Global Bathymetry DEM With Satellite Lan by Kevin M. Gill, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Kevin M. Gill 

#langchat discusses some ideas for taking advantage of the increased
access to global language sharing.

Even though Spring Break is closing in, #langchat participants shared a wealth of great ideas on how to use the global language teaching community to help students acquire new skills. Many teachers focused on creating personal connections between classrooms in the US and abroad. Great ideas focused on using language teaching technology and experiential learning to inspire global competency in language students.

Language Teaching Through Interactive Exchanges

One of the most popular ways that participants discussed expanding their students’ language experiences was through classroom collaborations and exchanges via online communication. Teachers have been able to connect with classrooms around the world because of the access the Internet has provided. Teachers like @crwmsteach have a “sister city” exchange in the second language. @eonsrud said, ‘I’m lucky to have a partnership that started with the state of WI. We exchange every 2 years.’

Not only is technology good for setting up language teaching exchanges, it provides access to countless small exchanges between individuals. Many #langchat teachers have used Twitter, Wikispaces and blogging to connect personally and professionally with other world language teaching professionals. These same tools can be incredibly effective for students if used appropriately and with supervision.

Some great resources for setting up these types of technological language teaching exchanges were mentioned by several teachers.

Edmodo – @GJuradoMoran, @vialjando and many others suggested that Edmodo was a great place to connect with other classrooms. @msfrenchteach said, ‘Sometimes teachers do short or long term projects w/other classes in the US. Makes learning more interesting.’

Skype – @crwmsteach said, ‘[We] also have good link via Skype. Only need teacher’s computer and large monitor or smart board.’

Epals – @abbrugiati suggested using Epals as a good way to connect for students, as well as support professional development. She exclaimed, ‘Great experience for SS and for me!!’

Online Blogs or Message Boards – @natadel76 said, ‘I came across a blog type site where two schools posted written and recorded messages for each other.’

Twitter – @Whoisasking said, ‘I do Twitter [as a] whole class with my laptop/projector. Not as nice as 1/1 but still works. Students dictate I type. They are always so amazed to discover that there are places where kids only speak French.’

Mixxer – @MmeCaspari said, ‘Has anyone had students use Mixxer to get Skype partners? I’ve used it, but not w/kids.’

Problems with Technology Over-Protection

Despite all of the wonderful new avenues for bringing global language teaching and learning into the classroom, many #langchat teachers still admitted that many of these tools are not allowed in their schools – not even to be used by staff. @natadel76 shared, ‘Our IT doesn’t approve of Skype due to security reasons.’ @MmeCaspari agreed: ‘Our school has enough tech hardware, but the usage rules and filter block us from some opportunities.’

Other language teaching professionals discussed ways to avoid the protective barriers put up by some school district through a “Bring Your Own Device” policy, but this has drawbacks as well. Schools in lower economic areas may have a difficult time if students don’t have access to their own devices. Other districts, are moving away from a “BYOD” policy or are just not putting it into effect. @Whoisasking said, ‘There is a district BYOD policy but our school hasn’t embraced it yet.’

The solution? Patience and prodding. @msfrenchteach suggested, “If you aren’t allowed to use social networks or videos in your school district, consider preparing a presentation for the Board. Use P21 Framework.’

Off-Line Global Connections

Despite the focus on online communication, there were a number of language teaching professionals who found that traditional off-line connections are just as effective. Pen-pals, authentic speakers and mentorships were cited as being highly effective due to their personalized approach.

Community Speakers – A number of language teaching professionals suggested using community members who have traveled in countries that speak the target language to motivate students. @eonsrud said, ‘We’re also lucky to have UW-Madison building a network of graduates/French teachers to connect us.’ @MmeCaspari encouraged teachers to find former Peace Corps speakers. @viajando_kj said, ‘Maybe even businesses to support topics in class. (a nurse, banker, chef, travel agent, police, etc) Hello careers!’

Former/High Level Student Presentations – Others mentioned the benefit of having students learning from their peers. @kvisconti added, ‘Even inviting in higher level speakers from other classes can start building communication beyond your classroom.’ @Whoisasking said, ‘We have oral speaking events where students get the opportunity to listen to higher level speakers. Great learning.’ Recent graduates are also a great way to get students to personalize learning. @eonsrud said, ‘I do use FB to connect with students after they graduate.  They’re a great resource.’

Mentors – Mentors provide guidance and positive adult role models, which is key to long-term success in life and language. @kvisconti said, ‘Our Spanish club has college level Spanish major mentors. Definitely builds communication. When they are abroad…even better!’ @msfrenchteach shared her experience with helping high school students become more comfortable with this type of personal communication: ‘My students were a bit shy but enjoyed it a lot! When university students visited my upper level class recently, we divided them up in small groups (rather than panel) to put students at ease.

Faculty Guests – One of the most underrated resources that language teaching professionals have is the faculty they have at their own schools. @crwmsteach suggested that teachers send out an email to the faculty to see if someone might share in class. ‘You might find some who have traveled and/or spk 2nd lang.’ @emilybakerhanes said, ‘I’m working on trying to get one of the principals who grew up in Mexico to come in. 🙂 But yes, great idea!’

