balancing-actWork-life balance can be a challenge for many World Language teachers. Last week, #langchat participants shared some helpful tools, insights, and experiences that have helped them prioritize their time and make their work more efficient, truly, a balancing act.

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How and When to Make Time to Step Away from Work

It is often difficult to separate work life and personal life, especially for teachers. There are only so many hours in a day, and prioritizing what is important is key to keeping a balanced life. @Marishawkins said, “I think it is good to recognize when you work best- for me it is after my coffee. [There is] no need to try to get a TON done at night.” @profelopez716 shared, “I have gotten better at knowing that not everything has to be done today. The first hour after school is my time to decompress.” Many #langchat teachers “try really hard to keep weekends sacred” (@GrowingFrench). However, if you have to bring work home, setting a strict bedtime can give you “time to unwind”, shared @SrtaOlson. @MlleSulewski added:

And no/minimal work during school breaks. Break is break!

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Maximizing and Organizing Time

It is important to maximize and organize time at work in order to better enjoy time at home or away from school. In order for this to happen, @LauraErinParker “makes a to-do list every night or first thing in the morning.” @MmeBlouwolff stays “away from [the] computer/Internet during prep periods.” Instead, she stays “focused on grading and seeing [students] and colleagues.” @profelopez716 sometimes stays “later on a Friday to not work weekends or comes in earlier in the morning during [the] week.” Time management and using time wisely is not always easy. “Most of the time I close my door and grade/plan in the zone. Sometimes I eat 1/2 my lunch and use lunch as a second planning [period]” shared @profepj3.

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Organizational Systems that Streamline Efficient Work Habits

#Langchat participants discussed the resources and tools that they use in order to stay better organized and create efficient work habits.

  • @SenoraJansen uses “A binder with a section for each of my 7 preps. I plan one at a time, I can’t do the lesson plan books that show everything.”
  • @BThompsonEdu said, “I use @trello to keep track of my to do lists. #googlekeep is [great] for shared lists and notes.”
  • @SraWienhold shared “I try to plan whole units at a time. It saves time from going from one class to the next aimlessly.”
  • SrtaOlson said, “I also love my plain ole paper planner. Scribbling tasks out gives me great joy, and I’m sure to check it frequently.”
  • PRHSspanish often utilizes, “Siri and the [iPhone] calendar app…, creating tasks as appointments. Then no worries.”
  • @profelopez716 “has students organize papers for [him]” instead of having students turn everything in to one basket.

Prioritizing Time Across Multiple Preps and Additional Responsibilities

#Langchat teachers have found creative ways to make prioritizing their time successful. @MmeBlouwolff shared that it is “helpful to have one focus at a time” tonight, she’s “planning for French 7” while tomorrow, she’s “grading French 8.” Giving undivided attention to each class is helpful to staying focused and fully present in the work at hand. @SrtaOlson said “School work = at school, other homework = done at home.” @profelopez716  “uses one of the school planners to keep track of extracurricular events which is separate from my lesson plans.”  PRHSspanish suggested “Choose summatives very selectively, and then grade in chunks, purposefully.” Finally, @Mr_Fernie uses “lots of recycled activities – stories with [the] same framework but different details.” He also admits, “I definitely DON’T grade all work.”

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Helpful No Prep/Low Prep Activities for “Those” Days

#Langchat teachers shared some of their favorite go-to activities and lessons when they are having one of “those” days.

  • @SrtaOlson said, “I feel like running dictations are SUPER low-prep, but also very engaging for [students].”
  • @SenoraJansen enjoys:

    Story trains. Start a story about ANYTHING, pass to the next person after a few minutes; they must continue and so on.

  • @profelopez716 uses “songs or movie talk. They can take all hour if you have the right resources.”
  • @profelopez716 added, “conversation circle days are the best. [Students] choose topic and we just talk. No prep required.”
  • @BThompsonEdu said, “Write about a picture. Tell your partner about a picture, now tell the whole class.”

