Podcasts for Intermediate Learners

I got this idea today thanks to my new Department chair, Monsieur Jacobs.

We have alternating Wednesdays at my new school. Classes are longer, but students only go to half of their schedule. For teachers, that *could* mean that their class sections are split, and starting the school year that could mean if you continue with unit plans it could put some sections a day ahead. So Wednesdays need to be more or less independent. Something that ties in with the unit, but isn’t going to put students behind if they don’t all get it at the same time.

Then my DC told me that he was going to use a podcast as a choice activity for his Wednesday classes. He sent me a document that he uses with students, I altered it a tiny bit, but have an English copy of my edited document HERE.

I chunk the podcast transcript, and put a little text on each slide.

Students will listen to a small portion of the podcast without the text support, then will listen again with the text support and we will discuss what we can about what we’ve heard, personalizing discussion when possible.

While listening, students are looking for new words, and we will work together to circumlocute to make a simplified definition. Students then will try to find an instance of the word/phrase in the podcast, or if they want, write a sentence on their own.

Next, students work on a cultural comparison, thinking about questions like: What caught your attention? How can you connect the content of the episode to your own life? Did anything surprise you? Think critically about why it surprised you.

And finally, students will write 5 true/false questions and we will use those questions for some type of game to wrap up the class.

Eventually, I think I want to make this a choice activity, but for now I’m going to do the activity with students so we can think out loud and share our thoughts.

BuzzIn.live/A No-Prep Reading Game

Recently I found the website buzzin.live

BuzzIn is an online buzzer system, similar to a QuizBowl or Jeopardy style game system.

Students use their phone or computer to enter the game code, and then they can buzz in. The teacher screen then shows the order in which students buzzed in. If you get the premium(which IMO is pretty fairly priced, $20 for a year, or $0.99 if you only want to use it for a day) you can freeze the buzzer of students that have quick fingers and try to buzz before you ask the question.

Now, for the no-prep game.

Each student or group gets a copy of a text that we’ve been working with.

I translate a sentence to English, and students have to find the sentence in the reading.

First team to buzz in gets to answer. If they are incorrect, second buzzer gets to try to answer.

If the team is correct, I use a flippity.net randomizer with numbers 0-10 and the team gets however many points the randomizer lands on (As, AnneMarie Chase says, adding that bit of luck can really up the game).

Team with the most points at the end wins.

Embedded Readings as Leveled Assessments

If you aren’t familiar with Embedded Readings, a term coined by Michele Waley and Laurie Clarq, the gist is that the teacher creates a series of readings that build on each other to help build reading fluency and support comprehension.

A very brief example:

Base reading
Bill is a teacher.

Version 1
Bill is a Spanish teacher. He teaches Spanish.

Version 2
Bill is a Spanish teacher in Indiana. He teaches Spanish by using comprehensible input.

As you can see, each version gets longer, and more detailed.

There are two ways to create an embedded reading: Top down, and Bottom Up.
Top down takes an existing text and simplifies it. This is a great way to scaffold authentic resources.
Bottom up builds the reading from a base version and adds details and makes sentences more complex.

Now, how about turning that into a reading assessment?

The suggested goal for level 1 of a language is Novice Mid, so I want to build an assessment that asks students to keep pushing themselves as they read.

A great place to start for planning reading tasks is the IPA comprehension guide template from ACTFL.

I put one activity (you know your students though, put as many in as you want) after each version of the text. The base version is VERY simple so I do a novice low task, then the second version is still pretty basic, but adds some details so I keep that novice low as well. The third version I move up to novice mid, and the task I give with the last version of the text is novice mid OR high.

For novice low, I’m looking for students to be able to identify key words and some phrases.
I might have students do a “Who would say it” task if there was only one character. I might do it for multiple characters, but I think I wouldn’t do it as a novice low task.

Another Novice Low task (Still focusing on word/phrases) could be an “Interview” matching activity. A little more rationale on this activity is that they don’t have to understand EVERYTHING in the questions and answers to complete it, they can find similar words from the question to the answer, even though they are reading phrases/simple sentences.

