Hey everyone, and welcome back to #langchat! To start off your weekend, we have a fantastic and informative summary below on our discussion this week. Our topic was on formative assessment, specifically: How can formative assessments enhance instruction? Thanks to everyone for showing up and participating; we had a fun discussion with lots of great ideas shared. Special thanks to our moderators for the night, Kristy Placido (@placido) and Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach), for volunteering to help guide the conversation — never an easy feat with such passionate participants!

Using Formative Assessments to Enhance LearningWhat is Formative Assessment?

We assess students to understand what they have acquired from our instruction. The purpose of formative assessment is to adapt and accommodate our instruction based on student needs and readiness, to determine if we have achieved our goals and whether we can continue or should reteach the language (@Lauren_Scheller, @NinaTanti1, @cadamsf1).

Formative assessment guides us in many ways. It helps us to appropriately scaffold (@Lauren_Scheller) and provides feedback to us and to the students (@NinaTanti1). Use formative assessment to check for understanding and adjust your instruction based on what you’ve found.

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Do we grade formative assessments?

Often, formative assessments are not graded. We focus on qualitative rather than quantitative feedback. @docseiler usually doesn’t grade her student assessments; she chooses instead to focus on building a dialogue with students.

While we won’t usually grade formative assessments, we might want to consider tracking them to see trends and improvements (@placido).

How does formative assessment differ from summative (traditional) assessment?

At base, we use formative assessment to alter our instruction and guide us toward discovering what students need more of, as compared to traditional quizzes that often serve to see what students don’t know (@Lauren_Scheller). Formative assessment transforms thinking about grades or points to thinking about progress or acquisition of the language (@placido).

Often, summative assessment, which is used to summarize or assess the development of learners at a specific time, can be used to identify weaknesses that formative assessment can then build on. A handy contrast is to think of summative assessment as assessment of learning, while formative assessment is assessment for learning (Wikipedia).

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Formative Assessment Examples

If you’re looking for some specific examples of what you can do in class, check out these participant-suggested activities. We shared lots of great ideas and discussion on how to implement them in class.

Many participants like quick comprehension checks that are easy to implement in class, and students often enjoy them as well. Some examples we discussed are below. For more, see the Further Reading section below for some resources from @placido, or this #langchat summary on making kids comfortable with the immersion classroom.

  • @sraoconnor likes methods such as Traffic Lighting, where students hold up a colored traffic light to represent how much they understand, and 10 (or 5) Fingers Up, where students hold up a number of fingers to represent how much they get it.
  • @NinaTanti1 likes Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down to communicate whether students are comprehending.
  • @Lauren_Scheller uses temperature checks, where students describe their understanding in terms of temperature, from cold (don’t get it) to hot (no problem!).
  • @cadamsf1 uses mini whiteboards to assess students’ understanding by asking quick questions. Students hold up their whiteboards with names, and she can usually tell how much the class is following by the speed of responses. A cheap alternative to whiteboards: white plastic Dixie plates, plastic binder covers, splash boards from a home-improvement store or white paper between sheet protectors.

Some checks are a bit more detailed. Above, we focused on quickly checking comprehension. The below ideas can be used to assess what students need more of or are excelling at.

  • Try quick Google Voice calls recorded by students. Send a short text to the student afterward for feedback (@Lauren_Scheller). If students make the call during class, it’s often less prepared and more authentic (@NinaTanti1). You can still text feedback at home.
  • Try exit checks at the end of class: a small, written student assessment or question on the topic. It can be as simple as a short self-assessment checklist (@suarez712002).
  • Digital exit checks are great, too. Try Poll Everywhere, Socrative or Google Forms to get and discuss student responses quickly (@nnaditz). Wallwisher is another good medium for students to post notes, questions or portfolio comments (@cadamsf1).
  • @nnaditz likes to take exit checks further by collecting student responses and creating an activity modeling good responses, followed by responses that need some correction — mostly for common errors. Or pick a few and give to small groups at the beginning of next class to check (@Lauren_Scheller).
    • Quick tip: When collecting exit tickets, try checking them after class. Otherwise class can get bogged down. Also, skim through and look for understanding or common errors. You’re not grading these, and they’re meant to be a quick check (@placido).
  • @senorjordan has students write quizzes for him to take at the end of class. This helps him to see what he really drove home to the students during class.

For some suggestions of quick topics that work for the above-mentioned exit checks or fast Google Voice calls, try some of these:

  • Describe the purpose of (holiday) using seven of these ten words (@Lauren_Scheller).
  • Here’s a comic/image/video, call Google Voice and describe it in less than one minute (@placido).
  • My screen went black (or other simple scenario), what do I do? (@Lauren_Scheller).
  • Call Google Voice and describe two things that X character did in the story this week (@placido).

Formative assessment doesn’t have to be a specific activity or tool. Many participants prefer to assess their students while doing ordinary class activities, or to design activities that quickly assess student comprehension.