Community Involvement – Another great way to help students expand their worldview is through service in the second language. @kvisconti said, ‘I have my students volunteer with an after school program for Hispanic elementary students. One of the kids even came and spoke! @eonsrud agreed: ‘Advice: try a service learning project to build connection and enthusiasm.’

Educational Travel – The Ultimate Global Learning Experience 

Finally, the best way to help students get a feel for a language is by immersing themselves completely in it, through travel. This can pose problems, though, as many language teaching professionals are uncomfortable with the amount of liability such a trip can entail. @emilybakerhanes said, ‘[I] teach a lot of culture, but will not travel with students.  Too much liability for untenured teacher.’

For those who are ready or thinking about taking students on a trip to where the target language is spoken, there are some important things to remember:

1. Travel with Veterans. Especially if you have never travelled with a class before, it is a good idea to go with another language teaching professional or advisor who has. They will have good strategies for keeping kids appropriately engaged so that they don’t have time or desire to get into trouble. @eonsrud said, ‘Traveling with veterans first is SO helpful.  I had a chance to do this and learned a lot. Great mentoring.’

2. Provide Lots of Communication with Home. Parents want to see that their students are safe and focused on educational goals. A great way to do this is with a trip blog or Twitter hashtag designated for the journey. @msfrenchteach suggested, ‘You could keep a blog as you go, or, ideally, have students post to it while there.’ @natadel76 added, ‘May be even trip twitter acc?’ @sonrisadelcampo also shared that some tour companies provide blog addresses for groups.

3. Be a creative fundraiser. All trips require funds, and many language teaching programs are competing with more well-known activities like music and sports. @sonrisadelcampo said, ‘Teacher at our school organized a golf tournament.’ Other teachers suggested using food as a way to make more money. @emilybakerhanes said, ‘Our German club is very successful with a coffee cart.’

4. Make long-lasting memories. It is beneficial students, volunteers and language teaching programs to create images or videos of their trips abroad. Not only does it serve to remind students of the concepts they learned and the people they met, but it can be a great recruitment tool for future students. @abbrugiati encouraged teachers to take pictures of students interacting with others, or make videos as they interact with native speakers.

Other Ideas and Advice for Creating Global Connections

  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Show students global business connections w/ chamber of commerce or state lists of international business or career builder.’
  • @cadamsf1 said, ‘Consulates often have people available and happy to speak.’
  • @eonsrud said, ‘Advice for global connections…be patient as you work out the kinks.’
  • @viajando_kj said, ‘Advice: Ask your coworkers for contacts.’
  • @eonsrud said, ‘Advice: start with small projects and expectations.’
  • @viajando_kj said, ‘Advice: Some schools need a background check bf speakers can come in. Plan accordingly.’
  • @viajando_kj said, ‘As @twelchky says, if you don’t have failures, then you’re not being innovative. Try, try again!’
  • @abbrugiati said, ‘Clear goals and expectations. If it does not work with one teacher do not give up!! There is always somebody else [to communicate with].’
  • @eonsrud said, ‘Advice for global connections…be patient as you work out the kinks.’
  • @Spanish_Simply said, ‘I just attended a great webinar put on by NNELL on digital storytelling, I love student driven creative use of technology.’
  • @natadel76 said, ‘Our AFS Club hosts “show and ask” for exchange students from the area.’
  • @CoLeeSensei said, ‘My district often hosts students coming to learn English – and we do an ‘afternoon’ visit with my students.’
  • @msfrenchteach said, ‘Try to follow as many WL teachers as you an on Twitter.You’ll most likely meet lots of educators who’d like to connect.’

Thank you!

Thank you again to our moderators for encouraging us to become better language teachers. Also, thanks to everyone who came out and actively participated. We love to hear your great ideas for becoming more involved in the global language community.

We love to find ways to help you learn as a language teaching professional. Please help us know what to talk about during #langchat by sharing your topic ideas for upcoming chats with us. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat online.

Additional Resources

TwitClases on Posterous – (@Whoisasking)

Digital Storytelling (@Spanish_Simply)

Digital Storytelling Links by Proficiency Level (@Spanish_Simply)

New Curbside Recycling in Richland by The-Lane-Team, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  The-Lane-Team 

Recycling excellent content can be the key to solidify new concepts, but what are the best ways to renew, re-use and re-teach in the world language classroom?

Although most teachers know the necessity of re-teaching and re-using concepts to help scaffold language learning, it can be difficult to decide the best way to do this. Participants of last Thursday’s #langchat defined the best types of content to share in world language classrooms and how to recycle that content to engage student language learning.

