On Thursday night’s #langchat, participants described what the ideal language classroom looks like as far as engagement, interaction and even noise level is concerned. Then, they shared some ways that they create an engaging and communicative language learning atmosphere in their classrooms.

Making Language Fun - How to Have a More Engaging Language ClassroomWhat is Engagement?

“Students speaking in the target language more than the teacher is talking.” @tiesamgraf

“A visible spark that may begin as curiosity but leads to sustained involvement in the lesson.” @SrtaTeresa

“A joyful learning community building meaningful things together.” Author unknown. Shared by @trescolumnae

Although teachers of world language classes have different ideas about what engagement is, they all know that they have to do a little extra to keep their students communicating and having fun in the classroom. On Thursday, #langchat teachers created a general picture of what a good environment for language learning is. What they found was that this environment is much different than it is in a core curriculum class like Math, Science or English.

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Language Classrooms are Safe for Risk-Taking

Unlike other curriculum classrooms, success in world language revolves around risk-taking. How can we makes students feel safe enough so they are willing to take risks? Emotional risks are necessary in order for language students to branch out and learn new concepts. During #langchat, it became clear that many teachers struggle with persuading students to speak out when they don’t feel confident with the language. @mstort6 said, “My students are afraid to take risks, afraid to sound dumb, afraid they’re not as smart as the others.”

Why are students afraid?

Fear of Judgement – @frenchteacher11 said, “Speaking requires risk-tasking. Students fear peers will judge them.”

Fear of Making Mistakes – @ldpricha said, “Students are too used to mistakes leading to a lower grade. They aren’t encouraged to make mistakes.”

@CatherineKU72 suggested the idea that language classes are unique in the types of communicative requirements that they have. She asked, “Could it be that they don’t have too many classes that “require” what we ask of them: communicate, express?”

While it is clear that many classes do have communicative elements, it is very different in a language classroom. In a language classroom, mistakes are necessary in order to be successful. Students must learn that they are supposed to be speaking out, even if they are saying something awkward or wrong. This goes against most expectations that students have about learning. In order to create a better environment for communication, students must lose their fear of judgment and failure in order to succeed.

How do we create a safe language classroom?

1. Scaffolding. @sorokowskij said, “Students need to master one-on-one talking before larger group conversations in order to build confidence and even discussion skills even.”
2. Movement. @CoLeeSensei said, “Maybe we’re beyond caring how ‘we’ll look’ – that’s why I like the “class moving a lot” – so they don’t stick out.”
3. Feedback. @CecileLaine said, “Instant feed-back. Use rubrics where students are encouraged to use new structures as opposed to rely on old ones. #langchat” @alenord agreed, saying, “I think feedback, making students aware of their successes and celebrating them, is important to engagement.”
4. Practice Mistakes. @CoLeeSensei said, “We ‘practice’ errors – what to do when it happens – so everyone knows how to “help.” My first years all now know what to do when someone makes an error or forgets! Students say it makes them “braver.””
5. Small Groups. @msfrenchteach said, “Working in small groups can facilitate more widespread engagement.”
6. Classroom Community. @tiesamgraf said, “It’s important to create community in the classroom – so students feel safe. Let them know you care and appreciate their risk-taking. We need not focus on students’ mistakes. We should allow communication without constant correction.”

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Language Classrooms are Funny

An engaging language classroom has time and space for humor. Not only does this encourage a better classroom climate and risk-taking, but it humanizes the teacher and makes them more approachable. Students tend to remember funny stories long after the class is over. Plus, laughter relaxes you. As the teacher, enjoying your day as much as possible is healthy and necessary in order to avoid burnout.

What are some ways to infuse fun into your language classroom?

1. Blooper Reels. @CatherineKU72 said, “We’ve been watching “blooper” clips from their videos/video evaluations. It’s fun to laugh together, but I always check first.”
2. Laugh At Yourself. @sorokowskij said, “I make sure to point out when I make mistakes with the language so they can see EVERYONE flubs now and then. @dr_dmd said, “Even teachers make mistakes! Let them laugh at us too!”
3. Celebrate the Fun. @CecileLaine said, “Today I had 3 rewards for a write-up “most accurate”, “most unusual” and “most fun.” All 3 get posted on class blog.”
4. Keep Perspective. @LauraJaneBarber said, “I think we just must make sure we are remembering both fun and learning goals and weighing what is the most valuable use of our time.”
5. Be Silly. @CoLeeSensei said, “Yesterday it was ways to ‘refuse’ a date…they loved it!”

