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Previous YANA: Classroom Advice

How Do We Teach Learners How to Learn? Preparing with both Short - and Long-Term Goals in Mind - May 2015
How Do We Teach Learners How to Learn? Many and Varied Contacts with the Material - Mar/Apr 2015
Teaching Regular Simple Past Tense Verbs - Jan/Feb 2015

The Travelling Teacher - Nov/Dec 2014
How do we teach learners how to learn? - Sept/Oct 2014
How do You Spend your Personal Reading Time? - Jul/Aug 2014
What Are Teens Reading? - May/Jun 2014
Achieving Success when Entering a Contest - Mar/Apr 2014
Cultural Resources: Books, Film, Art, for starters - Jan/Feb 2014

ACTFL-NCSSFL Can-Do Statements and Benchmarks Provide a Solid Basis for Increasing Proficiency - Nov/Dec 2013
Ideas Garnered at State Foreign Language Conference - Sep/Oct 2013
How can I become less rattled by the presence of an observer in my classroom? - Jul/Aug 2013
Tutoring a Family Heritage Language - May/Jun 2013
More STEM Ideas that have Become STEAM in Nature - Mar/Apr 2013
Oh, What Fun It Is … To teach STEM in a foreign language - Jan/Feb 2013

Mini Immersions: Everyday happenings - Nov/Dec 2012
A New Year: Starting out by throwing out - Oct 2012
Communities: Hardest Standard or Greatest Opportunity? - Jul 2012
Ah-Ha! Often Leads to Beneficial Comparisons - May/Jun 2012
Making Connections with Reflexive Verbs - Mar 2012
Bringing Culture Seamlessly into the Classroom - Jan 2012

Maintaining Control of the Conversation - Nov 2011
Tracking Learning, Experiences, Abilities, and General Language Growth with LinguaFolio - Sep 2011
Musings on the Theme - July 2011
Observation and the Five Senses in a Restaurant - May 2011
Integrating Global Awareness with Standards-Based Instruction - April 2011
Choosing Web 2.0 Technology - Mar 2011
Wanting to do The Right Thing - Feb 2011
How to encourage students to be helpful in the community? - Jan 2011

Technology for Teachers - Dec 2009

Where to find practical information and lesson plans?
How to prepare students for in-class debate? 
Ideas on how to help students feel comfortable reading poetry in a language that’s not their own? 
How to motivate my students to learn a foreign language?
How to teach level one students in the target language (TL)?
How can I get my students to speak more in class?
How do I use authentic materials in my classroom?
How to ensure that the students have the interaction and conversation that is so important in language learning
How to use magazine pictures and art prints in my classroom?
Useful techniques for vocabulary retention
How to make literature interesting to upper level students?
How to teach grammar and vocabulary through songs?
How best to do error correction in speaking?
Encouraging students to speak in class
Managing role plays
Language Lessons for Pre-Teens (7th graders)
Beginning Teacher of Spanish: What to Teach?
Should I use only French in class?
E-Mail writing exchanges
Finding classroom materials on the web
What is a MOO?
Setting up a collaborative Internet project

May 2015

How Do We Teach Learners How to Learn? Preparing with both Short - and Long-Term Goals in Mind
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

Setting goals is what makes our day go smoothly. If we know where we are headed we have a much better chance of arriving. This is because we are better organized, have what we need at hand, and don't have extraneous things interferring in the process. Successful planning relies on both long term goals and short term goals and a list of resources to accompany them. Read more... (PDF)

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March - April 2015

How Do We Teach Learners How to Learn? Many and Varied Contacts with the Material
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

This issue we return to the series of columns that address how we can help learners learn how to learn. We will focus our attention on providing many and varied contacts with the language our students are learning. Our task as teachers is to create instances in which students act, react, or interact…in, with, and about the language. Read more... (PDF)

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January - February 2015

Teaching Regular Simple Past Tense Verbs
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

We spend almost a full year on the simple present tense verbs, both regular and irregular. Then, wham! along comes second year and a ton of verb tenses one right after another. … We all have many ways of helping students pick up the pace of learning verb conjugations while keeping things in an authentic context. Sometimes authentic doesn't have to mean "by and for" the native-speaking population; it might simply mean "about myself and my friends." So, with this authentic angle in mind, here are some ideas that may or may not be new. Read more... (PDF)

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November - December 2014

The Travelling Teacher
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

I have more than one teacher this year in my department that is moving from one room to another within the building all day long. They are frazzled with trying to keep track of all of the materials necessary for each class. What can I do to help them? Cyndie, Department Chair

Travelling teachers have a very difficult life and it is unfortunate that teachers who pull this duty often are new to the teaching profession and therefore don't have a lot of experience in keeping track of multiple lesson plans, papers, and materials. Here are some practical ways in which to lower the frustration level for the floating teachers. Read more... (PDF)

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September - October 2014

How do we teach learners how to learn?
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

Teaching our students how to learn is what we do every second of every day in our classrooms. We do what we can to prepare them to take their language out of the classroom and into the real world of information exchange. After all, many of them are in our class because they want to be able to talk with someone in another language. Keeping in mind the actual processes involved in learning anything, we carefully adapt those processes to the multi-sensory challenges that learning another language presents. In general, strategies such as modeling, repeating, practicing, collaborating, and reflecting are the bread and butter of language learning. What are some of the things we do to excite our students and lead them through the language learning process? Read more... (PDF)

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July - August 2014

How do You Spend your Personal Reading Time?
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

This is a follow-up to YANA's previous column about finding reading materials for students. The reading habits of teens have shifted considerably over the last 10 years: they are reading less paper-based and more electronically-based selections now. Helping them find a comfortable media to use for their reading will go a long way toward encouraging them to read for all kinds of purposes.

Do you read in more than one language? What percentage of your reading time is spent not reading in your mother tongue? How did you develop this skill? Whatever that language is and however you may distribute it in your reading time, chances are that you do a lot of reading everyday of your life, and probably in more than one language. In addition to being essential to our job and daily routine, reading enriches our life. Read more... (PDF)

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May - June 2014

What Are Teens Reading?
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

readingiscool (3K) My students love to read and are constantly asking me what their counterparts in other countries are reading. Since I do not have personal contacts with anyone of their age, I do not know the answer to their question. What can I tell them? Are there any resources that can help me? Is there anywhere from which I can choose materials for them to read?

How wonderful that your students love to read! You've covered much of the territory already when it comes to reading in another language: These learners already understand the intrinsic values of reading and all you have to do is provide them with some guidance and materials.

Like you, most of us do not have direct contact with someone the same age as our students, so we must find other sources. With a little imagination and some digging on your part you will be able to find something. Read more... (PDF)

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March - April 2014

Achieving Success when Entering a Contest
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

My school encourages participation in state and national contests of one sort or another. Sometimes they are forensic in nature, sometimes test-based, sometimes written or performed, and other times they are multi-media in format. Other times it is just applying to participate in a camp. The problem is that not as many of the students as I would like actually succeed in being selected. This is true for both our school and my students. Do you have any suggestions about how I might help my students become more competitive and therefore more successful?

Entering a competition of one sort or another takes gumption and a certain amount of confidence in one's abilities. It also requires preparation, organization, attention to details, and an eye to the way in which the content is presented.

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January - February 2014

Cultural Resources: Books, Film, Art, for starters
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

I want to acquaint my students with current cultural events in the various countries where Spanish is spoken. When I do an internet search I am overwhelmed with the number of sites! How do I know what is legitimate, good, and otherwise appropriate for my students?

This, indeed, is the problem all of us face, especially when we do not travel regularly. Even with regular travel, it is very difficult to keep abreast of what is going on in one country let alone several, as is the case with languages such as Spanish or Arabic. The next problem then comes in choosing the resources and developing valid activities that address curricular goals. There is so little time for this!

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November - December 2013

ACTFL-NCSSFL Can-Do Statements and Benchmarks Provide a Solid Basis for Increasing Proficiency
Sheila W. Cockey

ACTFL and NCSSFL have just issued their Progress Indicators for Language Learners, dubbed "Can-Do Statements." Accompanying this document are benchmarks for each level and mode. Both of them provide wonderful points of departure for classroom teachers as we try to provide engaging, challenging, and enlightening activities and opportunities of exploration and expansion for our students. They also provide comfort and support in terms of knowing that we are doing the right things in our planning and presentation of lessons and curricula. Another "comfort document" is the revised ACTFL Proficiency Scale which correlates the various proficiency levels with years of high school study.

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September - October 2013

Ideas Garnered at State Foreign Language Conference
Sheila W. Cockey

I just returned from my state's foreign language teachers conference and what an amazing set of sessions I attended! Everyone should make a consummate effort to attend theirs, or a similar type of conference, every year or so. Here is a brief summary of some of the sessions I attended, with the promise of revisiting these ideas in later columns. lecture
tv Using television commercials as a rich source of cultural and linguistic information is entertaining. These short clips are readily available in places such as YouTube and will provide your students with opportunities for honing their listening and observational skills. They will see truly authentic gestures, facial expressions, typical places and dress, hear about current topics, and listen to authentic language spoken by native speakers.
rings Storytelling takes new turns and employs a host of new technology to make this fun project even more engaging for students today. The software can be used by students of all ages and it allows them to brainstorm and organize their story, write their story, create and locate images to illustrate the story, and include sound, in the form of reading or music, to accompany it. They can even make bound copies of their story. There are many places on the internet that are designed for storing student work that also enable peer editing, group work, and sharing.
camera What to do with all those photos and things that you have from your most recent trip? Use them in ways that bring your students into your travels by recording conversations in which slang and examples of various registers can be heard. Trying to figure out how the slang is used and what it refers to is fun. Identifying who is talking can be determined by the use of register. Signs are a great source for bringing in other areas of the curriculum: calculate distances, determine the best deal (price) for a particular item. Identify what service is available by looking at a sign, or use market photos to talk about foods. It will help to have a plan before you leave so you are prepared to photograph, record, and collect things that will enhance your lessons.

