As I looked at a modern language textbook, I saw that it had mini-conversations of 2-3 lines. For example, “Who is looking at the car? ….. Chris is looking at the car.” In reality, such conversations simply practice the recently introduced grammar of the unit. These conversations do not communicate anything other than grammar.
For me, the ability to ask and answer questions is key to being able to converse in a world language. However, students do need to practice in asking and answering questions. They need not only to understand what the question word means but also to know how to answer the question word. For example, the Spanish question word, ¿Dónde ….?” means “where” and the student answers with a place. My students practice in asking and answering questions. During a recent summer school final, my students, working in pairs, asked ten questions and gave ten answers based on a randomly selected common topic in a three minute period; they had no time to prepare to talk. They just began their conversation. To develop that skill, I have my students do activities like Spanish Question Words Speed-Asking Partner Speaking (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Spanish-Question-Words-Speed-Asking-Partner-Speaking) in which they practice seeing how many questions they can ask about a topic and Spanish Questions Modified Speed Dating Whole Class Speaking (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Spanish-Questions-Modified-Speed-Dating-Whole-Class-Speaking) in which they ask a question from a card and their partner answers the question, then the partner asks a questions. Students need much practice in asking and answering questions before they can do it spontaneously to find out information from a partner.
How much do you have your students practice asking and answering questions about common world language topics? How well do your students communicate in a conversation.
My 20+ Spanish spontaneous speaking activities such as Modified Speed Dating -AR verbs, Modified Speed Dating -Leisure/Sports, Spanish Conversation Topics- Partners, Multiple Sentences Speaking Board Game, Describing a friend, Talking about classes, Preterite Game & Speaking, and Clothing Spontaneous Speaking Mat are available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle
Also, my book Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, includes a procedure to assess all students in the class in just three minutes. It provides, for each of fifteen language functions such as socializing, asking for and giving information, and explaining, ten different speaking strategies to help students to improve. http://bit.ly/Tutbks. Also, my Formative Assessment Responding to Your Students, and Student Writing Through Formative Assessment books.