Language Classrooms are Personalized

Every student learns differently. A truly engaging and communicative classroom takes these differences into account and allows students the opportunity to choose how they will collaborate and share their knowledge. Choice gives students control in the classroom, in a way that is approved by you. @msfrenchteach shared, “My students are more engaged if I involve them in the decisions about their learning.”

How can personalization and choice increase engagement?

1. Choice of Reading. @Ashida_Linda said, “Students are often given choice of reading / listening materials related to theme / Essential questions #langchat”
2. Stay Open-Minded. @profefranklin said, “also allowing for multiple answers and points of view.”
3. Share Classroom Control. @TPRSPublishing said, “My students are more engaged and motivated if I allow them to drive the curriculum. I allow them input about what they want to learn and their interests.” @lesliedavison said, “Sometimes just giving choice in order of activities of the day works.”
4. Encourage Self-Evaluation. @CoLeeSensei said, “@alenord I often ask them to “tell me what made you proud” today…they are thrilled when they can do what they’re asked to.”

Language Classrooms are Noisy

A world language class is much different than many others. Movement, activity, music and dance are all important parts of understanding the culture and curriculum of the target language. These types of full-body learning methods are perfect for learning in the world language classroom, but may be foreign for some students. @trescolumnae said, “So many students expect a passive “sit and get” approach: lectures and worksheets.”

While noise, activity and motion might be discouraged in other core classes, they are actually beneficial to the world language classroom. @SenoritaClark said, “I have a feeling we run a “different” kind of class compared to traditional core academics.”

Why are these tools so vital?

1. Activity Leads to Production. @CatherineKU72 said, “Today we were all over the floor, the room, the campus. It’s hectic and messy: but they’re learning and producing.”
2. Lowering the Affective Filter. @dr_dmd said, “Group work is often a great way to lower the affective filter: think, pair, share… processing time, talk to a neighbor…”
3. Less Self-Consciousness. @CoLeeSensei said, “Maybe we’re beyond caring how ‘we’ll look’ – that’s why I like the “class moving a lot” – so they don’t stick out.”

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Language Classrooms are Enthusiastic

@CatherineKU72 said, “This might sound “hokey” but one of the best motivators (in their words) is the enthusiasm in class. They see we love it, they’ll try.”

Staying excited about teaching is one of the best gifts you can give to your students and one of the easiest ways to keep them engaged. Your love for the language and teaching it to your students is immediately obvious to any observer of your classroom. And, even if your students don’t see to be influenced by your passion, don’t worry. @trescolumnae said, “Students can APPEAR disengaged but actually be learning a lot, absorbing rather than producing.”

How can you share your love?

1. Share stories about your personal experiences. You are the bridge between the language and culture and your students. Show them pictures, tell them tales, make it real for them.
2. Tell your students that you enjoy teaching the language. Saying the words out loud will reinforce your feelings.
3. Praise and encourage your students. @alenord said, “Praise them in front of their classmates! They often don’t hear enough positive things during day.” @alenord said, “But, also find ways to reward students who are struggling and encourage them.”

Other Ideas and Tips for More Interaction and Communication

  • @mstort6 said, “I start every class with “I can” statements to introduce day’s goal; it’s great way for students to have a head’s up as to what to expect.”
  • @trescolumnae said, “Yes, “I Can” statements are powerful … especially when you revisit them and students see that they really CAN.”
  • @lesliedavison said, “I have a bunch of animals that I throw around when I hear Spanish. Kids want them so they keep speaking Spanish.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We self evaluate in some of our activities and they want to be able to circle “didn’t use English!”“
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We work a lot in pairs – they seem less inhibited when it’s with one other – then we switch up a lot.”
  • @ldpricha said, “For my next unit, I’m going to try free choice Friday. Students complete 3 choices from a tic tac toe board.”
  • @alenord said, “Another idea: 2 Stars and 1 Wish – 2 good things that happened today and 1 thing you wish was better. Great feedback!”
  • @CecileLaine said, “My crazy French Club wants to reenact the storming of La Bastille. Not sure we can pull it off but will have fun trying.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We do a Murder Mystery in Gr12 …they love it!”
  • @SECottrell said, “Making sure interpersonal communication is scheduled (for us, Tuesdays) ensures we don’t leave it out.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “I usually make crepes and do whole school trivia contest. Other events and experiences vary from year to year.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “We do a scavenger hunt throughout the high school with QR codes.”
  • @frenchteacher11 said, “Last year my students did a bake sale in class with real food. They had fake money and bought and sold everything in the target language.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “I’d like to try version of Senior Assassins (game played on campus) or Zombie vs Humans, but in the target language. Multiple levels, grades.”
  • @alenord said, “Another simple idea for engagement, powerful images as prompts. The more emotional, the more response.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “My level 3 students are going as a class to make meal bags for campus-wide Stop Hunger Now! tomorrow. Perfect timing because of service unit.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We start each year with a ‘classic’ tale…it gets them reading in the target language again.”
  • @SECottrell said, “Ideas that have revolutionized my classroom: storytelling, teaching from authentic resources, brain breaks, kicking vocab quiz.”
  • @cocamanar said, “We developed vocabulary lists from authentic target language materials and students track “must know” words they find themselves needing to supplement it.”
  • @MllesrtaUrso said, “Pinterest is AWESOME for discovering new, authentic materials I can’t find anywhere else. And…it’s FREE.”