For a Novice Mid task, I had students translate some sentences from the reading, they have to demonstrate understanding of all the words in the selected sentence.

For novice mid/high I love just giving students a Wh-? organizer.

I think giving students a ‘simple’ organizer like this to fill out gives them an opportunity to show me as MUCH as they can. If they can show me basic details from the text, I might rate them NM, if they are able to show a LOT of details then I can rate them NH.

Going even further, referring back to the IPA planning guide, I might want to give students a question that makes them infer something about the characters, and then have them underline the text that supports their inference.

Rating: I simply give students credit for the highest level task they complete successfully.

Verb Charts are the New Word Wall

I’ve had a lot of thoughts recently about what the role of conjugation charts is in my class. If we believe (I do) that verb forms are acquired as whole words rather than stem and ending (Bill VanPatten has a great, short read regarding this HERE) then the practice of filling out conjugation charts might be seen as a waste of time.


I’ve also been thinking about what does it mean to teach grammar as a concept, one of the Core Practices from ACTFL. What I typically do is introduce a new verb by using the third person singular and give some quick tips to help students comprehend texts.

Example: “Camina means ‘s/he walks’ Bob y Margaret caminan… OH, we have an ‘n’ because we’re talking about more than one person, we have an -mos because we’re talking about ourselves.” And do that with some other forms. If nothing else, it’s ‘teaching’ conjugation in a different (IMO an easier) way by focusing on WHO we’re talking about rather than memorizing a chart.

Recently though, I started thinking…

In my Mandarin class, it is really easy for me to feel comfortable trying to produce language because my teacher always has the supports on the board (And Mandarin grammar is easier because no verb tenses) but I want students in my class to feel they have the appropriate scaffolding, rather than waiting for me to have it come up because *I* say a new form.

We use word walls all the time to support students’ comprehension and production, so what if I viewed conjugation charts as a word wall to support comprehension and production rather than having students learn how to fill out a chart, and practice conjugation with fill in the blank, void of meaning discrete item practice?

More than anything, using a chart to support comprehension is easier for me. I don’t have to write out every form and it’s meaning. Though there is a little bit of explicit learning in how the chart works, I don’t view it as explicit grammar teaching. It’s explicit teaching of how a resource is used.

So I teach what a conjugation chart looks like.

YOUYOU ALL(vosotros)

So if we have one specific verb that we are using in discussion or a story, students have support to use new forms if they feel so inclined (Because forced output is a topic for another blog).

I’m not teaching this chart so that students ‘learn’ conjugation, and I’m not having THEM fill it out based on rules that they are ‘expected’ to learn. I am filling out the chart for them so that they have a resource while we are in discussion so they feel more supported to talk about themselves and others.

Then I can take what students say and circle it, rephrase it, or whatever to support the acquisition of that form for ALL students.

CardTalk: Personalizing vocabulary for EVERY Student

CardTalk (previously, Circling with Balls) is a super easy, no prep activity that you can do with literally anything.

A lot of people have written about how to do CardTalk (Click here to read Martina Bex’s overview) but to save you some time here’s a quick step by step process:

  1. Give students an index card(hence the Card part of CardTalk)
  2. Ask students a question in the TL.
  3. Students respond to the question by DRAWING (If you need more motivation for getting students to draw, read this article on Edutopia).
  4. Teacher finds an interesting drawing, displays it and talks about it.
  5. End with write and discuss, or any other follow up activity you might use.

For me, a downfall of CardTalk is that there is just not enough time to talk about every student’s drawing.

And this is where my tip for you comes in.

As we did CardTalk with the question “What do you give thanks for?” I walked around the classroom while students drew and did some interpersonal talking with them. I asked “Do you have all the vocabulary?” I asked them what things they drew were, and they were able to give one word responses, and when they didn’t have the word they wanted I gave them a post it note and gave them their own personalized vocabulary.

Then, as we came back together after drawing, I modeled responses with my own answers “I give thanks for…” And opened the floor. At this point I had already made sure that every student had SOMETHING they could say because they either already knew the words for what they drew, or I gave them a post it with new vocabulary.

