Tag Archives: Writing

114: Teaching and Assessing Writing

Join me on the podcast for a Leveling Up Coaching Episode.

How do you approach writing with students, particularly at the very beginning of their language learning journey? Today’s episode is a Leveling Up episode, where I coach Jenn, a middle school Spanish teacher in Illinois. Writing is the area where wants to level up her teaching practice. So let’s start the conversation. 


  • Revisit the percentage of each communication mode in your grading and focus more on interpretative mode at the novice level.
  • Use clear, aligned rubrics for consistent and objective assessment of Novice-level writing in language classes.
  • Consider a single point rubric
  • Foster self-reflection and revisions to support language development and boost students’ confidence in their writing abilities. Leverage the single-point rubric

Action Plan:

This Week:

  • Gather resources: Compile a list of Novice-level vocabulary and simple sentence structures suitable for writing tasks.
  • Develop scaffolded prompts: Create a set of writing prompts that guide students to construct basic sentences and short paragraphs using the identified vocabulary and structures with opportunities to go beyond the expected proficiency level

The Coming Weeks:

  • Create single- point rubrics that align with the Novice-level writing expectations to assess vocabulary usage, sentence variety, and grammar
  • Implement scaffolded tasks: Introduce the scaffolded writing prompts in class, guiding students through the process of constructing sentences and paragraphs.
  • Provide formative feedback: Use the rubrics to offer constructive feedback on students’ writing and encourage self-reflection and revisions.

You  can also be a part of Leveling Up coaching episode if there is an area of your teaching that you like to improve or enhance.  Join me on the podcast for a Leveling Up Coaching Episode.

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Teachers want to hear from you and what you are proud of in your classroom.
Join me as a guest on the podcast.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

Pecha Kucha in the Language Classroom, At All Levels

Are you familiar with Pecha Kucha?  It’s a Powerpoint or Google Slides presentation style that originated in Japan and it is known for its concise, visually engaging format. It’s an excellent tool for building presentational speaking skills and boosting confidence.

Pecha Kucha in the Language Classroom, At All Levels.  French, Spanish.  Presentational Speaking.

How does Pecha Kucha work?

Pecha Kucha, which means “chit-chat” in Japanese, involves creating a presentation with precisely 20 slides, each lasting 20 seconds. This unique format challenges students to be concise, organized, and creative in their delivery. The ultimate goal is to present a dynamic presentation lasting six minutes and 20 seconds.  Typically the presenter sets a Powerpoint or Google Slide to advance every 20 seconds to keep the timing consistent. There are only images on the slides and no words.  Students should have ample time to practice on their own with a partner before sharing with a larger group.  You can have students do their Pecha Kucha for a small group of 4-5 or the entire class.

Benefits of Pecha Kucha

  • Speaking Confidence: Pecha Kucha challenges students to speak clearly and confidently within time constraints, boosting their self-assurance.
  • Vocabulary Expansion: It encourages the use of diverse vocabulary related to the chosen topic, expanding their language proficiency.
  • Improved Organization: Students learn to structure their thoughts logically, enhancing their communication skills.
  • Visual Engagement: Incorporating images not only reinforces language concepts but also adds a dynamic element to the presentation.

Adapting Pecha Kucha to Proficiency Levels

For novice and intermediate proficiency levels, you might want to begin with fewer slides and shorter durations. Let’s Look at Pecha Kucha for different proficiency levels.

Novice Mid to High: At this stage, students are building their foundational language skills. Pecha Kucha can start with as few as five slides, with each slide lasting 10-15 seconds. Here are some topic ideas and examples:

  • My Family: Include pictures of family members and use basic vocabulary to introduce them. For instance, “This is my sister, Marisol. She is 20 years old.”

Pecha Kucha in the Language Classroom, At All Levels.  French, Spanish.  Presentational Speaking.

  • My Hobbies: Show images related to interests, such as sports, music, or art. Encourage students to use phrases like “I like” or “I enjoy” to express their preferences.

Pecha Kucha in the Language Classroom, At All Levels.  French, Spanish.  Presentational Speaking.

Intermediate Low to Mid: At this stage, students have a firmer grasp of the language, allowing for more complexity. You can increase the number of slides to 10-15, with each slide lasting 15-20 seconds. Here are examples:

  • Travel Destinations: Share pictures of famous places and discuss why they want to visit them. Encourage the use of descriptive language and future tense, e.g., “I will visit Paris because it’s beautiful.”

