Speaking & Writing Diagnostic Activities


One of my biggest concerns with the diagnostic activities format (as with most activities in general) is how I might make the practice of speaking/writing accessible and familiar to my students so that they would recognize it as something they do, not merely an artificial exercise deployed in order to perform well in class. So I thought of creating an informal social network page through which students could communicate with me and with each other in a comfortable, quick-and-easy medium. The board seems too impersonal and “academic” for my purposes, so I'll use an imaginary page that each student will have to fill in and then present to class. 
My plan is to incorporate class discussion during those presentations, even though I assume most students won't feel comfortable enough to start their own topics...
This type of activity can be used in almost all proficiency levels with variable approaches, for example, for low intermediate/ intermediate students, I will start by showing a similar page of an imaginary student so that they can grasp for some examples and feel more confident about what they are doing.
I am convinced that creating links between course material and students' social space promotes the demystification of writing, speaking and studying the language in general. If we are facing digital natives, why not explore their natural skills?
However, I'm totally aware that this type of activity does not replace a grammar diagnostic, which tests students on their grammar knowledge and skills and informs the teacher of what aspects of grammar their students are already familiar with and what they still need to learn. Most of the times, grammar diagnostics only allow one right answer per question, are easy to mark and can be tailored to cover any level, from elementary school to the 12th form. But these assessments can be misleading: sometimes students with formal grammar training will excel on these kinds of tests, but their actual writing will be rife with grammatical errors. This is because they can recognize grammatical errors in closed situations such as a test, but when they try and construct more complex sentences on their own, they struggle to express themselves within the rigid grammar rules they know; additionally, the nature of multiple choice questions engenders the possibility of students guessing right answers by chance. This is why I prefer to engage students in a different way during the first classes: they get to know each other and they practise the four skills without even noticing it!

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