Hello everyone and welcome back to #langchat!

Thanks to everyone for joining us this week. Our topic was centered on how to create student groups to support communication skills. We had an excellent turnout and a fast-paced discussion, and participants shared a wealth of useful tips, activity ideas and resources. Thanks especially to our moderators for the evening, Don Doehla (@dr_dmd), Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Kristy Placido (@placido).

If you missed the discussion, check out the summary below and feel free to join us in the comments section. Your colleagues would love to hear from you!

Grouping Strategies

We group students in class to allow communicative opportunities in a friendly, team atmosphere. Especially in large classes, it’s difficult for every student to get an opportunity to speak. Groups are great chances to get kids speaking with each other. @dr_dmd has classes of 36 students, and he finds that a well-designed group takes away a lot of the pressure. Without groups, it’s challenging to get around to all the students.

Participants’ preferred methods of grouping students for activities vary. Some participants mostly prefer to group students randomly, while others prefer to be more deliberate in their group compositions. @dr_dmd believes the most important aspect of forming a group is fostering a sense of community and showing students that everyone belongs, is important and has a right to learn. @SECottrell believes that an important consideration for groups is frequent group composition changes in order to maximize acquisition.

@placido usually randomizes groups, but she mentioned that sometimes grouping students of similar ability levels can lower their anxiety about speaking. She’ll also sometimes put her quickest students together so they don’t get tired of being “the tutor.” @MmeLayman also groups by similar ability, but she likes to mix in other students of varying ability who are willing to help others.

@SECottrell asked when participants might consider grouping students of low ability levels together. Several participants mentioned they would do so when they have the time to give them focused attention. Other participants mentioned putting lower-level students together with average students, but that lower-level students with advanced students might result in the advanced students doing all the work to make sure it’s correct. Low levels together is probably only best when reteaching or when other groups can work well on their own.

@profesorM usually groups randomly, but he sometimes lets students pick their partners. He sits student by ability levels, high-ability students next to low-ability students, to encourage mixing. @MmeLayman also allows students some choice so students can talk about similar interests. Several participants mentioned that they find that friends working together can do highly motivated work. Other participants mentioned that students will always pick the same groups if given the choice, so they like to avoid this strategy. As @mmebrady mentions, however, letting students choose from time to time can also be a nice gesture of goodwill to students.

To help her decide which students to put together, @MmeLayman gives all students a survey asking questions about their comfort in the target language, using technology, etc. Check out her Google Forms survey on her blog.

Group Durations

How long do you keep groups organized? Many participants only group students by the activity, but @RonieWebster runs the same groups for four weeks at a time. She does quite a bit of team building during that time to encourage strong groups and grow the class as a whole. All @dr_dmd’s units incorporate projects, so he keeps students together for the length of a unit and then switches with the next project, about every 6 weeks.

When changing groups, @RonieWebster also switches students’ locations in the room around. This is like starting a new school year, and keeps the atmosphere fresh and exciting.

Seating Tips

Several participants mentioned configuring students’ seating to encourage mixing for groups and other activities. For example, @profesorM often allows students to pick their partner or group, but he mixes students of different ability levels when plotting a seating chart to encourage mixing. He changes seating every quarter.

@placido likes to give students some choice in seating while still maintaining control on the group composition. She assigns students to tables but allows them to pick their seat at the table.

On the other end of the spectrum, @SECottrell switches student seats every day. She uses name tents and mixes them up before class. This is effective because if students don’t like their seating arrangement, they know that they will move the next day and so don’t fret about it too much.

When it comes to rows vs. tables or other grouped seating, many participants seem to prefer not using rows when possible. If using rows, several participants like to have students sit across from each other, not looking at the teacher. @dwphotoski likes a horseshoe shape to allow plenty of room for acting in the center.

Several participants praised Kagan’s 4-desk table groups as being a great group size and way of organizing the classroom.

Controlling Groups

Controlling students once they’re in groups can be a challenge, especially in large and communicative classes. Groups are by nature communicative, which is great, but teachers need to make sure that all communication is in the target language!

Many participants handle this by walking around and listening in on groups as often as possible. Some participants like to do activities with quickly shifting questions or topics and spend one question with each unit.

