No matter how many years you’ve been teaching world language, there is always room for learning a new way of making class more fun and effective. At last week’s #langchat, teachers from all over the world shared their best tips and tricks for making language class an experience that students can remember for a lifetime.
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25 Tips for a More Successful and Fun World Language Classroom
1. Set up consistent learning structures and processes. @alenord said, “I think in order to have successful language class, your systems have to be in place. Makes more room for TL use.” Systems like grading, transitions, daily warm-ups and even how to get a bathroom pass go a long way to making the class run smoothly. @tiesamgraf said, “Students like to know what to expect and how things run to be successful.”
2. Get to know your students from Day 1. @dwphotoski said, “Tip: get to know your students from day 1 and let them be the focus of every class.” Not only does getting to know your students personally help you to know how to teach them better, it helps them to know that you care about them individually. That makes for a more positive classroom culture, fewer discipline problems and a more differentiated learning environment. @ProfeCochran said, “The individual should be the focus and the drive of the lessons for lessons to be effective.”
3. Teach them how to learn language. As @alenord said, “It’s important to teach students HOW to learn language. Not like any other class they have! We have to teach them how to attend to language they see or hear. Hard, but important!” This means teaching students the valuable lessons of listening, observing and focusing in a world where their focus is often split between multiple channels of media.
4. Overplan. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “Always over plan! Nothing wrong with having lots of options! @MmeCarbonneau agreed, saying, “Be prepared for anything! Plans will never go as anticipated!”
5. Have a growth mindset. Having a “growth mindset” is about showing students what they are capable of and celebrating successes with them. @alenord said, “Lots of praise and positive feedback! Also, growth mindset. Don’t just tell them how well they did, always give a new goal to meet.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “My big tip: Have students show you what they CAN do in the language, not what they can’t.”
6. Variety is the spice of language learning. @msfrenchteach said, “It helps to change up the tasks often so as to balance skill-building practice as much as possible.” @SenoraDiamond55 added, “Not only do multiple activities, also vary pacing.” @CoLeeSensei said, “Even if it’s just switching partners – it keeps the energy and repetitions up!”
7. Use authentic resources. @JarrSchroe said, “It’s more about the skills NOT about the DRILLS. Use #authres combined with authentic tasks!” @ProfeKing said, “Authentic resources make language seem accessible, and become sources for comprehensible discourse.” @tiesamgraf said, “Students love working with authentic resources! It motivates them to use real life language they can figure out!”
8. Scaffold lessons. In a truly scaffolded unit, students have been taught all the supporting structures in order for them to be successful with each new lesson. @alenord said, “Scaffolding is essential in the language classroom. It is the support system for their success and confidence builder!”
9. Focus on communication. One of the key elements for a successful language classroom is a movement away from isolated lessons and a focus on communication and interaction. @msfrenchteach said, “Successful days often include group collaboration during which I can move around and discuss in small grps. Similar to a scene in a chemistry lab. If my studetns can communicate with native speakers and be understood, that’s success.” @placido said, “We need to emphasize that the “chit chat” of world language class is actually learning time, not goof off time!”
10. Encourage mistakes. @AmKay11 said, “Students shouldn’t correct every mistake. It will force them to stop trying. Teachers shouldn’t correct everything either! Students have to feel safe enough to make mistakes, try and step outside their comfort zone.” @alenord said, “I like to “celebrate mistakes.” I tell students, “I am so glad you made that mistake! Now I have opportunity to teach!““ @NorahProfesora said, “Self-esteem is an issue in language classes more than any other. Make them feel comfortable. Let them know that errors are OK!”
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11. Include movement. @tiesamgraf said, “Moving is a great tool to add in to planning – great for all and especially kinesthetic learners!” Not only is movement great as a learning tool, but it wakes students up, gets their blood moving and can be a good way to help them “get their wiggles out.” It can also be a fun way to learn new vocabulary. @themomduck said, “We have motions for almost all our vocab. Rarely do I define vocab with the English word. I reward when they are audaces (bold).”
12. Use technology wisely. Although technology is a fun way to change things up, it is vital that it is being done in a way that furthers language instruction and adds to the curriculum effective. @trescolumnae said, “The key is for the tech (or non-tech) to support the language, not to supplant it. Do what’s best for you and your students!” Participants mentioned sites and technology components like Zondle, Quizlet, Kahoot, Peardeck and Infuse Learning as favorites. @NorahProfesora said, “Sometimes we text each other in class. Like, make plans for dinner. It’s realistic that they text that.”
13. Support learning outside of class time. Although homework is the first thing that comes to mind when speaking about learning outside of class, world language teachers have fun, interesting options that many students wouldn’t consider “work.” @ekdahljames said, “I will give them points for speaking German with me even if it’s outside of class time, in the hallway, at Target.” @NorahProfesora said, “I am having students record themselves teaching Spanish to someone at home. Promises to be interesting.”
14. Plan with attainable goals in mind. @Marishawkins said, “Always keep in mind your end goal: What do you want students to do in the language?” @sramush said, “Skills-based activities are most useful. Read, write, listen, speak!” @SraSpanglish said, “Goal-setting and reflection have improved target language usage and risk-taking for my kids lately.” @alenord said, “VERY IMPORTANT for teachers to design “doable” tasks. Their proficiency level plus 1 to be attainable, but push their proficiency.”
15. Start class off with a “hook.” Having a “hook” to the lesson, or some kind of interesting activity that introduces the lesson, is a great way to get students immediately engaged with learning. @tiesamgraf said, “Starting class with a ‘hook’ is awesome – authentic resources work well – a song, commercial or short video works well with theme.” @placido said, “I start class everyday with a song. Focus, fun, fellowship to begin the hour!”
16. Celebrate often. Don’t just celebrate birthdays and holidays, celebrate all the small successes that students have each day. @dwphotoski said, “Celebrate the successes, celebrate the participation, celebrate the language!” As you celebrate the small things, you can infuse your classroom with cultural knowledge as well as a positive atmosphere that rewards students for doing their best.
