We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on Sep 30, 2014

What Pre-Teaching Strategies Work Best?

Welcome back to #langchat! Last week, familiar and new #langchatters alike gathered to share their thoughts on effective pre-teaching strategies (and a promise to post selfies with their new #langchat T-shirts, of course!). Participants worked to define pre-teaching, suggested strategies to help students explore a (unit) theme, discussed strategies that prime students for success in various modes, reflected on ways to train students to pre-teach themselves, and expressed their view of the interplay of students’ L1 and TL in pre-teaching.

We would like to thank all of the participants who took part in the Q&A conversation last week, as well as our moderators, Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Kris (@KrisClimer), Laura (@SraSpanglish), and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei).

Question 1: What is pre-teaching?

Participants worked to establish a definition of pre-teaching. In so doing, they described pre-teaching as a useful technique for drawing on previous knowledge, laying groundwork for future learning, activating and priming students for new material, and capturing student attention.

  • Drawing on previous knowledge:
    Several instructors observed that pre-learning entails looking back at and connecting with previous lessons. @SrtaLohse said, “[Pre-learning] involves brainstorming and making connections to previously taught material.” @dawnrwolfe noted that with pre-learning “new material is not so ‘foreign’,” and @SrLaBoone suggested “[reviewing] what [students] already learned and then adding something new to […] see if they can figure out what it is.” Participants wrote that pre-learning can additionally help instructors to gauge students’ grasp of previous material. For example, @SECottrell commented, “[Kids are] not a blank slate. So [pre-teaching] can involve finding out what they already know.” @CoLeeSensei added that pre-teaching provides instructors with more than knowledge of student language development but also highlights their past experiences “experience-wise… what have [students] ‘done’ in any language [that] they can draw on?”

  • Laying the groundwork for future learning:
    Some Langchatters expressed that pre-teaching can build a foundation moving forward. @KrisClimer described the effect of pre-teaching as “laying the groundwork (or building the foundation) on which future learning will be constructed.” @magisterb480 agreed that pre-learning entails “[building background knowledge (vocabulary/grammar/etc.).” @SrLaBoone suggested thoughtful organization of units to facilitate the transition from past to future learning: “[My] best pre-teaching seems to occur when one unit flows seamlessly into the next.”

  • Activating/Priming students:
    Other Langchatters characterized pre-teaching as a priming activity involving implicit exposure to new material. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “Pre-teaching is priming the brain for learning by exposing it to information implicitly before [teaching] it explicitly.” @MmeCarbonneau similarly described pre-teaching as implicit showing before telling: “[activating] prior knowledge [and/or] showing a concept/material BEFORE explaining explicitly.”

  • Grabbing Students’ Attention:
    Many participants underscored the value of effective pre-teaching as an attention grabber. @Sralandes wrote that pre-teaching was a hook to pull students in: “Pre-teaching is driving students to want to learn about the [information]. It’s our trailer or hook.” @SrLaBoone also commented on the need for a good hook: “[Pre-teaching] for me is getting young minds excited to learn. What’s the hook? If it’s a good one, they will be receptive.” Even if students still don’t know what’s coming, @SrtaLohse emphasized that engagement is key: “If done right, the students don’t necessarily know what the lesson topic or new concept is, but are engaged nonetheless.” @Ashida_Linda suggested “[activating] personal connections [or] background knowledge” to engage learners. Increasing engagement by helping students to personally connect with material was discussed during previous #langchats (See and

Question 2: What pre-teaching strategies help students explore a (unit) theme?

Langchatters reflected on effective pre-teaching strategies to guide student exploration of a new theme. Their suggestions centered on tracing a learning roadmap with students, exploring authentic resources, and seeking out attention-grabbing tools.

  • Tracing a roadmap with students: What do we know? Where are we headed?
    @alisonkis encouraged student reflection on past learning as key to moving forward: “The goal is to connect [students’] experiences and what they already know [to new units]. Thus, strategies should invite them to reflect.” @Ashida_Linda suggested “an overview, or road map, of future learning, [with] opportunities for [students] to ‘navigate’ some of their own learning.”

