Category Archives: Core Practices for World Language

More Core Practice Number Four

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Core Practice #4: Teach Grammar As Concept and Within Meaningful Use in Context

Teachers should focus on the form after meaning of the form has been established in interesting and compelling contexts such as stories, legends, and authentic resources.  This is followed by explicit focus on grammar that is relevant, using the PACE model, according to the Core Practices Webinar by Dr. Eileen Glisan.

Why stories?  Here are some reasons provided in the ACTFL webinar to use stories.  Stories have a compelling theme, they have characters with personality.  They have a plot with actions and events, a problem to be resolved, and a resolution to the problem.  Stories have a schema that children already understand, in other words a beginnning, a middle, and an end.  Stories allow learners to make sense of life’s experiences.  Stories trigger emotions which are powerful in facilitating memory and learning.  Stories naturally create a context, meaning, relevance, and empathy.  They facilitate understanding, retention, and recall.  They include various text types such as conversations and expository texts.

I like to use stories with high frequency vocabulary and the super seven verbs with my novices.  Check out a former blog post on storytelling my way and some free sample units on in French and Spanish.

More and more I use the PACE procedure to teach grammar in context. The PACE Model is a dialogic story based approach to addressing grammar. Diologic means interactive inquiry between and among the students and the teacher.


Presentation– The teacher presents the story orally in an interactive fashion with gestures and visual support, students are involved in retelling parts of the story or signaling.

Attention– Focus the learner’s attention on some aspect of the story.  The teacher highlights a form for students to notice.  Look at the forms and write down three similarities you see, what are three actions in the past, can you find them and act them out?

Co-construct- The teacher and learners engage in dialogic analysis of the grammar point.  The teacher uses assisting questions to help students discover patterns.

Extend-Learners use the new grammatical concept in creative and interesting ways to make meaning.

Here is a free presentation based on the fable The Cigale (cricket, grasshopper, whatever!) and The Ant that I use to demonstrate the Pace Model with examples in French and Spanish.

We can work together to curate and share authentic stories in many languages that would be engaging for learners.  How do you teach grammar in context?  Add your comments here and please follow, tweet, and share my blog.

More Core Practice Number Three

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Design lessons and tasks that have functional goals and objectives, to include specifying clearly the language and activities needed to support and meet the communication objective.

Use the three steps of backward design.

1.  Identify desired results.  What do you want students to be able to do?

2.  Determine acceptable evidence.  How will students be assessed as to how well they have meet the objective?

3.  Plan learning experiences.  What specific activities will students do to achieve the objective?


Here is a sample of backwards planning of a Carnaval Unit from the ACTFL Core Practices Webinar presented by Dr. Eileen Glisan.

Step #1  What are students going to be able to do?
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More Core Practice Number Two

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Core Practice #2: Design and Carry Out Interpersonal Communication Tasks for Pair, Small Groups, and Whole-Class Instruction

Interpersonal communication is two way communication negotiated between two or more people.  It takes place face to face or over the phone.  It also occurs in writing through notes, e-mail, and social media.  It is spontaneous, not scripted or memorized.


When designing interpersonal activites for students there needs to be an information gap.  One person seeks information that another speaker has.  Students need to listen to one another to complete the task and they can not know ahead of time how the other students are going to answer.  They also need specific language and strategies to negotiate meaning.  Students should do something with the information they obtain.  For example they could use the information in a whole class discussion or presentational task like an advertisement or brochure.


One example could be students surveying their classmates for leisure time activities, using the information to report out most and least popular activities, in order to prepare to interview a native speaker about their favorite activities.

Create a list of helpful phrases in the target language you teach that would be appropriate for students at a particular level to use during their interpersonal activities.  Some possible examples are: wait a minute…by the way…let me think…excuse-me..  Post signs around room including: How do you say?  How do you write?  Change after they are acquired.

Create situation cards so students can practice spontaneous interpersonal communication.  Here is an example.  These situations are on separate cards or pieces of paper so that each student sees only his or her role.