17. Give feedback for everything. As @tiesamgraf pointed out, “learning stops after the grade.” That is why it is so vital to make the most of every activity through the use of effective feedback. @AmKay11 said, “I make sure I give feedback on everything whether it’s praise for a right answer or indicating when a mistake was made.” @ProfeKing said, “For low levels, proficiency feedback pushes them beyond just “what’s the right answer” and gets them communicating, not just recognizing words.”
18. Make time for reflection. Although teacher feedback is necessary for growth, self-reflection is one of the best ways to allow students to have a personal learning experience. Whether that is a “ticket out the door” reflective sentence or a one-on-one conversation with the teacher about their progress, self-reflection is one of the key tools in the world language teacher’s toolbox. @AmKay11 said, “I think students like to see the progress they make through a portfolio.”
19. Choose high-interest topics. While you don’t have to make your language class all about the personal interests of your students, choosing high-interest subjects goes a long way to keeping them engaged. @SrtaLohse said, “It’s important to use a frame of reference that they understand – video games, movies, music, etc. Capture interest right away.” @AmKay11 said, “Find out what the students are interested in, and use that to help guide your lessons. Intrinsic motivation.”
20. Lighten up. World language studies are about culture, community and communication. What better way to teach those skills that through humor? Tell a few jokes, sing some silly songs, or watch a funny video in the target language. Keep the mood light and fun (and not hurtful or sarcastic), and language class will quickly become your students’ favorite. @AmKay11 said, “I make sure to let my students know that I am still learning too. It is NOT ok to make fun of others.”
21. Be a facilitator, not a dictator. One of the goals of a teacher is to foster the learning process without becoming the center of it. The #langchat participants had some interesting ways of putting this concept into practice. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “My new line has been: Try–I will help you out. Obvious (you know, with being a teacher), but a reminder helps.” Being a facilitator also includes respect for the student as an individual, not treating him or her as a subordinate. @alenord said, “Rather than correct students, I often ask permission to “tweak” something. I won’t correct without permission.”
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22. Be passionate about what you teach. When you’re excited about your language, the students will respect and appreciate the instruction more. @tiesamgraf said, “Show your passion about the language and culture in the classroom!” But, sometimes this is a difficult task. @SrtaLohse suggested, “Enthusiasm and patience in large quantities will help.”
23. Keep learning and be teachable. Whether it is through conferences, student feedback or additional classwork, continuing your own language study is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success. @tiesamgraf said, “Collecting feedback from students really helps me to grow. I often survey students and am sure to share and implement their ideas. No one is perfect!”
24. Take care of yourself. Not just academically, but you need to be taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally as well. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “To have a successful class, take care of yourself. Amazing ideas come to mind with some space!” Take your lunch breaks, enjoy your weekends and get enough sleep. You’ll be amazed at how much better of a teacher you are when you spend some time meeting your own needs instead of always focusing on your students’ needs. @msfrenchteach said, “Educators and administration do need time to rest and rejuvenate. Just as learners need time to do the same.”
25. Find a community. No matter how good of a teacher you are, you need the support of other language teachers so that you can thrive instead of just survive the school year. By connecting with other language teachers in your school, your district or online, you can have a safety net of resources when you feel like you’re at the end of your rope. @CoLeeSensei said, “Biggest tip for a successful MFL classroom? The #langchat PLN.”
Other Ideas and Tips for a Better Language Class
- @dwphotoski said, “Tip: speak in the TL slowly, the slower the better.”
- @tiesamgraf said, “I’ve been using conversation circles and students really enjoy them – they love to use the language in a real life setting!”
- @spsmith45 said, “Matching to student interests OK, but also a duty to open them up to new challenges and interests.”
- @jesslahey said, “Instead of buying maps, project from overhead on shower curtains and have students trace with Sharpies.”
- @dwphotoski said, “Make reading come alive with readers theatre, lots of great fun! Do more than “just read”.”
- @jesslahey said, “On nice days we have team competitions to compile most words for natural objects on vocab list. They wander with dictionaries.”
- @MmeCarbonneau said, “Give incentive tickets like mini Eiffel Towers for rewards. Use as chances for “extras” like special activities or odd prizes.”
- @CoLeeSensei said, “@NorahProfesora My students are using Siri to ask questions – screen shot the answer (if they asked correctly!).”
- @yeager85 said, “Explicit grammar instruction is okay (I think), but I save it for when students start asking me WHY they are using certain forms.”
- @ekdahljames said, “It’s hard not to try and correct everything. Sometimes I just pick one thing and go on.”
- @MmeCarbonneau said, “Leave them wondering what is going to happen tomorrow. Send hints via tweets, IG, etc. Leave them guessing and interested.”
No matter what your personal teaching style is, focusing on the students and on their growing ability to communicate is the best way to instill a love of language learning. In addition to supporting their growth, you must be willing to continue growing yourself. Through proper planning, self-care and a good Professional Learning Network (PLN) like #langchat, you can continue to learn the skills for making your classroom fun, engaging and beneficial for you and your students.
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We’d like to give a big shout out to @msfrenchteach and @CoLeeSensei for keeping this chat interesting and informational. So many great ideas were shared this week, and we couldn’t include every gem in the summary. For a complete transcript of the chat, check out the tweet archive for more great ideas and tips for making your world language classroom even better.
As your Professional Learning Network, we are here to help you learn the things you want to know about being a better language teacher. If you have suggestions for future #langchat topics, don’t be afraid to share them on the wiki. We want to make #langchat a collaborative experience that really meets your personal teaching needs.
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Technology resources for the World Language classroom
Traditionally, world language classrooms have relied heavily on textbooks to help teachers organize and share key concepts that are needed to communicate in the second language. With the dawn of the Information Age, language teachers have access to more valuable resources and authentic media than ever before. This, coupled with the recent trend towards proficiency-based language learning, has forced many traditional language teachers to reevaluate the importance of the textbook in language education.