Thank You

Thank you to our lead moderator, Meredith (@PRHSspanish) and her support moderator Laura (@SraSpanglish) for leading last week’s discussion on balancing work and personal life. Thanks to all who participated and shared their insights and experiences on this subject. Have a topic you’d like to talk about in the future? Check out the #langchat wiki and suggest a topic!


Last week, #langchat participants dove into the complexity of interculturality in the world language classroom. The discussion covered everything from the definition of the term to how to allow students to discover new cultures, and how to assess intercultural competence.

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What is Interculturality?

According to #langchat teachers, interculturality involves gaining new cultural perspectives. Incorporating this concept into the classroom can be beneficial to language learners as they engage in new and unique cultures. “Interculturality [is] knowing that there are differences between cultures, and accepting and growing in those differences” (@welangley). According to @SraStilson, interculturality is “knowing, accepting, and understanding differences between my culture and [the target language] culture.”  Interculturality includes “understanding ourselves in order to understand others” (@MimiStapleton). It “is more than a ‘fun fact’ at the end of a unit – it’s deeply understanding others’ ways of life” (@srtamartino).

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Remaining in Target Language while Learning about New Cultures

It can be challenging for students to remain in the target language while discovering and learning about new cultures. @eagan_heather suggests “showing [students] cultural videos and having them describe what they are seeing and [then] compare and contrast.”

it’s the little things; more authentic resources, more level appropriate questions, and more observance, that can help students remain in the target language while learning about new cultures. As with anything, pictures and videos are helpful. @SraWilliams3

“Give sentence starters and useful phrases. Scaffolding is key here” (@srtamartino). @senora_broyles teaches “through ‘realia’. Take [students] abroad. Show them the world!”

Designing Lessons that let Students Discover Cultural Differences

#Langchat participants agreed that it is important for students to discover cultural differences without being explicitly told by the teacher. In order to provide opportunities for discovery, @SraWilliams3 suggests “letting [students] observe, ask questions, and answer thoughtful questions. Let [students] question things and consider possibilities.” Inquiry based lessons can be beneficial. “We give [students] a goal to find [within] a culture and [authentic resources], then they think, pair, research, and share” (@angardner06). @SraRoblesHHS shared, “I first ask my students questions about their own culture to pique their interest. Then they search for info on the target culture.” Finally, @MlleSulewski said, “Give them an experience! My favorite lesson this year was a chocolate tasting in French 2.”

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Assessing Intercultural Competency

#Langchat teachers gave tips for formal and informal assessment of intercultural competency among students.

  • @SECottrell said, “have a good sit-down with the new @actfl ICC standards and then put them in the rubric. All the rubrics.”
  • @SraRoblesHHS shared, “if [students] have been working with authentic resources, they can be formally assessed with an AP-style cultural comparison speaking prompt.”
  • According to @eeg_il, “the best prompts would require [students] to produce for a target language audience, even if sometimes that audience is simulated by the [teacher].
  • @MlleSulewski said, “I think the easiest way is to ask ‘why do you think it’s this way?’ no pressure for the right or wrong answer.”
  • @jfh1790  shared, “Because it’s such an open-ended topic, an open-ended presentation assignment would be ideal. [Students] are free to express what they know.

How Can We Get Students to Reflect on Their Personal Reactions to Another Culture in Order to Better Understand It?

To begin, @SraWilliams3 encouraged #langchat teachers to not “be afraid of teaching culture. It’s little things, one step at a time that build our teaching practice.” Students can better reflect on their reactions to another culture when #langchat teachers “frame it for them. Explain. Make it seem like their own realization” said @textivate. @MlleSulewski suggests that #langchat teachers “flip the tables; what about our culture might someone else have an adverse reaction to? Why?” A couple other questions one might consider in the classroom are, “how can cultural competence help me be smarter, kinder? What is the deeper purpose of reflecting about it?” It is also helpful to look at and discuss similarities and differences between cultures. @ACWLteach said, “get them to make comparisons between target culture and [their] own culture. Allow student to discuss and react to differences.”

