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by Erica Fischer on Feb 21, 2011

Increase Your Students’ Usage of Target Language in Class

Thanks to all our dedicated #LangChat twitter participants who shared great ideas and resources to help encourage and increase student use of target language (TL) in class. Thanks especially to the moderator, Elle_Spanish, also known as Elvira Deyamport. While the focus of our conversation was TL use in the classroom, it was noted that it is also important to use the TL with students outside of the classroom for all types of interactions. (dlfulton)

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Some teachers set requirements that students only use the TL in their class, others still struggle with students who want to use L1 (usually English) all the time. Students need adequate levels of input before they are ready to create output in the TL. However, it is also clear that all students can respond to TL immediately with physical responses and simple one word answers. In fact, tmsaue1 encourages that we give students a feeling of success USING the TL very early on in their experience to trigger motivation. Asking students lots of yes/no questions to gauge their understanding is important with beginners. Also, be sure you create a non-threatening environment by not taking yourself too seriously; this helps the kids open up (NinaTanti1). The importance of creating tasks that are relevant to students and at their level is critical. Also, equipping students with the language necessary to complete tasks in the TL is essential to their success (mme_henderson). Allow students to make mistakes and ensure they know mistakes are part of the learning process. (suarez712002) Several teachers commented that they try to ignore most mistakes and focus on building on what the students have said to engage their students with the language. (fravan, NinaTanti1, tmsaue1, dlfulton)

Some discussion of the ACTFL guidelines highlighted the importance of communication over accuracy for Novice learners. The ACTFL proficiency levels give students and teachers a guide as to realistic expectations for novice, intermediate and advanced students. tmsaue1 encourages students to write the proficiency levels in their own words and keep them in mind when using the TL. Castellano3CAS gives students a chance to hear speakers at the various levels of proficiency as that really opens their eyes to the degree of variation.

You will find below a number of ideas to increase student language production. Please keep in mind that limiting communication to learner interactions is one of the key barriers for students gaining proficiency. This is especially true with novice learners. (SECottrell, tmsaue1)

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Tools to increase student usage of the target language within the classroom:

  • Voicethread: Post a picture and have students describe it and save it. (SraSpanglish) Students can comment on posts. mundaysa’s students amazed her with their comments.
  • Lots of visuals as stimuli including props, gestures, TPRS. (tonitheisen, NinaTanti1, mrsenorhill)
  • Rephrase, repetition, cognates, high frequency words, synonyms (lesliedavison, usamimi74)
  • Children’s books are great because students have a familiar story and connect with new vocabulary (degroote44) Site with leveled books in English, Spanish and French at (Elle_Spanish)
  • Start class with a question of the day that everyone must answer to build confidence (mme_henderson)
  • Start class with video or song of the day (tonitheisen)
  • Use music/lyrics/singing to encourage speaking or as an icebreaker (IslandLanguages)
  • Start the week with commercials in TL. Find French commercials at : (mme_henderson)
  • Go to the Dollar Store and buy wacky items and have students create commercials and/or magazine ads for the items. (fravan)
  • Silly/corny jokes (fravan) See cybraryman1’s “Humor in the Classroom” page.
  • Give students a limited amount of fake money each day and make them pay for the privilege of using English (non-TL) during class. If they spend all their money, further use of English hurts their participation grade. (SECottrell)
  • Sara-Elizabeth (SECottrell) also shared her blog post on 9 ways to increase students’ TL use. She includes lots of easy to implement, effective techniques such as questions, pattern sentences and seating arrangements.
  • Facilitate speaking by making classroom walls speak the TL – Label objects, clotheslines, interesting images, etc. (msfrenchteach)
  • Surveys: Great interpersonal task/assessment, especially if you go for more than one-word answers. Students love to walk around and ask questions of one another. (SraSpanglish, mme_henderson, NinaTanti1)
  • Sportscenter: Students read the schedule and scores of favorite teams (mrsenorhill)
  • Speed-dating (AKA wagonwheel, double donut) Students shift around the room interacting with a new student every 30 seconds or couple of minutes on specific topics. (several participants mentioned these ideas)
  • Think-aloud protocols: Teacher talks about what he/she is doing (suarez712002)
  • Information Gap activities: Student 1 describes something. Student 2 draws what is described. (suarez712002)
  • Rewrite familiar stories such as Three-Bears using vocabulary already known. (fravan)
  • Retell stories. These make awesome assessments. (lesliedavison)
  • Puppets and/or stuffed animals to engage students and illustrate points. (several teachers use these methods)
  • Felt boards: Tell stories and have students act and say key phrases and words throughout the story (Elle_Spanish)
  • Interview people on a topic of choice (from news, hobbies, interests, etc.) (usamimi74)
  • Encourage students to use words they know.
  • Create rhymes and poems from word tiles (mrsenorhill)
  • Teacher should try to simplify use of TL (caretaker speech) to ensure students have comprehensible input. (NinaTanti1, dlfulton)
  • Reader’s Theater: Students read plays and stories aloud in TL with minimal use of costumes and dramatization. (IslandLanguages)
  • Storychasing (as opposed to storytelling.)
  • Create Wordles of poems, songs, stories, conversations and have students guess the main idea, theme, important vocabulary, etc. (lindseybp)

