Aim (in terms of subject matter): to practise asking and answering questions; to practise using dictionaries.

Aim (in terms of thinking): to learn extending keywords to full sentences; to learn how to change difficult things into easier ones in order to be able to deal with them.

Materials: an application form for teachers of Chinese applying for a training course in China, the form is in Chinese (see Attachment).

Target audience: the students of Year 1 who have covered the basics of asking questions and the grammar of questions, familiar with online dictionaries of Chinese.

Time: 4 lessons (160 minutes). One 80-minutes long session for writing most questions, the second 80-minutes long session for discussing, dealing with the difficult questions and oral practice. 

Task description: the students worked in pairs. They had to make questions on the basis of some of the fields in the application form and then answer these questions. They could use online dictionaries, textbooks, notebooks. Thus, they had to change very formal strings of words used in official forms into informal questions used in spoken language. To add truthfulness to the task, I explained that we sometimes help others to fill in forms, therefore, we ask questions.

Learners’ response: the aspects which make the task difficult: the students are not familiar with application forms in general, the presence of numerous synonyms in dictionaries and little knowledge of terminology, unstable knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. It seems to me that it was more difficult for them to translate from Chinese than to formulate questions and answers.

Everyone worked very actively and didn’t ask the teacher for help. Most students used dictionaries and their own notes to form the sentences, some used online translators. At the end of the first session, the comparison of the outputs showed that those who relied on themselves did better than those who trusted the translators. So, once again the students realized that they know better than computers.

Teacher’s role: the teacher’s help wasn’t necessary, except for rare occasions. It was a problem to understand the phrase “Audiences taught”. I asked them to answer my question: “Who is the application form addressed to and how can you know it?” So they guessed that they had to translate the title of the form (titles are often ignored and it is often a mistake). Knowing that the form was for teachers didn’t help a lot, so I asked them to look at the provided answers, which included “elementary school”, “primary school”, “university” etc. This helped.

Another type of challenge was to formulate questions in such ways that would make it possible to translate them into Chinese. Eg, the same question about audiences taught can be asked in several ways, among which the question “Who do you teach?” seems the easiest and more useful for my students. In general, the questions they had to make were quite clear, so mainly they had to revise the grammar and vocabulary learnt before.

Overall reflection on the task: in my opinion, all the aims have been reached and the task itself has been meaningful. This is a good way to revise old things in a new manner. The task hasn’t been completed yet, we still need to check all the questions and answers, as well as discuss the most difficult and useful aspects. 


# Alexander Sokol 2013-01-16 21:05
Marija, thanks for sharing.
A few things I'd like to ask.
1. Is it possible for you to share the material you are describing (the application form in this case) under materials and include a link to it in the diary? I am sure this would make it easier to understand, even if the form is in Chinese :)
2. As you know, I am always interested in the thinking aspect. If we look at the aims, I think that the first one is more a linguistic aim. The second one can indeed be seen as a thinking aim but I'd like a little more in terms of your evaluation of reaching / not reaching it. It'd be very interesting to learn about the tools your students built to change difficult things into simple ones.
3. Can you say a little more about the success of those who worked independently and the failure of those who relied on translators? I am just afraid that the reasons can be different here, for example poor skills of using the translators.
Looking forward to your reply.
# Marija Nikolajeva 2013-01-20 11:52
Hello Alexander,
thanks for the questions. Please find the answers in my article "Practising Q-A using application forms: results and comments".
Have a good day!
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio