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Task-centred discussions

The communicative movement taught us one very useful thing: if you give students a real reason to talk, they generally will. Whilst structured, controlled question-answer and pair work have a deserved place, especially at the presentation and practice stage of acquiring new language, they are not what one would call authentic communication. They represent a stylised, artificial form of interchange, a kind of game playing which most students will go along with, though not all.

Pair work activities based on the information gap are a great way of getting learners to talk at any level. With groups it is also possible to use what are called "task-centred" or "task-oriented" discussions, where a pair or group is given a problem to solve, a task to achieve, through the medium of the target language. Penny Ur's book Discussions That Work provided a range of examples of such oral activities.

Here is one which I adapted from her book a long time ago and which works well with groups of advanced students.

Before you you try the activity supply students with some useful negotiating phrases such as:

A mon avis, on pourrait placer..., je ne suis pas d'accord, c'est une mauvaise idée car.., on devrait mettre... etc

Once underway the task should need relatively little support from the teacher. You may intervene if things are flagging a bit. Insist on the use of French at all times. It's when students get enthusiastic about a task that they can relapse into English.

The task is good for practising character adjectives and modal verb expressions such as on devrait and on pourrait.

When the groups have finished their discussions they can each present their solution to the rest of the class.

UN DINER CHEZ LES LAVISSE  Durée: une heure. Groupes de trois ou quatre élèves.

Monsieur et Madame Lavisse organisent un grand dîner d’amis chez eux. Ils veulent que cette soirée soit réussie, mais les personnages qu’ils ont invités sont très divers quant à leur âge, leur personnalité et leurs opinions politiques. Vous travaillez pour une compagnie qui se spécialise dans les relations sociales et vous devez placer les personnages autour de la table pour que le dîner se passe bien. Il faut respecter les consignes que Mme Lavisse vous a imposées.

Il y a 12 invités: M. et Mme Dupont, leur fille Emma, Maître Lachaise (le juge d’instruction), le Père Paneloux (prêtre catholique), le Rabbin Simon, Mme Leblanc, Marie Lavisse (fille des Lavisse), Jean-Jacques Lucas (politicien socialiste), Elisabeth Bonneval, Annette Roche (collègue de M. Lavisse) et Jérome Godard.

Les consignes: 

1. M. et Mme Lavisse doivent être assis l’un en face de l’autre à chaque extrémité de la table rectangulaire. 2. Chaque homme doit être assis à côté d’une femme.
3. Emma Dupont et Jérome Godard sont de jeunes amoureux.
4. Annette Roche est professeur d’université, collègue de M. Lavisse. Elle raconte des histoires drôles, mais elle est antisémite
5. Elisabeth Bonneval est très polie, mais très ennuyeuse.
6. Maître Lachaise, le juge, a beaucoup de tacte; il préfère écouter plutôt que parler.
7. Le Père Paneloux adore donner des conseils à tout le monde.
8. Le Rabbin Simon adore des disputes sur la politique et la religion, mais il n’est jamais offensif.
9. La vieille Mme Leblanc est bavarde, mais elle n’est pas très intellectuelle et elle est un peu sourde.
10. M. Dupont est politiquement de droite et il a des idées extrémistes.
11. Mme Dupont manque de bonnes manières à table et se plaint tout le temps.
12. Marie Lavisse est impatiente et gâtée; elle a seize ans et elle est impolie envers ses parents.
13. Jean-Jacques Lucas est un politicien de gauche qui s’intéresse beaucoup aux droits des travailleurs.
14. Mme Lavisse n’aime pas M. Dupont.
15. M. Lavisse déteste Elisabeth Bonneval. Travaillez en groupes de trois ou quatre pour trouver la meilleure position de chaque personne autour de la table.


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"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

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1. My weekend

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You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

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