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Is the textbook an antique or a necessary part of world language curriculum?

The importance of the textbook in the world language classroom has become a heated discussion rather than a reliable staple of the language community. During #langchat on Thursday, participants discussed the benefits and drawbacks of relying on textbooks as the primary source of language learning, and provided some excellent alternatives to a traditional textbook.

World Language Teachers Moving Away from Textbooks

Although a number of #langchat teachers learned their love of language with the use of textbooks, it is clear that many teachers are de-emphasizing or eliminating textbooks altogether. @Darcypippins, @LauraJaneBarber and many others described their joy at “throwing out” the textbooks in favor of more authentic resource materials in their classrooms. @Lclarcq stated, “30th year of teaching [and I] have never used a book.  Not sure I could, but I am listening…”

Still, many world language teachers learned from textbooks and find that there is still value in using them. @Emilybakerhaynes summed it up excellently: “[Textbooks] are how I learned Spanish and I don’t feel that my learning experience with them was negative.” Other teachers described “fond memories” of using textbooks to learn, but were clear in their overall feeling: Textbooks don’t have the capacity to reflect the constant motion of language learning.

Benefits of Using Textbooks in the Classroom

Even though it was clear that most #langchat –ers did not recommend using textbooks all the time, there were some benefits for incorporating them into the classroom. @HCPSLanguages stated, “I think many FL teachers jump on the 100% anti-textbook bandwagon when in reality it’s just another tool they could potentially use.”

Many people chimed in with the benefits of using textbooks:

  • Teachers like @ProfesorM and @EmilyBakerHaynes use textbooks to supplement their curriculum.
  • @LauraJaneBarber described the safety of using a textbook instead of untested outside resources. “Textbooks provide age-appropriate audio and video materials and will never surprise you with swear words.”
  • @HCPSLanguages spoke of the collaborative benefits of using textbooks. “It’s easier to collaborate by agreeing how many chapters to cover than to create and share resources.”
  • @MSKBordner said, “I never use [textbooks], but sometimes I’m surprised by great snippets of culture [or] explicit grammar practice.”
  • @Yeager85 was emphatic: “Good textbooks do exist!” She cited Revista as “…an amazing textbook with a focus on authentic, contextualized Spanish.”
  • Some teachers commented on their students’ reticence to give up the textbook. @SenoraCMT said, “Sometimes kids say that…they like the comfort of a worksheet! [It’s] easy to jump through that hoop!  [It’s] hard to own the learning!”
  • @CoLeeSensei mentioned the value of using textbooks for supporting new teachers. “For many who need to ‘find their feet’ first, it gives them a place to stand on – but then they get stuck!”
  • @Lisajmch said, “I find textbook activities helpful for students who struggle with organizing the language. The structure is a good starting point.”
  • @HCPSLanguages promoted comprehensive structure by using textbooks. “Textbooks have the best and most complete thematic ancillary materials, and that’s the main thing I like about them.”

Drawbacks of Using Textbooks

Still, many participants agreed that the benefits of over-reliance on textbooks were not worth the drawbacks. There were a number of reasons that the members of #langchat overwhelmingly advocated against using them as the primary teaching tool. @Klafrench said, “I think textbooks are comfortable for many because you can just do the same thing over and over, but world language changes constantly!”

There were a number of similar reasons why #langchat –ers discouraged overconfidence in textbook teaching:

  • @Jas347 said, “My students noticed too easily how their e-book had mostly white faces, when that doesn’t represent them nor the francophone (French-speaking) world”
  • @ProfesorM opposed textbook learning due to its lack of real-world subject matter. “We follow the textbook topics at my [middle school]. Crazy topics! Skiing and parasailing, two things I hate!” @Darcypippens agreed. “I knew the textbook had to go when one of the vocab words I had to “cover” was ‘calandria’! Really?!”
  • @Tmsaue1 agreed, and added his concern that textbooks don’t allow for differentiation. “[Textbooks create] artificial order of structures, vocabulary and functions that don’t take into account [the] proficiency levels of students.”
  • @CarolGaab had mixed feelings about the amount of useful material in textbook teaching. She said, “There are some useful resources in a textbook. Unfortunately, you pay BIG money for 5% use.”
  • A number of teachers said that they use a textbook to get an idea of themes or concepts, but generally build their own units with more authentic, relevant resources. @SrtaRad said, “We also use it as a starting point and pull in other materials to strengthen the unit.”
  • @Klafrench expressed a thought that was supported by many teachers: textbooks’ general lack of relevance. “My major frustration is that they are outdated (except for VISTA). My French 3 book has vocab for getting your shoes repaired?”
  • Some teachers, like @darcypippins, cited the improved test scores of students who moved away from textbooks and towards more authentic resources. “Without the textbook, my students improved from 30% pass rate on AP test to 75% [using] TPRS, reading and CI.”
Ipads as alternatives for textbooks

Technology components like Ipads may make language textbooks more adaptable and flexible.

