Making Communication Meaningful: Creating Interpersonal Communicative Tasks

By Laura Terrill posted 10-28-2010 22:56


Thank you to everyone who participated and submitted questions. As a reminder, Toni Theisen has created a wikispace in the ACTFL community that can be accessed at: 

This wikispace contains information relating to the 3 webinars. 

What is the T.A.L.K. rubric?

For more information, a complete explanation of the T.A.L.K. rubric and be found in The Teacher’s Handbook, Shrum and Glisan, Fourth Edition in the Appendix on page 502.

I’ll give an overview here. Students are assessed in four areas:

T – talking in the target language, trying to communicate, the talk is relevant to the task

A – there is an acceptable level of accuracy, particularly with regard to the objective of the lesson

L – the student is listening to his/her partner and is on task

K – the student is kind and cooperative, he does not kill the task, he works with his partner/group

Create a chart that has a column for each letter across the top and the names of each student on the vertical column. During pair or group work, circulate and monitor individual students for each aspect in a random fashion, but try to assess every student on each aspect at least twice over a set period of time. Teachers should try to assess each student over a two-week period.

Mark plus (+) if the work is excellent, a check (√) if the work is good to fair and a minus (-) if work is needed.

For each round of TALK, a student can earn 8 points. Teachers would transfer that score to the grade book on a sliding scale. Students earning 7 or 8 points would have an A, 5 or 6 points a B, 3 or 4 points a C, 1 or 2 points a D and 0 points an F.

Are there alternatives to the TALK strategy for teachers who change classrooms?

The TALK rubric is basically just one sheet of paper and so it is easy to manage in all classrooms.

How do you keep students engaged in the target language when the teacher is working with one group? When they do interpersonal tasks, how do I keep them in the target language?

I would encourage teachers to establish a routine for allowing the teacher and the students to use English. One that has worked for me is to teach students to ask for permission to use English. The teacher must also ask for permission. Of course, the teacher seldom gives permission and surprisingly, the students also seldom give permission. 

The other suggestion is the one that was given during the webinar. Monitor the amount of time that you give students to complete a task. Always give less time that you believe is needed. Invest in a timer and set it for a certain number of seconds. The timer will keep the teacher from being distracted by individual questions from one group, will create a sense of urgency for finishing the work. It’s an ideal situation if the timer goes off and the students ask for more time to work on the task.

Are you supporting the idea of inventing new words in the target language?

No, but I would encourage students to use circumlocution and would actively practice that skill. Even novice level students can be asked to define words in the target language – “hot” can be expressed as “not cold”.

How do you avoid mistakes when speaking the target language if they have to improvise the dialogue without writing or preparing the conversation?

You can’t avoid mistakes, but you are replicating a more realistic situation by allowing them to communicate as they would in a real-life situation. Students who have the opportunity to engage in conversation with native speakers will never have rehearsal time. The only true “mistake” is when the message is lost. If we create a community where errors are tolerated as part of the learning process, we will develop students who are more likely to take risks to advance their own skills. Take note of errors and plan an appropriate and focused lesson to address the ones that occur keeping the emphasis on the structures that students have studied or are currently learning.

I don’t think that students in the novice level will be able to use a long sentence such “The girl is cold but the dog wants to go outside?” How is this activity for novice learners, is it memorized phrases?

The novice level covers a range of performance and students at the novice high level are actually performing at the intermediate low level part of the time. Think about the typical level 1 curriculum. Students will learn how to say, “The girl is cold.” They will also learn to say “The dog wants to walk. “ By giving students simple words and asking students to combine memorized phrases or sentences, you are challenging student to begin the process of creating with language. You do have to be careful to choose words that will not force students to use structures that they may not have learned.

What is Go Animate? A computer program?

Go!Animate is a free tool available at It allows students to animate the role-plays that they have practiced in class and may be an excellent extension of an in class activity.

How do I use interpersonal tasks in assessment, when all my colleagues are doing fill in and memorizing dialogues?

This is a very challenging situation. Hopefully, your school or district will have a written curriculum that is based on functional goals, what students should be able to do with the language at each level. If not, try to get your colleagues to agree on the top 10 for each level. That will allow you to focus on those goals in meaningful ways. My favorite “challenge” question is “How will students use the language on the streets of (Paris)?” Then, suggest designing performance assessments that mimic what students will really do with the language. Ultimately, teachers are responsible for making sure that their students learn to use the language in realistic ways. You have to be willing to be a change agent in your school in order to do what is best for your students.

So in high school, the highest proficiency level is usually intermediate? Is AP expecting students to reach the advanced level? 

High school students who have the typical 4 or 5-year sequence will normally reach only the intermediate mid level of performance. A student who is a solid intermediate mid with some evidence of intermediate high/pre-advanced can get a 3 or 4 on the AP exam. The best and brightest and those who have experiences outside of school may achieve pre-advanced and are likely to get a 5. The important thing to remember about the AP exams is that they are performance based; they are designed to determine what students can do with the language. Marty also provided an answer to this question during the webinar. If someone from AP has a more definitive answer, please respond to this posting. 

How can we enhance communication among good students, academically speaking, but who are shy?

It’s been my experience that students who are good academically want to get good grades in the class. Therefore, it’s important that the grading system in your classroom encourage speaking. In my classroom, a student who refused to participate in class, who did not engage in interpersonal pair and group work activities, who would not volunteer would only be able to earn a B because my points were structured to make that happen. That seemed to give me the leverage that I needed to encourage students to become involved. Often, that process started with the students earning speaking points before and after school. Usually that would break the barrier and the student found it easier to participate in class. I would also make contact with a shy student during an oral activity saying that I would be calling on him next. Finally, be sure to create an environment in your classroom for risk taking. Peer pressure can both help and hinder the learning process.

How can I combine these strategies with the book series we have to use?

This is a great question. It doesn’t matter what book you use. The textbook is just a tool. What matters is that you know what your language goals are for the unit that you are teaching. The textbook may focus on the grammar structures and lists of vocabulary, but you can see that the functional language skill is “able to describe”.  Create a variety of tasks that require students to describe in situations that replicate what they may do in real-life. They may have to discuss what they will wear for a specific event, describe the new dog that they just got, describe their best friend or their ideal career. Also many textbooks today have an assessment component that is often overlooked. It’s usually called alternative assessment or performance assessment. Often, these assessments are performance based and can be used in place of the more typical quizzes and tests provided by the textbook.

Other than this webinar what other resources can we use to promote interpersonal communication?

I would suggest that you watch some of the videos create by ACTFL. There are two series Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop and Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 – A Library of Classroom Practices. They can be found at The first collection contains a video called Person to Person which offers additional suggestions for interpersonal communication, but many of the workshops and classroom videos highlight interpersonal activities. The classroom video “Hearing Authentic Voices” shows how one teacher prepares her students for interviews with native speakers.

In the same classroom - how do you deal with students that have dramatic skill level differences?

It’s normal to have different skill levels in any one classroom. If you consider reading levels in English, there is a wide variety in any given grade. I think the answer is to set clear daily goals and tell the students what the goal is for the day. For example, if the daily goal is narration in the past, tell students that they must be able to say what they did in the past and post that goal in the room. Then, design the activities to support that goal.  Students might listen to or view a video listing what happened in the past. As they report, the teacher writes the statements correctly so that students can see the correct form. Students would work with the teacher to co-construct the grammar rule. They might read a text and isolate the activities that occurred. They might engage in a think-pair-share activity, answering questions about what they did last night, last summer, etc. Before exiting the class, each student might be asked to write down two things they did last weekend. This learning check allows the teacher to see who has met the goal and who will need additional help during the next class. The focus on the goal allows the weaker student to identify what is truly important. Without the emphasis on specific goals, class can seem like a string of activities to the weaker student.