Creating generative output with beginning and intermediate learners

Nathaniel French, Adachi Gakuen


Quick guide

  • Key words: Conversation, vocabulary words, generative speech
  • Learner English level:Upper beginner and intermediate
  • Learner maturity:Upper junior high to high school
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 30 to 90 minutes
  • Materials: Word cards


This activity was created in an attempt to increase students’ use of new vocabulary, to foster their speaking ability, and to promote the building of communicationstrategies. Students are encouraged to create their own semi-controlled conversations, thus reducing their dependency on example conversations. In addition, the objective of this activity is to get students to recognize that even simple conversations can be constructed in many different ways and to prepare them for non-scripted conversation. This activity can also be seen as a way to promote small amounts of autonomy in the conversation classroom, and can be used as a stepping stone towards more complicated conversational activities.



Step 1: Teach students 6-10 vocabulary items and have them write the new words and their translations on word cards. One side has the word in English and the other side its translation in Japanese.

Step 2:Break the students into pairs and have them line-up their vocabulary cards on the table between themselves, with the English face up. Students will be in pairs for all steps below.

Step 3: Give the students a fixed amount of time (2-5 minutes should be more than enough time) to create a conversation or story which uses all of the vocabulary and is based on a specific topic. In deciding the topic, choose something that is compatible with the vocabulary items and is interesting to the students. Everything is done orally, so students should not be writing their conversations down. When a word is used, the student takes that card and turns it over. If the students decide to do a conversation, each person takes one role and they build the conversation together. The conversation continues until all words have been used, which means that all cards should be Japanese side up when students finish. If the students decide to create a story, one student will say the whole story by themselves, using all the cards, while the other student listens to see if the story is understandable and has correct word usage. This activity is then repeated one more time with roles reversed.

(Optional):If the students are lower in level or are not used to this type of lesson, break students into groups of 2-4 and have them prepare for the activity ahead of time by writing a conversation or story which uses all of the given vocabulary. This will take 15-30 minutes. During the time the students are writing, walk around the classroom, making sure that students are on task, answering questions, and correcting students’ written conversations.

Step 4:While students are speaking, walk around the classroom to make sure that students are on task and to answer student questions. Communication and generative output is the focus of this lesson, so it is advised that instructors do not correct students’ grammar unless it is causing understandability issues.

Step 5:Have students change partners and repeat the activity until students feel comfortable with creating the target output and are able to understand a large portion of what their peers say.



I used this activity once a week with my second-year junior high school students. While the students were unsure of their ability to participate in this activity for the first few lessons, students learned very quickly that creating conversation was not as difficult as they thought it to be. By the seventh or eighth lesson, nearly all of the students were able to both create and tell a four to six sentence story involving princesses and dragons.

Although grammar is not always used well when students participate in this activity, the students’ ability to convey meaning increases significantly. Also, after students realize their newfound ability to communicate meaning, there is noticeable increase in their confidence level as well.