Last week, #LangChat participants discussed how portfolios can be used to support student reflection. This was a particularly interesting discussion, as not all participants are currently using portfolios in their classrooms, and those that are using portfolios are not all using them in the same way. We were especially pleased to hear from some new participants, including some who teach at the college level, who added their unique perspectives.

Using Portfolios: “What’s the Point?”

Participants shared different perspectives on how they use student portfolios, and what they feel should be included in them. Some have students make portfolios as end-of-year or end-of-semester activities, while others have students keep portfolios throughout the term as an ongoing reflection on their progress.

  • @js_pasaporte uses portfolios as a tool for student-led conferences. Students reflect on their progress in their portfolios and make plans for future improvement based on their performance assessments. They then share the portfolios with parents at the conferences.
  • @cadamsf1, on the other hand, has her AP students keep portfolios so that they can feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the semester. Her students’ portfolios are more like current events diaries that the students write, as opposed to reflections.
  • @tracy_dinesen has her students decide for themselves what work to include in their portfolios, choosing assignments that they feel met the learning objectives. She has students write reflections on their work as well.

@trescolumnae rightfully commented that sometimes students feel like making or keeping a portfolio is something that they have to do for their teacher, making it a seemingly pointless chore. With his students, he tries to emphasize the fact that a portfolio does not “belong” to the teacher; it is made by the student for the student.

Portfolios can be especially helpful with novice learners, as they boost confidence by showing progress. As @SrtaLisa pointed out, portfolios of first year language students show how quickly they learn, keeping them from getting frustrated by focusing on what they don’t know and can’t do. This shifts attention from grades received to appreciation of actual learning and making new goals for the future.

@cadamsf1, @mundaysa, and @tracy_dinesen all tell their students that the portfolios they make in their world language classes can serve as something like an artist’s portfolio that they can show to future employers as demonstration of their skills.

Portfolios: Not Just for Presentational Mode

Traditional student portfolios often focus on student work in the presentational mode. Several participants, however, were quick to note that portfolios can be a place for students to catalog work that demonstrates interpersonal and interpretive modes.

  • @pamwesely noted that interpersonal reading and writing assignments can be included in portfolios.
  • If student portfolios are digital, @karacjacobs suggested having students read each other’s work and respond with comments – prompting students to engage with interpersonal writing skills.
  • @js_pasaporte pointed out that interpersonal tasks with other students during student-led conferences.
    Digital portfolios and online voice recording tools (discussed in the sections below) allow students to record interpersonal exchanges and save them in portfolios to learn from and to show progress.

Creating Digital Portfolios

Many participants were enthusiastic about the prospect of having their students collect their work and write reflections online, creating a digital portfolio. With a myriad of online tools at both students’ and teachers’ disposal, participants weighed in on which ones were most helpful in building a valuable digital record of student progress.

Several participants were enthusiastic about Google Sites as a place for students to create online portfolios. @SraSpanglish appreciates how flexible the site is. @mundaysa shared this Google Site template for students to use: Although intended for college students, it could be adapted for younger students, too.

Some participants also recommended Linguafolio, and have used it with great success – especially with regards to self-assessment. @trescolumnae noted that it is designed for learners of any language, including English Language Learners.

@SraSpanglish shared her thoughts on Glogster for student e-portfolios in a blog post, found here: . She noted that the one downside was that Glogster makes it hard for parents to comment on student work. She has also tried using Thinkquest for e-portfolios, but did not like it.

Upper-level students in @js_pasaporte’s class are trying digital portfolios on Edublogs this year.

@trescolumna’s school district has really embraced edmodo this year; although he says it is not the ideal e-portfolio platform, it works for collecting materials. @SrtaLisa knows a French teacher who uses Edmodo for e-portfolios because she wanted only students and parents to be able to see them.
Finally, some participants advocated using Blogger, or any other blogging platform, as a good way to create online e-portfolios. @mundaysa shared a link to one of her Spanish students’ blogs from last year: . @karacjacobs likes using Blogger because her students can easily embed voice recordings into their blogs.

Incorporating Sound Recordings into Digital Portfolios

One of the benefits of having students create digital portfolios is the ability to include audio and audiovisual materials. Several participants weighed in on the online programs they use to have their students record their target language speaking skills:

  • @js_pasaporte plans to use VoiceThread with her IB students as they prepare for oral assessments.
  • @tracy_dinesen has had her students record spontaneous conversations with Camtasia and Audacity.
  • @karacjacobs likes Soundcloud for its compatibility with Blogger.