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Technology tools to engage students within the classroom and beyond:

  • Skype with native speakers or other language learners in other classrooms. (see (Elle_Spanish)
    • Also can find other classes to Skype with at Around the World with 80 Schools site. (Elle_Spanish)
    • Even kindergarten classes are Skyping! (usamimi74)
  • Edmodo – Use to develop long term relationships with classmates (mrsenorhill)
  • Todaysmeet Allows a presenter to see everything the audience is saying/thinking about your presentation.(mrsenorhill)
  • Crowdmap – Use to tag your neighborhood in Spanish.(mrsenorhill)
  • My Language Exchange – Use to find native speakers (arthaey)
  • Google Voice: Have students call in to Google voice and leave message in TL, teachers can email feedback. They can also text with the service. (mrsenorhill)
  • Voxopop for speaking homework. You can create a Talkgroup for your class. (NinaTanti1)
  • Mailvu: 10 minute video recordings sent via email
  • Let students record themselves on your smartphone or flip camera during class. Use the cameras to record movies, newscasts, video applications for contests, etc. Great for instant feedback. See samples from first graders by mrsenorhill. (NinaTanti1, mrsenorhill, SECottrell, AlyssaMaske)
  • Voki: Create avatars and your own voice and avatars will speak using student recorded audio. (Elle_Spanish)
    • Uses Voki to have students record a message for their parents at open house (dlfulton)
  • Set up a wiki to emulate #rhinospike where 1st and 2nd level speakers post audio requests and 3 and 4th level speakers provide recorded answers. (usamimi74)
  • Jing or Screencast-o-matic for individualized feedback for writing or audio.
  • Use to build students’ confidence prior to live Skype broadcasts. Ipadio is a service that turns any phone call into a live webstream so you can create audio blogs. (usamimi74)
  • Vocaroo: Send voice messages around the web. (usamimi74)
  • Audioboo: Record and upload audio for friends and family. (usamimi74)
  • Glogster: Use the built-in recorded and player as a “back-up” for oral presentation to remove fear. (usamimi74)
  • Audacity: Have students create a game show by forming questions based on a topic covered in class. (fravan)
  • Have students download recordings to their personal MP3 players. (usamimi74)
  • Tongue twisters

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Wow. I am confident you have gained some fresh ideas from this creative group of educators! Please join our weekly discussions on Twitter by searching for the #LangChat hashtag Thursdays at 8 Eastern time. Visit the Language Teachers Collaborate Wiki to share more ideas and resources with colleagues around the world and find easy access to summaries of all the #LangChat topics.

Follow the #LangChat team on Twitter: @Elle_Spanish, @DiegoOjeda66, @SECottrell, @CalicoTeach.


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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