Content is King

Moderators @placido and @dr_dmd started the discussion by attempting to define what exactly is content in world language learning classrooms. @placido said, ‘To me, it is more about skill building than specific content.’ @dr_dmd agreed, saying @dr_dmd said, ‘Our content is first about communicative skills – interpersonal, interpretive and presentational…’

In addition to focusing on communication skills, the moderators talked about other elements of good curriculum versus language learning goals. The inclusion of authentic resources, focus on speaking and listening activities that relay real information, and student-oriented materials were key components. A distinction was made, however, between vocabulary and content. @dr_dmd said, ‘I think that Health, for ex, is a topic, vocab is the building blocks, but the content is how to use that for communication  purposes.’ @placido summed up the definition: ‘So content = language structures, cultural topics, linguistic functions, communicative skills.’

Recycling Content: Best Practices

Many teachers agreed that one of the best ways to “recycle” content, or introduce new opportunities for students to meet the same language learning goals, was to use as much of the second language as often as possible. The best way to do this? Staying in the target language with appropriate learning goals and engaging resources. @darcypippins said, ‘Input is content if it’s comprehensible and compelling. [It] opens doors for circling and communication.’

Compelling content for the individual student can be the most important element of creating long-lasting language learning. When @placido asked how to best accomplish this goal of longevity, @thechuFF replied, ‘I have seen that long-term memories are created from meaningful *associations* to existing memories.’ It’s not just about entertainment, but a personal relationship with the material.

The Nuts and Bolts of Recycling Content

A number of good suggestions were given about how to recycle materials, concepts and language learning activities to help support student learning or scaffold new ideas.

Repetition and practice. It is vital that students are hearing the same recycled language learning structures in order for them to be confident in speaking a second language. @thechuFF said, ‘In terms of language usage and ability, practice is always the key.’ Many teachers agreed, including @darcypippins who suggested, ‘Reps, reps and more reps for long term memory.’ @natadel76 encouraged, ‘Using basic structures repetitively until the concept solidifies to the point that the students produce correct output…Teaching isolated vocab doesn’t work. Structures tied to context stick.’

Staying in the target language. Although it might be second nature to some teachers, staying within the target language is one of the best ways to ensure that you are re-using vocabulary and concepts over and over again. @placido said, ‘I try to use as much natural language as possible in class which lends itself to “recycling!”‘ @dr_dmd agreed: ‘ Staying in the second language makes it easy to recycle language use for communicative purposes.’

Using compelling content. Students learn much better if input is relevant and interesting for them. This doesn’t mean that every class should be a talent show, but that input should be engaging material that fosters language learning. @dwphotoski explained, ‘Compelling input is great content that can lead to awesome skills.’

Getting away from the book. @julieh1999 brought up an obvious trend of the evening: an avoidance of using textbooks for content. She said, ‘I love how no one has mentioned the textbook when discussing content. Sigh.’ @lesliedavison gave one reason: that textbooks often over-emphasize specific content that is difficult to be recycled. @julieh1999 lamented, ‘The text IS the curriculum in my dept.’ While this can be a very frustrating situation, it is always good to use authentic and relevant resources that can be recycled and reused throughout the school year in addition to a good text. A great idea that was shared? Movie talks. @placido explained, ‘[Movie talks are] super fun!! No right or wrong. Just talk about a fun scene using comprehensible language!’

New shoes on an old lesson. Take a trusted lesson and change it up a little. Verbs were mentioned as a great way to do this. When you find a good verb activity that the students like, reuse it again to help them feel confident that they are getting a handle on their new skills. @dwphotoski shared one excellent way of reapportioning lesson ideas. ‘[Disguise] repetitions in a variety of ways for long term: readings, music, videos, novels…’ @placido said, ‘HS students often need to have fun to feel motivated. Once they see they can do it and it can be fun, they work hard!’ @cyberfrida agreed, ‘If it’s real, meaningful, and fun, then it will stick – por vida.’

Foster personal connection. @thechuFF said, ‘I have seen that long-term memories are created from meaningful *associations* to existing memories.” Helping students create personal connections with the language is the most important element of any world language learning program. Through conversation and skill-building activities that have personal and emotional context for individual students, they are able to relate to the language better and are more likely to use it personally. @darcypippins summed this concept up. She said, ‘Students need to make connections with the second language to their lives. That’s when you hook them!

Teach students, not just content. @placido said, ‘I feel like a big part of this is we need to teach the KIDS not a curriculum. Don’t rush, cram, stress! Whenever I start worrying about what I need to “cover” my students start to suffer.’ Although content is obviously important, it is more important that each student is able to create a personal relationship with the second language. It is also a good reminder that language learning is individualized. Each student learns differently, and teaching should not focus on rushing students through language learning in order to meet outside deadlines.

Focusing on Long-Term Language Learning

With all the great ideas for how to best recycle language content to help students learn, the main focus was not lost. Long-term language learning benefits greatly from reviewing and re-using content structures and concepts. It was clear than many teachers felt that recycling material that is personal and authentic is the main key to making this effective for students.

At the same time, it is vital that teachers are not rushing their students towards goals that may not be appropriate, even if they are prescribed by a textbook or curriculum. @darcypippins summed up the evening’s take-away nicely: ‘Making [language learning] stick means slowing way down. Limit the amount of structures introduced and find fun and wacky ways to circle and park!’ 