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Thank You

Thank you to all who participated in the discussion last week on Interculturality in the World Language classroom. Thank you to our lead moderator, Megan (@MlleSulewski) for her guidance on the topic.Thank you to all #Langchat participants. Would you like to suggest a topic? Check out the #langchat wiki and suggest a topic!

Culture capsulesEspecially for early novice learners, culture can be a tough topic to cover in depth, beyond the infamous “Five F’s“: festivals, food, flags, fashion, and famous people.  Throw in the fact that interculturality standards for language classes can’t be met outside of the target language, and it gets tougher.  Throw in a situation where the teacher, guide, or parent doesn’t speak Spanish proficiently (or at all) and something’s got to give.

Instead of ignoring the problem, we decided to tackle it.  We came up with what we think is a startlingly effective solution, and we hope you’ll think so, too.  We took several cultural elements in our Stories Online curriculum and used them to develop what we call “Culture Capsules.”  They bring together the best elements of research-based lessons: engaging content, achievable goals, critical thinking in an inquiry model, and of course, a target-language communication goal at the end of each one.

In each Culture Capsule, the teacher guides learners through a discussion on the capsule’s topic, while the children note answers to questions in their own print guide.  Then, the class, group, or individual learners investigate answers to often deep cultural questions.  Each capsule also culminates in a communicative task that asks children to demonstrate cultural awareness in Spanish, based on the national standards set by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Here are the Capsule topics in each level of Stories Online.

Level A: I Am Special

  • Are “You” My Friend?
    Why do Spanish speakers change the word they use for “you”?
  • Days of the Week
    How do we decide what is the first day of the week?
  • Flags and Their Colors
    What do the colors mean in the flags of the Spanish-speaking peoples?
  • Describing Myself – free download below
    What do the Spanish-speaking peoples “look like”?

Level B: I Love My Family

  • Special Days – free download below
    How does culture affect how we celebrate birthdays and other special days?
  • Two Surnames?
    How do many people in the Spanish-speaking cultures structure their names, and why?
  • Community Activities
    How do communities in different cultures have fun together?
  • A Family, A Community
    How do families in different cultures show their love for each other?
  • Pets
    Are the types of pets people like to keep different from culture to culture?

Level C: I Live Here

  • Home Is Where the Heart Is – free download below
    What is the same and what is different about homes in different cultures?
  • Let’s Eat!
    What is the same and what is different about foods in different cultures?
  • ¡Gol!
    What games and programs do people in the Spanish-speaking cultures find entertaining?
  • ¿Qué hora es?
    How does culture affect how people think about and talk about time?

Ready to see these in action with your learners?  The above Capsules are included as part of the Stories Online program, but we’re pleased to offer you three of these Capsules to download absolutely free.  Just head over to this page and get started.  And please, tell us what you think!

Let’s teach children to speak real Spanish to real people for a lifetime. Starting today.  Learn more about this innovative program for any preschool, kindergarten, elementary class, or homeschool at Discover Stories.


march-9Incorporating successful input is an essential teaching function in a World Language Classroom. Last week, #langchat participants discussed factors for evaluating potential input, strategies to demonstrate student comprehension, grading and sequencing input activity techniques.

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Factors to Evaluate Potential Input

There are several factors that #Langchat teachers have used to evaluate a new or already existing potential input source. @srtafenton said, “I want input that can be an authentic model for what students will eventually create on output.” Factors such as “[high frequency] vocab, interesting, relevant, and level appropriate” material are looked for when selecting appropriate input (@VTracy7). @LauraErinParker said, “I find authentic texts and then look at text features, vocabulary complexity, and evaluate structures such as tense, connectors, etc.” Many #langchat participants shared that comprehensibility was a major factor that they searched for when evaluating input. “I prefer authentic, comprehensible, high-interest, [and] culturally rich [input]” (@mmeshep). @MmeBlouwolff said, “ideally [input] keeps us on track with the unit theme.”

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Strategies to Demonstrate Student Comprehension

Listening and Viewing Input

#Langchat teachers have shared several successful strategies for assessing student comprehension during listening and viewing input.