During Thursday’s #langchat, teachers discussed how their colleagues are responding to the rising trend to move away from the textbook at towards more communication-based teaching. Over the course of the night, participants identified 7 major concerns that teacher express when faced with the concept of transitioning towards a more communicative teaching style. Fortunately, they also identified key solutions that will help teachers feel supported and give them confidence as they attempt to rely less on a textbook.
7 Communicative Solutions For Non-Communication-Based Teacher Concerns
1. Concern: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“I’ve been doing it this way for years. Why mess with something that is working?”
@SECottrell said, “Here’s the biggest one I hear: “This is the way I’ve always done it and it worked for me.”” Just because it has a marginal level of success doesn’t mean that it is working for every student. In fact, a non-communication-based approach has data to show that it is much less effective than communication-centered teaching strategies.
Response: Redefine what success looks like.
@alenord said, “We have to find a way to challenge their definition of what success is in their classroom. #langchat” In order to really overcome this obstacle, it is vital for teachers to understand what real success looks like. As @SECottrell suggested, you have to “challenge” this type of thinking, and place the measure of success in a more student-oriented perspective. She said, “Success for [the teacher] doesn’t mean success for all learners or even a majority.”
@SrtaJohnsonEBHS also suggested that you mention the motivation and engagement element of lessons as a large part of what a “successful” world language class entails. She said, “Even if the current strategy is moderately successful, don’t we want our students to be CRAZY successful? And maybe have fun?”
2. Concern: Too Much Extra Work
“I don’t have time or energy for that kind of outside-of-the-box teaching.”
For many teachers, especially new ones, a book is a safe, stable way to learn what you are supposed to be teaching. In addition, rising class sizes mean that there is less time to prepare. That makes a lot of teachers nervous to go “off-book” when they are already drowning in work. @alenord said, “The hardest part is getting teachers not teaching proficiency to step out of their comfort zone. They see it as more work!”
Response: There Are Always Teachers Willing to Help
Transitioning away from a textbook-based teaching style towards a more communicative one is not an easy process, that’s true. Still, there are many world language teachers who have made the journey and are willing to share their inside information with anyone who is interested in making the switch. @SenoraDiamond55 said that she felt teachers making this change need, “…Lots of support and collaboration, and always a willingness to share ideas (or work them out as a team) and materials.” And, as @connolly335 said, even with practice, support from colleagues and administrators and positive feedback from students, it still takes time to create a self-sustaining program. But, all the #langchat teachers agree that the rewards are worth the initial investment of time and energy.
In addition to having teacher support in the building, there are also many teachers online that are willing to share ideas and resources. Through communities like the #langchat PLN, blog networks or even conferences such as ACTFL, it is possible to find other teachers who are interested in moving towards a more dynamic teaching environment, with a minimized emphasis on the textbook. And, if you don’t have a lot of time, you can always find resources online. @MmeCarbonneau said, “Technology allows access to so much more richer content and resources than any textbook ever could.”
3. Concern: Using a textbook is the only way to assess progress.
“My students and I need the structure of the textbook to ensure that we are making progress.”
Again, for many novice teachers, it can be difficult to know whether the class is on the right course without the black-and-white structure that a book provides. In addition, a textbook often includes teaching supports that are scaffolded to ensure that students are learning the skills necessary to perform well on standardized tests. @SECottrell said, “My reality working with 5 teachers in 6 years is that some teachers drown without structure from textbook. What then?”
Response: Use the textbook, but as a supplement.
As @tmsaue1 so eloquently stated, “The textbook is not the enemy.” There is no inherent danger in using the textbook as a resource in a world language classroom. In fact, there are many #langchat teachers who use textbooks as jumping off points for thematic units, vocabulary groups and resource reserves. @srtajohnson13 said, “I still use it for vocab reference and borrow ideas from extension activities.” @SECottrell responded, “So resources CAN mean a curriculum and CAN mean no textbook at all and CAN mean a mix. The key is communication is the ultimate goal.”
Another key point to remember is that proficiency is the most valuable part of the world language classroom, not the textbook. The ultimate goal is for students to be able to communicate effectively in the target language. @crwmsteach said, “Structure is needed for organization. Whether you use a textbook or not, students need a goal and purpose for learning.”
4. Concern: This is the Best Way to Prepare Them For College
“This is the way they’ll be taught in college. If I do something different, they won’t be ready.”
A lot of teachers who are hesitant about moving away from the textbook mention that non-traditional methods of teaching language are not true preparation for college courses that will rely mainly on textbook learning. By delivering lessons directly from the textbook, often in a direct instruction or “lecture” style, they feel that they are preparing students for similar classrooms after high school. In addition, by offering only multiple-choice or essay assessments, they attempt to imitate a very traditional assessment style that they experienced in their own college classes.
Response: Communication is the Best Preparation
The best world language classes don’t simply prepare students for success in an academic setting, they prepare students to interact and have meaningful interactions with the world. @SECottrell said, “Most students who have proficiency can take a stupid multiple choice test any day. Teachers need to tell themselves their high school students do not need any more “practice” taking tests.”
In truth, the world language community is quickly moving away from sterile book-learning to a more dynamic and interactive learning arena where communication is the key goal. Already, many states have adopted or adapted the ACTFL proficiency goals as benchmarks for world language learning. In addition, college courses are reflecting this change, with more and more teachers focusing on communication skills and interaction rather than standardized quizzes taken directly from a textbook. @tmsaue1 said, “In all reality, colleges don’t want our low-proficiency students either. They want them ready for advanced level tasks.”
5. Concern: A Textbook is the Only Way to Keep Parents Involved
“Parents who don’t know the language need a textbook to help their students learn.”
Some teachers insist that parents can only really be involved when there is a textbook for them to follow along with. @mmedobreski said, “A concern I hear a lot is that parents don’t know how to help their child because they may not speak or know the language.” A textbook often offers opportunities for parents to quiz their children, or even participate in the language, as there are both English and second language translations in many textbooks.
