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by Erica Fischer on Jan 14, 2012

How to Enhance Acquisition and Relevancy with Authentic Media

We had a fast-paced #langchat discussion on Thursday, full of great debate and some terrific suggestions to implement in your classroom. Our topic was on how to enhance language acquisition and make class relevant to students with authentic media.

Participants continue to amaze with the sheer amount of tips and ideas that are so willingly shared. Below you’ll find a summary of Thursday’s chat along with a compilation of many of the links and tools that were discussed. You can find the full archive of this chat here.

But first, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to Kristy Placido (@placido) to the #langchat team. Kristy joins Don Doehla (@dr_dmd), Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell), Erica Fischer (@CalicoTeach) and Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66) as the moderators of the weekly #langchat meet-ups on Twitter. Welcome Kristy!

Why Use Authentic Media?

We’ve discussed authentic resources in the past on #langchat, and we always come to the conclusion that using authentic materials, including media, is essential and should be done from the beginning of any 21st-Century world language class.

Media is a particularly useful educational resource as it gives such easy access to authentic materials (@tonitheisen). Most media is authentic by default — written by native speakers for native speakers — rather than something artificial written for a textbook.

Authentic media is useful because it can be naturally scaffolded. Students who are ready for more can easily get more (@Lauren_Scheller). Another important reason to use authentic, leveled media is that it often can show students that they’re not that different from target-language culture students (@fravan).

As far as relevancy, authentic media is naturally relevant to students because this is how they already communicate. Some students are just more comfortable using technology to communicate, even in their first language (@ProfaEsp).

Choosing Your Authentic Media

The diversity of media allows your chosen content to appeal to many different learning styles. The same material can be delivered via video, images, texts, audio and many more formats to ensure that all students have the opportunity to connect with the content (@Watermelonworks). This makes the choice of which media to use dependent on your students’ natural learning styles.

To maximize relevancy and increase students’ comprehension, keep your choice of media close to the topic. This in turn increases acquisition and engagement. Relate the media to the task at hand. Rather than taking a shotgun approach, choose media to use with units that relate to your objectives and subject.

Applying Your Authentic Media

As mentioned, try to use a variety of media. This is good both to cater to individual learning styles and to vary the material to keep students engaged. Different media use different vocabularies, too, and using varied media allows students to learn vocabulary specific to the media (@msfrenchteach). A variety of media on the same topic also builds deeper comprehension and language acquisition (@dr_dmd).

Another benefit of the diversity of media is the ability to learn about something from multiple points of view. This leads to stronger discussion and a richer understanding (@msfrenchteach).

After exposing students to authentic media, encourage them to find their own sources for a follow-up discussion (@tonitheisen). This is a great way to get students thinking about and taking ownership of their learning. When doing so, consider giving students a list of key words in the target language so that their search is well-organized.

How to Apply Authentic Media without Scaring Students into Silence

@tmsaue1 posed the question on how to introduce authentic media to students while avoiding the “but it’s all in French/Spanish/Target Language!” reaction. Participants had a lot of great ideas to share, and we hope that you can apply some of their suggestions in class.

  • @tonitheisen supports not making an issue of it. Ensure that the media you choose is level- and age-appropriate without mentioning that it’s all in the target language. Also, use the media a lot and often. Make it a regular part of the students’ day.
  • @dlfulton starts by giving students a small task and building off their success.
  • @ProfaEsp believes that the first step should be explaining the “why.” Once students know why they’re watching something, they are more likely to be open to it.
  • @karacjacobs sets students’ expectations early on. When first using authentic materials, she tells students that they should aim to understand from 20-70% of it, rather than every word. @placido adds that it’s normal to feel lost and confused at first; students should focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.
  • @suarez712002 models how to get meaning from context, including the strategies of skimming, scanning and getting the gist of a source.
  • For young kids and early levels, @msfrenchteach asks kids to read short texts with photos. Kids circle cognates and gradually move on to longer and more difficult texts.
  • @Watermelonworks gets students to break tasks down into small increments. They should find the meaning in that increment and then proceed to the next.
  • @dlfulton likes to show students at the beginning of a unit an example of what they are expected to do at the end of the unit. This can be the teacher modeling or examples of students’ work from the past year. The latter is especially useful as students often know the kids in the examples and thus can relate to them well.
  • When @Lauren_Scheller’s students ask if spelling counts, she tells them that comprehensibility counts. Students who preoccupy themselves with not making simple spelling mistakes will not extend themselves as much as possible.
    • As @dr_dmd mentions, spelling can and will improve with students’ increased interaction with authentic media.

Ideas for Application

The following are some specific ideas for application in your class. If you have any additional ideas to share with your colleagues, please feel free to add them in the comments section below!

  • A great resource for authentic media that students can interact with is sites where students can add their own comments, such as movie or product reviews (@tonitheisen).
  • @SECottrell’s classes have used media reports to study the recent Spanish elections and the impact that Twitter had.
  • As a recurring activity, @placido has done “YouTube Tuesdays” where a student picks a short YouTube video in the target language, everyone watches the clip together and then the class discusses.
  • For a creation task, have students put themselves in the situation of a story they’re following using authentic media. For example, for the Chilean miners rescue, ask students to keep a daily journal as if it were them (@Lauren_Scheller).
  • If your area has a local Spanish paper, check out their site and articles for increased relevance to students’ daily lives (@SECottrell).
  • Big Huge Labs is a great site for allowing students to create their own posters and other visual documents to demonstrate comprehension. Glogster is also a good choice. Several participants mentioned trying out two other sites, Diigo Education and Collaborize Classroom.
  • Visit this site to learn how one class created their own infographics.
  • Visit this site for 10 free tools to create your own infographics.
  • For Spanish, a good blog to highlight a different worldview from what students typically get would be Fidel Castro’s blog. As a contrast, have students check out Generacion Y — an underground blog from Cuba.
  • The site for Spanish is great for beginner-level weather, news and events (@Thesarito).

As we’ve mentioned, students should be learning to get the gist of a sample when listening or reading authentic media — they’re not expected to understand every single word. When assessing comprehension, choose questions that focus on some specific facts that are repeated and are the main focus of the sample. For example, when @SECottrell’s students watched a commercial advertising a competition to win soccer tickets, students were later asked:

  1. which teams were playing;
  2. what sport;
  3. and what city.

Student involvement is essential when using authentic media sources. It’s important to find what your students are interested in, and provide sources in this area. To find topics that your students are interested in, try asking them! You’ll be surprised at what students are willing to discuss.

For other topics, remember that student engagement is also directly related to teacher engagement. Stay excited, focused and having fun, and your students will follow along with you (@dr_dmd).


Thanks to everyone for coming by and participating in our discussion Thursday night — #langchat has become a fantastic free professional development resource, and it’s all thanks to everyone’s sharing of ideas and tools every week. Thank you!

If you haven’t already, be sure to get your free copy of #langchat’s e-book on the best Web 2.0 Tools for the World Language Classroom! This book is a direct result of the past year of chats and participants’ great ideas, and it’s available free to anyone at the link above.

Be sure to join us next week for a sure-to-be excellent discussion on how we can help get students motivated to start and stay in world language classes. This topic was our close runner-up for your choice of topics this week, and so we’ve decided to debate and share ideas on it next Thursday at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Thanks again, and see you next week!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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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