  • @Marishawkins shared, “for listening I love @EDpuzzle! For my online readings, I also love embedding questions and polls using @activelylearn!”
  • @MmeBlouwolff said, “I am trying to do more hold-ups (Yes/No cards, etc.) and sorting cards so that there is a hands-on aspect to go with my text or video.”
  • @marthaca82 said, “quick formative assessments tickets out are my favorite or pause and check for understanding.”
  • @dressurleben contributed:

    For teaching new vocab, I give students a paper with English on one side [and] target language on the other. They have to connect the word with [the] definition.

  • @welangley said, “a quick ‘What does ‘Spanish word’ mean?’ is super effective.”

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Written Input

In addition, #Langchat teachers also shared different strategies for assessing student comprehension during written input.

  • @MlleSulewski said, “I enjoy having [students] use different colors to highlight different elements within a text.”
  • @welangley suggests using “volleyball reading, choral translation, [and] drawing pictures.”
  • “I have my [students] create their own comprehension questions after reading. Then they trade. Others’ questions spur more thought,” said @ShannonRRuiz.
  • @LauraErinParker said, “There are so many different ways – depends on the resource. [My] favorite is venn diagram for cultural comparisons.”

Grading Without Relying Solely on Comprehension Questions

#Langchat participants find it challenging to grade interpretive mode without over-reliance on low-level comprehension questions. It is important to remember that:

assessing [interpretations] should be done in [the native language] to avoid errors caused by lack of [second language] knowledge @ShannonRRuiz

@Marishawkins grades “using personalized questions in Spanish.” Although “it isn’t interpretive” she “likes asking them to apply what they read.” @salaamay uses “character maps” to assess. “Doing a speech as one of the characters [or] writing a letter to one of the characters” are also fun assessment techniques (@salaamay). “Depending on type, you could have students use what they learned. Ex: Solution to pollution from text on water pollution” (@LauraErinParker).

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Sequencing Multiple Input Activities to Prepare Students

Having a variety and a high amount of input in lessons proved to be a common recommendation for sequencing multiple input activities to best prepare students for language use. @Marishawkins said, “I have found that I have to prepare students for the input activities by pre-teaching. [Students] and I get more out of each source.” Give the students the language they need to be successful. “FLOOD the input, use the language so much that [students] have no choice but to know what the language means” (@welangley).

Thank You

Thank you to the lead moderator Megan (@MlleSulewski) for leading the chat on Incorporating Input in the Word Language Classroom. Thank you to all #Langchat participants. Would you like to suggest a topic? Check out the #langchat wiki and suggest a topic!

Mar-2Last week’s #langchat focused on how to incorporate thematic units in the world language classroom. Participants discussed inspiration for successful themes, prioritizing structures and vocabulary, and integrating instructional elements and assessments into successful thematic language lessons.

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Inspiration for Successful Themes

#Langchat teachers have found inspiration for successful themes through a variety of sources. It is often important for teachers to get creative and think outside of the box when determining thematic units for the world language classroom. @dressurleben shared, “Lately I’ve been finding inspiration from my students’ other classes, trying out the interdisciplinary support angle.” Many #langchat teachers agreed that “looking at AP themes and sub themes” proved to be successful sources for thematic content (@bjillmoore). Also, it is helpful to take a deeper look at student life while asking “what are their interests at each level?” (@bjillmoore). @SraWienhold said, “I find inspiration for themes in culturally rich novels!” While @SraDentlinger said, “I LOVE teaching culture as a theme! [There is] lots of Content-Based goodness in it. Talk about self, others, and the in-between!”

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Prioritizing Structures and Vocabulary Within a Unit

#Langchat participants shared thoughts on how to prioritize structures and vocabulary used within a unit.

  • @SraDentlinger said, “I think about what final product will be. Want to recommend change? Subjunctive work. Want to make a recipe video? Commands.”
  • @rahanagan said, “Start with the end assessment in mind and see which vocab and grammar are needed to accomplish the tasks.”
  • @welangley looks at “high frequency words!”
  • @angardner06 uses:

    backwards design” and considers “the Proficiency Levels and desired outcomes. Look at what [students] need to comprehend and [prepare] them.