Pecha Kucha in the Language Classroom, At All Levels.  French, Spanish.  Presentational Speaking.

  • A Day in My Life: Describe their typical day, incorporating past, present, and future tenses. Include images of various activities, such as waking up, going to school, and spending time with friends.

Pecha Kucha in the Language Classroom, At All Levels.  French, Spanish.  Presentational Speaking.

Language Use in Pecha Kucha

Emphasize the use of relevant vocabulary, verb tenses, and connectors while presenting. Encourage students to incorporate phrases like “First, then, next, finally” to structure their presentations. Provide feedback on pronunciation, fluency, and correct word usage to help them improve.

What do the listeners do?

  • Provide listening students with a template or worksheet where they can jot down key points, interesting phrases, or questions during the presentations. This will help them stay focused and retain information.
  • If listening students have questions about what they heard during the presentations, provide an opportunity for them to seek clarifications from the presenters. This promotes interactive learning and communication within the classroom.
  • After each presentation, ask listening students to share their understanding of what their classmate discussed. This can be done individually or in small groups.
  • Listening students can compare their notes with their peers to see if they captured the same key points. This can lead to interesting conversations and collaborative learning.
  • Initiate a class discussion where listening students can share their thoughts on the presentations they observed. Encourage them to express what they found interesting, challenging, or informative.

Final Thoughts on Pecha Kucha

Incorporating Pecha Kucha into your world language classroom offers an exciting way to foster presentational speaking proficiency, creativity, and confidence. Whether students are just starting out or have been studying for a few years, this method can be tailored to their level, ensuring continuous growth and engagement in their language learning journey!

French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity

Let’s see if this rings a bell. Students know the meaning of verbs and often also know the forms. But, they can’t always take that verb and write a detailed sentence. French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity

This is an activity that gets them there. In the end they will be writing full sentences in French or Spanish that have accurate verb forms and additional details that show that they clearly know the meaning of the verb.

French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity

There are three parts to this activity. When done in order they scaffold the writing process and ensure that students know the meanings of the verbs and their accurate forms.

French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity

Page 1: Students cut out the Spanish and English infinitives, mix them and then match them up.

Page 2: Students cut out the subject/infinitives and verb forms, mix them and then match them up.

Pages 3-5: Students cut out the subjects and verb forms, match them up, and then write a full sentence with the subject and verb. They can also glue the subject and verb forms onto the page.

French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity

Photocopy the pages and hand them out to students. They take care of the rest. And, when they finish they will have lots of complete, detailed, accurate sentences in French or French.

French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity French & Spanish Verb Form and Sentence Writing Activity


Grading for Proficiency and Competency

There is momentum in the move toward competency-based or proficiency-based grading and assessment.  The foundation of these assessments is to provide feedback about what students are able to do with the target language.  There will certainly be formative assessments of vocabulary of or perhaps some language structures, but ultimately we want students to be able to communicate with the vocabulary and structures.

If we are assessing the language that students can interpret and produce then the majority of students’ grades should rightfully reflect that.  With the understanding that there are other factors that come into play, here is the grading percentage breakdown that I use.

Let’s break down one of the categories to see what a competency/proficiency-based grade looks like.  For this example I will use my Presentational Writing assessment process.

I begin with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing:

The main takeaway for me is the Text Type, as this the language that students are producing and there are clear indicators of what student output should be at each proficiency level.

I began with the idea of a single-point rubric from Jennifer Golzales at the Cult of Pedagogy and combined it with John Hattie’s notion of Medals and Missions. 

I modified the idea of the single-point rubric and developed a 4-point rubric with a “3” being the goal/objective, which is a B+.  This allows for feedback below or approaching the objective and output that goes above.  Here are examples of Novice High, Intermediate Low and Intermediate Low/Mid rubrics.  You will notice the text-types and language control are aligned with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors.

I then took that 4-point scale and aligned it with letter grades, which is how grades are reported in my school.  When it comes time to average out the grades, I take the average grade of each mode (on the 4-point scale) and average them together with the formative grade using this scale.

Here is an example of how a term or semester grade would be determined using this process of assessment for competency and proficiency in the target language.

As we move in the direction of assessing what students can do with the target language, and not just what they know about it, we will need to find ways to bridge traditional grading with competency assessment.  The above process is working well for me and my students, but I will continue to modify and reassess how I’m doing it, and look forward to feedback from others as I continue to work out the details and efficacy.

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.

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.

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.

