“Ahhh! How Am I Supposed To Give Activity Directions In The Target Language!?!”

Here’s great question submitted by a language teacher from England:

“I am often met with confusion (or I end up resorting to English) because I don’t know how to explain a task.


I really struggle to explain what I want them to do as a task.


How do you explain games that you want them to play?”

Here’s how I would begin answering the question:

1- You’re doing a great job!  If you have a desire to stay in the target language, you are doing your students a great service!  Don’t give up.  Keep trying!  The more you experiment and try the easier it becomes.  Don’t feel like you need to make the transition (to 90+% target language) seamlessly.  Give yourself a year or two to transition.  Work on different PAIRING techniques.  Try different ideas.  Throw out ideas that don’t work.  Tweak strategies that do work.  Don’t feel pressure to do it all perfectly at once.  (Read this post for more info on why it can be such a good idea to stay in the target language.)

2- Pick instructional activities (i.e. games, projects, performance tasks) that are easy to give directions for.

If you…

  • …are just beginning your journey of trying to stay in the target language and
  • you don’t feel confident, YET, when it comes to giving students directions and
  • your students feel easily overwhelmed when you speak to them in the target language (i.e. they give up, complain, lose focus, start off-task behavior, etc.)…

…make sure you consistently pick activities that lend themselves to giving meaningful directions in the target language.

I suggest assigning activities like these to start:

  • Color/circle 1 of 4 pictures with the color that I say.”  (i.e. Say and do the following in the target language: “Hello class.  Here are crayons for you.  Here are crayons for you.  Here are crayons for you.  Here are crayons for you.  Crayons for everybody!  And…here is a paper for you.  Paper for you.  Paper for you.  Paper for you.  Paper for you and paper for you.  Paper for everybody!  Now…take out BLUE.  (Teacher takes out blue and shows students.  Teacher walks around room showing all the students her blue crayon until every student is holding up their BLUE crayon.)  Class, repeat: “BLUE.”  Good.  Now class.  Color the bird blue. (Teacher begins coloring the bird, on her copy of the worksheet, blue.  Teacher’s copy of the worksheet is posted on the board so students can see and imitate what she is doing.)  Great.  Good job class.  Yes.  Blue.  Blue.  Color the bird blue.  Good, Daniel.  Good, Jessica.  Good class.  Blue.  Color the bird blue.  Okay? (Teacher circulates to make sure every student has colored their picture of the bird blue.)  Okay class.  Attention.  (Teacher holds up the blue crayon for all to see.)  Goodbye blue!  (Teacher puts blue crayon away and then starts looking at the students and saying ‘goodbye blue!’ to imply that she wants them to put their blue crayons away.)  Good class.  Goodbye blue.  Okay class.  Now RED.  Take out RED.  Red.  Take out RED.  (Teacher continues to give instructions like this until the activity is done.)
  • “Color what I say” (activity modifications) (To practice numbers Teacher says, “Class take out the red crayon.  Color the number 57.  (Pause for students to do the work.  Then continue…)  Class take out the blue crayon.  Color the number 572.”  To practice adjectives Teacher says, “Class take out the red crayon.  Color the boy that is taller.  Class take out the blue crayon.  Color the big (bigger) animal.”  To practice reading comprehension Teacher asks the students to follow similar directions.  However Teacher now requires the students to follow written directions (on the board or on handouts) instead of verbal directions.
  • Throw the ball to _____.  (simple version) (i.e. Say and do the following in the target language: “John…sit here. (Teacher points to the chair she wants John to sit in.)  Stacey…sit here.  Jennifer…sit here.  Daesean…sit here.  Rogelio…sit here.  (Teacher continues like this until the whole class is seated.  Teacher pulls out a ball and says…)  Ball.  Class, this is a ball.  A ball.  (Teacher motions like she’s going to throw it to a student and says..) Who would like to catch?  (If a student raises his/her hand, teacher throws the ball to the student. When the student catches the ball, teacher says…) Nice job!  (Teacher motions like she would like the student to throw the ball back to her and says…) Throw the ball to me.  (Teacher repeats these steps with a few more students.  If students are cooperating and well behaved, Teacher changes the activity by saying…) Stacey…throw the ball to John.  (When Teacher says the words “throw the ball” Teacher does a throwing motion with her arm.  Teacher continues saying…)  John, throw the ball to Rogelio.  Rogelio…throw the ball to Daesean.
  • Throw the ball to _____.  (advanced version)  (i.e. Say and do the following in the target language: “John, throw the ball to someone wearing a red shirt.  Stacey throw the ball to someone wearing a blue shirt.”  Teacher may also choose to pass out large number flashcards to each student.  Teacher says, “John, throw the ball to the person holding number 47.  Stacey throw the ball to the person holding the number 124.”
  • Throw the ball to _____.  (confident/advanced student version)  Teacher follows the activity script from “advanced version” above.  Then she writes the sentence she has been saying on the board and asks for a volunteer to take her place as the “caller.”  Student, with the help of the sentence written on the board says the throwing directions to his/her classmates.

3- Pick activities that will be repeated many times throughout the school year.  It takes a long time to give comprehensible directions.  So if you are going to take the time to make it comprehensible…make sure you repeat the activity many times.  An easy way for me to do this is to have the students do all the things that need to be done in the classroom every day.  I never shut the door.  I never turn on or off the lights.  I never pass out the papers or supplies.  I never collect the pencils.  I always instruct students to do these things for me and I always give my instructions in the target language.  It may take extra class time for the students to get it the first time…but they will catch on easily and you can recycle the activity throughout the year.

4- Make it easy for your reluctant students.  Pick activities that target the interpretive mode of communication in order to help build the confidence of your reluctant students.  See this post for more details.

5- When you work on the interpersonal mode, here are some tips on making it as easy as possible for your language learners.

6- When giving instructions on what students should say to each other during a conversation activity, use the Two-Hand-Method.

Have you tried out any of these grammar teaching suggestions from Tuesday’s Tips for Staying in the Target Language?  How did it go?  Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #langchat (for general language teaching comments) and/or #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments).

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com – @HolaSrHoward

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2 thoughts on ““Ahhh! How Am I Supposed To Give Activity Directions In The Target Language!?!”

  1. Pingback: Links To Posts From Year 1: Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

  2. Pingback: The First Week Of Trying To Stay In The TL With Your Students | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

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