To keep kids accountable, @SECottrell gives students a deliverable that they must come up with at the conclusion.

Group Activities

What activities do you like to use in groups? As @placido mentioned, groups are better tailored to communicative, reading and output activities more than input activities. @SECottrell likes that groups are good practice with a small audience before trying something with the whole class.

Some great participant-suggested group activities:

  • @Sra_Hildinger’s students enjoy creating dialogues and presenting to the class.
  • Another favorite of @Sra_Hildinger’s students is Sentence Relay. In this game, there are 12 total sentences, and students get a new sentence by getting the previous one correct. The first team to finish all 12 sentences wins.
  • @placido enjoys using the Think-Pair-Share activity for pair discussion.
  • @Sra_Hildinger recently gave advanced students sentences from a story they are going to read and asked them to put them in correct order.
  • @dr_dmd likes to use cloze speeches with early students.
  • @RonieWebster presents vocabulary from an upcoming reading and asks groups to discuss and predict the topic or ideas.
  • @Sra_Hildinger also assigns a communicative drawing activity where students describe their houses, a monster, their families, etc. to the group or partner, and the other students must draw it.
  • For rapidly changing pair work, @dr_dmd likes Inside-Outside Circle. At the buzzer, each circle shifts in the opposite direction and the question changes.
  • @profesorM has success with a dice activity groups of six. Groups had to come up with 10 sentences for top marks.
  • @dr_dmd uses paired question-and-answer activities based off the story from a TPRS lesson. One student has odd questions, his or her partner has even answers.
  • @Sra_Hildinger recently saw a vocabulary activity where students are given three to four vocabulary cards and are asked to draw/write a story using them in groups. Then present to the class.
  • A fun group activity from @placido: cut up lines from a song, then kids put in order while listening to the song.
  • For an intra-group activity, @dr_dmd asks groups to create their own comics using pictures only, then they present to another group by telling the story.
  • @Sra_Hildinger’s students really enjoy flashcard races right after a vocabulary introduction. One student flashes to several others, and the fastest student to respond keeps the card.
  • @placido also enjoys showing students a scene from a movie in PowerPoint (while watching a movie on your computer, “Print Screen” and save the image). Students discuss the scene in groups or pairs.
  • @Sra_Hildinger is eager to try putting students in groups to dub a small portion of a movie using Voice Thread.
  • An easy Google Voice pair work activity from @placido: have two students call your Google Voice number and have a conversation using the cellphone as the mic. You can listen to the conversation later.
  • For a digital communicative activity, @dr_dmd likes to use TodaysMeet, a closed Twitter-like chatroom.
  • @dr_dmd recommends creating a Pinterest with pictures of many related things and embed the Pinterest on a wiki. Students then discuss the items in groups.
  • @PalmertonGerman uses the Random Reporter activity to keep kids on their toes and encourage team-building. In the activity, the teacher assigns a number to every member of a group, then asks a question of the group. Students discuss and prepare answers together, then the teacher selects a random number. That student must present the group’s answer.
  • @mmesidle used Twitter for group vocabulary exercises. One kid per team tweets responses to visual cues the teacher provides, and then the tweetroll is displayed to the class and discussed.
  • @dr_dmd suggests holding a digital group chat using Edmodo. Create a group discussion on Edmodo and students discuss at home or in class. You have a record of everything said and can give feedback through the group.

Further Reading

Check out this blog post from @SECottrell on her communicative seating arrangements.

Throughout our discussion Thursday, participants praised Kagan’s seating and group-structure ideas. For the monthly Kagan e-magazine as well as lots of other useful information, check out Kagan Online.

PBL in WL and #langchat News is out through @dr_dmd’s Paper.li. Check it out here.

Thank You!

Once more, thank you to all our participants this past Thursday. We had an amazing #langchat with many great resources shared, and your contributions are very much appreciated!

If you missed the chat and would like to read the full archive, please check out our Google Docs page. And be sure to join us next week as we continue to discuss pressing issues in world language education.

#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.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to #langchat! We had an interesting discussion last week on Twitter, and we’ve included a detailed summary below for those of you who may have missed the chat. Our topic for the evening was how to support students motivated by grades in a society that expects grades for everything.