  • @Lauren_Scheller uses speed-dating activities and assesses students while they communicate interpersonally. She also uses quick Q and As and “whip arounds,” where students share and develop comments on a subject rapidly through the classroom.
  • When playing language games, @jas347 has each student’s opponent be the “miniprofesseur” who decides if the person is correct. This helps students to evaluate and teach each other.

Another effective formative assessment is to review past work to go over common mistakes. This is best when students can be guided to identify and correct the mistakes themselves.

  • @placido suggests taking examples of past student work (from a different class or year is best) and talking about it as a class.
  • Several participants like to take incorrect examples from students’ recent homework or quizzes and discuss and edit them as a class. When doing so, try telling students how many are wrong, but not which are wrong (@placido).
  • When testing students through summative assessment, @placido might encourage students to try the test again. This turns the summative assessment into a formative one. @nnaditz allows the same, after a tutoring session or otherwise demonstrating that they understand.

For online teachers or teachers using online resources, try some of these ideas:

  • @docseiler says that ongoing dialogue is very important when face-to-fact time is limited. Use Twitter, Skype, texts or email so students are comfortable enough to write or speak the language.
  • If teaching 1:1, try letting the student screenshare with you and explain what they are doing (@SrtaLisa). You can see and hear misconceptions and reteach the problem areas.

The above are great suggestions for formative assessments and quick comprehension checks, but keep in mind that any activity can shift to a formative assessment. Formative assessment is about the intent, not the activity (@placido). Try circling the room during any activity and listening for common mistakes. After the activity, feedback with the whole class (@Traciepod).

  • Take notes while circling; students will think you’re grading (@placido).
  • @Lauren_Scheller uses a seating chart with dry-erase names, and she tries to spend time assessing every student at least once a week.

If you’re interested in additional assessment ideas, check out this past #langchat summary on assessing individual students in class.

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Formative Assessment Tips

When implementing formative assessment in class, always remember that it’s about the students first (@tmsaue1). No matter the medium, the intent is to understand what students need so you can best adapt instruction to their requirements. You’re also aiming to get students to understand themselves what they need — i.e., what they know and don’t know (@NinaTanti1).

  • “I can” statements work wonderfully here.

Some students might not grasp the value of practice without points, which formative assessment is focused on. For such students, try giving them other tokens of achievement, such as Edmodo badges.

When assessing students, random selection is critical. Avoid volunteers as you’ll often get the same students. For some picking tips, try popsicle sticks with students’ names (@placido), index cards or ClassCards (for iPad), or the fruit machine random name picker from ClassTools.net.

Further Reading

@placido presented on formative assessments at the Michigan World Language Association last fall, and she shared this link for her handouts.

@placido recommends “A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades” if you’re interested in learning more about formative assessment.

@CalicoTeach recommends ACTFL’s new book, “Keys to Assessing Language Performance” by Paul Sandrock. There are many sample rubrics and tasks included.

Check out this page recommended by @placido on some activities to use to assess students formatively in the classroom.


Thanks again to everyone who participated this past Thursday! We had an insightful #langchat that was full of both great discussion and plenty of actionable ideas. If you missed the chat and want to read the full archive, check out our Google Doc.

As always, the discussion isn’t over. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter through the #langchat hashtag. If you have a suggestion for a future topic, please visit our wiki or use this form.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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Welcome back to #langchat, everyone! We hope you were able to join us for our Thursday night chat on communicative projects that also help students acquire tech skills, but if you were unable to, we’ve included a summary of the night’s discussion below.

As always, thank you to all the participants, and especially to our moderators for the night: Kristy (@placido), Don (@dr_dmd) and Diego (@DiegoOjeda66). Like last week, this week’s summary is stuffed to the gills with resources and activities. If your “Bookmark” tag couldn’t keep up last night, be sure to save this page, as we’ve listed dozens of participant-suggested and approved tools and websites.

Our chat focus was on communication and communicative projects, but participants shared a great deal of their favorite tech tools, especially Web 2.0 tools, that can be used in the world languages classroom to increase communication.

The Three Modes of Communication

Communication is more than just the exchange of messages between two people (interpersonal communication). We need to also think about the other two modes of communication: interpretive and presentational (@dr_dmd).

An example assignment that hits on all three modes from @cadamsf1: students read a news article in the target language (interpretive), post on Edmodo about their thoughts (presentational) and then comment on their classmates’ posts (interpersonal).

Advantages to Tech in the World Language Classroom

There are a lot of advantages to including technology in your classroom. We’ve discussed many in the past on #langchat, and participants suggested quite a few more this time around.

  1. Tech tools help students and teachers respect their own space and time (@DiegoOjeda66).
  2. Using tech tools fosters self-learning and collaboration at the same time (@DiegoOjeda66).
  3. Sometimes tech brings novelty to the “same old thing.” Variety is important in the classroom (@placido).
  4. Tech can be a motivator for students, especially with the current generation of tech-friendly children (@tonitheisen).
  5. By using tech tools, we’re providing students with skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives(@DiegoOjeda66).
  6. Tech tools improve interaction between students, teachers, parents and the community (@DiegoOjeda66).
  7. Tech makes it easy to bring authentic resources into the classroom due to the increased availability of communication with target language speakers and cultures.

