Pasando el mate: 3 steps to graded conversation practice

This activity accomplishes many goals across the levels in a language class. It encourages natural student-to-student interaction, gives teachers a way to assess interpersonal communication progress, and creates a positive environment for hesitant speakers. Most importantly, it builds a sense of community in the classroom.

What it looks like: The class is arranged in a large circle. Students pass the mate from one to the other until it arrives at the next designated conversation leader for the day, Isabel.

Isabel says what’s on her mind. “I’m worried about my biology test.” (*Note: All are speaking in Spanish, but this blog will translate their statements for other language teachers.)

Others start holding up their cards to be called on. Isabel picks Tyler who says, “I have that test too and studied all weeke

“I studied too but I’m not ready,” says Isabel before calling on Matt.

“Is it a hard class?”

“It’s not so hard, but we learn a lot of information fast and the tests are very difficult,” replies Isabel. She looks around to see if anyone else has a question or comment, then starts the chant, “Mate-Mate-…” and the rest of the class joins in as it’s passed to the next leader for the day, “pasando el mate” (chanted to the tune of Bate Bate Chocolate).

While this is going on, the teacher is recording data, but sometimes takes a turn in the conversation (by raising her own name card).

Setting it up:

  1. Split the roster into four or five groups and assign a color to each group. Give each student a name card that indicates the group color. Just having them write their names using the marker color of their group works fine.
  2. Print your selection of “Bombilla” prompts and put these in a Mate. Students can select these if they need inspiration.
  3. Share Yerba Mate culture with the class and show them the scoring rubric. Maybe bring in some of the tea for them to try?

It is very important to show and explain the rubric before this activity is begun. This creates a safety net for hesitant speakers. They know that a 6/10 or 7/10 is not good, but it won’t have as great an effect on their class average as would a 0/10. Likewise, knowing exactly what to do in order to score higher will motivate the majority of the students to speak more. The rubric and grading details are explained below.

Make it happen:

Let’s assume that on day one, red group leads the conversation. This means the mate is passed from student to student until it arrives at someone with a red card, who will lead the first conversation. It is then passed to the next student with a red card, and so on. In a 30 student class divided in 5 groups, this would mean 6 mini-conversations.

Each day, a new group leads. They are given a score after all groups have had a turn, four or five sessions.

If a student is not capable of speaking in that moment when it is their turn to lead, don’t force it. Say, “That’s okay, we’ll go on for now. Just pay attention to the other conversations and add your comments when you’re ready.” For their data, write a P for Pass.

Getting the data:

Write data based on the level at which students are speaking. I find that having the students call on one another using their name cards allows me to focus better on writing the data.

*Note: These numbers are data, not points.

  • 1 = Presenting a topic to the class in one statement.
  • 2 = interacting with what others say by making a relevant comment.
  • 3 = interacting with what others say by asking for more information.
  • 4 = extending a conversation
  • + is added to any number to indicate good elaboration and/or variety.
  • P = passed the mate without speaking
  • X = off-task behaviors
  • 0 = use of English


In the above conversation, Isabel receives a 1 for presenting, then a 2 for commenting back to Tyler, and a 2+ for answering Matt with details. Tyler receives a 2 for his comment and Matt receives a 3 for his question.


Using the rubric:

This is my class rubric. I use it for almost everything they produce in class, written or spoken.

After this activity has been done four or five times, depending on the number of groups, everyone will at least have a 1 or P. A student who has not said anything (just a P) struggles with speaking and the score is 6/10. A student with only a “1” is trying, but is not meeting the minimum expectations of this activity (interpersonal communication) and the score is 7/10.

To earn a score of 8/10, we have to see data evidencing interpersonal communication skills. Data that includes 2’s and/or 3’s is evidence of meeting the minimum requirements.

A score of 10/10 is not possible if there are also X’s and/or 0’s, which have the potential to bring any grade down.

Make students aware that:

  • Although another group is leading the conversation, everyone has opportunity to speak.
  • If they are absent on the day their group leaves the conversation, they need to be sure to interact and other conversations before the grading is complete.
  • This is a safe space, meaning everyone is expected to encourage one another.

How I work it in:

I have four different warm ups that I use to start class. I cycle them through each quarter. For me, this activity is the first one we do in each quarter.

The hard part is that you never really know how long it will take. Sometimes you’ll find it necessary to move it along and other times you’ll need to add to the conversation to keep it going.

I’ve considered allotting a specific amount of time for the activity, like 20 minutes. If not all members of the group get to present one day, I’ll take a couple of minutes to ask what they would like to share before we wrap up, or I’ll tell them to have something prepared to present before the next group starts next class.

If it finishes before the 20 minutes, I’ll ask who else would like to prompt a conversation, regardless of group color. If nobody does, I’ll prompt one. I find the best prompts mention an upcoming event, like a new movie coming out or are you season finale or the opening of a local attraction. These always seem to get the most participation.

People often ask me what level this is designed for. I have used it with level 2, level 4, and an AP class. In any level, just think about what it looks like when students do not meet expectations, when they meet them, and what it looks like when they exceed them.

Let me know!

Try it out and let everyone know how it goes in the comments. Share what works best for your class.

4 thoughts on “Pasando el mate: 3 steps to graded conversation practice

  1. Pilar frey says:

    HOLA Muchisimas gracias por compartir esta actividad
    El enlace a “mate” no se puede abrir. ?Donde mas puedo encontrarlo?
    Gracias de nuevo
    Sra Frey

    1. Val says:

      Thanks for letting me know. I did some site updates yesterday. I’ll figure out what’s going on and reply again before tonight. šŸ˜‰

  2. Val says:

    Ah, I understand now. I can see why you thought the link was incorrect. It’s linked to a shopping page of the “mate”, but I did that intentionally, for those readers who don’t have one or don’t know what it is. I’m not endorsing any particular shop and so I just linked to the page of various shops. šŸ™‚

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