Some participants debated the pros and cons of GoogleVoice versus VoiceThread:

  • @karacjacobs has had students embed GoogleVoice files on their blogs, but is still thinking about how to develop a portfolio with them.
  • Similarly, @placido likes GoogleVoice because it allows her to see what students can do “off the cuff” without rehearsing, but she is still finding it cumbersome as a portfolio tool. For her, the best part of GoogleVoice is the fact that students can record using their cell phones – no special equipment required.
  • @cadamsf1 noted that there is now a mobile app for VoiceThread that allows users to record with their cell phones. She likes VoiceThread because students can listen to each other and talk, but also have the opportunity to prepare what they say. GoogleVoice is less interactive, but forces students to be more spontaneous, without rehearsing.

Digital Portfolios and Privacy

The idea of digital portfolios raises questions about student privacy. Should student portfolios be public or private? Are there benefits to keeping them public? These questions are probably best determined by the age of the students and the preferences of their parents. @mundaysa noted that Google Sites does have an option that allows students to keep their site private if they wish. For university students, it is more common to have public e-portfolio blogs.

Many thanks to all of our participants for their thoughtful contributions! And a special thanks to our moderator, @placido.

Don’t forget to suggest topics for future #LangChats here: . And remember to vote in our polls each week to help pick the week’s discussion topic!

Join us every Thursday at 8pm EST (5pm PST) for more #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.

Last week, our #LangChat participants shared their thoughts on how to use groups to practice communication skills. The conversation focused on, but was not limited to, interpersonal oral communication. Participants shared their thoughts on ways to group students for activities that maximize target language use and cultural exposure.

Group Size and Roles for Practicing Communication Skills

Most participants agreed that students got the most out of interpersonal communication skills activities when they were put into groups of two or three. For interpretive and presentational tasks, ideal group size can vary depending on the task and the students’ abilities. @CoLeeSensei likes a maximum of groups of three for interpretive tasks in her classroom, although she prefers pairs, especially if the activity is in the target language.

@SraSpanglish likes giving students in groups specific roles. For example, two students talk while one checks/monitors the conversation. She provided examples of this activity here:
@SraCasey and @CalicoTeach suggested having students report back to the whole class about what they did in their groups; this means more accountability, and a chance to practice presentational skills.

Helping Novice Speakers Stay in the Target Language

Even novice speakers can engage in activities demanding oral communication skills – with the right help. Many participants were enthusiastic about the use of visuals in communication activities for novice speakers.

  • @dr_dmd recommends having pairs of students describe the pictures for each other, or catalog the differences between two pictures. Pictures can be of common everyday situations in keeping with the theme of the unit.
  • Alternatively, @tbcaudill suggested that teachers have one student describe an object or situation in the target language while the other student draws a picture based on the description.
  • @dr_dmd proposed giving students a set of pictures of faces. One student describes a particular face, and the other student has to guess which one he or she is describing.

Intermediate speakers can also benefit from descriptive speaking activities. @dr_dmd suggested having students work on speaking in more complex sentences and offering personal opinions.

Another way to help novice speakers stay in the target language is by semi-scripting communication to varying degrees. Teachers might gives students some lines or sentence starters, sentence framework to fill in with specifics, or even just general directions (“You must include x, y, and z in your piece”). Sometimes a few constraints can spur creativity, keeps students from feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of starting from scratch, and lowers their affective filter.

Group Activities for Communication Skills

Participants shared a wide range of types of group activities that help students practice target language communication skills.

  • @teachelmundo likes using 1-2 minute news clips for audio with visual reinforcement, and then asks comprehension questions differentiated by level. Students find short video clips to be less overwhelming than long ones.
  • @IteachHola has her students interview each other about their families, favorite things, likes and dislikes. The students then present to the rest of the class.
  • @lauren_schryver took a night improv class at Stanford that gave her lots of ideas for group communication activities. She recommends searching Google for more improv activity ideas.
  • @CoLeeSensei is preparing a murder mystery game for her Japanese class, “Who killed Mr. Hasegawa.” Students play the roles of suspects and detectives and get great communication practice!

