We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Mar 18, 2013

Recycling Content for Long-Term Language Learning

Recycling excellent content can be the key to solidify new concepts, but what are the best ways to renew, re-use and re-teach in the world language classroom?

Although most teachers know the necessity of re-teaching and re-using concepts to help scaffold language learning, it can be difficult to decide the best way to do this. Participants of last Thursday’s #langchat defined the best types of content to share in world language classrooms and how to recycle that content to engage student language learning.

Content is King

Moderators @placido and @dr_dmd started the discussion by attempting to define what exactly is content in world language learning classrooms. @placido said, ‘To me, it is more about skill building than specific content.’ @dr_dmd agreed, saying @dr_dmd said, ‘Our content is first about communicative skills – interpersonal, interpretive and presentational…’

In addition to focusing on communication skills, the moderators talked about other elements of good curriculum versus language learning goals. The inclusion of authentic resources, focus on speaking and listening activities that relay real information, and student-oriented materials were key components. A distinction was made, however, between vocabulary and content. @dr_dmd said, ‘I think that Health, for ex, is a topic, vocab is the building blocks, but the content is how to use that for communication  purposes.’ @placido summed up the definition: ‘So content = language structures, cultural topics, linguistic functions, communicative skills.’

Recycling Content: Best Practices

Many teachers agreed that one of the best ways to “recycle” content, or introduce new opportunities for students to meet the same language learning goals, was to use as much of the second language as often as possible. The best way to do this? Staying in the target language with appropriate learning goals and engaging resources. @darcypippins said, ‘Input is content if it’s comprehensible and compelling. [It] opens doors for circling and communication.’

Compelling content for the individual student can be the most important element of creating long-lasting language learning. When @placido asked how to best accomplish this goal of longevity, @thechuFF replied, ‘I have seen that long-term memories are created from meaningful *associations* to existing memories.’ It’s not just about entertainment, but a personal relationship with the material.

The Nuts and Bolts of Recycling Content

A number of good suggestions were given about how to recycle materials, concepts and language learning activities to help support student learning or scaffold new ideas.

Repetition and practice. It is vital that students are hearing the same recycled language learning structures in order for them to be confident in speaking a second language. @thechuFF said, ‘In terms of language usage and ability, practice is always the key.’ Many teachers agreed, including @darcypippins who suggested, ‘Reps, reps and more reps for long term memory.’ @natadel76 encouraged, ‘Using basic structures repetitively until the concept solidifies to the point that the students produce correct output…Teaching isolated vocab doesn’t work. Structures tied to context stick.’

Staying in the target language. Although it might be second nature to some teachers, staying within the target language is one of the best ways to ensure that you are re-using vocabulary and concepts over and over again. @placido said, ‘I try to use as much natural language as possible in class which lends itself to “recycling!”‘ @dr_dmd agreed: ‘ Staying in the second language makes it easy to recycle language use for communicative purposes.’

Using compelling content. Students learn much better if input is relevant and interesting for them. This doesn’t mean that every class should be a talent show, but that input should be engaging material that fosters language learning. @dwphotoski explained, ‘Compelling input is great content that can lead to awesome skills.’

Getting away from the book. @julieh1999 brought up an obvious trend of the evening: an avoidance of using textbooks for content. She said, ‘I love how no one has mentioned the textbook when discussing content. Sigh.’ @lesliedavison gave one reason: that textbooks often over-emphasize specific content that is difficult to be recycled. @julieh1999 lamented, ‘The text IS the curriculum in my dept.’ While this can be a very frustrating situation, it is always good to use authentic and relevant resources that can be recycled and reused throughout the school year in addition to a good text. A great idea that was shared? Movie talks. @placido explained, ‘[Movie talks are] super fun!! No right or wrong. Just talk about a fun scene using comprehensible language!’

New shoes on an old lesson. Take a trusted lesson and change it up a little. Verbs were mentioned as a great way to do this. When you find a good verb activity that the students like, reuse it again to help them feel confident that they are getting a handle on their new skills. @dwphotoski shared one excellent way of reapportioning lesson ideas. ‘[Disguise] repetitions in a variety of ways for long term: readings, music, videos, novels…’ @placido said, ‘HS students often need to have fun to feel motivated. Once they see they can do it and it can be fun, they work hard!’ @cyberfrida agreed, ‘If it’s real, meaningful, and fun, then it will stick – por vida.’

Foster personal connection. @thechuFF said, ‘I have seen that long-term memories are created from meaningful *associations* to existing memories.” Helping students create personal connections with the language is the most important element of any world language learning program. Through conversation and skill-building activities that have personal and emotional context for individual students, they are able to relate to the language better and are more likely to use it personally. @darcypippins summed this concept up. She said, ‘Students need to make connections with the second language to their lives. That’s when you hook them!

