20 Fun How-To Tasks to Get Your Students Talking

Although students and teachers occupy the same space throughout much of the day, it won't come as a surprise to anyone to hear that the two groups often have different experiences at school or even in the classroom itself. During free periods, at lunch, or after school ends, students are carrying out tasks or engaging in activities that we teachers barely even think about. I've found that tapping into these realities is a good way to mine new territory for speaking activities. One way to do this is through "how-to" tasks which require the student to take on the role of the "sage on the stage" to demonstrate their expertise at something. (It also has the added benefit of affirming and validating their experiences, especially if they pertain to school life.)


Breaking Down How-To Tasks

How should we start? Well, keep it simple at first, especially for students at less proficient levels. Start with a few basic activities that all or most students do throughout the course of their day. Many of these activities won't sound too terribly exciting on the surface, but saying how to do them step-by-step in as much detail as possible in the target language will provide a suitable challenge. Then, later on, you--or, better yet, the students--can think of other more detailed or "out there" ideas to really get them thinking. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • How to get to school/class on time
  • How to buy lunch at the cafeteria
  • How to brush your teeth
  • How to check out a book from the library
  • How to get an A in history (English, French, calculus, etc.) class
  • How to become fluent in a language
  • How to ask someone out on a date
  • How to stay safe in the chemistry lab
  • How to get along with your family/roommates
  • How to survive the first year at school

And here are some how-to tasks that may be a bit more challenging and/or creative if you're interested in testing the limits of your more proficient learners (or if you'd like to give some extra credit):

  • How to download a song from iTunes
  • How to prepare a delicious meal to impress someone
  • How to become a millionaire
  • How to gain followers on Twitter
  • How to drive a car
  • How to prepare for a study abroad semester/year
  • How to survive a semester/year abroad
  • How to dance the tango
  • How to ask someone to marry you
  • How to survive the zombie apocalypse

Planning How-To Tasks for Your Classroom

As you plan these "how-to" assessments, think about what grammatical structures or vocabulary you'd like your students to practice. Thinking of my own Spanish classes, I could ask students to key in on commands ("First, go here, then do that..."), impersonal expressions ("It's a good idea to..."), expressions of will and influence ("I recommend that..."), or even just the simple indicative to state how you do something ("You go here and then you ask her for that..."). There are tons of ways to do it!

Another important consideration is how much time you'd like to give your students to prepare after they hear the prompt on Extempore (under the Time to Review tab in the assessment set up). This type of task can be very challenging so it may be a good idea to give them a minute or two to think of some ideas or look up a few key words (though not enough where they might be tempted to prepare a script!). You might even allow them a chance to re-record the submission the first few times. One last recommendation is to play back student submissions the next day in class. Students will have fun comparing and contrasting their peers' ideas. This might be a great way to generate conversation or debate in class, too!


I hope these ideas help spark your imagination. These how-to tasks may not always coincide perfectly with a textbook unit theme (though you never know...), but they'll certainly provide an outlet for your students' creativity and a stiff challenge. Give one a shot and see what happens!

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