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Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @CoLeeSensei and @msfrenchteach, for monitoring this rollicking session of #langchat. So many amazing ideas and technology tools were not included in this week’s summary. If you are interested in seeing what we missed, check out the online archive for a full transcript.

Thank you so much for participating in #langchat and making it so awesome! If there is something you’d like to discuss in a future chat, share your ideas with us! We’d love to know what is happening in your classroom and share ways to become better language teachers.

Additional Resources

Level 1 i cans
Amy Lenord
Keys For Using Student Self-Evaluation in Discussions
SAMR Model
Les cours de français I au lycée Mount Vernon
“Everyday Situations” – The Taste-Test Activity
Wyoming French
Teacher vs Student: How Each Actually Uses Social Media
PAT Bank


Thursday’s #langchat was a fast-paced evening of sharing links and strategies. So many of you had great ideas about how to make interpretive listening activities more fun and engaging for world language students. Our regular moderators weren’t on hand to motivate our discussion, but #langchat participants are a hardy group. Special thanks go out to @SraSpanglish, @KrisClimer and @ProfesorM and all our participants for jumping in to ensure the discussion stayed on track.

The Best Ways to Build Student’s Interpretive Listening Skills

Getting the Gist of World Language Listening

One of the first things we discussed was the importance of setting reasonable expectations for students who are participating in listening activities. Although it is important for them to be able to recognize vocabulary and grammatical structures, many of the #langchat participants felt that it was more valuable to have students try to glean the main idea of authentic resources. @SraSpanglish explained this mindset succinctly: “Students should practice picking up key words and extrapolating main ideas using the context of what they hear.” @ChristeyHughes responded, “En français, we often refer to ‘la tolérance de l’ambiguité’ to be able to work through, perhaps not getting each word.”

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Adapt the Resource to the Student – Especially Beginners

Another key element of really building students’ listening skill is by making sure that the listening activity is level appropriate. For many world language teachers, that means taking authentic audio resources and tailoring the activity for each of their classes. Lots of authentic resources are great for advanced levels, but some #langchat participants found that there were few authentic resources for beginners. @CatherineKU72 said, “I appreciate news and music stations, but a bit advanced for beginners.”

Some great ideas were shared to help differentiate audio tasks for beginners.

  • @jas347 suggested adding “visual clues like videos to help give more context.”
  • @jackimorris23 said, “Use CLOZE instead of open-ended questions.”
  • @natadel76 shared, “You can often use the same audio for different levels: more structured support for Novices, more open questions for Intermediates.”
  • @SraSpanglish reminded us to, “…Make sure that you select an appropriate length for novices–small doses of ‘anything.’”
  • @KrisClimer said, “I don’t look for level appropriate, per se. I tailor the activity to level. I look for interest specific.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “Make it as simple as possible for novices–demonstrate main idea w/o layering on more tasks to do it.”

Listening and Reading

@SraSpanglish brought up the idea of combining listening and reading to increase fluency and understanding. Several world language teachers said that they tried to connect these two kinds of activities and with excellent results. @natadel76 suggested writing a summary with errors for students to proofread after listening to an authentic resource. @jackimorris23 responded, “I’ve done this with success! I think it makes the kids listen for every word, not just the blanks.”

@SraSpanglish shared this thought: “Reading increasingly difficult texts increases reading fluency–why not the same for hearing?”

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Multiple Choice or Not?

The question was brought up about whether it is effective to use multiple choice questions to assess comprehension on a listening activity. Some teachers were not fond of the practice. @jas347 said, “Multiple choice requires no production of any kind. Really, it’s only good for finding out what they don’t know.” @LauraJaneBarber said, “I like to do listening as input for a writing or speaking task. Can show true comprehension better than multiple choice.”

While other teachers agreed that multiple choice is not the most authentic way to assess a listening activity, they also mentioned valuable aspects, especially for beginning world language students. @SraSpanglish said, “Multiple choice helps lower the affective filter–the interpretation in itself is a higher order skill.” She went on to say, “Multiple choice shouldn’t be end goal, though.” @AMor3liana said, “I think multiple choice is an ok option at the beginning of the school year. It gives some students that extra boost of confidence in the target language.”