Thank you to all our participants for the evening, and a special thanks to our moderators, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Don Doehla (@dr_dmd). If you weren’t able to participate but wanted to, please feel free to comment below.

What’s So Bad About Grades?

@SECottrell posed the question: what is so bad about grades? What do participants think about grades in today’s classroom?

Several participants expressed their beliefs that grades are nothing more than artificial constructions to replace real, constructive feedback. @jas347 lamented that often grading feels more like pointing out what students don’t know than what they do.

@SECottrell dislikes the typical grading system because many grades are just arbitrary numbers that don’t represent anything students have learned, such as participation grades or exit tickets.

Why Are Grades Essential?

Many scholarships and other tuition aids are based on student grades, which causes students and parents to stress about receiving high marks. Several participants expressed regret that grades are tied to such awards.

Because the system is such, students are now motivated by grades and try to achieve the As that they need to satisfy parents and get scholarships. This leads to students who don’t pay attention to their proficiency levels or improving abilities. Instead, students look for the letter grade. Some students also shy away from more advanced courses for fear of damaging their grade point average.

Working with Students Motivated by Grades

Many students are motivated by the current grading system. They quest for the A at all times, and get involved in the class when the grading system is clear and easy to understand. How do we support these students?

Several participants mentioned that they try to motivate students with other strategies in order to take the focus off the grade and encourage students to continue their studies into advanced courses. @placido believes that relationships motivate students better than grades ever will. @dr_dmd adds that engaging kids is very important. This will cause students to be less motivated by grades and more by creative opportunities.

Providing students with choices in which assignments to work on goes a long way toward increasing student motivation. Several participants mentioned that they’ve seen remarkable increases in student motivation when students are permitted to choose from several different projects.

  • Participants cautioned that care should be taken when offering students choices, though. Try not to offer any “cop out” choices that students might choose. Focus on varying activities based on complexity, not on difficulty (@trescolumnae).

Students who are motivated by grades might get frustrated by assignments and projects with a minimal focus on grades. If they can’t see that the activity will impact their grade, they’re not motivated to work on it. To get around this, @placido has a lot of honest talks with her students. She’ll explain why they’re working on a project, what they hope to achieve and how it will impact their future language skills.

Students also occasionally complain about grades that they receive. This is especially prevalent when teachers change the system and attempt grading systems different from the norm. Many participants expressed that they avoid complaints by ensuring that they have good rubrics and tie the grades securely to the rubrics. This makes it very clear how a grade is obtained and linked to performance.

  • When designing your rubric, steer clear of discussion of grades. Instead, focus on proficiency descriptions (@SECottrell). Using “I Can” statements is also very helpful (@dr_dmd).

What Can Replace Grades?

The grading system is often dictated by administrators, so ditching it completely is probably not an option for most teachers. However, @SraCasey believes that if the system decides the options, it’s up to teachers to adapt everything at their end. If you prefer to use other, possibly more constructive, mechanisms to rate students, what is out there?

Several participants expressed that they find a good rubric useful. @dr_dmd says that when students ask him about grades, he’ll ask them to look at the rubric with him and rate themselves.

@dr_dmd gives students “reflection guides” to accompany project presentations. Students then fill out the rubric for themselves and their teammates.

@SraCasey believes that test grades should not be final: a temporary assessment of progress rather than a firm grade. She suggests allowing retakes. @SraSpanglish says to use caution with retakes, however. Some students will abuse the retake ability by not worrying about the test the first time.

@nnaditz allows late homework for full credit, but students have to perform the work in the room. This encourages them to ask for help from the teacher, and prevents simply copying.

@nnaditz divides her grade books into language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing in the target language) rather than the traditional divisions of homework, tests, participation, etc. @placido uses the categories of presentational, interpersonal and interpretive.

@SECottrell took a small step this year by removing grades from student copies of their assessments, in order to reduce student reliance on grades. Students now have to look online to see their grade.


Thank you to all our participants for so freely sharing your tips and thoughts on working with grades in the classroom. If you weren’t able to make it on Thursday, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below — we’d love to hear from you.

