Pair and Re-Pair for Partner Work

One of the easiest ways to increase repetitions (reps) while maintaining student interest for paired speaking activities is not to change the task, but to change partners.  Before I explain one way I partner students, let me tell you about my partner rules.

-I assign partners. Always.
-The task goals are clear – First, I explain- Second – I demonstrated the activity with a student and me.  Third – I demonstrate again with a pair of students completing the task, everyone else watching, with me giving feedback.
-I time the activity.I have a big clock timer in the front of my room.  With students watching, I set the timer and then count them down to talk.  “clase, tres dos uno…. hablamos.…” I try to be accurate when I decide how much time to give. I want them to have enough time to complete the task, but I would rather give my students  too little than too much. I will also give more time if I see that they are still working.
– If they do finish before time is up, the students know to re-start the activity and do it again.  Everyone has to keep talking until I tell them to stop.

Paring and Repairing
I learned the importance of pairing and re-pairing student partners at an Organic World Language (OWL) bootcamp. Although I have adapted or changed many of the OWL strategies, the attention the OWL program gives to having students constantly pair and re-pair their partners was an eye opener for me.

Here one example about how I pair students.
Everyone is standing. I give the directions about how we will partner up.   I try to make sure the instructions are visible -in a TL powerpoint slide- that students can see as we go through the partner selection process.
I ask in TL – “Who has a birthday in January?” When a student raises hands I motion for them to come to me and stand first in a line. Then I ask “Who has a birthday in February?” Again, when someone raises their hand, I put them next in line. I continue the months until we are standing in a circle in the order of birthday’s from January to December. Then I assign their partner. I decide by who is standing next to who. “You two, you are partners.. look at your partner and say hello. You two .. you are partners, look at your partner and say hello….etc. etc. etc…” Once I have the students in pairs, I count them down to speak… clase, tres, dos, uno….

What is your favorite pairing idea?

Repetition – Chat Cards

My students are naturally social and naturally shy at the same time. The social part of their nature helps me because students like to talk. The shy part helps because if they didn’t have my conversational cues they would be tongue-tied every time they were paired with a new partner who isn’t a good friend. In their opinion, asking my questions and having my conversations is better than standing there feeling weird.

What do they talk about?

Chat papers

I have created or adapted a bunch of Chat cards. Chat cards start as a single piece of paper with 7 or 8 boxes on them. In each of the boxes I have written a Target Language (TL) question with a couple of different possible responses. I also include an open-ended response. I try to make the response a little interesting, responses that would appeal to a middle school student. For example:

Why do you love your pet?

My pet is nice.

My pet is…..

My pet is my friend

I don’t have a pet. They are gross.

My pet is better than my brother.


These are not incredible answers. But they work for my target audience and gets students speaking. Here is how the Chats work:

  • The students and I read through the questions and answers together. Students either circle their favorite answer or I help them develop their own answer. Most students use one of my answers. We do this as a class.
  • Students spend two or three days reading from the Chat papers asking and answering the questions. This is a five minute warm up activity. Each person in the partner pair has a copy of the Chat paper in front of them
  • After a couple of days working with the Chat paper, I have students cut up the paper into individual cards (each question box) Now they take the cut up cards, shuffle them and ask each other the questions. This puts the Chat questions out of order. *If a student doesn’t answer the Chat question correctly, either because it doesn’t make sense to the question, or they don’t use first person verbs in their response- their partner is trained to say in the TL”I am sorry, it’s…. and the student gives an example of what should be said.)


After a couple of days, I add the cut up cards to an even bigger pile of conversation cards. The big card pile are all the Chat cards that we have made from the beginning of the year. The new chat cards are shuffled into the mix, and now I have a great pile of review questions ready to go.


Practice Reading and Speaking with Play and Movie Scripts

I direct the musicals and dramas at my school. After my student cast has rehearsed a scene, I often have them make a small change and re-act the scene  “one more time”  As soon as I finish the phrase “one more time” my cast immediately laughs.  They know the phrase “one more time” is just a nice way of saying – do it again. The cast  also know that repetition is key to learning to speak and understand their lines.  They have a laugh (at me) and jump right back in the work.

My classroom students are different.  When I ask my classroom students to read a story or article again, they groan.  They don’t want to read again.  Many feel as if they have gotten everything they need from the first read and don’t see the value of doing it again.

So I have been making a change in what we read.    I have started to  use more  short plays or movie scripts to help develop student reading and speaking skills.  Sometimes we write a play/script together as a  class.  Sometimes I write it before class.   Regardless of how I get the play/script, I follow some basic rules.


– Keep the characters lines to one or two sentences each time they  speak.

-Use idiomatic expressions.

-Keep sentences are simple as possible.


1- Read script/play as a class. I help with meaning and accent.

2. Divide students into groups.  The size of the group is the same size as the amount of characters in the play/script.

3. Students choose a role.  Read through the play/script reading the lines for your character.

4.  Students change roles.  Read through the play/script again, but this time students are standing as they read

5. Student change roles again.  Read through the play/script again. This time students need to move when they talk.

Final Performance

I don’t have everyone perform in front of the class.   But, I do have ways of evaluating student work.  Here are just a few:

(It is nice to add costumes or props if you can, but don’t worry if you can’t)

1.  I choose the strongest actors from each group and we make a class movie.  That just means we  tape the performance.

2. Divide the groups in half.  One half of the groups performs and the other half are the audience.  I place the performing groups around the classroom.  I give each audience group a performing group to watch.  The audience group rotates every few minutes.   After two or three performances,  we switch performing and audience groups.  The audience groups become performing groups.   The performing groups become audience groups.  I place the new performing groups around the class.  I give each performing group and audience.  We start again.

3.  Have all performing groups stand in separate spots around the room.  They keep performing-over and over again. As soon as they finish the play,  they start again.  I wander around, listening to snippets of dialog from each group.   It is amazing how much you can hear when multiple groups are performing at the same time. It is also amazing how easily you know if they stop using Spanish or stop working.    I tell the students that if they stop performing, then they will have to perform in front of the class.

This is a lot of fun.  I hope you give it a try.





Build Speaking and Reading Skills with ‘Easy Reader’ Novels

The 95/5 Rule.  The linguist blog “lingholic”  says  to be conversant you need to easily understand 95% of the words being used.  Easily understand.  Making sure my novice learners easily understand 95% of what is being said or read requires careful selection of material and carefully leading guided conversations. One way I make sure my students easily understand the novels we read is for me to select a novel that is leveled lower than the reading level of my students.  For a level 2 class, I often choose a level one book. The results are amazing.

My Spanish 2 class is reading Mira Canion’s Agentes Secretos.  Not only is Agentes Secretos a good story, but the novel is an easy read. Because the reading level of the book is lower than the reading level of most of my students,  we have 100% comprehension.  100% comprehension means we have close to 100% student participation.  Students feel comfortable with the material and are willing to take risks.  We discuss.  We  describe.  We act out scenes.  Students beg to read the book in front of the class.  We are having a blast.

Strong comprehension  means I can add extra material.  They are learning about Franco, some geography, about bull fighting,  Picasso and Gaudi. (these topics are all mentioned in Agentes Secretos).   If the story in the novel is good, I don’t worry about constantly challenging student’s reading skills.     The ease and comfort students feel reading a lower level novel opens new possibilities for language development and growth.