Creating Meaningful Dialogue Without Over Reliance on Dictionaries

Writer(s): 
Christopher Colpitts, Fukuoka University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Dialogue, translation, dictionaries, teamwork 
  • Learner English level: All levels
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 15-60 minutes
  • Learner maturity level: Secondary to university
  • Materials: Paper, pen, dictionary or smartphone

Preparation

Review the class topic or theme along with the related grammar and vocabulary. Also, draw attention to any potential or common problems such as “What do you like sports?” Prepare a short warm-up activity that relates to the class topic, such as a word association for brainstorming, or showing pictures or a video clip.

Procedure

Step 1: Put students into groups of two or three. Each student needs a piece of paper and a pen. Remind students that all dictionaries and cell phones are off limits until a designated period later. Tell students the topic of the lesson.

Step 2: Tell students that the first stage will be graded mainly on speed and creativity rather than grammar and spelling. They will have 10 minutes to produce a 10-line conversation between two people (see Appendix for an example). For a two-person dialogue of 10 lines, ideally each student would end up with five speaking turns.

Step 3: Check and guide the students as they race to finish 10 lines. Encourage them to write for communication, not perfection. If students can’t produce a certain lexical term or phrase they should improvise or make a note in Japanese to check it later. After 10 minutes, make a final check and allocate a quick grade. Because the teacher has been continuously checking the students’ progress, the quick grade should not take more than two minutes. While grading, tell students to get their dictionaries and smartphones for Step 4.

Step 4: Allot five minutes for dictionary or translation app usage to edit their dialogue. Tell students that whole sentence translation is prohibited. This stage is to enhance their conversation by expanding on vocabulary or phrases that had previously confused them. 

Step 5: Have students memorize and practice presenting their conversations. They can use as much time as required, but usually five minutes is enough. Presentations do not have to be performed in front of the class, but can be done in front of the teacher. Have slower groups wait in line and prepare for their turn. Encourage the use of gestures and discourage the use of Japanese. If partners forget or make errors, the other member must help out in English or another communicative manner.  

Step 6: The first students to make a presentation are given bonus marks. This motivates students to finish quickly and also provides more time for less confident or skilled students.

Step 7: Grade students together equally on the speaking part. This encourages them to assist each other when one or both stumbles. Provide feedback on pronunciation, eye contact, speech flow, errors, recovery from errors, and communicative spirit. Also, provide further lexical or syntactic ideas: in the specific case of the kendo conversation (see Appendix), you can teach students further phrases such as ‘ancient martial art’ or ‘promotes discipline’, which they can review or build upon for another time or discourse topic.

Conclusion 

The activity encourages fluency and speed over perfection, and also gives students a chance to self-correct their compositions. Dialogue creation can be performed on a weekly basis, or more complicated ones can be created for testing. When students are allowed to create their own stories, they invest more into the lesson and completion of the tasks. Weekly presentations also foster more bonding and camaraderie among classmates. Though some students may struggle with the time constraints and weekly burden, most students come out of the class feeling like they accomplished something meaningful and useful.

Appendix

The appendix is available below.

PDF: 
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