Common Core Uncomplicated: Incorporating Writing in World Language Instruction

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World language teachers can support Common Core State Standards by modeling the writing process and providing a variety of writing opportunities.  CCSS specify that students should be spending about 35% of their time writing to persuade, 35% to explain, and 30% to convey an experience.  Students in world language classes can write about topics of their choice in the target language that enhance their first language vocabulary and writing skills.

Like reading, writing is a process.  First students need something to write about (a topic) and someone to write for (an audience).  Teachers can use lots of target language in the prewriting stage.  This could be a brainstorm and categorize session, or it might involve research, or both. Then students need to write a draft, edit, revise, and publish.

I love the technique of Semantic feature analysis.  I use this to describe character traits and actions, and as a pre-writing activity. Semantic Feature Analysis helps student discern how things are alike or different.  It can be used to engage student thinking, as a way to collect data, explore similarities and differences, or as a way to quickly evaluate students’ knowledge.  Create a matrix.  Along the left side, the students list key terms in the chosen area.  Across the top of the matrix, they write features that the words might share. Ask students to them use an “X” to indicate if the feature applies to the word or write in specifics about the features.



blank SFA

One topic of high interest each year is the family and home presentations. This project reinforces writing, speaking, and presentational skills.  Students can create any family or present their own.  They need to give name, age birthday, hobby, occupation, nationality, and description of themselves and four other people.  They also describe their home or future dream home.  Students can present with any multimedia format.  Use famous families or families from the target culture as examples.


During National World Language Week each March my students make “Did you know posters….” These contain facts and graphics about countries that speaks the target language.  These are displayed around the school.   We have a school wide trivia contest.  Students read brochures, books, and websites to create questions about the target languages and cultures.  The questions are read by students during the morning announcements.  All students in the school are encouraged to put answers in a jar in the library and the first correct answer drawn is the winner, who receives a small prize.



Students can create travel brochures about a country or city where the target language is spoken.  This incorporates reading and researching informational text including internet sources, and creating a brochure which involves expository and persuasive writing.  Students can present their brochures to the class to practice persuasive speaking in the target language.  The brochures can be displayed in library or posted to a class website.


Each spring I compete for students to take my class.  I call this “sweeps week”.  Students use their persuasive language skills to make posters called “Why Study a Foreign Language”.  After several YouTube clips, a brainstorm session, and my power point, they are armed with reasons to cover the school with quality posters promoting world language study.  We also cook this week so students are following recipes in the target language to create something delicious. You can smell this all over school and students poke their heads in and ask what class is this? It’s really not fair to the other elective teachers.

worldlanguage chart

Chart source:


Holiday celebrations are especially good to compare and contrast.  After viewing a video, some internet research, and a TPRS story in Spanish we find similarities and differences between Day of the Dead and Halloween using a Venn diagram and make cards explaining the difference to friend and family.  The same could be done with the Christmas or winter holidays.  Social customs for family life and typical holidays connect to Social Studies and encourage students to make comparisons to their own culture.  Students could compare the traditions of the quinceanera with a sweet 16 party.


My students create cities in the courtyard outside my room with butcher paper, spray paint, and chalk. They draw a place to start from a jar containing places in the target language and another student draws a place to give directions to and they act out an impromptu skit.  They also write directions (sequencing and expository writing) and drive match box cars around city maps that they created in the fashion of European cities with plazas and major buildings built around the plazas.


One research based strategy for increasing student achievement according to Robert Marzano in his book Classroom Instruction That Works is summarizing. I teach summarizing in three steps: delete, keep, and substitute.  Keep the important parts, delete the unimportant parts, and substitute a general term for lists, like fruit instead of all the individual fruit names.  Students can be required to write a summary or opinion as an exit tickets.  This can be done in two Words.  Two word summaries force students to synthesize the learning and think of two words to convey the new knowledge.


This is a good get acquainted activity.  Students write 2 facts and a lie about themselves in the target language.  This could be about family, hobbies, food, places traveled, thing they did over the summer, or break.  In groups they take turns reading their two truths and a lie and see how many members of the group they can fool. Transfer this activity to CCSS by distinguishing fact from opinion.  Have students write facts about a topic and their opinions.  Have them read their sentences to the class as other students hold up white boards if they think the statement is a fact or opinion.


Children’s Pattern books are great for students to create spin offs. The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one that can be easily adapted by students changing the things he eats to class objects, clothes, or other food items.  One connection to CCSS would be to have the students research foods from the target countries and rewrite the story with examples of foods from the cultures studied.  In a dark, dark forest, there was a dark,dark house…In the dark, dark house, there was a dark, dark….???