Thoughts and Ideas for Recycled Activities

  • @Elisabeth13 said, ‘Numbers are easiest to recycle- they are everywhere!’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Brainstorming previous phrases and related words as you layer on new topics.’
  • @placido and @darcypippins encouraged using pop culture in the classroom. @placido said, ‘I talk often about pop culture, off-beat weird stuff from real life.’ @darcypippins said, ‘Love pop culture! Working on story that kinda goes along with that thrift store song, I’m gonna pop some tags $20 in my pocket. Ja!’
  • @dr_dmd said, ‘I use a lot of comprehensive input, stories, and then #PBL for deeper inquiry, practice, followed by proficiency assessments.’
  • @HerrKnox said, ‘I’ve heard some classes have reappearing characters in TPRS. That offers some recycling.’
  • @thechuFF said, ‘Webcomics, subtitled films!’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Students and teacher create picture stories to narrate throughout year and pull out to recycle and add to.’
  • @dr_dmd, @placido, and @weslotero discussed using Today’s Meet to recycle language. @dr_dmd said, ‘I love using Today’s Meet – a closed chat session Twitter style – I can save a transcript – students get credit for participating.’
  • A number of teachers suggest using Tumblr for a variety of recycling activities. @dr_dmd said, ‘I like to use @tumblr to curate photos, videos, etc, as #authres to use for communication practice’ @natadel76 said, ‘Ask a question based on story read or if working on past, what they did on weekend etc.’ @placido said, ‘Class discussion, answer specific questions, ask questions to clarify, comment on films, etc.’
  • @km_york said, ‘On block I have to vary a lot. I start with a photo related to what we did (topic/idea) on projector. Students write, then share orally.’
  • @weslotero said, ‘I had [students] write movie reviews because we learned is and likes. They kept saying they didn’t know how to say things…’
  • @crwmsteach suggested, ‘…[recycling] situations with different settings; what do you do there? what do you use? who do you see? imagine a day…’@lesliedavison responded, ‘Thanks!  Verbs are key to recycling in different situations.’
  • @dr_dmd said, ‘I think one way to get a variety of activities is to think of the communication modes, in written and oral contexts. For example…interpretive oral – a radio/TV show on the topic – write a summary, a list of questions to ask a partner, answer questions I ask.’
  • @natadel76 said, ‘Bring in #authres: web site with things to do in say Paris, Madrid.’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Foods likes and dislikes in 4 crnrs. Choices in cafe from a menu. Real menus.’
  • @dr_dmd suggested using sentence starters to scaffold students creating text. He said, “I think we simply have some outlines of sentence starters that can be used for the topic at hand. I like___, I prefer___.’ Good sentence frames for intermediate: I wonder if___, I wish that___, I doubt that___, It is good/bad that___ – and negatives.’
  • @km_york and @BevSymons suggested group writing as a recycling method. @km_york said, ‘I write a mystery story start every month or so that students must finish and make sure to include as much vocab as I can.’ @BevSymons shared her idea also. She said, ‘My partner and I have our classes compose a joint story (1 par ea round) recycling our @AIMLanguage plays. Great fun shared writing.’
  • @thechuFF said, ‘Perhaps focus on usage examples of the language chunks, so that students associate a learned chunk with a usage scenario.’

Thank you!

Thank you again to our moderators @dr_dmd and @placido for helping us think critically about how we are teaching language. Also, thanks to everyone who came out and actively participated. It is great to get your perspectives on language learning!

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. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat online.

Additional Resources

FluentU for Mandarin Chinese
Today’s Meet
Movie Talk (mjTPRS)
Using Memes in Spanish (spanishplans.org)
Tumblr Collection (@senorg)
TPRS Storytelling (Wikipedia.org)
High School Spanish App (Common Ground International)
ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners
ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

 

 

Zombie girls by gordonplant, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  gordonplant 

Collaborative learning can keep language students from becoming zombies, but how can teachers keep group work level-appropriate and comprehensible?

Despite the best efforts of Thursday night’s #langchat moderator, @CoLeeSensei, participants talked much more about the benefits and problems with collaborative learning rather than sharing specific strategies. Although a few very good ideas were presented, much of the discussion focused on why collaborative learning is important and some of the best practices for using it in the classroom.

Problems with Collaborative Learning

Although many teachers use collaborative learning in their classrooms, it was clear that it was not always as effective as they would like. From problems with organization, grading and the tendency for students to get off-topic or off-language, there were plenty of problems to share.

  • @km_york said, “They’ll go through the motions if I collect and check the paper, but it’s an organization nightmare #langchat’
  • @CristinaZimmer4 said, “While my IV Ss can collaborate in TL, sometimes lang impedes their creativity. Hard to think in 2nd lang!”
  • @SenoraMcLellan said, “My students get very competitive when they work in groups and have to stay in TL.”
  • @SrtaTeresa said, “It’s always a challenge to get all students in the group to participate and not have one or two take over or do everything.”

