Learn Chinese with Tasks: Implementing a Task Chain to Improve Integrated Language Skills - Part One


In my previous blogs (Activities for Elementary Students, Formative Assessment for First Graders and Task Design), I used several tasks as examples to show how I design tasks and activities in first-grade Chinese language class. However, a single task is far from enough for teachers to achieve lesson objectives. As Willis and Willis (2007) point out, “a task-based lesson would probably involve not a single task, but a sequence of tasks” (p. 40). Thus, teachers need to come up with multiple tasks and consider the sequence of them while planning lessons. As far as I am concerned, a task chain is composed by well-structured learning tasks that are connected to each other based on meaning. Implementing a task chain in a language classroom has at least three benefits for learners:
  • It provides students with more practicing opportunities since they have repeated chance and longer time to use target language.
  • It helps to improve their integrated language skills. In order to complete tasks, students will have opportunities to use all four language skills, i.e. reading, listening, speaking and writing.
  • It may promote students’ awareness of self-improvement during the implementation process of a task chain.
Many factors can influence the design of a task chain, such as students’ levels, their interests, learning habits etc. I mainly consider two factors with regard to the design.The first one is the order of  the focus skills of the tasks: receptive skills are prior to  productive skills. The other one is that the cognitive requirements of tasks need to rank from low to high. Here is one task chain that I designed for school’s “sports week”. Learning Goal: Students Will Be Able To successfully use “我喜欢……” and vocabularies of the after-school activities to talk about their interests. Task 1: Sorting Material: Better Chinese – My First Chinese Words Book 10 “At School”  (Online Learning System video), My First Chinese Game Cards (Pictures and words are separated. Pick out the paired cards for vocabulary that matches the lesson today: 游泳,画画,逛街, etc.) Language skills: Listening/Reading/Speaking Task description:
  1. Before playing the video, teacher shows students the title of video and asks them to predict the content. Below is a screenshot of the video.
  2. Teacher plays the video and asks students to talk about the gist of the video.
  3. Teacher plays video again and pauses every two turn-takings. In each turn, students are asked to sort one card (picture) of the activity that the boy does on that day. Then students need to say the word and put this card into the pocket of big calendar in the classroom (e.g. put the picture of dancing in the pocket of Monday)
  4. Teacher repeats the previous step and asks students to sort the cards with Chinese characters this time.
  5. The whole class repeats new words for several times.
Task function: This task functions as the introduction of new vocabulary. It emphasizes students’ receptive skills, i.e. listening and reading to successfully sort out the right flash cards.   Task 2: Matching Material: My First Chinese Game Cards (Pictures and words are separated. Pick out the paired cards for vocabulary that matches the lesson today: 游泳,画画,逛街, etc.) Language skills: Reading/Speaking Task description:
  1. This task simulates the typical matching game. At first, leave all the cards (both word and picture) on the table, facing down.
  2. Students take turns to flip over two cards. They can keep two cards if the picture and the word on each card match. They should pronounce the word correctly to keep the cards.
  3. After the game finishes, students take turns to say the words on their cards.
Task function: This task plays a role in strengthening the vocabulary introduced by task 1. Reading characters are a prerequisite of this task. Since most students are very familiar with the matching game, it will not take teachers too much effort to scaffold the task.   Continue to part 2 for more activities!      A Note from the Editor My First Chinese Words and Online Stories Pack allows you to get access to My First Chinese Words and I Love Chinese's Online Learning System and over 1400 stories from our Online Stories Library for the summer*. Students will be able to practice their 听说读写 skills with the Online Learning System and learn about Chinese Zodiac, songs and festivals, like 中秋节, in a fun and engaging way. My First Chinese Game Cards is a one-of-a-kind set of games designed specifically for non-Mandarin speaking families and children of all ages. Whether you have been studying Chinese or are just beginning, My First Chinese Games Cards will make Chinese fun for the whole family. Learn over 200 commonly-used Chinese words and build Chinese sentences while playing games. Feel free to respond to this post by posting examples from your classroom. Share to Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest and encourage your friends or colleagues to share other tasks they have designed!

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