If you’re interested to see the entire archive, please go to our Google Docs page. Please also feel free to join us on Thursday for our next #langchat discussion.

#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.

Our topic this week was especially fascinating and trendy: how to turn a target-language song into an integral part of a world languages unit. Participants shared lots of great ideas and activities that are proven to be effective in the classroom, and we’ve included a summary of the chat below for your convenience.

Thank you to all our participants and colleagues who joined us to share their ideas and experiences, and a special thank you to our moderators for the night, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66).

Why Use Songs in World Language Class

Using songs in class is a fantastic way to get kids excited and engaged in the target language. Target-language songs are perfect authentic texts, combining language, culture and often students’ interests together into a highly motivating and memorable language experience. We’ve discussed the use of music in world language classes in the past on #langchat, so be sure to check out our previous summary.


Many students enjoy listening to music in class, and they willingly practice the target language at the same time.


Students enjoy listening to music outside of class, too. Often, they’re already exploring different music styles and artists. Exposing students to music in the target language may cause them to begin following the artists independently — several participants mentioned loving it when a student tells them they added a song from class to their iPod.

This regular exposure does wonders for pronunciation, especially if students are tempted to sing along (@karacjacobs).

Authentic Materials

Authentic materials expose students to culture, accents, pronunciation and patterns of speech. Authentic materials are language resources directed toward target-language speakers, in contrast with materials directed toward target-language learners. These materials don’t necessarily need to be originally written in the target language, as any translation is also aimed at the target-language audience.

Songs are great authentic resources, and using them in your class brings a lot of advantages. @SECottrell mentions that using songs always brings up phrases and words that she’d never think to teach normally.

Integrating Songs into a World Language Unit

Songs make good supporting resources, and they fit easily into a thematic unit. Try making songs and videos into the “text” of a unit, the central thread of the unit that binds the rest of the instruction together (@karacjacobs). Connect the songs to other authentic materials for more variety and opportunities. Songs used in this way are great “hooks” for students, grabbing their attention and focusing it throughout the unit.

Songs can also be used as an introduction or warm-up to the class. Several teachers have spent 5-10 minutes of the beginning of a class to explore a song, every day for a week (@pamwesely). These teachers might do a series of scaffolded activities on the song itself, musicians, era, style, etc. of the song.

@klafrench likes to take a three-step approach to using songs in class: observation, lyrics and message. The steps scaffold and build on each other to grow students’ familiarity with the language and allow them to discuss the song with increasing knowledge and confidence.

Extending the Song

Many teachers work with a song over an extended period of time, rather than just one lesson. When doing so, make sure to have several activities to give students multiple exposures. Participants shared a wealth of activities they like to use to branch out with the language.

  • Have students read authentic texts about the singers (@karacjacobs).
  • Study the history or geography discussed in the song (@karacjacobs).
  • For a unit based on a song or video, have students listen to or watch the media, then come up with their own vocabulary lists (@karacjacobs).
  • Try having students compare and contrast two songs or videos and how they reflect a certain theme for a great interpretive assignment (@karacjacobs).
  • Try asking students to create a word cloud using the song lyrics (@spanishplans).
  • Students can read the lyrics to a song as if a poem for pronunciation (@spanishplans).
  • If you have some musically inclined kids, try having them create a song with lyrics at the end of a project. There are many free song-creation websites to choose from (@Joepark20).
  • Try contacting the author of the song directly and set up a mini-dialogue with the students (@ZJonesSpanish). Alternatively, have students create a fictional interview dialogue with the singer after researching his or her past (@DiegoOjeda66).
  • Have students draw different scenes from the song and place in chronological order throughout the classroom (@DiegoOjeda66).

Problems Using Songs in Class

As our question wording illustrates, one of the common problems of using songs in class is using them haphazardly. Songs have many advantages and can increase students’ engagement easily, so it’s tempting to just throw them into a class without much thought for how they complement your other instruction.

Another common issue regards the figurative aspect of much music. Songs are similar to poetry, and it’s sometimes difficult to translate them. How do we deal with student requests for literal translations? @ZJonesSpanish mentions stressing the difficulties translating and explaining the difference between translation and communication. @karacjacobs recommends relating songs to poetry and perhaps giving an example of a difficult-to-translate song.

