Building a Thematic Sequence of Speaking and Listening Practice on Extempore

Recently, my Spanish 2 students and I were exploring a unit based around city life. In it, we learned the names for various places in a city (restaurants, museums, parks, different types of shops, etc.), practiced asking for and giving directions, and discussed topics such as the cost of living and the benefits and drawbacks of urban life. Over the four weeks that we spent in the unit, I developed a sequence of speaking and listening Extempore activities that truly enhanced my students' interaction with the theme of city life and that helped make them feel more comfortable using the new vocabulary and grammar that they were exposed to. Even if you and your students don't cover a unit on city life, I hope this post will provide you with a roadmap of sorts for setting up a thematically cohesive set of Extempore activities.

  • Step one: Brainstorming: The night before the new unit begins, ask students to respond to a series of simple questions at home on Extempore in which they need only provide discrete vocabulary terms that they already know from previous classes. In the case of a unit on city life, you could ask something like "What places might you find in a typical city?". If your class is a true beginning course, consider asking them to state where they are from or something similarly basic. For this step, students don't need to speak at length. The goal here is to activate prior knowledge and lay the foundation for what's to come.
  • Step two: Vocabulary practice (listening comprehension): Once the new unit is in full swing, listening comprehension is a great way for students to process new vocabulary. Once again, the goal here is not to speak at length in the target language (we'll get there, I promise!), but rather to build familiarity with new vocabulary. In my unit, I recorded a series of 15 descriptions of city locations (bakery, laundromat, shoe store, etc.) in Spanish. At home, students listened to my descriptions and simply identified the vocabulary word in question. An activity like this is a fantastic opportunity to use Extempore's unique randomization feature. I recorded a total of 15 descriptions, but in reality each student was randomly assigned only 8 of the prompts. It's a breeze to do and the students really appreciated the extra listening practice.
  • Step three: More vocabulary practice (speaking): In our unit on city life, we then moved on to asking and giving directions. Now the focus was to speak in limited contexts. To do this, give students a goal-oriented speaking activity on Extempore, such as a map task, in which they must navigate from point A to point B on a simplified city map. Or, ask students to give directions to each other around their own school.
  • Step four: Grammar practice: Later in the unit, my students were exposed to using the subjunctive and indicative moods in adjectival clauses. In class, students learned how to form more complex sentences and ask questions about what various businesses in a community might perform (i.e. "Is there a restaurant that serves authentic Japanese cuisine?" or "There is a bakery shop that is located next to the hotel.") I created a simple Extempore prompt with a set of questions (also randomized, as in step 2) asking students to think about what they can find in their own city or neighborhood. Then, at home on Extempore, they responded by saying in Spanish "Yes, there is a supermarket that..." or "No, I don't know a restaurant that...". It's a simple, but productive, activity that allows them to focus on identifying and using correct grammatical forms.
  • Step five: Spontaneous conversation: The last piece of this sequence is to assess student output in more lengthy, spontaneous (and hopefully more creative) contexts. I told students in class ahead of time that the theme would be "your favorite city to visit". Then, I created an Extempore assessment (which they completed at home) in which I asked them how often they visit this place, what they like to do there, what cultural opportunities are available there, what the positive and negative aspects of life there are, and, to really test them, to compare and contrast life in their own town with life in their favorite city.

This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that this was all completed over several weeks. There was plenty of time to balance these speaking and listening activities with other, more traditional written homework assignments that assessed their progress in other ways. Hopefully, this post has shown you how you can take almost any unit and create a logical sequence of Extempore activities!

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