Response: Interactive, Authentic Resources with Parents in Mind
There are many ways that parents can be involved with second language learning without having to resort to textbook-only lesson planning. Parents can view or listen to additional resources with their student, or even participate in an extracurricular language and culture event. In the past, #langchat teachers have also invited parents to participate in language projects, allowing them to learn along with their students through interactive projects.
6. Concern: The School or District is Forcing me to Teach a Textbook
“I want to have a more communicative classroom, but the school won’t let me.”
In some districts, common assessments or tracks make it difficult for teachers to go “off-book.” Because the whole school is learning the same thing at the same time, it can put a lot of pressure on teachers that want to include outside resources or be more flexible in their lesson planning.
Response: Inject Proficiency Activities
When it is impossible to avoid a heavy focus on a textbook, it is always possible to change the way you disseminate that information. @AmKay11 said, “Common assessment does not mean common way to get there!”
Many teachers expressed their use of activities like skits, music and projects as ways to add a layer of communication and proficiency to their classrooms. @SECottrell said, “Keep the bare bones that are required and flesh the text out a whole lot with communicative, proficiency-based tasks.”
At the same time, it never hurts to talk with the district or school administration about ways to make the required curriculum more flexible for everyone. You never know when they will re-evaluate the efficacy of the textbook and find that they’re behind the curve. @crwmsteach said, “Work with your department and district. Pick topics and ask for different approaches and all share approaches, strategies and tasks.”
7. Concern: Communication-Based Teaching Isn’t a Proven Method
“Communication-based teaching just isn’t as effective. Textbook teaching produces results.”
Some teachers believe that switching to a communication-based teaching style just isn’t worth the risk of producing potentially unprepared students. With a textbook guiding the learning process, students are able to meet local and state standards more easily, and with clear correlations to concepts that have been taught. In this way, textbooks might allow teachers to “teach to the test” better, and increase the overall scores on standardized tests.
Response: Don’t Convince, Deliver!
Overwhelmingly, #langchat teachers expressed the need to share their positive experiences of communicative teaching and show colleagues that it really does work.
@tmsaue1 said, “If we as a community can DELIVER a generation of highly proficient speakers, the argument will change. If you DELIVER, you also then have students and parents who will demand change. Think about the support that band teachers get. They have an army of supporters because they deliver results. We can’t just talk about communicative, we actually have to DELIVER students that are true intermediates after two years.”
@CoLeeSensei added, “And maybe, just maybe, your unconvinced colleagues will wonder why your classes are so ‘good’ at the TL.”
Ways to Help Colleagues Transition to a More Communicative Teaching Style
Have Positive Interactions. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “The key to communicative teach is collaboration–make sure all understand what communicative means and ALWAYS be willing to share!”
@crwmsteach said, “Pick a topic, and share planning and learning ideas. It’s less threatening than “you are wrong”.”
Be Patient. It takes a lot of faith and trust to completely change the style in which you teach, especially for those who have been doing it a long time. It is wise to be patient as teachers are branching out towards more communication in their classrooms. @CoLeeSensei said, “For most of us, it’s a very slow deliberate journey!”
Help Them Set Small Goals. @spanishplans said, “Start by Helping colleagues set communicative objectives for the unit. How will students achieve that objective?” @msfrenchteach said, “Yes, so overwhelming in the beginning. Small steps can be good all around. Perhaps more efficient, too.” @tmsaue1 said, “Don’t try to change all of your classes at once. Pick one class (ideally level 1), then add each year.”
Teach New Objectives. @SECottrell said, “Setting communicative objectives involves some training on what a communicative objective is.” @alenord said, “Biggest a-ha moment for me after my conversion was the idea of learning targets vs. teaching concepts. Makes so much sense!”
Share Resources and Tips. @tmsaue1 said, “That’s my third advice to teachers: you can’t do this alone. you have to find a partner, locally or online.” @srtajohnson13 said, “Develop curriculum, unit plans, lesson plans together.” @andrearoja said, “Write communicative I can statements for each unit. Share with your department.”
Lead By Example. One of the best ways to show colleagues how to be effective communicating teachers is by providing excellent proficiency-based classes. @CoLeeSensei said, “It comes down to sharing ‘HOW’ you do what you do to hopefully lead others to want to do what you do!” @AmKay11 said, “We should make those who don’t teach proficiency wonder what we are doing and want to do it too!”
Advocate for Commuication-Based Teaching Locally and Nationally. @crwmsteach said, “We also have to fight the reality of those communities who don’t value language communication. It requires 1-on-1 convincing.” @alenord added, “Which means we have to get more involved in our state organizations to get word out and support teachers!”
Avoid Condescension and Judgment. Making the transition from book learning to communication-based learning is a huge and daunting step. It is vital that teachers making transition feel as if they are being supported, not supplanted. @SECottrell said, “I like the emphasis on positive influence. Arguing and condescending isn’t going to get us anywhere.” @AmKay11 said, “We should be supportive of one another, not judgmental.”
Although there are benefits to using textbooks in the world language classroom, there is a growing shift towards communication-based teaching strategies that go beyond the book. In this era of transition, it is vital to meet the concerns of teachers who have been conditioned to rely solely on a textbook, and support them in their efforts to incorporate the vast resources that are now available for world language teachers.
Thanks so much to @SECottrell for guiding this very enlightening discussion about how to support our colleagues in their transition to communication-based language instruction. There were many great comments that could not be included in this summary. For a complete transcript of the discussion, read all the side conversations you missed on the tweet archive.
If you have any ideas, comments or questions you’d like to bring to the #langchat community, don’t be afraid to share them. Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that we can make this discussion as inclusive and helpful as possible!
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In Defense of Vocabulary Lists
Although there are many skills that must be explored in the first stages of language acquisition, there is some debate about whether circumlocution is one that should be emphasized. Key vocabulary, grammatical structures and conversational skills are clearly important elements of the novice classroom, but is there a place for circumlocution at this early stage of language development? During this week’s #Langchat, our forum discussed the importance of circumlocution at the novice level, and gave some concrete ways to improve this skill through classroom activities.
