Learning to write for Facebook

Posted by Betsy on September 29, 2012 in InstructionalDesign, Language, Web2.0 |

This post accompanies an in-class teaching presentation that I will give on 10/3 in my second language writing class.

Writing for Facebook

Use The Wall Machine to teach Facebook-style written communication.


After showing students some examples, try the following instructions:

  • Your friend posts the following on your wall:
    “Are you busy on Friday?”
    Respond to your friend appropriately, and continue the conversation on your wall.
  • Construct a wall that represents content read in class or something in the news (e.g., the American presidential elections, the latest device from Apple or Samsung).
  • Think of a conversation that you had in your L1 on your Facebook wall. Try to recreate it as best you can in the target language.


  • Students work alone, in pairs, or small groups.
  • After they have made their own and understood how the walls work, have students reorder posts to make them chronological.

Note that the instructor and other students can read the walls and comment. Assess student work based on the content, grammar, pragmatics (e.g., language appropriate for Facebook), and ease of understanding transitions from one comment to the next.


  • Good for foreign language classroom, low-proficiency second-language classroom.
  • Gives students a safe place to practice Facebook-appropriate writing in the target language.
  • Novel and lends itself to humor.
  • Teacher and students can comment on walls.


  • Requires a real Facebook account to use.
  • Can post to your status without asking, so you might want to go into Facebook and delete what it posts.
  • Not exactly authentic writing.


  • Create a new Facebook account that you and the students use just for creating these walls. This will avoid unwanted posts to your personal Facebook account.


Publication of MSU Working Papers in SLS

Posted by Betsy on August 28, 2012 in Uncategorized |

The editorial staff is pleased to announce the publication of the third issue of the MSU Working Papers in SLS. It is available online, and you can download a PDF of the entire issue. Below is a copy of the introduction. If you have any questions or comments, please email one of the co-editors, Scott (sterli27@msu.edu) or Betsy (betsy@msu.edu).

Dear Reader,

On behalf of the editorial team, we invite you to read the third issue of the MSU Working Papers in Second Language Studies, an open access publication. “Open access” means that all content is distributed freely online and is available to be read and enjoyed by everyone.

Before introducing the articles in this issue, we would like to briefly explain the process and purpose of the Working Papers. Ever since the inaugural issue, which was published in 2009, the Working Papers have been organized, written, reviewed, selected, proofread, and edited by volunteers affiliated with the Second Language Studies and TESOL programs at Michigan State University. The purpose is not to publish polished research articles but to provide a forum for students to publish high quality works in progress, book and software reviews, research proposals, and interviews with established researchers.

In this issue of the Working Papers, we are proud to include three interviews conducted by students in the Second Language Studies program. Each interview is with a distinguished researcher in our field. Betsy Lavolette discusses computer-assisted language learning with Dr. Julie Sykes, Le Anne Spino welcomes Dr. Bill Van Patten to MSU, and Yeon Heo talks shop with Dr. Rod Ellis. This issue also contains two research articles. The first, by Kelly Chen, attempts to show how native English speakers and Chinese ESL learners respond differently to compliments. The second, by Ayman Mohamed, is a mixed-methods investigation of incidental vocabulary learning in English conversation classes.

This issue includes one book review: Yunson Shin reviews Talk Time student book 2: Everyday English Conversation, by Susan Stempleski.

Because the Working Papers is intended to show works in progress, we accepted two proposals this year. It is our hopes that after reading these proposals that you will send any helpful comments to the authors. Magdaleen Corne Lotter proposes a qualitative study of the role of reading and writing skills in the development of oral proficiency of young learners of English in Taiwan. Next, Hyojung Lim and Young-Shin Kwon show the amount of effort that goes into making and testing a test.

Finally, in addition to the contributors to this issue, we would like to thank the volunteer copy editors and section editors. Their names are listed below. We are also indebted to the reviewers who provided valuable feedback on drafts of the articles, but who will remain anonymous. We also received invaluable support from Dr. Susan Gass and the rest of the SLS department, Russ Werner, who provided tech support for the Working Papers website, and SOSLAP, who for put out multiple call for papers and volunteers. Without the help of these tireless volunteers, the Working Papers would not be possible.