No Prep Group Speaking or Writing Activity

Do you have a deck of regular playing cards?  Yes? Well, you’re all done and the activity is ready to go.

This is a no prep activity that you can pull out at any time, on any topic, for any language at any proficiency level.

No Prep Group Speaking or Writing Activity (French, Spanish)

I call this activity Special Card (La Carte Spéciale, La Tarjeta Especial).

Here’s how it works:

  • Choose one card from the deck before beginning and write it down on a piece of paper.  Don’t show it to students. Keep the card in the deck
  • Put students into groups of 3 or 4.
  • Groups will need a piece of paper or small white board if you are focusing on writing.  No need if focusing on speaking.
  • Tell students that they will get a question and will either respond orally or in writing.  If responses are spoken each group will need individual questions each round.  If it is in writing all groups can get the same question for the round.
  • I make up the prompt on the spot based on the topic.  You can do this in advance, but I like to keep it “no prep.”  It can be novice level questions with single words answers all the way to higher levels with questions about a reading or video.
  • If the response is correct, hand the group a playing card.  Their points for the round are the value of the card.

No Prep Group Speaking or Writing Activity (French, Spanish)

  • Ace is 1 point, number cards (2-10) are their face value, a Jack is 13, a Queen is 11 and a king is 12.  [The Jack, Queen & King values are arbitrary.  You can make them what you would like.]
  • Once all cards are earned, and the deck is depleted, groups add up their points. The final move is to reveal the Special Card, which is worth 25 or 30 additional points.  The group with that card earns the additional points.
  • The group with the highest points wins the round.
  • Collect cards back.  If there is time to play another round groups can continue with their points from the previous game or start fresh.
  • If you’re playing additional games, be sure to choose new special cards each time.

The topics and proficiency levels are open depending on what you are doing in your class.  Here are some prompt ideas

Novice Low-Mid:

  • What are three colors, animals, days, months, seasons, articles of clothing, activities, etc.
  • Questions about concrete vocabulary themes that require a 1-2 word spoken or written response.

Novice High:

  • Where do you …?
  • When do you …?
  • What are your opinions about…?
  • Questions about concrete vocabulary themes that require a sentence of chunked spoken or written language as a response.

Intermediate Low:

  • Describe….
  • Sentence level questions about details in a story
  • Questions about personal or story details that require a complete spoken or written sentence response created by the group.

Intermediate Mid:

  • Explain…
  • Tell me about…
  • Why…
  • What is…
  • When did
  • When will…
  • Questions on themes covered in the current unit that require 2-3 spoken or written sentences that are connected by transition words.

Intermediate High:

After groups read a passage together on their own…

  • Specific or general questions to demonstrate understanding
  • Questions on themes covered in the reading that require 3-4 spoken or written sentences that are connected by transition words and may require speaking or writing in various time-frames.

I also talk about this activity on episode 25 of the World Language Classroom Podcast.

French & Spanish Digital Writing Activity: Moving Verbs

Sometimes students know the meaning of verbs. Sometimes they know the forms. But, isn’t it great when they use accurate verbs in the correct context?

Put that together with a no-prep, time saving activity for you and it’s even more than a simple win-win.

Simply share these digital activities with students and they will move through a seamless process of identify meaning and forms and then putting it all together and writing their own sentences

This no-prep-for-the-teacher activity makes sure that your students don’t just master meaning and forms. They will combine these skills and write accurate and meaningful sentences on their own.

Take a look at the French version:

and the Spanish version:


Digital French & Spanish Task Cards with Google Slides™

Task Cards are individual cards that offer students opportunities to engage with a particular topic in various forms.  There are different challenge or proficiency levels.  Task cards are useful because they provide opportunities for  easy differentiation.You may have used the paper versions of these in the classroom.  I created digital versions with Google Slides™.  They can easily be shared with students through platforms such as Google Classroom™.

There are 5 categories of prompts in each vocabulary task card set.  

Picture with choice of 4 words

Word with choice of 3 pictures

Fill in missing letters 

2 pictures, student writes words

Picture, student writes a sentence

There are 6 categories of prompts in the verb form task card sets.

1 Subject Pronoun, 4 Infinitives, student writes verb forms 

1 Infinitive, 4 Subject Pronouns, student writes verb forms

4 Verb Forms, student writes infinitive 

Sentence with Verb Missing, students chooses verb and writes form 

Subject Pronouns and Conjugated Verb, student completes sentence  Infinitive, student writes sentence