Disadvantages to Tech in the World Language Classroom

There are several issues with using tech in the classroom, and participants did a wonderful job of highlighting these issues and how to solve them.

  1. The main difficulty with using tech in the classroom is not allowing the tool to overshadow students’ learning. As @DiegoOjeda66 says, there are lots of tech tools available today, but we need to be sure we have a learning goal with each tech that we use, rather than use it for the tool’s sake.
  2. Also, using tech in the classroom requires instruction time. Be sure to plan accordingly and to strive not to use too much time on instruction (@msfrenchteach). @docseiler advises picking a few tools and sticking with them to minimize tech taking over lesson time.
  3. Some students don’t have access to smartphones, iPads or even computers at home. Keep this in mind when assigning tech-based projects (@HJGiffin)[email protected]_Hildinger’s tech projects have longer due dates to give students ample time to visit a friend or the library and complete the assignment.

Useful Tech Tools for the World Languages Classroom

We’ve discussed tech and Web 2.0 tools with #langchat before, and if you haven’t received your free copy of the #langchat book on Web Tools for 21st Century World Language Classrooms, be sure to download it today! In addition, you might find our past summaries on Using Web 2.0 Tools in the Language Classroom and The Best Apps for World Languages useful.

Below we have a list of all the participants’ suggestions of tools, sites and software from our recent #langchat. If you think we should add something to the list, please feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear from you, and your colleagues would appreciate the suggestion!

Assigning tech

First, a quick note about assignments with tech in the classroom: when assigning technology in class, make sure you don’t overload students with tools. One possibility is the use of choice boards — some options use tech, some options don’t (@placido). Check out this choice board example from @placido. Another great suggestion is to give clear expectations and let students decide what tech — or any tech at all — to use to demonstrate learning.

Learning management systems

There are several learning management systems available that provide your classes with a secure site for use both in and out of class. Many of these systems mimic Facebook to increase student engagement, and they allow students to share information, discuss topics, turn in assignments and comment on others’ work — and more!

There are several popular learning management systems available:

      • Edmodo has long been a favorite of #langchat users.
      • Schoology is another site that’s very similar in concept, and a bit more tuned to Facebook.
      • @lindseybp uses Collaborize Classroom to allow her students to discuss topics and collaborate on projects. It also supports polling, debates and multimedia projects.
      • @madamewells previously used My Big Campus because of its message board.
      • Wikis have been discussed in detail in our Web 2.0 tools #langchat topic, but they are worth mentioning again as great project- and learning-management tools.
      • @cadamsf1 and @Traciepod uses Nicenet for class written discussion and managing learning. It’s a basic site, but free and effective.

@Sra_Hildinger’s students use Collaborize Classroom and wikis to communicate in Spanish with a class in California. Her students pick the topic, and both sides discuss it in the target language.

Writing practice

Many tech tools allow users to write or practice in the target language, often with native speakers. Some are education-based, while others are more authentic.

  • Livemocha is a site that allows native speakers to edit your writing and provide feedback in exchange for you helping others to learn your native language. The premium content also includes assistance with speaking (@HJGiffin).
  • For something a little different and a lot of fun, let students create their own comic strips and fill in the dialogue with ToonDoo — absolutely no drawing skill required (@cadamsf1). Comic Master and Make Beliefs Comix are great tools as well (@SraCasey). @madamewells uses Strip Generator.
  • Student blogging is both great written practice and an opportunity for interpersonal communication in the target language when students are asked to comment on others’ writing. Check out our previous #langchat summary on Web 2.0 Tools for some great free blog ideas for students to use.
  • MyFakeWall is a fun fake-Facebook wall generator that students can use to create the profile of a character from legend or history. Students can then creatively fill the character’s Facebook wall with interesting messages in the target language (@jas347).
  • We’ve discussed Wordle, a word-cloud-generating tool, several times in the past. @tiesamgraf likes to assign a wordle to students as homework and then use it as a writing or speaking prompt in class the next day.
  • Several participants mentioned wanting to try or having had success with ePals, Web-based penpals. Twitter and Twiducate are two other great tools for allowing students to practice writing and communicating with target-language speakers.
  • BombayTV2 is a fun video-making and subtitling tool that students can use to create their own target-language subtitles (@Sra_Hildinger).

Speaking practice

There are lots of great software, Web 2.0 and other speaking tools that are available to the 21st-century educator, and participants shared many of their favorites below. Many tools are similar, so it’s a good idea to never use more than one at a time lest you overwhelm your students. Some of the tools, such as Voki, have creative components attached that might be good to use occasionally with students to give them a break from their regular programs.

