We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Jun 25, 2014

How Do You Encourage Students to Build Language Skills Outside of Class or Over Extended Vacations?

inicio.. by leivajd, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  leivajd 

Last Thursday, those counting down the days to summer and those who are already off tuned in to brainstorm ways for students to build their language skills when school is not in session. Participants encouraged instructors to ensure language practice is painless and fun, and they provided tips on how to keep students connected with the target language, which have been summarized below!

We extend a big thank you to last week’s moderators, Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) and Cristy (@msfrenchteach), as well as everyone who tuned in for the final #langchat of the school year!

Tip #1: Encourage Students to Tap into Technology at Their Fingertips

Students today are not strangers to technology, and, more and more, they carry technological devices around in their pockets. So why not remind them that the target language is right at their fingertips? Langchatters highlighted fun and simple ways for students to connect with the target language by means of technology!

    • Applications:

Students can take advantage of a host of applications for smartphones or other electronic devices to keep up their language skills outside of the classroom. @MmeCarbonneau wrote, “[I] love to assign gaming options instead of traditional homework [, via] Quizlet, Zondle [and] various other [applications].” @maestravila suggested Duolingo as another option, noting that “[students] can use [it] as [an application] or via [the] Internet.” And why not encourage students to seek out handy applications themselves? @MmeCarbonneau said, “Have students find TL learning [applications]. [Then, have them] explain them and rate them on [a] collaborative board shared by the class.”

    • Twitter:

If you want to keep your students communicating in the target language, look no further than Twitter. @lclarcq reminds students that they can tweet away in the target language: “We start with in-class activities and [I] mention [that] they can be done outside [of class] whenever: [students can] post tweets from [popular] sports [or] movie stars in [the] TL.”

    • Instagram:

This photo-sharing network allows students to document and post evidence of the target language while away from school. @MmeCarbonneau is “thinking of assigning kids to use Instagram to show evidence of the TL they find ‘out there’ beyond [her] classroom walls.” @trescolumnae added that students could connect through the use of a common hashtag on photo posts: “I love the idea of a specific # [hashtag] they can follow (and use) to share [with] each other!”

    • Skype:

Sure, it may take some legwork, but students could benefit from Skype exchanges with target language speakers during time off from school. @Convercise shared, “For a while I coordinated Skype tandem exchanges between my Japanese students of English and American students of Japanese.”

    • Pinterest:

This site allows students to search for, pin, and share materials in the target language. @MmeCarbonneau said, [I am] thinking of also having the students use Pinterest to pin TL stuff. Our art teacher does this and kids love it.”

    • TV and Movies:

Langchatters mentioned that instructors could encourage students to tune in to shows and watch movies in the target language as a means of enjoyable and authentic linguistic and cultural exposure. @PattyNiebauer wrote, “I also encourage [students to watch] Netflix, but [following the] World Cup [or] Tour de [France] is great summer viewing.”

    • Music:

Streaming music, watching music videos on YouTube, or downloading songs represent other ways for students to surround themselves with sounds of the target language. @lclarcq wrote, “Music is [the] best draw. [There are] many [downloads for] songs [and] videos and [I] suggest ones for class.”

Tip #2: Keep Reading Light and ‘Less Booky’

If you’d like students to do some summer reading in the target language, Langchatters emphasize keeping it light and do-able! @SrtaJohnsonEBHS highlighted the difficulty of finding level-appropriate readings that students can confidently complete alone: “I also like to encourage reading, but [it’s] so hard to find interesting novice-level material that doesn’t need me.” She added, “I want something they can access from home and [that] is less booky.” @CadenaSensei suggested news websites targeted at youth as a solution: “For novice readings, I like to use kids news websites. [They are] authentic but written more plainly.” For Japanese instructors, @CadenaSensei noted that “NHK has a [fabulous] easy news website.” Just as you can ask your students to search for applications, consider having them look for neat websites in the target language to share with classmates. @MmeCarbonneau wrote, “Asking students to find an authentic website based on [whatever] theme we are studying is also intriguing to them.”

Tip #3: Encourage Students to Look for and Use the TL in Their Community

Langchatters encouraged instructors to make students aware of the presence of the target language in their surroundings—and to make it even more present in their lives through use with those around them.

  • Scavenger Hunt – Search and Share!</li>Participants discussed the possibility of a scavenger hunt for evidence of the target language. @MmeCarbonneau shared, “I start the year by asking students to bring in [three] items with the TL on [them].” As previously mentioned, she is also “thinking of assigning kids to use Instagram to show evidence of the TL,” which they would document using a specific class hashtag (#). @lclarcq also favors encouraging students to gather evidence: “Ask [students] to look for brochures while traveling, working, etc. [in] other languages, any [language,] or use [the] ATM in TL. Some [love] the idea!”
  • Encounters with TL Speakers
  • Instructors can also promote encounters with speakers of the target language. @km_york wrote, “I encourage real interaction with the Spanish speakers in [the] community – Have you invited … somewhere? Spoken [the] TL at your job?”
  • Lessons or Conversations with Family and Friends
  • Langchatters commented on the possibility of teaching or interacting with family and friends in the target language. @MmeCarbonneau said, “I often make [students] teach what we are learning in class to a family member.” Another participant wrote, “In May, a student told me that she spoke only French [with] her [boyfriend] (another student) in the car on the way to the beach once. Fantastic!”

