Why Use Tasks?
Class time is a zero-sum game. Elementary students who are in 90-10 immersion classes spend the majority of their day in the L2, but students in FLES (foreign language in elementary school) programs have less exposure to language. This means that their teachers have to take advantage of every moment in class. A good use of class time is to focus on the most commonly-used structures in the target language. We spend a great deal of time talking about what we like, what we want, what we have, what we think… Especially for novice students, it is important to give students input in these structures. It is also important to use a topic that interests the students. For kids, my go-to topic is pets.
What a Task Looks Like
To that end, in one of my elementary classes we made a chart to show which pets the students have. Figuring out which students have which pets requires asking “who has a dog?” “does Mary have a dog?” over and over. By the time we have asked a small group of students these questions about several different pets, they have heard 有 (have) used in a sentence 20 times at least. I have read that language learners need to hear a word in context 73 times before it really sinks in. That number seems…. awfully specific, however the point remains that language students need a lot of repetition, in context.* This means embedding the repetition in a task that is engaging, rather than standing at the front of the class and saying a sentence with “have” 73 times. With a simple task, the students heard about 20 repetitions in less than 15 minutes. Not bad!
Our chart that we made is below, we talked about which students have which pets and also started listing what those pets like. Names are blurred for student privacy.
*If you’re interested, here is a link to a study about the connection between learning new words and building new neural pathways.