The Power of Circumlocution
In order to really discuss the value of circumlocution at the novice level, it is vital to really understand what it is and what it can do for a young learner. @placido gave an excellent, simple definition of this action: “[Circumlocution] is “talking around” a word you don’t know. @msfrenchteach added that it includes, “Anything you do to get learners to communicate interpersonally – spontaneous and without preparation.”
There are a couple key benefits for novice language learners to use circumlocution when they are conversing.
1. Increases Risk-Taking. By giving them the freedom to not know exactly how to say what they’re saying, they learn that it’s okay to make mistakes or be creative with their answers. @sonrisadelcampo said, “They learn it’s not wrong to not know; simply learn another way to express it.”
2. Empowers Student Knowledge. @sonrisadelcampo also shared that circumlocution, when addressed correctly by the teacher, can provide a huge confidence boost for students. By helping students, “show me what they know–not what they don’t know,” they are encouraged to circumlocute and recognize how much language they have actually acquired.
3. Creates Flexible, Creative Communicators. By having to “think around” language problems through circumlocution, there may be some cognitive training that allows students to think more flexibly later on. @SraSpanglish said, “It seems to me if we present possible [circumlocution] strategies early on, though, they develop more flexibility.”
Should Teachers Expect Novices to Circumlocute?
Despite the positive benefits of learning this skills, many students balk at the idea of using circumlocution in novice classes. @msfrenchteach said, “When I think about circumlocution in my novice classes, it is not happening much. They are in survival mode.” @tournesol74 responded, “”Survival mode”- That’s almost when they need it most!”
This raises a very valid question about whether it is appropriate to teach this skill while students are still very new to the second language. It can lead to frustration and confusion if not handled correctly. At the same time, it is one of the most natural processes in any kind of language learning scenario, even in very young language learners attaining a first language.
In order for novices to have a desire to circumlocute, there must be an established sense of freedom and creativity that allows for this kind of exploration. @msfrenchteach said, “It seems to me that the top language learners are going to circumlocute at novice level. In general, of course, it may be different.” @placido said, “Novices may inadvertently circumlocute. I praise their creativity with language! #LangChat”
Still, there was some discussion as to whether novices are even really prepared to learn this skill while trying to grasp the basics of a second language. The general consensus, was that it was smart to have attainable expectations for these novice learners. @MaryBethHills said, “I like the idea of introducing strategies at novice level. Maybe emphasize more as they progress in the second language.” @tiesamgraf agreed, saying, “At this level we can model circumlocution-and explain the skill – but can’t expect them to perform.”
10 Tricks for Teaching Novice Language Students to Circumlocute
1. Give Alternatives: One of the simplest ways you can support novices in circumlocution is by making sure they have specific alternatives to use when they run out of things to say. While this might be direct instruction, like @BeckyTetzner suggester, it might also come as informal formative feedback suggestions. @SraSpanglish said, “I think the key is making them aware of their options when vocabulary runs out #langchat gestures, cognate synonyms, drawing, opposites” @placido said, “When kids say “how do I say…?” I say “What is another way to phrase that idea?”
2. Play Circumlocution Games: There’s nothing like a game to keep students interested and engaged in the learning. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent circumlocution games that can be adapted for the world language classroom. Still, it is important to remember to keep the games in context and connected to prior learning. @msfrenchteach said, “For me, circumlocution definitely does not include games out of context. I give examples when they are needed.”
Some of the evening’s game suggestions included:
Ellen’s Head’s Up App
3. Teach Them Reasonable Expectations: When teaching circumlocution, students have a tendency towards frustration with their own lack of language skill. @ProfeCochran said, “My intermediate students are so sick of circumlocution they could scream. They are FRUSTRATED and ready to be fluent! They are genuinely mad that they can’t say EXACTLY what they think!”
This level of frustration can make it difficult to continue learning. In order to combat this reaction, it is vital to teach students appropriate expectations for their learning level. @FrauJago said, “I tell students to talk like a preschooler, not a high schooler. Stick with what they know and phrase.”
4. Use Categories to Scaffold Learning: @tiesamgraf shared, “For novices, circumlocution is tough. But categories can help to ‘train’ for future development.” By teaching students categories of words, they have more than one way of saying a particular thing already embedded in their lexicon. @tiesamgraf suggested categories such as colors, school subjects, seasons and summer activities as good places to start. @alenord added, “Categories could differ depending on unit of study. As they get better they have to give more info.”
5. Discuss High Interest Topics: As with any other part of the world language classroom, having information and subjects that are vitally interesting to students is preferable. When the circumlocution exercise is based around things that the students are inherently interested in, it is more likely to catch on aand keep them trying new ways to say things. @sonrisadelcampo said, “My students need circumlocution tasks when talking about their weekend; naturally find words to “work around”.”
6. Build In Conversation Time: A simple way to ensure that students are doing small bits of circumlocution is to set up a monitored conversation time for a segment of every week. Several teachers explained the benefits of this tactic, including @FrauJago who suggested that it is a good way to get students talking “off script.” @MmeCarbonneau said, “Set timer. Students talk aloud at the same time babbling fashion. Talk nonstop on a topic, even if repeat same word a few times. Then, pair up!”
Still, this can be a little stressful. @SraSpanglish said, “I just had to do a timed babble in @tsoth1’s session last Saturday. It was high-stress in L1! How to reduce?” Some ideas included direct instruction of language structures and providing sentence starters in places where students could easily access them.
7. Create a Word Wall: An easy way to make options available while circumlocuting is by making a word wall of high-frequency phrases and words. You can fill your walls with key phrases, thematic vocabulary or sentence starters. @placido said, “[Include] helpful words: thing, looks like, something, object, used for, you need it when, etc…” Some teachers, like @FrauJago even include word walls that have both permanent language structures and ones that connect with the current unit. She said, “I have an erasable set in one place and a more permanent set in another.”