Zombies in the Classroom – What to do with off-target language?

A key problem that @SECottrell brought up was with the type of language that students use within collaborative learning projects. She asked, “How do you keep students from pursuing language that’s too high for them? Our novices want to talk about zombies. Their zombies want to use laser rays to conquer narwhals in the netherworld.”

This began a very creative exchange about how to guide students towards more level-appropriate language. @Srtaberry said, “Have them describe what their zombies look like, where they are from, what they do etc…” @km_york said, “I’ve had stories with zombies, narwhals, and slot machines. I try to keep them to cognates.”

@kvisconti shared her impression of the underlying issue – how to keep collaborative learning on-task and level-appropriate without dampening student enthusiasm for their intended subject matter. She lamented, “I don’t want to draw the line and say they can’t talk about something but topics can be all over!.” @SECottrell finally seemed to answer her own question: “I suppose the key is to steer their zombies into level-appropriate activities!”

Students Teaching Students

Another major issue brought up was how to keep kids on-target when teachers are not the focus of instruction. While group work is very effective in allowing students to use higher level thinking and communication, it is difficult to ensure that all students are fully engaged. @CoLeeSensei asked the critical question: “How do we also lead kids to be able to collaborate effectively when we’re not ‘there’?”

Some teachers advocated a de-emphasis on instruction in order to make collaborative learning more natural. @muchachitaMJ said, “I’ve seen that it helps to give a little input and then give students a chance to produce a little. Too much teacher = students check out.” Not only does this allow students to engage in more communication, but the lack of overt correction might be a more natural way to learn. @kvisconti said, “Making mistakes on their own is part of the learning process!” @SraSpanglish said, “I’ve researched this. Studies show NO difference–teacher, student, right, wrong–as long as they’re conversing.”

More Input, Less Collaboration?

On the other hand, a number of participants felt that incomprehensible input from fellow students, regardless of how engaging it is, does not help a student progress. @lclarcq expressed concern about the lack of teacher involvement in collaborative learning. She said, “Sadly much individual group time is so that teacher is not interacting with students. Often this is what students and tr prefer.”

@SECottrell made a very valuable point about differentiating between fellow novice input (which is often flawed), and that of a professional teacher. She said, “Novices are incapable of correcting their mistakes. [The] only remedy is correct input…I push novice teachers to do more input, less collaboration.” @lclarcq agreed, saying, “Brief, more controlled collaboration is key… What works, consistently, is focused personal SUCCESSFUL interaction in TL that is comprehensible and geared for students’ abilities.”

Making Collaborative Learning Work

Despite all the problems, #langchat participants agreed that it is vital to helping students learn. In light of its importance in the world language classroom, there are some key elements that collaborative learning must have in order for it to be successful and engaging.

Set Students Up for Success. Some teachers shared the belief that students who feel comfortable taking risks in class will be more successful in collaborative activities. This is best set up for the student through effective scaffolding and a low-stress atmosphere. @SrtaTeresa said, “The students need to feel confident that they have the tools to complete the task in the TL.”@senoralopez agreed, saying, “It is necessary to scaffold activities so students can collaborate and feel successful doing it. Give words they will need when they’re talking.”

Teach Appropriate Behavior Early. One of the best ways to get students actively participating is to set collaborative learning as a standard from day one. @senoralopez said, “It’s important to begin school year creating the culture in the room and expecting collaboration.” In addition appropriate language and interaction should be modeled so that students feel confident in how the activity should progress. @kvisconti said, “Like any other skill, productive and successful collaboration in language classroom needs to be taught!”

Prepare Students with Comprehensible Input. @CristinaZimmer4, @CoLeeSensei and @SenoraMcLellan all shared great ideas on how to prepare students for collaborative learning activities. @CristinaZimmer4 gives “quiet time” before an activity so that students can think about words they might need during the discussion. @CoLeeSensei sometimes does pre-activities or games that use the structures that might be necessary. @SenoraMcLellan also shared a great idea: “I write phrases/vocab words on the board and keep them their while we speak. After a while they don’t even look at it anymore.”

Encourage Self-Reflection. Self-reflection can turn the often-messy process of collaboration into a fantastic learning experience for students. Simply having students ask what words they wished they had known (as suggested by @CoLeeSensei) is a great way to get students more engaged in learning. She said, “’Our self evaluation after collaborative activities always refers to ‘did not use English’ and also asks for target language words they ‘needed’.”@natadel76 shared, “For me, they always self-evaluate and evaluate one of their partners on the same grid – maybe I scare them – but they do!”

Emphasize Communication, Not Grades. Instead of focusing on the grade attached to a collaborative learning activity, give rewards for participation and creativity. It might be interesting to provide competition for students who can stay in the target language the longest. @CoLeeSensei exclaimed, “If anything has to have a grade attached to keep students motivated, something is very broken.”