  • @SenoritaClark likes Voki, a speaking tool which uses interesting avatars, to motivate and engage even the shy students in class.
  • Many participants noted using Google Voice for speaking practice. @NinaTanti1 embeds her students’ Google Voice recordings on the class website so students can listen to themselves speak. @sonrisadelcampo stressed that using Google Voice allows you to see what areas your students need extra work on.
  • @sonrisadelcampo used tech for a communication activity when her students used VoiceThread to record themselves speaking, then sent it to several other countries. Many other participants enjoy using VoiceThread for oral discussion.
  • For Spanish classes, blaving — called the vocal social network — is an interesting tool similar to the speaking options above (@Sra_Hildinger).
  • @karacjacobs has been using SoundCloud recently to record students; it’s very easy to record and embed in blogs. It’s also an easy-to-use tool for searching for sound bites or music that are free to use under Creative Commons.
  • An app available for humorous speaking assignments is Talking Tom. @sonrisadelcampo recommends using Tom in bellringers to grab students’ attention and get the class started actively.
  • Audacity is a great software program that kids can use to record themselves and practice speaking (@madamewells).
  • Skype is another great software program that kids can use to practice speaking — with native speakers! Skype can also be used for writing practice. @gwalbrecht is using it to prepare her students for their trip to France in two weeks.

Discussion prompts

Lots of tech tools that appear to have no connection with the target language can be used as the prompt for an assignment or speaking activity. These tools are great for engaging your tech-friendly students, but be sure that the teaching and use of the tool don’t overshadow the project itself.

  • @SraCasey’s students love to use Photofunia to put their or the teacher’s faces into a favorite art work as a prompt, especially for units on art. She encourages students then to compare art and discuss the personal relevance.
  • Awkward Family Photos has good image prompts for students to use to create captions or other text (@tiesamgraf).


Several tools that don’t fit into other categories can be great for organizing or displaying projects. Check out these suggestions:

  • Wallwisher, Lino and Stixy are great tools for students to create a virtual notice board and fill it with images, videos, discussion or documents (@lindseybp).
  • goAnimate is a fun video-making tool that students love to work with (@cadamsf1).
  • Prezi is very popular among #langchat participants. This tool easily lets students create zoomable presentations incorporating text, images, audio and video. Glogster is a similar tool, but several participants expressed frustration at some of its recent changes.
  • PhotoPeach is a favorite among @Sra_Hildinger’s students. She gives them language structures to practice and students create a slideshow with text in the target language. The next day, students read their slides to the class and classmates ask questions.

Classroom management

@HJGiffin likes Soapbox for backchanneling in class. Students can use this tool to anonymously ask questions for the teacher, indicate their understanding of an area, respond to polls and several other activities. She uses it to make any activity into a communication activity.

For classroom exit polls or to find out what subjects are closest to students’ hearts, try the polling features of Edmodo or other learning management systems. Poll Everywhere and TodaysMeet are also excellent (@madamewells).

Assignment Ideas

When planning communicative projects, be sure to keep in mind the various advantages and disadvantages of tech listed above. Also, make the project as authentic as possible — when will students truly need the target language in a plane (@senoralopez)?

Participants were kind enough to share many of their communication-based projects and assignments below:

  • @placido’s classes learned about and listened to various legends, then made videos of the stories using PowerPoint and Windows Movie Maker. They also had Google Voice recordings of the legends spoken by native Spanish speakers.
  • For Google Voice, try assigning speaking activities to students by having them phone in to your number and describe a picture, answer a question, etc. (@placido). Two students working together can also call in on speaker phone and record a conversation.
  • @karacjacobs shared the details of a project she does in Spanish 1 using technology to further communication. Students create a public service announcement about healthy eating and lifestyle habits using iMovie and Google Docs.
  • Another project shared by @karacjacobs is this presentation where students had to show what they had learned about the movements in Chile using Prezi, video and Twitter. Here’s an example of the project when completed.
  • @madamewells uses video to allow students to create their own dialogue for a soap opera. She’ll play the video muted, and students decide on what is being said.
  • Check out this clothing project by @tonitheisen (French).
  • @tiesamgraf keeps a blog and posts quotes, videos or images and asks students to comment and interact with others’ comments. This is also a useful interpersonal activity for learning management sites like Edmodo, or wikis.
  • For a family unit, try having students create a family album, post on their wiki and then share in class. Afterward, students must present a classmate’s family (@dr_dmd).
  • For sports, ask students to create flipbooks on a native target-language athlete. Other students have to read them, then speak about one of the teacher’s choice (@dr_dmd).
  • @DiegoOjeda66 shared a few of his wiki-based activities:
    • The false story — The teacher writes a news story with some inaccuracies. Students read, research, then go to the wiki to fix the mistakes.
    • What do you think about… — The teacher posts “what do you think about…?” sentences. Students go to the wiki and answer.
    • What would happen if… — The teacher posts “what would happen if…?” sentences. Students go to the wiki and answer.
    • Grammar our way — Students go to wiki and explain a grammar concept in their own words and using their own examples.
  • And a few of his podcast projects:
    • The cool DJ — Students choose a singer or band and present their music and bio in the target language.
    • Our Spanish vocab and me — Students record a sentence where they use a new vocabulary word and share something about themselves.
    • Radio soap opera — Students write a script and record mini soap opera.
    • Interviews — Students interview other students who have taken on a famous person’s role.
  • To practice spontaneous speech, @sonrisadelcampo will give students various funny images found online and ask students what they would do or say in that scenario. @maestraVB flashes images on the screen and asks students to answer questions such as “What just happened? What’s going to happen? What will Person A do?”
  • @Sra_Hildinger’s students created how-to skits and videos to practice commands, and they had a blast while doing so. @cadamsf1’s students created videos on the subjunctive. Some created raps, others lectures — the choice on how to present was up to them.

