Level Up Language Framework (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 7)

My cyberamiga Amy Pento (@amypento) recently put into words something that’s been on my mind a lot in the last few years:  “most teachers were not taught how to teach reading & writing, only how to assign it.”  I know this is definitely the case for me, and I am still learning how to teach the art and craft of reading and writing to my students.   Erin Carlson’s article in the March/April 2016 issue of The Language Educator that has been a great resource to help me accomplish more complex writing in my upper novice & lower intermediate courses. You can find the article here, compliments of Erin.

Students need to add more depth, details, and elaboration to their work, but frequently were stumped for what they could add that was within their current skill level.  I took Erin’s ideas and changed them into a student-friendly handout and have seen excellent results in students’ writing and confidence levels. You can see a copy of one of the handouts here: Level up sentence framework travel E2

Here are some sample unedited student responses using the framework.  These are level 2 students in the first unit of the year, responding to the question “What kind of movie do you not like at all?”IMG_2946.jpgIMG_2932.jpg


Perfect? No.  But they communicate the authors’ ideas with support and depth.  When this is viewed as assessment that can inform instruction, I identified some things that will be worked into the next class story so that we see them more.

This framework has become one of the structures that is now woven into each unit.  The responses above came from a unit on entertainment; it’s an easy edit to make a version of this handout applied to each new unit.  After we walk through each step of sample sentences, I have students respond to one of the questions on the back and we enter a feedback loop.  They peer review work with a checklist that asks them to look for things like a variety of sentence starters, support for sentences, and connecting words.  Students then have an opportunity to edit their work before submitting it to me.  I rate them on the rubric included and provide some feedback on what they can do to improve.  After returning the work to them, they review the feedback and have the opportunity to ask questions before we complete the second question.

We are currently working on a unit about World Heritage Sites and travel.  I added a step to our feedback loop: showing exemplary student work (without names) and narrating what made it so good.  Here are three examples:



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I lightly edited these examples to correct grammar, spelling, etc., because I want students to see accurate language.  However, this is still student work.  I added highlighting and animation so that we saw the text first, and then the colors came in.

  • gold: variety of sentence starters & expressions
  • turquoise: adding support for opinions
  • red: level up vocabulary like connectors
  • red numbers: showing multiple examples of support for opinions
  • purple: adding a related tangent that lends more support to the main idea

Student response to these strategy has been very positive.  I’ve seen boosts not only in students’ written expression, but in their confidence and willingness to try new things.  The feedback loop is a safety net where they know that the goal is growth, and where they won’t be penalized for errors.  That combination has been a game changer!

Edit 12/3/18:  My colleague from across the hall has made a German version of a level up sheet.  You can find it here: Level Up Document_German Version  Gracias, Will!

Edit 5/8/19:  Rebecca Blouwoulff created a French edition of the level up sheet.  Find it here: French Level up sentence framework



Vidas Impactantes

In my classes we make a point to read every day.  Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more… sometimes it’s a dive into authentic resources, and other times it’s working with extended reading in the form of comprehension-based readers or even novels (depending on the level of the class and the student).  One of the resources that has become invaluable in my classes is comprehension-based readers like Vidas Impactantes from Fluency Matters.

I have a class set of Vidas and have used them two different ways so far–once as a quick and easy read with my AP students and as a self-selected reading for intermediate students’ book club.  Later this year we will read it in level 2 as a key piece of our final unit that centers on biographies of world changers.  Fluency Matters provided the first set of books for me to try out and we liked it so much that we bought another set.  The opinions here are my own.

There are so many things that I like about this book!  It is a collection of brief biographies  of six influential hispanohablantes from across the globe:

  • Roberto Clemente (baseball & humanitarian, Puerto Rico)
  • Azucena Villaflor (activist, founder of Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Argentina)
  • Celia Cruz (cultural icon, singer, Cuba)
  • Julio Iglesias (singer, Real Madrid player, Enrique’s dad, Spain)
  • Luis Urzúa (miner trapped in Chile–credited with being the leader of the group & contributing to their survival)
  • María Reiche (German born Peruvian mathematician, researcher of Nazca lines)

From sports to music to science, there is something here to connect with a wide variety of students.

I learned a lot from reading the book myself. I had no idea about Julio’s soccer past, and knew nothing about María Reiche.  I love the idea that there is a balance of women and men, and that we get to touch on six different places while exploring the stories.  I appreciate that there are contemporary connections present here–students may not know much about Julio but they are aware of Enrique. The story of the trapped miners is compelling and recent, and learning more about Luis Urzúa makes it even more so. In my level 2 classes we are wrapping up a unit around travel and exploring World Heritage Sites, and Nazca Lines were one of the sites we “visited” virtually and intrigued many students.  I am looking forward to sharing María Reiche’s story with them a little later in the year to reconnect with their enthusiasm on the topic.

One of the other things I appreciate about this book is its flexibility.  You can read it all… or you can read it in segments because the biographies are separate chapters. It follows a fairly predictable format that improves its readability and provides an easy segue into comparisons between the subjects. It has enough content to be interesting and engaging, but the vocabulary is controlled enough so as not to overwhelm upper novice-lower intermediate learners. It’s an easy read for upper intermediate learners and an excellent tool for fostering discussion among them.  I plan on leveraging that flexibility later this year when I’ll have students in groups to working on sections of the book & presenting to each other.  More on that to come!

In short, Vidas Impactantes by Kristy Placido is a must have for your collection.  Its flexibility, engagement level, and positive approach to diversity make it an excellent use of limited funds for novice and intermediate classrooms alike.  A special note to teachers new to comprehension-based readers:  this is a good one to start with.  Don’t miss the teachers’ guide either–Fluency Matters’ guides are top notch!   You can find all the materials for this excellent book here.


Two new resource packs: Pets & Thanksgiving

I’ve been editing and streamlining some resources into more cohesive activity packs.  Today I wrapped up two of them, both for novice learners:  Pets and Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving activity pack is an IPA-style activity to lead students through reading and chatting about Thanksgiving history and traditions in the US.  It is designed for novice high-intermediate low range language learners, and is available for purchase here.

The pets IPA-style activity pack combines a class-sourced Mascota Especial activity, interviews, listening comprehension based on a trailer for The Secret Life of Pets, and a community-action oriented presentational writing task about pets available for adoption in local shelters.  I use these activities in level one before working on family because we get practice with high frequency topics (name, age, description, likes/dislikes) but with fewer options–so more reps.  You can download this pack from my TPT store here.