Great Ideas for Collaborative Learning

  • @Sra_Hildinger said, ‘I have had students draw people, then describe them to their partners, then they see how close they came.”
  • @CoLeeSensei “Stations! We do them once a weekish. Teacher stays at one station for small group conversation is always possibility.”
  • @km_york said, “[My] Favorite speaking activity: each student with a small piece of paper writes a question from the board. Then, each one asks five others and writes their answers. Finally, they report back.”
  • @golferbrian said, “Place skeleton sentences and students substitute different words in/out. [They must] do task in the target language. Students create these on previous day.”
  • @BryanBosworth, @DonaKimberly, @Val_Hays, @CristinaZimmer and @SECottrell all discussed the benefits of using an online video collaboration tool such as Skype or Epals. @SECottrell had a caution, though: “[I] found that students were intimidated because the others’ English was better than their Spanish.”
  • @lclarcq said, “Each student reads 10 sentences from a story. They circle what [they] don’t understand, then they do a one min partner chat. Does partner know?”
  • @km_york talked about her table competition idea. She sets her class up in “team” tables. “Each day starts with a competition that requires them to work together to win. I offer five extra credit participation points for winners. Activities are scrambles, cloze, trivia, riddles, etc.”
  • @lclarcq said, “Together label sentences Beg Middle or End of story sentences, then match sentences to pictures.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “I use groups of 3 with 2 partners with different questions and a monitor. They discussed cooking show plans that way today.”
  • @cadamsf1 shared her secret for effective collaborative assessment: Giving and taking away points. She said, “[Students] start with 50 and they earn or lose based on TL use. It’s not enough for them to not use English they must use TL.” She also uses handheld recorders to monitor the students’ language usage. @natadel76 responded, “@cadamsf1 Love that idea! They can also record on their phones or school iPads and sent it to me.”

Thank you!

A big thanks to @CoLeeSensei for trying to keep us focused during #langchat. We are glad that she is so flexible! Also, thank you for participating in our weekly discussions. It is so great to have fresh perspectives about language teaching and how we can do it better.

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. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat online at:

Additional Resources

Univision
Hulu Latino
Spotify Tops Tracks in Spain
National Spanish Examinations (NSE) Online Practice Exercises
Group Evaluation Protocol (@SraSpanglish)

#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.

Grammar lesson, Priština by tm-tm, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  tm-tm 

#langchat participants vote on when and how grammar instruction should be incorporated into world language curriculum.

Grammar is a necessary part of language teaching and learning. During #langchat last Thursday, many participants shared that they realize the importance of teaching grammar in order to help students feel more confident and have better communication. On the other hand, it was obvious that #langchat teachers focus more on incorporating grammar into the overall lessons, rather than drill this skill with students.

Breaking Out of Grammar Isolation

@SraSpanglish admitted to perpetrating the practice of teaching grammer in isolation.  “I confess I use isolated, decontextualized practice on whiteboards to build confidence too. I know isolated=bad, but [it] seems to help.” Other teachers agreed that they have often resorted to using grammar charts, and specific grammar exercises in order to teach this fundamental skill. @msfrenchteach said, ‘Sometimes I want to drag out the workbooks and have students do ‘reinforcement’ exercises, but they tend to be rather mindless. No challenge.”

Not only do rote grammar exercises often have little challenge for students, they foster a dependency that can limit real communication. @SECottrell said, “The in-order verb chart is a huge mistake. Creates speakers who can’t get to ellos without going through the first 4.”

Still, teachers like @SraSpanglish advocated for using grammar exercises to build proficiency. She said, “I would think some repetition in isolation would build the [grammar] reflex.” @Profesora517 responded, “Repetition in isolation may build, but higher order thinking is much more engaging.” 

Too Much Grammar

In the lower levels of new language acquisition, many teachers felt that grammar should be secondary to communication. @yeager85 encouraged teachers to, “Forget picky grammar topics in low levels. Eventually when students are more attuned to language, they’ll learn these on their own.”@WLteachmeh offered an alternative to specific grammar instruction: “It’s frustrating to teach grammar explicitly because lower level students usually don’t understand. [I] prefer to teach to proficiency goals.”@tmsaue1 agreed by saying, “If teachers understand ACTFL proficiency guidelines they realize they’re teaching TOO much grammar.”

Some teachers found that even using advanced grammar concepts in their classes made students shut down and stop learning. To combat this, teachers like @@SECottrell and @jas347 avoid even mentioning that students are learning grammar. “Terms like preterite, subjunctive and superlative tell students nothing,” @SECottrell said. @tmsaue1 shared her teaching rule to avoid grammar-related learning blocks: “No past tense necessary for novice learners.”

