Every semester I have my Spanish 2 students do a short piece of writing in class that is assessed as part of their semester exam. Usually at the end of the semester, students are quite stressed and feeling less than inspired. I have found that when I try to personalize or inject a bit of novelty into these assessments, my students tend to produce better results! Funny how that works!

Since we are asked to provide students with exam reviews, I always provide my students with a long list of words I feel they should have acquired during the course of the semester. Included in this list of words are also nearly all of the words that are contained in the listening and reading portions of their exam. I tell my students that, since this exam is all about their proficiency, there is really not much they can study, but they CAN make sure they really do know the words on that list.

In the past, I have given students a list of, say, 10 of the words they’ve acquired over the semester and asked them to write me a story or an essay using as many of those 10 words as possible. It has worked just fine, but it was…you know…just another boring exam. Sometimes the students even complained that they didn’t like the words I had selected for them. Well, this year, I came up with the most ridiculously simple variation on this idea and it completely changed the atmosphere of the room.

I took my entire vocabulary list and pasted it into this “Random Name Picker.” There are many such tools available online, but this one did the job very nicely. I used this tool to randomly select 15 words from the vocabulary list, and students copied them down onto their handout. Then, students were instructed to write a story using at least 10 of those 15 words.

I was amazed, as I was using the tool to select the vocabulary for what is normally a tedious but necessary part of our exam, to see that my students were visibly excited about certain words and the potential they held for a story. I have never seen kids this excited to write an exam! The stories I got back were creative, often had little parallels to and variations of plots from stories we’ve told in class, and just generally showed a lot of thought and effort. They were a pleasure to read!

They were such cute stories, in fact, that I am encouraging several of them to submit their writing to Revista Literal, a new online Spanish magazine written by students, for students. This online magazine is edited by Martina Bex and sponsored by The Comprehensible Classroom. Please check it out with your students!

If you are interested in trying this writing assessment with your students, I am including the Spanish Story assessment form I made and a Story assessment form for any language. Please let me know how it works for you!

Kristy Placido is the editor of the CI Peek blog. She is the author of several comprehension-based readers for Spanish and French learners and presents workshops for teachers on teaching with comprehensible input. She has been using comprehensible input approaches in her own classroom since 1998. Check out her blog at kplacido.com and follow her on twitter and facebook!

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