You call a good friend  students and invite him/her to go out to do something with you (e.g., see a movie, have dinner, go to the gym, or something else). Make the call and make small talk first. Then make the invitation. You will have to figure out together the details (such as the day, time, where you meet, etc.). Ask questions so that you are clear on the plans. After you end the call, be prepared to tell your roommate what the plan is.


You receive  a call from a good friend inviting you to do something. Answer the phone and listen carefully to what he or she says. You will need to ask questions to decide how to respond.  Also you will need to keep in mind what’s currently on your calendar as you discuss the invitation. After you end the call, be prepared to tell your roommate about it.

Follow up with information gained by telling your roommates about your plans so they will know where you are and when.

I have created some slides to practice spontaneous interpersonal communication in French and Spanish on the Teachers Pay Teachers website called  Timed- Think-Talk.



Here are some other Activities for interpersonal communication.

Assessing interpersonal communication with Talk Scores.  This is an uncomplicated way to assess students during interpersonal speaking activities.  Each letter of the word talk represents one performance objective to be observed during pair or small group tasks.  During the task the teacher should observe only one objective to observe.  The goal should be that after one or two weeks students have been observed on all four objectives which would be a round and a score can be recorded.

  1. Is the student talking in the target language?
  2. Is the student performing at acceptable level of accuracy?
  3. is the student on task and listening to partner?
  4. Is the student kind and cooperative?

For each objective score with either a plus, check , or minus.  A plus is 2 points, a check is 1 point, and a minus is 0 points.  After a round add up the points for the Talk score.  Here is an example of TALK SCORES.  Here is the record sheet I use. Talk Scores Record Sheet

Another great idea to practice intepersonal communication is Chat Stations.  Watch the video by Cult of Pedagogy.

More Core Practice Number One

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Core Practice #1: Use the Target Language as the Vehicle and Content of Instruction

Target language instruction should always occur in meaningful contexts.  For example: comparing and contrasting a cultural perspective after reading or hearing about a product, or discussing leisure time preferences to compare with target cultures, or making, accepting, and rejecting an invitation.Start the year with an explanation of why staying in the target language is so important and follow up with motivational talks throughout the year. Praise students when they make the effort.  Teach students about the proficiency levels and how to move up the proficiency scale as motivation to stay in the target language.    ACTFL_ What_s my Proficiency level _ final

There needs to be an absence of immediate translation to English.  Otherwise students just wait for the English.  Incentives like points, perks, privileges are helpful as well as consequences for speaking English.  Try a reward system in which students can earn points for maintaining the target language.  I use Free Seat Friday.  I strictly enforce my seating chart Monday through Thursday, but if we have a good week using the target language, they get to sit where they want on Fridays.  It always amazes me how much they love this litte reward that costs me nothing.  When your students speak to you or ask you something in English, give a quizzical look and say you don’t understand.

Provide comprehensible input.  Here is a checklist to use in planning, Denoto’s comprehensible input tool, startalk-checklist-1

  1. Create Comprehensible Language- The teacher should paraphrase, slow the rate of speech, and define new words using examples instead of translation. (e.g. transportation – plane, cars, taxis, subway, train)
  2. Create Contexts for Comprehension- Use gestures, visuals, objects, drawings, photos, realia, artwork, menus, bus tickets, plastic food, clothing.  Make sure students know the topic and the objective of the lesson in advance.  Post the daily objectives and refer to them often during the lesson, and evaluate progress toward objective at the end of each class.
  3. Create Comprehensible interactions with students-Involve the students (e.g., signaling, responding, completing a sentence after meaning has been established, ask questions).

Plan lessons so as to eliminate idle time, which can lead students to chat in English.  Change seating often so students have a chance to pair up with different classmates. Use activities such as inside–outside circles that allow students to practice common expressions and structures in rapid sequence. This also gives the teacher a chance to listen for places where communication is breaking down.