Who am I?  Students write descriptions of themselves in the target language a create Picasso like self-portraits to go with the paragraphs.  We then put the portraits under the document camera, read the paragraph and guess who am I?  Another variation is to place the self-portraits around the room and have student walk around gallery style and try to identify the artist. A great website for making the self- portraits is


There is a good Poetry unit available from  Some examples are: hide and seek poems where students choose ten words from an article to make a poem, Bio-Poems, Diamantes, Acrostics, hello/goodbye poems. Even though there is a focus on argumentative writing, narrative writing also supports CCSS.  Student are creating and using higher level thinking skills.

Dictees, dictados, dictations provide immediate feedback for self-assessment.  I dictate a few sentences in the target language and students write them as I repeat them slowly over and over again. After I finish the dictation the students check their own work from a correct copy I put under the document camera. I like to use informational passages about Costa Rica or the people of Cameroun from the novels by Kristi Placido, Mira Canion, and Carol Gaab.   Check out the novel samples at Running dictation is another fun reading, writing, speaking, and listening activity that I learned from Jason Fritz.  Copy of a paragraph of text on a piece of butcher paper and tape it up to a wall outside the room. Students are in teams of three or four.  One student is the writer as the other students take turns running outside reading the paragraph and trying to recreate the paragraph in the room.

The refreshed World-Readiness Standards for Language Learning state that learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively.  It is not a stretch for world language teachers to incorporate more explanatory and persuasive writing strategies. World language educators can examine how they currently teach writing and ways we might be able to support CCSS while teaching the target language.

Common Core Uncomplicated: Incorporating Reading in World Language Instruction

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The Common Core State Standards specify that students in middle school should be reading at a ratio of 55% informational text to 45 % literary text and students in high school 70% informational text to 30% literary text through out the school day. The standards specify that students should be reading myths, legends and stories from other cultures.  World language learners can use children’s literature, novels, magazines, textbooks, and on-line resources to practice the reading process. Reading is a process. There are strategies and activities that can be done before, during, and after reading to practice the target language and reinforce reading skills in both languages.

Although CCSS do not advocate for the teaching of pre-reading strategies, it’s what good readers do automatically, and something reluctant readers need to be explicitly taught. Model pre-reading skills in the target language and teach students to use the four P’s: preview, predict, prior knowledge, and purpose.  Good readers quickly scan a book or website looking at the title, pictures, graphs, and bold words or headings to help access the information.  Previewing helps to get the organization and schema of the reading in their heads.  I compare it to when I shop at my local supermarket versus an unfamiliar store.  I can shop much more efficiently in a store I am familiar with because I have the schema in my head, the organization.

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Teaching students to predict what will happen next or what the chapter is about helps to keep students engaged.  Good readers make predictions in their heads as they read and then continue reading to see if their predictions are true.  Anticipation guides and Word splashes are good for getting students to make and confirm predictions.  A Word Splash, from Dorsey Hammond at Oakland University, is a collection of key terms or concepts taken from a written passage which the students are about to read.  The terms selected represent important ideas or vocabulary that should help the students while reading. Initially the students’ task is to make predictive statements about how each term relates to the title or main focus.


An Anticipation Guide is a strategy that is used before reading to activate students’ prior knowledge and build curiosity about a new topic. Before reading a selection, students respond to several statements that challenge or support their ideas about key concepts in the text. Using this strategy stimulates students’ interest in a topic and sets a purpose for reading. Anticipation guides can be revisited after reading to evaluate how well students understood the material and to correct any misconceptions.  CCSS ask that teachers develop questions, and demand answers, that use evidence from the text to support responses and to defend opinions. The anticipation guide is one way to get students to look for text evidence to support their answers.





Tea Party is another type of prediction activity where sentences from the story are typed up and distributed to students.  Students walk around and show each other their sentence silently, trying to make predictions about what they are about to read when they return to their seats.  It also familiarizes students with vocabulary in sentences they are about to encounter.

tea party 3

I like brainstorming and categorizing or the Give One, Get One technique adapted from Reading for Understanding to activate prior or build background knowledge.  To make a give one get one, have students fold a piece of paper lengthwise to form two columns.  Then write “Give One” at the top of the left had column and “Get One” at the top of the right hand column.  Have students brainstorm a list of all the things they already know about the topic they will be studying, writing items down in the left column.  After they make their individual list, have students talk to at least two other students about their list adding or deleting information as appropriate in the right hand column along with the name of the person who gave them the information.



book pass

I try to collect several different books on a topic, and do a book pass to activate background knowledge. Students sit in a circle and pass the books every minute on cue to gather as much information as they can on the topic.  Then they can be put into groups to brainstorm.