Creative ways to teach reading and writing through poetry gave me some ideas about how to increase student use of descriptive words and phrases and how to increase their receptivity to poetry. Use similes, metaphors and analogies to fill in the picture of what is happening. To get creative juices going, art reproductions provide a good jumping off place. Students predict what will happen next, what happened before, create a conversation between the people in the art, or write a story about what is happening.

All of these ideas are task-based and have specific purposes and goals. They seek to place students in real situations, using real materials, creating their own authentic experiences. Successful experiences require structured directions, plenty of practice, and specific outcomes. When students are provided with these, they are truly successful and excited about their progress toward proficiency.

I find that making the effort to attend a conference such as my state foreign language conference is positive in every way: I learn lots of new things and am exposed to new ideas and approaches. Reconnecting with colleagues and enlarging the network of professional associates is very rewarding. The energy I collect and bring back to my every-day situation improves the way in which I approach old problems and create exciting and interesting learning environments. Thank you to this organization for having such a stimulating conference!


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July - August 2013

How can I become less rattled by the presence of an observer in my classroom? What steps should I be following so I know that my students will behave as I want them to and that the class will go as I have it planned when someone new is there? I really freak out when my supervisor announces she will be in my classroom. When it is an un-announced observation I want to run away! Help me calm down, please.

evaluationAn integral part of successful teaching is successful self-assessment. When things derail, the engineer in charge of the train must figure out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again: Teacher Self-Assessment is ESSENTIAL for successful learning. There are several documents that purport to be assessment tools, the most recent of which is the TELL document (Teaching Effectiveness for Language Learning), a document that directly addresses the issues of teaching another language. Much of what follows stems from the TELL document and my own experiences of being an occasional evaluator and of regularly being evaluated.

We will take a look at the process of self-evaluation and see how it helps one to become a better and more effective teacher and how it allows the actual evaluation sessions done by a supervisor to be nothing more than another good day in the classroom.

This discussion presumes an accepted definition and detailed description of the traits and behaviors of an effective language teacher. This definition is based on the general assessment document used in a school division with fine-tuning to address language teaching. Therefore each one of us works under a slightly different evaluation tool. It is essential that every teacher and evaluator become extremely knowledgeable about the contents and the intent of the evaluation tool under which they work.

While we teach to impart wisdom of one kind or another to our students, and not to be rated excellent on our observation reports, we must keep those reports in mind as we do our noble best to teach. This includes ways to

  • knowledgeshare knowledge,
  • discover knowledge,
  • use that knowledge proficiently
  • use that knowledge wisely
  • use that knowledge responsibly
  • meet the standards of the evaluation tool
  • avoid pitfalls of evaluation (have students well-trained in procedures; don’t try anything absolutely new; do the normal routine and the expected)

Resources to consult as we prepare lessons, activities, projects, and evaluations for our students include

  • local curriculum
  • local standardized tests across the division
  • state standards for foreign language learning
  • national standards for foreign language learning
  • local teacher assessment document

General questions to ask oneself at the start of the process:

  • signsWhat constitutes self-evaluation?
  • How does one document the process?
  • When should it happen?
  • How often should it happen?
  • What are the essential questions to be asked?
  • How does one know when a course correction is necessary?
  • Who else should be involved in the process?

ESSENTIAL QUESTION #1: What constitutes self-evaluation?

What are some of the characteristics and behaviors that should be considered?

  • Knowledge of subject area
  • General classroom management skills
  • Providing students with opportunities to practice
  • Incremental steps that build to a whole
  • Different approaches to the same idea
  • Hands-on experience
  • Proficiency oriented
  • Student interest taken into account

How does the local curriculum guide the learning progress toward proficiency?

Other questions to consider include:

  • Why did my vocabulary introduction not work?
  • Why were students unable to take words from a list and form sentences, questions, conversations?
  • Why are students unable to use correct grammar in context when they are able to fill in the blank with the correct answer?
  • Did I address the various ways in which my students learn?
  • Did I address their interests?
  • Did I provide them with enough guided and free practice to learn the content?

ESSENTIAL QUESTION #2: What’s the difference between setting 5 goals to be achieved during the coming academic year and self-evaluation?

Although setting those 5 goals may be a good starting point they are not enough. Good self-evaluation is a continuous and on-going practice, some of which should happen during the teaching, some of which should happen immediately after the class or exercise, and some of which should happen with some time distance for a look at the larger picture. In addition, good self-evaluation encompasses more than just 5 goals; it includes everything a teacher does every day.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION #3: Why should student grades (progress) be part of a teacher’s evaluation?

Some general questions to ask:

  • How does one know if one has taught a concept if one does not look at the way learners apply the concept?
  • How does the effect of reluctant learners skew the student progress scores?
  • How can one reduce the number of reluctant learners?
  • How can one develop assessment tools that look at learning from a variety of directions?

By asking and answering these questions, by giving careful thought to the answers, and by using that information to modify and adjust what goes on in the classroom on a daily basis a teacher will continue to improve the success of students. It is the student success that, in accordance with the local curriculum’s guide to content and proficiency, reflects the effectiveness of the teacher.

Regular monitoring results in

  • Students knowing what is expected of them
  • Students being comfortable in their content knowledge
  • Students being comfortable demonstrating their proficiency and knowledge
  • Teachers being organized and focused on stated goals
  • Teachers being comfortable as leaders of the learning taking place in the classroom
  • Teachers being less rattled by the presence of an observer in the classroom.

Remember, your goal is for observation day to be nothing more than just another great day in your class!


Cockey, Sheila W. A Guide for Teacher Evaluation. Presented at the 2013 LTE conference in Washington, D.C. June 1, 2013.

Cockey, Sheila W. Why Assessing Yourself Begins with Assessing Your Students. Presented at Session 2 of the FLAVA-Foreign Language Teachers’ Workshop. FLAVA and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. WLU Multimedia (TMC) and FLAVA. February 28, 2013.

Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning. (accessed May 28, 2013).

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first May - June 2013

Tutoring a Family Heritage Language: Fun while learning Advice from YANA
Sheila W. Cockey

I have started tutoring two young girls (ages 9 and 11) in their parents’ language for one hour a week. The parents want their children to learn the language because one day they will return to their native country. How do I start and how do I make it enjoyable? I do have a textbook, but would prefer to not just turn the pages of a book. Any suggestions you have will be very helpful. (From Randi)

One of the joys of teaching another language is the opportunity to do what we want, when we want, and how we want…within reason of course. When approached about private tutoring, before agreeing to take on the task, I talk with both the students and the parents (and sometimes with the teacher if there is one) to find out what the goals are. When, as in this case, the goal is to help retain or learn the family’s native language so that when returning “home†everyone can communicate, then the classes can become fun. Fun? Yes, because they can take place in a real environment. Find that real environment by taking your students outside and engaging them in everyday activities in their new language. For example:

  • In a grocery store, find foods that are typical of their cuisine. Describe their appearance, their flavor, and how they are prepared. What dishes are they an ingredient for? In which course do they generally appear? (Onions do not normally appear in a dessert dish.)

  • Talk about how do children fill their play time. What games do they play? Are they familiar to them now (hop scotch, jump rope, soccer)? Will they learn new games?

  • In a big-box store, explore the clothing section. What kind of clothing is appropriate for various activities? Would a bathing suit be worn to school? Would snow boots be available in a store they would go to while visiting grandparents?

  • Visit the local park, and talk about the activities that take place there. Who frequents the park? At what times of the day? What is their preferred activity there? Do these activities parallel or differ from the new environment? Do the same with a discussion about an amusement park, or any public space where a family might go to relax.

  • Go to a movie, and do everything in the language: decide which movie to see and why. How will you get there? Purchase the tickets and the movie snacks. Would the same snacks be available in both places?

  • Visit a museum that has a display of culturally relevant artifacts. Read the information plaques and talk about the items and dioramas, including the plaque information, all in the new language. This will help them have some visual ideas about what they will see when they visit.

  • Talk about pet care with specific reference to the pets they might encounter when visiting. This may be a bird, fish, or a monkey, as well as a dog or cat.

For these children to be able to communicate, structure can take a back seat at the start and it will be acquired through repetition in authentic situations. Probably it is best to start with present tenses, move to simple future, and then to the past. They aren’t going to need formal grammar until they go to school, and there should be support both at home and school to help them learn what they need to know. With only one hour a week, a tutor cannot provide both experiential language and grammar. Be sure to check with the parents about what their true goals are.
On the other hand, if structure is paramount then that’s where the focus of the one-hour-a-week session must be. Enlist the parents’ help in using the grammar at home in more authentic situations. While it is true that you can include the experiential with the grammar, an hour is not much time in which to accomplish a lot. The parents must be made aware of this fact.
Either way, this can be a fun endeavor for both you and the students. Children are active and activity must be part of their learning; it will help lodge the lesson in their memory and they are more likely to retain what you have done with them during their time with you.

