The Problems with World Language Presentations and How to Fix Them-Part 2

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Hopefully you read our post last time about the problems that many students encounter with giving presentations in a world language classroom. I wrote a little bit about how a “speed-dating” or “marketplace” format can actually put students at ease and promote a fun, more vibrant, and more engaged classroom atmosphere on presentation day.

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Today, for the follow up post, I want to write about the importance creating a context for your students when setting up the presentations. What do I mean by “context”, exactly? Well, I just mean providing students with a specific scenario in which they could imagine themselves speaking the language. Real simple, right? Ideally, the context should be goal-oriented in the sense that students can complete a task by the end of the presentations, which can be as simple as voting on the best ‘X’ or completing a follow up activity at home. (I’ll explain more in a bit.) A good context gets students invested in the task from the moment they start speaking.

Setting up a context is actually very easy to do, assuming there’s a central, guiding theme for all students. Here are a few examples of some contexts that I have provided to my Spanish students on presentation day:

  • To explore target-language culture, I asked each student to explore a specific aspect of Argentinean culture at home and work up a multimedia presentation on their iPads (but a classic paper poster always works too). Then, on presentation day, I told everyone that we were visiting Argentina and would be speaking with various cultural ambassadors (their classmates, of course). Then after giving their presentation several times and hearing those of several classmates, I asked students to write their Spanish teacher (me) an email telling him about their magnificent trip to Argentina and everything that they saw while “there”. (By the way, this was also a great way to practice using the preterite and the imperfect!)
  • In a unit on technology, I asked students to “invent” a new educational app that would revolutionize their school. On presentation day, we had our very own tech fair! After giving their pitch to prospective customers, and hearing many others, students had to select which app they would invest in and state why.
  • Somewhat similarly, in a unit on health and fitness, students were asked to create an “as seen on TV”-style miracle health product. You can imagine how the most clever of students ran with this as they mimicked the most over-the-top mannerisms of infomercial salespeople. During the presentations, students needed to listen to their partners’ presentations and then, as a focus group member, vote on which product had the most sales potential and why.
  • In a unit on house and home, I asked students to imagine that they were architects seeking to convince a wealthy local celebrity to select their design (built on iPads using the Planner 5D app) for the celebrity’s new dream home. It was really fun watching students work tirelessly to persuade their partners. The follow up task, naturally, was to weigh all of the architectural designs they saw, choose their “dream home”, and explain why.

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I hope these examples have shown you how a simple context (paired with the right format) can transform a boring old presentation into a fun, engaging, community-building event. Students build speaking (and listening!) skills in a much more authentic way and have tons of fun while doing so.