Group activities can be a great opportunity to teach about the culture of the target language, too.

  • @lauren_schryver used a site that listed French holidays in her class. She had students identify holidays they recognized from their own culture, as well as unfamiliar ones, and discuss. Lists of French holiday can be found here: and
  • @lauren_schryver has also had students practice communication skills at an in-class meal. Students are guests and must have proper table manners, ask for food, and compliment the host.
  • @dr_dmd has his students study Le Tour de France, followed with a class bicycle race. Students then wrote compositions about what they had learned.

Participants shared some links to sites offering ideas for group activities for world language classrooms.

  • @SchmandaMac ’s school district has emphasize the Kagan method, which seeks to get a higher percentage of students participating in-class. @trescolumnae has been using some ideas from the Kagan method for almost 20 years! More information about that method can be found here:
  • @DiegoOjeda66 recommended Helena Courtain’s wiki for pair and group work ideas:
  • @DiegoOjeda66 also shared a link to this site that includes lots of ideas for games to practice target language communication skills:

Thank you to all our enthusiastic participants for sharing so many ideas! And a special thanks to our moderator, @dr_dmd.

Please suggest future #LangChat topics on our wiki at Don’t forget to vote each week to select topics, too!

Join us every Thursday at 8pm EST (5pm PST) for sharing, debate, and inspiration with your fellow #LangChat participants!

#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.

Last week our participants shared their thoughts on how to support heritage speakers in the world language classroom. Participants began by defining the term “heritage speaker” or “heritage learner” as someone who speaks the target language at home, but who does not necessarily know how to read and write, especially in a more formal, academic context. For a heritage speaker, L1 is not English; alternatively, heritage speakers’ L1 might be English along with another language.

As @DiegoOjeda66 reminded us, oral proficiency is not language proficiency. A truly proficient heritage speaker should be competent in listening, speaking, reading and writing (LSRW), beyond just basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS).

Participants went on to discuss the merits of offering special classes exclusively for heritage learners, and how to best serve the needs of heritage learners in a regular world language classroom when separate classes are not offered.

Why Should Heritage Learners Take a Language Class at All?

Certain heritage speakers often feel that they do not need to take a class to learn the language that they already speak. Moderator @DiegoOjeda66 provided a great list of reasons, addressed to prospective heritage speaker students, for why they should take a world language class to fully master their L1.

  • Learning grammar terminology will help you understand not just your own language but almost any other language.
  • Acquiring new vocabulary will help you communicate better with heritage speakers from other countries. For example, a heritage Spanish-speaker of Mexican origin will be able to better communicate with heritage Spanish-speakers from other Latin American countries and with those from Spain.
  • For heritage speakers who are still learning English, learning more Spanish will help you learn more English, as English and Spanish share many common words, cognates, and etymologies.
  • Taking a world language class will give you reading and writing experience. A world language teacher should make sure to offer reading materials and to assign writing topics that are relevant and of interest to students’ age group and individual preferences.
  • Mastering the target language will help you learn to fully express yourself, so that you can communicate your true feelings, not just answer the question, “How was your day?” with a list of things that happened.
  • You will learn how to write in different styles for different contexts, not just put to paper the spoken word.
  • You will develop a more intimate connection with your heritage and learn more about your own culture, developing a sense of pride.
  • You will be able to better pass on your language to your future children, which will give them more opportunities for success.

The Case for Separate Heritage Learner Classes

Several participants made a strong case for offering classes specifically for heritage learners. Heritage learners may already have strong oral skills, although their vocabulary may be limited to that of daily life and family activities. Learning pronunciation is usually not an issue. But many, if not most, heritage learners do not know how to read and write in the target language (their L1).

Separate classes for heritage learners are most often offered in parts of the country where there is a high concentration of non-native English speakers. In the case of Spanish speakers, this most often means the West and Southwest. @dr_dmd in California shared that his school offers heritage learner classes in levels 1-4, to prepare students to eventually take AP Spanish Language and/or Literature with non-heritage students. While he does not want to reject heritage learners from the regular world language classroom, he believes that teachers can better serve heritage learners with heritage learner-specific classes. He shared that it can take a long time to help administrators and counselors realize the value of offering heritage learner classes; he adviser teachers to keep advocating. Sometimes, even a heritage learner program does not meet the needs of all heritage learners; for example, @CalicoTeach shared that the high school heritage learner classes in her district are sometimes too difficult for students who didn’t enroll in heritage learner classes in middle school.