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March - April 2013

More STEM Ideas that have Become STEAM in Nature: Adding in the Arts
Sheila W. Cockey

I love the idea of cross-curricular instruction and I think it’s the best way to learn a foreign language: by making connections. I am an elementary school Spanish teacher and we are considering more STEM- and STEAM-centered projects in our school. Do you have any suggestions or resources to push me in the right directions? (from Alex)

This request was prompted by my previous YANA post about STEM in the foreign language classroom. STEAM adds the arts to the science-technology-engineering-mathematics lineup. Since I’m an art-lover and try to bring the arts into my lessons as much as possible, I love the STEAM approach to learning!

Finding art prints that incorporate many of the STEM elements is exceptionally easy by going to a museum website and downloading an appropriate print. Other places where photographs and other images may be found include manufacturer’s websites. For example:

crayola has a wonderful Explore Color tab in which the students can explore what color is, including reflectivity and electromagnetic waves. In addition there are experiments where children can discover how surroundings affect color. They provide several free professional resources. The Inspiration Galleries provide…inspiration.
smithsonian The Smithsonian Museum of American Art has an on-line lesson plan, “Art and the Electromagnetic Spectrum: A Classroom Lesson,†that addresses the use of electromagnetic radiation in art conservation.
cappy Also on the SMAA website is a wonderful cartoon character, Cappy, who is based on a bottle cap giraffe in the collection, that helps young children look at their world in different and more discerning ways. It’s a fun website!
zoo Find a zoo with a web cam on an animal from your language area. Learn about the animal and watch its behaviors. The Smithsonian National Zoo has a web cam on an Andean Bear and her two cubs.
nationalgallery Using the National Gallery of Art website where many images may be printed for use in the classroom, find images related to the vocabulary or cultural topics of your lessons. Then, use the lesson they have developed for Edouard Manet’s The Railway as a guide to increase observational and narrative skills. Find pictures that allow you to focus on STEM topics. In this particular painting, young students could be asked to count the number of rails on the fence. Other art galleries have similar on-line resources.
ngakids NGAKids is another good resource from the National Gallery of Art. It has interactive activities that include creating works of art, portraits, still lifes and landscapes; work with digital photography and image editing; and a host of other intriguing activities that can be adapted to your language area.
science Grow a garden in a glove. Habitat overcrowding. Cookie mining. Click on the Education tab at the Museum of Science+Industry Chicago for these simple activities that include science, engineering, mathematics and just plain fun.

For some of the other arts:

  • Find songs with lyrics about the environment.
  • Read science fiction one-act plays or short stories; have students rewrite version in the language and perform them.
  • The musical world is reformed through the use of electronic instruments and digitization. Explore the use of electronic instruments in the music your students listen to daily.

While all of the suggested websites are in English, you can devise lessons in your language for your students. These excellent resources will help students explore the world and learn to talk about regular, everyday things in their new language. Your new lessons will reach out to your students and engage them in real life while incorporating your local curriculum, your state standards, and the concepts of STEM and STEAM.

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January - February 2013

Oh, What Fun It Is … To teach STEM in a foreign language class!
YANA: Sheila W. Cockey

STEM scares me! I don’t know anything about sciences, technology, or mathematics and engineering really frightens me. My evaluation this year is partially based on how well I incorporate these areas into my already crowded lessons. Do you have any suggestions for me?

One of the things I like most about being a language teacher is that I can teach just about anything I wish to teach and it will be part of my required program. I’m sure you are using a text book of some type. Take a look at the contents of each of the units and chapters. I’m quite certain that you will find things already embedded into the text that are either directly applicable or that lend themselves to the application of at least one of the STEM areas.

First, let’s take a quick look at how STEM is inter-related. (See figure 1) Knowledge of mathematics is essential for the other three areas. Technology is a portal to an expansive set of resources for all areas. Science and Technology are the study of how things work. Science is the one most commonly accessed in text books through such things as health and the environment, and contributes to an understanding of the other three.

Figure 1: The Interconnection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics into STEM in the Curriculum

Graphic Designed By: Sheila W. Cockey

The chapter on nutrition presents a wonderful opportunity to explore biology, health and weights and measures when you ask students to plan a balanced diet with appropriate calories, grams of fiber and servings. Bringing in other parts of STEM, charts and graphs illustrate what each student considers to be a balanced diet in a country where the language is spoken.

The chapter on careers allows you to bring in the wide variety of employment opportunities available in technology, in which you can include vocabulary related to the various jobs. Students could make a chart illustrating the numbers of each type of job available, the time it takes to become eligible for the job, and the average starting salary. Perhaps one of your students wants to explore the field of biomechanics, which combines the study of both science and engineering.

The chapter on the environment engages students in zoology, hydrology, climatology and weather, botany, economics and even politics. Presenting a case before the local government for the creation of parkland to preserve natural habitat is exciting and can engage students in real life issues in their home community.

Now that you are a bit more comfortable with the idea of integrating STEM into your daily lessons, many ideas should be open to you. When setting up the culminating activities, consider the underlying STEM characteristics of a particular set of vocabulary or cultural items and include those in the prompt you provide to your students when designing their project.

The point is that your students should be applying their language skills to the solving of everyday problems that involve sciences, engineering, technology, and mathematics. So, take a deep breath, jump into the STEM pool and start swimming.

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Nov/Dec 2012

YANA: Mini Immersions: Everyday happenings
Sheila W. Cockey

How do I get my students to use more of the language in less formal situations? I try to use the language in the classroom all of the time, but I just don’t feel that they are getting the kind of practice they really need.

talkingSo many of us enjoy participating in an immersion weekend and we gain so much from it. Let’s try to remember how rewarding it is to function entirely in another language for a given period of time. Then, let’s try to provide that opportunity for our students every time they are in our classrooms. I know we all try to use the language as much as possible, but if we set aside a time designated as a mini-immersion, with some guidance on what to do during that time, we will increase the sense of achievement that our students have about their own progress toward proficiency. Here are some ideas and suggestions for you to consider.

Organize Class Time

  • Start out slowly in the lower levels with only 1-3 minutes designated, gradually raising the concentrated time to 10 or 15 minutes as the year progresses.
  • Start out with more time in the more advanced levels, perhaps at 5 minutes, gradually increasing the concentrated time to 15 or 20 minutes as the year progresses.
  • Decide which days you will do this. I recommend doing it every day, and at least 2 to 3 times a week, so students can really sense their progress. Since the mini-immersion should never be skipped it is best to do it in the first half of the class period.
  • Although most effective when the mini-immersion time is not broken up, it is okay to do more than one 5-minute session in a class period.
  • Remember, the conversation can (and should) pertain directly to the plan of the day. This is not simply a sit and chat about what’s going on in school activity; it is relevant to the curriculum.
  • reading

Choose Topics Carefully

  • Start out with very familiar material and gradually increase the complexity of the topics.
  • Be sure to include new vocabulary and structure topics for some of the days so that these precious minutes are devoted directly to the curriculum.
  • Friday’s class could be a combining of the previous day’s topics, or occasionally a “free-for-all†where students talk about whatever they choose.

Ways to Track Progress

  • people
  • Carry a pocket recorder and walk around the room mentioning student’s names.
  • Ask students to record their own conversations once a month.
  • Students keep an immersion reflection notebook in which they reflect on their weekly progress.

Remember that this is time for the students to be talking and for you to be listening. This works best if everyone is talking at once. Set up groups of 2, 3 or 4 students and either shift the students during the time so they repeat the same material with other speakers, or shift them each day or each week.

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October 2012

A New Year: Starting out by throwing out
Sheila W. Cockey

filesHuh? Aren’t I supposed to be collecting things for the new year, not throwing away things? That may be true, but only to a certain extent. All of us have things in our filing cabinets, closets, desk drawers, and book cases that haven’t been touched in years. (How many of you still have purple handouts?) How to decide what to keep and what to toss is a big question and it does take a lot of time to go through things.

Some guidelines for keeping vs. throwing:

  • If it hasn’t been used during the tenure of your text book adoption, you probably are not going to use it again;
  • If you have created better, more modern, more interesting, more whatever material on the same topic;
  • If the students have always complained about how hard/easy/silly/not useful the activity is;
  • If the grades on the activity are woefully on the low side;
  • If it bores you to grade it;
  • If it does nothing to support the lesson;


  • If the students become excited when you pull it out;
  • If it truly supports the learning process;
  • If it is something that should go into your personal professional portfolio;
  • If it supports the curriculum
  • If it is proficiency and/or content based;
  • If it correlates to, and supports, other subject areas in a natural way;

Reduce the clutter and feel liberated! Then, as the year progresses and you accumulate new things, be judicious about what you decide to keep (and how many copies of it). Will it successfully replace something you already have? Does it facilitate seeing relationships between, among, and within a variety of topics studied? If so discard the earlier version. We put so much of ourselves into the materials we devise for our students that discarding something is like a wound that won’t heal. Believe me, it does heal! And getting rid of the stuff will make you healthier in mind, body, and spirit.

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July 2012

Communities: Hardest Standard or Greatest Opportunity?
By Sheila W. Cockey, aka YANA

I live in an area without a population who speaks the language I teach. How can I meet the Communities Standard when there isn’t a community here with which we can interact? ~Frustrated and Lonely

At first glance for many of us, this is a difficult standard to include in our daily plans. Upon further reflection and with a bit of creative thinking, Communities can be one of the more exciting standards to work with, and it incorporates many of the other standards along the way. There are two ways to approach communities: either by bringing the community into your classroom, or by taking your students out into the community.Here are some tangible suggestions for bringing the community and the classroom closer together. All of these projects were done by my high school students.