Further Reading

The chat’s topic was primarily on communicative projects, though we discussed tech tools quite a bit. If interested in collaborating on projects, check out @dr_dmd’s Project-based learning in World Languages wiki.

Check out some of @cybraryman’s pages on using tech in the classroom:

Thank You!

As always, THANKS to everyone for participating on Thursday. The amount of resources and tools suggested and included above could fill hours of professional development; it’s hard to image you do it all in one hour!

If you have any questions about the chat or would like to add something that may have been missed, please feel free to comment below. Your colleagues would love to hear from you! You can also view the full archive here.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

We enjoyed a wonderful #langchat this past Thursday and discussed how the content of world language class can be personalized to motivate students and improve language acquisition. If you missed us, please be sure to check out the archive or catch the summary below.

Thanks to all of our participants for the night; we had a fantastic turnout and an incredibly fast-paced chat! Thanks especially to our moderators for the evening, Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) and Kristy Placido (@placido), but also to the rest of the #langchat team for showing up and participating: Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell), Don Doehla (@dr_dmd) and Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66).

Before we get started, a fair warning: Thursday’s #langchat discussion was truly sensational, and much useful information was shared and offered. As a result, this summary is a bit long; we recommend you grab a coffee and settle in for a while as there are lots of interesting resources. If you’re looking for a particular resource from the night, try Ctrl+F to get started (or Command + F on a Mac).

If you have any thoughts on the evening’s discussion or the coverage below, please feel free to join us in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!


What do we mean when we say “personalize the content”? In brief, @placido explains it as owning the content and relating it to our and the students’ lives. Students need to feel a connection to the material, and it’s our job as teachers to ensure this happens. When students feel connected to the material, they take ownership.

But it’s also important for us to have a connection. Not only does it improve our own motivation to have a stake in the content, but kids like to hear about their teachers’ lives.

A few quick examples, courtesy of @placido:

  • If reading a story in class, personalize the story by relating one of the characters to a student in the class and discussing their similarities.
  • When talking about startling situations (or any emotion!), ask students “What startles YOU? A spider? In the garden or in the bed?”

Personalization and differentiation

We’ve discussed differentiation on #langchat in the past, and the topic came up again on Thursday. Differentiation and personalization have a lot in common, although there are differences.

Differentiation involves adapting to students’ different learning styles (auditory, visual and kinesthetic) with different teaching methods. There is a bit of emphasis here on addressing the individual needs of the group.

Personalization involves engaging students with the content by bringing the content into their realms of interest. Whereas differentiation works in group settings, personalization involves individual students and appealing to those students’ interests.

A key difference is that the teacher differentiates (for students’ benefit), and students personalize their learning (@DiegoOjeda66).

Why Personalize Content

When students have a connection to the language, they take ownership of their learning (@dr_dmd). Taking ownership leads to students finding a reason to learn the new language (@DiegoOjeda66), and thus increases the numbers of students who go beyond “two years required.”

It’s our job as teachers to create a context in which students can come to the curriculum and internalize it, connect with it and use it (@dr_dmd).

Student participation and acquisition also increases with personalization (@sonrisadelcampo). The more students feel connected with the language, the more they are willing to share and use what they know.

How to Personalize Content

So you’re looking to increase personalization in your class? Great! Your #langchat colleagues had many wonderful suggestions on how to get started.

Get to know your students

First, get familiar. @NinaTanti1 says it helps to know personal things about students to use for question and answers, stories, etc. But it’s also important for students to know each other. @jklopp suggests that the more students know each other, the better personalization develops.

  • To do so, listen to your students and their stories. What subjects come up often? Making the effort to get to know them and care about them will increase their interest in you and your class (@TeriWiechart).
  • Try giving students a questionnaire at the beginning of the year to gauge their interests (@suarez712002). @DiegoOjeda66 gets students to share interests during the first week of class. @NinaTanti1 requires beginning-of-year introductions to include one bizarre fact about yourself — and of course she starts with herself!
  • @cadamsf1 uses morning visits with students and individual speaking assessments to get to know students.
  • @darcypippins has students make animotos with pictures of friends, family and pets to show to class and talk about as an introduction.
  • At the beginning of the year, @DiegoOjeda66 gives students an easy group assignment with the intention of eavesdropping on their conversations.
  • To increase students’ familiarity with each other, @placido frequently changes groups. @DiegoOjeda66 changes the seating chart every two weeks. The Fruit Machine from ClassTools.net is useful here (@NinaTanti1).

Note: We discussed teacher-student boundaries on shared information, especially with younger teachers. Generally, the closer you are to the student’s age, the more things you might not want to share. Still, feel free to share the zanier elements of your life for students to get to know. The closer relationship goes a long way toward motivating your students.

