Despite the occasional article, in my opinion trivia has not gotten its full due as an excellent source of content for teaching conversation and oral communication in the FSL/FLE classroom. I present a rationale for utilizing trivia to teach conversation, communicative language and the correct teaching approach.
By its very nature, the first reason for using trivia is that it leads to the asking and answering of questions. For this reason, it is ideal for teaching conversation.The second reason for using trivia is that it can be like a breath of fresh air in conversation classes. Much speaking practice that takes place in conversation classes, at least at the elementary and intermediate levels, is focused on developing the learners’ ability to talk about themselves, for example, their families, experiences, likes, and dislikes. Considering that these topics are common in conversation outside of the classroom, there is certainly nothing wrong with this. However, learners can reach a point when they get tired of talking about themselves. Switching the topic to trivia can help avoid this situation and liven up the class.
As any teacher who has learned a foreign language already knows, it is generally much easier to talk about oneself than other topics. Using trivia in the classroom can help learners go beyond talking about themselves. As Celce/Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) point out,just because learners are able to produce questions such as How are you? and Where are you from? without difficulty does not necessarily mean they have mastered the intricacies of question formation; rather, it is possible they have simply memorized these questions as lexical units. Questions about trivia will help steer learners away from these more familiar questions. A third reason for using trivia-based activities is that they introduce a wide range of topics into the classroom, which can lead to free conversation. Encouraging risk taking can also be accomplished using trivia-based materials. Learners who lack confidence in their language ability may have a great deal of confidence in their knowledge of history, sports, or pop music.
Accordingly, they may be more willing to risk answering a question on one of these topics. If they do so in the target language, even if only by uttering a simple one- or two-word answer, there is a good chance that their confidence in their ability to communicate in the target language will increase. Finally, in the field of second and foreign language education, there has been growing interest in developing learners’ language awareness (LA).
Advocates of LA believe that the more learners know about how language works, the better equipped they will be to deal with its inherent complexities. This applies equally to first/native and second/foreign language education. However, it can also be worthwhile to introduce LA activities at the elementary and intermediate levels. More specifically, using trivia content as part of an LA activity can be a very effective way to improve learners’ language awareness. The following section includes examples of games and activities that utilize trivia content to foster language awareness in FSL and FLE students.