Welcome back to #langchat everyone!

Our last discussion on Thursday led us into an exciting chat about reading in novice language classes. With so much focus on listening and speaking, novice learners might feel overwhelmed when presented with a block of foreign text. How do we ease them into recognition and understanding?

All of our participants were eager to share innovative ideas about strategies, resources and material, assessments, and more. Thanks to Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) and Kristy Placido (@placido) for moderating the chat for the night!

Strategies for Success

Our educators proved there are countless classroom strategies to help your learners reach their best potential in reading. Feel free to use these helpful ideas below for a reference!

  • @placido and @klafrench start the brainstorming by suggesting cognates. Using “the power of cognates” and root words are excellent tools for novices trying to read. @klafrench even states: Cognates hold the key to reading for novices.
  • @alenord teaches their students to not read sentences in order. Students in this class first look for familiarity and then build around that knowledge.
  • @placido helps students build skills and strategies for great reading such as re-reading, underlining unknown words, guessing in context, and using cognates.
  • @CoLeeSensei utilizes a strategy called “2 & talk”, where students work in pairs to read and decode two sentences at a time. This educator says the students love the support!
  • @senoralopez gave a popular statement: It’s very important to make students understand it is not necessary to know every single word. This approach takes a lot of pressure off the students, who become free to focus on words they know.
  • Reading for information or having guided notes can also help direct students while reading, says @klafrench.
  • @Marishawkins has students predict what they think will happen in a story, which can greatly help with comprehension as well as interest.
  • Students in @CoLeeSensei’s class will sometimes draw visuals as they read, which helps this educator check for understanding.
  • @fereydoon1975 believes text should provoke learners’ curiosity. This educator rewrites the text using celebrities to motivate the students.
  • Several of our participants also agreed that pre-teaching and reviewing vocabulary included in the reading material, so students have a better chance at comprehension.

Resources for Reading

Our participants offered up some terrific resources as well, which can make reading for your students more interesting and easier to understanding. Some of these resources can be found below.

  • @tresclumnae is the founder of an online Latin learning system found here.
  • @Marishawkins and @dlfulton love to use infographics to encourage novice learners to read in their classes. You can find examples here and here.
  • @tmsaue1 uses this source to have students color code each category and then use their reading as spring board to short writing.
  • @GlblCanuck suggests using blogs to encourage reading and comprehension. The students read each other’s blogs and comment for excellent reading and writing practice.

Reading Assessments for Novice Students

There are different ways to assess reading and check for your students’ comprehension ranging from translation to pop quizzes. Many of our educators take an approach that places less pressure on the students by simply asking questions during reading or having the students answer worksheets together, although some educators refute the usefulness of worksheets, saying students will not have to fill out worksheets in real life.

The idea of translation is also debated. @placido has her novice students translate for meaning, which allows this educator to hear what the students comprehend. However, @dr dmd avoids translation for novice learners, stating the text is not contingent on L1 for meaning.

Rubric and Graphic Organizers

@senoralopez suggested Facebook rubric made with @Lauren_Scheller and encouraged participants to take a look. Looking at various rubrics can help you decide what the proper level of expectations and requirements for novice learners should be.

Graphic organizers were also suggested to help students classify information and communicate more effectively. @CalicoTeach points out that graphic organizers can help students to predict, re-tell, find key ideas, and more. This tool also works well to structure activity. Examples of graphic organizers can be found here.

Thank you!

A big thank you to all who participated in Thursday’s chat! We had a fun, fast-paced discussion that led to many great tips and ideas that just might make your students more interested in reading.

For the full archived chat and a further look into the discussion, visit our Google Docs page. Stop by and join us next Thursday at 8 p.m. EST for the next exciting discussion! If you have a topic you’re especially interested in, just propose your idea at our suggestion page.

Keep coming back to #langchat, and please join us for next week’s 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.

We had a fantastic and informative chat via Twitter this past Thursday as our educators discussed oral participation in language classrooms for novice students. More specifically, how much participation should we expect, and how do we assess oral capabilities?

Thanks to all of our participants of the discussion, and a special thanks to Kristy Placido (@placido) and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell), who moderated the chat.

Input Vs. Output

One question stands prominent when teaching novice learners—how important is output compared to input? Beginners require time to soak up new information as well as repetition in order to ingrain the knowledge, so how involved should their oral participation be?

