom concept. Lastly, ask them to talk a bit about their ideal room. What do they wish they had in a perfect world?

Extraterrestrial visitor description task

At some point in every beginning or intermediate language course, students encounter a unit that deals with body parts and physical characteristics.

To get students to use the target language in a creative way, ask them to imagine that an alien visitor is on the loose in their town and they need to describe it to local authorities. Encourage them to be creative! Students will then prepare a spoken response in which they mention the unique physical features of the alien. To add more detail for more proficient students, perhaps they could narrate what was happening when they spotted the alien.

As a follow-up, play back a handful of student recordings in class the next day. Tell them that they will play the role of a police sketch artist and must listen closely to the recording and prepare a drawing of the alien based on what they hear. Then compare drawings for a bit of in-class fun! This is a great example of an entirely student-driven activity that incorporates both speaking practice as well as listening comprehension.

Poetry analysis activity

For more advanced language students, consider presenting a level-appropriate poem in the target language on Extempore.

Activity overview

Simply copy and paste the text of a poem into the instructions field or, to really hear the rhythm of the piece, upload a video of you (or the poet!) reading the poem aloud. Ask intermediate learners to comment upon their initial reactions, what they liked or disliked about the poem, associations they might make to their own lives, etc. For more advanced learners, ask them to comment upon literary devices, structure, syntax, or the historical context of the piece. This promotes higher-order thinking, impromptu analysis, and preparation for the next day’s class.

Benefits to the student

  • Gathering extemporaneous responses sparks target-language practice and prepares students for classroom activities and/or discussion.
  • Students gain more exposure to target-language culture, which is always a good thing!
  • Students are exposed more frequently to figurative language and idiomatic expressions in the target language.
  • If you upload a recording of the poem spoken aloud, you also reinforce target-language listening comprehension.

Follow-up Extempore activity

Finally, after students learn more about the poem and reflect upon its significance, you as the instructor can create a follow-up assessment asking for deeper analysis by drawing upon group discussions and classroom learning.

Sports play-by-play activity

In a chapter on sports or free time activities, try testing your students’ speaking abilities by asking them to play the role of a sports commentator.

(Sports may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so it might be a good idea to pair students up so that they can help each other.) Assign each student or group a different sport and ask them pretend as if they, in the role of the sports announcer, were witnessing an exciting play developing on live TV. They must convey to the “television audience” at home what is happening on the field of play, using chapter vocabulary and grammar. Naturally, talking about a sport often entails using a distinct set of vocabulary and/or idiomatic expressions, so it may be a good idea to help students prepare ahead of time in class or at home. After students record their play-by-play analysis, be sure to play them back in class; students will love hearing what their classmates have to say!

Subjunctive vs. indicative activity

Get students using the subjunctive and indicative while getting to know their teacher and classmates a bit better!

In Spanish and French (among other languages), certain expressions, such as those indicating doubt, denial, or disbelief, “trigger” the usage of the subjunctive in a subordinate clause. Other expressions, such as those indicating certainty, “trigger” the indicative. For instance, look at the following 2 examples in Spanish:

  • No creo que conduzcas una motocicleta. (“I don’t think you drive a motorcycle”–subjunctive in bold)
  • Es verdad que conduces una motocicleta. (“It’s true that you drive a motorcycle” — indicative in bold)

Teacher’s Discovery Grab & Go Activities