Bringing the community into your classroom:
speaker Guest Speakers
Invite people in to share their experiences with your students
media Foreign Newspapers and Magazines
Select articles, or have available for casual reading
movie Film Clips
Select a 3-5 minute clip to demonstrate a cultural trait
maracas Realia
Hands-on, visual examples of real stuff used every day
Reaching out into the community
signs Public Buildings
Prepare informational signs for employees or patrons
hospitalmenu Hospitals
Translate room service menus for patients and employees
library Community Centers and Libraries
Read to children or the elderly
schooldocs Schools
Translate student information documents

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May/June 2012

Ah-Ha! Often Leads to Beneficial Comparisons
Sheila W. Cockey, aka YANA

braintreeSometimes I have a hard time figuring out what a comparison is all about and making valuable lessons that lead to the comparisons I want my students to be making. Do you have any suggestions?Â

Comparisons are based on using what we know to make sense out of what we do not know (new information or knowledge).Â
The starting place often is making a connection between two concepts, behaviors, or items, and from there looking for similarities or differences and analyzing those relationships. Comparisons often arise from an ah-ha! moment and may not necessarily be part of the day's lesson plan, but might become the highlight of the unit. Teachers need to be aware and ready to take advantage of those moments and run with them.Â

dog-childStudents gather at the end of the day to talk about their experiences in the country they are visiting. They are staying at a language school where the owners have several dogs for pets. One night the owner was walking the dogs to their kennel where they spent the night, talking to them along the way. Suddenly one of the boys stands up with a stunned look on his face and says, “Those dogs understood that man! They must speak Spanish!â€Â As his companions looked on in amusement (Of course they speak Spanish; we’re in Costa Rica!), the young man defended his surprise by saying he had not even considered the fact that a family in Costa Rica might have pets, just like he did at home. From there came a student-generated fabulous discussion about similarities and differences the students had found between their own homes and the homes in which they were staying during the home-stay portion of their trip. The group decided that there were enough similarities to make staying with a non-English-speaking family not as uncomfortable as they had originally expected it to be. And, it made those things that weren’t familiar easier to manage because they had a new way of looking at them.

Comparisons, as seen in the true story above, serve to sharpen both the observational and analytical skills of students. Students must first

  • identify, then
  • compare and contrast elements, before
  • drawing conclusions, and possibly
  • making recommendations.ÂÂ

This process is particularly helpful in a discussion of stereotypes or other types of misunderstandings or generalizations.

So our challenge is to either create these ah-ha! moments in the classroom or to weave the information into the daily activities. The making and understanding of comparisons will create a closeness of languages and cultures that will ease and facilitate the learning process for us and for our students.ÂÂÂÂ

Click here for some activities that engage the comparisons standard.

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March 2012

Making Connections with Reflexive Verbs
YANA: You Are Not Alone
Sheila W. Cockey

I need a fresh way to introduce reflexive verbs to my students within the paramaters of the 5 C’s. Any ideas?

Connections and the foreign language classroom go hand-in-hand because we use language to connect us to our actions, thoughts, interactions, and surroundings. Using reflexive verbs can be a challenge to students, so if we create situations in which students must talk about their daily routines we are providing opportunities to perfect their language skill and to connect their new language with their real world.

Reflexive verbs can be a lot of fun to learn in an interactive way. Using a timeline is a great idea, especially using pictures. Insert some non-reflexive uses of the reflexive verbs as well. For example: I brush my (own) teeth, but I do not brush my dog’s teeth. Ask students to listen very carefully to identify the difference between the two clauses. It’s not necessary for every one of your reflexive sentences to have a non-reflexive counterpart, just enough to help students guess correctly at the difference. Give them a variety of practice opportunities (see below) before giving them their final task to complete. Be sure to remind them that not all verbs are reflexive, using a sentence like I run to school. vs I run (myself) to school.


Teacher timeline of a typical day with pictures of reflexive and non-reflexive uses of the same verb, and standard verbs.

wedding Is it reflexive or not???? tie

  • Introduce by telling students that you are going to give them a glimpse of your daily routine. Personalize it enough to grab their attention. Don’t tell them it’s a grammar lesson; you’ll lose them right away.
  • Act out your day, using 1st person singular and a variety of reflexive and other verbs. Do it twice to assure comprehension.
  • Repeat the above, asking them to listen for differences in the verb phrases.
  • Act out your day, sometimes putting the hat on a student’s head, switching around to be sure they’ve heard the reflexive pronoun when it’s supposed to be there.
  • Give a hat to a student and direct him to place it someplace. (I put the hat (on my head). I put the hat on my dog’s head.)hatchilddoghat
  • By now, they should all have picked up on the reflexive pronoun.
  • Introduce students to 2nd person by questioning them about their activities.
  • Partner students to ask and answer questions about times when they do certain things.
  • Ask students, using the 2nd person singular, to raise their hand if they participate in various reflexive activities. Keep a tally.
  • Converse about groups of people doing the same things at about the same time, using 1st person plural. (All of us wash our hands before eating.)
  • Expand to 3rd person with students narrating a picture of reflexive activities (magazine ads are great for personal hygiene products and clothing).

A culminating activity can be a variety of things such as a skit, a comic strip, a poster, a children’s story book, a radio jingle or TV ad. These should use a variety of verbs, both reflexive and not, and might illustrate a misunderstanding of whether to wash the dog’s hair or their own.

Because of the potential for misunderstanding, there can be a lot of humor here, as long as everyone is part of the joke. The thing to watch out for is that students suddenly want to make everything reflexive. When they do, act out what they’ve said, if you can, or simply ask them if they really mean xyz, using an incredulous tone.

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January 2012

Bringing Culture Seamlessly into the Classroom
YANA: You Are Not Alone

All this talk about using authentic sources for teaching culture is driving me crazy! I teach in the middle of nowhere; we have no pockets of culture nearby; there are no native speakers within a reasonable distance; and I’m not a native speaker myself. How do I bring the culture into the classroom seamlessly, every day, all year long?
~Wanting to do better, I am!

Dear Better:

It is frustrating to be in your situation; I know because I live and teach in a similar setting. I work very hard to do what you ask about, and often feel that there is more I could be doing, but what? However, I will share what I have been doing, and how my students react to it.

I must say that this task became much easier with the advent of two very valuable resources: the Internet, and the National Standards. Using both of them as a source and resource, I looked at my textbook with a different eye. The pieces of culture that were at the end of each chapter, or in side bars as afterthoughts, became guidelines for subject matter for all of my oral practice activities, and gradually became topics for all written work as well. It took time to figure out how to find things on the Internet, and to make contact with the few local resources that pop up from time to time, but the effort is worth it. My students really were never the wiser about the switch from textbook content to real content, other than to say that they found it more interesting to see “real stuff†instead of just boring old textbook stuff. Some specific examples might help you see how I did this.

boatMost Spanish text books have a unit based on Costa Rica. Vocabulary includes animals and outdoor activities, among other things. For outdoor activities, I found several on-line travel brochures that described white water rafting on several rivers. In addition, we searched for information about zip-lining, snorkeling, hiking, birding, and horseback riding. For the animal vocabulary, searching the extensive system of parks and protected lands produced a wealth of information about the animals and their habitats. This brought up questions about climate and geography, which enabled us to talk about ecology, volcanoes, cloud forests, and beaches.Â

pharmacieAnother topic that often appears in textbooks is that of personal health and well-being, including basic health topics. ÂThrough internet searching, I find advertisements for health clubs, walking organizations, and other types of fitness activities. These ads serve as resources for the students to talk about their own efforts to be physically fit. When they, or someone in their family, falls ill and a visit to the doctor and pharmacy are required, photographs of the pharmacy are very illustrative of how one goes about getting medicines, and what else they may be able to purchase at the pharmacy.

coupleSometimes I run across children’s story books that are excellent resources and models for the students. One I often use is about going to the market. Through the accompanying drawings and the shopping list, comparisons and connections with our own marketing experiences may be drawn and discussed in class. A culminating activity might be to write a children’s story about shopping for a specific event, showing proficiency with vocabulary and structure, as well as sensitivity to the culture.

skaterSeeing their vocabulary in real-life situations excites the students and stimulates them to plan a trip that includes these activities, to talk in their new language about their personal lives with more comfort, or to have conversations about which of these activities they have done or plan to do soon. This authentic information, written for native speakers, includes the structure you need to cover and your oral and written activities require students to use those structures in a context that has true meaning to them.

These few examples help to illustrate how teachers without a lot of local authentic resources can still bring authenticity to their students in the classroom. Involving students in the search for resources adds to their interest level. Nobody will tell you that this is an easy task, but it is certainly worth the time and effort it takes to find examples, and to set up the kinds of practice and assessments that make good and valid use of these materials while still following your local curriculum and your textbook.

