Jigsaw Conversations

I have a lot of difficultly setting up authentic, engaging interpersonal conversational activities. Even when distance learning isn’t an issue, these are the activities that require a lot of scaffolding, hand-holding, monitoring, and support, not to mention creativity. I’ve talked about ideas for keeping novice students in the target language here, and ideas for interpersonal interaction during distance learning here, but I was inspired by a recent Cult of Pedagogy podcast episode to use the jigsaw method for conversation prompts.

If you aren’t familiar with the jigsaw method, you can read more about it here, but the basic premise is the students group up to teach themselves and each other chunks of knowledge in “expert” groups and “learning” groups. In their first group, they become “experts” in one chunk of knowledge. After they become “experts” on that one topic, they split into “learning” groups that contain one person from each “expert” group. Then, each student presents the information they learned in their “expert” group to their “learning” group, and by the end of it, all students have some knowledge on all topics.

I’ve used the jigsaw method in the past with much success when covering broad topics like “Why We Study Spanish,” which you can read more about here. It has NEVER occurred to me, however, to try this structure with regular conversation practice, but it’s pretty brilliant, even for Novice Low students, and especially for distance learning.

The design is pretty straight forward. To start, you have a simple group of questions for every student in the class. I picked the questions, “¿Cómo te llamas?” “¿Qué te gusta hacer?” and “¿Qué no te gusta hacer?” In your “expert” groups, students will interview three of their classmates and write down their names, likes, and dislikes on a sheet of paper. This gets them practice in direct conversation (te gusta/me gusta). Then, they split into learning groups and share the information they learned with their “learning” groups, which gives them more practice with talking about their classmates (le gusta). That simple. By the end, every student has a list of every classmate’s name, like, and dislike. The whole time they are able to stay in Spanish, and the whole time they are asking authentic questions about one another and about other people in the class. There are many reasons I love this activity, but here are a few:

  • It helps to build community, both through group cooperation, and through students building connections over the content of their answers (in this example, what they like to do).
  • It’s much easier to monitor small groups than pairs, which is a help to you, ESPECIALLY for distance learning, because you have fewer break out rooms to pop in and out of.
  • While it does require a bit more set-up beforehand in terms of organizing students into expert groups and learning groups, you can be very deliberate about which students you want to group together, and you get a chance to mix them up a couple of times.
  • Jigsaw activities force students to own the knowledge in their expert groups. They are the only ones able to share with their learning groups, so there’s no sitting in the back checking out of what’s going on.

In general, I love jigsaw activities, but I never used them a lot in Spanish class because I always thought they lended themselves better to social studies or science classes, where you have to cover broad swaths of knowledge. But using the structure for interpersonal practice is such a great idea and can be easily scaled up or scaled down for whatever language unit you’re working with.

If you’d like to see an example of how I set up this activity, you can check out my “¿Qué te gusta hacer?” conversation practice on TPT here. In the preview of that file, you can look and see how I set up an organizational sheet that makes it really easy to assign “expert” groups and “learning” groups quickly.

Have you ever used the jigsaw method for conversation practice? How did it go? Would love to hear about it in the comments below.


Distance Learning Ideas: Cognates

Like many of you, I’ve been sprinting to convert my materials to distance learning friendly units. While most of my free time is becoming devoted to this task, when I can I want to share some of these ideas with you on the blog so you can run with them and make them your own. I’m concerned about the input we’re losing in a proficiency based classroom, especially in Spanish 1 where you lean so heavily on pointing, gestures, and monitoring kids visual cues for comprehension, but I’m trying to develop materials make the best of it. Every little bit helps. If you’ve got suggestions, I’d welcome them in the comments!

The first unit I converted was my cognates lesson. After getting through the syllabus, student surveys, and why we study Spanish, I like spending a bit of time on cognates with my Spanish I kids because I find it helps them to build confidence in the language right off the bat.

Usually as a warm-up, I give them a list of a ton of the vocab I have posted on the many posters and words all over the classroom and have them try to look around and guess what they mean. Often, I’d do this as a walk around activity and let them work together to get them up and moving and interacting. After talking through the answers they figured out, I’d print off a list of the words shown in this oldie but goodie video and have kids watch and try to write down what they think each word means. I love this video because even though it’s dated, it illustrates each cognate with live video footage of what that word looks like in Spain. You’re looking at a real Spanish hospital, a real Spanish hotel, etc.

To convert this start for distance learning, I had to lose the classroom decorations piece. I instead put kids through a Google Slides lesson that pulls the words from the same old cognate video. I put half of the words into a drag and drop matching activity, where the kids see the Spanish word and have to drag textboxes with the English definition to match each one. Next, I took the easiest twenty words from the video, and had kids read through and type out their guesses for what each word means (words like astronauta and chocolate). After they’ve done those two activities, I had them watch the video to check their work, using the video clips as the answer key, which keeps them engaged in the video.

At this point in the lesson, I ask the students what all of these words have in common. Usually we quickly get to the answer through group discussion that these words all are very similar to English. In a distance learning context, I’d have students ponder and write the answer to the question down in their unit Google Slides lesson. After, I introduce the definition of a cognate (“A Spanish word that looks similar, sounds similar, and means the same thing as its English counterpart”) and go into the importance of cognates as comprehension tools. In my distance learning lesson, I wrote this information in a slide, then gave them a multiple choice question about the definition of a cognate where they had to pick the textbox with the correct definition in it and drag it to an answer box, keeping them honest about reading their notes. After that, I give them a list of Spanish words with their English definitions (i.e. familia (family), libro (book)) and have them highlight the ones that are cognates. I give them an identical activity on their quiz for this unit so it helps prep them for that.

The next video I use is this uninspiring alphabet video about animals, mainly because it gets them started on the Spanish alphabet, and because I have them identify animal words that are cognates as they watch (delfín, unicornio, etc). After that, I wrote a simple story about a birthday celebration at the zoo that is full cognates (Luis el león hace hamburguesas, etc etc). In regular class, I’d have the sentences from the story mixed up on a piece of paper, and read each one twice, having students put them in order as they hear them (their first listening activity!). Then, I have them match each sentence to its English translation before asking them some simple comprehension questions.

To convert this piece to distance learning, I recorded each sentence using vocaroo, saved each one as a separate audio file, and then inserted the audio file into a Google Slides presentation (which I didn’t know you could do, but AMAZING). I set it up so that they’d listen to the audio files, drag textboxes with the Spanish sentences in them into the proper order, and then drag textboxes with the English translation of each sentence to match.

After that, we discuss one brief slide that has some examples of false cognates. I try not to freak them out about false cognates too much because I want them to use their cognate skills, but I do mention embarazada/pregnant as a funny warning. Then, we review what we learned and get them prepped for their quiz, which asks them to define a cognate, look at a list of twenty Spanish words with English definitions and pick out the ten cognates, and match several super simple cognate-filled sentences to their English definitions (“La gorila toca la guitarra“).

I did put this unit up on Teachers Pay Teachers, so you can preview what each of the activities look like in Google Slides by checking out the full preview file here. Hopefully you can use some of these ideas as you get your own distance learning going! If you’ve got suggestions, I welcome them in the comments.