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Partner Work

For "Partner Work," students began individually by looking at a painting and writing a description of it in Spanish. Each student then read their description aloud to a partner, who then had to sketch what they heard being described (partners could not see the original painting nor read the description, they could ask for multiple readings). Students then compared the sketches to the original paintings.
Students first reacted with frustration if there were errors. But the activity ultimately built their confidence because, regardless of errors in the written description or missing elements in the sketches, students realized they had successfully conveyed and understood information in Spanish. There were a lot of errors in the written work, which helped me plan what topics and skills to re-teach, but it was good for students to have an opportunity to write as much as they could in the target language within a short time and to see they could communicate ideas even if they were incomplete. 
This activity can be scaffolded by providing a model or sentence starters on the board as students work. I also deliberately distributed the paintings based on complexity of the scene so that students with more advanced levels of vocabulary or students still focused on writing basic sentences could be challenged appropriately. It can be adapted for use with photographs or other images (including practice for the story based on the visual on the New York City Language Outside of English exam).