Music: The Universal Language

A number of teachers were ecstatic about the effectiveness of using musical resources as a way to naturally have students complete listening activities. In one of the most popular tweets of the night, @KrisClimer said, “I truly believe music is a natural path. Think of the native language we all learned in song, rhyme, chants.”

10 Ideas for Using Authentic Music Resources:

1. Keep it short. @SraSpanglish said, “Songs are great–I’ve been using just choruses, and I often split up longer videos and take out less relevant sections.”

2. Repetition is king. @SraSpanglish said, “I make sure kids know they have to listen at least 3 times: One to absorb context, one for main ideas and one for detail.”

3. Print the lyrics. @KrisClimer said, “Even when I listen to a song in my native lang, I like to also see the lyrics, so maybe I should do it in my language class.”

4. Teach pronunciation. @tmsengel said, “I actually used kids song to teach pronunciation the first year and never had to do the alphabet.”

5. Choose high-interest music. @SraSpanglish said, “I tried kids’ songs mixed in with the pop choruses…they did not enjoy them NEARLY as much, so I quit trying.”

6. Music scramble activity. @natadel76 said, “What if you 1) Cut up chorus lines 2) Put them in order 3) Scramble the words in each line and have students put them in order?”

7. Translation activity. @natadel76 said, “You can also cut up the English translations of lyrics: students have to match lines with the target language song OR summarize each stanza in the target language to match.”

8. Transcribe songs, but only at advanced levels. @SraSpanglish said, “I’d say at advanced levels transcription can help w/ finer spelling/grammar points, but not for novices.” @profesorM said, “I had my 8th graders try to transcribe a song – quick frustration, too hard, whine, whine….”

9. Use a CLOZE activity. @KrisClimer said, “I almost always use a cloze activity the first time we listen to a song. Their lyrics sheet includes their fill-in. @pamwesely said, “Pro tip for cloze activities with songs: have a word bank!” @CatherineKU72 said, “I agree for the word bank. Expecting students to automatically know or hear words can cause stress. For upper levels, a set list is ok.”

10. Use a PACE activity. @LauraJaneBarber said, “PACE means: Present (new vocab/structure in text/audio) Attention, Co-Construct (students come up w/ rule), Extension (practice it). I’ve used songs for PACE–can present new structure in authentic way.”

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Specific Ideas for Listening Activities

Some fun ideas for effective listening activities were shared. Here are the highlights:

  • @KrisClimer said, “I like using songs, podcasts, webclips, tv snippets and then class is immersive so interpretive listening is 24/7.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “I usually start with YouTube, picking out key terms in my language. Then I break down w/ cloze, summary, discussion.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “I’ve adapted listening tasks from AP workshops. College Board T contributors offer targeted listening tasks and strategies.”
  • @jas347 said, “Show a video of French kids describing their schedule, novices list 2-3 classes they hear.”
  • @KrisClimer said, “Based on their level, ask them, ‘Did you hear x, what did you hear,” Then, I have them respond with simple utterances, extend and extrapolate, and so on.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “Play appropriate input, ask students to check off what they heard. Then, have them compare with partner. ‘I heard…’ ‘He heard…’ Have them listen and compare again.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “My kids Skyped with elementary kids in Colombia. I recorded, chunked the conversation to review.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “I play audio from a video. Students share what they heard (big ideas). Then they listen and watch the scene with subtitles. I find out what more they understood the second time around.”
  • @LauraJaneBarber said, “Use students! Have them discuss their weekends and then record. Play back the recording and have students take notes about their partner. Then, presentational speaking project where each student compares their weekends.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “For university unit, we listened to college ads with cloze, evaluated appeal and talked about what’s missing.”

Thank You

We’d like to once again thank our impromptu moderators, @SraSpanglish, @KrisClimer and @ProfesorM, for helping keep the conversation fun and engaging! It is always great to have new perspectives and they did a wonderful job helping us think of great ways to improve interpretive listening skills. Also, we want to thank all of you that helped and participated in the chat. There were a lot of good comments that we couldn’t include in the summary. If you’d like to see what we missed, you can take a look at our online archive for a full transcript.

What kinds of things are you struggling with or finding success with in your classrooms? We love to find out what you want to talk about during #langchat. The best way to let us know what you want to discuss is by sharing your ideas with us. Maybe your question is just what another language teacher needs to hear, too!