All of the following volunteers are MSU students, graduates, and alumni.

Copy editors:

Laura Ballard

Frances Lamielle

Ayman Mohamed

Ji-Hyun Park

Le Anne Spino

Jamie Thomas

Cristen Vernon


Section editors:

Wen-Hsin (Kelly) Chen

Solène Inceoglu

Hyo Jung Lim

Le Anne Spino


We hope you enjoy reading the 2012 edition of the MSU Working Papers in Second Language Studies.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Lavolette (betsy@msu.edu)
Scott Sterling (sterli27@msu.edu)



Seeking native Japanese speakers for (paid!) linguistic experiment in SF Bay Area

Posted by Betsy on August 13, 2012 in Language |

I’ll be in the San Francisco Bay Area from 8/22 to 8/26, and I’ll be collecting data for a linguistic experiment that examines how native speakers of Japanese read in English. Can you participate in the experiment? Or do you know someone else who can? Please help me spread the word!

Here is the information for potential participants. You are:

  1. 18 years old or older
  2. a native speaker of Japanese
  3. able to read English

In the experiment, you will see letters on a computer screen and press a key to indicate if it is a real English word or not. Then, you will fill out a series of questionnaires.
The whole experiment takes about 45 minutes, and I will pay you $10.

A quiet space such as a library or a quiet cafe is the best place to do the experiment, and I will find a place that is convenient for you.

Please contact me, Betsy Lavolette, betsylavolette@hotmail.com, 650-204-8642 (voice or text), for more details or to set up a time to participate. I’ll be available to do the experiment from 8/22 to 8/26, but you can contact me now to set up a time!

Thank you very much for your time!

[Edit, 8/28/2012: Thanks to everyone who made my trip a great success! I am back home now, so I’m closing comments on this post.]



Reading in Japanese on the iPhone

Posted by Betsy on April 29, 2012 in Language |

Somehow I missed it until recently, but did you know that your iPhone has a built-in dictionary? And even more interesting for language learners (at the intermediate level and above), the dictionary is in the language of your OS! So, because I have my iPhone set to Japanese, my dictionary is also in Japanese. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set your OS language to Japanese (or whatever language you’re learning).
  2. Read a webpage in the mobile Safari web browser (such as a free book from 青空文庫).
    Aozora Bunko
  3. Touch and hold a word that you want defined. Then touch 辞書 (or the word for “dictionary” in your language).
  4. View the pronunciation and definition, then go directly back to the webpage when you are ready.
  5. Bonus! You can even practice your second language when looking up English words.

What do you think? Useful for you or your students? Let me know if you try it out!



2011, the year that I traveled

Posted by Betsy on December 31, 2011 in Personal |

2011 is best summed up by looking back on all of the places I traveled over the past 12 months. I’ve never had a year with so many opportunities to travel or spent so much time in airports! Here’s hoping that 2012 will have as many wonderful adventures in store. It’s been a great year!


Home: South Bend, IN (it already seems so long ago!)
San Francisco


Tokyo (on business for YKS Services. Website created by moi, by the way.)
San Francisco


Madison, WI (visited the University of Wisconsin)
Ames, IA (visited Iowa State University)
East Lansing, MI (visited Michigan State University)
Tucson, AZ (visited the University of Arizona)






Moved to East Lansing, MI (yes, I choose Michigan State! Excellent decision!)
Columbus, OH (for the CenterFold Convention)
Nashville, TN


Washington, DC (on business for ACTFL)


Ames, IA (for the Second Language Research Forum)


Denver, CO (for the ACTFL Convention)


White Plains, NY (on business for ACTFL)



Helpful giant squid

Posted by Betsy on December 7, 2011 in Personal |

The only thing inspiring me to finish my final papers is creating Internet memes.
Let's Get Kraken!



Student again!

Posted by Betsy on November 10, 2011 in Personal |

PhD student now. Too busy to blog!

But now that I am back in school, I have a profile page to share.




SDoI: Chapter 5: Analyzing Learners and Contexts

Posted by Betsy on June 28, 2011 in InstructionalDesign, Language |

[This is the sixth in a series of posts about Dick and Carey’s The Systematic Design of Instruction. Want to read an overview and my thoughts on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4 before proceeding?]

