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by Erica Fischer on Nov 2, 2015

Engage Students Beyond the Classroom! Tools to Connect with Target Language Communities

fairview sl spanish readaloud 6 by mosaic36, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  mosaic36 

Welcome back! Last week, #langchat focused on student engagement beyond the world language classroom! Participants discussed how to find target language (TL) communities for students to connect with, and they brainstormed tools (language skills aside) that enable students to interact with such communities on their own. Langchatters also shared their own observations about the kinds of community interactions that world language students find most engaging. Additionally, they thought up ways in which service or project-based learning can be used to enhance students’ interactions with TL communities. Before signing off, participants weighed in on tech, tips, and tools to help students engage.

Thanks to everyone who made last week’s discussions so engaging! We would also like to thank the moderators of both Thursday’s chat: Kris (@KrisClimer) and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell) and the Saturday sequel: Diego (@DiegoOjeda66) and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei)!

Question 1: How do you find TL communities for students?

When it comes to finding TL communities for students to interact with, participants suggested using social media platforms. They also encouraged fellow instructors to put themselves out there, contacting TL communities in their backyard or over the Internet. Additionally, Langchatters highlighted the value of drawing on existent connections with former students or colleagues.

  • Social Media Platforms: @mrsbolanos wrote in strong favor or “TWITTER.” As an alternative, @doriecp mentioned Instagram, writing, “I also love using Instagram. [I created a] separate school account [and] follow selected L2 users. Captions are perfect for [students at the] novice level!” Still others recommended the MysterySkype community. @mrsbolanos wrote, “I’ve found a few classrooms to #mysteryskype on the [Skype] for education page.” @mjosey1 also uses “MYSTERYSKYPE WITH CONNECTIONS FOUND ON TWITTER.”
  • Put yourself out there! If you want to get your students engaged with a TL community, Langchatters suggested putting yourself out there to make a connection for them. @KrisClimer recognized the importance of “[getting] out ourselves [as instructors], either through travel or online,” pointing out that, “TL communities can be around the world or in your own city.” @doriecp starts locally, writing, “I always start in my own backyard. I reach out to native speakers in our community via connections with PTO [Education].” Others described how they put themselves out there on the web. For example, @CatherineKU72 said, “While looking up menus for our Francophone cafeteria exploration, I find schools. [I cold-write and] ask if they wish to connect.” Similarly, @KrisClimer wrote, “I just recently sent a bunch of cold emails to schools in a sister city in France. [I got] a number of affirmative replies.” @mrsbolanos also uses Microsoft Education to connect, writing, “I have had a lot of luck [using this site] to find partners.”
  • Draw on your own existing connections: In searching for contacts, @Lwbespanol suggested that instructors “try to connect with family members of students or teachers.” @LisaShepard shared how doing so proved to be valuable for her class: “[I am working] on another project with [an] elementary class in France being taught by a former student. Last #langchat on this topic inspired me!”

Question 2: What tools (language skills aside) can we equip students with to enable them to interact with TL community themselves?

In preparing students to engage with TL communities independently, instructors stressed the importance of cultivating a growth mindset and intercultural competence. They also acknowledged online groups of student interest as potential tools.

  • Growth Mindset: To begin with, @SenoraLauraCG pointed out that students must have “open minds and hearts!” and @KrisClimer highlighted the need for a growth mindset, characterized by “[curiosity, trying, and courage].” @mrsbolanos added that students must have the motivation to grow outside the classroom through such connections: “[Students] need to have the interest. If they are not engaged in our classrooms, they will never seek out global connections.”
  • Intercultural Competence: @doriecp emphasized the need to help students develop “intercultural competence!” She added, “[This goes] beyond learning cultural facts [and] addresses attitudes, [the] ability to interpret [or] relate, and more.” @kltharri also mentioned the importance of “cultural understanding, being proud [without] being boastful.” In the words of @srajojava, such training means providing students with “[constant] reminders that perspectives are different and not better or worse.”
  • Online Groups: Some participants suggested prompting students to engage with online TL groups and showing them how to do so. @magisterb480 wrote, “Have [students] find things that interest them in the TL and maybe join online groups dedicated to those.” @mrsbolanos noted that students might need help getting started: “[Students] need to know how to research what they want to find! If they’re looking for TL, they need to know how to work Google.” @JessieOelke recommended one group in particular: “#spanstuchat is very powerful. [Students are] connecting [and] communicating [with] other [students] at their level.”