@dwphotoski said input is more important than output in beginning levels, and while several others agreed, many of our participants voiced that some output is needed as well.

Letting Learners Speak

Many educators require output ranging from Yes/No answers to short conversations involving target language. Below, you can find some of the inspiring strategies and practices of our participants.

  • @klafrench expects some output in speaking in her classroom with plenty of scaffolding, including mostly reactions to simple questions.
  • @SECottrell introduced the “silent period,” a stage in language learning in which learners do not speak yet actively listen and process the language.
  • In response to @SECottrell, @placido states: I believe the “silent period” is important in lowering the affective filter. But if they are ready to speak, let them.
  • Use it or lose it, says @esantacruz13, suggesting that secondary languages will be forgotten if not practiced in output.
  • @pamweseley prefers short responses to indicate comprehension of the language and subject matter.
  • Another participant, @profesorM, likes to teach language and skills that lead to simple conversations. For example, the students will discuss shopping, classes, and family, and each conversation requires students to practice five utterances.
  • In @Sra Hildinger’s classroom, the students begin with Yes/No responses and move to one-word answers. Once that is mastered, students craft short sentences for various topics.
  • @klafrench suggests starting the year with proficiency goals, so students know what is required to reach the goals and have something to work toward.
  • @pamweseley takes a fun approach to output, encouraging the learners to write silly skits and play with the language. This educator believes letting students play with language is underrated, and such activities can stir up interest and better participation.
  • @profesorM suggests teaching topically. For example, after teaching house vocabulary, students should be able to speak about their houses.

Assessing and Grading Oral Participation

Although some curriculum might require oral assessments and grades to be given, many educators have the choice of whether or not to assess oral skills. Take a look at the different types of situations below.

A Classroom Free of Oral Assessments

@dwphotoski does not pressure early learners with speaking assessments but encourages them through communication activities and other practices such as reading stories. This educator also assures students that mistakes are part of learning a language.

This approach allows students to relax, encouraging them to speak freely without pressure. Students may also be more likely to play with the language and become comfortable with the second language.

A Classroom with Oral Assessments

At the other end of the spectrum, @msfrenchteach tests learners’ speaking abilities in many ways. During one assessment, this educator gives mini quizzes, where the students pull scenarios out of a bucket and speak on the fly with a random partner.

While students may feel more pressure with this strategy, they are forced to speak and use the knowledge they have gained. Shy learners especially may need this little nudge toward practice and more confidence.

Somewhere in the Middle

@julieeldb00 challenges her students to one oral summative assessment at the end of every unit. Although it takes a few days, this educator says the time is definitely worth it.

Reviewing the unit’s material with an oral assessment is also a good way to check your students’ comprehension.

Oral Expectations

With so many different ideas on proper output and assessment for beginning learners, is there a set expectation on oral participation? After @placido asked our educators what each of them expects, we received a variety of answers.

@esantacruz13 requires students to use the concepts taught in class through forming sentences and being able to communicate at a basic level. Concepts can easily include easy grammar structures, forming answers to simple questions, and vocabulary words for topics such as family and school.

Meanwhile, @msfrenchteach expects students to speak the target language from day one. This educator has also turned their classroom into a French-only zone, creating a rewarding environment.

In the end, we all have different expectations of our students and their speaking skills. Clearly novice learners are capable of output. It is up to each teacher to determine the best strategies, motivators and opportunities to allow students to produce output in the target language at the appropriate time in the language learning process.

Thank You!

Once again, thank you to all of our participants who took part in this enlightening discussion. We touched on many useful strategies and ideas that could be useful during your next class.

For the full archived chat and a further look into the discussion, visit our Google Docs page. Stop by and join us next Thursday at 8 p.m. EST for the next exciting discussion! If you have a topic you’re especially interested in, just propose your idea at our suggestion page.

See you next Thursday 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.

Best Authentic Resources for World Language TeachersCultural items like food are just some of the ways that #langchat participants are using authentic resources in their classrooms.

“Authentic resources can be anything from the target culture that exercises their senses, from visuals to food,” newcomer @weslotero explained during Thursday night’s #langchat. While many teachers know the value of using authentic audio and video resources in their teaching, there are a variety of different kinds of authentic resources that can be effectively used in the classroom.