Some participants asked what to do when students don’t want to sing along. In these instances, try to encourage them to participate in other ways. @SECottrell’s rule is students can watch and listen or watch and sing, but they can’t not watch.

Finally, while songs are generally welcomed by students, they may from time to time not understand why you’re listening to music in class. Be sure to let them see the teaching reason behind every song in class (@DiegoOjeda66). Also, be sure not to overwhelm students with lyrics or phrases that are too challenging. If you think this is likely, pre-teach the required vocabulary or grammar (@DiegoOjeda66).

Tips on Using Songs in Class

@esantacruz13 lets students decide which song they’d like to analyze and focus on — a great way to let students take ownership in the lesson. This also helps for classes of different tastes, as the song that appeals to the most students will be chosen.

If you are picking the songs, many participants suggest including songs that you may not personally like, as music hits everyone differently. Try different genres from time to time to give kids different experiences. On the other hand, show your enthusiasm at all times. @DiegoOjeda66 suggests using songs that you like, no matter the genre, so long as students can see that you love the music. He suggests compiling your favorite songs, letting students make a “Top 10” list and then working with that list throughout the year.

It’s also important to include more than just contemporary music. Traditional songs are an important element of culture and we should strive to find areas where we can include these songs as well.

For instrumental sections and with advanced students, try asking students for their emotions and thoughts when listening without words (@muranava). Also, if you have karaoke versions of a song with lyrics, try playing the music without the vocals before kids get to hear the lyrics.

Finding Songs

It can be a challenge to find songs and artists to use in class. Often the musicians you may know about or have studied in the past are a little dated in the target country. While your students might still love the experience, maybe you want to show them a more contemporary music scene. Where do you find new artists and songs?

  • @SECottrell recommends Pandora. This Internet radio app and website can be tailored to create a target-language radio station and will automatically suggest new artists and songs. You can’t limit Pandora by language, but you can choose an artist that you know that you like and Pandora will automatically suggest similar artists or genres. Use the “Dislike” button for any English songs that crop up.
  • @pamweseley suggests checking the “Top 50” list of artists in a target-language country. For French, check this site out. Also, try recording companies’ websites in the target language. For example, Universal Music France. For your own sites, try searching in target-language search engines.
  • @muranava suggests LyricsTraining for some lyrics and artist ideas.
  • @cadamsf1 recommends this Spanish site for a compilation of lessons on grammar using a song as its basis.
  • This is a useful resource compiled by @sraslb with over 600 songs searchable by topic, grammar, etc.
  • @klafrench likes using songs that have been translated into the target language for native speakers, for example Disney songs. It’s fun to compare and contrast with the original English.

Don’t forget music videos! These can really get kids motivated and interested in class, and the videos often have a theme that fits with the musicians’ message and voice.


Again, a big thank you to all our participants! We had an amazing #langchat and the summary couldn’t begin to do it justice. In particular, we had many specific song suggestions based on different units, for songs that participants have used successfully in the past. Please visit the archive of the chat if you’re trying to remember the link to one of the songs or videos referenced during the chat.

Take care, and we hope to see you next Thursday at 20:00 EST for our next #LangChat!

#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.

Hello everyone and welcome back to #langchat!

We had an interesting discussion this past Thursday on a very challenging topic in language education. How do you deal with widening ability gaps in upper levels?

Participants shared many fantastic ideas that you can begin implementing in your classroom right away. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful contributions! Thanks especially to Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) for moderating the night’s chat.

If you didn’t catch the chat, please find the summary below for your convenience. If you have some additional ideas to share, we’d love to hear from you in the comments or through Twitter.

High-Level Ability Gaps

In upper levels, especially with large classes, it’s not uncommon for the differences in student abilities to widen. Participants lamented that in high school classes, this is one of their principal challenges.

Many participants believe this is a result of motivation more than anything else. @klafrench says that her students who really want higher fluency definitely “get their hands dirty” more than others, which results in higher skills.

Last week we discussed how to combat apathy and a lack of motivation in students, and many of the suggestions from participants may be useful in high levels as well.