Use your relationship

Once you’re familiar with students, bring them and their interests into the class. Incorporate students into stories, talk about topics that they care about and choose authentic content that appeals to them. Making the language and content relevant engages students and increases their acquisition. As they learn and feel comfortable, they’re more willing to interact and use the language in class.

  • For example, if you have athletes in class, bring up sports. Create a character in a story that closely resembles one of the student athletes. Introduce target-language coverage of the Super Bowl or another sporting event that students are interested in.
  • Some classes might be a bit shy to discuss themselves in the open at first. For these classes, have a class imaginary character to use to bring good conversation. As students get to know each other better, introduce the students into stories and activities (@jklopp).
  • To get started and put kids at ease, always bring up your own quirks and traits first. @NinaTanti1 talks about her own crazy family life so that kids feel more comfortable sharing their stories.
  • Use prompts and other content that appeals to your students. @placido obtained a life-sized cutout of Jacob from the Twilight series to enthrall her freshman girls.

Personalizing vocabulary can be challenging at first, but participants shared some great ideas to get you started.

  • One possible first step is to remove the vocabulary “requirement.” As @SECottrell mentions, language is a human tool — we find it when we need it. Requiring students to memorize certain words for an assessment could be considered unnatural. Of course, some words are necessary for all learners, so perhaps this approach is best for older or more advanced students. At the same time, ask a student what clothes he wears, and he will learn shirt and shoes.
  • Let students be responsible for their vocabulary. You can teach the basics and allow them to learn the extension words on their own (@jas347) or not require that students learn vocabulary that doesn’t appeal to them, such as boys learning “purse” (@muchachitaMJ). @SECottrell gives students vocabulary lists to help, but doesn’t require or assess any of it.
  • PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers) is a great tool for practicing personalized vocabulary. To do it, just ask personal questions using the vocabulary (@placido).
  • @gateaugirl brought up how to assess vocabulary if you’re not directly teaching it. One way around this is to not assess vocabulary at all; assess performance and communication. Students acquire vocabulary to perform tasks that they want to do, so try requiring those tasks as assessment (@SECottrell).
    • An example: You’re packing for a trip to visit a friend overseas. It’s winter here, summer there. What do you pack?

Introduce choice and creativity

Personalized education is a student-driven curriculum (@DiegoOjeda66); choice is thus an important element of personalization. When students choose their own content, they connect with and take ownership of it. Teach students to be aware of what works for their learning and then give them options (@mmebrady).

  • Real-life, authentic content provides lots of opportunities for personalized learning through choice and topics students care about (@msfrenchteach). @SECottrell asks, if students need to read a news article in the target language, why should the teacher choose which one?
  • For projects, allow delivery in different formats and let students choose — poster, glog, prezi, popplet or empressr? (@mmebrady).
  • To give every student a chance when choosing a topic for an activity or story, have students suggest topics, then draw from a hat (@SECottrell).
  • Allow students to choose content, but also how to show that they know it through choosing assessment or presentation methods (@MmeLayman).
  • @KellyJHoopes’ school has placed a lot of emphasis on choice this year. When giving assignments, teachers now like to give 2-3 options that students can choose from.
    • To do so, try a RAFT table of options; students choose from each row (@dr_dmd). To ensure students get adequate practice, put restrictions on activities such as one reading, one listening and one speaking exercise (@mmebrady). Also try adding a “free space” where students add their own assignment (@mmebrady).
    • Tic-tac-toe and choice boards with columns of different points are also great tools. Check out @placido’s choice board for the “Piratas” novel.

Also, give students plenty of opportunity to display their personalities, not just when choosing topics or assignments. Allow lots of creative assignments or student-created materials.

  • Edmodo and Schoology are fun Facebook-like systems that students can get interested in.
  • @dr_dmd uses wikis to display students’ work, including a portfolio and a history of instruction. The front page of each student’s wiki is a blank slate for their own creative display. Google sites are a great alternative to wikis (@cadamsf1).


As some examples to get you going, participants introduced lots of personalized activities that they have done in class. Read through this list and choose one to try next week, or bookmark and revisit the list regularly for new inspiration.

