centers stations postSometimes, it takes focusing on a certain strategy to help remind you of just how effective it can be.
This seemed to be the case last Thursday, as the #langchat participants discussed station activities and how they can be tools for fast, deep language acquisition. Not only did they talk about the purpose for station learning and how it meets learning objectives, but they shared great tips for preparing for station lessons, implementing them and specific lesson ideas that work for the world language classroom.
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Why Use Stations?

Learning stations or learning groups are a great way to differentiate learning, broaden student understanding of a topic or theme and engage them in a variety of learning tasks: all at the same time! @tmsaue1 said, “Stations can be used at every stage of the learning sequence for the students’ #personalization.”

But, differentiation and engagement aren’t the only reasons #langchat teachers think they’re so great. Station learning also allows students to have deeper exposure to the language and have a variety of acquisition experiences.

  1. An engaging way to review or preview a theme or set of linguistic skills.
    @SECottrell said, “Most often I use as a preview and don’t bother to assess it. Point was language exposure and exploration, not a grade.”
  2. Allows for more varied skill practice, in a variety of acquisition methods (small groups, guided activities and small group instruction).
    @tmsaue1 said, “Centers allow you to address so much we keep talking about: personalization, technology, small group practice, free reading, ….”
  3. Movement between groups is fun and physically engaging for active or younger students and teachers. @muchachitaMJ said, “I’m walking around the room a lot. I love seeing what they are learning. Keeps lazy moments at bay!”
  4. Allows easy differentiation in the types of skills students are learning for the whole lesson. @tmsaue1 said, “Why I really like stations: you can #differentiate the learning not the teaching. Not every student needs to go to every station.”
  5. Can be designed to support language acquisition for interpretive, interpersonal and presentational skills, all in the same station activity. @senoritareid said, “One purpose is to have students use all three modes of communication interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.”
  6. Facilitates more “risky” language behavior. @tmsaue1 said, “If output activities, they can be great to “practice” safely, if they are input they allow for personalized exploration of “new””
  7. Gives students more ownership of their learning, especially if stations are paired with choice activities. @muchachitaMJ said, “Motivation goes way up when kids get a say in what and how they learn. They learn how to teach themselves!”

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Implementing Stations

Implementation is the key to a successful station activity, and the main reason why many world language teachers balk at the idea of setting it up. Station learning can be noisy, confusing and chaotic if not prepared and managed carefully. Here are some tips from the pros on making your station activity run smoothly and effectively.

How Many Stations, How Many Students, How Much Time?

Although answers vary, many #langchat teachers agree that the fewer the students at each station, the more intensive the learning process is. That being said, you must remember that you need to create enough stations that differentiate the learning, without overextending your ability to manage and monitor the activity at each one. @tmsaue1 said,

I’ve also seen failed stations where teachers were trying to cram a bunch of boring review activities. Students didn’t respond.

There were some good suggestions of how exactly to set up the size and number of stations. @SECottrell said, “In a 50-minute class period, I find 3 stations at 10 minutes each is perfect, time for transitions and tech glitches.” @ldpricha said, “I do four stations in two 35 min classes. Sometimes we’ll add a 3rd day to finish 1 station, but that’s rare.”

What Types of Activities at Each Station?

There are number of ways to set up a station lesson that can meet or exceed the Common Core State Standards and ACTFL proficiency standards’ guidelines. Some teachers, like @SenoraWienhold and @ProfeKing, run their station activities based on the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Other teachers, like @ProfeKing, set up their station activities based on the ACTFL modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. @alisonkis shared her unique spin on station goals as a way to foster higher orders of thinking about the language process:

Stations can be set up based on level of thinking. Define vocab, apply vocab, etc.

How to Manage Transitions?

To use a timer or not to use a timer?

To use a timer or not to use a timer?

One of the key concerns with doing station work is the tendency for transition times to get out of control and waste instruction time. For a lot of #langchat teachers, that means that preparing students for transitions and helping them build habits for responding to station activities is vital to the success of these lessons. @SECottrell said,

I use a timer because my perfectionists would stay in one place trying to complete every possibility perfectly. They get bogged down.

On the other hand, some teachers felt that the unstructured nature of station work is a part of it’s attraction and effectiveness. @muchachitaMJ said, “I let most classes move freely with stations … Go where you want for how long you want. Students can’t believe how fast class goes!”

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How to Prepare Stations

The most important thing when designing a station-based learning lesson is preparation. Still, this doesn’t mean that every station activity must take hours to set up and implement. @alisonkis suggested that stations can now be set up through web tools, which cuts down the preparation time dramatically.

There were many teachers that talked about reusing stations or stretching them out over a few days to limit the amount of overall preparation for a station activity. @tmsaue1 said,

If you have plenty of stations you can implement it more than once and just rotate thru different stations. One prep = multiple days.

@SECottrell responded, “Or, you can duplicate stations to get the benefit of small groups without extra work.” @ProfeKing said, “It takes a little logistical work, but not much prep. Keep tasks simple and low material. Novelty is what excites.”

@SECottrell shared her final thought on preparing both students and lessons relating to station work:

I learned a key is to make sure you have a point. Tied to targets, fits in your sequence, not random.