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November 2011

Maintaining Control of the Conversation
YANA: You Are Not Alone

My students all want to be fluent communicators and conversationalists. Help! What can I do to guide them to their lofty goal?
Teacher of Tongue-Tied Students

Dear Tongue-Tied:

Communication happens in a variety of ways, and as teachers we must help our students become comfortable with communication regardless if it is interpersonal, interpretive or presentational. Most of our students come into our classes with the hope of being able to talk fluently with someone in another language. Then they find out that their goal takes a lot of work! We need to help them overcome their fear of standing in front of a group and expounding upon a topic. We need to provide them with observational, listening and reading opportunities that stretch their abilities but that don’t overwhelm their capabilities to understand what they are seeing, hearing or reading. Most importantly, for them to turn their hope into reality, we need to help them become comfortable chatting with strangers…in another language.

yana-1How to be conversationally successful? It all boils down to how one can control the flow of information. Early on in your course, ask your students to observe conversations around them, especially those of gifted conversationalists and those of the not so gifted. What is the difference? In true interactive conversations the people involved take turns speaking, and only speak a few sentences at a time. Everyone else listens to the speaker and responds appropriately by the use of gestures, facial expressions and interjections. The listeners follow up with further questions or relevant comments. Participants take turns speaking in short bursts. This is true in any simultaneous environment, whether it is face-to-face, via Skype, with texting or instant messaging, or in an internet chat room.

To help your students become competent conversationalists, to control the content and direction of their chat in their chosen new language, consider providing them with the following:

  • The linguistic tools they can handle at their level of experience and ability: vocabulary, structure, cultural milieu.

  • Frequent practice to develop critical listening skills. They don’t need to understand every word, but should be able to pull out the big words. Negatives are also important to recognize. Relaxing and letting the language flow, giving them guidelines for what to hear, and keeping the speed relatively close to native speech, will help students become effective listeners.

  • Regular use of interrogatives so they can ask questions. Asking questions allows for at least some degree of predictability about the answer. Avoid always asking yes/no questions; instead reach for information with the journalist’s list of Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, etc. These provide information for additional follow-up and/or comments.yana-2

  • Practice with constructing follow-up comments and questions.

  • Practice with place holding phrases so students know how to maintain control of the conversation. Long, silent pauses yield the control to somebody else.

  • Situations in which students must interview others, in which students interact in casual ways, in which students successfully negotiate for and receive needed information.

  • Lots of practice.

Whatever the means of communication, one thing is absolutely necessary: a common ground from which to start, often a shared experience. Once the common ground is established, individuals can start to share their thoughts. We do this in any way we can, but we reach out to others to establish contact and to walk with them for a moment or for a lifetime.

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September 2011

Tracking Learning, Experiences, Abilities, and General Language Growth with LinguaFolio! [504]
~Sheila W. Cockey

Great Beginings start with Great Ideas and Great Efforts. Every fall my thoughts turn to how I can inspire my students, how I can proove to them beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are progressing, and how can they know within themselves that they are learning useful knowledge, skills and abilities. To be successful in all three of these areas requires a lot of planning and follow-through on a regular, even daily, basis.

One of the more amazing documents available to help language learners track their learning, experiences, abilities, and general language growth, is LinguaFolio!. This is a document that was originally developed by NCSSFL*, starting in 2002, and is based on the European Language Portfolio*. First piloted in Virginia and 3 other states, it is now in national pilot form and available from a variety of sites at no charge. Along with NCSSFL, the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon* is now leading the program. Several states have versions of LinguaFolio! as well, which are either in an on-line or downloadable format.

What is so remarkable about this document is its ability to trace an individual’s language learning experiences on a truly personal level. This includes assessment by the language learner him/herself and by others. Starting with a personal language learning/experience Biography, one proceeds to build a Dossier of examples of those experiences. Finally, these experiences are put into a Passport that displays the results of the experiences that can then be shared with others.

There is a version for elementary and middle schools, developed by the Kentucky Department of Education* and several versions for high school through adult learners. I have used an adult pilot version, LinguaFolio Virginia, with my high school students with great success. As they document their language learning activities and encounters in their personal Biography and Dossier, and transfer them to their Passport, they can see how much they really have done, what progress they have made during a specific time period, and gain pride in their accomplishments. It inspires them to continue with their language study and experiences. The beauty of this document is that it documents all kinds of experiences, not just those in the classroom. So, if they watch a movie, talk with someone in a store, read a comic book, or listen to a song, they can document and reflect upon this experience.

The best on-line source I have found is on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s website*. I say “the best†because it is a series of training modules written by Faye Rollings-Carter that help the teacher move through the entire process, documenting his/her learning process while learning how to help students do the same.

I know of no better way to inspire, encourage, and cheer-lead for your students, than LinguaFolio!. Start in the early days of learning, or at some later time; include all language encounters; reflect on those experiences; and see the knowledge, skills, and abilities grow. Great Beginings start now!


Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS)

European Language Portfolio

Kentucky Department of Education

LinguaFolio Online, University of Oregon

National Council of State Supervisors for Foreign Languages (NCSSFL )

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

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July 2011

Musings on the Theme
By Sheila W. Cockey

In keeping with our theme for this month’s newsletter, “Foreign Language Teacher Shortage and Program Sustainability,†here are some musings. These are garnered from conversations I’ve had with other educators over the years and I’m just sharing some thoughts about the current future of foreign language education, how we might have arrived here, and what we might do to change the course of the future.Â

Where are we today? I think we’ll all agree that most of our FL programs are shrinking. The standard, western Eurpoean languages are losing popularity and the new critical languages are gaining popularity. The gain-loss ratio is not equal, however, and we have fewer students enrolled in languages than in recent history.Â

How did we get here? Changes in social, economic, and political priorities have had a tremendous influence on the relative importance of FL vis a vis other curricular disciplines.Â

  • We have not publicized the positive energy and effects of knowing a foreign language in such a way as to impress the stake holders.Â
  • When the “core†areas of the curriculum are funded, supported, and focused on, the other curricular areas are neglected. They become less important, less essential, and easier to reduce or delete all together.
  • Changing attitudes cause changes in the perceived importance or need of learning a foreign language.

What might we do to change the course of the future? Many think we need to broaden the spectrum of students to whom we offer FL courses, and to broaden the spectrum of course offerings. And we need to be more vigorous in publicizing what is done in and out of our classrooms by our students, in the name of their language.

  • It is a fact of life in the US today that we are a nation of recent immigrants and we must learn how to relate to our new neighbors. Therefore, instead of foreign languages just being part of a good college prep curriculum, we need to start addressing other areas of need, designing courses that will help everyone interact with their co-workers, bringing them together in a common language. That means we design courses for medical, construction, social services, legal services, and other careers. That old word “relevance†plays a huge part in the success or failure of any course of study, and for many students the college prep course is not relevant.
  • We need to be sure that all the stake holders know why the study of foreign languages is important. We need people who speak other languages to ease our international economic ties, to smooth our military connections, to increase our understanding of other ways of solving life’s needs. Publicize what is being done in class! Make your presence known in the community through participating in events, volunteering, and simply being visible. The presence doesn’t need to be language related. A highway clean-up crew gets a sign on the road announcing the group that cares for that strech of highway is people enjoying the study of language. Taking tickets at an event and wearing tee shirts with the name of the group give visibility. Walking in charity events, wearing a team tee shirt, that says “I love the language I’m studying and I want everyone to know it!â€
  • Students who enjoy their language experiences will be more likely to consider teaching that language, or some other one.Â
  • Contact legislators and others who have influence over how funding and support happens. Let them know how important the knowledge of other languages and cultures is for our country.

There’s nothing earth-shattering here; it is just offered for your thoughtful consideration.

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May 2011

Observation and the Five Senses in a Restaurant

My school system frowns on field trips to ethnic restaurants, saying that this is something the students can do on their own outside of school hours. How do I make the typical restaurant experience a more integral part of my students’ learning?
Hungry for real learning

etniccuisineAll of us have faced this question more times than we would like to admit. We see the potential in restaurant dining for a vibrant, dynamic, and exciting learning experience, but we can’t quite figure out how to create and organize it into something that supports our curricular requirements. Foods reflect the culture, geography, and customs of the people. Here is a suggestion, focused on improving the observational skills of our students, for you to consider.

Observation is the first step toward experiental, participatory learning. It employs all five of our senses: Seeing new things, Hearing new sounds, Smelling new fragrances, Tasting new flavors, and Touching new textures. Using our senses, we compare and contrast the new with the familiar; we make decisions about how to rectify errors in our quest for success; and we open new doors to delight the senses and improve our life.

To make the typical restaurant experience a more integral part of your students’ learning, start by

Before the trip to the restaurant:
  • wokIdentify a local restauranteur with whom you would like to work. Aproach the owner and chef with your proposal and develop a plan that includes them and the staff, as well as the students.
  • Ask the chef to come to your class and talk about the native cuisine. What makes it special? What elements identify it as Norwegian instead of Italian? What are the cooking processes? How does the eating schedule differ from here at home? How is the food eaten?
  • saffronBring in ingredients characteristic of the cuisine: saffron, naan, sushi, corn tortillas. Take a look at the unique kitchen instruments used to create the signature dishes. (See the Culture Club’s Teachers’ Lounge pages with lesson plans about Spanish and Latin American utensiles. Let the students use their senses to become familiar with the feel, smell, taste, and look of the utensils, herbs, spices, and other ingredients.
At the restaurant:
  • auberginePlan a tour of the kitchen, or at least a visit there, so the students can see how things are prepared, smell the mixture of fragrances, watch the preparation process, listen to the cooks as they talk about the food, and see how the foods are plated.
  • Talk in the TL with the staff in the TL during the kitchen tour and while at table.
  • cilantroTaste-test the food to identify the unique flavors of the dishes and determine how many ways in which an ingredient is used, for example cilantro.
After the visit to the restaurant:
  • Write cinquains, or some other type of short poetry, that tells something about the experience and post them on the bulletin board and the class blog.
  • Encourage conversation that compares, contrasts, and uses the new vocabulary of the experience.
  • Relate how students approach the cuisine changes as a result of the experience.
  • Share these with the restauranteur, chef, and staff of the restaurant so you can repeat the experience next year.