Other thoughts on explicit grammar instruction:

  • @TPRSprofe said, “I teach no explicit grammar until later level 3. Grammar speak is limited. Even in Level 4 and AP I focus on meaning via context.”
  • @profesorM said, “I think in AP class, the students may be more attuned to language, therefore better at grammar.”
  • @Sra_Hildinger said, “We do the verb charts. They write “1” next to 3rd persona singular, and “2+” next to 3rd person plural. Always.”
  • @placido said, “Let’s stop saying “English teachers don’t teach grammar anymore so it is our job.” Caca de toro.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “@SECottrell, I gotta disagree on pronoun and preterite. Pronouns go back to elementary and how do you separate 2 past tenses w/o names?”
  • @SraHass said, “It can be hard [to avoid focusing on grammar vocabulary] if your department isn’t all on the same page – Mr. X that teaches almost solely grammar in the next level?”
  • @tmsaue1 said, “when a teacher asks me: “I need resources to teach subjunctive” I always know that students aren’t learning to communicate.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “I still remember a time when I thought kids had to know all the verb tenses in a text to interpret it.”
  • @jas347 said, “Focusing on grammar causes over self-monitoring and can limit speaking…but it can be important to achieve communication.”
  • @placido said, “Realizing that language is acquired without direct grammar instruction is a big shift in thinking.”
  • @Quito1970 said, “My 4th graders have a low tolerance for isolated grammar lessons.  I reinforce through games and indiscreetly.”

Keeping Grammar in Context

Overwhelmingly, #langchat teachers said that teaching grammar in context with other skills made for more engaging classes and better retention. @placido explained this concept succinctly: “We must use language accurately (yes, we conjugate verbs!), but not in drills and charts! We use language to carry meaning.” @SenorG said, “As a baby/lower level English speaker, nobody corrected my grammar. They were happy to hear me speaking on time.”

The focus on using communication to teach grammar is not a new one, but can be a big change for people who are used to teaching grammar in explicit isolation. A couple of really great ideas were shared to help teachers become better at teaching grammar in context and recognizing when students are learning it.

Create a Positive Classroom Climate. One of the key issues with teaching grammar in context is that many students are afraid of making grammatical mistakes before trying something new. @SECottrell said, “It’s important to create an atmosphere where mistakes are growth, not embarrassment.” @Angiebush agreed, saying, “Grammar is important, but they need to also be encouraged to speak without fear.

Use Authentic Text to Introduce Grammar. When students read level-appropriate authentic resources, they gain valuable vocabulary and contextualized grammar instruction. A number of #langchat teachers, such as @MartinaBex, @msfrenchteach and @LesliePhillips3, encouraged the use of authentic texts to teach grammar. @SraHass said, ‘I like using #authres in addition to teacher-generated readings, even in low levels- I keep it short though- auth tweets work great!” @MmeNero said, “I love using authentic docs (like Eres Top ten or Journal de Mickey Plateau tele) to teach reading and assess grammar structures.” @CatherineKU72 said, “I use children’s books (bought online/on trips) that demonstrate gram ideas. “Je suis gros” is perfect for adj agreement.”

Foster Self-Discovery. @jas347 said, “Letting students figure out the grammatical pattern on their own makes it more meaningful and useful to their language use.” @SraTaylor10 agreed, saying, “Yes, have Ss discover on own, but show the grammar patterns (ex: verb conj) to help those that are more visual/linear too.” @LesliePhillips3 gave a great example of how to encourage students to discover grammar patterns on their own: “Just put lots of examples up, for example, five ER verbs in past tense. They work with a partner to figure out the rule.”

Scaffold and Choose Appropriate Learning Targets. One of the biggest concerns from #langchat participants is that students are becoming so overwhelmed with grammar that they are “turning off” of language learning. One of the key elements to combating this is through appropriate scaffolding and attainable learning goals. Many teachers encouraged “chunking” or a small handful of related language learning tasks that can be mastered together. @SraSpanglish suggested, “focusing on 1 or 2 constructions in context at a time helps students internalize the pattern.” @SECottrell agreed: “There is no reason to work on 5 conjugations of -ar verbs at once. I prefer to start with I/we of any verb and add as we go.”

Use Pop-Up Grammar. Instead of dedicating entire class periods to grammar instruction, many of the #langchat teachers encourage grammar modeling and discussion within the context of a larger lesson. @placido defined this concept: “In lower levels, I only point out grammar as it affects meaning. No lengthy explanations. I might say, ‘Why did I put an ‘n’ on the end of ‘comen?’ Yes! BC more than one person is eating!’” @TPRSprofe said, “I second the “pop up” explanation. When I hear an error, I model the correct form in L2 and then ask questions with the model structure.”  Be careful to avoid too subtle grammar corrections, though. @SraSpanglish said, “Research I’ve seen suggests this subtle correction is too subtle, effects no change.”

Put Grammar Into Perspective. @Bilinguish brought up an interesting point: “[Do you] devote equal time to the five skills? (Listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar) Yes, grammar is a skill.” While grammar is a necessary part of language learning, many #langchat teachers thought that communication is the real focus on language studies. @tmsaue1 said, “ I’d rather focus on modes (interpretive, interpersonal, presentational) functional approach.”

To Assess or Not Assess?

Although it became clear that explicit grammar instruction has not been effective for all the #langchat teachers, many schools require explicit grammar assessment. This can create a problem, as much of the lower-level grammar instruction is less overt. @Sra_Hildinger asked, “How do you “test” grammar then? Our tests are heavy on providing correct grammar – fill in the blank, etc.”