Question 3: What kinds of community interactions do world language students find most engaging?

@KrisClimer described engaging communities as “[authentic] ones, accidental ones, [and] personally gratifying ones.” @VTracy7 added that, from her experience, “[students] are always proud of self-initiated [exchanges].” Langchatters had lots of particularly engaging interactions to recommend, including the following:

  • Restaurants: @mskbordner wrote in favor of interactions at “RESTAURANTS!” Similarly, JessieOelke wrote, “[A homework] choice from @SraSpanglish [and] @SECottrell has [students] order in local [authentic] restaurant. I have used [this] idea as well. [Students] love it.”
  • Social Media: @LisaShepard2 noted that students enjoy “[following] TL speakers on social media.”
  • Online Forums: @SECottrell wrote, “Connecting on forums on topics they love has always motivated my students #gamers #HarryPotter.”
  • Snail Mail: @MlleSulewski said, “[My students] loved getting written letters from penpals! [It doesn’t] happen much nowadays.”
  • Meetup Groups: @MlleSulewski suggested “local TL Meetup groups” as yet another alternative.
  • Class visits: @mjosey1 proposed bringing TL speakers to the classroom as guests and conversation partners: “Create a TL chat group in your classroom. Bring in several guest and [then] rotate groups.”
  • Exchange Students: @KrisClimer pointed our that hosting a TL speaker can also be motivating: “Hosting TL students is a good way to gain deeper, engaging connections.”

Question 4: How might we use service and/or project-based learning (PBL) to enhance our students’ interactions with TL communities?

Langchatters had some very creative ideas about how to enhance student interactions through service or PBL. Here are some of their fun suggestions!

    • Museum Translations: @SraDentlinger wrote, “One example I heard and loved (from [someone whose name I can’t recall]) was [that Spanish learners] created descriptions for [a] museum that only had English [labels].” She added, “I think anything that can improve or help the community is great! This is my #cordmedwl Capstone Project actually.”
    • TL Buddies: @srkeller63 said, “I like the idea of linking [students] with native speakers [who are new to the] school. [This can help them] to acclimate, [improve their] comfort level at new school, etc.” while providing our students with opportunities to interact in the TL.
    • Mini-Lessons at a Bilingual School: @mskbordner said, “[We] have a bilingual preschool [in town]. I am hoping my students can create ‘mini-lessons’ and we can learn from each other.”

<li>Big-Scale, Collaborative PBL: @KrisClimer wrote, “BIG-SCALE PBL could have two sets of [students] work collaboratively.”

Question 5: Final tech, tips, and tools? How do you help students engage with TL communities?

Langchatters proposed some final tech, tips, and tools to help students connect with TL communities. In terms of tech, @MaCristinaRV is going to use Skype: “My #earlylang students will connect via Skype with elementary school in Puerto Rico to share [and] compare Christmas traditions.” In addition to Skype, @MlleSulewski recommends Twitter and Snapchat.” @SraDentlinger shared one her students’ favorites: “Students love @wespeke!” This service matches learners with TL speakers from around the world and allows them to communicate via text, audio, or video. @SECottrell also pointed out that “Edmodo connections [with] teachers may be a good route.”

Some instructors mentioned an obstacle to online connections. @MadameKurtz wrote, “[Online] privacy [and] safety is über important in my district. E-pals [are] not secure enough. [I’m looking] for tech [and] tips.” @VTracy7 could relate: “My district is ‘vigilant’ in keeping [student] privacy laws. I [kind of] feel like my hands are tied making outside of school connections.”


Last week, Langchatters were all about making connections and building communities! Participants discussed how to find target language (TL) communities for students to engage with, and they brainstormed tools (language skills aside) to enable students to interact independently. Langchatters also shared their own observations about community interactions that world language students find most engaging. Additionally, they thought up ways in which service or project-based learning could be used to enhance students’ interactions with TL communities. At the end of the hour, participants provided final advice on tech, tips, and tools to help students engage. Langchatters left feeling determined to support students’ engagement with TL communities, and @KrisClimer noted how students’ enthusiasm following interactions can quickly spread: “[Students] love to say ‘I understood what they were saying’ and “They understood me.’ Make this joy public. It’s contagious.”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who engaged with our #langchat community last week, building connections with instructors near and far! Don’t forget that you can get your #langchat fill twice a week — both Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Got a question you’re eager to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
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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