Teach students, not just content. @placido said, ‘I feel like a big part of this is we need to teach the KIDS not a curriculum. Don’t rush, cram, stress! Whenever I start worrying about what I need to “cover” my students start to suffer.’ Although content is obviously important, it is more important that each student is able to create a personal relationship with the second language. It is also a good reminder that language learning is individualized. Each student learns differently, and teaching should not focus on rushing students through language learning in order to meet outside deadlines.

Focusing on Long-Term Language Learning

With all the great ideas for how to best recycle language content to help students learn, the main focus was not lost. Long-term language learning benefits greatly from reviewing and re-using content structures and concepts. It was clear than many teachers felt that recycling material that is personal and authentic is the main key to making this effective for students.

At the same time, it is vital that teachers are not rushing their students towards goals that may not be appropriate, even if they are prescribed by a textbook or curriculum. @darcypippins summed up the evening’s take-away nicely: ‘Making [language learning] stick means slowing way down. Limit the amount of structures introduced and find fun and wacky ways to circle and park!’ 

Thoughts and Ideas for Recycled Activities

  • @Elisabeth13 said, ‘Numbers are easiest to recycle- they are everywhere!’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Brainstorming previous phrases and related words as you layer on new topics.’
  • @placido and @darcypippins encouraged using pop culture in the classroom. @placido said, ‘I talk often about pop culture, off-beat weird stuff from real life.’ @darcypippins said, ‘Love pop culture! Working on story that kinda goes along with that thrift store song, I’m gonna pop some tags $20 in my pocket. Ja!’
  • @dr_dmd said, ‘I use a lot of comprehensive input, stories, and then #PBL for deeper inquiry, practice, followed by proficiency assessments.’
  • @HerrKnox said, ‘I’ve heard some classes have reappearing characters in TPRS. That offers some recycling.’
  • @thechuFF said, ‘Webcomics, subtitled films!’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Students and teacher create picture stories to narrate throughout year and pull out to recycle and add to.’
  • @dr_dmd, @placido, and @weslotero discussed using Today’s Meet to recycle language. @dr_dmd said, ‘I love using Today’s Meet – a closed chat session Twitter style – I can save a transcript – students get credit for participating.’
  • A number of teachers suggest using Tumblr for a variety of recycling activities. @dr_dmd said, ‘I like to use @tumblr to curate photos, videos, etc, as #authres to use for communication practice’ @natadel76 said, ‘Ask a question based on story read or if working on past, what they did on weekend etc.’ @placido said, ‘Class discussion, answer specific questions, ask questions to clarify, comment on films, etc.’
  • @km_york said, ‘On block I have to vary a lot. I start with a photo related to what we did (topic/idea) on projector. Students write, then share orally.’
  • @weslotero said, ‘I had [students] write movie reviews because we learned is and likes. They kept saying they didn’t know how to say things…’
  • @crwmsteach suggested, ‘…[recycling] situations with different settings; what do you do there? what do you use? who do you see? imagine a day…’@lesliedavison responded, ‘Thanks!  Verbs are key to recycling in different situations.’
  • @dr_dmd said, ‘I think one way to get a variety of activities is to think of the communication modes, in written and oral contexts. For example…interpretive oral – a radio/TV show on the topic – write a summary, a list of questions to ask a partner, answer questions I ask.’
  • @natadel76 said, ‘Bring in #authres: web site with things to do in say Paris, Madrid.’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Foods likes and dislikes in 4 crnrs. Choices in cafe from a menu. Real menus.’
  • @dr_dmd suggested using sentence starters to scaffold students creating text. He said, “I think we simply have some outlines of sentence starters that can be used for the topic at hand. I like___, I prefer___.’ Good sentence frames for intermediate: I wonder if___, I wish that___, I doubt that___, It is good/bad that___ – and negatives.’
  • @km_york and @BevSymons suggested group writing as a recycling method. @km_york said, ‘I write a mystery story start every month or so that students must finish and make sure to include as much vocab as I can.’ @BevSymons shared her idea also. She said, ‘My partner and I have our classes compose a joint story (1 par ea round) recycling our @AIMLanguage plays. Great fun shared writing.’
  • @thechuFF said, ‘Perhaps focus on usage examples of the language chunks, so that students associate a learned chunk with a usage scenario.’

Thank you!

Thank you again to our moderators @dr_dmd and @placido for helping us think critically about how we are teaching language. Also, thanks to everyone who came out and actively participated. It is great to get your perspectives on language learning!

We love to find ways to help you learn as a language professional. Please help us know what to talk about during #langchat by sharing your topic ideas for upcoming chats with us. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat online.

Additional Resources

FluentU for Mandarin Chinese
Today’s Meet
Movie Talk (mjTPRS)
Using Memes in Spanish (
Tumblr Collection (@senorg)
TPRS Storytelling (
High School Spanish App (Common Ground International)
ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners
ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines



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.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy