On a teachers’ list, someone recently asked (paraphrased):

How can I help students review vocabulary for our semester exam?  I create a story (this year I’m narrating a video), they will listen and answer multiple choice questions. They will read a novel chapter and answer questions in English and they will write an original story using vocabulary we have used in stories this semester.  They will present their story with a PowerPoint for the speaking portion.  

If I just give them time to review on Quizlet, some will take advantage and others will not.  I need a concrete assignment.  Something they have to do with the vocabulary as they select words for their stories.    

First, the format of the proposed test isn’t going to test acquired language, which kind of matches, since the review is going to favor short-term “freshening” of words that apparently haven’t been acquired (or review wouldn’t be required to select them). So there are two issues going on here in my view.

I favor having kids write for testing based on a picture prompt — the more detailed the better. Or offer multiple picture prompts and allow them to choose. There are many good pictures available that include multiple actions and actors in the same picture, which allow kids a lot of freedom to write and use all their language. Having them write based on specific words might show you whether they know (and this could be knowledge based on acquisition or knowledge based solely on memorization) how to use them correctly in the instances that show up in the writing passage. But it won’t show you what they could have come up with when confronted with a situation they want to talk about, or talk their way through.

The speaking portion of this proposed test is likewise going to showcase the kids who do their homework — literally. Speaking from a PowerPoint means preparation. The motivated, “good students” are going to write out that story and practice it a hundred times at home, then recite it along with the PowerPoint. You won’t see what language they have acquired this way. You’ll see what they could put together. Reading (even from memory) a passage that has been previously written is not speaking and doesn’t show acquisition. It shows the fruits of a combination of acquisition and rule application during the writing process, and there’s no way to tell where along this continuum the performance stands.

Of course my first reaction to this post was far more basic. Why is there a need to review? If we are constantly spiraling vocabulary, the vast majority of those words should be fresh at the conclusion of a semester. If they are not, it’s time to check the number of repetitions during input, and also (IMO) to look at something else: is the delivery of CI being biased toward teacher-centered activities like narration of videos, instead of student-centered ones like the joint creation of stories? No matter how cute or appealing a video is, the fact that the story is being told, not asked, is going to reduce the level of involvement the students have in it and the level of connection they have to the language.

People are always looking for ways to “incorporate technology” and to be able to provide CI without having to go in there and work the classroom. It’s work to ask stories. It’s much easier to download a video and go over the same story a couple of times. But I haven’t seen the same outcomes from video lessons that are narrated as from asking stories. Some things aren’t broken, and I firmly believe that the story-creation through asking questions that TPRS is centered on is one of those things.