Common Challenges

An issue with students who lag behind in higher classes is that they often have trouble with early-level skills that prevent fully learning the new material. High-level classes focus on more advanced grammatical material and speaking exercises that are challenging for students who have never truly mastered the past tense.

On the opposite side of the coin, students who are ready for more advanced material might get frustrated in a class that moves at the speed of the slowest learner. Or they might seize every opportunity to answer questions or participate, robbing less assertive students of their chances to improve.

Close the Gap, or Embrace It?

As world-language teachers, we’re lucky to be able to work with students regardless of level and find ways to ensure comprehension. By providing comprehensible input and engaging all students, we should be able to move everyone forward (@CalicoTeach).

So, as long as we are moving all students forward, is it important to close the ability gap? Most participants believe that it’s not — the important outcome is growth. Are students improving their efficiency?

It’s also not wise to pretend gaps don’t exist by teaching to the lowest-level student. Students are aware of different ability levels, and trying to hide this will get us nowhere.

Dealing with Ability Gaps

What strategies do you pursue with high-level classes where the ability levels differ? Participants shared several ideas useful for both bringing students’ abilities closer together as well as taking advantage of gaps in student levels.

@CalicoTeach believes that it’s important to focus on changing the task, not the content. Keep it challenging and scaffold the material. Design tasks with scalability in mind — make it easy to bump the level up or down as necessary (@tbcaudill). @klafrench keeps the material at the same higher level for all students, especially with reading material.

  • @tmsaue1 recommends keeping the theme the same in mixed classes to allow all students to be learning the same general content. Include lots of open discussions so that students can contribute what they’re able to contribute.

@jas347 suggests keeping questions and activities open-ended. This gives students an opportunity to show what they know, and they aren’t punished for what they don’t. Having specific expectations for answers is impossible when student levels differ, so let students answer in their best way. Expand this to all class activities.

  • @SraCasey recommends technology projects with a set goal but flexible options. These allow students of higher levels to take a more challenging approach to the goal.
  • Flexible, open-ended questions and activities might take more planning, but as @CalicoTeach points out, it’s less work than planning specific activities and questions for different levels.

Extra credit for extra work could encourage more students to get involved at a higher level or could satisfy the needs of quick, motivated learners. When @jas347 taught grades 6-8, 8th-grade students could come early to class for more advanced instruction and received extra credit for including their instruction in their regular work. If students wanted more knowledge, they could come and find a way to apply it in a way that was relevant to them.

  • The extra instruction doesn’t have to be for extra credit, either. @klafrench found that conferencing on writing with her 2nd-year students really helped to close the gap all around and brought writing skills up in the entire class.

@SenoritaClark has tried mixing students of different levels in activities to encourage the less active students to participate. However, for an upcoming novel project, she’s considering assigning groups by level. She’s expecting this to cause higher output for student-created material. For example, if creating questions on a chapter, higher-level questions should come from the groups of more advanced students.

Mixed Classes

Some high-level classes of world-languages have mixed grade levels as well. @SraCasey teaches classes of Spanish 3 and 4 students together. In classes like this, extra instruction for the higher-level students is sometimes necessary.

These classes also provide unique opportunities for student teaching. @SraCasey will often put students of different years together so that during pair work, higher-level students can reteach the material to their younger classmates.

Centers, separate areas for group work that students rotate to throughout class, have great potential in mixed classes. Rather than combine all students together to teach at once, split groups so that you can personalize their instruction. Focus on “input centers” rather than “output” ones — this will give students plenty of opportunity to discover the necessary vocabulary.

In all classes, personalizing the classroom is important. Check out the recent #langchat summary on personalizing instruction for some great ideas from your colleagues.


Our #langchat discussion this week was less active than most due to the busy month of March, but we’ll be back next week on Thursday at 8:00 EST. If you haven’t in the past, please be sure to check out our wiki and suggest or vote on a new topic.

Thanks again to everyone for participating! If you’d like to read the full archive of the chat, please go to our Google Docs page. See you next week!

#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.

This week’s #langchat was a charged discussion on student apathy in world language education. Specifically, how do educators overcome student apathy?

Participants shared lots of ideas on what causes apathy in the classroom and how to motivate and engage your students to beat it. We had a fantastic discussion, and we’ve included the summary below for your convenience.

Thanks to everyone for such wonderful participation and ideas. Thanks especially to Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66), Don Doehla (@dr_dmd) and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) for volunteering their time as moderators for the chat.

Apathy Defined

Participants had many different ways to describe apathy in world language classes, all related. Do any of the below sound familiar?

  • Not following due dates.
  • Quitting after required language classes.
  • Don’t understand importance of learning the language.
  • Just don’t care.
  • Overwhelmed with the subject.
  • Overwhelmed with home life.
  • Overwhelmed with other commitments in and out of school.
  • Parents chose the language for the student.
  • Parents not being involved enough.

Where to Start?

Apathy in the classroom is a tough opponent. It’s not easy to turn a class of half-asleep students into active and energetic language users. But your colleagues get together every week on #langchat to share their ideas to help you get there.

Building relationships

@tbcaudill thinks some students’ apathy results from not feeling connected to the class or the teacher. One way to increase engagement is to make a personal connection with the students outside of class. Support them at their concerts, games and other activities and get excited about their passions.

  • When students share information, ask them about it. Whether their passion is sports, pets or video games, show an interest — students like to be asked about what they care about (@Sra_Hildinger).
  • When possible, try to interact with younger students before they graduate to your level and class (@louvre2012).
  • Several teachers mentioned never coming to class with a preconceived notion of a student. Don’t review their past history (@DiegoOjeda66) or listen to negative colleagues (@RonieWebster).

As teachers, it’s difficult to have an impact on students suffering from out-of-school issues, but we can have empathy and show them support (@dr_dmd). Inside the classroom is our realm, and we need to provide students with a nurturing and safe learning environment. Caring relationships , trust and mutual respect go a long way toward conquering apathy (@adsamples).

Setting the Example

Teacher enthusiasm is contagious (@ZJonesSpanish). While focus should always be on the learner, don’t forget to check that you’re demonstrating your own excitement for the language at all times.

While we shouldn’t expect that simply being motivated and passionate about the language is enough to rouse students from apathy, it goes a long way.

Finding the cause

If your students are apathetic in class, don’t blame them. Instead, seek to engage them with some of the activities in the next section (@dr_dmd). It’s easy to blame students for not being interested in learning a language or for being preoccupied with other subjects or activities, but it won’t solve the problem.

Also, bear in mind that the best motivation is intrinsic, not extrinsic. Focus your efforts on engaging students by making the language meaningful, personal or useful. Show students what others have done with their language skills. Don’t rely on extrinsic rewards such as grades or bonus systems. As @DiegoOjeda66 says, students tend to start losing their natural motivation when they enter the school system as cookies and stickers replace passion.

Beating Indifference

Apathy often manifests itself in students who just go through the motions and who are satisfied with the minimum amount of work necessary (@mmebrady). Beating that apathy requires different approaches depending on the root cause.

Demonstrating the importance of language

It’s important to show students (and sometimes parents) that learning a foreign language is valuable. For ideas on this, check out the summary from our previous chat on motivating students to start and stay in world languages. It’s a constant battle to illustrate this to students, but participants shared some of their tips for getting the message across.

  • @cadamsf1 built a Facebook page of her student alumni discussing how language changed them and what they are doing with the language now.
  • @ITeachHola uses Skype and other mediums such as FaceTime to allow her students to connect with students from other countries and cultures and to see one reason they need language.

Often, showing students the importance of the language starts with showing them how it’s applicable to their lives. Don’t ask questions or give exams to test random knowledge — keep it focused on students’ lives. If the answer to any of your questions to students is “Who cares?”, you’re asking for apathy (@SECottrell).

Sometimes, despite your best efforts at demonstrating the use of the language, students still just don’t care. Maybe they don’t expect to ever go overseas or speak with a foreigner. Maybe they expect that English is so widely spoken that it’s all they need. When students answer with “Who cares?”, try turning the question around (@ZJonesSpanish). “Ok, so you might not be interested in this — why do you think that is? What communities might be interested?”