Heritage Learners in the Regular World Language Classroom

Separate classes for heritage speakers are not always available – especially in the Midwestern United States and areas where there is not as large of an immigrant population. This means that world language teachers will have to be especially sensitive and supportive of heritage learners who choose to enroll in world language classes to improve their skills. As @dr_dmd put it, teachers must adapt our classes in order to offer our heritage learner students meaningful learning – they have the right to learn, too!

All too often, heritage learners in regular world language classes don’t feel like they are getting anything out of their class. This can lead to behavioral problems. @Sra_Hildinger said that heritage learners in regular language classes need to know right away that the class has something to offer.

Some teachers might see the presence of a heritage learner in a regular world language classroom as an inconvenience: heritage learners have different needs and goals from students who are learning L2 from scratch. Bored heritage learners may become frustrated and cause disruptions, distracting other students. However, our participants were firm in their belief that in cases where heritage learners cannot have separate classes, they can prove to be an asset to both the teacher and their peers in the regular world language classroom.

  • @dr_dmd suggested that teachers elicit the help of the heritage speakers to assist other students, giving them a privileged status, or a place of honored engagement.
  • @dr_dmd also suggested offering heritage learners supplemental and interest-based readings so that they can challenge themselves to keep progressing.
  • @dr_dmd like using project-based learning (PBL) as a means of offering engagement to all students, giving each the opportunity to take their learning as far as they can.
  • @cadamsf1 recommends pairing heritage learners with a stronger regular language student, or with a student who is highly motivated to challenge him/herself. This type of pairing only works well with students who have low affective filters.
  • @CalicoTeach reminded us that while heritage speakers might have larger vocabularies than their classmates, they often struggle with spelling if they have never had to write their L1 before. @lovemysummer suggested grouping students so that the heritage learners can serve as vocab “experts” and the L2 learners can serve as spelling “experts.”
  • On the other hand, heritage learners can also benefit from learning synonyms for the words they already know. Even heritage speakers can enhance their vocabulary!

In addition to their vocabulary knowledge and oral proficiency, heritage speakers can be a valuable source of cultural information. Engaging their expertise in this area boosts their confidence and makes them feel like they do belong in the class. @MmeCaspari described the World Language Day at her school, where all heritage learners, English-language learners, and exchange students give presentations about their cultures. They receive positive attention from the whole school. Teachers help students prepare their presentations to ensure that the presentations are valuable for everyone.

For more thoughts on school diversity and multi-cultural enrichment, @dr_dmd strongly recommends the work of Jim Cummins, particularly his book Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society.

A well-taught world language class – whether heritage learner-specific, or a regular world language class – can be a life-changing experience for a heritage speakers. @cadamsf1 shared that her students were fascinated by what they learned about their own language and culture, and angry that they hadn’t been taught it before. As @dr_dmd pointed out, heritage learners sometimes do not know how much they have to be proud of!

As a final thought, @DiegoOjeda66 reminded us that if we allow heritage speakers to leave our classes with the same skills and knowledge they had when they began, we are doing them a disservice.

Thank you to all our participants who shared their perspectives! And a special thanks to our moderators, @dr_dmd and @DiegoOjeda66 for their direction!

Join us this coming Thursday, September 20th at 8pm EST / 5pm PST 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.

Last weeks participants discussed ways to reach out to struggling students to help them succeed. We recognized the fact that the world language classroom can be a very intimidating place for some students, but also that there are things teachers can do to ensure that all students feel comfortable and confident in the classroom, so that all can succeed.

What is a “struggling student?”

Participants began by asking what the term “struggling student” really means. The general consensus was that while some students have an identifiable deficiency, any students might struggle in a classroom – and especially a world language classroom. The nature of the world language learning process can be very intimidating and frustrating for beginners and more advanced students alike. It is all the more important, then, that the world language teacher seek to make connections with his or her students and improve interpersonal communication.

As @senoraCMT pointed out, some students are slower processors than others. This can lead to frustration, causing these students to zone out and give up. For these students, @Lauren_Scheller recommends TPR, using thumbs up and thumbs down for communication to help students participate even if they can’t find the words to do so. Ample use of visuals helps, too!