  • As mentioned before, when discussing a topic, always bring the students into it. If sports, what’s their favorite sport? If emotions, what causes them to feel this way? If money, what would they do with $100 today?
  • @SraSpanglish likes to do a family tree activity: students’ ideal family trees versus real family tress.
  • Ask kids to draw a picture of what they did last night, then share with the class (@darcypippins)
    • Non-threatening variant: ask students what they didn’t do last night and wait for creative answers (@sonrisadelcampo).
  • Ask kids who they would want to be stuck in an elevator with and why (@darcypippins).
  • Several teachers mentioned that blogging is a great personalization tool. Blog yourself and require students to follow, or ask students to blog (or guest blog on your own).
  • Look at how you can take legends and fairy tales and compare them to modern situations that impact students. @placido took a legend about jealousy and gossip and compared it to jealousy and gossip on Facebook — students were hooked!
  • Try starting class asking what’s new in the target language, you might be surprised what students are capable of saying when talking about themselves. @maestraVB’s class responded recently about the school dance this weekend, and the beginning of class was spontaneous target-language discussion about something the students are really interested in.
    • Also talk about future plans for vacation or the weekend — review future and personalize at the same time (@YasmineAllen).
  • Let students create vokis about a theme in class, then share with classmates over Edmodo or another site.
  • You can’t personalize all themes, but you can personalize the vocabulary and small concepts within the theme (@placido). For a clothing theme, try having students (courtesy of many participants!):
    • describe different “looks” (casual, professional, etc.) and what they prefer;
    • let students perform a fashion makeover of a brave student — or yourself! –;
    • ask students to do a fashion show (or record it for shy classes) — works with all ages and both genders when you let kids choose any clothing, including sports gear;
    • suggest that students describe the clothing of an actor or celebrity they really like.
  • Some themes are more difficult or too touchy to personalize, such as immigration. Still, there are some times when it might work. For example, @CalicoTeach suggests an immigration exercise of imagining students live under X conditions — would they go or stay?
  • For younger students, personalizing the content is more challenging because they lack many of the language skills advanced students might use to choose their own learning. Still, many opportunities exist. TPRS, for example, is a great choice for lower level students. When asking questions, start with yes/no and forced-choice questions, then move to open-ended (@placido).
    • Asking open-ended questions is also how you determine the words that lower-level students need (@SECottrell). At first, obviously beginning students can’t answer with the target language, but they’ll learn through your repetition.

Further Reading

As always, #langchat participants have more than just great discussion to offer every week. There are also loads of resources shared for you to go over when you have time. Below are some of your colleagues’ suggestions.

  • @mmebrady shared several pages worth of resources on personalization here and here.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 suggests Ben Slavic’s website for information on personalization. Dig around, and there should also be a sample questionnaire you can use for students to get to know them at the beginning of the year.
  • We discussed using wikis to provide choice and showcase students’ portfolios on Thursday. If you’re considering using a tool such as Wikispaces, check out this introduction video suggested by @rachelcinis. Another free place to get easy-to-use wikis is PBworks (@dr_dmd).

Thank You!

To summarize, personalizing your content involves getting to know your students and using that knowledge to make the language relevant to their lives. As @MmeLayman mentioned, the most important change she’s made in her years of teaching was to get to know her students and let them get to know her. The difference is incredible.

After getting comfortable, let kids own their learning by making choices and discussing topics they care about. Include students in stories and discussions to increase their involvement.

And…WOW! What a fantastic #langchat. Apologies for a long summary this week, but we had so much useful information that it was impossible to keep it any shorter!

Thank you to all the participants. Your contributions to the #langchat professional development each week means so much to your colleagues, and we want to thank you for your efforts and suggestions.

Please feel free to comment below if you have anything to add; your colleagues would love to hear from you! See you next week on #langchat at 8 p.m. EST.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

If you missed us on Thursday, we held a very interesting #langchat on how storytelling supports language acquisition in the classroom. We primarily discussed how both TPRS and comprehensible input combine to increase students’ acquisition of the target language.

It was an exciting #langchat, and we want to thank everyone for coming out and contributing! Thanks especially to Kristy Placido (@placido) and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) for moderating the chat. Below you’ll find a summary of our discussion, followed by a space to leave comments and continue the chat — please feel free to take advantage, and we hope to hear from you!

TPRS and Comprehensible Input

Comprehensible input involves students listening to and reading the target language and teacher to ensure comprehension happens as much as possible. Comprehensible input is key to TPRS, or Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling and sometimes called Total Physical Response Storytelling due to often emphasizing gestures and movement to tell a story and increase retention.

Storytelling and TPRS are effective teaching methods as they rely on repetition and comprehensible input to get students to acquire the language. They’re also engaging. Students love stories, and they tell stories every day — “Did you hear what Jenny said?” or “Did you watch X last night?” (@SECottrell).

Telling a story by itself does not increase acquisition. It is the repetition of connected ideas and the personalization of storytelling that does (@jklopp). The foundation of the methodology is students receiving information that is comprehensible.

How to Use TPRS in the World Language Classroom

It’s easy to believe that TPRS and related methodologies should be the focus of the lesson, but at heart they are simply tools that you should use and take inspiration from. For example, @SECottrell says TPRS revolutionized her classroom several years ago, but she takes elements from traditional TPRS and caters it to her own teaching style by including less translation, faster speech and more patterning.

What is generally important to using TPRS in the classroom?

Personalization of the stories is essential. Relate the plot to the students in some way, or better allow them to do so. Students really enjoy telling and listening to stories about themselves, and it’s a fantastic way to increase participation and acquisition.

Asking questions is another key element of TPRS and is the principal motivator to get your kids speaking. You have to continuously ask questions. Essentially, you’re “asking” a story, asking for input from the students. Asking for their input is also a way to personalize the story and get the students to take ownership. Ideally, you might set up the pattern of the story, but the story itself should not be rehearsed — students must provide the input and direction.


Assessments in TPRS classes shouldn’t differ too much from regular classrooms. @placido and @profeguerita use performance-based assessments and @jklopp checks comprehension for grades. @SECottrell provided links to her level 1 assessments done while she was using TPRS: test and reading test.