As the world language community shifts towards integrating both traditional and new authentic resources, language professionals are turning to their colleagues to find the best ways to teach with them.

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Authentic Resources for Reading

One of the main reasons #langchat teachers use authentic resources is to help students improve their reading proficiency in the target language. Reading resources like articles and newspapers provide a low-stress way of introducing authentic material, especially for students who feel more comfortable with “book work” than communication.

@emilybakerhanes explained, “I like authentic images/ads/readings. Level ones don’t get overwhelmed and learn critical reading skills.”

Tips and resources for authentic reading:

  • @profesorM has his students “use online real estate sites and ipads” to increase reading engagement. One of his favorite activities is having students peruse sites with their Ipads in order to find and go through the steps of “buying” a house in an actual Spanish-speaking community.
  • @SenoritaClark uses People en Español because it is “relevant and engaging” for her students.
  • @jas347 encourages other teachers to invest in “subscriptions to mags, newspapers…full of authentic images, ads, text and text and cultural info!”
  • @spanishplans gave great links to ESPN deportes to find high-interest reading for male students. They also shared a link to Nulu, which has articles to increase reading comprehension as well as audio read-throughs.
  • @CristinaZimmer4 said, “While not completely authentic, Viente Mundos has some nice articles about culture in Spain, with lessons to go with.”
  • @Sra_Hildinger offered her suggestions for international reading: Newspapers around the world and Tom Alsop’s list of newspapers for WL.

Getting Students “Sold” on Authentic Resources

@CoLeeSensei reminded us that heavy reading isn’t the only way to use authentic resources. She said, “#Authres doesn’t have to be ‘text intense’ – authentic is more than that!”

A good example of this is with advertisements. Advertisements are designed to get people engaged, which is why they are so effective in the classroom. The visually appealing image and direct language makes them excellent teaching tools, especially at lower levels.

@emilybakerhanes said, “I want to do more w/ advertisements. Strong images w/short statements will stick in their head!

A number of other teachers agreed, citing ads as great tools for teaching context, good starting points for conversation and instruction on media literacy.

  • @ZJonesSpanish shared some media literacy and 21st Century skill-building advertisement activities.
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Wandermami’s Delicious page has quite a list of commercials.
  • @senoraCMT suggested that #langchatters use PubliTV to find excellent ads for classroom use.
  • @placido reminded us of @SEOCottrell’s compilation of Spanish commercial transcripts.
  • @lanecindy1234 also shared her collection of commercials and @CristinaZimmer4 shared her favorite Spanish commercial site, Comercial Mexicana.
  • @CatherineKU72 also suggested that teachers keep their eyes open for ads while traveling. She said, “While on trips, I raid the supermarket for the ads. They are light-weight to bring back (10 copies!) and offer non-tech solution.”

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Worth a Thousand Words

Still, ads aren’t the only visual mode of authentic resources. Many teachers are enamored with cartoons and other images to motivate language skill-building. @placido said, “Memes and cartoons are short, sweet, plentiful and relateable!” and gave an example. Both @ProsperaHLP and @SenoraCMT agreed, sharing their favorite sources for cartoons: Malfalda and Pinterest.

Other great ideas for using images? Movie posters, photos and videos. @Sra_Hildinger shared the Culturally Authentic Pictoral Lexicon for a good source of cultural images.

@ZJonesSpanish said, “Movie posters are great, especially for seeing linguistic variation in action (Spain vs. Latin American posters) and intriguing translations.” @placido also loves using still images to teach, but laments the limited access from her school campus. “Flickr is a wonderful source for beautiful photos. Blocked at school though.”

  • @LesliePhillips3: “For photos, write what happened before pic, during, and prediction about after.”
  • @km_york: “I like to add on to the cloze with image to text match, translation, illustration and put in order activities too.”
  • @crwmsteach: “With movies or video clips: describe people; what are they doing/did/will do; your opinion of film or character.”
  • @LesliePhillips3: “Sometimes I first play the video with no sound so language learners can observe, predict and question.”

Feasting on Authentic Resources

“Do we consider objects or food to be authentic resources? I think so!” @placido exclaimed. Many participants talked about the excellent ability of food to connect students with the culture and peoples of their target language class. From language-rich restaurant menus to online grocery stores, #langchat participants shared some of their favorite ways to incorporate food as an authentic resource.

  • @jas347 said, “Find your favorite restaurant chain in France, search furnished apartments in Paris, look up French Top 40…options are endless!”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Some businesses are adding 3D or virtual visit of their shops like this virtual boulangerie pour les profs de FR.”
  • @ZJonesSpanish said, “We love to look at grocery-store circulars around holidays,” then shared the Plato del Dia site, an archive of hundreds of Spanish-language menus.
  • Online grocery stores: Mas x menos, Compra Online, DR’s Supermercados Nacional.
  • @profesorM suggests to do a food tasting in class. He said, “Goya makes tropical fruit juices, we have a tasting with plantain chips, salsa and tortillas.”
  • @spanishplans said, “I’ve been using “how-to” cooking videos in Spanish. Students watch, then summarize recipe. Or type of transcript and do cloze.”
  • @weslotero said, “I like bringing food and drinks into my class like horchata and conchas from mexico.” @ProsperaHLP also suggests bringing foods like guava paste, arroz con leche, Moros y Cristianos (rice & black beans), or empanadas. @spanishplans suggested the fruit “tuna” (prickly pear) as well as Inca Kola.
  • @muchachitaMJ said, “Another fun #authres is Yelp. Students read reviews in language in their choice about restaurants, places in city, hotels + more!”
  • @muchachitaMJ shared her experience with using authentic food as a classroom reward. “I used mini bananas for a prize yesterday. One girl was mad. Ha! The rest went nuts because they had never seen a mini-banana!” @SenoritaClark responded, “I LOVE that idea! Authentic AND healthy!”

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Creative Ways for Using Authentic Resources

Class Warm-Ups. Authentic resources are engaging and a great way to get students thinking about the lesson. @placido uses authentic resources to motivate and inspire discussion. Other #langchat participants have used authentic music as transition activities as the class enters for the day.

Reading and listening guides. Reading and listening guides provide needed structure, especially for students who are more comfortable with doing worksheets. @placido explained these benefits in her classroom and shared an example of a listening guide.

Websites in the Target Language. Students love looking at websites in the target language because it can resonate personally with them. Not only that, but @jas347 explained that they can also “learn tech/online navigation vocab and explore [specific] topics.”

Live Communication. There is nothing more authentic than interacting with a native language speaker. @profesorM mentioned his use of e-Pals, but was unimpressed with the level of interaction. @emliybakerhaynes mentioned Skype as a method of authentic communication, but cited possible technology problems as a demotivator. @jas347 offered a great low-tech solution: “We partnered with International Book Project to penpal with school in Cameroon…they send us #authres! great for cultural variety!”

Using Classified Ads. A number of teachers use classified ads to expose students to the target language. @ElSrScharf said, “I use Craigslist ads from different countries- apts for rent, furniture, etc #langchat tweeting from Costa Rica trip w stdts.” @emilybakerhanes agreed: “In college we looked at classfied ads. Teaches odd vocab and abbreviations. Especially looking for a flat.”

Incorporating Music. Music is one of the easiest and most common ways to engage students with authentic resources. Great ideas included @profesorM’s idea of playing songs in the target language and then filling in lyrics on a listening guide. @CoLeeSensei has a “song of the week” from Itunes in the target language country, often with an accompanying music video. @senoraCMT suggested making a Wordle of some lyrics and then having students pair up to compete to see which team can identify the most words. @LesliePhillips3 shared an idea to to provide song lyrics out of order or with sentences divided, so students have to match the beginning with the end.

Using Twitter. Since many students spend so much time on Twitter in their personal lives, it connects them personally when they are able to see tweets in the target language. @SenoritaClark and @jas347 suggest changing the location of the trending topics to a country that speaks the target language in order to get the best, “coolest” tweets. @ZJonesSpanish also shared their “Twiccionarios,” for Spanish teachers.

Other great ideas:

  • @km_york: “I’ve done clips where I play the audio and have them pick out Who/what/where and relevant vocab #langchat just for the gist.”
  • @placido: “#authres make a great warm-up to motivate and inspire a discussion. I often use mine to start up a story.”
  • @Val_Hays: “Look at online apartment/house listings in TL and have ss draw floorplans.”
  • @weslotero: “My wife sent me 2 alpacas for Valentine’s Day last week. My students got to feel a Peruvian animal in the classroom! They loved it!”
  • @ZJonesSpanish: “We like to use #authres in task-based activities, like ‘Plan dinner and a movie in X place.’”
  • @jas347: “Changing YouTube account into TL and into a country that speaks TL!”

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Implementing Authentic Resources Effectively

Although it is clear that #langchatters love authentic resources, the wealth of materials available can be overwhelming and difficult to implement. Two major issues came up during the chat that teachers seem to have trouble with: using English when introducing authentic resources for reading and listening, and differentiation.

A number of teachers wondered if it is wise to use English to assess students’ understanding of authentic resources. @LesliePhillips3, @emilybakerhaynes and @muchacitaMJ all discussed the necessity of stepping out of the target language to assess comprehension of an authentic resource. @emilybakerhaynes said, “We want to test their understanding of the reading, not our questions.”

The other major obstacle in using authentic resources at teaching tools is differentiation. Clearly, each teacher’s classroom has a different set of challenges that require creative thinking when using authentic resources. Some classrooms must have alternatives for special needs students. Other classrooms have limited access to technology, or have many websites blocked.

#langchat participants came up with some good strategies for these types of obstacles. For those with limited technology, @emilybakerhanes suggested “Music w/printed lyrics, printed ads, projected ads/cartoons.” @senoraCMT also offered, “I have only one computer with a large monitor. I just show them there.” For classrooms with visually impaired students, @CatherineKU72 introduced the idea of focusing on audio resources. She said, “Why not offer the sounds and music of the city? Tongue twisters or audio books.”

Making Authentic Resources Comprehensible

Finally, @placido gave some sage words of advice: “Remember to activate acquisition with comprehensible input! All #authres with no #CI doesn’t work!” In order to make authentic resources comprehensible, participants agreed that the learning task needs to be leveled so that students don’t feel overwhelmed. @ZJonesSpanish encouraged teachers to use Bloom’s Taxonomy and the ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map for ways to make the tasks fit the proficiency of the students.

Thank You!

Thank you to our moderators, @placido and @CoLeeSensei, for keeping us on our toes and sharing great authentic resources. Also, thanks to all of you that came and shared your ideas and opinions: it wouldn’t be #langchat without you!

We love to find ways to help you learn as a language professional. Please help us know what to talk about during #langchat by sharing your topic ideas for upcoming chats with us.



Additional Resources

Apps Gone Free
Kiva Brain Pop app

French Links and Apps

AATF’s Delicious page
Quebec Government Website Carnaval de Quebec
Jour de la Terre Quebec Marche Malin app
List of French Apps (@CatherineKU72)

Spanish Links and Apps

Univision app
RTVE app
List of Spanish Apps (@CatherineKU72)
Que Rica Vida recipe app
Nestle TV Pocoyo for Spanish
Authentic Resources organized by theme (@ZJonesSpanish)
Authentic Resources organized by grammar point (@ZJonesSpanish)
Authentic Music organized by location and country (@ZJonesSpanish)
Mexico City Craigslist IKEA Online Store in Spanish
El Corte Ingles Online Store in Spanish Yabla

Hello everyone and welcome back to #langchat! We had an enjoyable and fast-paced discussion this past Thursday via Twitter, and we’ve included the summary of the night’s discussion below for your convenience.
Our topic for the night was how to develop your own curriculum for world-language classes. Thanks to all our participants for the night, and a special thank you to our moderators Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66) and Don Doehla (@dr_dmd).

Designing Your Own Curriculum

Why do we design our own curriculums? While some teachers may just not like the textbook, a better reason is to empower your students through a directed curriculum that spans more than just your class. @DiegoOjeda66 put it clearly: The textbook allows teachers to work in isolation. Your own curriculum makes you work with your peers toward a common goal.

Many participants have to follow a certain course or plan, but they have the flexibility to bring in their own elements. The amount of flexibility with your curriculum varies. Some participants have to follow the textbook consistently, others only have to follow certain areas and others use it only as a guideline.

When there is flexibility to create one’s own content, participants like to bring in lots of authentic materials and design a curriculum that appeals to students’ levels and interests. As much scaffolding as possible is included.

Total flexibility

What do you do when you have total freedom in your curriculum decisions? Most participants do not — they must follow some guidelines or a textbook, or perhaps they have proficiency targets decided for them. @MartinaBex has complete flexibility, however. With this flexibility she scaffolds students to help them comprehend authentic materials.

She takes the most common words in a language and focuses on these. In one year, students learn 100 words, or 25 words a quarter. Students learn other words, of course, but the focus of the units are on this core vocabulary.

1. Setting Proficiency Targets

Setting proficiency targets for your students’ target language ability is a key step when designing your own curriculum.

When @tmsaue1 and his colleagues designed their last curriculums, they set proficiency targets before deciding how to help students meet the targets. @suarez712002 agrees: when designing a curriculum, we need to first answer what we want students to be able to do with the target language. @MartinaBex adds that once proficiency targets are set, you can manipulate any content to match. Many participants mentioned using the ACTFL guidelines for proficiency targets.

Student proficiency targets

While it involves more planning in a shorter timeframe, @klafrench enjoys letting her students set their own proficiency goals. This allows her to direct her curriculum to what students most want to do. This might be best for high levels, and you could pose the question as a survey to students at the end of one school year.

2. Designing Assessments

Many participants prefer to create assessments after setting proficiency targets and before choosing how to teach. In this way they are sure that students will be taught what is assessed, and the assessments are also closely related to the proficiency goals. Some teachers prefer to wait for assessments, however. They feel that sometimes, better and more tailored ideas will come to them later once the students have begun the learning process.

@suarez712002 believes in creating assessments as the second step, but she also stresses the importance of reflection and flexibility when it comes to modifying the assessments later on. When designing, sometimes a simple general outline of the assessment is enough. Will it be a debate, maybe a report?

For designing assessments, participants lamented that teachers are sometimes pushed toward standardized tests and the like rather than proficiency-based assessments that do a better job of measuring students’ abilities. Language is an art, and perhaps we can learn from other arts-based subjects. @klafrench went to the theatre/fine arts department of her school to get ideas for her rubrics and assessments. For more ideas on assessments, check out these past #langchats: Individual Assessments, Formative Assessments and Authentic Assessments.


Providing opportunities for students to evaluate themselves is also important in any curriculum (@DiegoOjeda66). Self-evaluation aids students in understanding their own strengths and weaknesses, and it also shows them where they are in relation to the class goals. For some information on @dr_dmd’s recent experience with self-evaluation and reflection in the classroom, check out this Edutopia article. When students self-evaluate using a rubric, @dr_dmd likes to have students check off where they are and describe why.

3. Selecting Authentic Materials

Several participants believe that choosing authentic materials can at times be switched with planning for assessments. Occasionally, choosing an authentic material leads to an idea for a proficiency target as well.

But generally, after deciding on assessments, work backward to plan the necessary steps using authentic materials such as texts, videos, documents, etc. @suarez712002 suggests that your learning objectives and assessments will determine the authentic materials you’re going to use.

Rather than search out authentic materials to match the situation, @dr_dmd always has an eye out for them and sets them aside for the moment when they’ll work best. In this way, sometimes excellent authentic materials lead to a great idea for an assessment or learning objective.

For more resources on authentic materials, check out the past #langchats on Authentic Materials for Novice Learners and Increasing Relevancy with Authentic Media.

4. Planning Activities

The fourth and last step of the curriculum-writing process is to plan the activities and language acquisition strategies that will get your students to the targets. We choose authentic materials before activities so that we know where and how to fit them in (@Sra_Hildinger)

Scaffold activities as much as possible to gradually raise students up. @dr_dmd likes to keep a list of communication structures at hand when planning activities to ensure scaffolding.

Activity tips

Differentiation is important in order to engage all students. @Sra_Hildinger runs through a mental checklist for each unit to make sure she has varied activities for all learners.

@SraSpanglish keeps in mind the students who have the most trouble when planning assignments, as she wants to get them to the objective.

@DiegoOjeda66 advises keeping students’ experiences in mind when deciding on activities. This both increases student engagement, but also improves students’ learning opportunities. A bonus is that  when we decide on a curriculum with the students in mind, we are challenged to not repeat it year after year.

Curriculum-Writing Tips

@cadamsf1 asked participants how long they might take to write a curriculum from start to finish. Answers varied, but most teachers mentioned they like to take their time and revise as they go. @tmsaue1 likes to build one year at a time, then reflect, revise and move on. Reflection and self-evaluation is key to growing as a teacher as well.

@DiegoOjeda66 also cautioned that it is important to design a curriculum that inspires or promotes autonomy and choice in the student. If your designed curriculum is too restrictive or imposing, there is little difference between your creation and the textbook.

For those of us struggling with creating a curriculum for a large number of classes, participants suggested starting with one or two levels, finishing and then moving to the next. It can be overwhelming at first, but stick to the pattern and inertia will build.

Overall, the steps given above are what most participants use. The system can be more fluid, and some participants mentioned that they often swap the final three steps. However, step one, on proficiency targets, should always be first in our minds.


@tmsaue1 shared the JCPS World Languages’ approach to curriculum building.

@SrtaLisa shared a digital “techbook” — a great way to collaborate digitally with colleagues to create a digital textbook. The previous textbook was outdated and didn’t work for their learning goals, so they created the “techbook.”

Similarly, @trescolumnae shared a language-learning resource that is being created across multiple continents.

Thank You!

Thank you once more to everyone for participating in our chat — it was a fast-paced and very useful discussion. If you weren’t able to make it on Thursday, we hope that you enjoyed the summary. If you’d like to read the entire archived chat, please go to our Google Docs page. If you have any comments or suggestions on the thoughts expressed during the chat, please feel free to share them on Twitter using the #langchat hashtag, or by leaving a comment below.

Thank you, and 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.

We had a phenomenal #langchat this past Thursday with lots of resources and some great debate. Our topic of the night was what visuals or manipulatives in class really get kids involved in learning. Thank you to all our participants, and a special thank you to our moderators of the night, Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell).

Uses for Visuals and Manipulatives

We use visuals and manipulatives in class to provide opportunities to diversify students’ learning and expose them to the target language in new and entertaining ways. Visuals cause the language to come alive for students by attaching a sense, touch and feel to vocabulary. For our discussion purposes, we considered manipulatives to be anything that students can hold, touch, feel and use for communicative purposes.

Manipulatives can aid students, especially shy students, by giving them something concrete to talk about or work with (@HJGiffin). They also aid the teacher to stay in the target language more often since students have something in their hands or something to see to connect the new language with the known visual.

Setting the Tone

Several participants stressed the importance of using certain visuals to create a comfortable atmosphere in class that encourages students to speak more in the target language.

For example, @HJGiffin keeps many stuffed animals and blankets around her classroom to ensure students feel relaxed and comfortable. This isn’t just for young kids, either — her 11th-grade boys are really into the pillow pets. Some participants mentioned difficulty preventing younger kids from touching and fighting over the animals, and @jklopp solved this by hanging them from the ceiling.

Several participants use word walls with commonly used verbs or some new vocabulary. When students are caught on a word, they’re often able to glance at the wall to help them along.

@Sra_Hildinger uses class agendas as a fun visual in class. She only uses the target language and authentic images in the agenda.


Participants shared many great ideas for activities to do in class using visuals and other resources. We collected their suggestions below.

