Category Archives: Writing

Moving Student Foreign Language Writing from Novice to Intermediate

At the novice writing levels, students write with single words and lists initially, then move on to chunked phrases.

Novice Low/Mid:

  • green
  • apple, banana, orange
  • Josué
  • soccer, football
  • movies, restaurant

Novice High:

  • My favorite color is green
  • I like apples, bananas and oranges
  • My name is Josué
  • I play soccer and football
  • On the weekend I like to go to the movies and to a restaurant

As students move up to the intermediate proficiency level they begin to create discrete sentences on their own that move beyond chunked phrases.  This can be challenging for students because they are no longer relying on memorized phrases to chunk together.  We can help scaffold this process for students by supporting them in creating sentences.  Students often don’t knowhow to add details to a sentence to make it their own, particularly when writing.

Moving Student Foreign Language Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

I have found that using question words with students is a simple and effective way to have students add details to their sentences that move from memorized, chunked phrases to discrete sentences that are created by the student.  The more they do this the more they will grow in confidence and begin to do it on their own when writing.

Here is an example of an activity that has been effective in showing students that they can in fact move up the proficiency ladder by creating their own sentences.  I call it “Staring with a Verb” (A Partir d’un Verbe, A Partir de un Verbo).

Moving Student Foreign Language Writing from Novice to IntermediateMoving Student Foreign Language Writing from Novice to Intermediate

I created these activities in Google Slides so that students and type their sentences directly in the slide and then submit the document when finished.  This is particularly useful when using Google Classroom and ideal during distance learning.

Moving Student Foreign Language Writing from Novice to IntermediateMoving Student Foreign Language Writing from Novice to Intermediate

Take a look at some possibilities:

 

 

Suggestions for Foreign Language Choice Board Options

I recently wrote a post about using choice boards in the foreign language class. I included 2 ways to use Google Slides and Forms to show 9 options that include the three communication modes and choices around learning style.  You can read that post here and copy the template to your Google Drive.

Suggestions for Foreign Language Choice Board Options (French, Spanish)

The organizational part is step one, then we need to figure out what the actual choices are.  I compiled suggestions for each option below.  Since the choice board template is designed to be used for any language, theme or proficiency level I am keeping the suggestions and resources general so that you can easily adapt them to the content that you are focusing on in your classes.  Hopefully this list will spark some ideas and make the process of creating choice boards more manageable.

Nuts and Bolts:

1-Way Speaking:

  • Flip Grid
  • Vacaroo
  • Ad for Podcast
  • Ad for YouTube Channel
  • Voicemail
  • Movie Talk-watch a video clip with no sound and tell what happens
  • Describe picture or story or storyboard

Writing:

  • Create an Ad
  • Make an Infographic
  • Write a quiz
  • Make a Storyboard and write what happens
  • Comic strip
  • Write an Email
  • Write a text
  • Social media post
  • Movie Write -watch a clip with no sound and write what happens

2-Way Speaking:

  • Sign up for in-person or Zoom, one-on-one or small group
  • Role play
  • Themes in advance
  • Record (audio or video)

Listening:

Reading:

  • Websites
  • Book
  • Articles
  • Infographics
  • Lingro
  • Classmates’ writing

Art, Music, etc.:

  • Paint and describe (write or speak)
  • Draw and describe (write or speak)
  • Sculpt and describe (write or speak)
  • Write song lyrics

Web Activities:

 

Picture1

Culture:

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

There is increasing research that shows that learner independence builds confidence and increases academic performance and language proficiency. I have seen an increase in choice boards among language teachers on social media.  These boards provide students with options of how to learn and practice content or a skill.  They also encourage students to be more responsible, accountable and independent as they work at their own pace. In a time of remote/distance/hybrid learning these choice boards are a great way to keep students engaged in or out of the school building.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

As I took on this challenge of implementing choice boards I soon realized that the challenge comes in the organization and keeping track of assignments. When students are completing different assignments at various times how do I manage it all?  So, I took to Twitter to ask teachers how they do this in their classrooms.  There were great suggestions from generous teachers all over the country.  I compiled responses and got to work creating two versions of choice boards.  One uses Google Slides and the other uses Google Slides and Forms.  There are apps, Websites and platforms out there that do this sort of thing for a fee, but I wanted to find a way that uses Google (Classroom) that does not require yet another username and password… and does not have an annual cost associated with it.