How to Prepare Students for Station Learning

The other element of successful station learning is making sure that students are ready to participate. @tmsaue1 shared a very important point about how to best prepare students by teaching them transition habits. He said, “What I learned from @muchachitaMJ is this: routine, routine, routine. That way, you don’t have to waste time constantly explaining the purpose of the stations. My students always know they will do 1 interpretive task, 1 interpersonal, 1 presentational, although overlap is possible. When students know what’s expected and the center task is meaningful, transitions can take as little as 90 seconds.”

Types of Stations

Despite having similar objectives, all the #langchat teachers had unique ways of setting up stations to meet those same objectives. @tmsaue1 mentioned some ideas he had seen in action:

  • iPad games
  • free reading
  • interpretive audio activity
  • small group chat
  • short free write

@mitchellsensei said, “How about stations that are thematic with opportunities to develop interpretive, interpersonal and presentational WL skills?”

Other stations mentioned were craft stations, investigative stations, picture stations and role-playing stations. Also, several teachers mentioned the value of including technology stations, with references to tools like Google Voice, QRVoice and LiveScribe as viable learning options.

Monitoring and Assessment

@mitchellsensei said what many #langchat teachers were thinking when she commented, “My only concern with stations is being able to effectively monitor and assess listening and/or speaking.”

Being able to accurately assess station activities is one of the inherent difficulties in this format of teaching. Still, many #langchat teachers had valuable perspectives and tips to share to help alleviate the burden of assessment:

  • @alisonkis said, “Centers are not busy work, but serve as formative assessment opportunities.”
  • @mitchellsensei said, “I think the stations are the formative assessments designed to build and develop the skills for an authentic performance task.”

@SenoraDiamond55 had a great question:

Any concerns about students staying on task? With over 25 students in a class, I’d be concerned about straggling and hiding behind the number of students.

@muchachitaMJ responded,

Variety is key! Sometimes a quiz (reading sample from that station) or exit slip – what did you figure out today?

It was clear that, regardless of the potential problems with monitoring and assessment of station activities, these types of lessons allow students to truly explore the language, as long as assessment isn’t the most important goal. @CoLeeSensei said, “Do we have to always assess at stations – it’s also a place to try new things? Perhaps stations work as they move us from ‘teacher’ role to ‘facilitator’ one?? I want to coach, not be the ‘focus’ in the room.”

Some quick tips on assessing stations:

  • @muchachitaMJ said, “I don’t grade their learning like its a worksheet…Scares them from taking risks. I have kids jot down 1 thing learned at each station. Neat to see their “ah-ha” moments.”
  • @SenoraDiamond55 said, “I say assess at some (or a) stations, always. Not all stations, always. No, no, no!”
  • @MmeCarbonneau said, “You could have students write the assessment for you! One of the stations is to help create the criteria/scoring.”

Lesson Ideas for Incorporating Stations

  • @alisonkis said, “Try Tic-Tac-Toe kind of station. Differentiation based.”
  • @andrearoja said, “I did modified stations today for my doctor unit. I had several infographics related 2 body vocab. Students skimmed for main ideas and details. Then they sketched a body on butcher paper and printed labels from Quizlet (cut off the English). Label. One station was reading a patient info form and identifying cognates”
  • @SECottrell said, “A recent station in my class was to listen to music nominated for @premiolonuestro and pick the winner. Another station, I gave students conversation questions on cards about concert experiences, music preferences.”
  • @frenchteacher11 said, “I had a restaurant center with students taking orders and playing the role of customers. I also had flash card games and a reading center with food books.”
  • @crwmsteach said, “Four corners is another station-like activity. Students go to their favorite corner and say why they like it: ex: food, sports, music, books.”
  • @cbloodworth said, “I regularly have a Jefferson County-inspired stamp sheet station going in my class.”
  • @KrisClimer said, “No tech: what about lots of games, role-play conversation, cloze activities”
  • @muchachitaMJ said, “I just printed off 10 little comics/tweets with unit vocab and left it for a reading station. They had to vote for favorite.”
  • @CaulfieldAndrea said, “Pile of post-its with specific items that have to be labeled (une chemise rouge), etc – timed activity and the fastest group wins!”
  • @muchachitaMJ said, “Or print lyrics to song and cut them up in to words or chunks… Students listen and put in order.”
  • @ldpricha said, “Pizza wheels: Velcro a picture on each section. Match clothespin with word to the picture.”
  • @ProfeKing said, “One of my favs is with emotions. Play a brief varied music selection and have students write what emotion it makes them feel.”
  • @ldpricha said, “Idea: Cut up sentence strip. Students build sentences. Put a picture on the back for meaning. Color code part of speech.”

Thank You

Thanks so much to @CoLeeSensei for attempting to reign in a focus for our conversation about how to make stations work in the world language classroom. As usual, there were a number of excellent points and resources that were shared that we couldn’t include in the summary. If you’d like to see what you’ve missed, check out the full transcript here.

#Langchat wouldn’t be the same without weekly participation by you! We love to meet with you and find out what is working in your world language classroom. If you have ideas that you’d like to see discussed on #langchat, please share them with us. Last Thursday’s topic was a perfect example of a suggestion that turned into a very valuable discussion for the whole PLN.