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Additional Resources

Audio Lingua
BBC France
AATF Delicious Page
Pinterest Board of French Videos (@jas347)
France Bienvenue
Daily Chorus Bellringer (@SraSpanglish)
CLE International Books with CDs
Alba Learning
University Ad Activity (@SraSpanglish)
100 Speaking and Writing Tasks for MFL Classroom
Listening Activity for Spanish 2 and Entertainment Unit (@jackimorris23)
Spanish Profiency Exercises, University of Texas
Homework Choice Blog Post (@musicuentos)
Piñatas in the Target Language (@SraSpanglish)
Genius Hour Project(@SraSpanglish)
PACE Guidelines
Escucha: Listening Resources for Spanish Teachers (@Bilinguish)
Cloze Songs and Activities(@ZJonesSpanish)
AP Multi-Choice B Audio Only
TV5monde Enseigner
Forum des ados
French Music Blog
Music Video: Octobre (Francis Cabrel)


Arrows showing up (Blender) by FutUndBeidl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  FutUndBeidl 

If you weren’t a part of our Thursday night #langchat discussion on how to move students from novice to intermediate, you missed a great discussion. Teachers from all over the world chimed in about how they are using questioning, wall space and many other teaching tools and tricks to help prepare their novice students for the intermediate language level.

10 Strategies to Move Students from Novice to Intermediate

1. Challenge them out of their comfort zones.

#langchat participants agreed that the best way to start moving students to the next level of their language studies is by scaffolding tasks and pushing them out of their comfort zones. @KrisClimer explained: “I think it’s OK for them to not comprehend everything. Get Ss comfortable with comprehending a minimum and build.” Pushing students to explore new language on their own gives them more ownership over their own skills and shows them that they can speak at a more advanced level than they imagined.

But, it’s not enough to just provide challenges. If tasks aren’t specifically scaffolded and designed to build on information they already have, they can become frustrated and unable to progress. @alenord said, “It’s even more important to assess frequently to find out what they are comfortable with and where that zone ends. I create scenarios with scaffolding, but I don’t tell them what or how to communicate. I want them to build language.”

2. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the big skills necessary in order for students to be able to jump from novice to intermediate. @Sra_Kennedy said, “Once they really can use and understand question words they can sustain a real convo.”

Still, just having students identify question words isn’t what prepares them for higher levels of language learning. In depth synthesis and evaluation is the key to helping students move toward the intermediate level. @CoLeeSensei said, “I am really big on the ‘follow up’ question – digging for more than just 1 answer!” @SenoraDiamond55 responded, “Yes! Always ask “por qué” (why?) to follow up–make them try to dig deeper. We’ll dig through the why together!” @SrtaTeresa added, “I often ask ¿why? as a follow-up. It makes them think beyond just repetition and the surface of language.”

3. Student Self-Assessment and Monitoring

As novice students learn to self-assess and monitor their peers, they are subconsciously setting up a framework for better language learning @YasmineAllen said, “I encourage students to keep each other in check. Love to hear them say “En español, por favor” as I observe.” Having students learn to maintain target language usage while in class benefits them in the long-run and also makes them more aware of the learning process.

To guide world language students to self-assess and self-monitor, give them small, reasonable goals. If self-assessment goals are too large or vague, students will feel unprepared to monitor their own progress and may end up confused. @LauraJaneBarber and @alenord suggested that the best way of teaching students to self-assess is by starting with small areas of focus. @CoLeeSensei responded, “I ask them to do similar – “choose your challenge” before the activity – what is their focus going to be?”

4. Survival Expressions

Equipping students early on with “survival phrases” is a great way to prepare them for long-term success. By repeating important phrases often from the beginning of the class, students immediately have access to the language, instead of having to wait to use it. @KrisClimer gaves some suggestions for French: “Je ne comprends pas”, “Répétez” etc.” Phrases like “How do I?” “How do you say?” and basic conversation structures help students feel proficient, which affects their actual proficiency level. @YasmineAllen also suggested, “Words of the day, phrases of the week, and expressions that will stick.”

5. Strive For 90% Target Language, But Be Realistic

Although most #langchat teachers agree that being in the target language a majority of the time is important, there was some discussion about when it is okay to speak English to the class. @LauraJaneBarber said, “Target-language teaching from day 1 allows major acquisition, but in situations like homework, tests and quizzes, I clearly state expectations in English.”
Many teachers agreed that these types of assignments often worked better when explained in English. @YasmineAllen said, “Sometimes when I set up the task in English at the novice level, students stay in the target language more.” @SenoritaClark said, “I had some awkward situations transpire when I forced myself to use TL completely. Definite miscommunication.”