The cuisine of a people can tell us a lot about the people themselves and their language if only we use our observational skills. Whether we live in a large metropolitan area with lots of ethnic restaurants, or in a small town with few or none, there are similar experiences that can be designed to incorporate the five senses in an observational way to involve students in their learning.

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April 2011

Integrating Global Awareness with Standards-Based Instruction
Sheila W. Cockey…aka: YANA

As I hobble toward the end of the year, I find that standards-based instruction is getting easier for me, but I seem to be having trouble integrating new and unique cultural awareness into my lessons. I’m afraid my classes are getting stale. How can I enliven my classes and keep the focus on global relationships while increasing my student’s language skills?

In this day and age of accountability, states, school districts, and individual schools have to be able to demonstrate that they are producing students who are proficient in their subject areas. In order to guide us toward these proficiencies, standards have been developed in all of the K-12 curricular areas. We are all familiar with the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century, fondly referred to as “The 5 Cs.â€Â These are our standards. Each standard is proficiency based: They outline what our students should be able to do in each of the five areas. All of them are easily adaptable to encouraging global awareness in our students.

globalStart by choosing themes of global importance such as the environment, society, culture, politics, or the economy. These are topics of interest to our students, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get them involved in activities revolving around these themes. It will also be easy to incorporate all of the standards into the exploration of them. As an example, let’s use the environment. This is a topic/theme that appears in most text books, so it will be easy to work with your textbook, within your curriculum and your state’s specific standards.

Using authentic resources, locate materials relating to the environment in your community, your state, and the country. Then locate similar materials relating to countries where the language you teach is spoken. Students will do research to find the answers to questions they have developed.


  1. communicationIn small groups, students talk about their concerns about the environment.
  2. Everyone takes notes and together the group creates a graphic organizer that reflects the thoughts of the group.
  3. Each member of the group participates in the oral sharing of the group’s ideas.
  4. The class creates a list of questions to be answered,
  5. Ultimately, these questions will be answered by all students, being sure to include other countries in their answers.


  1. What values are placed on recycling, buying locally, alternative energy use, etc. in the US and the TL countries?
  2. What environmental problems exist?
  3. What is being done to solve those environmental problems?
  4. What sacrifices are people willing to undergo?


  1. connectionsStudents relate what they are learning in their TL with what they are learning in their other classes. Most probably these classes are science, history, and/or literature, but may include the arts and other subject areas as well.
  2. Students document how they share their new knowledge in other contexts, including other classes they are taking.


  1. How are the problems similar and/or different in the US and the TL countries?
  2. How are solutions similar and/or different in the US and the TL countries?
  3. What are their peers on the TL countries doing that they are/are not doing?
  4. Why will what they’re doing might or might not work here?

Communities (this is where the rubber meets the road)

  1. communityStudents propose ideas for local solutions, based on what students in the TL countries are doing, that meet the needs of their own community.
  2. Students contact officials and present their projects for approval.
  3. Students create work groups to accomplish tasks leading to the completion of their project.

Granted, what I’ve outlined above is a very major undertaking. To simplify, narrow down the topic to solar energy or clean water. ÂThe idea is to bring in authentic materials that will illustrate to our students that we have the same concerns as those who live in other parts of the world.Â

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March 2011

march2011Choosing Web 2.0 Technology
Sheila W. Cockey, aka YANA

I’m a teacher with 20 years of experience, which puts me in the category of not having grown up with technology. I work hard every day to learn, keep up with, and use as much of the new technology as I can. However, I am having trouble finding topics to which this technology can be applied. Can you help, please?
Not a Millennial, but Wishing I Were

Dear Wishing:
Remember that technology is just a collection of tools. What has happened in the last 5 to 10 years is a burgeoning of the items we can put into our tool box. It’s confusing sometimes, and often difficult to remember to include all manner of tools as we work with our students in the class. The blackboard is still as valid as it was in 1950, but there are other things that can enhance it and make it come alive. That’s the real trick: making learning and using their new language come alive for the students.

As far as finding topics to which these new Web 2.0 tools can be applied, just continue to do what you have always done: Get to know your students.

  • What do they do when not in school?
  • What are their plans for the future?
  • Who are their friends? Their family?
  • What subjects do they like? Not like?
  • Who are their role models?
  • What catches their interest and intrigues them?
  • How do they learn?
  • What are their talents?

Once you have some of the answers, then you can begin to determine how you will merge what you know about them with what they will do and how. Sometimes leaving the choice of how up to the students is a good thing. Be sure you provide them with enough guidance to know what you expect in terms of content and language. One student may want to use a graphics program to tell his story. Another may want to create a musical interpretation. Yet another may want to do a short film to complete the assignment. These are ways students have always interpreted assignments; the difference is in the tools they use to complete their work.

By offering a choice to your students, you are giving them the opportunity to express their thoughts in a medium where they are most comfortable. I recommend, however, that you ask them to stretch beyond their familiar comfort zone into areas and technologies they don’t know. After all, that’s what education is all about: Learning Something We Didn’t Know Before.

Good luck and keep stretching! Trying to keep up with, and using as much technology as you can is a commendable goal, and you are inspiring others to do the same.

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February 2011

Printable version (PDF)

I want to teach in the target language (TL) as much as possible, but with level one students it is difficult. I will start doing it and we’ll see how it goes. Do you have any ideas for me?
~Wanting to do The Right Thing

Dear Right Thing:
This is indeed a lofty goal, and one that seems impossible with level one students. However, do not despair! There are things that you can do immediately that will set the tone and let the students know that they will be using their new language every day in and out of class. Build daily on this foundation and you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the new language becomes the language of the classroom and beyond. Below is a list of things you can do from the outset.

Obvious things from day one for the teacher:
  1. Greet in TL – as they come into the classroom and when you see them in the hall.
  2. Act out what you are saying.
  3. Repeat things several times, trying at first to use the same words, later using a variety of words to get the idea across.
  4. Make use of cognates! They’re a give-away for everybody.
  5. Use a lot of pictures (I have a huge box of pictures – magazine ads and museum prints - mounted on construction paper and use for all kinds of stimuli at all levels. Enlist the help of your students and you’ll cover a lot more ground more quickly. Some pictures need to be simple if they are going to be used for vocabulary cues; others need to be complex so they can be used for story telling.)
  6. Don’t give in!
Maybe not so obvious things for the teacher:
  1. Answer all questions in TL, gradually reducing your understanding of English.
  2. Give out all assignments in TL. (Be sure they’re posted where students can see them so there is no confusion.)
  3. Keep the book closed so their memory has to work and whatever they are saying/hearing is more like real language than sounds from a page.
  4. Teach vocabulary in context – not just English-TL equivalents. Use words in sentences almost right away.
  5. Warm-ups should be interactive rather than filling in the blank or writing a list. (Use 5 of the following words in a conversation with another student.)
  6. Be sure they leave your classroom everyday with new conversational skills. (new and relevant vocabulary, ways to ask questions, ways to circumlocute, etc.)
  7. Part of their homework is to practice the skills out loud, either with another student, or by self-recording and listening to themselves.
  8. Don’t give in!
Obvious things from day one for the student:
  1. Repetition of whatever the teacher asks.
  2. Greet in TL.
  3. Ask questions in TL. (I put up a bulletin board with all of the TL interrogatives so the word bank is available to them. One year my theme was "What on earth is she asking?" and all of the interrogatives were written on cloud shapes.)
  4. Listen carefully to songs, tv programs, the radio, etc. There’s so much out there on YouTube, podcasts, etc that they really don’t have much of an excuse these days.
  5. Keep the book closed in class unless the teacher asks you to open it.
  6. Review every day. Don’t forget to talk out loud.
  7. Learn vocabulary in context – not just a list of words and meanings. Conversation is not a list of words; vocabulary needs meaning and context to be conversation.
  8. Don’t give up!
With your colleagues
  1. Try to get your colleagues to talk to you in TL, especially if they stop by your room for something during class, or when you are standing in the hall between classes. Anywhere where students will hear you and become aware that it really is a language of communication.
  2. Don’t give in!
"Games" to play
  1. On selected days, do not use the words Sí and No.
  2. On selected days, let the students ask you questions about yourself.
  3. Towards the end of a lesson, call for ¡Fiesta time! (Party time) Get them out of their seats and paired off. The topic of the conversation is whatever the vocabulary of the lesson is. As if at a party, where conversations never last very long and everybody changes conversational partners quickly, the partners talk using the vocabulary for a specified length of time (start with 30 seconds, and gradually increase to 3 minutes). Call out ¡Cambien! (Change) They change partners and have the same conversation again. Do this at least 3 times, maybe 4. They are surprised that each conversation is unique.
  4. Let them talk about whatever they wish with a friend in the class. Tell them they must do this for 1 minute. If they’re still going strong, let them keep going for another 30 seconds or more. They will be astounded that they went beyond what you asked.
  5. Don’t give in!