Tip #4: Keep in Touch and Encourage Students to Do the Same

You might not see your students everyday, but making an effort to keep in touch with them can help to maintain and build their language skills outside of the classroom. Langchatters shared a variety of strategies to stay in contact—in the target language, of course!

    • Class Blogging

Blogs provide a great platform for students and their instructor to share their summer activities, but, as @Tecabrasileira pointed out, they do generally require a significant time commitment: “I tried blogging [with students]. [It] didn’t work, [with] only [one] blog [post] and nothing more.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS agreed that “blogging takes a fair time commitment (spoken from experience).” Alternatively, she highlighted the possibility of daily mini-blogging on a platform such as Twitter: “Maybe ‘1 tweet per day’ is more accessible?”

    • Class Discussion Boards

You can also start a discussion board to discuss various topics during break. From @MmeCarbonneau’s experience, students enjoy this activity: “Students love when I assign discussion boards as outside work. Even at the [middle school] level.”

This platform allows students and their instructor to ‘connect and collaborate,’ and its interface resembles Facebook. It takes some work to set it up, but consider creating one if you have the time and energy this summer. @MmePoulet said, “I found Edmodo was a cool way to reach out to kids en français …but [it’s] very time consuming to set up.”

    • Google Classroom:

@MmeCarbonneau suggested Google Classroom as an alternative space to Edmodo for instructors to interact with their classes. Learn more here:

    • Class Emails

Occasional class emails are a great way to share resources or relevant and current happenings with students. They serve as a great reminder (for those who are interested) to invest some time in the target language. @km_york wrote, “We have [a] school-wide Gmail and my students will get several group emails with songs or articles from me, some will look.”

There may be no texting allowed in the classroom, but texting your students over summer can be a great way to remind them of the target language. @PattyNiebauer tweeted, “I use Remind101 to send [students] links or [alert them] if [something] of interest is going on.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS commented, “I need to do that to remind my kids about #spanstuchat [a monthly Twitter conversation between Spanish instructors, high school students learning Spanish, and native Spanish speakers]!”

    • Postcards

You don’t need to look to technology to connect. Consider sending postcards to your students in the target language, and ask them to do the same. @MmeCarbonneau suggested, “Have [students] send you postcards from their trips. I send my new students ones in French over the summer.”

    • Face-to-Face Gatherings: Book Clubs and Movie Nights

It may require some footwork, but think about organizing a face-to-face activity to bring your language students together. @CadenaSensei commented, “[I have] never done this before, but maybe an optional TL ‘book club’ over summer? (Maybe manga for 日本語 [students]).” Another participant added, “I’m setting a goal for myself FINALLY to do a Francophone movie night at school.”

Motivation: Is it Teachable?

@teachermrw asked a question likely lingering in every instructor’s mind: “Ideas shared are good [and] a [student’s] motivation to practice [and] improve skills is tantamount. Can we teach motivation?” @trescolumnae replied, “I don’t think you can DIRECTLY teach motivation,” adding that the key is to “connect learning [with students’] personal interests.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS also imparts her own interests to students, noting, “I like to share my [favorite] (real [favorite], not cause-it-works-for-class) songs and musicians with my [students].” Of course, incentives can also help to increase student motivation. @MadameKurtz commented, “My students would do almost anything for a piece of candy. Bring in evidence of TL use [and] you get a piece?” @MmeCarbonneau does not use candy; instead, she likes to “hand out Eiffel Tower tickets. [Students] turn them in as raffle tickets for various prizes end of [quarter].”


Participants shared lots of strategies to help students maintain and build their target language skills during time away from school. They emphasized keeping practice painless and urged instructors not to overwhelm students with a heavy workload. @trescolumnae wrote, “[At my school,] we stopped [having students log their summer practice hours in the target language because students] were overwhelmed [with] ‘summer packets’ from other classes :(.” Another participant commented, “[We] want [students] to enjoy time [off and] come back refreshed!” As @madamebaker asserted, and other Langchatters agreed, “Ideas that appeal to adolescents and don’t seem like work: music, movies, apps, games work best.”

Like you, #Langchat will be on summer vacation but will return in August! Stay tuned for the start date, and, in the meantime, why not do some summer reading of your own by checking out past summaries?

Thank you!

Thank you again to Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) and Cristy (@msfrenchteach) for moderating last week’s productive #langchat! To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

If you have any comments or questions that you would like to share, do not hesitate to do so. Also, be sure to send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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