Other teachers found creative ways to stay in the target language more than 90% of the time. @Sra_Kennedy said, “ I find I can give directions in TL for simple games or activities we’ve done before. But new activities I switch to English. If I get that I have a student who did understand, I have them explain in English. That way I stay in the target language.” @alenord said, “I teach level 1 and sometimes 2, so I will let them use whiteboards to write English to confirm with me without leaving TL.”

6. Prepare Them to Succeed

One of the best ways to help students progress towards intermediate is by giving them time to prepare for more difficult activities. Providing board resources, word webs and brainstorming sessions helps them activate their prior knowledge and prepare them to use it. @natadel76 said, “I find that requiring a review/study session before retake works really well. They have to initiate!” @alenord said, “Also, brainstorming needed vocab before task. That also teaches them to self-select and personalize their message.”

7. Give Them Interesting Things to Talk About.

All of the world language teachers at Thursday’s chat agreed that students are much more likely to use advanced language skills with topics they like than ones they think are boring. @tmsengel said, “Give them more language and interesting and relevant topics to discuss.” This is a great way to get students more active in the world language classroom. Many times, students will want to talk about pop culture, movies or even politics. By giving them topics that lend themselves to discussion, students seek out new vocabulary in order to stay in the conversation. @LauraJaneBarber said, “I give them a topic to discuss and let them go, untimed. My level 2s and 3s will talk FOREVER!”

8. Use Your Space

A sometimes overlooked element of helping students progress is the available, easy-to-use resources that can be placed on posters, walls, blackboards or placemats. @tiesamgraf said, “Having clear resources posted in the room is really working for students – verb endings, question words, conversation extenders. I use my ‘unused’ blackboards with laminated magnetic signs and charts. It really helps!

@CoLeeSensei even had a suggestion for teachers without a lot of wall space: “I have little wall space so mine have a ‘conversation sheet’ – bright colour – easy to find.” @tiesamgraf responded, “encouraging students to use resources in thematic conversations (wordles, word webs) and pushing vocabulary by modeling builds proficiency.”

9. Start Reading, Right Now

Reading is inherently an excellent way for students to acquire new vocabulary and interpretive skills. @YasmineAllen said, “Get students reading early on, so they can see language in context.” @tmsengel added, “And reading is great comprehensible input to improve and move to intermediate both for writing and speaking.”

Still, it is important to remember that what you read and how you read it is the key to helping students move away from novice-level comprehension and output. @tmsengel suggested students to, “read side by side, stopping to summarize and ask each other questions.” @trescolumnae stressed that it is vital to “have high-interest readings” so that students are excited about the reading process.

10. Small Communication Adds Up

The most valuable lesson from our conversation about helping novice students become intermediate is that the learning process is individual and takes time. By encouraging small production, and extensive input before full conversations, students are much more prepared for higher levels of learning. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I push for lots of small production, with meaning and communication over form” @YasmineAllen said, “I start with a lot of input first, then model with a student before I have them produce. @jennahacker said, “I strive for a lot of communicative output from early on – fine tune later.”

@LauraJaneBarber shared this gem, which really summed up the concept: “Baby steps. Learning is not time efficient. Neither is change :). But don’t give up!”

Other Activity Ideas and Tips for Helping Language Students Progress

  • @alenord said, “Use familiar topics, but new tasks. Add in a new element like responding with rejoinders or using transitions.”
  • @SenoraDiamond55 suggested that world language teachers, “Start with LOTS of cognates to help them gain confidence in the target language, then focus on teaching synonyms and increasing vocab, as well as infusing it with ‘flavor.’”
  • @LauraJaneBarber said, “It helps to have common expectations through vertical and horizontal alignment.”
  • @tmsengel said, “Rejoinders really help increase the amount of speaking naturally.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “I like starting class with a number of warm up questions on the smart board and a little word web with helpful vocabulary.”
  • @LauraJaneBarber said, “We often do interpersonal speaking practice, then share out questions and follow-up questions. Sometimes we’ll do a race for which group can create the questions.”
  • @trescolumnae loved the idea of, “…creating questions for each other based on a reading or listening activity, creating stories for each other.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “To get the novice level 1 students to extend the conversation, I start the year with a minimum-of-3-examples rule. I like, X,Y and Z.”
  • @alenord said, “Another idea – give a scenario or task then have them self assess on ONE part of the normal rubric. One day elaboration, another accuracy.”
  • @LauraJaneBarber said, “An option for follow-up questions for reading: Have them come up with questions they’d ask an author or character in a text.”
  • @alenord said, “I like to tell my students, “Find out (info) about your partner.” Makes them think about what questions they could ask.”
  • @YasmineAllen said, “I give them a chance to ‘Ask the teacher’. This is good for reinforcing proper forms of address.”
  • @alenord said, “Another idea: create task cards based on asking questions. Different cards for different learning targets. ‘Find out x’ with several on each card.”
  • @trescolumnae said, “With reading, I’ll include a probing sentence or two with some unfamiliar vocabulary and ask, ‘Do you see a main idea or just words?’”
  • @alenord said, “Setting deliberate goals is important. For example, saying something like, ‘Every sentence today has to contain past tense or a transition’ during practice.”
  • @alenord said, “For every statement you say, you have to ask two questions to someone else about the topic.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “My newbies even practice ‘not understanding’ so they learn to help their partner out! They love it!”
  • @trescolumnae said, “Honestly, repeated use in context is the best way I’ve found to help students progress: The power of #tprs and other #ci techniques.”
  • @natadel76 said, “I make reading activities comprehensible input+1 to encourage natural guessing and risk taking, context clues use. They catch on!”
  • @LauraJaneBarber said, “Create a language day rubric, and have them assess how much target language they spoke. 0 for being silent. You get to make final call.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @CoLeeSensei and @msfrenchteach, for helping us think of new and creative ways to help our students move from novice to intermediate proficiency. There were a lot of great ideas that didn’t make it into this week’s summary, though. To see the whole conversation, please visit our online archive.

