Language Symposium 2012: Taking online research tasks to the conversational level

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Presentation by Montserrat Mir of Illinois State University at the Language Symposium 2012, hosted at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). …

Presentation by Montserrat Mir of Illinois State University at the Language Symposium 2012, hosted at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Advanced conversation classes and materials are built upon the assumption that intriguing and controversial topics are the key to get learners to speak. However, learners see most of these open-ended activities designed to stimulate conversation and discussion as simple answer the questions exercises. When students are asked to provide their opinion on a topic, they often lack information about that topic and this is the reason why these discussion/debate activities do not work. Research shows that exchange of information tasks elicit more production than any other types of tasks and thus, promotes interaction and language acquisition (Long, 1989; Ellis, 2000). The informational nature of communication needs to be exploited fully in conversation classes. In this presentation we will discuss a task based approach to enhance advanced conversation skills. In this approach students individually research topics of their choice which then are discussed and shared through task-oriented activities in the classroom. In that sense the exchange of information has a clear purpose since listeners in the conversation are learning new concepts or ideas and not simply personal opinions. In order to guide students in the completion of research activities, we provide templates which can be used with the different concrete themes chosen by students. Some of the benefits of these online research tasks include student motivation, control over own learning, amount of reading and content knowledge, and active speaking and listening.