This chapter is about characterizing learners, the context in which they will be performing, and the context in which they will be learning.

Bounty Hunting School – Language Course by Stéfan Creative Commons License


This chapter tells us that we need to know certain characteristics of the targeted learners. But what is the purpose of gathering that information? How will it affect the instruction that is later developed? If the learners do not have skills that you initially considered entry behaviors, you can directly use that information to design instruction that includes more basic skills. However, why do we need to know about gender, for example? Will knowing that learners have positive attitudes toward the content change the way that the instruction is designed? More information on this topic is apparently found in later chapters, according to p. 90:

In this chapter, we identify a set of variables that research has indicated affects learning. If you describe your learners in terms of these variables, you can modify your instructional strategy to enhance learning.

So, information on specific variables will directly impact the learning design. We just don’t yet know how they will impact it. Here are those variables, from p. 91:

  1. Entry behaviors
  2. Prior knowledge of the topic area
  3. Attitudes toward content and potential delivery systems
  4. Academic motivation
  5. Educational and ability levels
  6. General learning preferences
  7. Attitudes toward the organization giving the instruction
  8. Group characteristics

I wonder about #7, since this could be a loaded question. How can you get an honest answer? Also, I am not sure that this is relevant to, for example, college students who are studying a foreign language at a particular institution. Should the design of the instruction be changed if the students hate their university? Or if they love it?

Performance context

The listed characteristics of the performance environment (pp. 93-94) are

  1. Managerial or supervisor support
  2. Physical aspects of the site
  3. Social aspects of the site
  4. Relevance of skills to workplace

But what is the performance context for foreign language learners? Various work, school, and social settings in the foreign-language culture? A home stay? A workplace in the United States? Only the classroom? There are simply too many possibilities. My opinion is that this should be moved to the learner characteristics in this case. We cannot know how the learners plan to use their language skills unless we ask them. But will this affect the instruction that is created? Only, I think, if it affects the instructional goals.

Learning context

The listed characteristics of the learning environment (p. 95) are

  1. Adaptability of site to simulate workplace
  2. Adaptability for delivery approaches
  3. Learning-site constraints affecting design and delivery

In universities, the instructor or instructional designer may not know what classroom space will be available or assigned, which complicates any investigation of the learning context.

The third characteristic is very important to consider if the instruction includes any technology, even that as basic as chalkboards. The classroom itself may limit what type of instruction is possible.

Evaluation and revision of the instructional analysis

Tacked onto the end of this chapter is a recommendation to have your instructional analysis evaluated by learners before proceeding to the next step.  From p. 97,

The reason we are discussing the tryout in this chapter, rather than in the last one, is that the tryout can occur at the same time the designer is conducting the learner and context analyses. Those analyses bring the designer into contact with potential learners, or recent learners, who can review the instructional analysis with the designer.

Ah, great idea! Rather than relying on your own intuitions about steps and skills and entry behaviors, you can get an informant to check out your ideas and get feedback before proceeding.

Next up: Chapter 6, Writing Performance Objectives.



SDoI: Chapter 4: Identifying Subordinate Skills and Entry Behaviors

Posted by Betsy on June 27, 2011 in InstructionalDesign, Language |

[This is the fifth in a series of posts about Dick and Carey’s The Systematic Design of Instruction. Want to read an overview and my thoughts on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 before proceeding?]

It’s been a while (okay, more than a year) since I posted about the previous chapter, but I have not given up!

Chapter 4 is about how to further analyze an instructional goal by determining subordinate skills and entry behaviors. I found this idea interesting, so I tried it out on an example language goal: “Given information about the people involved, describe a gift-giving situation as ‘Person1 gave gift to person2’ in polite Japanese.” By information, I mean the relative ages of the people, their relationship (friends, teacher/student, parent/child, etc.), etc. Here is a simple diagram of the steps that I believe are involved.

Goal analysis

I simplified the situation by providing a framework for the sentence where the verb and three nouns can be plugged in, rather than adding steps in which the sentence is constructed. Those steps could be added before the verb steps.