I think this empowered students a lot. I asked every single student today what they were thankful for and they responded completely in Spanish.

It was a good day and I’m thankful for CardTalk and personalizing vocabulary to each and every student.

Silver Lining: Learning to SLOW DOWN in hybrid teaching

Hybrid teaching has its own challenges. For me it’s that I only see my high school students two or three times a week depending on the week. I see my middle schoolers every day. Right now my middle schoolers are a week ahead of my high schoolers. For my sanity, I don’t like that, because it looks like planning a LOT more than I typically would. Of course, nothing about this is typical.

My high school students are expected to have something to work on on the days that they are not in class. Personally, I don’t think this is going well. I was trying to alter at home assignment types, but we’re having too many tech issues, or there’s too much confusion about how to submit. That’s why I’m changing things up by keeping things the same.

When students are not in class they only have one website/assignment type to work with. (I’m using Garbanzo, but you find what works for you).

I gave them a checklist of readings that I want them to get through when they are not in class, and have assigned them to use their personal dictionary to add words/phrases they learn.

Having them do a predictable assignment type on the days they are not with me will hopefully lead to less stress when they aren’t with me.

This is also going to cause me to slow down when we are in class together.

We aren’t moving through ‘content’ as quickly in class, but this will give me an opportunity to make sure that EVERYONE is on the same page before moving on.

Then I have to think about middle school. I don’t want to get TOO far ahead of what I’m doing with high school. And I don’t want to get too far ahead of what the 100% virtual students are doing (Oh… I have those too, so I’m juggling three different schedules.)

So I need to SLOW DOWN with middle school as well. My new plan is to start each day with students working on Garbanzo (once again, find something that works for you) which will help me not push through ‘content’ as quickly. The middle schoolers will also get more Spanish ‘chit-chat’ time to help me slow down my progression through lesson plans. Starting each day with “Como estás y por qué? is a great meaningful time eater, and doesn’t seem out of place because I want to know how everyone is doing.

So all of this to say: I can’t go as fast as I used to go. But in that, I’m learning I was going WAY TOO FAST introducing new words/phrases. Students need to get SO COMFORTABLE with hearing/reading language so that it comes out in writing/speaking. I wasn’t giving opportunities to let students process the language as much as they needed to. So, I’m going to calm down a little, and breathe, and go SLOWer.

What did you learn today (Update)

Last year I wrote about how adding a simple question at the end of class “What did you become more comfortable with today?” helped show students that even though class might not FEEL like learning sometimes, learning is happening.

When learning feels passive (all I have to do is listen and read, I don’t do anything) I think students can get discouraged because they can’t explicitly see that their vocabulary, and their communicative competence is growing.

I took a class with the wonderful Adriana Ramirez and she did something at the end of lesson segments that I immediately started to think of how could I incorporate it. We created a class dictionary.

What a wonderful way to show students that our vocabulary is getting better, and with Adriana pushing us to circumlocute it was still advanced input.

I created a personal dictionary for students to use to limit paper usage this year, but then one day I remembered what Adriana had been doing. “I can do this together with students to wrap up class” I thought.

During my lesson on Friday last week I had students working through some lessons on Garbanzo and while they were working independently I asked them to use their copy of the personal dictionary to add new words that they understood. (I did this by using the Google Assignments tool on Canvas, so every student has their own copy, and all of the student dictionaries are saved to my drive as well.)

After most students completed the Garbanzo lessons we took a song break then we brought everyone together to add words to our class dictionary (which is saved to a folder I share to students that includes our Write and Discuss documents, recordings of class, and our dictionary).

I think having students add words while they were reading was helpful for this last together activity of adding words, but I don’t know how I would feel about students having computers open adding words to their documents WHILE giving whole class input because it’s so easy and so tempting to do something else on a computer when you should be doing your best to attend to input.

So all this is to say, as a class we get to see a growing list of words and phrases that we’ve used and are beginning to learn and I hope this will be motivating for students as we go through the semester/year.

Also, students can self assess their vocabulary knowledge with the check boxes on the dictionary form and I can take a quick look in the shared folder to see what words students are feeling confident with, and which ones need more input.