Be sure to look at this post if you would like to see ideas for each of the options.

The choice board is the same for both versions.  It is the way students submit work that differs.  Copy of the Choice Board Template to your Google Drive.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

There are 9 options on the choice board, which include the communication modes as well as culture, Web activities and art, music, etc.  There is also a “nuts and bolts” option which all students begin with.  This is for initial presentation of content through comprehensible input.  This is all done in a Google Slide presentation that is shared with students so that they each have their own copy.  In this first version all work is put on the corresponding slides either as an image or a link to a Google doc.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

 

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

This second version begins with the same choice board in Google Slide format, but there are links to Google Forms to submit work. Copy of the Choice Board Template to your Google Drive.

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

Choice Boards by Communication Mode in the Foreign Language Class

Be sure to take a look at this follow-up post that has ideas and suggestions for the choice board options. I hope you have success with choice boards and that these templates help to make it a little more manageable for you.

Copy of the Choice Board Template to your Google Drive

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

As I write this post many of us are teaching remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have been using Zoom to teach and communicate with students.  One of the features is breakout rooms where students can be put into small groups. Other platforms offer similar possibilities.  I was trying to find a way to see what groups are doing in real time in addition to popping in and out of each group.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

I saw on Twitter that Rebecca Blouwolf, ACTFL Teacher of the Year, was trying out using shared Google docs during breakout group time.  I have known Rebecca for over 20 years and I respect her so much.  We started our teaching career together and I have been very impressed with all that she has accomplished.  When I saw what she was doing with Google docs I knew that I had to look into it.

My first iteration looked like this.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

I shared the doc (I used Google sheets) with all students and groups worked collectively in the same document.  I was able to see what they were entering in real time and could write a message to all of the groups (broadcast message in Zoom) when I saw saw some common inaccuracies or I could go into an individual group when I wanted to support them verbally.  There was one problem with this, they were all doing the same questions and could see each other’s responses.  It didn’t seem to be much of an issue, but I wanted to give each group different prompts while all working in the same shared document.  I could have shared different documents with each group, but that would mean looking at different documents.  I wanted the individual group work all together so that I could  see what all groups are doing at once.

So, I got back to work. This is the second iteration and the version that I have been using successfully.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

This allows for different prompts for each group (blue column), while being able to see all responses in real time. Atelier means “workshop” in French and the is the word I use with students for “breakout room.”  They type their group responses to the right of the prompts in blue.  In addition to text, groups can insert images in response to a prompt or a link to audio or a video that that they record or through search.  My initial intent was to use this to see work done in real time in Zoom breakout rooms, but I’m envisioning using this for asynchronous (not in real time) student work as well. Though this is a work-around during a crisis, I plan to continue using it when we are back in the physical classroom.

If you would like to us this with your students, make sure that you share one document with the entire class and allow editing when sharing a Google doc. For ease of formatting I use a Google Sheet, but you can do this with any of the Google doc options.  I tell students that they can delete  it out of their Google account when done so that it is not yet another document taking up space.  I have the original with all of their responses….another benefit of having it all in one place.  You can also have a spot for groups to put their names in  next to the the breakout room.  I keep track on my own.

This link will make a copy of the breakout room document in your Google Drive (just like assigning  to students in Google Classroom)  and you can modify it for your own personal use.  This is a work in progress for me.  I’d love to see and hear about what works for you.

 

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities

I’m always a fan of resources that can be easily modified to fit different proficiency levels.  I love it when I find an activity or resource that I can pull out at any proficiency level and just get students speaking or writing by simply changing the output prompt.

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

I have been creating these Zut and Caramba cards for several years.  Sometimes I used index cards and a marker, sometimes I just printed out a bunch of pictures.  While students were able to produce language rather well with this on-the-fly type resources I wanted to up my game a little with this activity.  So, I got to work on a template and used it to create Zut and Caramba cards on lots of vocabulary and language structure topics.  As I said above I like resources that can be used at any proficiency level.  These Zut and Caramaba cards a perfect fit.Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

They can be used in 4 ways:

Zut (French) and Caramba (Spanish):

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • This activity  can be done in small groups of 4-5 or with the entire class playing in teams.
  • Students (or teams) take turns choosing a card out of a bag.
  • Once chosen, the player (or team) can do various things to keep the card depending on the proficiency level of the students. They can the picture, use it in a sentence or even ask a question about it.
  • If they choose a Zut or Caramba card they must put all their cards back in the bag, including the Zut or Caramba card.
  • Play continues between the players or teams and the cards/points change often because of the Zut or Caramba cards.
  • If a player (or team) doesn’t know a form or meaning it goes back in the bag.  Play continues with the next student.
  • After a certain number of turns or a specified amount of time, the player (or team) with the most cards wins.

