Let’s talk! Semi-Spontaneous Speaking for Intermediates

No matter the year–COVID impacted or otherwise–students need opportunities to speak the languages that they are acquiring. What sounds like a simple task can also feel daunting to design & execute, especially in the sea of other challenges.

Enter Semi-Spontaneous Speaking. These activities have been sitting in my “do this someday” files since Central States Conference of 2017. I ran across notes for them when I was purging some files and realized that I had re-discovered a gold mine! Betsy Houchins & Nicole Clement created & shared these ideas, and then I turned them into slide decks / card decks to use in class. Wendy Farabaugh then converted the Spanish decks to French. Merci Wendy!

Each activity gives students a short prompt within a framework that encourages them to think & speak using the language that they already know. Some–like the 3 in 8 activity–are gameified, while others like Parejas de Palabras are a solid introduction into later activities that require comparison. All are engaging, challenging, and have been classroom tested.

You can find the folder of activities for Spanish and French here. German is in the works and will be added soon. I’d love to offer more versions in other languages–please reach out if you are interested in contributing.

Patria y Vida

The song Patria y Vida is causing quite a sensation throughout the Spanish-speaking world. It is a fantastic resource to accompany the book Casa Dividida and a deeper dive into Cuba, especially with upper level students. Here are some resources to help teachers dive in to the topic:

A bit of background information for teachers:

Brief intro/overview

Alt.Latino podcast

Activities for students–aimed at students in upper level courses (approximately intermediate mid):

Interpretive reading–pre-listening: background before the song

Song activity pack–including running dictation pre-listening

Lyrics translation/matching (Formative activity)

Current Events in AP Spanish Language & Culture (now with French too!)

I’ve had students explore current events connected to our class periodically, but this was one of the activities that was the casualty of remote/hybrid/pandemic learning. As I bring it back this year, I wanted to revamp it and strengthen its impact. One feature that I’m adding regularly is small speaking/discussion groups based on what they’ve researched. This will also help us to turn our interpretive task into a mini IPA as we discuss the content and then can roll into mini presentations about connections and comparisons that they discover. I’ve also added sentence starters to spark deeper thoughts and sharing.

Here’s a copy of the handout that I’ll give students in my AP Spanish course. Scroll down for a version in French.

How do you use current events in your classes?

Leveling Up Comparisons with Cyber Sandwiches

Today I’m sharing another strategy that I use throughout my classes to scaffold student interaction, moving us from input to discussion, and finally, output. Not only is the Cyber Sandwich an excellent tool for scaffolding language, it also supports collaboration and comparison/contrast. As with many of the strategies in my classes, I love that it is a low prep/high yield tool easily adaptable across levels, languages, and units.

The Cyber Sandwich protocol is from the book Eduprotocols is explained in detail here (including a helpful explainer video). The highlights are:

  1. Students read/view/listen to a source of content and take notes on it. The content can be the same for both people or can represent differing viewpoints.
  2. They meet in pairs to discuss that content & create a Venn diagram
  3. They individually write a summary paragraph that incorporates content from both participants.

The activity is run through Google Slides, so it is easily adaptable to any version of the in person – remote teaching spectrum.

While at first glance this activity seems like something that teachers have been doing for a long time in their classes, the template with scaffolding for writing is what sets this version apart for me. Injecting sentence starters and connectors–much like in roving paragraph frames–supports ALL students in taking the next step on their language journey. Struggling students get help in getting started while more advanced students get help in creating more complex output. Another important point to consider is that working with structures like this throughout the curriculum is incredibly helpful for students who continue their studies through AP and IB classes (and their teachers too!).

You can download a copy of the slides with the Spanish sentence starters + connectors here. A request: If you teach a language other than Spanish and adapt it to your language, would you share it back? I’ll post it for others to access as well.

Update 4/19/21: Thanks to Stephanie Kasten (@amulsolo) we have a French edition too! Grab a copy here.

Leveling Up with a Sentence Framework

This is an update and addition to previous presentations/documents in collaboration with Erin Carlson around the topic of supporting and scaffolding student output. See more about her work here, including an article she wrote for The Language Educator.

In previous posts (including the one above) I have shared a handout that I used in my classes to walk students through the three formulas that Erin recommends for elevating the complexity of sentence construction, even for level 1. While that form is still helpful, I wanted an edition that was editable by others–including students–to make it more effective in remote & hybrid environments. You can download a copy here. Thank you to Rebecca Blouwolff for her suggestions in the re-imagining process.

There are two versions in the file: the first version has touches of Spanish; the second version is completely in English. Both are set up to print OR be used in a digital environment. Teachers can edit anything by editing the master, and students can write directly in the document using the text boxes provided.

I hope you find them helpful :). Thanks for reading!

Leveling Up with Roving Paragraph Frames

One of the things I have been missing most in virtual classes–and now in hybrid classes with restrictions on movement–is the active interaction between students as we go about our work of collaborating and growing our language skills. Roving paragraph frames is a strategy that I learned about from Sally Barnes at ACTFL 2020, and is based on work in Anna Matis’ book 7 Steps to a Language Rich Foreign Language Classroom. I love this activity framework because it promotes reading, speaking, listening, and writing while scaffolding growth for all learners AND giving us a chance to move.

