Category Archives: Core Practices for World 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.

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?

Core practice #4 Grammar is Learned in Language-rich and Literacy-rich Environments.

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Core practice #4 is teach grammar as a concept and in context.  Grammar is learned in language-rich and literacy-rich environments. For a language-rich environment, I find that teaching with comprehensible input and TPRS storytelling works best. Comprehensible input is listening and reading that is understood by the learner.  Students should be able to understand the essence of what is being said or presented to them, usually achieved by using context, visual cues, or translation.  TPR Storytelling is a method for teaching foreign languages that was invented by Blaine Ray. This method involves telling and asking stories, a long term memory technique. Students act out parts of the story, preserving the physical element of classical Total Physical Response. These methods embed grammar and vocabulary into the story.

Key techniques from the TPRS community are circling and gesturing.  Key structures are repeated through circling. Here are the steps to circling from Here is a circling template from Susan Gross.  Check out Ben Slavic’s website Circling with Balls with ideas for getting to know students at the beginning of the year. When I am inputting new grammar structures or vocabulary into the brains of my students I require them to do gestures.  There are only five ways to get information into the brain, through the five senses. So in addition to seeing and hearing the word, having students gesture stores the information in another part of the brain.  It also engages students and is a great formative assessment technique.


Here is a story I created where grammar is taught in context.  La Mère et La Pomme is the story and a variation of  it in Powerpoint.  Le Père et la Pomme.  Here is the Spanish version. La madre y La manzana and the Powerpoint variation La Mama y La Manzana.  15836615-Emoticon-eating-an-apple-Stock-Vector-smiley-cartoon-face (1)


For a literacy-rich environment, I collect children’s books, teen magazines, class sets of novels, and plenty of authentic resources from the internet.  Every year, I add more books to my classroom library on a variety of themes.   Silent reading, free voluntary reading, sustained silent reading, whatever you want to call it, reading is the way to learn grammar in context.   I give time for students to select books and read in class, and encourage it when they are finished with the task at hand.  I do have students keep a reading log which is basically a list of the books they have read and words they have acquired through reading.

I also love to read to them.  I read every thing from children’s books like The Hungry Caterpillar to novels. I use class set of novels from Carol Gaab and Kristi Placido at TPRS Publishing Inc. They have samples of novels for all levels in French and Spanish on their website.  I also like to use the well researched historical fiction novels from Mira Canion.

Common Core State Standard L4 states: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials as appropriate. World Language teachers can support Common Core State Standards by providing opportunities for students to practice predicting meaning from context and word parts, then consulting digital or print references, verifying or refining prediction.  Also incorporating authentic informational text and having students back up their responses with text evidence supports CCSS.

How do you teach grammar as a concept and in context?  Share your ideas here!


Core Practice #3 Good Lesson Design? Start with the End in Mind!

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There are some clever Public Service Announcement videos on YouTube made by the participants at #LILL2015  that I have been using to better understand the 6 core practices. One of the jingles was “For good lesson design start with the assessment in mind”.  Core Practice #3 is about lesson design and assessment. Students benefit when teachers use backwards design, starting with functional  goals, and asking how do we get there, and how will we know when we do? The first step in planning is asking what are the essential questions and functional goals, and how will they be assessed?  I use the ACTFL Can-Do statements and The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to begin my instructional planning.  The guidelines explain what a  language learner can do in unrehearsed situations at each proficiency level.  I plan to make my students more familiar with the Can-Do statements this year as a tool for how to move up the proficiency scale.candocover.fw

Thematic units are perfect for incorporating essential questions and integrated performance assessments (IPA).   There are examples of thematic units on Laura Terrill‘s wikispaces. There are also sample units on the ACTFL website, as well as a blank template for lesson planning from The Keys for Planning for Learning by Donna Clementi and Laurra Terrill.



Consider creating and sharing units around the ACTFL Global themes for language learning. These are:  Belonging, Challenges, Creativity, Discovery, Exploring Time and Place,  Identity, and  Well-Being. I created a unit around the theme of belonging with the essential question What is a family?  Here is the Spanish version Familia Unit . Here is the French version. La Famille Unit.  Many thanks to the Creative Langauge Classroom for the Spanish inspiration and to Catherine Ousselin for the French ideas.

There are great IPA Examples from the Creative Language Class.  Toni Theisen has some examples of IPA’s in French.  These two sites also have some IPAs!

Of course once you have your functional goals, and Integrated Performance Assessment including authentic texts for interperative, interpersonal, and presentational tasks, it’s time to add the hook.  Check out Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.pirate

pirate hooks

Please look over my family unit and offer suggestions for improvement,  Now to add the hook…….



Core Practice #2 Strategies for Guiding Interactions

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Core Practice #2 is building a discourse community. Teachers should design and carry out interpersonal communication tasks for pairs, small groups, and whole class instruction.  The most common type of classroom discourse is IRE or Intiation, Response, Evaluation.  The teacher initiates  a question, one student responds, and the teacher evaluates.  In core practice number 2, the classroom discourse is more IRF, Initiation, Response, Follow up. In the IRF pattern the teacher or the students initiate a question, students can discuss with each other in a pair share activity before responding to the question, then the teacher follows up with an utterance or prompt that connects in some way and encourages elaborated responses.  Students need direct instruction and modeling on how to interact appropriately.  Here is a list of my favorite strategies for guiding interactions in the classroom, comprehensible input activities, and a copy of the team mat.

Strategies for Guiding Interactions

Team Mat 1 (3) (Repaired)

Comprehensible Comprehensible Input Activities

IRE, the most common interaction pattern.interaction-01

Try moving to IRF, the ideal interaction pattern.interaction

Graphics from:

6 Core Practices… #1 Use Routines to Start and Stay in the Target Language

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I was not able to attend #LILL2015 this year but am learning through Twitter about some of the great work and ideas that took place.  In particular, I am interested in the 6 Core Practices and would like to examine and share ideas for each one over the next few weeks before school starts.

6 core

#1.  Use the target language as the vehicle and content of instruction.  How do you keep yourself and the kids in the target language at least 90% of the time?  Share your ideas here!  Routines help me and my students stay in the target language.  I start the very first minute, of the very first day of school, teaching the greeting and other routines.  Now is the perfect time to re-examine your routines.  Check out the ideas for some of my routines. Using Routines to Maximize Language Acquisition