R. LaBrant, II, Ph.D.
you have drained your energies teaching the lower level courses
at your institution and you do not have graduate teaching assistants
to cover these courses, you may be scratching your head and wondering,
"How am I going to make it through my upper level course or
courses." You would like for the students to be getting wonderful
information as well as enjoying themselves in the process. Too many
times, the upper level course becomes tedious and less engaging.
I have taught Spanish for ten years now. Here are 5 ideas I use
to create some interest in the syllabus.
First, I incorporate into the course oral presentations. This gives
the students the opportunity to investigate literature, or culture,
or other elements thoroughly and present these to the class in the
target language. The student is the teacher or expert for the moment.
The class is responsible for taking notes and for paying attention.
You, the professor, will use this information on future quizzes
and exams. The presentations I give usually include that the student
include visual components like powerpoint, video, or the use of
the chalkboard. The student should also have handouts for the class.
The student must speak in front of the class in the target language
, for at least 10 minutes more or less, and answer questions from
the class. Students most always rise to the challenge and do wonderful
jobs! They are graded on fulfilling the requirements of visuals,
handouts, and having a clear oral presentation. I make suggestions
on a separate sheet for grammar or pronunciation, but this is not
the main focus of the exercise.
Second, I require that the students be involved in small group discussions.
The students are grouped into small circles of four or six students
to discuss certain points of discussion.
Sometimes these groups are required to present their discussion
or findings to the class. Outside investigation may be a part of
these small groups, requiring them to work together for a day or
two on a project to present to the class. Students are graded individually
within the group. They only receive credit for having a speaking
part and contributing to the discussion. These discussions are all
done in the target language.
Third, the class not only takes written exams but they also take
oral exams. I am convinced that oral exams can be given in any course.
The student can meet one on one with the professor or meet in small
groups with the professor. The students can then discuss orally,
in the target language, the information required by the professor.
This does take scheduling and some time, yet my students almost
overwhelmingly enjoy these exams more and perform better on these
exams. The atmosphere is relaxed in my office and I do not grade
them on grammar and pronunciation.
They are only graded on the responses they give to the questions
I have which relate to literature, culture, history, etc.
I give to the students all of the possible discussion items ahead
of time. I would rather they have more to investigate and do well,
than less to focus on and do poorly.
Fourth, I incorporate a few days for fun review. Students at this
level, regardless of age, still enjoy playing a game or two. These
games can be very poignant and relate directly to the exam they
are going to have or have already taken. I play a version of "Jeopardy"
in which I put categories on the board and point values from 200
to 1000 points. I do not have multiple questions for each point
value. The same question remains behind that point value, when the
response to the answer is incorrect. Other teams may try to answer
the same question, if they chose, as the game continues. The students
do not keep asking one question after another. They only get one
chance each round to answer, and then after receiving or not receiving
points, it is on to the next team. The groups usually range in size
from four to ten people and they form four to six groups depending
on the size of the class. I also award each team something for playing
and the top team an extra bonus for winning. The classes love this!
Try it! I even put in a daily double or two and have a final jeopardy
round where the students wager their points. This is the only time
I subtract points. For the entire game, only points can be added.
If the team does not get a question correct, they simply don't get
any points and it is on to the next team.
Fifth, and last, I require as part of the students grade to come
into my office and speak in the target language about topics that
do not pertain to the class. They must come by 5 times a semester
and speak with me in small groups of peers in my office for 15-30
minutes. I make the students guide the conversation and guide the
topics. They must let me know ahead of time what they will be discussing.
This usually helps the students to focus on a theme and to prepare
for the conversation. They may come in and talk about school parking,
or talk about the media, or talk about a theme in the class. As
long as they are conversing in the target language, you act only
as a moderator and observer. You can give help, when asked, concerning
grammar or vocabulary, yet it is best to let students as a group
assist each other and solve their problems together. The students
will form small groups and be comfortable speaking outside of class
and practicing their language skills in a non-threatening atmosphere.
They will simply receive all of the points for this portion of the
syllabus if they schedule a time, show up, and speak in the target
These are only 5 ideas I have used in my upper level classes. I
use some of these in my lower levels as well, yet I want the upper
level classes to enjoy the learning experience too and to have as
much fun as they did in the beginning levels of language learning.
You too will have a more enjoyable experience. The class will seem
less tedious, the students will have projects and responsibility
in the class, and the class will mold together as a team, working
toward a common goal of learning more Spanish, French, German, or
whatever language you are teaching and whatever subject matter you
are discussing. So, have fun and enjoy your upper level class!
R. LaBrant, II, Ph.D.
Department of Classical