Additional Resources

Review in 7 Minute Stations
Stations Centers
Spot-checking conversations
Centers Sheet
Corporate Spanish sites
Stations – What I’ll do next time
Belkin RockStar 5-Way 3.5-mm Headphone Splitter
Visuals for Foreign Language Instruction
#LangCamp 2013!


video conference by jencu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jencu 

During the pre-Valentine’s day #langchat, participants were sharing the resource love by talking about some of the best ways to incorporate native language speaking interactions into the classroom. Not only were some of the best online apps discussed, but the virtues of old-fashioned pen-pals were extolled and some excellent tips were shared from teachers who have years of experience managing native language speaking activities.

Ways to Incorporate Native Language Interactions

Connecting with native language speakers is one of the most effective ways of getting students excited and personally connected to the target language. It’s one of the reasons why people have been using as a teaching tool for so long. Even though the technology has changed from simple pen and paper written interaction, the basic structure of incorporating these interactions is virtually unchanged from 100 years ago.

Traditional Pen Pals

Although it might seem archaic, traditional pen-pals are a great way to get students started communicating and writing in the target language. @nico1e said, “Pen pal classes can exchange physical letters first(gets excitement going) then email, video.”

Still, it can be a little tricky to set up and may require some effort on the part of the teacher.
@cforchini said, “Been blessed- started snail mail exchange 20 years ago with a school in Spain, still going strong, +15 trips, teacher is one of my bff’s.”

A couple of hints about doing it the old fashioned way: it’s important to be in contact with the teacher directly as well as forgetting about the old one-on-one rule. By staying in contact with the other teacher, you can manage your curriculum so that you are always working on similar vocabulary and themes. And doing a group batch of pen-pal letters is a much better choice to avoid the unfortunate disappearing pen-pal scenario. @nico1e said, “I’ve had WAY more success just doing bunches of letters, no matching students. No more tears! Absentee = no letter = sad.”

Asynchronous Video

An updated version of the pen-pal system, this communication method hinges on creating “video diaries” to share with a classmate who lives in another part of the world. This is a great method, since it’s not reliant on time to manage the meeting. Instead, one classroom can create a “video diary” and send it to the corresponding class on their own time, instead of having to synchronize disparate schedules.

Synchronous Video/Text Exchanges

The ultimate in native language exchange, this method actually connects students learning a language with native speakers in real time. There are many apps and software platforms that provide this kind of interactive experience. Although it is engaging for students, it can sometimes be difficult to combine schedules.

Many teachers were excited to share their favorite platforms for synchronous video and text exchanges, such as SkypeClassroom, Twitter and Google+ Hangouts. Although they each have their own special benefits, the goal of each is to provide real-time communication that can inform the language learning process.

Live Speakers

Another standard method of encouraging native interaction with language students is by having speakers interact with them in person. These can be members of the community, language learners with more advanced skills or leadership figures. @SraSpanglish said, “I’ve invited Hispanic community representatives to give feedback on presentations in Spanish.” Other great guests include bilingual business professionals, college students and colleagues who have overcome language barriers to succeed in a second language.

A great point was brought up, however. When including guest speakers in your classroom, make sure that both the students and the speaker are prepared to speak about a certain theme, topic or event to ensure that the interaction is focused and informative.

Service Learning

One of the most unique methods of the night was the concept of service-oriented native language interaction. While @Bport_ModLangs shared their program that allowed students to interact with native language learners in their community, teachers like @SraSpanglish and @senoraCMT talked about sending aid, letters and packages to native speakers in needy countries.

@senoraCMT suggested finding needy individuals through the help of NGOs or non-profit organizations in the target language-speaking countries. She said, “Find non profits doing charity work in the area you want students to connect with. Dump the dump in Guat, @BernieProject in Africa.” @crwmsteach said, “Another possibility is to check with local immigration and refugee services for volunteer opportunities.”

How Do I Connect with Classroom-Friendly Native Speakers?

This exchange brought up an important component of using native speakers for language learning: How do you find individuals and classes to do exchanges with?

In addition to the comments of contacting immigration offices, refugee centers and non-profits, a number of really great ways to find native speakers were shared. @ProfeCochran said, “I contacted the Chamber of Commerce. One bank sent a week’s worth of speakers! We are studying professions, too! Local businesses and Partners in Education are also helpful in providing face-to-face interactions.” @nico1e added, “Ask your local Rotary Club if they can set up with any of their connections from professional or student exchanges.”

Regardless of what method you choose to connect with native speakers, it’s likely it will take a little bit of elbow grease to make happen. Although software platforms like Edmodo and Google+ Hangouts make the actual exchange easier, you still have to find the people you want to talk with. But, the experienced #langchat teachers promised that all that hard work will eventually pay off. @CatherineKU72 said, “I cold-emailed five schools in Angers asking principals to connect our classes with interested teachers. Got 3 offers to video.”

What are the Best Technologies for Facilitating Language Interactions?

So, what are these amazing communication platforms that all the language teachers are talking about? Actually, most of them are things that you probably already use in your daily life or in your classroom instruction.


