Thursday, July 23, 2015

Our Guide to Partner Practice

The foundation of the RLRA program is the Partner Conversation, a tool that allows students to have a meaningful exchange in the target language right away.  To have success in using the curriculum, facilitating effective partner practice in the classroom is crucial.  How do you keep students practicing?  How do you keep it interesting and fun?  With our Real Mandarin right away curriculum going to press in just a week or so, we thought it would be a good time to review some basic concepts in how to use our program.

Please keep in mind that establishing a routine with partner practice is very important.  It takes time for students to learn to practice with each other, and it takes good coaching from their teacher to learn to do it well.

First, here is a list of basic steps of how to get students started with a Partner Conversation:

1)     Model pronunciation.  It is important that students have a good grasp of pronunciation before you set them off to practice with their partner.  Model it in a dynamic way.  Be dramatic!  Use gestures.  Ask questions to make sure students comprehend the dialogue and interact with the elements present.

2)    Once they are comfortable with pronunciation, assign partners.  We usually have a seating chart so students are with the same partner for a number of weeks, but assigning partners can be done in a number of ways.

3)    Give them guidelines on practicing.  Let them know how many times you expect them to practice.  We suggest 5 to 10 times.

4)    As they are practicing, circulate around the room and listen to groups.  Gently correct pronunciation if necessary.  Provide positive feedback—an encouraging word, a high five, a sticker, or a stamp in their book for saying the conversation well.

5)    Once students have had a chance to practice enough, ask a group to volunteer to present the conversation for the class.

There you have 5 simple steps in getting started.  Remember, the Partner Conversation is just that, a starting point, but the goal is to have the students internalize the language presented and be able to transfer it to a variety of situations.  We want them to own the language and be able to use it spontaneously!

In order to do so, it is important to vary partner practice, giving the students a chance to practice with different partners and practice in different ways.  Here are some ideas for switching up partners:

·       Teacher assigns partners randomly

·       Teacher assigns partners intentionally (students whose birthdays are near to one another, matching clothing/eye/hair colors, teacher numbers off)

·       Arrange students in inner/outer circle facing one another, students cycle through the circle when a signal is given (a bell, music, or a teacher prompt)

·       Arrange students in two lines facing one another, students cycle through the line when a signal is given (a bell, music, or a teacher prompt)

·       Students mingle around the room, practicing the conversation a minimum number of times

·       The Mixer cards from the Teacher’s Guide can be used to match up partners : two students who have the same card become a pair.

Here are some ideas for supplemental practice.  Remember, you can get a lot of mileage out of one conversation, and if the students are going to own the language, it is important that you do! 


Once the students have practiced the language in the conversation, the teacher can lead a class discussion, asking the key question from the conversation.  The teacher can also facilitate discussion between partners or small groups of students, providing them with a key question.  The teacher can also ask the students to direct questions back to the teacher.  The teacher might use a question directly from the conversation or use a related question that does not appear in the conversation.  For example, in Conversation 5d, the teacher might ask the students what they eat for lunch or dinner.  Then the class might discuss two of their favorite foods.


We suggest using gestures as much as possible to reinforce language.  Playing charades is a great way to do this.  It can be played as an entire class.  The student who comes up to the front can either come up with what he wants to act out from the choices given, or the teacher can have him pick a slip of paper from a hat.  Students can also play charades in pairs or small groups.  Teachers should provide all of the language necessary for them to play charades in the target language.  The teacher might write a short dialogue on the board to model it.

Modifying the Conversation

The Partner Conversation is the starting point, but the goal is to have student change and manipulate the language as much as they can.  Students will naturally ask for more choices in a given conversation, and the teacher shouldn’t hesitate to give them more options.  The teacher might suggest different responses to questions or different rejoinders.  Any element of the conversation can be changed—a number, a time of day, a name of a person.  Encourage your students to improvise as much as possible!

Memorizing the Conversation

Asking students to memorize the conversation can be very motivational.  It gets them to practice more and internalize the language.  This can be done as a class requirement where each student performs for the whole class.  Another low-stress and efficient way to require memorization is for the teacher to circulate as the class is practicing, stopping to listen to one group at a time to evaluate them.  Teachers can also reward students who are able to memorize the conversation with a sticker or an extra credit ticket and not require everyone to perform the memorized conversation.

Songs and chants 

Finding music that goes along with a conversation can be very helpful in reinforcing the language.  A teacher can also make up his/her own rhythmic chant using language from the conversation.  You will find some examples on our youtube channel.  ( Chanting provides motivation to repeat the conversation, reinforcing the intonation and pronunciation.

Conversation race

At the end of a unit, you can set up a competition with the students.  They practice all the conversations from the unit with their partner, and each time they memorize one, they perform it for the teacher to receive a point.  The team who memorizes all of the conversations first wins.