  • @HJGiffin uses personal photographs as conversation starters, then she sends students out with cameras. Afterward, students discuss their own pictures.
  • Many participants like to do activities with class whiteboards, such as Pictionary, build a story, draw vocabulary to prove comprehension, and conjugation practice. Some teachers also like to use personal-sized whiteboards for solo or group work.
  • @Sra_Hildinger also uses a felt board in class for students to manipulate when creating a story, or she can add materials to the board and let students write a story to describe the scene.
  • @Sra_Hildinger posted many QR codes throughout the school to practice directions in the target language. She uses Kaywa to print the QR codes.
  • @sylviaduckworth uses puppets to act out scenes and to create stories. Lots of participants use other prompts for their stories to aid student comprehension and make the story more engaging. @mr_sshaw keeps a random box of ridiculous clothing and other prompts for students to use during their stories. @SraSpanglish has a large box of random hats bought from Goodwill.
  • Several participants use puppets of all sizes to let kids speak with each other.
  • @klafrench prefers “concept” cards to flashcards. Concept cards have the image of the vocabulary word on one side with the text on the other.
  • @sylviaduckworth shared the 5-Card Flickr game as a possible fun and visual way for students to create stories or conversations.
  • @robinroja gives students a map and a Hot Wheels car to practice directions. One student gives directions and the other follows using the car.
  • Several participants mentioned using a lot of what @klafrench calls “Draw and Talk” activities, where students draw an item and then must explain it. For example, @jas347 wrapped up a discussion on the Cote d’Ivoire by asking students to draw or create an item they will take there, then explain why. To finish the activity, she had a real suitcase and students had to put their items inside.
  • @YasmineAllen uses a show-and-tell box in the last five minutes of class; students must describe an item. Several other participants mentioned having students bring items for show and tell, and that this activity is great for engaging students and practicing adjectives.
  • @klafrench does a “concept attainment” activity where students group items together and then discuss the commonality together.
  • For cooking units, @SraSpanglish likes to bring baggies of ingredients to class. In partners, one kid is blindfolded and must guess the ingredient.
  • @mr_sshaw writes verbs or questions on a beach ball and lets students toss to classmates after creating a sentence or answering a question. Students enjoy throwing things, so this activity is always popular.
  • Practicing prepositions is a lot more enjoyable with visuals than through the textbook. Use a fun prompt such as a toy hamburger and ask students to place it in different locations (or on different students).
  • For clothing, @mweelin uses multicultural Barbie dolls in pairs.
  • With a large enough screen, VoiceThread can allow you to create personalized visuals for your class needs. @SraSpanglish uses this tool to create and display weather maps for weather units.
  • Students can be the ultimate manipulative! @jklopp uses teams of kids to spell out target-language words. Or she calls out a famous painting or scene and students rush to reenact it.
  • @mweelin likes to cut up written sentences and allow students to put them back into order as writing practice, but a break from writing. @RonieWebster has a baggie of cut-up letters and lets students create sentences in teams. @SrtaLisa uses alphabet pasta.
  • @mweelin uses modeling clay as a fun manipulative for all ages. Kids have to model the vocabulary word or spelling. Similarly, @Sra_Hildinger lets students practice spelling with shaving cream when the desks start getting dirty.

Authentic Visuals

Many visuals and manipulatives can easily be culturally authentic. When possible, this should be done to increase students’ appreciation and ties to the target language and culture. For more information about authentic materials in the classroom, check out the past #langchat summaries here and here.

Videos are popular visuals to use, and they can be easily made to be culturally authentic. They are great engaging tools for students, and participants use them to support their teaching, to inspire conversation and just to practice listening and comprehension. Several participants mentioned using short films by Pixar for creative activities such as conversations or writing a script, as these films have lots of interesting actions but little dialogue. Mr. Bean is good for these activities as well.

  • @AudreyMisiano uses videos of her lower-level classes to refresh her older students’ memories. This student-to-student visual really grabs kids’ attentions.
  • Music videos can be fascinating visual aids. As the images in a music video are not always readily correlated with the lyrics, using videos to discuss the story and lyrics is a fun activity to engage in.

Photo prompts are also popular visuals with students, and you can use them to create stories, inspire conversation, practice vocabulary and many other activities. Use authentic images for the best effect. Several participants use screenshots from movies, TV shows or music videos.

  • @mr_sshaw puts pictures on students’ desks and then has the class walk around and write about the pictures, like a gallery walk.
  • @SECottrell uses Google Images as a “picture dictionary” instead of looking up unfamiliar words in a true dictionary.


Participants shared a few resources for further exploration.

The #ACTFL teacher of the year video is a great example of using visuals and manipulatives in class.

@sylviaduckworth shared her YouTube playlist of wordless animations.

@AudreyMisiano shared her YouTube playlist for secondary Spanish videos.

@alenord enjoys an activity called Mix and Mingle, and she shared a short write-up on the activity. She also shared a write-up on an activity called Boot Camp that teaches a lot of vocabulary very quickly.

@mr_sshaw shared this video for some partner activities.

@sylviaduckworth shared a list of wordless books written by Barbara Lehman, and @SECottrell shared another list of various wordless books for children.

Thank You!

Once again, a big thank you to all our participants for sharing such a fantastic list of ideas and activities for using manipulatives and visuals in the classroom! We’re sure that with such generosity, you’ll surely find something you can use above.

If you’d like to read the entire Twitter chat, please check out the archived chat. And be sure to join us next Thursday at 8 p.m. EST for our next discussion! If you’d like to suggest a topic for a future #langchat, please go to our topic suggestion page.

#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.