  • Exploring authentic resources (#authres) with students:
    @SECottrell described exploration of #authres as her “favorite stations for previewing the unit theme.” @Ashida_Linda suggested that instructors could allow students to search for #authres themselves as an engaging introduction to a new unit: “[Give students] 5 minutes to surf #authres on [a] topic [using sites] including Twitter. [Students] love sharing [and] get ‘hooked’ on theme.”

  • Finding tools to capture student attention: Memes, Virtual Fieldtrips, Games, Storytelling, and More!
    Participants brainstormed different tools to grab student attention when introducing new material.

    • Memes: Many participants proposed memes as a pre-teaching [email protected] highlighted their value for “[introducing] new words and concepts with funny pictures and videos,” adding, “I like using memes a lot!” @SenorG shared a link to “100+ Spanish memes”:, and @magisterb480 shared a meme archive for Latinists: “For us Latinists there’s – a fine source of Latin meme-ness… and sometimes I have the [students] make their own!”
    • Virtual Fieldtrips: Virtual fieldtrips were suggested as an exciting visual introduction to a new unit without leaving the classroom. @SenorG shared a link to his “‘Virtual Field Trips How-to’ [document] for GoogleMaps:” @SrLaBoone added that not only maps but travel videos of different regions are valuable: “Pre-teaching for [a] travel unit, for [example], might [involve showing] official tourism videos from various countries. [They are] [short], engaging, [and] to the point.”
    • Games: Gaming was discussed as another interactive tool to pre-teach new material. @MmeCarbonneau wrote that instructors could have students “[play] Kahoot to see what [they] can do [or] figure out BEFORE the lesson.” For more gaming ideas, you can refer to a past summary on “Technology in the Classroom: The Right Tool at the Right Time”:
    • Storytelling: Stories can also be used to preview a topic and pull students in! @SECottrell said, “Another favorite for previewing [a] theme is also my favorite for introducing all the content: storytelling.”
    • Visual Slideshow: Instructors can draw students into a unit by presenting engaging images related to a new unit. @CoLeeSensei uses a unit visual slideshow to introduce a theme and shared a link to her blog post with a do-it-yourself guide:

Question 3: What primes students for success in the various modes?

Langchatters stressed the importance of scaffolding and making material relevant for students. They also suggested ways to prime students for success in reading and listening.

  • Scaffolding comprehensible input:
    Participants couldn’t stress the need to scaffold “[lots] of compelling comprehensible input!” enough (@andrearoja). As @ProfeCochran reiterated, priming students for success involves “s-c-a-f-f-o-l-d-i-n-g, plenty of exposure to #authres, oh, and scaffolding.” Instructors also highlighted the importance of gestures to make input comprehensible, especially at the novice level. @ProfeCochran said, “[With] my [first] class of [Spanish 1] in [YEARS], I have remembered [the] importance of gestures. [There’s something] really special about physical response.” @SrtaLohse voiced agreement: “Gestures [and] even facial expressions can definitely help convey meaning, even for upper levels.” For more tips on scaffolding comprehensible input, check out a past #langchat summary:

  • Making it Relevant!
    Once again, Langchatters viewed personally meaningful content as key to student success. @Theodulph said, “I like to use [pre-teaching] to personalize lessons so I ask students questions relevant to their lives that involve the theme.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS similarly encouraged use of “[topics relevant to the [students] and their lives [with emphasis on] real vocab they want [or] need to communicate.” @magisterb480 wrote that this is especially important for particular languages: “With a language like Latin, make it relevant. Try to make examples with meaningful context.”