@DiegoOjeda66 made a bold statement: unless there’s an identifiable deficiency, there are no struggling students – only struggling teachers. He argues that “struggling students” struggle because they have low motivation, and that teachers can control that factor. With that in mind, participants shared their ideas for how they as teachers can be the best they can be, thus reaching every student.

When it comes to identifying struggling students early on, several participants advocated the use of diagnostic assessments. @MartinaBex stressed the need to determine where the breakdown is (RTI) and whether or not students can identify the meaning of written word as well as a spoken one. @Lauren_Scheller suggested assessing proficiency before diving into teaching, and continuing to use portfolios throughout the year for teacher assessment and peer assessment.

  • @dr_dmd suggested that interpersonal communication if often the biggest challenge for students; they feel shy in the classroom.

Anticipating Students’ Struggles

Co-moderator @DiegoOjeda66 wrote up a useful list of fears that “struggling” students suffer from. These fears close students to learning, and keep them from engaging and getting the most out of their L2 class. He advised that we keep in mind these fears so that we as educators can stay one step ahead of them.

  • “I know I’m going to make a mistake.”
  • “I’m afraid of being called on.”
  • “I don’t understand all the things the teacher says in L2.”
  • “The other students are already better at L2 than me.”
  • “I don’t want to get a bad grade.”
  • “I forget things I already know when I’m nervous.”
  • “I don’t want to speak in front of the rest of the class. I’m afraid my classmates will laugh at me, and I don’t want the teacher to correct me.”
  • “The class moves too fast – I can’t keep up.”

World language teachers would be advised to keep these fears in mind, and to remember what it is like to be a novice language learner so that they can better serve their students.

Addressing Struggling Students’ Fears

Based on this list, it appears that the fears that cause students to struggle can all be addressed by making sure students feel comfortable in the classroom and have confidence in themselves. Participants shared tips and techniques to help all students get the most out of their time in the world language classroom.

One of the main barriers to student achievement in the world language classroom is students’ belief that they are not capable of learning a new language. Participants discussed ways to change that perception:

  • @senoraCMT suggested reminding students that have already learned one language – English – and are thus capable of learning any other language, too!
  • Some languages may be harder to acquire than others, but none is impossible. As @Lauren_Scheller pointed out, “Even the village idiot speaks the language.”
  • L2 teachers who are not native L1 speakers should let students know about their own struggles, setting an example by being open to making mistakes. For example, @dr_dmd shared that his English is “terrible,” and lets his students know that they can laugh at him when he makes mistakes; he encourages them to help him learn.

Fear and anxiety about grades can also be an inhibitor to student success. It is inevitable that novice language learners will make mistakes, but many students let the fear of making mistakes keep them from making an effort to speak – which is such an important part of language acquisition!. A point-based grading system only exacerbates that fear.

  • @MartinaBex advocated proficiency-based grading rather than point-based grading. @senoralopez begins her school year with her students by talking about proficiency instead of grades; this helps give students motivation to speak in the target language.
  • @Lauren_Scheller creates open-ended assessments that show what students can do, rather than what they can’t do; that way, everyone has a chance to be successful.
  • @Lauren_Scheller also reminds students that they don’t need to understand everything immediately – the important thing is just to listen.
  • @Catherineku1972 shared that point-based grading is bad for teachers, too – they spend so much time grading and doing paperwork that it can take the joy out of teaching!

Recognizing Student Success

Similarly, it is important that teachers celebrate success, and that students learn to recognize their own successes, too! @Chalkbrd shared a valuable quote from Susan Gross, “Nothing motivates like success,” and explained that many students struggle because they don’t feel successful.

@tmsaue1 reminded us of the need to celebrate success from Day 1. As @CoLeeSensei reminded us, feeling like they have a small “win” early on in the class encourages students to keep trying; without it, some students will just shut down and decide not to try. @suarez712002 pointed out that this means more than a teacher just saying “good job;” students need frequent, detailed feedback.

Getting students engaged in their own learning process enables them to recognize their own successes, and thus become more self-motivated.

  • @suarez712002 advised having “the talk” about proficiency levels early on, so that students are clear about expectations and can have a sense of their own progress.
  • @dr_dmd recommends Edmodo as a way for students to reflect on their learning. It even has a phone app, which students love!
  • @Lauren_Scheller has had her students use GoogleVoice to record themselves; students can listen to their recordings a few weeks later and note their progress, giving them motivation to keep working hard.