Card Find:

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • Place cards (#1-40) in various places around the classroom or another space. Pair students up and give them 5 numbers (between 1-40) and the pairs set out to find the cards with their numbers.
  • When they find the cards that respond to a pre-determined prompt based on their proficiency level. Students can the picture in writing or use it in a sentence. There are question words to help inspire a sentence.  They can do this on a slip of paper or a small white board.
  • When they have all five they return to teacher for verification and get another set of numbers and repeat the process.
  • Each pair gets a point for each set of 5 that they complete.  You may want to make it 3 if this moves things along better in your class.
  • After a specified amount of time the pair with the most points is the winner

Do Now:Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • When they enter the room, students choose 2 or 3 cards and complete a prompt based on the card. Depending on the proficiency level of the students the teacher can have students identify the word in writing or use it in a sentence.

Exit Ticket:Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

  • Just before the end of class hand out a card to each student and they respond to the prompt and hand it to the teacher (who verifies the answer) as they leave the room. Depending on the proficiency level of the students the teacher can have students identify the word in writing or use it in a sentence.

These activities can also be done with language structures such verb tenses, demonstrative and possessive adjectives, direct and indirect object pronouns, adjectives and even comparisons.  Rather than identify images the prompts require uses these various language structures.

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Speaking and Writing Activities that are Easily Adapted to Various Proficiency Levels.  (French, Spanish)

 

 

“Who is it?” Guess Who Activity for Level 1 Foreign Language Students

I put a few pictures of an activity that I did with my students on Facebook and Twitter.  There was a lot of interest and several teachers asked for the template so that they could do the activity with their students.  So, I figured it would be helpful to write a blog post about the activity and include the template.

"Who is it?" Guess Who Activity for Level 1 Foreign Language Students (French, Spanish)

This activity is what I call “Who is it?” or “Guess who? ”  It is particularly useful for level 1 students who are in the novice mid-novice high range.  At this proficiency level students are typically using chunked language and are at the beginning stages of creating some language on their own as they swap out some details of the memorized language that they have acquired.  As a way to provide students with an opportunity to use this language authentically in reading and writing I created these “Who is it?” mini books.

 

Download a template for designing communicative activities with an example lesson.

The PDF includes directions for folding the paper along with templates to do the activity in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese.

Students write in information about themselves on the topics of age, birthday, origin/ethnicity, preferences, free time activities and family.  What is not included is their name.  Once done classmates read the mini books of their classmates and try to guess who it is based on the information.  This adds authentic reading to the activity as well.  We also put the mini books on a bulletin board for other classes to engage with as well.

"Who is it?" Guess Who Activity for Level 1 Foreign Language Students (French, Spanish)

On the back of the mini book students put a selfie so that readers can confirm their guess of who it is.  The addition of the selfie is a fun way to really get students excited.  We took the pictures in class and I just printed them out and students glued them to the back of the book.

 

The great thing about this project, besides the effective use of novice level language, is that it can all be done with one piece of paper that is folded to make the mini book.  This tactile part of the activity is also very motivating because students enjoy seeing the transformation of the paper into a mini book.

"Who is it?" Guess Who Activity for Level 1 Foreign Language Students (French, Spanish)

The PDF includes directions for folding the paper along with templates to do the activity in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese.

Download a template for designing communicative activities with an example lesson.

