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by Erica Fischer on Feb 23, 2015

Enrich your communication-based classroom with supplementary materials

Welcome back to #langchat! Last week, participants met to discuss how to supplement a proficiency or communication-based classroom with textbooks and technology. They shared when and how often they employ textbook resources in the classroom and how they put a proficiency or communicative spin on these resources. Next, they recommended technology that promotes student communication and other resources that have helped get students talking. As always, #langchat colleagues had plenty of ideas to share. In case you were overwhelmed, with “tabs a blazin’” (@KrisClimer), your #langchat summary has captured some of Thursday’s highlights.

Thank you to all who participated and to our moderators, Kris (@KrisClimer), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), Amy (@alenord), and Laura (@SraSpanglish)!

Question 1: When and how often do you employ textbook resources into your teaching?

Participants’ use of textbook resources varied greatly. Some reported not having textbooks in their classrooms at all, some rarely or never employ resources from the textbook, and others turn to them only when making plans for a substitute. Several Langchatters felt that the textbook has a place in the classroom but should not be the only resource that instructors employ. @CadenaSensei quoted advice from her boss, which was echoed by several other participants: “Our boss always says, ‘The textbook is not the boss of you. But [it] doesn’t have to be the ‘enemy’ either’.” @KrisClimer agreed with this statement, writing, “I must admit, I still follow the text quite closely, but [I] have always used it as a tool, rather than [a] doctrine.” For @silvius_toda, the textbook provides the general scope of the course, with room for flexibility: “The textbook helps form the scope of my curriculum – what I need to cover – but I teach it how I want [and] on my own time [and] pace.”

Participants also mentioned specific textbook activities that they employ in their teaching, sometimes with modifications. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “[I use the textbook for] occasional warm up activities, where appropriate.” Others use textbook listening and reading activities. @alenord wrote, “When I use [textbook] resources it is usually for listening. I just don’t use the corresponding worksheet. I make my own.” She explained her reasoning, adding, “To me, the [textbook] listening sheets give too much away. Kids don’t really have to interpret anything.” @JessieOelke uses textbook readings for comprehension checks: “I do use a lot of the readings, [not] so much [for] cultural [information], but [for comprehension] checks.” Lastly, some instructors use the textbook as a reference for students working on grammar or vocabulary development. @MarciHarrisAA said, “[I use textbooks] as [a] resource for [students] to read in English the grammar that I don’t always spell out to them,” and @dawnrwolfe wrote, “[I only use the textbook] when [students] need [vocabulary] ideas in creating their own stories.”

Question 2: How do you give textbook resources a proficiency or communicative focus?

Next, participants discussed how to put a proficiency or communicative spin on textbook resources. @SenoraDiamond55 wrote, “I’ve latched on to ‘Change the task, not the text’,” adding, “I’ll steal ideas from the text, but then [I’ll] consider: How can I get [students] to REALLY talk [or write] something [with] REAL meaning?” Some Langchatters use pictures from the textbook to start a discussion. @JessieOelke said, “There are pictures that [students] can speak about. [For example, they can talk about] what is happening [in a picture] with a partner.” @Marishawkins agreed, writing, “The pictures are good to use to write a story or questions.” Others make modifications to textbook dialogues. For example, @silvius_toda wrote, “[I use] textbook dialogues but [have students] act them out in different ways (sadly, romantically, Star Wars voices).” Alternatively, @MCanion replaces textbook-provided dialogue participants with interesting characters. Students can elaborate on the dialogue, taking on these new personalities.

Question 3: What technology resources do you suggest for promoting student communication?

Langchatters had lots of suggestions about technology resources to promote communication in the classroom. Below are some of their top picks!

