Learning a foreign language can prove to be challenging, especially with the continual addition of new vocabulary, verbs, and the different grammar topics involved in language learning. There are a variety of resources available, in traditional paper format as well as digital, to help language learners get that iterative practice that they need in order to master their language skills. Some of the resources may focus specifically on one of the areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, while others serve multiple purposes.
I have tried to find new and creative ways to introduce the vocabulary at the start of a new unit as well as to continue reinforcing it throughout each unit of study. But most important to me as a teacher, is finding authentic ways to help students learn which will also increase engagement with the language and one another.
The use of blogging in the foreign language classroom has proven to be an imperative tool for promoting student voice, and enhancing communication and collaboration. Blogging provides a means for students to become more expressive and creative in their writing and to continuously develop confidence as they write. Through feedback and reflection, they begin to see the progress they make with each post. For teachers, the ability to provide direct, personal feedback to students, helps each student to focus on building the critical language skills. Recently, I have thought of new and innovative ways to help students focus on specific vocabulary that they need and promote the peer collaboration.
I encourage students to become more than just learners in the classroom. I want them to teach each other by drawing upon each other’s strengths. Peer teaching has been an effective practice in the past, and I thought trying something a bit more creative might have a greater impact on student learning, especially when starting something that is so straightforward – a new vocabulary unit.
Using Kidblog, I have had students write their own stories using the list of vocabulary in an effort to have their practice be more personalized. With this method, I found students would work around the words they found most challenging, defeating the purpose of this exercise. Knowing this, I had students select a list of 10 to 15 words that they find are more difficult to master in the class. Each student will compile a list and then will exchange lists with another student. Once each student has the word list, they will begin writing a story using each of the words to help the other student better understand the meaning of the word. Adding in a theme, or encouraging students to write a story with humor that is relevant to the context of the vocabulary, is also a great way to further engage students in the activity.
Once the stories have been created, students exchange stories and, without using their vocabulary definitions, will try to negotiate word meaning from the context of the story. Based on the context, it is hoped that students will be able to decipher the meaning. Since the story was written specifically for them, it is an authentic and meaningful way to learn. Students enjoy working together, creating a story that will help their peers to learn the vocabulary, but (unbeknownst to them) also builds their own language skills.
By creating with the language in this way, all students will attach new meaning to their learning and, as a result, will experience positive effects. There is an increase in language retention because of the authenticity of the written product, and an increase in confidence, as each student will build on their strengths by writing a story using their knowledge to teach others. The communication and collaboration between peers enhances the culture of the learning environment, and students have fun creating with the language and taking a leadership role in the classroom.