  • @pretty14572003 said, “If I can see I can go beyond what is given to me, I will. For example, my unit was health and I included body parts.”

What Instructional Elements are Essential to Consider in Any Thematic Unit?

To begin, @rahanagan shared that the “ability to practice the vocab and grammar through all the modes (Interpretive, Interpersonal, and Presentational)” was essential to consider in any thematic unit. “Input, checking for understanding, output, checking for comprehensible communication, formative assessments and reflecting” are several important instructional elements to also consider (@angardner06). @pretty14572003 said, “I think the anticipatory set is essential. We have to get them excited about learning the unit!” Making time for reading, writing, speaking, and listening proved to also be key components when considering thematic units. @SraWilliams3 said, “I try to always make time for writing and speaking. We already read a ton, and listen too. [I] work on putting all together.”

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Using all Three Modes of Communication to Address a Theme

Using speaking, writing, and reading in order to address a single theme can be challenging; however, #langchat participants shared their strategies. @SraWilliams3 said, “Backward design helps me outline how I prepare for their performance tasks.” Integration of the three modes can be attained “by allowing [students] to practice with each other and present a project based on a unit and having [students] read to me and check for comprehension” (@pretty14572003). @welangley suggested:

Intertwine a little bit of theme into each TPRS [Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling] story, an [Integrated Performance Assessment] might be a long ways off, but ALL modes are in TPRS.

How can assessments tie in with themes?

Assessments can connect with themes practically through real-life scenarios and applications. As “assessments guide the themes, they should be real-life situations and problems that [students] may have to face” (@rahanagan).

@SraWilliams3 said, “I try really hard to create performance tasks that are real tasks. Text is somewhat limiting, but it works for now. I also consider tasks [students] might do here too. For example, meeting Spanish speakers in school or in the community.”

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Thank You

Thank you to the lead moderator, Elizabeth (@SraDentlinger) for keeping the discussion on Thematic Units in the World Language Classroom guided and focused. Have a topic on your mind? Head over to the #langchat wiki and suggest a topic!

Is there anywhere a fun song for early Spanish learners that targets prepositions of location?  We couldn’t find any.  So we did it ourselves.

Pañuelito: New Calico Spanish music for prepositions of place

What phrases, exactly?

We call this song “Pañuelito” (little handkerchief). It accompanies Level C of Calico Spanish Stories, themed “I Live Here.”  In this level, several of the Video Stories feature our characters describing or asking about where an item is in relation to another item.  We chose to include these phrases needed for the purpose:

– dentro de (inside of)
– al lado de (next to)
– debajo de (under)
– encima de (on top of)
– en frente de (in front of)

Why a pañuelito?

In true Calico Spanish style, we offer you a song to help children learn to use these prepositions of location/place in a targeted but fun way.  But for what object?  Also in Level C, learners play a traditional Latin-culture game, called Pañuelito, in which the leader assigns each pair of particular vocabulary words or phrases.  Then, when the leader calls out a word or phrase, children race to be the first to grab a handkerchief the leader is holding.  This made the pañuelito a natural choice for our new song. We’re thankful again for the talent of Obed Gaytán, who took our idea of using the tune to “Twinkle, twinkle” and turned it into a Brooks & Dunn-style rhythm that’s certainly no naptime lullaby!

To make it even easier for children to learn these targets at a realistic pace, we offer you a shortened version, with only three phrases:

As well as the full version, with all five:

We hope these songs help you and your learners acquire this important communicative skill:

I can tell someone where an object is located in relation to another object.

Stay tuned – there’s even more to come, and we’re excited about it!

Last Thursday, #langchat participants considered the benefits of music integration in the world language classroom. Through a discussion on song selection, supporting activities to engage students while increasing proficiency, and exploring cultural practices and perspectives, it can be said that music has a lot to offer in the language learning process.

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Song Selection

#Langchat teachers have discovered a variety of resources for finding great music to share with their students. @Elisabeth13 “checks the top billboard charts in France”, @SrtaPrendergast often chooses songs from “Spotify’s Discover Weekly mix”, and @SraDentlinger said, “Pandora helps [her] find new artists that are like artists [she] already likes!” When deciding on which songs are most useful in the classroom, @MmeBlouwolff said she “looks for a thematic hook to open a unit with comprehensible lyrics and some key vocabulary.” @ADiazMora “[tries] to tie in the songs to the unit theme; sometimes for meaning of song, and sometimes just to jam out.” Repetitive, slow-paced, and culturally embedded songs seem to be strong choices for #langchat teachers. “[I] also love songs that reinforce cultural issues. French rap is FABULOUS for this” (@MlleSulewski). “@SraBurbano said, “Vivir la Vida and Lupita are favorites. I play a lot of Mana and try to tie in the theme.” Finally, @SECottrell shared the “Top 20 @Musicuentos class songs of ‘all’ time.”

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Activities to Anticipate, Engage, and Reflect on Songs

There are many grammar, pronunciation and comprehension-centered activities that can be integrated into world language lessons through music. @CadenaSensei said, “My typical Level 1 activity is for [students] to listen to (part of) a song [and] mark off adjectives that describe what they think. Then discuss.” @nathanlutz “often [has] props for #earlylang students to use to act out the songs.” “We do ‘slap words’ with song vocab, put lyrics in order, word clouds, and [use] cloze text” (@RhulsHuls). For higher proficiency language levels, many #langchat teachers ask students to make predictions. @CatherineKU72 said, “we tried to imagine [the] video just based on lyrics.” @ ICanSpanish shared, “When it has a good clean video with a story, I like to do a ‘story-go-round’ [where] students take turns finishing the story in circles”. @SrtaPrendergast said, “After focusing on the chorus all week we do a grammar/language activity. ex: brainstorm words that rhyme with something in the [chorus].”

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Differentiating Activities Across Levels with the Same Song

There is potential for one song to be used among multiple levels through different activities. @Srta_Sieber said, “lower levels mostly look for grammar structures/vocab; upper levels analyze culture and meaning of a song.” @SraDentlinger suggested, “perhaps tier activities? [Spanish] 1 does [Spanish]–> [English] [definition], [Spanish] 2 matches word to Spanish definition instead.” #Langchat participants often incorporate more challenging activities for higher proficiency language levels. @SenoraJansen said, “upper levels will take 5 new vocab words, and create a skit with 10 minutes to prepare. They’re usually crazy but so funny.” @sr_connolly encouraged teachers to “Grade the task, not the ‘text’. [The] same song can be used for vocab practice [and] cultural/historical context.”

Progressing Towards Proficiency Goals

#Langchat teachers shared their thoughts on how music aids in progressing students toward higher language proficiency goals.

  • @SraWienhold said,

    Music not only works well for listening practice, but also gives students something to TALK about.

  • @SECottrell shared, “IDIOMS. Nothing like it for promoting more natural language sets. In this post you’ll find a long list of Spanish songs with high-frequency idiomatic expressions.”
  • @welangley said, “If the song is on a cultural topic we can have real-world discussions.”
  • @GrowingFrench mentioned, “Students often dislike listening. Music makes that pill a little easier to swallow.”

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Exploring Cultural Practices and Perspectives

Music opens a world of culture. “Music is culture! It shows what is important enough to a culture to make it go mainstream. Plus, videos are great for this!” (@rahanagan). @SrtaJustiniano suggested that #langchat teachers “talk about the artists and their cultures or talk about historical significance.” @MlleSulewski shared the unique perspective that love songs can have, “how does ___ culture express love? what problems do people sing about?” In conclusion (@doriecp):

it is easy to discuss products and practices, but music is an accessible way to delve into the perspectives of a culture.

Thank You

Thank you to the lead guest moderator, Allison (@ SraWienhold) and support moderators Elizabeth (@SraDentlinger) and Megan (@MlleSulewski) for leading the chat on music in the world language classroom. Thank you to all the wonderful #langchat participants for sharing your input and suggestions! Have a topic you’d like to discuss? Check out the #langchat wiki and suggest a topic!