Teachers can also help students’ confidence by breaking down activities into do-able chunks, as @dr_dmd suggested.


In keeping with the theme of recognizing all types of student success, many participants agreed that differentiation in the classroom can be a way to engage all students, and to keep students from feeling like they are struggling. @dr_dmd argued that differentiation should be more about offering student choice – giving students choices of activities to teach them to let them drive their own learning. @Lauren_Scheller thinks of differentiation as creating opportunities for all students to shine. @tmsaue1 advised teachers to focus on differentiated learning, not differentiated instruction. @senoraCMT advocates TPRS because of its emphasis on daily differentiation. She shares that that’s why she never regretted leaving textbooks behind.

Interpersonal Relationships: Making All Students Feel Comfortable in the Classroom

@dr_dmd reminded us that an effective world language classroom is a zone of law affective filters. Teachers create such a place through positive interaction with their students, putting them at ease.

  • As @placido pointed out, many students have problems in school because of a lack of relationships there. Thus, telling students that you care about them and showing them compassion and patience can go further than any instructional strategy, according to @Lauren_Scheller.
  • @SenoritaALopez has found that listening to students and asking them about their lives helps build the trust needed to have confidence and succeed in the classroom.
  • @placido stressed the importance of making eye contact with students. Eye contact makes students feel more engaged and connected to what’s going on in class; additionally, it helps teachers gauge student comprehension.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 believes that interpersonal skills are the “first and foremost” most important skills of the 21st century teacher.

This foundation of trust in the classroom helps students get more out of communicative activities in the target language – communication that can be between teacher and student, as well as amongst students themselves. @MartinaBex suggested that good interpersonal communication starts with the teacher, who sets the example and can facilitate conversation between students. Students must trust both the teacher and their classmates so that they don’t have to fear making mistakes. @CoLeeSensei has her students work in pairs, and switch every two weeks; this relieves student anxiety by giving them a partner to work with. She believes that interpersonal and communicative activities actually motivate students – students use the target language without even noticing that it’s not their native language!

Some Perspective

Towards the end of the discussion, participants offered some perspective that can help both struggling students and teachers alike. @dr_dmd asked why do some teachers think of perfection as the end goal of world language teaching. He reminded us that no one – not even native speakers – speak any language perfectly! @tmsaue1 shared his “aha!” moment that he had the other day: students aren’t behind or ahead, they just are where they are. Teachers should relax and not worry so much about having all students be at the same place in their journey of learning.

For more on the topic of struggling students, @dr_dmd recommended an ASCD book titled, How to Support Struggling Students by Robyn R. Jackson and Claire Lambert. More information can be found here:

Finally, @CoLeeSensei shared a link to a video that she shows all her students before they begin learning Japanese. Made by a Canadian student who learned Japanese, it gives some good advice for novice learners of all languages:

Many thanks to all our participants for their thoughtful and enthusiastic contributions! A special thanks to our co-moderators, @dr_dmd and @DiegoOjeda66.

Next Thursday at 8pm EST / 5pm PST for another exciting #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.

On August 23rd, #LangChat participants talked about different ways to contextualize new language structures for their students. We discussed the meaning of the word “contextualize,” and what resources are available to help students learn new language structures and patterns. Participants debated whether or not “authentic” L2 texts are necessary for contextualization. The value of worksheets as a teaching and practice tool was also debated.

Defining “New Structures” and “Contextualize”

Participants sought to define what exactly they meant by “new structures” and “contextualize” so that everyone was on the same page for the discussion. Participants decided that “new structures” could mean different things to different people, including suffixes and idioms, or patterns with rules (not vocabulary, and therefore not idioms)

@SECottrell shared that to her, contextualizing a new structure involved patterning a structure for students with comprehension and production. She defined contextualization as connecting a structure to meaning in authentic input. When @tmsaue1 thinks of contextualizing structures, he thinks more of teaching structures as vocabulary, rather than as patterns.

Patterns and Acquisition vs. Formal Learning

Participants agreed that the most natural way to learn a language is by acquisition in a total immersion setting. Of course, a formal classroom setting is different, and teacher have to do their best to facilitate learning so that students can pick up on patterns and feel comfortable with them.