You are the biggest part of our online #langchat discussion. We love to have your input on what is working or not working in your world language classroom. Please share your ideas with us for future #langchat topics and help our PLN become a tool for strengthening and refining the world language teaching field!

Additional Resources

Novice high vs. intermediate low
ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012
“Taking A Risk” – What Does Risk in the MFL Class Look Like?
Conversation Circles…or “I spoke in the TL for 45 Minutes?!”
Amy’s Publications
Excellent but Imperfect
Imperfect, Yet Excellent
Visual Learning – Visual Cues
Top 3 mistakes teachers of novices make
Flexible Magnetic Tape
World Languages
Assessment Tools
A letter from the Ohio Department of Education
Empowering Students through Prespeaking

Week #6 ”Light” [6of52] by Camera Eye Photography, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Camera Eye Photography 

There are a variety of ways to organize a world language classroom curriculum. For each teacher, the grade level, subject matter and proficiency benchmarks are so varied that it is difficult to compare one way of organizing a language-teaching unit with another. Still, on Thursday night’s #langchat, participants came up with some great basic structures for teaching world language units as well as some important elements that any unit should always keep in mind.

5 Effective Strategies to Organize Units in a World Language Classroom

It became clear early on that #langchat teachers have a variety of unique methods of structuring their units in order to make them the most effective. While some people adhered closely to textbooks when organizing units, others eschewed them completely. Many teachers felt that thematic units were effective, while others felt that exploration-based units took the themes to an entirely new level. In each case, these different structures for setting up world language teaching units had clear benefits for the teacher and students.

1. Backwards Design. To plan lessons using the method of backwards design, teachers begin by understanding where students will be at the end of the unit. @CoLeeSensei said, “I go ‘backwards’ as well -starting with a final oral task, then figuring out what they need to learn in order to complete it.” One benefit of this type of unit is that it includes having a clear, reasonable goal in mind from the beginning of the unit’s design through to the end. Another benefit is that pacing and structure naturally lead to assessments when the final product/skills are the focus.

2. Thematic Units. Many #langchat teachers work with thematic units, although the implementation and creation of these units is varied. @msfrenchteach said, “For me, units for all levels are thematic and are categorized according to the six major AP themes.” @SECottrell said, “I think units should be thematic and focused on proficiency.” @alenord said, “Our units have an overarching theme, our lessons target subthemes. For example: All About Me is the Unit. Who I am, My family are the lessons.” This type of structure gives the teacher a lot of freedom about what resources to include and differentiation for different learning styles and proficiency levels.

3. Investigation Units. This type of unit is an excellent way to encourage higher-level thinking in the world language classroom. In this style, the teacher and students discuss a vital question that must be researched and explored in order to develop an answer. @CristinaZimmer4 explained, “The unit centers around a topic that provides us questions to investigate. For example, Natural Disasters might be the topic but students can relate it to causes and locations.” @alenord added, “The exposure is via text and audio that leads to students making their own discoveries and acquisitions.”

4. Functional Units. A functional unit is based on completing a real-world task. For example, students might need to buy a car in the target language, which would expose them to new concepts and vocabulary. She explained, “My units are originally set from a ‘real world’ task – then what they need. Gr12’s delving into daily life just did a murder mystery.” In order to ensure proficiency in all 4 modes (reading, writing, speaking, listening), she also suggested focusing each day of instruction on a different mode, with the last day of the week covering all 4 briefly.