You can even make these word walls interactive. @RhulsHuls said, “My colleague covered her walls with paper, then put questions scattered on them. Students are replying on “graffiti wall”.”
8. Use Cognates: Novice language learners are still much more comfortable in their native language than the second language. You can use this to your advantage by encouraging cognate exploration when attempting to circumlocute. @SraSpanglish said, “I like when students realize they can come up with reasonable/feasible cognates using English synonyms.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I tell my students that foreign language is 50% knowing what they said and 50% educated guessing in context.”
9. Set a Good Example: @sonrisadelcampo said, “Ss learn circumlocution by teacher example. What do YOU do when you don’t know a word? Lead by example.” Often, teachers are forced to circumlocute when they don’t remember the right phrase or are not sure of the specific vocabulary. By “talking through” this process with students, as suggested by @placido, they are able to see that circumlocution is a necessary and natural part of world language acquisition. @SraSpanglish said, “There’s also when I can’t think of the English word–they see it in action!”
10. Include Graphic Organizers and Pictures: Incorporating other media is a great way to engage students in the process of thinking outside of their scope of language. @tiesamgraf said, “For novices, it’s all about connecting ideas with themes and categories – graphic organizers can help and pictures – lists!” Through images and videos, students can get ideas about how to define a particular word or idea in context to the things around it, which helps them learn circumlocution and hones the skill of observation and communication.
Other Lesson Ideas for Cicumlocution
- @RhulsHuls said, “With upper level classes you can grab random pictures from media and have them give as much info about the pic as they can.”
- @SraSpanglish said, “I took pictures from #SOSVenezuela we’d discussed, had them talk for 30 seconds.”
- @profesorM said, “Pechu kucha? Powerpoint show of 20 pictures, 20 seconds each. Students talk nonstop about images. Le fruit, furniture, etc.”
- @RhulsHuls said, “Did directions and commands in S3-had them make their own towns and give directions on the fly in Spanish. Used hot wheels to drive.”
- @FrauJago said, “Put picture in background of #Padlet, have students write sentences describing it not repeating peers’ ideas.”
- @sonrisadelcampo said, “At times I project wordless book from A-Z reading; Ss create story; circumlocution needed.”
- @alenord said, “What if as novices they have to read circumlocuted statements and then they have to match terms, unscramble them, etc.?”
- @tiesamgraf said, “This DOES work for novices – we say a definition – they draw/write/say the word/concept – model it!”
• @FrauJago said, “I also think writing improves speaking. Build continuous stories (from pictures or thin air) and have students keep adding sentences.”
Even though circumlocution is a higher-order thinking skill for language learners, there is no reason why is should not be introduced at the novice level. As with toddlers gaining mastery over their first language, circumlocution is a natural device that increases the cognitive connections developed with language acquisition. It also helps students to learn to think quickly and creatively, and encourages a classroom where risk and exploration are a natural part of the learning process.
Thanks so much to @placido and @msfrenchteach for helping us think of new ways to incorporate specific circumlocution activities into the world language classroom. As usual, there were some interesting side conversations that we did not include in the general summary. For a complete transcript of the chat, you can check out the full tweet archive.
We love meeting with you each week and sharing ideas about how to provide the best possible language instruction. You are the most important part of our PLN! If you have questions, comments or ideas about what we should be discussing, we’d love to hear them. Please share your ideas with us so that we can help each other be successful! We truly enjoy hearing from you and sharing your amazing tips and tricks for language teaching.
Facilitating Student Speaking and Writing in a Foreign Language (Circumlocution)
Video Analysis: What’s happening in Venezuela?
The Questions Workshop
Taller de conversación
Ellen’s New Game, ‘Heads Up!’
Singing for their Supper: Specialization and Group Interaction
As Common Core State Standards and standardized testing continues to influence that way that language teachers focus their methods of teaching, there is an increased emphasis on reading instruction. As it has become an important element for many language teachers, even more than in previous years, this was a very lively discussion, full of great ideas for pre-reading, reading and post-reading strategies.
Major Challenges for Teaching Language Reading
Even though most language teachers understand the benefits of regular reading practice, there are more than a few that are intimidated by the phrase, “reading instruction.” It conjures up images of dry, forced reading spells, frustration for both teacher and student, and another mandated activity that must be checked off before the real teaching and learning begins.
Some of the most major challenges for including reading in language classes are:
- Finding age-appropriate reading materials that are comprehensible.
- Encouraging whole-text reading instead of “dictionary-diving.”
- Keeping students engaged can be intimidating to some teachers.
- Knowing how to assess understanding.
- Having enough time to cover the material.
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Fortunately, we have enough expert reading teachers among our #langchat PLN that gave some excellent answers to many of these tough questions. Although there were many more where these came from, these are a few of the best.
Problem: Word Hunting and “Dictionary Diving”
Solution: Pro-Risk Atmosphere, Pre-Assessment
In a classroom where making mistakes is discouraged, many students can get into a mindset where they won’t read a text unless they know every word in it. Many teachers discussed how troublesome this practice can make a reading lesson. @cadamsf1 encouraged teachers to, “Create an atmosphere where it’s ok for them to NOT know EVERY word in an authentic reading.” In this way, students feel comfortable making mistakes, so they know it is okay to not understand every single thing (or read it correctly).
Another way to help students avoid overuse of dictionaries during reading time is to help them identify words they don’t know ahead of time. In this way, they “pre-assess” the text and get a general feel for the content before they even really begin reading it. @tiesamgraf said, “A great idea is to have students cross out words they don’t know and then work with the text they know – avoids obsessive dictionary use!”
Problem: Mental Barrier to Language Reading
Solution: Engaging Content, Preparation
For many students, even bringing up the idea of reading in another language is enough to bring about a panic attack. So, instead of making it more difficult by choosing dry, archaic texts, @KrisClimer said, “Good reading early needs to be compelling. Lots of students need a reason to read (any language even their own).” Many great and compelling texts were discussed, such as Tweets, signs, picture books, bumper stickers, as well as traditional textbook stories and teacher-produced readings. @SraSpanglish added, “ANY flyers or posters, really! And SIGNS! Wet floor, protest, billboard, event posters.”
