Aim (in terms of subject matter): to learn the use of the verb ‘to be’ in Chinese.

Aim (in terms of thinking): to learn composing coherent texts in spite of many limitations; to learn using a limited number of structures for creating an unlimited number of sentences and meanings. 

Materials: a text template which contains only various forms of the verb ‘to be’ and gaps before and after the verb ‘to be’.

Task: make a text in Chinese or your mother tongue: fill in the gaps by single words or notions, following the grammar rules of Chinese. Initially I wanted this task to be individual with a further comparison of texts, but due to the lack of time we ended up creating one text all together. One of the templates is below:  

_________ 是 _________。_________ 很 _________,很 _________。_________ 的_________ 是 _________,不是 _________。_________ 不 _________,很 _________。_________ 是 _________ 吗?_________ 不 _________ 吗?_________ 很 _________。

Task description: I have done this exercise with 5 groups of students (13-year-olds and 16-17-year-olds), the time it took was 10-15 minutes for each group. The students tried to use Chinese words at first but this wasn’t the task this time, thus the students got more freedom in selecting vocabulary and the task became more amusing and meaningful to them.

The important thing was that the students controlled each other’s responses and corrected themselves. The teacher was listening and pointing out the mistakes but not correcting them. The teacher was also evaluating sentences in order to keep the coherence of the text. This task proved to be a good tool of checking and training the students’ knowledge of the basics of the Chinese grammar.    

Overall reflection of the task: as this has been the first time, collective story-making was acceptable. Next time we should try this individually. Using the same template will be alright, exactly because it will give a chance to create something new using the old resources.

The positive aspect of this task is that the students can familiarize themselves with the logic of the Chinese grammar in a more relaxed way. I hope they can remember more because the sentences they produce are in their mother tongue, so they only have to care about the correct use of grammar, not about remembering unknown vocabulary as well.

The most difficult part in this task is to maintain the coherence: the grammar predetermines the choice of vocabulary which has an impact on the storyline. The students have to resolve inconsistencies, therefore, beginners can do this task in their mother tongue. The higher level students can do it in Chinese in order to practise both grammar and vocabulary.    

Step 1 of the thinking task framework: the student is composing a text according to a certain template. The student isn’t the one who plans the text – each sentence predetermines the following sentences which are already predetermined by a certain grammar feature. The students must find ways how to make the text logical. 

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