Getting Started

Participants brought up the question of how to get started using TPRS, and it’s a good one. Most experienced TPRS teachers recommend finding a workshop in your area to attend. If this isn’t an option, check in your area for comprehensive input or TPRS teachers to see if any would mind if you observe their classes — many would love to help out.

If you’d like further resources, check out the Reading section below.

When Should You Use TPRS?

The short answer is whenever it benefits your topic of choice. Typically, TPRS is used to teach and familiarize students with three phrases in a class. When deciding on the topic for the lesson, try thinking of the concept that you wish to teach and then think of a story or situation that one might use that language in (@maestroallison). Plan the main grammar structures and general focus of the story.

  • Planning is important, but over time you will require it less and less, say participants who have used TPRS in the classroom for several years.
  • Also, plans change. Be prepared for your students to take the story in a direction you weren’t initially expecting, and roll with it. It’s your job to keep bringing the target structures into the story (@jklopp).

Several participants asked about using TPRS in a typical textbook class. This is most definitely possible. As @jklopp says, figure out the main structures of your unit and create a story! It’s important to remember that, at base, TPRS is not a class style; it’s a teaching tool like many others.

@ ProfesoraMedina likes to use TPRS when introducing new vocabulary. She likes the repetition that TPRS provides her students, and uses the circling method, which involves a repetitive way to ask questions around the same sentence or fact. The circling method increases students’ acquisition through repetition.

  • A normal sequence for circling questions might involve asking yes/no questions, then either/or, then open-ended, all about the same material (@profeguerita). For example, Jeffrey went shopping at Walmart — Who went shopping? Where did Jeffrey go shopping? What did he do at Walmart? (@SECottrell)


The suggestions and comments above are essentials to using TPRS and comprehensible input in the classroom, but participants suggested a few tips and tricks that they use to tailor TPRS to their teaching styles.

  • @msfrenchteach lets her students play class instruments while telling stories. It adds dramatic effect to the stories and is fun!
  • For French classes, @msfrenchteach will also teach her students about the African oral traditions and how there is a lot of repetition and music.
  • To encourage students to spontaneously contribute or to respond when asking them questions, provide them with lots of prompts. @tiesamgraf likes to provide or have students provide wordles, collages, word webs or anything else that helps them to develop or continue a thought.
  • To get inspiration for stories that appeal to students, @sonrisadelcampo uses Ben Slavic’s questionnaire. Students give both real and made-up answers, all great material.
  • @IteachHola uses stories with students as the stars plus visuals — students remember the oral and visual input together.
  • @SECottrell recommends keeping the stories short and interspersed with other activities to keep kids interested and actively participating for the duration.
  • @RonieWebster really enjoys using legends in class as a way to combine both language and culture.
  • TPRS often relies on gestures and actions by the teacher to aid in students comprehension, and there’s no reason that the students shouldn’t adopt the same gestures. @msfrenchteach likes teaching students to act while storytelling to get more students engaged and listening.
  • @maestraVB likes to throw in an unusual detail to a story from time to time to surprise students.
  • Earlier we discussed how personalizing the story was essential to getting student ownership. Another tactic, especially for younger learners, is to make the story a little crazy, which really boosts students’ memory of the story. A student visiting Antarctica in search of a blue penguin is more memorable than the teacher going to the grocery store.
  • A couple participants asked what to do if you have trouble finishing a story in one class session. Some participants like to end the story at that; the next day is a new story. Others like to tell the same story over several days. In the latter case, always briefly retell the story up to that point to remind students.
  • Several participants draw the stories that they tell in class to aid student comprehension. Ben Slavic, who was discussed several times, has asked students to draw stories from time to time as well.
  • If you’re struggling with giving students exposure to the 1st person, consider adding dialogues to your stories (@placido).

Problems with TPRS in the World Language Classroom

As many participants shared, discussing TPRS and actually implementing it in the classroom can be two totally different things. A few participants mentioned trying TPRS but find a lack of initial success disheartening. @placido stresses that it takes time, and it gets easier with time — it’s a big learning curve for such a “simple” concept, and it requires a good deal of training and patience to get comfortable.

Some students might roll their eyes, too. @profeguerita has been using TPRS successfully for several years, and she says that the only complaint she has is that it’s sometimes hard to convince students that what you’re doing is actually important.

At higher levels you might experience more resistance than at lower levels. Some participants mentioned using TPRS mostly in the younger classes, but several others still use the techniques in advanced courses — they just tone down the silly subjects.

Further Reading

Participants shared lots of great ideas and activities, but also many fantastic resources for further reading. Check out some of their suggestions here:

Thank You!

As always, a warm thank you to all of our participants who showed up to share their experiences with our topic, as well as those who came to learn from their colleagues. If you’d like to read the full archive, check out our Google Docs tag.

The discussion is never over on #langchat — please feel free to add a comment below about our topic, or tweet the hashtag to get in touch with all your world language colleagues!

See you next Thursday at 8 EST!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.