One of the most important strategies that was discussed was the concept of preparing students well before introducing a reading to them. Various pre-reading strategies were mentioned, but they all had the same goal: help students understand clearly the concepts and vocabulary they will be presented with so that they feel successful during the lesson. @MmeM27 said, “We focus on what we know. Identify familiar words and cognates. Try to understand unfamiliar words using other strategies.”
Problem: Age-Appropriate, Proficiency-Leveled Reading
Solution: Skill Grouping, Embedded Readings, Teacher-Designed Readings
When you have a class full of diverse learners, it’s natural that they will all be at a slightly different proficiency level. @cadamsf1 said, “For me, I build skills by grouping students and they only read the story IN class. We don’t take anything home.” Grouping students by skill level may allow them to have different reading goals.
Several teachers also mentioned embedded readings as a way to meet the needs of different age groups or proficiency levels. In these readings, there are different embedded levels of proficiency provided, so a novice reader might be reading for vocabulary recognition, while an intermediate student might be reading for additional comprehension or evaluation of the material.
Still other teachers found that creating their own texts was the best way to ensure that students were getting information on the appropriate level. @MmeM27 said, “I started making my own iBooks to put on iPads that embed the learning concepts and vocab at a level I know students can access.”
Problem: Checking for Comprehension
Solution: Incorporate Technology, Provide Variety
It is often very hard to know whether or not a student is understanding the text that they are reading, regardless of the language that they are reading in. There were a number of really great comprehension activites and ideas that were shared, focusing on providing diversity and access to technology in addition to assessing how well students understood the material.
Some of our favorite comprehension activities included:
- @tiesamgraf said, “Socrative is a fun way to do comprehension check-ins as a warm up or summarizer.”
- @placido said, “For intermediates, I might identify specific words in text and ask them to guess meaning in context.”
- @crwmsteach said, “Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘point to the phrase or paragraph that…'”
- @tiesamgraf said, “@cadamsf1 @placido students can make infographics too! to summarize – illustrate, etc.”
- @cadamsf1 said, “I have students tell a section to me as assessment via Google Voice and then I know quickly who understands.”
- @sgojsic said, “I use retells, draw pictures, sentence strips in the TL to check for comprehension.”
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Assessing Reading/Comprehension Checking: English or Target Language?
As the #langchat teachers discussed the unique problem of checking for comprehension in a world language classroom, a valid question was posed by @dacosta_sra. She asked, “Does anyone check for comprehension in English? I would like NOT to, but how?”
Although the general consensus among the forum over the years has been to stay in the target language as much as possible, checking reading comprehension is one of those key areas where it is not always necessary to stay in the target language. Because the focus is checking the students’ understanding of the material, rather than their ability to process or produce language, several teachers said that they check comprehension regularly in English. @placido said, “I think [checking comprehension in English] it is perfectly ok. If you have a common first language, use it, quick, then back to TL!”
Others maintain that it can be done in the target language, but needs to be modified, especially for lower proficiency levels. @SraSpanglish said, “For novices, if we assess in the target language, we’re assessing two modes instead of one. It’s hard to judge that way, but there ARE ways.”
Another key discussion revolved around the use of authentic resources when choosing reading texts. Several teachers championed the use of authentic resources as a way to incorporate cultural relevance and to keep students more engaged in the reading activities. Other teachers said that authenticity was not as important as interest and level-appropriateness in choosing a text.
Good Reasons for Using Authentic Reading Resources
Motivation and Engagement. @BeckyTetzner said, “Authentic resources make a difference because students from the beginning can see HOW/why they will be using these skills! It’s relevant!”
Cultural Context Makes Reading Engaging. @dr_dmd said, “I simply encourage STRONG cultural contexts for them, richer and more engaging.”
Encourage Risk and Finding Main Ideas. @textivate said, “One benefit of authentic resources: to get students used to NOT understanding EVERYTHING.”
Sense of Accomplishment. @cadamsf1 said, “Seriously authentic resources give students a feeling of accomplishment as well. They really feel like “I have learned something”!!”
Validation by Native Speakers. @cadamsf1 said, “It’s heightened because they are validated by native speakers that are impressed that they are reading those texts.”
Good Reasons for Not Using Authentic Reading Resources
Relevant Texts Don’t Have to Be Authentic. @textivate said, “You can write very relevant texts which are not authentic, so why focus on authentic resources?”
Authentic Resources Not Always Designed for Learners. @TerryWaltz_TPRS said, “The importance of authentic resources depends on goals and level. For acquiring reading, sources must be comprehensible. Most authentic resources are not for students.”
Focus is Engagement, Not Authenticity. @cforchini said, “If my students are reading, I’m happy! It’s ok if it’s authentic resources or not. A tweet or a review on Yelp: whatever captures them!”
Accomplishment Comes from Reading, Not Authenticity. @TerryWaltz_TPRS said, “@cadamsf1 My Chinese 1s feel proud of reading a 400-char long story on day 2 of class. Trust me it ain’t authentic resources.” @textivate said, “@cadamsf1 My point is that it isn’t the “authenticity” of the text that does that. Maybe the difficulty? The interest level? #langchat”
Difficulty of Authentic Resources Can Limit Students to Only Reading Main Ideas. @TerryWaltz_TPRS said, “One cannot acquire language through comprehending only main ideas. Can’t acquire language that’s not linked to meaning.”
Although it’s likely this debate will never fully be resolved @placido shared a perspective which incorporated both strategies, focusing on different goals for different levels of students. She said, “I use authentic resources more in level 2 and a LOT in levels 3-4. In level 1 we focus on fun and very comprehensible.”
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Tools and Strategies for the Reading Process
As the moderators guided the discussion through the natural stages of the reading process, participants shared some incredible ideas for incorporating lesson ideas, tools and activities. We put together a short list of some of the best
In the pre-reading stage, the goal for students is to become prepared to interact with the text. Whether this means introducing them to vocabulary, discussing themes or teaching them how to use the technology associated with the lesson, the pre-reading stage is a vital one to ensure that students have a successful reading experience.