Involve students in story telling with techniques like signaling where students hold up a picture, a phrase, make a noise, or do a gesture.  Have students complete the teacher’s sentences, and respond to questions.  Start with yes/no questions then move to either/or questions, multiple choice, and then the who, what, when, where, and how questions.

Provide phrases to help students negotiate meaning.  Can you say more?  I think you are saying…right?   So you meant…?  Post high-frequency phrases around the classroom so students can refer to them if they get stuck.

Teach circumlocution and play circumlocution games. Use common game formats like Catch Phrase, Taboo, $25,000 Pyramid, or Password. Or mix them all together like “30 segundos” from the Creative Language Classroom.

There are free “Taboo” games in French,  and Spanish on  There are free lists of useful phrases for students in French and posters in Spanish and free examples in Spanish.  There is also an app called Head’s up from Ellen Degenerous in English and Spanish.

You can buy the game or make your own with headbands and index cards using words in the target language.

heads-upHere is a example of the game password with Jimmy Fallon.


There is a place to use L1. The first language is helpful when giving assessment directions, during the C or co-construct of the of Pace model, some interpretive tasks, or emergencies.  Check out my first post on core practice number one, using routines to stay in the target language. How do you encourage students to stay in the target language?

Fun with Functional Chunks!

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With over 30 years teaching middle school, it doesn’t take research to convince me that the average teenage brain can only focus intently for about 12 minutes. Building structured activities into lesson plans that provide opportunities for students to interact with each other and practice the target language is brain friendly instruction and good for everyone.  These structured activities give the teacher’s voice a rest while the students are practicing the target language, but more importantly it allows the teacher to walk around and provide some individualized feedback in a relaxed non threatening environment.  I am curating all of my favorite activities into a presentation called “Fun with Functional Chunks.”

Functional Chunks of Language are expressions, phrases or words that students learn as a chunk without necessarily understanding the grammatical structure.  However, they learn where and when to say them when communicating.  These functional chunks of language empower students to use the language early and often and help students and teachers stay in the target language.

I will be presenting a workshop on this topic called “Put the Fun in Functional Chunks” on March 18th at the WAFLT Spring Regional at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish.  In this workshop common language chunks and language functions at various levels will be presented and discussed.  Engaging activities to practice interpretive and interpersonal communications skills with functional chunks of language will be presented and practiced by participants.  Let’s put the fun back in language functions.

Here are the top ten language functions, can we create relevant related tasks?


Here is an example of one of my structured activities.  I learned it as Pancho Carrancho, but in French we say Mon Frère Pierre.  For now, here is a list of structured activities I posted earlier. Strategies-for-Guiding-Interactions   The new and improved list will be coming out soon.

Please join us at the WAFLT Spring Regional: Saturday, March 18th at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, Washington. The price is $35 WAFLT members / $45 non-members.

Registration is now open:  

Sessions will begin at 9am and run until 4pm, with lunch from 12-1 (included in registration fee). Pre-registration is accepted until Thursday, March 16, 2017. Pre-registration will guarantee that you will have lunch. Registration includes 6 free clock hours, lunch, and all conference materials. Please consider becoming a WAFLT member.  For more information go to the WAFLT website.


The Global Goals!

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I just discovered The Global Goals website and I am over the moon excited about the 17 goals and the authentic resources available in many languages.


On the website you can click on any of these 17 goals and change the language in the right hand corner to access resources on the subject in the target language of your choice!

The Global Goals

I was looking for reasons why all students could not attend school and was excited to discover these resources in French and Spanish and many other languages.12-Pourquoi-y-a-t-il-encore-tant-d’enfants-qui-ne-vont-pas-à-l’école and 12-Quality-Education-for-all_Español


Getting every child to school is one of the seventeen global goals. Having my students realize that not all students can go to school, and why, is my local goal. My students don’t realize that some kids have to stay home to help take care of siblings and collect water, others have to go to work to help support their family, some live too far from the nearest school, others can’t afford to pay for school fees or buy a uniform, and for others it is because of war.