  • Reading Success:
    Instructors viewed authentic resources as valuable tools for priming student reading. Participants highlighted the need to adapt authentic resources to student level. @alisonkis said, “Use [of] #authres is [a] good idea, but sometimes they might [be] quite complex and need modification.” @CoLeeSensei sees authors as essential for all modes of learning: “priming for reading = #authres; priming for listening = #authres… rinse [and] repeat!” @SECottrell described how she modifies complex authentic readings: “I will actually modify a text by deleting parts that don’t pertain to my goals or are too difficult, and bold [or] highlight [other] parts.” @andrearoja alternatively suggested use of embedded readings as preparation for more extended passages, and @magisterb480 said, “I [also] use embedded readings a lot since textbook passages are often difficult [or] scaffold unneeded vocab.” As a step towards student success, @rmasaoka encouraged instructors to “[teach] strategies for engaging with text, asking: ‘What do [you] know? How do [you] know it? What can we do to work out the unknowns?’ Think aloud.” @Theodulph also favored guided student engagement with texts: “[Preview] new vocabulary and get students to predict the theme of the reading in advance.”

  • Listening Comprehension:
    As for reading comprehension, comprehensible input was again viewed as key. @andrearoja wrote, “I prepare students for harder listening with lots of audio input from me, slowed down, [with] visual support.” In the words of @CoLeeSensei, “[Instructors] walk [students] slowly – until they are ready to run!”

Question 4: How can students pre-teach themselves? How do we arm students for comprehension when there’s no teacher around?

Participants commented on the importance of building student skills, such as “guessing, risking, knowing how to find [information] (@CoLeeSensei),” and arming students with “[strategies], confidence, [and] circumlocution [tools]” (@KrisClimer). Instructors also discussed development of students’ comfort with the unknown. @SrtaLohse wrote, “It’s important for them to think overall meaning [and] not worry about knowing every word. They need to feel comfortable [with the] unknown.” @alisonkis added that “[comprehension] strategies need to be taught explicitly and [students] should know how to deal with unfamiliar language.” @SrLaBoone elaborated on comprehension strategies: “[Teach students] to look for cognates, words that look like others they know, NOT to get hung up on every word[, and to determine the] main idea!”

Question 5: How do the L1 and TL interplay in pre-teaching?

Finally, participants reflected on the relationship between students’ L1 and the TL in pre-teaching activities. @SECottrell commented that decisions about use of the L1 and TL can be determined by time constraints and the nature of pre-teaching resources: “[Deciding] between translation or [not] is a balancing act of [‘How] long will this take?’ [We] don’t have a lot of time!” She added, “[My] main vehicles of pre-teaching [or] introductory teaching are storytelling and #authres, and that keeps me mainly in [the] TL.” @CoLeeSensei suggested that “sometimes [the] L1 can help to elaborate on the context in which the TL will be used,” and @ms_sardinia pointed out that the “L1 can be useful to show difficult concepts side by side [in the L1 and TL], especially grammar concepts.” @SrtaLohse commented, “I think that L1 is better for periodic comprehension checks as opposed to a pre-teaching tool.” As was to be expected, views about the respective place of students’ L1 and the TL in the classroom varied greatly, with a range of preferences.


Last week’s Q&A #langchat generated a productive conversation on pre-teaching. Participants characterized pre-teaching as a way of bridging past lessons with new units and priming students for new exposure. They emphasized that pre-teaching should be “motivating, intriguing, high interest and personally connected to/for students” (@MmeCarbonneau). Langchatters also encouraged training students to pre-teach themselves and become “comfortable with the unknown” (@rmasaoka). Finally, pre-teaching was presented as crucial to improved student success. In the words of @CoLeeSensei, “[Pre-teach] to advance learning! Priming – just like in painting – leads to a better finish!”

Thank you!

Thank you again to the #langchat community and to our moderators, Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Laura (@SraSpanglish) and Kris (@KrisClimer), for participating in another action-packed hour! 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 any comments or questions that you would like to share with the #langchat community, do not hesitate to do so. Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

P.S. Have you received your #langchat t-shirt yet? Don’t forget to post a selfie with #langchat or #langchatT!

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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