Lesson plans: Genre-based approaches and the interpersonal mode

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) describes three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational, and lists Can-Do statements in each of these modes.  The presentational mode is for sharing information, opinions, etc, and usually consists of one person communicating with a larger audience, either in writing, speech, or multi-modal forms.  The interpretive mode is what we usually think of as comprehension, understanding a written, oral, or multi-modal text.  The interpersonal mode is when one or more people are interacting with each other, and again this could be in speech, writing, or multi-modal forms.  In focusing on language functions and finding example texts, we try to find examples that are in both the presentational and interpersonal modes (and these all become the interpretive mode for our students at home, to recreate in their presentational or interpersonal forms in class).  However, we have found that it is much easier to find texts in the presentational mode (either oral or written) than in the interpersonal mode.  On the one hand, this makes sense (who records their conversations?), but this can also mean that it is challenging to find examples in this mode.  Ones we do find, are often somewhat presentational as well, such as an interview where there are two people interacting, but there is an expectation for a larger audience as well that would not be there if those two people were talking in a more informal situation.  The same thing would apply to something like a Twitter conversation.   

However, short of surreptitiously recording people, there is nothing really to be done about this! In this post, I thought I’d describe a successful lesson I did using an interpersonal text found by my colleague to show how we incorporate the text, linguistic elements (including pragmatics), and guide students through the stages of understanding what the text means, understanding how it means, and recreating their own versions.  

In class, we first focused on the meaning of the text, by having students in small groups review their example text homework (what they understood and didn’t understand) and ask questions.  To focus further on the meaning, I made screenshots of the people interviewed in the video and passed them out (one picture per group).  Students had to listen to the video again, and write down that particular person’s answer.  

To focus on how the text means, I had students identify words useful for giving one’s opinion, like بالنسة لي (according to me), which could be used to give any sort of opinion.  To draw their attention to pragmatic features, I also had them focus on how certain they thought the person was of their opinion.  Did they start their reply with أكيد! (Certainly!)? Or did they hedge, saying something like والله يعني طبعا يعني (Well, like, of course, like) . . .? Once the students thought about this, I had them place the picture on a line I drew on the board from uncertain to certain.  As the students finished placing one person, I would give them another one, and when all of the pictures were up on the board, each group presented the opinion and degree of certainty for the people they had listened to.  In this way, students were able to focus on not only what the opinion was, but also how to express an opinion, and how to be certain or uncertain in it.  

This took us to the creation phase, where students had to express their own opinions.  First, I had them write polarizing questions, following the format of the question asked in the video ايهما أنجح الزواج التقليدي أم الزواج عن حب؟ (Which is more successful, arranged marriage or love marriage)  by presenting it with blanks for them to fill in:

 ايهما أــــــــــ   ـــــــــــــ أم ــــــــــــــــ؟

Which is more _________,  _________ or ___________?

The students wrote a bunch of questions, such as which is better, dogs or cats? or which is better, peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey? I then had them ask each other the questions in a speed-dating format, where they switched partners every 4 minutes.  As they answered, they needed to not only express their answer, but also how certain they were of this opinion, by using the pragmatic features explored earlier in the class.  

Overall this was a successful lesson, leading students to understand not only what the text meant, but also how to use words related to opinions and degrees of certainty, and then to apply it in contexts more meaningful to them (probably not arranged marriage v. love marriage).  

Do you have techniques for finding interpersonal texts and helping your students recreate them? Let me know in the comments!


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