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by Erica Fischer on Aug 12, 2011

New School Year Ideas for the World Language Classroom

Thanks to everyone who participated in the first #langchat of the new school year this past Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST. It was great to see so many of you again, and I hope everyone had a great summer! We had a lively and engaging discussion of everyone’s plans and ideas for the upcoming year, and participants shared some fantastic resources that we’ll describe below. You can read the entire archive here.

If we had to pick one theme that kept recurring throughout the discussion, it would have to be an increased use of technology and social media. Our lives are increasingly digitalized, and this presents a unique opportunity to bring the world into the classroom. Quite a few teachers also stressed their plans to teach and encourage the development of 21st century skills, and @ZJonesSpanish even made a video on the subject. Check it out at

Twitter and the World Language Classroom

Many teachers expressed plans to increase their use of or to introduce Twitter in the language classroom. This social media service is more and more popular with kids and can be an excellent method to encourage students to use the target language outside of class. Teachers had a few strategies in mind to take advantage of students’ interest in Twitter:

  • @msfrenchteach plans to use the estalished #parlons hashtag for her French students. Spanish language teachers can try #charlando for the same opportunity.
  • @dr_dmd will ask students to tweet five times a week to a hashtag he will establish for the class. Another idea he plans to use will be TodaysMeet. This Twitter-inspired service allows users to create closed “rooms” to tweet in. TodaysMeet allows users to define how long a room lasts, from two hours to one year.
  • @ZJonesSpanish believes that first using Twitter and foreign language tweets for interpretive activities is a great way to get kids accustomed to the idea of actually tweeting and producing the target language. For a back to school interpretive communication activity, visit
  • @katchiringa provided links to a few videos on Twitter use in the classroom. Check them out at and

In addition to Twitter, several teachers plan to pursue contacts in other countries to establish classroom-to-classroom communication. Skype is one way to do this, but @msfrenchteach cautioned that Skype is not used in French high schools for security reasons. Instead, Adobe Connect might be a good option. @dr_dmd suggested using ePals.

Inviting the World into the Classroom

In addition to Skype, ePals and Twitter, resourceful participants have found other means to increase students’ contact with the outside world. @msfrenchteach is considering opening a Kiva account, which is a service that allows you to make small-scale investments in entrepreneurs around the world. Several other teachers have big plans for a few of Google’s location services:

Portfolios, Presentations and Paperless Projects

Google has lots of other services available that can be of benefit to the world language teacher, and participants shared some of their favorites. Top among them were Google Docs and Google Voice, both excellent tools for posting portfolios, assessments, revisions, reflections and even blogs. The comments feature of Google Docs allows students to share their thoughts on each other’s work and allows teachers to provide direct feedback. For an example of a possible activity, @fravan plans to have students follow a world event in the foreign media and blog about it on Google sites.

Several teachers use Google Forms to create paperless worksheets for students. @fravan makes quizzes using Google Forms and then takes the quiz himself first so that the correct answers are always at the top of the column (for scoring purposes).

There are other sites and services outside Google, as well. @dr_dmd says e-portfolios can be made of many things: blogs, wikis, livebinders or Google Docs. All are good. He uses wikis, and with them he embeds videos, posts links, shares photos, provides sound files, adds widgets of all kinds and even creates Google forms to embed for the student to complete.

@NinaTanti1 uses wikis for class presentations. Put everything up on a wiki — grammar, vocab and visuals — and then show it to the class.

Lots of teachers have repeated their admiration for Edmodo for the same purposes. It’s an effective and easy to use tool for creating online worksheets, assessments and other materials. Similarly, @edtech2innovate suggests using Schoology — it’s “like Facebook and a CMS (Content Management System) rolled into one!” Quizlet and Wordchamp were also mentioned as good tools for learning low-level content such as verb forms and vocab outside of class.

Changes in the World Language Classroom

Some teachers have plans to change their classrooms more than just through increasing their use of technology or social media. For example, @msfrenchteach is considering completely removing participation as a grading criteria to focus on authentic assessments. Participants suggested a few more changes:

  • @SECottrell wants to remove late assignment penalties from her grading. Sometimes students would turn in exemplary work a day or two late and she would be forced to give them an F under the old system. This year she aims to let students turn in two assignments up to two days late per quarter.
  • @lesliedavison shared a blog post on this subject at
  • @fravan plans to take the big leap of abandoning the textbook in favor of more authentic materials. He also plans to switch out traditional homework assignments with online assessments for at-home practice.
  • @dr_dmd thinks abandoning the textbook is definitely possible with all the online resources available today. He suggests using Edmodo as a “home base” and to use a wiki for links to materials and videos. Having a class set of textbooks is a good idea, too, he notes, as sometimes the books have good material and it’ll be good for sub days.
  • @profesorM intends to increase the use of the target language in class to near-immersion levels. @ZJonesSpanish thinks this is a great idea — “If a teacher is passionate about near 100% target language and cultures, it rubs off!”
  • Bellwork is another area that teachers plan to shake up this school year, both to increase students’ involvement and streamline bellringer assessment. @fravan uses Wiffiti as a bellringer, and linked to a blog post on the subject at If students have devices and wifi, @kitchiringa suggests using Socrative for bellringers, quizzes and comprehension checks.

Miscellaneous Resources

Participants shared so many great ideas and resources that some of them didn’t fit in the above categories — but they’re certainly worth including here!

  • First, don’t miss the launch of — free Spanish help online.
  • @spanishplans provided a link to a Spanish education Sqworl with lots of useful links. Check it out at
  • @ZJonesSpanish made this very useful planning worksheet to assist when making units or activities, at
  • @ZJonesSpanish also shared some great Spanish music resources. He’s reaching out to singers and bands as much as possible this year, and has had great success at @l_a_m_c. Some bands he’s contacted have even created their own Cloze activities, accessible at Some of the musicians sent special messages to the students, such as this freestyle rap ( from the Venezuelan group @4to_poder. More information can be found at and

Technology in the World Language Classroom

A common theme for this coming school year is without a doubt increased use of technology and social media in the classroom. When going this route, teachers might run into some resistance from parents. If you do plan to use more tools such as Twitter, @dr_dmd suggests reaching out to parents so they understand what you plan to do and how the students’ use of these materials will benefit their language skills. Another good idea is to have students use their school usernames and passwords for any user ids they create so as to separate school and home life (@katchiringa).

On the other side of things, teachers need to be careful not to use too much technology. Using too many services can cause frustration for both you and your students when services stop working. @SraSpanglish cautions against using too many different services, as kids can get overwhelmed. @dr_dmd suggests using only one tool at a time until students have learned it well, and @SECottrell says its important to be sure that there’s enough linguistic purpose behind every new tool.

Producing and practicing the target language with technology is challenging, but it allows unprecedented exposure to authentic resources (@CalicoTeach); however, teachers should be sure we’re not pushing the output just to use the tool (@lesliedavison).

Thanks again to all the participants this week! We shared some useful resources and ideas, and it was great to hear what everyone is planning to implement this coming school year. I hope everyone had a great summer, and welcome back to #langchat! Hope to see you again next Thursday at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Don’t forget to check out the archive, the #langchat wiki and @dr_dmd’s new PBL wiki in the meantime!

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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