We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on Sep 1, 2015

Help Students Recall & Reuse Prior Language Knowledge!

Last week, #langchat participants met to chat about review. Langchatters discussed how to handle review of prior content, shared their thoughts on what material is most important to revisit at the start of the school year, and mentioned some of their favorite activities to help students activate prior knowledge. Participants also reflected on ways to push students’ proficiency while reviewing older content and talked about how to keep tapping into this knowledge throughout the year. Langchatters struggled to keep up with what proved to be a lightning-speed chat! @jaybeekay518 wrote, “Is #langchat always this lively?? [I had] a bit of a hard time keeping up tonight [with] the rapid-fire tweets!” Even our seasoned moderators were out of breath by the end of the hour. @alenord said, “I have NO IDEA what anyone said tonight. That’s how fast this #langchat went!”

Thank you to everyone who contributed to yet another action-packed hour. We would also like to extend a big thank you to last Thursday’s moderators, Amy (@alenord), Kris (@KrisClimer), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei)!

Question 1: How do you handle review of prior content?

Instructors generally disfavored explicit review of prior content, preferring a more organic integration of previously taught material. @profe105 wrote, [After] years of doing ‘comprehensive review’ at [the beginning] of [the year] with dismal results, I don’t any more. [Instead, I review] as needed [to support language functions].” @magisterb480 has also abandoned this practice: “I used to do all the tedious grammar review but not anymore! I’m using stories with important concepts from the previous year.” @CecileLaine agreed that stories represent a useful tool to support the learning of all students: “Since some [students] need review but others don’t storytelling is a great way to recycle old structures while introducing new concepts.” Whether you use stories or other tools to activate prior content, @MaCristinaRV mentioned the importance of variety to hold student interest: “I review prior content by presenting it in an unexpected and different context, so it’s not boring and repetitive.” Additionally, @SrtaJohnsonEBHS underscored the importance of providing students with a wealth of input: “[Provide input], input, input that recycles prior structures.” On the topic of input, @kballestrini observed that comprehensible input in and of itself can be understood as a form of review: “I mean, if you’re providing comprehensible input, you’re ‘reviewing prior material’ by just delivering understandable [messages].”

Question 2: What material is most important to revisit at the beginning of the year?

According to Langchatters, key phrases to help students remain in the target language and fun, engaging material are most important at the start of the year! @profe105 recommended “survival phrases, phrases for circumlocution, [or] anything that helps [the teacher] and [students] maintain [target language] use.” Similarly, @MadameZapor suggested “classroom survival phrases … and question words.” Aside from tools to stay afloat in the target language, participants also underscored the importance of material that motivates students. @rlgrandis wrote, “[In my opinion], revisit the fun material at first! Help [students] remember why they would WANT to continue learning!” Many highlighted the value of personalization. @VTracy7 noted that [expressing] wants, likes and needs [is] motivating [and] interesting for [students].” @Marishawkins recommended starting with “high frequency vocabulary and then [vocabulary that] can be individualized.” She asks herself, “What does each student remember that is relevant for [him or her]?” @SrLaBoone offered an example of how to review key vocabulary while allowing for personalization: “For my 1B classes, I like to review travel [or] vacation [vocabulary] ([presented at the] end of [level] 1A) – [This is] fresh in [students’] minds and many traveled this summer.”

Question 3: What are your favorite activities for helping students apply prior knowledge?

Participants reminded us that applying prior knowledge can be fun! Numerous Langchatters suggested games as a form of review. Some wrote in favor of VERBA, in particular. @kballestrini likes “[having students] get quality [repetition] of … level-appropriate sentences in a playful way using VERBA ;).” @profe105 commented, “I cannot say enough good things about Verba. My [students] LOVED it. [I was] so pumped when my cards came in mail.” @jaybeekay518 also wrote in favor of “games games games games…,” adding, “[For] some reason [students] think it’s not as hard if they get to talk and laugh in the [target language] with their friends!” As a word of caution, @kballestrini urged participants using games in the classroom to be sure that game goals align with learning objectives: “[Games] are really tough to get ‘right,’ [so we] need to be aware of what the play objectives are… are the learning objectives the same?” Participants also suggested activities that get students to work together and get to know one another while reviewing. For example, @ProfeCochran wrote, “We just finished ‘Family Vacay Photos.’ [Students] get in families, take ‘vacay’ [pictures] all around school, [and] present in [the target language]. SUPER divertido.” Even when students aren’t participating in games or lively activities, Langchatters encouraged pair work. @SECottrell asked, “What about asking [students] to pair up and work through checking off @actfl Can-Dos as review?” @caraluna34 replied, “I’ve done a [modification] of that – [I] typed out my review [Can-Dos] and students colored them in traffic light colors.”

Question 4: What are some examples of pushing students’ proficiency while reviewing prior content?

Langchatters recommended presenting new material in familiar contexts as a way to boost student proficiency and support review. @alenord wrote, “For me, [I offer] familiar contexts, but [give students] higher order questions to respond to.” @kballestrini agreed that “[context] is key,” writing, “[If] you stay in a familiar context, [vocabulary] will naturally be [familiar, which will make it] easier [for students to understand] new structures.” Along these same lines, @MartinaBex encouraged instructors to “[target] new structures with discussion that [cycles] in old [vocabulary].” For example, she suggested introducing the past tense to discuss students’ summer activities. @SlocumBeth also proposed presenting students with “complex grammar in [a familiar] context and deciphering the meaning. [For example,] subjunctive use in [an] ad campaign.”

As another way to boost proficiency, participants advised “fishing for more [information] when [a student] gives [a] response” through follow-up questions (@profe105). @MlleSulewski wrote, “Instead of just accepting ‘I went to the beach’ I push for more details. With [whom]? When? What’d you do? Was it fun?” @SECottrell added, “I can’t remember who did this but someone had students count on their hands how many details they could add (@senoraCMT)?”

Question 5: How can we keep tapping into prior knowledge throughout the year?

Langchatters agreed that tapping into prior knowledge comes naturally in the language classroom. @jaybeekay518 said, “Frankly, I think it would be hard not to!” One participant wrote, “It’s easy to tap into prior knowledge in a [world language] class since moving forward can only happen if you’ve got a toolbox in use.” @KrisClimer added, “To quote our illustrious moderator @alenord ‘prior knowledge is their [comprehensible input].’ We just need to know keenly what that is.” Finally, @MlleSulewski mentioned her affinity for [Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs)], in particular, as a way to pull together prior content: “[This] is why I love IPAs. Nothing is ever isolated: [You] need the ensemble of all [of] your knowledge to complete the task.”


If you’re looking to help students recall prior knowledge, Langchatters have lots of tips! They talked about how to handle review, what material to revisit first, and what activities to use to activate prior knowledge. Participants also reflected on ways to increase students’ proficiency while reviewing and discussed ways to tap into prior knowledge throughout the year. As @ProfeCochran spoke for many when she noted, “[Instructor’s first] priority [should be to] build relationships with students, [and their second priority should be to] make review FUN [and] unnoticeable!” @profe105 summarized the theme of the chat with one pithy Tweet: “[Recycle], don’t review!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined us last week! Still haven’t had your #langchat fill? Remember, now you can #langchat both Thursday nights at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET! Also, fresh #langchat gear is on the way! Check out a sneak-peek here!

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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