Some teachers responded that testing at the lower levels just isn’t necessary. @SenorG said, “I don’t test grammar (especially in low levels) because tests are standards-based and grammar just isn’t there for novice-mid.” Other teachers, like @SraHass have completely switched over to using 3 modes assessment, rather than more traditional multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank assessments. @SenoraMcLellan said, “I stepped away from grammar tests. I give performance assessments with some quizzes between to check understanding.”

Other teachers had some relevant remarks about assessing grammar:

  • @Bilinguish said, “Grammar can “count” differently for different assessments. On most listening and reading tests, grammar (+ spelling) doesn’t matter.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “At some point in learning process, rules should be ironed out in  doses. It doesn’t need to be strict testing, but some benchmarks.”
  • @profesorM shared that many teachers are testing grammar when they truly don’t need to. “In NY, the former state exams did not explicitly test grammar, yet we do on our final exams!”
  • @Bilinguish reminded us that grammar assessments should only make up 20% of our overall assessments. “Grammar is [only] ONE of the five skills.”
  • @LesliePhillips3 suggests incorporating interpersonal writing into their assessment plans.
  • @SraHass said, “Many communicate well w/o knowing specific grammar. In lower lang, think no gram tests!”
  • @HCPSLanguages said, “For grammar teaching to be put in its right place we need proficiency targets embedded in our curriculum and assessment.”

Fitting Into the Big Picture

@Quito1970 expressed the overall feeling of the night: “If they can communicate the message, they have succeeded.   Grammar is immaterial.” For our #langchat participants, grammar at the lower levels is a necessary element, but not the most important. @jas347 concluded with one of the most retweeted quotes of the night: “Grammar is a means to an end. Not the end. The end goal is communication.”

Teaching Tips for Incorporating Grammar Instruction

  • @LesliePhillips3 said, ‘I make it fun by putting lots of examples of target structure and having them tell me the rule. They get excited.’
  • @jas347 said, ‘@CoLeeSensei I repeat what Ss say back louder for class before I respond they hear me say it correctly and know how close they got.’
  • @SenoraMcLellan said, ‘My students make connections with what they have heard before and hear the difference in context and ask me what tense its in.’
  • @CoLeeSensei said, ‘I do teach in context and follow up with homework that is “show me you can…” they choose how they show their knowledge…’
  • @lbaker195 said, ‘I think it’s helpful to give students the opportunity to revise writing/presentational communication.’
  • @cadamsf1 said, ‘RT : @MartinaBex my favorite was when Stdnt x started, wrote 5 minutes, then changed hands for another 5, and another, etc.’
  • @LesliePhillips3 said, ‘@SECottrell I do lots of think pair share at the lower levels and work with kids one on one, then do a group discussion.’
  • @CoLeeSensei said, ‘@cadamsf1 Often I give them 1 min. to ‘test it out’ on their partner before we use it in a class activity.’
  • @CoLeeSensei said, ‘@jas347 @cadamsf1 I use a rubric that includes “i could do what i was asked to do.”’
  • @msfrenchteach said, ‘Modeling and scaffolding, followed by indiv. and/or group work on own, are essential steps.’
  • @jas347 said, ‘@cadamsf1 very important! had my students self-assess and had to explain they should still be novices and that’s okay!’
  • @MmeNero said, ‘Played ball game to learn “como te llamas”. ALL students have retained the Q & A. Did not have to teach there is an “s” on end of llamas.’
  • @jennifer_spain said, ‘Using oral practice before written really helps too.’
  • @MmeNero said, ‘We often chat about current events. Just simple sentences.’
  • @Profesora517 said, ‘I love to use songs as the intro and reinforcement of language chunks.  They then have scaffold to build upon.  Works well.’
  • @Angiebush said, ‘Lately I asked them to tell me a meal they hate and a meal they like…We wrote on windows. Collaborated to comment on meals.’
  • @jennifer_spain said, ‘Including little reminders of previously learned material as they encounter new content helps reinforce learning.’
  • @msfrenchteach said, ‘Engaging students in cooperative and collaborative tasks allow them to learn from each other. Lots happening w/regards to skill dev.’
  • @Profesora517 said, ‘I use puzzles with phrases in English and Spanish.  Grammar is embedded.’
  • @Profesora517 said, ‘Games and repetition help to acquire language as it helps them internalize.’
  • @SraHass said, ‘Low-tech “texting” or “chatting”- pass the clipboard and sit back to back! 🙂 Easy 2 grade too.’

Thank you!

A big thanks to @msfrenchteach for moderating this thought-provoking #langchat. 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. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat online.

Additional Resources

Pace Grammar Method Needs Another Step (@SnaSpanglish)
National Standards (@MartinaBex)
Online Books in Spanish (Paco el Chato)
How to Learn to Speak English (@Bilinguish)
ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines
ACTFL Performance Guidelines
LinguaFolio