5. Resource-Based Units. Some teachers advocated for a unit to be based on carefully chosen authentic resources. @CristinaZimmer4 said, “You can find grammar in every authentic resource. Building your units around these resources makes teaching more fun!” By including songs, stories and movies, students can learn a variety of new words in an interactive way that supports a thematic or inquiry-based unit plan. @CristinaZimmer4 even suggested that a very good authentic resource, like a song, can be a stand-alone unit. She said, “I almost think a song CAN be unit. Use the vocabulary and grammar in it but tie it to a global theme. Then there’s value.”

Things to Consider When Creating a World Language Unit

Regardless of what structure you decide to go with in your unit, there are a number of vital elements that should be considered as your plan your lessons.

Scaffolding. Knowing how students will move from one concept to the next is vital in creating a unit that naturally builds on previous knowledge. By creating individual lessons that activate this prior knowledge and provide time for review and new discovery, you are giving your students the best chance for long-term language acquisition. @MmeNero said, “I think it’s important to review what they know and add to that knowledge. It’s important to scaffold units for authentic communication.”

Authentic Resources. Whether you build your unit completely around authentic resources, or just use them to supplement a different style, authentic resources need to be carefully considered. Excellent resources should be able to activate student knowledge on a number of levels, not just add to their vocabulary or grammar structures. @CristinaZimmer4 said, “I just don’t like when students are only used to listen to songs when verb tense is being studied.” Incorporating larger themes, evaluating the message for bias or synthesizing and comparing resources allows for more connection with the language.

Assessment. From the beginning of your unit, assessment should be a key component of your overall plan. What types of assessment do you need to include? How often should summative and formative assessment be included? @SECottrell said, “I start with designing modal assessments. Then, exploring what authentic resources will get us there?” Although not discussed in detail this week, #langchat participants have previously given great suggestions for how to set up assessments that help support successful unit plans.

Balancing skills and Modes. It is important to keep in balance the time you spend on teaching each skill. Creating a unit with excellent resources and thematic structure is good, but it is better to ensure that they get balanced practice in reading, writing, speaking and listening (the 4 skills of communication) as well as balanced opportunities for presentations, interpersonal exercises and interpretive activities (the 3 modes of communication).

Pacing. While some teachers complete only 3-4 units each year, others plan for 6-7 themed units per semester. The key with pacing is to make sure that the end goal is clearly in mind and true learning is taking place along the way. @CristinaZimmer4 said, “I shoot for 10-12 days (in block). Too much longer and students get bored. Less and we don’t get as in depth as I like.” @MmeNero said, “I try to focus on 3-4 units, rather than covering all of them, and integrate what they need to learn. Retention and understanding is key.”

Appropriate Goals. Setting reasonable goals for each class session allows you to have a better-defined class and minimizes potential burnout for you and your students. @mo_xing said, “I try very hard to narrow the goals. It makes it much easier for me to handle a class.” @MmeNero responded, “Agreed! Too much in one class makes it hard for retention. If they can’t remember tomorrow, what’s the point?”

Student Engagement. Finally, it is important to decide early on how to engage your students in the unit plan. Many world language teachers suggested having students help to select the themes and resources that they use during the unit. This gives the students personal investment in the learning experience, or “buy-in.” @alenord suggested having students self-select vocabulary terms so that they are more motivated to use what they learn in class. @tmsaue1 asked, “What if we asked students: do you want to ask questions? do you want to describe? do you want to narrate? And then build units around their interests in those functions?”

Textbook Usage. Many #langchat teachers are moving away from using traditional textbooks to define their units, while others still use them as strong supports for their teaching. You need to decide how or if you will be using the textbook to create your unit plans early on in the school year. There are many ways to incorporate them as well. @Sra_Hildinger said, “I only use the book as a resource. Use vocabulary and grammar included because students frequently change teachers.” @CoLeeSensei said, “I’ll admit I got my initial unit ideas from a text – that I only use now for ‘readings’ (graded readings key in Japan).” @LauraErinParker said, “I use the textbook to get ideas, but I supplement more each year.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @CoLeeSensei and @msfrenchteach, for giving us direction on this interesting discussion. Some of the best suggestions and ideas for creating unit plans for world language classrooms didn’t make it into our summary this week. To see the whole conversation, please visit our online archive.

We love talking with you every Thursday evening about what is working in your world language classroom. If you have any ideas for future #langchat discussions, we’d love to hear about them. Share your ideas with us and you could be helping someone become a better language teacher.

Additional Resources

Culture & Authentic resources
Amy Lenord Pinterest
Google Mexico
Le monde des Ados
Géo Ado
Veinte Mundos
Amy’s Publications
Collaborize Classroom