Creative Solutions to the Textbook Problem

A surprising number of teachers at the #langchat session were clearly attracted to the concept of creating their own solution to the textbook problem. Some, like @cadamsf1, are required to use textbooks in the classroom and want to have options for incorporating more authentic resources without losing the structure of a book.

Some of the alternative ideas to a traditional textbook-based environment were:

  • @Krueger: “Maybe the textbook could simply be a reference book of tips, info and links that could be updated.”
  • @LauraJaneBarber: “…you can buy curriculum that is not textbook based. It’s research based [and] upholds [ACTFL] standards.”
  • Instead of purchasing textbooks, some teachers have convinced administration to purchase Ipads to create a more interactive learning experience.
  • @Klafrench and @Srtalisa suggest using e-books that students can carry with them on mobile devices.
  • @SenoraCMT and @CarolGaab spoke of the benefits of using full-length novels in the target language for building cohesive units.
  • Several teachers talked about gradually replacing textbooks with outside resources. This way, new teachers can have the structure and support of the textbook, but are encouraged to try new ways of teaching with authentic resources. @Eonsrud said, “You do one or two units a year until you’ve changed your whole curriculum. Doing it all at once is too hard. [There’s a high likelihood] of burnout.”

Writing the Book on Language Learning

Regardless of whether teachers were for or against using textbooks in the language classroom, it was clear from the discussion that a broad array of strategies is the most effective way to engage students. #Langchat participants agree that through a combination of ACTFL-aligned lesson plans, authentic resources and a strong emphasis on communication, students will become more confident speakers and more likely to continue language studies.

Additional Resources

TPRS Novels (TPRS Publishing)
11 Real Ways Technology is Affecting Education Right Now (Edudemic)
Driving Questions for High School Spanish (@SraSpanglish)
Revista (Vista Higher Learning Publications)

Children working with computers. Date unknown. Roding Primary School & Nursery. Students writing diligently on computers while in school. Accessed January 18, 2013.

#Langchat participants discuss online writing outlets, working in groups, word games, and writing keys

During Thursday night’s session of #langchat, participants discussed various interactive ways to develop students’ world language writing skills. The discussion topics included ways to foster many types of writing through analysis and discussion. By using various methods such as online tools, group discussion and word games, teachers are encouraging and incorporating writing into the world language classroom.

Utilizing Traditional and Online Language Writing Outlets

While traditional paper journals and free-writes remain a staple in many classrooms, several teachers support the use of blogs or similar online tools. @Mundayasa loves using blogs in the classroom as they provide excellent opportunities to read, write and discuss in the target language. As @Emilybakerhanes pointed out, blogs are “Great for incorporating little doses of writing into a busy day.” @Sonrisadelcampo agreed with this statement and offered KidBlog as a solution for those concerned with online safety and monitoring.

Online discussions are another way that participants have incorporated writing into their classrooms. @CoLeeSensei suggested using Twitter to introduce students to authentic Spanish speakers. For those schools where Twitter is blocked, @Professor suggested using an online bulletin board system called Linoit. Other teachers create their own version of Twitter in a paper format during class. @Mme_henderson likes to share real sources such as Facebook and Twitter feeds because students “need to see how natives communicate.”

Piquing Students Interests with Foreign Language Writing Games

A great deal of #langchat participants mentioned the usage of language writing games to help students develop and use their creative skills. @Awear10 suggested the word game Mad Libs, although she advocated for creating ones that are tailored for the proficiency level of each individual class. She said, “I’m K-4 Spanish, so the pre-made ones can be too advanced”.

@AmberMocarski suggested also introducing students to the game of Five Card Flickr to increase writing skills. Other participants suggested that Five Card Flickr is wonderful for general practice, but is not specifically designed to help students’ ability to communicate with writing.

Group Writing Project

Working together on language writing projects can encourage communication, collaboration and higher-level thinking skills.

Students Working Together to Foster Writing Creativity

While using online world language writing methods are a wonderful way to help students develop their skills, the importance of grouping was also emphasized. @HeatherMartens2 said, “I have done group writing where they pass one sheet of paper and have to add a line to the story. Very entertaining!” While @Cadamsf1 said, “I used to pull out sentences from [students’] writing and they would have to work in groups to make corrections.”

One way to use the brain power of the whole group was the idea of “Picture Writes,” suggested by @Awear10. In this method, the teacher puts up an image and the students have three minutes to write as many details as possible. Then, the students “pair together to develop complete sentences. Whole group share.”

@Sonrisadelcampo also suggested an activity for using images to get students working together on language writing. In her activity, “Character Sketches,” the teacher puts up a photo and asks students “What is this person’s problem today?” Many teachers agreed that picture prompts can really elevate writing to a more creative and collaborative level.

Tools to Support Students’ Writing

Teachers also shared the many tools they use to support students’ writing. For novice learners, graphic organizers and word banks are especially helpful. Many teachers favor the use of circumlocution over dictionaries as students can become overly dependent on dictionaries. MartinaBex encourages the creation of personal dictionaries.

@DiegoOjeda66 suggests that teachers give students good content and ask them to complete specific writing tasks. His idea list includes reorganizing paragraphs, substituting repeated elements with pronouns, summarizing, and interpreting graphics.

Reading Supports Writing Skills Development

Many participants believe that good writing skills are directly related to reading activities. The more students read, the more they will pick up various writing techniques.

Leading by example is perhaps the most beneficial way to bring out students foreign language writing skills. When proper writing techniques are demonstrated by the teacher and witnessed by the students, they are more willing to open up their creative side. @Mme_henderson pointed out” Students need to see the teacher writing too… It’s good for them to see the process of writing in action”.

Additional Resources

Five Card Flickr (Sadhana Ganapathiraju)
Awkward Family Photos (Awkward Family, LLC)
Evernote (Evernote Corporation)
Linoit (Infoteria Corporation)
KidBlog (
Using Writing-to-Learn Activities (Helga Thorson)
Spanish Mad Libs (
Today’s Meet (James Socol)

#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.

"Teacher Appreciation" featured photo. Place unknown. A foreign language teaching instructor with a student.

#Langchat participants discuss communication, technology and prioritizing in the new year.

After a very restful winter break, #langchat was back on Thursday night, chock full of plans for updating and invigorating the language classroom. Even though each participant had a different goal for their foreign language teaching, we have the common goal of having more interactive, engaging classrooms where students feel free to communicate and teachers feel less stressed

Focus on Student Communication

Almost immediately, it became clear that #langchat participants want to focus more on engaging students in their foreign language teaching classroom. @CoLeeSensei said, “I resolve to find more ways to give listening and speaking practice.” Some teachers mentioned finding that there is a distinct lack of communication after a lesson is completed. @Esantacruz13 lamented, “I want to hear more talking from students.”

This communication shouldn’t be one way, either. @SECottrell hit upon a very important point: feedback. “I want to give better and more prompt feedback to students and colleagues, but [I’m] not sure how to sustain that.” @Msfrenchteach suggested using Twitter to give feedback, such as classroom announcements.

More Engaging Lesson Plans

A number of #langchat-ers decided that 2013 is going to be the year of better lesson plans. @Shannon_Lorenzo said, “I feel like my whole curriculum needs to be overhauled and I’d love to use #authres as the inspiration.” @AudreyMisiano said she would be having students interact with native speakers in the classroom, and @MSKBordner brought up the idea of getting authentic audio through live videoconferencing.

Student engagement was also talked about at last night’s #langchat. @Marishawkins mentioned embedded readings as a plan for engaging her students more. @Esantacruz13 talked about her plan to have her students do active presentations each Friday. @Sonrisadelcampo made a comment that she was interested in student engagement outside of class as well. This year, she is developing an after-school language program that is taught by her high school students.

"Teacher Appreciation" featured photo. Place unknown. A foreign language teaching instructor with a student.

Technology keeps students interested and motivated, and also provides learning opportunities for the teacher.

Incorporating Technology Into Foreign Language Teaching

One of the most talked about subjects of the evening was technology in the foreign language teaching classroom. Many teachers are focusing on using social media, like Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter in the classroom and personally. @MartinaBex mentioned her goal to expand her personal learning network through using Pinterest. @Msfrenchteach jokingly replied that her goal was to, “force other teachers who are not on Twitter to join!”

There were a number of other technological elements that were a part of teachers’ New Years foreign language teaching resolutions. Using QR codes, Ipads and classroom management software were just a few of the technologies covered. Many teachers talked about the benefits of foreign language teaching management systems, like EdModo and Moodle. @SraHoopes shared her resolution to begin blogging, and many shared their favorite foreign language teaching blogs. The most talked about of the night? Lori Langer de Ramirez’s blog, Mis Cositas.

Slow Down and Have Fun!

Some of the best foreign language teaching resolutions shared were those from teachers who recognized that they were putting too much energy, stress and time into their classrooms. @Placido said, “I resolve to stop rushing through the curriculum and just enjoy teaching kids at their pace.” @SECottrell agreed, stating that she has recently opted to reinforce content that her students needed help with instead of moving to a new unit.

Additional Resources

Song Activities (Martina Bex)
French Writing Sample Essays for SMARTBoard (Task Magic)
Embedded Reading Blog
Edmodo is 24/7 Education (Audrey Misiano)
QR Codes in the Language Classroom (Ellen Cordiero)
Spanish Songs with Online Worksheets
50 Speaking Activities for the Language Classroom (Steve Smith)
The Language Educator (ACTFL Publication)

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every Thursday night at 8pm EST (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.

These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.