Category Archives: Classroom Procedures

37: Competency-Based Grading with Ursula Askins-Huber


In this episode we talk about grading.  More specifically, how we can grade based on what students are able to do in and with the target language.  This requires a bit of a shift in thinking and approach, especially when coming from more traditional grading.  I’m joined by Ursula Askins-Huber, a Spanish teacher in New Hampshire, who has been teaching for over 30 years.  She helps us to see ways to adopt competency-based grading in manageable ways.

Ursula speaks specifically about:

  • what grades have traditionally represented.
  • what competency (or proficiency) is how this has been missing in legacy grading practices.
  • what a grade based on competency tell us.
  • What competency-based grading looks like in the classroom.
  • how accounting for HW completion, behavior, participation, being prepared for class, etc. work into a grade that is based on competency.

Books that Ursula References:

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35: Technology to Support Language Students with Joe Dale (Part 2)


This is the second part of an extended episode on using technology in language learning.  Joe Dale continues the discussion about technology tools and resources to support students in the language classroom. Joe Dale is a language consultant from the UK who works with a range of organizations such as Network for Languages, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian. He is a regular conference speaker and recognized expert on technology and language learning. He has spoken at conferences and run training courses in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia.

Joe Speaks about…

  • how technology helps with intercultural competence along with resources that help to support language learning and engagement at all levels
  • how teachers who may not be so comfortable with technology can take the leap and use technology in their teaching

Connect with Joe Dale:

Resources that Joe mentions:

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34: Technology to Support Language Students with Joe Dale (Part 1)


This is the first of a two-part episode on using technology in language learning.  Joe Dale joins me to talk about technology tools and resources to support students in the language classroom. Joe Dale is a language consultant from the UK who works with a range of organizations such as Network for Languages, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian. He is a regular conference speaker and recognized expert on technology and language learning. He has spoken at conferences and run training courses in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia.

Joe Speaks about…

  • how technology enhances opportunities to engage language learning
  • ways to use technology to practice interpersonal, reading and writing skills

Connect with Joe Dale:

Resources that Joe mentions:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

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33: Integrating Can Do’s and Social Justice Standards with Cécile Lainé


In this episode we discuss the Learning For Justice Social Justice Standards, incredibly necessary topics in the language classroom.  One of the biggest hurdles is addressing the topics of Identify, Diversity, Justice and Action in the target language.  We do not have to put our language objectives aside when these topics come up.  We can integrate them into our Can Do’s.  Cécile Lainé, a French teacher in Tennessee, joins me to talk through the Social Justice Standards with suggestions for integrating them into our Can Do Statements.

Cécile speaks about…

  • what the Learning For Justice Social Justice Standards are and how they are designed
  • how can we use the Social Justice Standards along with Can Do Statements
  • what this integration looks like in the classroom, particularly at the novice level.
  • how we can address these topics at all proficiency levels without the need to rely on native language

Resources that Cécile mentions:

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Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate

I wrote a post  on conjunctions and transition words that students can use to add details to their writing and level up.  Now I’m going to show you how I scaffold the writing practice so that students can clearly see what their writing looks like at various proficiency levels from Novice Low to Intermediate Low/Mid.

The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing are specific regarding the language students produce at each proficiency level.

Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

©ACTFL (actflt.org)

There are a lot of details in the grid, but all we need to be concerned with right now is the text type that students produce.

Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

©ACTFL (actflt.org)

This is the exercise that my students do so that they clearly see how they are working toward leveling up their writing.

Novice Low/Mid/High

French Example:
Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

English ExampleScaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

Novice Low/mid/high, Intermediate Low

French Example:Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

English ExampleScaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

Students will soon understand the expectations at each proficiency level.  When you indicate to them what the writing expectation is they will know what the text type should be.  Gone are the days of asking if they need to write in complete sentences.  Once they ask for clarification of the proficiency level that they should aim for, you’ll know they have arrived.

Level Up Students’ Writing (& Speaking)

The 3 communication modes are becoming more commonplace in our language classrooms.

  • Presentational communication is one-way speaking or writing that does not allow for real time clarification of meaning.
  • Interpretive communication is one-way listening or reading that also does not allow for real time clarification of meaning.
  • Interpersonal communication is two-way speaking that allows for clarification of the message in real time.

Let’s look specifically at Presentational Writing.  There are some characteristics that differ from the other modes.  In particular, there are opportunities to focus more on accuracy since the communication is not done in real time. More specifically, Presentational Writing is …

  • practiced, rehearsed, polished and edited
  • organized
  • improved with dictionary and spell-check tools

The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing are specific regarding the language produced at each proficiency level.

Level Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, Spanish

You can see the full Performance Descriptors Here.

The challenge for me has often been the jump from Novice High to Intermediate Low/Mid.  Students are typically able to begin forming their own sentences with memorized phrases and then creating on their own.  The struggle comes in constructing sentences that move beyond single clauses, and certainly connecting multiple sentences.

To support students in this process, I put together a reference grid.

Level Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, Spanish

The first column is the base words that students can use to add details to their single clause sentences.  The second column, with the gradually rising arrow, contains conjunctions and connecting words that students can use to create sentences with two clauses.  The third column, with the arrow going straight up, has additional conjunctions and connecting words that students can use to connect sentences and ideas.  There are also words under the grid that students can use to write about events chronologically.  All of these words scaffold the process of leveling up language from Novice to Intermediate.

I put together a template of this for teachers to use with their students.

Level Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, SpanishLevel Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, Spanish

It is a Word Doc on Google Drive.  Download it as a Word Doc or make a copy right in your Google Drive and edit from there.  Just add in the words in the target language that you teach.

You will soon see your students leveling up their writing, and they will transfer this skill to their speaking.

Take look at this blog post as well.  It focuses on an activity that I do with students that helps them to see concretely what their language looks like at different proficiency levels.

31: Picture and Movie Talks with Sarah Moghtader


In this episode we talk about movie and picture talks in the language classroom.  This a popular and effective Comprehensible Input (CI) procedure that uses visual story-telling.  This process helps students to acquire and reenforce vocabulary and language structures in context.  Sarah Moghtader, a French in Massachusetts,  joins me to talk us through the benefits of picture and movie talks and how to do them with students in the classroom.

Sarah speaks specifically about:

  • what picture and movie talks are
  • why picture and movie talks are a useful CI approach to teaching language
  • procedure and techniques
  • what to look for in a useful story, book, or movie clip
  • where to find these resources
  • working through a story and extension activities

Links references in the discussion:

Connect with Sarah Moghtader:

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30: Music in the Language Classroom with Allison Wienhold

In this episode we talk all about using music in the language classroom.  I’m joined by Allison Wienhold, a Spanish Teacher in Iowa, who speaks about the numerous benefits of music in our language classrooms.

Allison speaks about:

  • the value and benefits of using music in the language classroom
  • the flexibility of using music, from a few “quick wins” to diving into culture and representation
  • where can we find music to use in our classrooms
  • activities to engage with music
  • I have a song…What do I do before, during and after?

Connect with Allison Wienhold:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

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No Prep Listening Activity for the Whole Class (Jump)

I have to start by saying sorry (not sorry) that once you introduce this activity to your students they will ask to do it all the time.

This activity is all about students listening intently and reacting to what they hear.

No prep involved.  Just grab an object, like a ball, and you’re ready to go.

No Prep Listening Activity for the Whole Class (Jump); French, Spanish

I call this activity Sauter or SaltarJump in the target language that you teach.

Pick a topic category.  Any category.  Any proficiency level.  Here are some possible topic categories:

  • colors
  • animals
  • seasons
  • time
  • family
  • days
  • months
  • adjectives
  • family
  • masculin nouns
  • feminine nouns
  • singular nouns
  • plural nouns
  • present tense
  • past tense
  • future tense
  • imperfect tense
  • details about a story
  • information about an article

Here’s how it works:

  • The entire class stands in a circle.  If there is not enough room in the classroom, maybe take a trip outside.
  • Tell students the topic they are listening for.
  • The teacher tosses the ball to any student and says a word, phrase or sentence.
    • If the word, phrase or sentence is on the chosen topic,  the 2 students next to the student who catches the ball jump.  The one who jumps first stays in.  The other sits down and is out. There are often ties. [example:category is “days” and teacher says “Monday”]
    • If the word, phrase or sentence is NOT on the topi, the 2 students next to the student who catches the ball DON’T jump.  If they jump they sit and are out. [example:category is “days” and teacher says “July”]

No Prep Listening Activity for the Whole Class (Jump); French, Spanish

  • Continue tossing the ball to random students around the circle.
  • The same rules apply.  Keep in mind that…
    • If the word, phrase or sentence is on the topic the 2 closest students still standing to the left and right of the student who catches the ball jump.  The one who jumps first stays in.  The other sits down an is out. [example:category is “past tense” and you say “I went to the store.”]
    • If the word, phrase or sentence is NOT on the topic, the 2 closest students still standing to the left and right of the student who catches the ball DON’T jump.  If they jump they sit and are out. [example:category is “past tense” and you say “I go to the store.”]

No Prep Listening Activity for the Whole Class (Jump); French, Spanish

  • When there are only two students remaining the ball is not tossed.
  • The teacher says a list of words, phrases or sentences that may or not be on topic.
  • The first of the two remaining students to jump when they hear the word, phrase or sentence that fits the category wins the game.

No Prep Listening Activity for the Whole Class (Jump); French, Spanish

Once you have played this a few times and students have the hang of it you can choose students to be the one to give the prompts in the middle of the circle.  It may be the winner from the previous round.

This activity works well as a class starter, closer or as a brain break at any time.  It’s also useful for quickly reviewing vocabulary themes before diving into a discussion or follow-up activity.

29: Teaching Circumlocution Skills


As teachers, and proficient second language speakers,  we have figured out ways to communicate words that we don’t know. We can teach this skill to students early on so that they can begin doing it right away. Circumlocution is a strategy for describing or defining a concept instead of saying or writing the specific words (when we don’t know it). We can teach students how to do this and give them tools to help in the process.

In this episode I give some suggestions to teach students the art of circumlocution.  I also talk about some games that are useful for practicing this skills.

Blog Post on Circumlocution.

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