  • Voicethread: @Marishawkins said, “@voicethread is amazing! Students can respond to questions by just talking into their phone or computer!”
  • PearDeck: @Marishawkins wrote, “@PearDeck is great for interactive communication when I tell a story!”
  • Edpuzzle: This service allows instructors to personalize videos to encourage discussion. @SraClouser said, “Edpuzzle is wonderful, and they have a fabulous support staff! [It has] been an invaluable tool for me this year!”
  • Schoology: @SenoraDiamond55 advocated for this resource: “I am a new @Schoology Queen/Devotee! Discussion boards for an occasional ‘silent conversation’ are awesome!”
  • Talking Ginger/Talking Tom/Sock Puppets: @nosilaN said, “I tell [my] kids to practice speaking at home. [Applications] like Talking Ginger [or Talking] Tom make practicing solo less awkward– and fun!” @ShannonRRuiz suggested “Sock Puppets” as a similar, alternative application: “Kids talk and the puppets transform their voice. Kids love it!”
  • Instagram: @espanolsrs said, “I’m challenging [students] to communicate in Spanish using Instagram this semester, [with] our own hashtag. [Students] seem to enjoy [it]!” @doriecp also recommended Instagram: “[I] helped [a high school] teacher use [a] private Instagram [account] to introduce [vocabulary] and practice interpersonal writing. So fun!”
  • Blogs: @JessieOelke suggested blogs as a way to promote communication and build an online classroom community: “My [students] just started blogging. We all love it. I blog with them. [It’s a great] way to get to know them better also.”
  • And more… @virgilalligator shared a final list of some favorite tech resources: “Too many! @vocaroo @explainevrythng, Google Apps, @padlet, @Polldaddy, Google Hangouts, @twitter.”

As a final note, @silvius_toda encouraged fellow instructors to use technology wisely: “[Classroom technology] usage is great as long as we’re engaging students [and] not just entertaining them. [We] need to ask: Are we using [technology] to engage [students and] to elicit higher-level thinking? Or is [technology] just a substitution?”

Question 4: What other resources have you used that have increased communication in your classes?

Before the end of the hour, Langchatters recommended some final resources that have successfully increased communication in their classroom. Here are some of their suggestions!

  • Target Language Challenge: @ShaneBraverman wrote, “[How about bribes] of parties with enough minutes of speaking in [the target language]?” In his class, they have a 1000 [minute goal].
  • Stations: Some instructors mentioned stations as a way to boost communication between students. @SraClouser said, “My students like stations (even as juniors and seniors!) and collaborative [or] pair activities.” @camccullough1 wrote, “My [students] enjoy centers, too. Activities in [5-minute] chunks [are] a great way to keep younger [students] engaged.”
  • Games: @ShannonRRuiz wrote, “[Games] are good to force communication [in the target language] in order to have fun. Games should never be ‘time fillers’.”
  • Films and Follow-up Activities: @profelopez716 recommended films, writing, “[They are so] powerful! [They provide] cultural [information], dialect [exposure], [vocabulary] and provoke discussion.” @alenord offered some suggestions for post-film communicative activities: “One idea – two [students] draw names of characters out of [a] hat [and] then have [a] conversation based on what they know about film.” Alternatively, she added, “[I am also] going to do something with photos of scenes from [a] movie. [I will show a] photo and [students will] have to help each other explain the scene.”
  • Thought-provoking articles: @profelopez716 observed that “kids like a good debate,” writing, “I sometimes just use articles in [in the] target [language] that can spark controversy.”
  • Twitter: @SenoraWienhold noted that students’ participation in Twitter conversations can increase communication and confidence: “[Many] of my [students] love participating in #spanstuchat outside of class. It shows them they can communicate.”
  • Skype: @rinaldivlgr recommended “use [of] Skype whenever possible with [authentic] speakers.”
  • Knowing your students… Last but not least, @KrisClimer wrote, “Is knowing your [students] a resource? #AllAboutRelationship.” @ShaneBraverman affirmed that “knowing your [students] is totally a resource,” adding, “I survey [students] at [the] beginning of [the] year to find out [information] to use in examples.”


Langchatters recognized that there are lots of ways to enrich a communication-based classroom. They noted that the textbook can contain useful resources, which can be adapted to fit student needs and complemented by technology. As @magister480b noted, “Textbooks are guides but not the means by which we have to teach. It’s 2015, take advantage of technological resources!”

Thank You!

Thank you to all of our participants for their commitment to #langchat! You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat. *Reminder*: In case you can’t join us at that time, now you can also #langchat on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

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. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in 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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