Using Flipgrid to proctor online writing

I was SO hesitant about what writing in class would look like this year. I thought about students writing on paper and then taking a picture and uploading it to our LMS for grading. But that might’ve become too much work for students and myself.

I mean, what are my worries about having students write online? I can’t see what’s on their screen to make sure they’re staying in the same place, I can’t see if they are using a phone to translate something.

The point for me, of writing as assessment, is to know WHAT students CAN do without help. If students are using a translator for more than just singular words I don’t know anymore information other than students don’t have all the vocab they need. So enter Flipgrid!

Flipgrid has a new feature that records the student’s screen AND their webcam. You can view what students have written on their screen and watch that they aren’t using any outside tools.

I may change my translator on writing tests policy… if I can SEE that they only look up an individual word, that shows me what vocab students want to know.

Check out a video tutorial: https://www.loom.com/share/00888d64012349c19865a2cff9617b2c

Virtual TPR and Beginning the Year

I’m still not sure exactly what this year is going to look like, but I don’t think anyone else knows either.

I do know that, as always, I want to focus on making opportunities for students to receive comprehensible input. One way I try to ensure comprehension throughout the year is to establish gestures for high frequency words when possible.

The HIGH frequency verbs that I’m working with this year, based on Super 7, Sweet 16, and Frequency dictionaries, and what words *I* most use in class, are: looks at, leaves/goes out, sees, likes, gives, puts, thinks, says, there is/are, knows, stays, wants, can, does/makes, arrives, has, goes, should. I don’t have ‘is’ in there because it’s really hard to gesture, and it is the highest frequency verb so it will naturally be used a lot, and students sometimes hear ‘es’ as ‘is’ which… sometimes helps… they guess the meaning pretty quickly in context.

Theoretically this should be pretty easy to do via video: Establish meaning, show a gesture, model the gestures, mix them up to start processing the meaning, repeat. Do in sets of three, randomize, repeat.

If you’re like me, you’ve had a hard time thinking on your feet to randomize commands, so I introduce to you…. The TPR randomizer! Feel free to make a copy 🙂 Put your list of words/phrases in the first column and everything else will automatically populate.

Admittedly, TPR is great for learning vocabulary, but it doesn’t often give a lot of context. I do highly suggest looking at TPR Materials from CPLI to learn more about the research of TPR as a language learning approach. I LOVE “TPR is More than Commands” by Seely and Romijn, and Berty Segal’s book “Enseñando y aprendiendo el español por medio de la acción”

What I HAVE seen in my classrooms in the past is that when I don’t start off with a solid base of TPR I notice instructional gaps “Why don’t students already know this word/gesture” right, because I didn’t teach it. I think TPR can be a great way to set a foundation of high frequency words that you’re going to use all through student’s learning. And the thing I love MOST about TPR is that when I teach verbs with it, I teach 3rd person singular, but as long as we have had the gesture established, I can use any form of the verb and still remain comprehensible.

So, what’s my plan with TPR as a virtual learning tool?

I have created some loom lessons to introduce the gestures and meanings, which also include screen grabs of me spelling the words to ‘teach’ the alphabet. Click the image below to look at the videos, and in the 3rd video… don’t mind my sunburn.

So after EACH spelling video (they watch the gesture introduction, and the spelling video) I am going to use my schools LMS, Canvas, and our G Suite for Education to create activities that put words into context.

Some ideas are: read a sentence and match the meaning of the TPR word. The sentence might be “Bob tiene chocolate” and students would need to choose ‘has’ from a list to show comprehension of ‘tiene’

I might use Charlala to give drawing prompts “Bob tiene chocolate” and students draw a person with chocolate.

I might give sentences and students try to translate, sentences will probably be recorded on video so I can do the gestures.

I might do a little story (Like video 6) but much shorter, essentially, storylistening with very simple sentences to start, adding in words naturally to make it more compelling.

So there are some of my ideas right now. I’m going to play around with our LMS and see what other kinds of activities I can do and I’ll post them on twitter @welangley and try to remember to update this entry.