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  • 1. Montserrat MirAngela BaileyIllinois State University TAKING ONLINE RESEARCH TASKS TO THE CONVERSATIONAL LEVEL Language Symposium, Chicago, April 14,
  • 2. What is the goal of a conversationclass? What textbook authors say:- Relevant topics: “We chose the atmosphere of controversy or debate to create the opportunity for conversation, because it is challenging and exciting to exchange ideas with someone who has a different viewpoint….conversational topics that are relevant, interesting, and provocative.”- Content based: “ …a language skills course based on a single subject matter throughout…. film.”- Role-plays: “provide tools for conversational management…face to face conversations through role-playing”
  • 3. Purposes of Communication The psycho-social purpose of language involves using language to bond socially or psychologically with someone or to engage in behavior in some way. The informational-cognitive use of language involves communication for the purpose of obtaining information, generally for some other task. (Lee & VanPatten,2003)
  • 4. Tasks in the classroom “Tasks are not a substitute for interesting topics which engage learners‟ interest, but they can enhance that engagement and interest” (Willis & Willis, 2007)
  • 5. What is a task? (What is theobjective of a task?) Does the activity engage learners‟ interest? Is there a primary focus on meaning? Is there an outcome? Is success judged in terms of outcome? Is completion a priority? “Does the task relate to real world activities?” (Willis & Willis, 2007)
  • 6. Our project Project: An Advanced Spanish Conversation textbook (Pearson, Publication 2013-14). About the book:  Structured according to ACTFL guidelines  Based on OPI assessment  Task-based approach
  • 7. Sample Task 1Studying AbroadACTFL proficiency level: Intermediate MidFunction: Personal description and questioning
  • 8. Research task (1)In search of a study abroad program: One ofthe first steps in deciding to study abroad is tolook for programs and countries of your interest.Look for two study abroad programs of yourinterest online and write down information aboutlength of the programs, cost, courses they offer,requirements, etc.
  • 9. Template Name and place of the program Cost Length Requirements Other interesting characteristics
  • 10. In class tasksAn interview with your academic advisor: Once youmake the decision to study abroad, you need to talk toyour academic advisor. In this activity you will have theopportunity to interview with different academic advisors.At the end, you will decide which interview was the mostpositive for you.Step 1: First, think of the types of questions you thinkyour advisor will ask you Model: Why do you want to study abroad? ¿Por qué quieres estudiar en el extranjero?
  • 11. In class tasks (cont.)Step 2: In groups of four compare your list ofquestions and make any changes necessary to come upwith one single list.Step 3: Have an interview with two or three differentadvisors. The interview will have two parts: First, the advisorwill ask you some questions. In your answers make sure youdescribe yourself in detail and ask questions if necessary.Second, the advisor will describe one study abroad programthat may be of interest to you. You will need to ask lots ofquestions about the program to make sure you can make anintelligent decision about it.What interview was the most positive and why?
  • 12. In class tasks (cont.)Oral recommendations. Another important step inpreparing to study abroad is to obtain letters ofrecommendation from your professors. In this activitythe recommendations will be oral and will be offered byyour classmates.Step 1: In groups of three, describe your ownacademic achievements and take notes of theachievements described by your partners.
  • 13. In class tasks (cont.)Step 2: In a different group, each person will offeran oral recommendation for one of the classmates fromStep 1. In the recommendation you will need to describeyour „candidate‟ and explain why he/she deserves tostudy abroad.Step 3: The university awards two scholarships to studyabroad. According to the recommendations in yourgroup , who deserves these two scholarships and why?
  • 14. Sample Task 2Origins of the Hispanic World (Legends)ACTFL proficiency level: Advanced Low/MidFunction: Narration across time frames
  • 15. Research online (2) Legends of Spain and Central America. Spain and Central America share some history but whereas in Central America indigenous groups influenced its history, in Spain the medieval, Jewish and Moorish influence characterizes its history. Find one legend of your interest from Central America and one from Spain and write down information about their main characters, place and time, and main events in the story.
  • 16. Template Name of legend Country Time and place Main characters Main events
  • 17. In class tasksOrigins from the Hispanic World. Legends are a wonderfultool to teach the history of a country to young children.Step 1: In groups, each person narrates the legend thathe/she researched online. Pay attention to the three mainelements in a story: context or presentation, complication,and conclusion.Step 2: In your group, select the most interesting legendand answer the following questions: Why is this legend interesting? What fictional information does it have? What historical information does it have?
  • 18. In class tasks (cont.)Step 3: Imagine that you have the opportunity to write achildren‟s book using the legend that your groupselected in Step 2. Prepare a children‟s story based onthat legend. You can write it up but you will have to tell itto the class as if you were doing an audiobook. Eachperson in the group will have a role in telling the story.Pay attention to the changes you will have to do to theoriginal legend to make it suitable and interesting toyoung people. In class, we will vote on the mostchildren-like legend.
  • 19. Sample Task 3The Other Side of Health (AlternativeMedicine)ACTFL proficiency level: Advanced High/SuperiorFunction: Debate
  • 20. Research online (3)Alternative medicine. Find information onlineabout two types of alternative medicine ortherapies. Write down information about theirorigin and use today. In addition, research whattype of alternative medicine can help with aspecific health problem. You can use the listbelow or research topics of your interest. Types of alternative medicine: Acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic therapy, hypnosis, aromatherapy, herbology, etc. Health problems: Asthma, heart problems, diabetes, smoking, depression, etc.
  • 21. Template Name of alternative medicine Origin Use today Health problem Alternative medicine or therapy
  • 22. In class tasksWhich therapy is better?Alternative therapies are not well known, and for thatreason, people tend to have concerns about them.Step 1: What are some of the concerns that people haveabout alternative medicine or therapies? Example: Acupuncture is very painful.
  • 23. In class tasks (cont.)Step 2: Share with two classmates the informationyou researched about alternative medicines or therapies.Write the information your classmates recite.Step 3: Using the information from what you have learnedin Step 2, can you answer some of the questions youcame up with in Step 1?Step 4: Choose one of the therapies youresearched and share the information with someone whoresearched the same therapy. In pairs, think of validarguments one could use to convince someone about thebenefits of this therapy or alternative medicine.
  • 24. In class tasks (cont.)Step 5: Debate the benefits of this alternativemedicine or therapy with a partner who has researched adifferent therapy. At the end of the debate, talk to yourpartner from Step 4 to discuss how the debate went andwho you think won.
  • 25. In Conclusion Online research engages the students in real world activities with a specific outcome. Online research tasks brings new knowledge into the classroom. In class tasks focuses on exchange of new information for a specific outcome. Indirectly, online research tasks lead to more reading and motivation.
  • 26. BibliographyLee, J & VanPatten, W. (2003). MakingCommunicative Language Teaching Happen.New York: McGraw-Hill.Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007). Doing Task-basedTeaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 27. Thank You!Please contact Montserrat Mir( or Angela Bailey( for additionalquestions.