Skype is free and relatively easy to use across all types of browser platform. On the other hand, the free version only allows for video conferencing between two screens. Many teachers suggested using SkypeClassroom as an alternative, as it also has classroom connecting settings so that you can find the kind of classroom you want to communicate with. In addition, you can record the call and watch it later!

Cool Ways to Use Skype:

  • @SraSpanglish said, “One of the most exciting Skypes we had: kids took their phones, wandered around their school in Argentina!.”
  • @tournesol74 said, “Also asked French friends and family to help via phone or Skype. Students have specific role play task — ordring pizza, asking for directions.”


ePals is a very classroom-friendly setup and allows you to have complete control over the types of exchanges that students are having. @MmeGoodenough said, “I chose ePals because of the filtering- I have to approve emails before the penpal sees them.” @madamebaker shared an important tip for using ePals, however. She said, “Try to connect with several teachers or schools. That way, hopefully, you will find a good match.”

Cool Ways to Use ePals

  • @profesorM said, “I use ePals for culture. My students write Spanish, [the other classroom] writes in English. Everyone wins.”


Twitter is a completely live texting application that can be tailored to find trending topics and speakers in a target language. Not only is it a great way to find classrooms to connect with, but the 140-character limit means that students don’t have to stress about long, drawn-out conversations. @nico1e said, “If you tweet in a foreign language, it’s also a nice break from typical stress of writing “long sentences.” Teach les SMS/textos.” It is not allowed by all school district filters, though, and may require more teacher management than some apps with a higher level of internal security.

Cool Ways to Use Twitter

  • @frenchteacher11 said, “I like the idea of tweeting another class with a specific hashtag.”
  • @frenchteacher11 said, “We tweeted some Quebecois Olympic athletes with some responses -very exciting !”

Other Great Collaboration Technologies

Google+ Hangouts – @Thecrazyprofe said, “Don’t forget Google Hangouts. You can have more than 2 people, and I think the connection is better.”

Edmodo – @AHSblaz said, “We use Edmodo and it is very secure and private.”

Instagram – @nico1e said, “You could search language #hashtags on Instagram and then students work to understand location of photo and caption!”

GoogleDocs – @CatherineKU72 said, “If writing on a GoogleDoc, you can add voice comments to practice even more.”

FlipGrid – @mundaysa said, “I’ve discovered FlipGrid and some natives are helping me.”

VoiceThread – @AHSblaz said, “Voicethread is interactive. Many can post with voice or text and links. Check it out!”

How Can I Make Sure My Kids are Learning During Interactions?

One of the biggest discussions of the night was about how to share time with classroom partnerships when they are focused on using English instead of your target language. @axamcarnes said, “All of my contacts in South America are in bilingual schools. They want to practice their English, so it defeats purpose.” @cforchini agreed, saying, “The reality is that the exchange ends up one sided.”

Some teachers had good suggestions for making sure that the language exchange was equal.

  • @SraSpanglish said, “We split half and half–our turn for L2 then their turn for their L2”
  • @profesorM said, “Conundrum- they want to practice Eng, we want to practice Italian… How to resolve? Your class writes Italian, they write English.”
  • @SenoraDiamond55 said, “Each side has diff goals, so allocate X min for each to be language experts? A bit of give and take, but fair.”

There were several other very good pieces of advice when working with classrooms that function in the target language, specifically about keeping students engaged and focused on appropriate goals. @SraSpanglish said, “One of the main things is make sure everyone’s busy. Another thing to do is make sure the interaction goals are level appropriate–I’ve been overambitious before.”

Tips for Doing Online Classroom Interactions

  • @msfrenchteach said, “Ensure that your goals match (or are very similar) to your cooperating teacher.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “Social Media is great for connections w/natives, but needs accountability (if want meaningful collab.)”
  • @crwmsteach said, “Be patient; school calendars are diff; a slow response does NOT mean they don’t like you.”
  • @alisonkis said, “Preteach vocabulary, discuss accent in class and understand why before conversing with native speakers.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “Don’t invite native just to chat. Connect to a topic, prework, reduce anxiety, teach negotiation.”
  • @nico1e said, “It’s also reassuring [for native guests] to realize that mistakes are normal. They also have “AHA!” moments seeing “I have fourteen years”.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “I invite speakers to speak about a specific topic, so we prep the topic beforehand. That helps students a lot!”

Thank You

Thanks so much to @msfrenchteach for taking charge of our conversation about native language interactions. So many great ideas, examples and resources were shared, it was pretty hard to keep up! If you’d like to read the whole discussion, check out the full transcript here.

Also, we’d like to thank you for being a vital part of #langchat! Every week, we are pleasantly surprised each week to find out what wonderful suggestions and comments you have to share with us. If you have something specific you’d like to discuss, or just simply want to share your feelings about the topic at hand, please get involved on our forum page. We love to know how to better connect you with the wonderful #langchat PLN!