I am going to use these with my novice level students so I created these presentations to build background knowledge and vocabulary.  ESCUELA for Spanish and L’école… for French.  There are resources from Donna Clementi and Laura Terrill on the ACTFL website for a unit on why can’t all children go to school.  Catherine Ousselin has curated lots of resources on her website on the obstacles some children face to go to school.

girls in school


More Games to Support Spontaneous Interpersonal Communication

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Apples to Apples is a great board game to get kids talking.  Students take turns as judge. The judge turns over a topic card and the other players select a card they think would best go with the topic, and place it face down, anonymously. The judge picks their favorite response. The player who submitted the chosen response scores a point and keeps the topic card.  There is a free editable version here in French and Spanish, and some pay options.  Teach students common game phrases like: Who’s turn is it?  It’s your turn, It’s my turn, Who’s next, Pick a card.manzanas

Guess who is another old favorite game appropriate for practicing interpersonal communication.  Players try to guess their opponent’s character by asking and answering questions. There are free versions at Teachers Pay Teachers in Spanish and French  You can make your own version.  Get different character sheets free, go to Google images and type in Guess Who. You could make your own with personalities from the target cultures. Here’s a blank form to get started, guesswhoblank.  Check out this free version using pumpkins.



And then there is giant Guess Who….






guess-who-imagesI collect old board games at garage sales and thrift stores, or buy them on sale after Christmas, so I have several sets of Scrabble.  I keep them on hand for fast finishers, stations, or sub activities.  Students can practice the alphabet while placing tiles on the game board.  I let novices spell words in English as well as the target language for double point value.  They can use dictionaries to check for possible words or correct spelling.  I really like the giant floor scrabble idea and see a project in my future.  I saw this in a post by Karen Christiansen to French Teachers in the U.S. on Facebook.





Here are the 98 letters you need to make.



Make your own giant Jenga out of empty soda boxes.  Or make your own using this wooden toppling from  Check out the ideas for assessing interpersonal speaking using Jenga or Uno by The Creative Language Classroom.



Watch Ellen play Giant Jenga and check out my Pinterest board for other giant game ideas like Memory, Concentration , or Zap.



Childhood Games, Celebrity Favorites, and Circumlocution!

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Common games we played as kids like Catch Phrase, Taboo, $25,000 Pyramid, or Password are popular again with celebrities and great for practicing circumlocution to stay in the target language. Mix them all together for your own variations like fishbowl or 30 segundos from the Creative Language Classroom.


There are free Taboo games in French, and Spanish on as well as lists of useful phrases in French and Spanish, and posters in Spanish.  There is also an app called Head’s up from Ellen Degeneres in English and Spanish.

You can also buy the game here or make your own with headbands and index cards with words in the target language.  I bought these and am using them to make sets in French and Spanish.



Here is a example of the game password with Jimmy Fallon.

I am going to play a variation of Password in teams so students can brainstorm the one word clues and take turns giving them to the team member who is trying to guess.  With novices, I am going to  start with the free Taboo cards above and let them use the words that are normally prohibited in the game Taboo as password clues to get the game going.

Another game for practicing circumlocution is Catch Phrase.  Here is another example of celebrities playing the game.


Jump on the celebrity game craze and have fun while practicing circumlocution.

Core Practice #6 Effective Feedback

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Core practice #6 is providing effective feedback. The best feedback tells students what they did well and how they can improve.  Feedback should not be judgmental like “good job” but instead provide information about the task and how to do it better. When judgement is made, further feedback is un-actionable. Instead provide actionable feedback based on observation against criteria.

