Aim (in terms of subject matter): to practise asking and answering questions; to practise using dictionaries.

Aim (in terms of thinking): to learn extending keywords to full sentences; to learn how to change difficult things into easier ones in order to be able to deal with them.

Task description: in pairs, the Year 1 students had to form questions and answers on the basis of the application form (see attachment). They could use online dictionaries, textbooks, notes.

Learners’ response: the task was difficult. The students’ lack of flexibility necessary for doing it can be explained by the lack of practice and the instability of their knowledge. The students’ approaches to doing the task can be divided into 3 groups:

Using the same safe structure for all questions (What is your address? What is your name? What is your passport expiry date? What is your target audience? etc.). There was no change of register from formal to informal. The students who used this approach (about 5 people) did all the questions, but couldn’t even read them properly, because the vocabulary was unfamiliar and difficult. Here we come across another issue: the students know their knowledge isn’t perfect and they often extend the lack of confidence to the fields in which they are competent. Even knowing that in Chinese the same letters are read in the same way in different words, unlike English variations, such as “pub – put”, the students read with difficulties if they feel that they haven’t seen these words before. I tend to explain these difficulties by their showing off, which disappears when they see I’m getting angry.          

Trying different structures (Where do you live? What is your name? When does your passport expire? Who do you teach? etc.). This is actually what I expected from this exercise. The steps were the following: The students used dictionaries to translate from Chinese. There was a couple of questions for which it was necessary to understand the context in order to select correct meanings from the lists (eg. for the phrase “教学对象” the dictionary gives “teacher and student/education”  and “target/object/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend”, what to choose?). To my question “How can you find out what the context is?” some of the students reacted quickly and translated the title of the application form. The rest waited for their ideas. When the context was clear, and the rules of word order were recalled too, the words on the application form were translated from Chinese (like here, “education object/ who do you teach”). The answer options given on the form also helped to understand the question, so those students who read the answers could understand the question more easily. Then the students imagined the situations and the questions that they would ask in these situations. Thus, to change difficult things (understanding the formal language of the application form) into simpler ones (asking for personal information) the students had to understand the context. The students who used this approach didn’t manage to work out all questions, but they revised their notes and textbooks, used different types of dictionaries, as a result could be more inventive during the post-task discussion. Fortunately, the majority of students (about 15 out of 25) selected this approach. I say “fortunately” because in this group the students were indeed learning something, not just doing a task. 

- Relying on online translators – simply typing questions in Latvian and copying the translations without checking their grammar and vocabulary, even for the simplest questions like “What is your name?” and “Where are you from?”. The reason for such thoughtless behaviour is laziness, I would say, (why try to remember what things we’ve learnt before, where to look up what). All the students have already had enough experience with online translators and know that they are usable only in case you check and correct the translations. So basically, working with translators at the beginner’s level is double work, it is easier and gives better results not to use them. Moreover, the students couldn’t read the sentences properly because of unfamiliar vocabulary. Fortunately, only a few students (4-5 people) trusted translators.     

Teacher’s role: during the post-task discussion I listened to their versions of questions and answers, corrected them by asking leading questions, offered different Latvian versions for translation. My aim was to show that there are many ways of saying the same things and that the students are able to use them. 

Overall reflection on the task: although not all the sentences have been done as I expected, the aims have been reached – the majority of students were able to understand the formal language, to ask and answer informally, to apply appropriate grammar and vocabulary. Unfortunately, my secondary school students don’t like doing homework, as a result, learning mainly takes place at lessons, the progress isn’t fast, so this task seemed exhausting to them. However, I believe that the more transformation tasks are done, the sooner their confidence will grow.

At present we’re studying the topic family, so I plan to ask my students to do interviews for different types of newspapers. The contexts will be determining the contents of interviews. Before the task we will discuss the types of information desired by each type of newspaper.   

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