Personalizing instruction

Personalizing the language and instruction for students is a fantastic way to beat student apathy. When students feel ownership of their instruction, they’re excited and engaged. We discussed this on #langchat recently; check out this summary on personalization.

  • Pick topics that appeal to students. @karacjacobs finds that thematic units with pop culture engages her students. Video games or sports might engage yours.
  • Give students options in everything (@SECottrell). When students can choose their own topics for discussion or approach of the class, they feel a stronger ownership in the language. It’s also hard for a student to justify being apathetic when he’s chosen the topic himself.
  • @SraCasey finds that technology projects incorporating choices does a great job of combining the two above points — a medium that is interesting to students, with choices to make it their own.
  • Flexibility is important in a personalized classroom. If students seize on a topic that you’ve brought up, it’s great to be able to go with the flow and allow them to continue the discussion (@sonrisadelcampo).
  • Ask kids for their input after an activity so you can further personalize future lessons (@cadamsf1). @tmsaue1 often asks students for the most challenging part of the day’s class to judge what students are taking away.

Personalization is also about getting to know the students and incorporating them in your stories and projects. If you want to see a student actually smile when taking a test, @spanishplans recommends using their name on the sheet!

Making connections

Related to the above, making connections between the language and students’ lives, and the language and the outside world, is essential to engaging students. Make it relevant so that students can see the point. Students need to know why the language is important to their lives.

  • Where in the real world will students write worksheets, endless verb conjugations or notes for 45 minutes straight? (@SenoritaClark)
  • Connecting with other subjects helps students learn to see the relevance of the language (@karacjacobs).
  • @mmebrady’s school hosts an interdisciplinary Festival of Nations to engage students and cross the subject morders.

Keeping it novel

Keeping instruction novel and creative goes a long way toward engaging students. Repeated topics, assignments or expectations can quickly get stale for students who have a hundred conflicting commitments.

  • Teacher collaboration and professional development is an excellent way to keep your instruction novel. @cadamsf1 reminds us that discussing ideas with your colleagues is a strong benefit for new and old teachers alike. (What better way to do so than through #langchat!)
  • When @SECottrell asked her AP students what motivates them the most, she heard that anything out of the ordinary — novel — gets their attention and motivates them to participate.
  • @Sra_Hildinger was always instructed to change activities every 10 minutes or so. Pick a time that works for you and your classes, and go with it. A variety of activities covers a variety of interests, and keeps students focused on what they’re doing.
  • Try adding interesting cultural notes into your instruction to engage students (@Sra_Hildinger). Kids are often interested to learn about how people live in other countries and cultures.

Providing support

Apathy can also stem from a sense of hopelessness (@nnaditz). When you don’t feel that you can handle the material, or the level is too high for your ability, an easy escape mechanism is to lower your engagement.

  • Build in support systems for your students (@nnaditz).
  • Take away the fear of making mistakes (@Sra_Hildinger). It’s important to have patience and provide students with time to produce. Especially in the beginning, but always important: stress communication and output over correctness (@tbcaudill).
  • A true comfort zone free of ridicule or sarcasm will go a long way to motivating students (@Sra_Hildinger).

Lessons need to be geared so that students experience success and achievement (@louvre2012), while also including enough challenge to keep them interested. It’s a delicate balance. Too challenging of material with no visible achievements, and students will seek apathy as an escape. Too easy of material, and students will succumb to apathy out of boredom.

  • Build series of successes to increase students’ confidence. Prove to the students that they can use the language, and they often will, rather than hide behind the protection of apathy (@mweelin).
  • Provide opportunities for students to do real-life activities using the language so they can see what they can do. This does more than just build confidence; it also excites students and engages them when they see that they can now interact with such a new, wide world.

These points relate very closely to past #langchat topics on providing the best environment for language production. For some more ideas, check out this SUMMARY.

Further Reading

Participants shared a wealth of ideas above, but they also recommended some further reading for your bookmarks tab!


You’ll run into many obstacles in your quest to defeat student apathy, but don’t fret — your colleagues are here on #langchat for support!

If you missed the #langchat discussion on Thursday and want to make your voice heard, please feel free to do so in the comments — we’d love to continue our topic! Otherwise, we’ll see you next week on #langchat!

#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.