Pre-Reading Lesson Ideas
- @sgojsic said, “Use a transparency over text and have them circle familiar/cognates first…forces them to apply the strategy
- @nicola_work said, “looking at title / picture to activate background knowledge.”
- @Marishawkins said, “I like to have students predict what will happen in a reading.”
- @SraSpanglish said, “@nicola_work Exactly! Aside from pictures, title, familiar structures help, like Wikipedia, recipes, etc. Use prior expectations!” @SrtaLohse said, “I love using classic children’s books that the students are already familiar with and have them read after finishing test or quiz.”
- @placido said, “I use teacher-created readings to prepare to read #authres. (This is embedded reading concept.)”
- @dacosta_sra said, “For prereading, find a hook. A video or a picture, a prop., etc.”
- @crwmsteach said, “video clips and feature films provide a picture beforehand to associate with reading material.”
- @BeckyTetzner said, “Pre-reading via organizing scrambled pieces of a summary version? Then put in order, get the gist, then find detail in the actual reading?”
Some Pre-Reading Tools Mentioned
Once the reading begins, it is important to continually having students engage with the text and the comprehension process. There are many ways to do this that are both fun and effective. #Langchat teachers shared some of their favorite, classroom-tested activities for engaging readers.
Reading Lesson Ideas
- @placido said, “I am a big fan of acting aka “Reader’s Theater.” Can be done PRE-reading too!”
- @dr_dmd said, “Always use tons of graphic organizers! What next?”
- @tiesamgraf said, “Reading is the best way to acquire vocabulary- personal vocab lists and activities/reinforcement strengthen content understanding.”
- @sgojsic said, “Use technology by having text responses in real time to a question.”
- @BeckyTetzner said, “[Choose reading that uses] lots of relevant infographics to decipher (I find LOTS on pinterest), FB posts, articles w/lots of pics, tweets, etc..”
- @cforchini said, “Reading in the target language in 140 characters or less- Students can follow their fav. actor, athlete, singer, etc. on Twitter. Great reading.”
- @senoraCMT said, “I like to tie reading to other media. Film, news story, music. Lots of deep discussions and conclusions drawn.”
- @Marishawkins said, “Recently I gave students sticky notes to write down one important fact from each section of the reading.”
- @andrearoja said, “During reading: highlighting main ideas, cognates, or supporting evidence. My kids will read anything with a highlighter!”
- @placido said, “Treat reading like a book club discussion…stop and chat, personalize it. Comprehension checks via discussion. @dr_dmd responded, “Love book club idea – look for a target language online social media site like GoodReads – imitate it w/sts blogs – FUN!”
Some Reading Tools Mentioned
Clé International/Hachette books w/CDs
Once students have completed a reading section, they need to be able to show their comprehension. Fortunately, there are a number of really creative, diverse ways for them to do this. This is also a great part of the lesson to allow students choice, which gives them more “buy-in” to completing the comprehension and post-reading activities. @dr_dmd said, “Great post-reading strategies give students opportunities for being creative in response! Write a story, create a comicbook/kids book. Others?”
Post-Reading Lesson Ideas
- @mweelin said, “#langchat Love having kids draw scene from story, do gallery walk and they explain why they chose it in TL in prs or grps” @cadamsf1 said, “oh my I like the gallery walk idea!! We did a murder mystery just finished and that will be [email protected] #langchat”
- @tiesamgraf said, “students can also draw what they read and then retell using the pics.”
- @cadamsf1 said, “I have my students illustrate scenes especially if it’s particularly descriptive as in hard to read no action.” @SraSpanglish responded, “Favorite, then Storify notes later!”
- @BeckyTetzner said, “LOVE Socrative! Writing tool too-kids can respond to a reading, then have them anonymously pop up on screen and we edit together.”
- @placido said, “Post-reading: Act out a scene, put items in order, sorting activity, draw a picture, watch a video of similar/same theme.”
- @tiesamgraf said, “authentic resources in station activities is a good way to move novices (and more) through different examples quickly.”
- @cadamsf1 said, “Exactly I do the same- we play reverse taboo to retell the story to review the plot before we move forward.”
- @tiesamgraf said, “As a summary activity, students can make their own Wordles for HW to use for a warm up next day.”
- @tiesamgraf said, “Google Docs is also a great tool for student collaboration/reflection on texts.”
- @Tecabrasileira said, “Use schoology/facebook to connect/interact as the character of the book”
Post-Reading Tools Mentioned
Word Chart Functions
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While not everyone agrees on what language teachers should be reading in their classrooms, every #langchat teacher showed a dedication to building this skill in his or her students. Through a variety of engaging pre-reading, reading and post-reading activities, students and teachers will have more fun and gain more knowledge from reading in the target language. @KrisClimer summed the chat up nicely by saying, “My takeaways: authentic resources or not, pre, during and post reading activities and scaffolding is the most important.”
Thanks so much to @dr_dmd and @Placido for leading such a fun and interesting discussion about reading strategies. There were several very important points that were shared during the chat that we couldn’t include in the summary. If you’d like to know what you’re missing, you can read the full transcript here.
Also, thank you for participating in #langchat every week. We truly enjoy hearing from you and sharing your amazing tips and tricks for language teaching. If you have ideas for future chats, please share them with us as well. You are the most important part of our discussion, and we want to talk about the things that will help you the most.
Daily Chorus Bellringer
Reading with purpose-to develop a love of reading
Reading for Information and for Pleasure
Recursos para maestros de Español
103 Things to Do Before/During/After Reading
Resources for Languages
Authentic resources versus TPRS? Or a happy marriage of the two?
Encourage students to make use of Reading Strategies
10 free tools for creating infographics
Reading in the Target Language…What helps them ‘get it’?
Spanish Reading Comprehension Flip Chart