The purpose for reading establishes the rate at which you read.  If you are reading for pleasure you read more rapidly, if you are reading to learn something you read more slowly, and if you are looking for specific information or just getting the gist you skim or scan.  Teaching students to set a purpose for their reading is a skill that will help in English reading tasks as well. The good old KWL chart.  Is good for establishing purpose and activating prior knowledge. Students list what they know, what they want to know,and what they learned. Here are simple copies in French Je sais  and Spanish Yo sé.


As a teacher there is one other P, pre-teach critical vocabulary.  If there are words that are critical for students to understand the reading, pre-teach that vocabulary through gestures, props or visuals, music, and drawings.

During reading students need strategies for holding their thinking, monitoring comprehension and practice, practice, practice.  Reading specialist Cris Tovani recommends exploring methods of “Holding Your Thinking” with students.  Good readers take notes, highlight, underline, use sticky notes, or create a graphic organizer to remember interesting or important information and quotes.  Marking text forces the reader to look for interesting ideas and helps to hold the lines that the reader can quote to support an idea or opinion which is critical in CCSS. Providing students with symbols for annotating is helpful in holding their thinking for futher discussion.

Good readers monitor comprehension and use fix-it strategies.  They stop and think about what they have read. They re-read. They adjust the speed. They speed up or slow down.  They skip words and read on. Good readers make connections between the text and their prior knowledge and experiences. They make predictions. They ask questions. They visualize. They use bold words, italicized words, and key words to help them figure things out.  They use context clues or other text aids to figure out unknown words.


I like to use my class sets of novels to model reading strategies.  We read together and I stop every once and a while and make a connection to the text or wonder or think out loud. This is so they can see what is going on inside my head as I read.  I make a mistake so I can go back and re-read or use another fix-it strategy.  I tell them what I picture in my head. I agree or disagree with the book.  I say I am confused about this part.  Then I have students practice this with a partner.  One reads and “thinks out loud” while the other one listens with a chart and keeps track of their comments.  Then they switch roles.  It’s a great way to get them to interact with the text repeated times.

think aloud

Close reading is when a section is read over and over again each time through a different lens or perspective. The first time might be to identify cognates.  The second might be to get the main idea, and the third might be for specific details or inferences.  Close reading requires students to grapple with complex text by answering carefully planned questions that guide them to deep understandings of key ideas through multiple readings of the same passage.

It seems best to try to keep after reading activities authentic.  When adults finish reading an article they do not answer a list of questions or do fill-in-the blank type worksheets.  What is more natural is to reflect on it, or possibly talk about it with someone.  I always reflect through writing after a workshop or reading on what I want to remember, however I seriously doubt the most of my seventh graders do this naturally.  For students this reflection could include revising anticipation guides and predictions or summarizing, or keeping journals or reading logs.

I like to have students drawn scenes from the novels or text.  This could be in the form of a storyboard, comic strip, or story quilt.  For a story quilt students are assigned different sections of a novel or story to illustrate on a piece of construction paper.  The squares are taped together, or stitched with yarn, in order resembling a patchwork quilt. Display in Library or on school website.  Some great websites to make cartoon strips are or

story quilt

Students like to act out and retell the story, especially with a prop or two.  Assign a piece of text to act out and have the students compete in groups for the best reenactment.  This gives several repetitions on key vocabulary.   Reading activities in the target language support fluency in both languages and CCSS.


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?

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.  Le Père et La Pomme is the story in French.  La Madre y La Manzana is the story in Spanish.  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 interpretive, 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

The Path to Proficiency

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Last June while doing final interviews, I used this rubric from Jefferson County Public Schools which I found at the Creative Language Classroom website.  When I explained the rubric to my eighth graders and told them that to reach novice high or intermediate low they needed to start stringing  sentences together on various topics.   It became like a game to see who could make the longest sentences or say the most on a single topic. I was impressed with the amount of language they were using and the original sentences they were creating.  Click here to download this rubric.

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This summer,  I found this path to proficiency poster on pinterest thanks to the SCS World Language program and I am going to start school showing the students the target instead of waiting until the final exam.  Click here for link to this poster.


On the first day of school I have the students write down anything they can say in the target language on a piece of paper.  I collect them and score them on the rubric. Most students are novice low.  At the end of the year I do the same thing, ask them to write about themselves and score their papers with the same rubric..  Most students can write on a variety of topics to land between novice high and intermediate low.   This becomes evidence of student growth for my evaluation and the students are impressed by how much they have learned.

Check out this free resource




Welcome to my Website!

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Welcome to my blog.  This is a summer task that I have finally started.  When I give presentations I frequently get asked for my website and resources so this is a start! Let’s share ideas and resources for teaching languages with comprehensible input.