Roving paragraph frames are a low prep, high yield strategy that can be used in any unit, class, or level. They combine sentence starters as scaffolds and end in a student-written paragraph. The general outline goes like this:

  1. Students are partnered up
  2. Teacher provides a sentence starter connected to a class topic–on a handout or projected and students copy it down
  3. Pairs collaborate to finish the sentence and write it on their paper
  4. Find a new partner
  5. Each partner reads out loud the sentence they wrote with partner #1. It’s important to read all previously written content with each new partner.
  6. Teacher provides a new stem to continue the paragraph. Pairs collaborate to make a new sentence without repeating any content from their original sentence.
  7. Repeat steps 4-7 as many times as teacher desires. I would use 4-6 total rotations for lower levels, but perhaps increase that number for upper levels.
  8. Send students to their seats to edit/wordsmith their paragraphs that they have now created with their sentences created during this process. This should be a smooth process due to the injection of structure and academic language provided by the sentence stems.

A sample frame for a lower level class might take shape like this:

  • It’s important to travel because…
  • Also…
  • And in addition…
  • I would most like to visit…
  • However…
  • Most of all…

There is no one set formula–the sentence starters can and will change according to the topic and complexity of the content. Here are my top 10 favorites to mix and match:

Using sentence stems gives all students a helping hand by giving them ideas to get started–an often overlooked part of the learning process. It also adds in a layer of more sophisticated language that starts to approximate the gap between their ideas and their target language production.

So… reading, writing, speaking, listening, interacting, and building confidence and language skills… what’s not to love? Not much, but I couldn’t figure out how to do the activity within our social distancing guidelines. Until I saw this tweet and realized that Google Slides could be our answer:

… and an adaptation was born.

I used Google Slides to make a template to convert this framework into a small group review assignment for one of my upper level classes. (Find the template here) Update 4/28/21: here’s a template all in English

The general idea is the same, but without the movement & change in partners. The steps went like this:

  1. Students were placed in groups of 3-4 and were provided a copy of the slide deck. One person opened the file and shared it with the others so that they could work simultaneously. The slide deck is currently set up for groups of 4, and no real adjustment is needed to have smaller groups–just skip the additional individual slides.
  2. Students reviewed the assigned content, then completed all 10 sentence starters on an individual slide in the slide deck (slides 3-6).
  3. At the designated time, they “met” as a group at slide 7. They took turns sharing their individual sentences and as a group they selected the strongest option and recorded it into the frame on slide 7.
  4. After working through slide 7, they were then tasked with reworking their sentences into a cohesive paragraph on slide 8 that summarized their views. Each group submitted one collaborative paragraph for review.

I really liked this activity for many reasons:

  • It’s versatile and very easy to set up
  • The students are doing the work and it is a confidence builder.
  • It promotes collaboration and language skills.
  • I heard students saying things like “we need to add more connectors” and coaching one another through improving their writing.
  • It allowed me to circulate through the room and offer timely feedback.
  • It was easy to execute in a hybrid environment with some students in person and others at home.
  • It was an effective way to review recent content and extend it by writing about it.
  • It complements other strategies that we’ve used in class like our level up framework.

All in all, it’s a keeper!

Scaffolding Student Output: SWCOLT 2021

This weekend marks a first for me: attending and presenting at SWCOLT’s conference. As an east coast resident I don’t make it out to the SWCOLT region often, and I’m excited to hear the work that teachers in that region are doing. Thanks for welcoming me!

I’ll be presenting on Sunday, March 28 in the Oklahoma Room at 4:15-5:00 p.m. EDT/3:15-4:00 p.m.CDT/ 2:15-3:00 p.m. MDT /1:15-2:00 p.m. PDT /10:15-11:00 a.m. HST and am grateful to share what I have learned and classroom tested about using chat mats, sentence starters, and sentence builders to support students in having the confidence to say what they need to say in writing and speaking. The handout for the session is available here. I hope to see you there!

Scaffolding Conversation, No Matter the Distance

One of the challenges in our current teaching context is that our time in class has been significantly reduced–for me, I see my students for about 90 minutes a week instead of 90 minutes a day. One of the casualties of this change has been the multiple scaffolded conversations that we would pepper in to class, from “talk to your partner” and “find someone who…” to taking a deeper collaborative dive into what students read/heard/viewed. I’m feeling this loss. We talk every period, but it’s just not the same, even with breakout rooms. It’s particularly easy for intermediate students to stay in the comfort of novice-level speech, but I want more. I want to continue to cultivate conversational skills and connections among my students, but am trying to figure out how to do this when I can’t be everywhere at once AND I want them to build their self-sufficiency with their language skills.

My favorite resources to use and create are ones that are flexible and versatile so that they are easy to adapt to multiple units. In an effort to support intermediate students in maintaining TL use in conversations, I’ve made a slide deck that can be used to spark/scaffold conversation after any reading. Each slide also has some sentence starters to help students get started speaking while remaining open-ended enough to allow them to include their thoughts. I’d like to send a shout-out to Sally Barnes (@MsBSpanish) because her ACTFL presentation reminded me how powerful these sentence stems can be for students!

The progression for this activity is for students to read/annotate a piece of text before coming to class, including preparing three discussion questions about what they’ve read. Once in class, I put them into small groups and provide them with the slide deck. Then as a group they talk through the questions with the goal of sustaining TL conversation. I rotate from group to group listening and assisting as needed. While it isn’t a total solution, it is helpful in supporting student growth and risk-taking with the language. Hopefully it will help you too!