Additional Resources

La Clase de Señorita Bienert
Mes conversations avec les olympiens canadiens
Cecile Laine Twitter
Digital Tools for Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills
Talk to Me: Genius Hour Experiment, Part 7
Instagram mvhsfrancais
Winning Agua es Vida PSA
After the Skype Session
Interpersonal Playbook
La France vue par les Français
APB Speakers International
Clichés sous-titré
Connecting Students to Target Language Speakers
Creating Global Connections for World Language Teaching

On Thursday night, #langchat participants were vocal about the topic of communication. In addition to talking about their personal definitions of a communicative classroom, they shared great ideas for how to make world language classrooms more communicative by following 10 key rules.


Communicative World Language Classroom

What is a Communicative Language Classroom?

How do you define a communicative world language classroom? #langchat participants discovered that they had some disparate ideas about what exactly a communicative classroom looks like in action. Still, there was a general consensus that truly communicative classrooms had the following elements:

Holistic. A communicative classroom includes more than just speaking. @mjosey1 said, “Oral language, but also comprehensive oral, and students asking follow up when they don’t understand to clarify.” @madamebaker added, “Interpretive reading, listening/viewing, presentational or interpersonal speaking/writing.”

Informative. Communicative classrooms should be focused on sharing information, whether vital or not. There was some debate as to whether natural, organic, unfocused conversation was considered informative or wasteful. Still, the general consensus was summed up nicely by @SECottrell: “A communicative class focuses on meaning – relevant, motivating, real-world MEANING.”

Authentic. Not only must communication be related to meaning, but it must be able to be further used to accomplish real-world tasks such as sharing their opinions. @CecileLaine said, A communicative class = with real-life tasks to reach proficiency communication goals.” @alisonkis said, “Communicative class can also mean that students write to express ideas and opinions. Write with a purpose and audience in mind.”

Interactive Skill Building. Truly communicative classes are completely interactive, immersive and focused on alternate communication skills like circumlocution. Although student-teacher interactions are important, student-student interactions are key learning tools. Target language usage is ideally above 90% and is demonstrated by the teacher. @SraSpanglish also added, “I guess this is where an emphasis on skills like circumlocution and rephrasing must be added to the definition.”

Communication Based Assessment/Objectives. Rather than learning communication tools and tactics as discrete units, communicative language classrooms are focused on language acquisition as a whole. @tiesamgraf said, “Communicative classes have clear communicative based objectives with grammar integrated but not the focus.” This affects how the classroom activities are assessed, as communication skill improvement becomes the goal, rather than mastery of individual grammar lists or memorized phrases.

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10 Rules for a Communicative World Language Classroom

1. All students have equal opportunity to communicate. This rule, submitted by @alisonkis, is one of the key parts of having a truly communicative classroom. Not only should students have an equal opportunity to speak, but be able to communicate at least partially in a way that they feel comfortable with. Whether that means through writing, storytelling or performing, all students should have equal opportunities to share and gain meaningful language.

2. Communication is focused on sharing tangible information. Although there was some debate on what “tangible information” should look like in the world language classroom, most #langchat teachers agreed that a truly communicative classroom should make holistic sharing of information the key goal. Whether that communication is about world events, authentic resources, or the weather, @SenoraDiamond55 said, “[The goal is] keeping the students talking (most often) to each other and exchanging information.”

3. Communication lessons are concentrated around students’ interests. @senoraCMT said that communicative classrooms include, “…great class discussion of topics the students choose! Things that really interest them! (Not what I think should interest them).” This doesn’t necessarily mean that students should like every lesson, but that an effective world language teacher takes student interest into consideration when choosing units for communication. @alenord said, “Why should everything be about what they like, or find interesting? Sometimes, it’s better to find something they aren’t interested in, then they react in different way!”

4. Communication scaffolding is provided to ensure student success. Although it is tempting to allow students to pick a topic and then struggle to communicate (especially in lower levels), it is much better to provide a scaffolded communication structure so that they don’t get frustrated. @alenord said, “Structured input strategies help focus their attention on the [language] patterns.” Teachers like @alisonkis and @CoLeeSensei use “cheat sheets” for common phrases and questions that will allow students to communicate better.

5. Communication takes place in interesting, authentic contexts. @senorafitch and many other #langchat teachers stressed the importance of, “Real life language usage situations” to keep students engaged. As @SECottrell pointed out, students are more engaged in situations that could actually happen to them, instead of abstract ones that are not applicable to their lives. She said, “Students are more motivated when there’s less ‘imagine’ and more ‘wow, that could really happen to me.’”

6. Teachers demonstrate how to stay in the target language. Especially in lower proficiency levels, students are often tempted to revert back to their native language when they get confused or frustrated. In order to keep the communication high, it is vital to stay in the target language as much as possible, even if the teacher finds it to be more difficult. @mjosey1 said, “[The students] keep me accountable. I’m showing them struggling is okay (not that I struggle). But, finding words they can process is a struggle, it hurts my head!!”

7. The communication environment is a safe place for making mistakes. One of the key issues in creating a communicative classroom is the institutionalized idea that mistakes equal failure. In order to have an effective language learning culture, teachers must create a space that encourages mistakes and celebrates risk-taking. @tiesamgraf said, “Not focusing on errors encourages risk-taking and inspires confidence.” @SraClouser supported this concept as well, saying, “Yes. Students need to be comfortable with their ability and each other.”