As @trescolumnae reminded us, acquisition and formal learning serve different purposes in the world language classroom; the challenge for teachers is to find a balance between the two that works. We are shooting for acquisition in a formal setting, @SECottrell pointed out. If you can’t create an immersion environment, then some degree of focus on form will and probably should happen, @trescolumnae added.

Younger students are often more comfortable with natural acquisition: @SECottrell is able to teach her 3-year-old students without using a word of English. High school students, on the other hand, often need patterns; @SECottrell finds that patterning structures with them accelerates learning.

Contextualizing Patterns with Authentic texts

Participants agreed that authentic target language materials are often the best way to contextualize new patterns. Some shared their ideas about how to incorporate and use authentic texts in the classroom as a way of putting new patterns in context.

  • @SraSpanglish suggested teaching the imperfect by having students describe what they did when they were younger that got them in trouble.
  • @MmeNero recommends the Tv5Monde website for activities that are contextualized by grammar lesson or culture. Resources include songs, videos, and news.
  • @MmeNero has also used authentic French TV guides specifically written for French youth. Her students enjoyed using structures they had learned in class to understand the guides.
  • @Musicuentos shared on her blog her strategy for contextualizing the subjunctive for doubt using stories, songs, and activities:
  • @MmeNero has also found the magazine Le journal de Mickey on LeKiosk app for French, and Eres magazing for Spanish, to be helpful.

Several participants reminded us that songs are an authentic source that can be used to contextualize new patterns. @DiegoOjeda66 reminded us that songs lyrics usually stay in the same verb tense, making them good for illustrating patterns.

  • @SraSpanglish provided this link to a site with Spanish songs that can be used to contextualize patters in the classroom:
  • @CoLeeSensei shared that one of her French language-teaching colleagues has deemed Wednesday “Musique Mercredi,” and has students sign up in pairs to present a new song each week.
  • @CoLeeSensei has a goal of exposing students to one song each week – not so much for teaching as for “ear immersion,” and in the hopes of inspiring students to investigate further on their own.

@MmeNero shared some of her students’ impressions of learning and using reading strategies and authentic documents on her blog, which can be foud here:

Teacher-Created Texts for Contextualization

While authentic texts play an important role in the world language classroom, many participants advocated the use of teacher-created texts for contextualization, too. @DiegoOjeda66 argued that a text created by a teacher can still be considered authentic, as it is written by a highly-proficient speaker of the target language. @SraSpanglish disagreed, wondering if a text can really be called “authentic” if it is not specifically written for native target language speakers in the first place.

Regardless of the “authenticity” of teacher-created texts, there is no doubt that they can play a very important role in the classroom. As @MmeCaspari pointed out, teacher-created texts can serve as a stepping stone on the way to authentic texts, as students gain knowledge, skills, and confidence. For some languages, teacher-created texts are an integral part of world language education, as even native speakers are not able to read authentic texts until they are at a very high level. @CoLeeSensei shared her perspective as a Japanese teacher: she explained that even native Japanese students are not able to fully read their own language until the end of high school! Similarly, there are very few stories written in Latin that are accessible to beginners; @trescolumnae shared a link to his website, where he and @annapmagistra have compiled stories and activities for beginning Latin learners:

Are Worksheets the Enemy?

Worksheets are an integral part of the traditional, “old-school” language teaching method, and thus have fallen somewhat out of favor among those seeking innovative ways to better engage students in language acquisition. At the same time, many participants rose to defend the humble worksheet, arguing that it can still have a place in the 21st century world language classroom:

  • @tmsaue1 argued that worksheets can provide “contextualized” patterns.
  • @edwardstanko believes that worksheets are good in moderation, as long as they are not the driving force of the lesson.
  • @SECottrell calls her interpretive documents “worksheets.” She pointed out that the word “worksheet” does not necessarily designate a boring fill-in-the-blank exercise.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 agreed that worksheets can have value if they are based on authentic contextualized materials; however, he cautioned against teachers using pre-made worksheets from multiple different workbooks, as students find them confusing.
  • @SraSpanglish sometimes uses worksheets to isolate a particular skill as a means of engaging lower order thinking skills (LOTS) on the way to higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

Thank you to all our participants for your thoughtful contributions! And a special thanks to @SECottrell and @placido for moderating the discussion.

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Join us next Thursday at 5pm EST/8pm PST 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.