 

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content

This is an activity that I have used with various proficiency levels.  It involves presentational writing and interpretive reading.  It can be used with on demand writing, that is writing that is generated in the moment and doesn’t go through a revision process, or polished writing that includes feedback and additional drafts.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Essentially students begin by responding to a prompt in writing and then the other students in the class read what their classmates wrote and write a response.  Depending on how lengthy the writing is students may be able to read almost all of their classmates writing and respond within one or two classes.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

This works particularly well when students are able to use language expressing opinions and agreeing or disagree with the writer.  I have students put their writing piece on their desk with a blank sheet of paper next to it.  Students then circulate and read their classmates’ writing and write a written response or reaction on the sheet next to it.  For novice level students they use chunked phrases such as “me too,” “not me,” “I also enjoy…,” I prefer….” when writing a reaction to novice level writing.  For Intermediate students they may begin by writing an opinion on a reading or a film and their classmates will write a response.  I have also had students write two reactions; one that is their own and then one that is in response an existing reaction.  This takes on the feeling of a social media thread.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Even if the original writing undergoes a feedback process, the written responses allow students to also do on demand writing and to write in response to other comments.  What the actual written responses and reactions look like will vary depending on what the original writing prompt is and the proficiency level of the class.  I have used this with novice and intermediate students with lots of success.  It take s bit more modeling with lower proficiency levels, but they are able to see how much they are able to write when the piece they are reading is at their level.  This is one of the benefits of using student-created content as the reading text.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Students like to get up an move and this allows them to do that in the classroom.  I use paper so that it is more tactile, but this type of activity could easily be done on a computer or even using Padlet.  As for a follow up activity, try a discussion of what different students read or of trends and consistencies.  Maybe ask  questions about what students learned.  Again, the type of follow up will vary based on the original writing prompt and proficiency level of the class.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Here is description of this activity that I recently did with a group of novice mid/high students.  I asked them to write a “paragraph” telling about themselves using any and all phrases, vocabulary and structures that they have acquired so far. This particular class is 6th grade and meets 3 times a week for 45-minutes.  Most of the class has reached novice high, though some are novice mid.  Students wrote their paragraphs in class with no access to technology or dictionaries for looking up words.

They focused on novice language topics such as personal info (age, name, where they live, who they live with,what they like to do, what sports/activities/school subjects they prefer). I gave some ideas of topics, but it was on demand writing, meaning all generated in the moment. For homework they typed it and added some photos. Because it is all student-generated, using vocabulary and structures that they have acquired, the reading is “at level” for classmates reading and commenting. If anything was unclear the images are there to assist.

Foreign Language Reading and Writing Tasks with Student-Created Content (French, Spanish)

Give this student-generated reading and writing activity a try.  It is very useful when moving the audience of student writing away from always being the teacher.

Communicative Language Teaching Mindset Shift. That Was Then. This Is Now.

The field of language teaching is always on the move.  Every decade or so there is an innovative way to approach language teaching.  For a recap of the language teaching methodologies that have surfaced over the past century take a look at this post.  Over the past decade many foreign language teachers have embraced communicative language teaching, which focuses on authentic communication over language forms such as grammar structures.

That Was Then. This Is Now. Communicative Language Teaching Mindset Shift (French, Spanish)

To be clear, a certain level of accuracy of language is needed to convey a message that is comprehensible.  The difference from methodologies of the past is that previous approaches to language teaching focused almost solely on accuracy of language.  These days we see the value in focusing on the message, even when that means looking past some errors when the learner has not yet acquired the language structure.  ACTFL has compiled a significant amount of research to support the the effectiveness of communicative language teaching.

There has been a significant shift in mindset along with the arrival of communicative language teaching.  Previous methodologies focused on what learners did wrong rather than on their progress.  The goal was complete accuracy in the past along with the belief that a speaker would not  be understood if the language was not completely correct.  We now accept that communication can happen despite occasional inaccuracy.  This is the base of the difference in mindset, or underlying tenets that support the approaches.

Here are four areas of this mindset shift that distinguish current communicative approaches from accuracy-centered approach of the past.

Objectives and Content:

  • Past: The teacher was the all-knowing possessor of knowledge and directed all content and objectives to ensure progress toward correct language.
  • Present: The teacher works in collaboration with students and there are shared learning objectives.  Content is driven by both the teacher and the student.

Communication:

  • Past: Typically communication was focused on the four traditional language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.  This usually meant that these skills were practiced in isolation and were not interconnected.
  • Present: The three modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal) are now the focus.  They provide students with opportunities to do something with the four skills.

Performance:

  • Past: The focus was on what students knew about the language and its structures.  Practice of correct grammatical forms of the language were typically done in isolation and out of context.
  • Present: The focus is on what the learner is able to do or accomplish with the language.  This is always tied to context and students communicate authentically with the language despite occasional inaccuracy in language when the message is clear.

Assessment:

  • Past: Assessments determined the level of language accuracy and the teacher could easily and quickly point out what was incorrect, such as verb forms, noun gender, adjective agreement, etc.
  • Present: Assessments are performance-based.  Teachers use tools and strategies such as backwards design and Can-Do statements to guide students toward communication.

Where are you regarding your teaching mindset?  If you want to embrace communicative language teaching, take a look at the “present” mindset statements and see where you are.  It can take some time and a solid approach is always evolving.  It doesn’t have to happen this week.   Download this PDF with some questions to help keep your lesson planning in the “present.”

Foreign Language Writing Activities for Aspiring Intermediate Learners

As students grow in proficiency beyond the novice level, where they are parroting language structures and chunks, they aspire to create with language and speak and write on their own.  As teachers we need to provide opportunities for students to create with language.  This can be an intimidating prospect for the novice high/intermediate low language learner.  It is best, in my experience, to scaffold this language creation in a way that makes students feel confident that they are creating messages on their own, but at the same time not feeling too overwhelmed by the process.

Foreign Language Writing Activities for Aspiring Intermediate Learners (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comTo assist students in this process of moving toward creating their own sentences that move beyond memorized chunks of language I made these tactile sentence writing activities.  They are set up to provide some scaffolding in terms of the types of sentences that writers create, while also ultimately leaving the content of the sentence up to the student.

There are two versions of these writing activities.  The first version looks like this:

Foreign Language Writing Activities for Aspiring Intermediate Learners (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com This is how it works. A pencil, a paperclip and a copy of the worksheet are needed to complete this activity. Students place the point of their pencil and a paperclip in the middle of each hexagon. They spin the paperclip by flicking it with a finger. Students write complete, detailed sentences based on the three responses to the spins. Each verb is followed by a question word. Students write an answer to the question word in their sentence.

The second version looks like this:

Foreign Language Writing Activities for Aspiring Intermediate Learners (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com One die or three dice and a copy of the worksheet are needed to complete this activity. Students roll the die three times or roll three dice once.  Students write complete, detailed sentences based on the three responses to the rolls. Each verb is followed by a question word. Students write an answer to the question word in their sentence.

You can download over 20 versions of these writing activities for French and Spanish by clicking on the links below:

 

Move Student Speaking and Writing from Novice to Intermediate

At the novice level, students are speaking and writing with single words and lists initially, then move on to chunked phrases.  Here are some examples:

Novice Low/Mid:

  • green
  • apple, banana, orange
  • Josué
  • soccer, football
  • movies, restaurant

Novice High:

  • My favorite color is green
  • I like apples, bananas and oranges
  • My name is Josué
  • I play soccer and football
  • On the weekend I like to go to the movies and to a restaurant

Move Student Speaking and Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comAs students move up to the intermediate proficiency level they begin to create discrete sentences on their own that move beyond chunked phrases.  This tends to be the most challenging for students as they begin to create with language and are not relying on memorized phrases to chunk together.  Rather than changing the detail after a memorized phrase such as “my favorite ______ is _______” and “I like __________” they are moving on to changing subjects, using various propositions and varying their verb forms and tenses.  Teachers can help scaffold this process for students by assisting them in creating sentences.  Students are often challenged by how to add details to a sentence to make it their own, particularly when writing.

I have found that using question words with students is a simple and effective way to have students add details to their sentences that move from memorized, chunked phrases to discrete sentences that are created by the student.  The more they do this the more they will grow in confidence and begin to do it on their own when writing.

A simple reminder of question words as students  write about a topic will guide them toward writing discrete sentences that they create on their own and and will move solidly on to the intermediate low proficiency level. For example, if a student writes ” I like to swim.” suggest a few question words to help make the sentence a bit longer and more detailed.  With whom?  When?  Where?

This will move the sentence from “I like to swim” to “I like to swim with my friend Julie on Saturday at the community pool.”  The more students get accustomed to adding details this way the more they will do it on their own when speaking and writing.

Here are a few posts I’ve written that have some suggestions and resources for guiding students through this process of moving their speaking and writing from novice to intermediate.  Click on the images to see the posts.

Spanish & French Verb Tense and Sentence Writing Powerpoint Activities

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