8. Incorporates authentic resources into the conversation. @tiesamgraf said, “Using authentic resources helps to add real life meaning to activities.” Not only do authentic resources contribute to the authenticity of the overall communication, they directly and indirectly communicate cultural information that supports holistic second language acquisition. @alenord said, “[Authentic communication is] relevant to students, promotes cultural comparisons, and connections between individuals.”

9. Recognize different communication tactics for different proficiency levels. As students move from novice to intermediate, the role of the teacher changes dramatically in a truly communicative classroom. @sonrisadelcampo said, “Communication differs in each level: lower levels depend on teacher to pull out conversations; upper levels develop discussions from what the teacher says.” @alenord said, “Also, we often mistake level 2 being higher on prof scale. Level 2 is still NOVICE. Part of 2nd year woes is that we forget we are building their confidence. Are the scenarios a balance of comfort and challenge?” @alisonkis suggested using Bloom’s Taxonomy verbiage in order to clearly distinguish what goals each level should be reaching with their communication activities.

10. Vary the types of communication that student’s produce. Several teachers explained that “communication” discussions are often focused on verbal interaction. In fact, communicative classes provide students a variety of ways to share and develop language skills. @CatherineKU72 said, “Learners demonstrate communication by laughing at jokes, moving bodies, drawing, writing, any production.”

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Ideas for a More Communicative Classroom

  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We start every class with ‘greet your partner and find out about….”(changes daily).”
  • @cyberfrida said, “I love it when students read an article and write in their journals to express their reaction or opinion of what they read.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “I like PollEverywhere to find popular topic then find #authres.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “8th graders write to ePals, using chat rooms or email, exchange videos, etc.”
  • @kinom1 said, “I also like when they create alternate endings to stories they had previously made up.”
  • @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I like to practice with ‘I have a problem’ and trade with friend who writes a recommendation/solution.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “Have you ever tried a “silent conversation?” Great communication student to student!”
  • @Ensenenme said, “One of my favorites is playing music from song “Ella y el” and letting them invent the storyline then listen to Atkins version.”
  • @js_pasaporte said, “Teach expressions for extending conversation/rejoinders.”
  • @alenord said, “I like to use picture prompts to encourage sts to talk about things from their opinions and emotional reactions.”
  • @anciana said, “Games like Third World Farmer in Spanish might be relevant to our teenage gamers.”
  • @js_pasaporte said, “With TRIBES there are lots of activities for community-building and creating ‘tribes’ in the classroom. It really works.”
  • @alisonkis said, “RAFT (Role-Audience-Format-Topic) for writing. QAR (Question-Answer Relationships) for reading. Effective strategies to push Ss communicate with purposes.”
  • @alisonkis said, “See-Think-Wonder another strategy to push communication when viewing visual materials.”

– Follow Calico Spanish on Twitter

Thank You

A big thanks to @CoLeeSensei and @SECottrell for moderating Thursday’s conversation. As usual, there were many good comments that weren’t included in our summary. If you want to know what you missed, read the full transcript here.

Thank you for participating in ! It wouldn’t be the same without you. If you have additional questions or comments, or would like to suggest a future topic for our Twitter chat, share your ideas on the forum page. It’s always great to get some fresh perspective on what is important in today’s world language classroom.

– Follow us on Instagram too! –

Additional Resources

A meaningful approach to grammar
Building Communication
3 Tips To Communicate More Effectively Via Social Media
A Picture for 1000 Words (or Situations)!
En fotos: ¿Qué es la libertad?
Maestros con los grandes
Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) Center


Color Your life by Capture Queen â„¢, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Capture Queen â„¢ 

With over 600 tweets and 50 active participants at last week’s #langchat, it was one of the most power-packed chats we’ve ever had! While part of the traffic had to do with the interest of the world language community on creating and implementing diverse learning teaching methods, some of the popularity of our chat had to do with our fantastic guest moderators: @alenord @SraSpanglish and @senoraCMT.

Planning for Diverse Language Instruction

Although every teacher is different, many #langchat participants agreed that starting with the end goal in mind is the best way to have dedicated space for differentiation. @SraSpanglish said, “We all establish goals, proficiency-related and contextual, then scaffold the vocabulary and communication skills.t” @alenord agreed, sharing her perspective on the perfect design for incorporating diverse methodology. She said, “In order to develop proficiency we have to decide what the goal is. We consider learning targets first, then we design assessments, then we provide instruction.”

The concept of proficiency-based goals as the key element for planning diverse units and lessons was one that came up several times over the night. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “We begin at the end, of course! What do we want the students to do, and what do we need to do to get them there?” @senoraCMT went a step further with idea, saying “It is very important to me that units be applicable to students using language outside classroom! Relevance leads to engagemt!”

There were several great reasons that teachers choose this kind of “backwards design” when thinking about diverse lesson planning.

1. Increases Teacher Understanding. When you create a unit with the end goals in mind, it is easier to see the natural path that students will need to take in order to meet proficiency standards. @alenord said, “Well, I always start with my summative assmt. I have to know the goal and plan backwards.”

2. Better Time Management. Since the learning path becomes more clear with backwards design, it can help teachers better understand what the timing will need to be in order to get students to the end goal in time. @mstort6 said, “Moving backwards from the summative also helps me manage my time for each concept I teach.”