So, back to the text to learn how to analyze the subordinate skills.

On p. 54, we learn that

The hierarchical approach is used to analyze goals that are classified as intellectual or psychomotor skills.

Although this goal requires plenty of verbal information, I think that it can be usefully classified as an intellectual skill. So, I will try a hierarchical analysis.

How is hierarchical analysis done? Also on p. 54,

The hierarchical analysis technique suggested by Gagné consists of asking the question, “What must the student already know so that, with a minimal amount of instruction, this task can be learned?”

And on p. 58,

One way to proceed is to ask, “What mistake might students make if they were learning this particular subordinate skill?”

Further information is provided on pp. 58-59.

You should also ask the following questions:

  1. Have I included subskills that relate to the identification of basic concepts, such as objects or object qualities? (Example: Can a tetrahedron be identified?)
  2. Have I included subskills that enable students to identify abstractions by means of a definition? (Example: Can the student explain what a city is, or show what an emulsion is?)
  3. Have I included subskills that will enable students to apply rules? (Example: Making sentence verbs agree with subjects, simplifying mixed fractions.)
  4. Have I included subskills in the analysis that will enable students to learn how to solve problems required to demonstrate mastery of the instructional goal?

I tried to incorporate these questions into my subordinate analysis, and I used the information on creating instructional analysis diagrams on pp. 62-64 to construct the following:

Entry behaviors

Just for visual clarity, I made steps green, subskills yellow, and verbal information blue. One problem that I had with making the diagram was that my third step (“Construct the final sentence…”) requires verbal information, such as knowing the Japanese words for various pronouns and other nouns that represent the gift. But none of the examples in the book show verbal information being connected directly to a step. It is always connected to a subskill, so I am not sure if it is okay to add it to a step.

The subskills could be taken further, but I think that I have already defined some that I consider entry behaviors. In the glossary (p. 346), “entry behaviors” are defined as

Specific competencies or skills a learner must have mastered before entering a given instructional activity.

I would designate the entry behaviors for this goal as everything below and to the right of the dotted line. In other words, students should already know some regular and irregular verbs and the polite ending before learning this goal.

So, that is my attempt to apply this chapter to a very specific language goal.

One other comment on this chapter: One of the examples of a cluster analysis struck me as a terrible way to organize information. While hierarchical analysis is used for intellectual goals, cluster analysis is used for verbal information. The glossary (p. 345) defines “cluster analysis” as

A technique used with goals in the verbal information domain to identify the specific information needed to achieve the goal and the ways that information can best be organized or grouped.

So, why in the world would you organize anatomy vocabulary as lists of words, as the books shows on p. 87? Wouldn’t the best, most intuitive way to organize it be as labels on a drawing of a body?



Learning vocabulary using Rikaichan and Google News

Posted by Betsy on May 24, 2011 in InstructionalDesign, Language, Web2.0 |

One of my frustrations as a learner of Japanese has always been the amount of time lost to looking up unknown kanji. By the time I have found the right reading and the right word, I’ve forgotten what the surrounding context was, and I have to reread the sentence or paragraph. Online dictionaries certainly help with this since you can copy and paste a word and get an answer quickly, but it still involves switching to a different website, checking the meaning, then returning to the original context.

Rikaichan solves this problem. It’s a plugin for Firefox that pops up a box with the readings of Japanese words and their meanings in English (or another language of your choice). I highly recommend it for any learner of Japanese. (And for translators as well–it is helping me learn the readings of words that I previously only knew the meanings of.)

Rikaichan popup

I was recently using Rikaichan to assist me in reading Google News in Japanese, and I was focused on learning more about the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. As I read article after article on the same topic and even watched a few videos, I saw and heard some of the same key terms over and over. For example, 火山灰 (volcanic ash), 噴火 (eruption), 閉鎖 (closure), and 欠航 (flight cancellation) kept appearing. And after a few repetitions, I knew both the pronunciation and the meaning without the pop up!

So, vocabulary was organically recycled in this authentic input. I am certainly not the first person to realize the potential of Google News for vocabulary learning, but I am excited to use it more myself and think about how it could be incorporated into the language classroom and my research.


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