Using technology like audio, video, digital recording can aid in reviewing and lower stress levels for students.  Use the recordings to view with students. Students can use recordings to self-reflect on how they did and teachers can provide feedback to support future learning. Think like a coach.  Coaches don’t grade on Sunday nights by themselves.  Instead they review game tape with players. Focus on one thing that will move the student forward, like “let’s add transitions.”  Teachers can especially help with text type, transitions, elaboration, and organization.  For example, “put all the sentences that talk about the same thing in the same spot. “

Praise the Process!  Do not praise intelligence or say that was easy for you. Praise the following things: process, effort, reflection, struggle, persistence, mind-set. “That is a big improvement you must have worked hard.” Give descriptive feedback. Use rubrics that show what to do next. Check out the ACTFL performance descriptors for rubrics. Amy LeNord created a rubric for interpersonal feedback that I think looks awesome! Check out her site at  interpersonal_feedback_-_level_2_or_3

Practice with a team. Jot down feedback you give to students for a week and discuss with your PLC. Use growth oriented praise and feedback. feedback

As a closure activity ask students questions like what did you learn today? What did you work hard at today? What mistake did you make that taught you something?  Click her for a more detailed description of formative assessment, feedback and closure ideas.   The Formative Assessment Techniques ensure 100

  • Eyes closed, do gestures
  • Hands up scale of 1-10
  • Red, yellow, green squares
  • Pose-Pause-Pounce-Bounce
  • Popcorn Down
  • Index cards, Popsicle sticks, Playing cards
  • Mini white boards, sentence strips
  • Kahoot
  • On line Randomization websites
  • Exit slips
  • Linguofolio is a tool anyone can use for self assessment and evidence collection.  It allows students to see what is required to move up the proficiency scale.



Please share your ideas for providing effective feedback.


Core practice #5 Authentic resources: Where do you get them? How do you use them?

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Core practice number #5 is use authentic texts for interpretive tasks.  Authentic texts are basically anything made for native speakers by native speakers, and interpretive tasks involve listening and reading. Authentic resources can be commercials, videos, comics, books, magazines, websites, menus, flyers, things we use to call realia.

Where do you get them?  Pinterest is my go to website for finding authentic resources. There are also great teacher websites.   The Creative Language Classroom is great for authentic resources in Spanish.  The jackpot for authentic resources in Spanish is

Catherine Ousselin’s website is my go to for authentic resources in French.  The AATF YouTube, the AATF delicious bookmarks, and the AATF Pinterest pages are filled with ideas and resources.  A really great resource is 1jour1actu.

authentic resources

Magazines are great for novice readers, they provide context clues through pictures and include basic info like biographies, ages, nationalities, activities, dates. Learners can look for cognates, context clues, and make lists of key words. They can read for main ideas, describe details, make inferences, and give opinions which support common core state standards. I really like People en Espanol.

Every year I add children’s books to my classroom library. I get most of my Children’s books from It’s worth joining the book club just to get the free book flyers each month filled with high interest and seasonal vocabulary.  Look for Club Leo in Spanish at and Club de Lecture in French at

No time to look for authentic resources? Have learners find newspapers, flyers, menus, and schedules in the target language at local businesses or online.  Newspapers have product ads, coupons, and shopping information to make better purchases.  Learners can find a job, read the comics, do the crossword puzzle, or check the weather, the game scores, or their horoscope.  Separating fact from opinion in letters to the editor and verify reliability of sources also supports CCSS.

You can follow people, topics, and companies in the target cultures on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Movie trailers and other authentic videos are available on YouTube. When searching for resources make sure your query is in the language you teach for best results.

There are 30+ activities to use with authentic resources on the creative language classroom website.  I really like the idea of keeping some generic reading and listening forms to use over and over again with different authentic resources. Here is a Interpretive Guide Template to use with authentic resources. The  Ohio Department of Education also has an Intepretive Guide Template and Rubric.

Here are some other generic activities that you can use with any authentic text with very little advance preparation. 5 words  This activity can be done before reading to activate background knowledge about a topic or after reading as a summarizing technique.  Students list five words that come to mind when they think of a particular topic. Students get into groups and discuss their words. The group selects three words to share and explain to class. five words



Other generic reading activities include word splash and  give one get oneReading Strategies.

Authentic texts embed culture, vocabulary, and grammar.  Authentic resources are higher interest to students than most textbooks. How do you design interactive reading and listening comprehension tasks around authentic resources to embed culture and hook students?