3. Concrete Goals for Students. One of the key goals in proficiency learning is being able to meet certain levels of authentic communication, and a backwards design is built around concrete proofs that students have met these standards. @alenord said, “When teaching proficiency, that is point. We have to know we’ve reached the goal. Kids deserve to know goal, too.”

Teaching to the Test

With so much emphasis on backwards design and assessment-based units, there was some discussion about how “teaching to the test” can be beneficial or detrimental in world language classrooms. While one group of teachers felt that the assessment was meant to only assess what was explicitly covered in the natural course of the class, others viewed assessments as the keystone of the entire language plan, the starting point for creation of the unit. @mstort6 said, “I must ask: why is it so controversial to teach to test? Isn’t that the material we want to make sure kids learn?”

@alenord responded, “I Don’t know if it is really teaching to test. Like a driving test. If parallel parking is one of skills, I have to teach it!” Teaching to the test is a loaded phrase with a lot of negative connotation, but having a clear connection between a final assessment and the rest of the unit is a very supported concept in the #langchat community. @senoraCMT said, “From the assessment down to the unit hook! All activities revolve around that summative assessment!”

So then, why is “teaching to the test” such a hotly debated concept?

@caraluna34 said, “I think it is the high-stakes testing culture. Depending on standards formation, some things get left out.” Unfortunately, when language teachers become so focused on only meeting local and state testing standards, they can lose perspective in their own classes. Instead of a communication-based, proficiency-based classroom culture, test scores can end up driving instruction, causing important experiences to be lightly touched on or ignored altogether.
@senoraCMT said, “Hard but SO liberating when you start to focus on acquisition instead of coverage! You’ll be so happy!”

Measuring Assessments in Diverse Ways

As there are different ways to set up units and lessons, there are a variety of ways to assess these same lessons. #langchat participants had many perspectives on the things that are vital to include when attempting to assess a unit in a differentiated way. One of the key questions that was asked considered how to make the learning process reflect the final assessment, but not give such high grade weight to the final assessment alone. @IteachHola extended the question even further, asking, “How do we change up the work we give them prior to the summative so that’s it’s not the actual assessment?”

  • @alenord said, “I create all kinds of prompts, change the tone of convo, give stimuli, vary type of practice.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I do a lot of #PBL to engage students in active and deeper learning, but I still give proficiency assessments AFTER the presentations.”
  • @emilybakerhanes said, “Also when planning I try to incorporate community events, holidays…can help with thematic planning.”
  • @alenord said, “@caraluna34 @mstort6 I would argue that in developing proficiency, less is more. Not all concepts are vital to communication.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “Although I don’t do #pbl as such, I always link my ‘summative’ writing to the oral task.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “@SraSpanglish @mstort6 Integrated Performance Assessments do a great job at assessing “as close as possible” real life skills.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “@SenoraDiamond55 #LangChat I tailor rubrics to all units – there is no one rubric since all units have divergent outcomes”
  • @caraluna34 said, “Target language proficiency has to go beyond one sum assess. You can’t cram proficiency. You have to work to stay there and improve.”

Legacy Teaching

One of the key concepts that many teachers wanted to talk about was the idea of legacy teaching and how it conflicts with more proficiency-based instruction. @senoraCMT explained her interpretation of “Legacy Concepts” as things “we teach because it’s what has always been taught (i.e. chores, backpack).”

@alenord expressed her opinion that the new style of teaching language must, “focus on the must-haves for communication rather than legacy concepts.” Instead of teaching concepts in isolation, such as grammar or singular concepts, the new proficiency-based standards supports communication as the number one goal for every lesson. Since legacy concepts are often comfortable, and require less preparation and personal engagement than more comprehensive strategies, many teachers continue to pattern their classrooms in this legacy-style learning environment.

Because of this clear dichotomy between legacy-based teachers and communication-based teachers, it can be difficult to merge the styles. #langchat participants gave some great ideas on how to support legacy teachers in making the transition towards comprehensive communication classrooms.

Lead By Example. @SRTAJohnsonEBHS said, “I’m by myself, but encouraging others by example. ‘Look at these amazing results!’ is powerful.” @CoLeeSensei said, “The power of leading by example is amazing… some colleagues are led to change by the ‘buzz’ they hear from students.”

Understand Their Fears. @trescolumnae said, “One key is to find out what they’re afraid of and what keeps them holding on to the “old familiar.” @alenord said, “The day to day is what intimidates teachers hesitant to convert. Their legacy practices don’t work in this type of instruction.”

Show Them Student Success. @trescolumnae said, “Another key is for them to SEE and EXPERIENCE what proficiency-based teaching and learning looks and feels like. @CecileLaine said, “Start a class blog showcasing the great real life stuff your students do!! Share with parents.”

Highlight Weaknesses in Legacy Tools. @mjosey1 said, “I try looking at our standards with them and saying old text only doesn’t meet them.” @CoLeeSensei said, “Comfort can also equal ‘boring’ – for the teacher – I know its what sent me on a new path!”

Work as a Team to Compromise. @alenord said, “Work as team to develop team rubric that all agree to use. Slowly work towards more communicative rubric.”

Does Method Affect Acquisition?

Although this seems a simple question, there didn’t seem to be a real consensus among the group. There were quite a few, though, that believed methodology effected the final acquisition of the target language. @MCanion said, “I think the method can greatly affect the outcome. Grammar versus translation, ALM, TPRS, etc. are different in focus.” @SenoraDiamond55 agreed, saying, “Definitely in the short term. Diff styles may lead to different “a-ha” moments in terms of rate of acquisition, but once it’s there…”

On the other hand, there were teachers who believed that a proficiency-based classroom, regardless of methodology, would produce effective long-term learning. @trescolumnae said, “If the focus is on proficiency, the method is less important; if not (e.g. gr/trans), there is little or no proficiency.”

This led to a further discussion of whether different methods really matter in the long run, and which method is the most effective overall. While some teachers prefer to stick with one or two tried-and-true methods of teaching that work for them, the #langchat consensus was that most teachers are “mutts” @CoLeeSensei said, “I love the ‘changeups’ that the ‘mutt method’ (new name?) brings to my teaching!” @senoraCMT repsponded, “In MY classroom, it didn’t affect the learning of the best students when I switched methods. It allowed more students to be successful.”

@crwmsteach summed up the feeling of many #langchat teachers: “I’m glad for variety of methods as long as communication is the goal. Allows for teacher and student diversity and mutual respect.”

Favorite Teaching Strategy? Be Yourself!

Despite all of the fantastic ideas that were shared at the chat, there was an underlying current of individual methodology being shaped by communication-based learning. One of the most important elements of this concept is the unique gifts and talents of each teacher. @SECottrell said, “It bothers me when someone says “X methodology is the answer to everything” when sound principles can be anywhere. Knowing your style is ESSENTIAL!”

@senoraCMT responded, “I agree! I think trying to be someone else is what frustrates many teachers! You are most effective when you are you!” @alenord said, “Mainly just be willing to listen and learn from each other. Not all methods are good for all students or situations.”

@dr_dmd closed the night’s chat with an eloquent summation of the entire diverse methods concept: “No matter what methods appeal to you, remember we all strive for communicative proficiency as the outcome!”

Tips for Daily Planning for Diverse Lessons

  • @alenord said, “I DO plan my week, but review plan each day and adjust for next. Students drive my teaching.”
  • @senorafitch said, “Constant revision even on the spot to lesson plans is necessary. I think this is one of the marks of a good teacher.”
  • @jasoncummings1 said, “Plan the months and weeks, leave the day-to-day flexible and spontaneous. I’m willing to scrap just about any lesson plan if the opportunity to connect with real people via Skype or otherwise pops up.”
  • @alenord said, “Try to create entire lessons rather than activities. Rather than counting units, think about the focus for the year. In Plano Year 1 = present, Year 2 = past tense.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “@alenord I start the week w/ new structures. Use them asking lots of questions. Day two build a story. Day three read, add more structures.”
  • @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I like the freedom to come in and play a game/tell a story/whatever that takes little planning, but is spontaneous, in TL, and FUN. (By little planning I mean, no copies to make, no ppts, no worksheets… just talk or watch a video or whatever.)”
  • @alenord said, “I look at day to day more as: Me modeling, students parroting the first few days, then I take some scaffolding away, ask them to personalize. Every day pulling more scaffolding away, increasing type of lang I want them to produce until I feel we’ve met desired outcomes.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Less is better right? I like 8 units a year, each one with a PBL-aligned unit to explore and go deeper.”
  • @EstudiaCuba said, “Think about using readlang and google play to make longer texts more accessible.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Love to use CI approaches, TPRS stories to provide input and L2 practice, but then pull together w/21st Cent skills in #PBL.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “CI comes from my scaffolding like adapted collaborative rubric, simplified framing questions, anticipated responses.”
  • @jeanrueckert said, “I try to align #authres to theme and Can-do statements. Helps me ‘curate’.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “I use music as a starter 3/5 days, sing (threaten to sing) dance, sing-alongs.”
  • @suarez712002 said, “Students love when I use something personal like text messages.”
  • @mme_henderson said, “I use authentic resources daily for current events segment of warm-up. Everything doesn’t always fit neatly into the unit I’m teaching.”

Thank You

We want to thank @dr_dmd, as well as guest moderators @alenord @SraSpanglish [email protected] for taking us on such a resource-rich journey! There were so many amazing things that we didn’t get to cover in this summary, so please read the full transcript here. Hot topics included a discussion of appropriate grammar teaching methods and ideas for authentic resources to use for diverse learning styles.

We are so excited that our #langchat PLN is growing! We’d love to have you share your thoughts with us, each Thursday night at 8pm EST. If you’d like to just share and idea for a future topic, drop us a line at the #langchat forum page. We’d love to know what you are struggling with and thinking about in your world language classroom.

Additional Resources

Every language teacher’s biggest mistake
My Class PBL Projects
Establish PBL Vocabulary in the TL
21st Century WL Teacher
Genius Hour Agenda, part 2: Research
Student Interpretive Days of the Week
5 tips for using #authres
Do you know someone still teaching from the textbook?
Juventud en Cifras
The Facts About Population