Obviously, the key is to not give in, no matter how much resistance you get. Gently enfolding the students in a soft and comfy blanket of new language is a slow and continuous process. Remember to re-visit older vocabulary so it doesn’t get lost. Regularly add new phrases and conversational techniques. Keep the language based in contextual situations that mean something to the students. Take it out of the book; they won’t have their textbook in their hip pocket when they need to have a TL conversation with a "real" person. Build student confidence and they’ll be so excited and proud of their progress and eager to continue. And, the day will go easier for you!.

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Jan 2011

Dear YANA,
I would like to have my Spanish class think of Christmas as a way to be charitable and helpful as well to some of the Hispanic immigrants in the area where they live. Do you have any contact there and ideas of what they could contribute as a one class Christmas donation ( other than monetary?)
We Try to Be Helpful

Dear Helpful:
Most communities have several points where you can start to find a group that will benefit from your desire to help.  Start with organizations such as the United Way, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, or other similar philantrhopic groups.  The local Social Services or Community  Center offices may have a list of organizations as well.  One of these groups will be able to provide you with the name of a person with whom you can work.  If the language you teach is not Spanish, there may be similar resources for your particular language.

Lead time is important is this type of project.  There are many details to be worked out.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Finding the contact person
  • Identifying the need
  • Determining how your resources can meet the need
  • Whipping up enthusiasm among the students
  • Planning of the activity
  • Transportation to and from activity site (including all of the proper permissions)

Once a need is identified and an activity is determined, the students should so some research so they are knowledgeable about the group they will be helping and the event they will be recognizing.  Learning essential vocabulary, phrases, and conversational expressions is important to a successful event.

Don’t forget to publicize your efforts. 

  • Contact local papers,
  • Put it on the school website,
  • Have the sponsoring organization include it in their newsletter or on their website. 
  • Invite the organization that gave you the initial contact and ask them to publicize your efforts as well.

Follow-up time is also very important for this kind of event.  Some of the details to consider for follow-up include:

  • Conversation with group to find out about their reaction:
    • Did it meet the need? 
    • Was it appropriate for the participants? 
    • What would make it better?
    • How did the language element contribute or detract from the success?
  • Conversation with your class to find out about the students’ reactions:
    • What was the result?
    • Did participants gain what the students thought they would gain?
    • Were they able to use their language successfully?
    • How do they feel about their language usage?
    • What else did they learn from the experience?

When doing community service projects, I am always in favor of either setting up a continuing association or doing something during one of the months when the rest of the world forgets about the needs of the less fortunate.  As a result, I generally stay away from Thanksgiving and Christmas projects and focus on other months of the year.  If there happens to be a particular holiday in a given month, then I try to work out something related to that event.  Once you have a contact person, it will be easy to work with them to clearly define their needs, your desires, student interests, and dove-tail them into a successful event.

Here is a link to an earlier YANA column that deals with a similar topic.  You may find something there that will help solve your dilemma:  “How can I help my students use their language to meet their requirements for service learning?”

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December 2009

Dear YANA,
I’m a 25-year veteran of the foreign language classroom and have recently been asked to lead my department in revamping our approach to using technology with an eye to better engaging our students, who are so very tech savvy.  Do you have some quick, and not so expensive, suggestions for us to consider?


In need of Tech4Teachers

Dear In need of Tech4Teachers,

It is very important for all of us in education to accept the fact that today’s students are very tuned in to technology as a way to communicate, inform, and entertain.  It is their way of life to multi-task and to collaborate, whether it is face-to-face or from afar, synchronously or asynchronously.

The new technologies are second nature to them, just as the radio and television were to earlier generations.  Some of the things students do every day include text messaging, instant messaging, talking on cell phones, reading and writing on-line journals, connecting and sharing through blogs or wikis, creating their own webpage, checking out what’s on You Tube or Flikr, twittering, connecting with Facebook friends, watching or making podcasts, downloading to their iPhone or their iPod.  And that is just the beginning!  They also Skype with friends around the world.  These media are the new vehicles for research projects and are easily adapted to the content and curricula of the foreign language classroom.

Get busy and revamp the country project into something technologically exciting.  Instead of a poster or a PowerPoint presentation, ask for something different: a web page, a wiki, a blog about their experience in the country, a series of short videos about the places and people, a podcast that includes music from the country, or a series of conversations on Facebook or Skype about something interesting to the students and relevant to the curriculum.  More ideas are below.

Watch your students and listen to what they say.  Do not be afraid to ask questions, admit ignorance, seek help, and be curious about it all.  Both you and they will become excited and energized by a “new way” of doing things.

Some ideas:
Text Messaging:  Students create a TM conversation, using appropriate abbreviations, to make arrangements for getting together tomorrow afternoon.

Instant Messaging:  Students create a 3-way IM conversation about a project they are doing for their science class. 

Cell Phones:  Students create a phone conversation about the basketball game last night.

On-Line Journal:  Reactions to a recent election posted on a closed website designed for journaling.

Blogs:  Students are working on the Foreign Language Week Fair.  They do their planning here, sharing ideas, including some photos.

Wikis:  Students work collaboratively to put together a project about health and physical fitness
to be presented in class or posted on the wiki for the entire class to see. 

Webpages:  Students develop a real estate web page offering a variety of housing options in the capital city.

Facebook or Twitter:  Students talk about high school graduation, what it means to them, how it is done, and how they will celebrate it.

Podcasting:  Students create a short video with voice over about sports in the school.

The same ideas and topics are just as useable and relevant, and perhaps more so, if they are put into a new environment.  Give the students the opportunity to explore their technology and to use it as a vehicle for presentations in their language class.


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Where to find practical information and lesson plans?

Dear YANA,

I am a Foreign Language Methods teacher at a university.
My question: What do my students need?
My answer: VERY practical information that they can implement immediately.
My plea: Do you have any suggestions? Any good books you’ve used in the past? Good sites where they can retrieve, and hopefully see successful lessons? They are interested in Spanish lessons that work in a demanding, under-funded public school environment with 35-40 kids, one instructor, and students who freak out every time that the instructor speaks in Spanish. What kind of Spanish lessons really work in this kind of real world scenario?

Sincerely, In search of practical information

Dear In Search of Practical Information,

Challenges face us all of the time, and under-funded programs and large classes are truly the challenges of the decade.  When designing lessons and activities for students who are as overwhelmed as you are with the crowding, and not eager to hear or speak the language, you must think about both yourself and your students.  Since I’m not sure what levels of Spanish your students teach, I will try to answer with some general ideas that they can adjust to their particular circumstances.

Practical information to implement immediately
Because you are teaching a foreign language, proficient communication is a principle goal of the course.  Communication requires at least two individuals to be successful.  Think in terms of 20 teams of 2, or 14 teams of 3, as you approach your planning for those classes of 40 students. 

  • Provide the students with incremental practice that you supervise – this means no grading on your part.  Walk around the room, listen, interject when necessary, but let the students practice.  Develop the ability to listen across the room; students are uncomfortable when the teacher is near by and more relaxed when farther away.  Every couple of days do something that combines the smaller elements and that provides you with a little more formal handle on their progress.  Every week or so, plan an activity that you formally evaluate.  Each step leading up to the formal evaluation is just that: a piece of the puzzle that your students will put together to create the final product.  The students will start to see that each day leads them to more confidence about what they are learning.
  • Listen to the students.  What are their interests?  Design your activities to incorporate those interests. 
  • Be sure to present a variety of options, from drawing to performing to music to writing. 
  • Students can use a variety of media to show you what they have learned. Let them be creative.  When working in their preferred media, they will be more comfortable, more confident, and happier with the outcome.
  • Provide students with clear directions and guidelines and a useful example.  Avoid the “I didn’t understand the assignment” complaint by removing vagueness from what you expect and how you will grade the product.
  • Step away from the textbook, while letting it guide what you do.  You will have to cover a specified amount of material and pages to stay with the curriculum of your school system.  However, it is up to you to tailor the learning vehicles to your students.  Students are put off by a textbook, so issue it, refer to it occasionally, but do not have it open all of the time.  See “Getting Away from the book and still teaching the curriculum,”  a YANA column from December 2007. 

Good books used in the past
Probably, none of these are new to you, but they bear keeping in mind and within arm’s reach.

  • One of the most useful books for guidance and ideas is Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century, published by ACTFL.  It has loads of learning scenarios in 10 world languages.  The nine languages you don’t teach all have good ideas that you can adapt to your language.
  • Judith Shrum and Eileen Glisan’s Teachers Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction, published by Heinle, contains a wealth of information for the new and the experienced teacher.
  • The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, by Harry and Rosemary Wong, is a wellspring of information about classroom management, as well as hints for preparing yourself and managing your schedule.  It is as useful for the experienced teacher as it is for the novice teacher.

Good sites for successful lessons

  • Enter “lesson plans for high school Spanish” into a search engine, and you will find lots of help there. 
  • Your state’s department of education website may have some lessons that correlate foreign languages with the core subjects. 
  • There are lesson plans on the NCLRC website, in several languages. 
  • Museums often have excellent lesson plans on their website that go along with a current exhibit, or with a virtual tour. 
  • Carmen Lomas Garza is a Chicana artist who paints everyday scenes that are accessible to urban, suburban, and rural students.  Use them in a variety of ways to encourage students to talk or write about their own lives. 
  • Embassies are excellent resources.  The Embassy of Spain’s Education Office is a bonanza of materials for teachers. 

Under-funded schools and students who freak out

  • With resourcefulness, you can manage to find useful and authentic materials.  Investigate the Internet, especially places like YouTube, for authentic language and events.
  • Milk your network of friends who travel; ask them to bring things back for you.  For tips on how to use authentic materials, see “How do I use Authentic Materials in my classroom?" a YANA column from February 2007. 
  • Scour the internet for sites that relate to the cultural content of your textbook chapters and to the interests of your students.  YouTube is an incredible source!  (Or, have your students do the scouring.)
  • Look to events within your community and involve your students in those events.

Students who freak out when they hear another language? 

  • Project text messages on a screen and ask students to read what they see.
  • Play a recording of a short conversation in Pig Latin and ask for an interpretation.
  • Show a picture (Carmen Lomas Garza is a good choice) and have students write their version of the story they see in the painting.
  • Play recordings of the plays called by the quarterback at last Friday’s football game and ask the students to interpret what they’re hearing.   (Ask the coach to record some.)

Each of these activities involves another language, a language they are familiar with and understand.  This should go some distance towards convincing your students that they actually will be able to understand some of this new language they’re learning in your class.  If they can decode these messages and conversations, they already have many of the skills necessary to decode their new language.

For more ideas on how to help your students become comfortable when hearing or having to speak in a foreign language, See “How to Teach Level One Students in the Target Language” a YANA column from September 2007.  These ideas are applicable to all levels, even

Be sure you walk in baby steps, but do not coddle the students.  Build tomorrow on today, which is based on yesterday.  Emphasize that this week’s success will make next week successful.  Engage and involve the students through the controlled chaos that is a proficiency oriented foreign language classroom.

There is no doubt that crowded conditions, large classes, lack of funds, and students who are afraid or unwilling to try to use their foreign language make for a difficult and challenging day.  You will be more enthusiastic if you work to reduce your load of papers.  This will automatically happen when your assignments take on a proficiency orientation.  With a good rubric to guide you the time you spend evaluating reduces because you know what you are looking for, and often you will be able to evaluate on the spot.


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How to prepare students for in-class debate?

Dear YANA,
I teach third and fourth level classes and would like to have my students participate in debates in class on topics that will use the vocabulary of the text. I need some advice and guidance in how to prepare my students to do a debate, including why it is an important exercise. I work in a public high school.

I imagine that you already have the answers to why it might be an important exercise to engage your students in formal debating. You would not be considering it if you did not. When my students are assigned a debate, we always talk about the importance of two things: listening to the opposing point of view, and the use of facts (rather than emotion) to support a position.

The very nature of a debate implies controversy. I strongly suggest that you either provide topics or reserve the right to say no to specific topics. Remind the students that they are to work within the vocabulary they already know: their audience must be able to understand what they are saying, and the audience is the ultimate judge of their success in defending their position. Several textbooks now have units that focus on community issues such as elections, community needs, volunteerism, and environment. These are excellent topics for students to pursue.

A suggested approach might be the following:

Divide the class into groups of 4
Each group then picks a topic, or writes a topic for your approval
Each group divides into a Pro Team (P) and a Con Team (C)
Each side researches facts that support their position
Each student must have at least 2 facts to present, with examples
Each student must also prepare to respond to at least one expected position from the other side

If there is an uneven number of students in your class, select one student to be the moderator. This student announces the topics, keeps track of who is on each side, the time and closes each debate.

Each debate can last about 10 minutes, divided in the following manner (P=Pro Team, C=Con Team):
30 seconds: Moderator introduces the team and the topic
30 seconds: Pro presents item their proposition (1P)
30 seconds: Con presents item 1C
30 seconds: Pro presents item 2P
30 seconds: Con presents item 2C
30 seconds: Pro responds to Con 1C or 2C
30 seconds: Con responds to Pro 1P or 2P
Repeat the round for the second point each student has prepared
15 seconds: Moderator closes the debate

“Winners” can be decided by paper ballot or by a show of hands. As a follow-up exercise, have students pick one debate and write about the success of the presentations as a critical analysis. The bottom line is assigning a debate to students is to encourage them to be rational about their opinions, to be able to support their positions with facts, and to learn to listen thoughtfully to diverse points of view.

It is sometimes interesting to assign students to positions that you know they do not agree with. This will force them to rationally consider the other side of the question. I do this with my fourth and fifth year students, with their agreement ahead of time. They always say it is very enlightening and are glad they had to approach the topic in that manner.

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Ideas on how to help students feel comfortable reading poetry in a language that’s not their own?

Dear YANA,
Poetry is a challenge for me to teach and for my students to enjoy.  Do you have any wonderful ideas on how to help students feel comfortable reading poetry in a language that’s not their own?  I love to read poetry for my own enjoyment, but simply cannot find ways to share that joy with my students.

I have just spent a weekend of immersion with 50 wonderful teachers of Spanish.  Our primary purpose for attending was two-fold: to improve our conversation skills, and to broaden our knowledge of the language and cultures we teach.  We spent an evening reading poetry, and most of that time concentrated on the reading of just one poem.  The process was revolutionary for me.  We focused on discovering the beauty of the words, the sounds, and the emotions created by those sounds.  We never finished because this process of discovery will never finish; it was like opening a rose bud one petal at a time, each petal beautiful in its own right.  We explored a variety of ways to read it so students might enjoy the poem for the feel and sound as well as for the meaning.  Here’s how we did it, focusing on the process (the reading) rather than on the product (the meaning).

  • We read a collection of poems before attending the weekend.  Since these were all by the same poet, one we had all studied in college and who appears in most text books somewhere along the way, all of us were familiar with the poet and his writing.  We came not knowing what we would be doing with the poetry, but expecting a session on how to extract meaning and on the structure of poetry.  Not so …
  • The majority of the vocabulary in the poem is familiar to intermediate level students, so we by-passed that part of the poem.  Instead, we concentrated on the sounds of the poem. 
  • We broke into groups of 2 and read the poem by stanza to each other.  Each group of 2 was assigned a number which corresponded to a stanza.  We practiced reading this stanza out loud, as a chorus of two.
  • We then gathered as a large group, randomly placed with our partners.  We read the poem out loud in a variety of ways: by stanza, by high voice/low voice, by where we were in the group, and by volume, with crescendos and decrescendos at various places throughout the poem.
  • About 3 or 4 readings in, people were starting to feel a rhythm, some marking time with their hands, others walking around the back of the group in time to the “music” of the poem.
  • Several times we would stop and talk about the different effects our reading had on the feeling of the poem.  Occasionally someone would ask what a key word meant, as our students will do.  Always they were key words that lead to a deeper understanding of the poem.

Use a similar method with your classes, being sure to map out the choral nature of the poem ahead of time and the variations to be used for the choral reading.  One of our participants likened it to a Greek chorus.  This process will help you see and understand the internal workings of the poem.  Choose a poem that has vocabulary that is relatively accessible to the students.  Be sure it is long enough to have half the number of lines as students in the class, plus the repeating lines.   (If you have 30 students, the poem needs to have 15 lines, plus the chorus.) Number each line to correspond to a group of 2 students.  It is really quite effective if those lines repeat frequently throughout the poem.

As with anything we present in class, it must have a context, and a foundation, before jumping into the true unknown.  Be sure to tie the poem into the basic lesson of the week and subtly drop pre-poetry-reading pieces of information prior to the poem.   The context can be a cultural, geographic, musical, political or historical reference. 

There are infinite variations on this theme; explore them and try “weird” combinations.  This is a technique that takes practice, but with practice it will become a basic of your repertoire and students will enjoy reading poetry.  I hope you find this as eye-opening an exercise as we did.  I extend my appreciation to Janet Beckmann and Karen Falcon for leading us in this enlightening activity.

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How to motivate my students to learn a foreign language?

I am teaching levels 3 and 5AP this year and find that my students aren’t as enthusiastic as they have been in the past about learning a foreign language. I would love for them to be more excited about learning culture through such things as music or television programs. When I ask them to watch a TV program at home, they don’t want to do it. What can I do to change their approach to learning the language? I thank you for your suggestions.
Frustrated in Texas

Dear Frustrated,
There are cycles when it comes to students. Some years they are very interested in anything that has to do with their language of choice; other years they could care less. It is possible that you are at a low point in this cycle. I find that each cycle can last for as long as 6 to 8 years. Remember that what interests students can change as quickly as the weather. Keep up with what they are doing by talking with them. Ask them what they would like to do, letting them know that "nothing" is not an option. Solicit their suggestions for how to check on comprehension, or other activities related to the viewing. If they are involved in the design of their follow-up activities, they will be more eager to participate in them.

When designing activities, be sure that you move away from fill in the blank, answering content questions, and other "boring" comprehension checks. Instead, consider one of the following:

  • Have them draw a series of cartoon panels that recaps the TV show you asked them to watch.
  • Design an ad promo announcing the next in the series of programs.
  • Have them prepare a skit that points out the cultural differences between the US and the country of the language as seen in the program they watched.

These are just some suggestions. Some will work; some won’t. Tailoring them to the students is the secret to success.

One year, I could tell that my formerly highly motivated students were suffering from a severe case of ‘senioritis’ so we talked about what they wanted to do. They were totally unmotivated by "book work" and projects that would find their way into the trash at the end of they year. They wanted to do something worthwhile with their language. The next day I had a chance conversation with someone in the education department at the local hospital. They needed some simple things, including the food service menu, translated and my students were eager to do this. One of them visited a patient in the hospital a few months later and saw "their" menu in use! Perhaps the businesses in your community have similar needs. This doesn’t necessarily address the culture of the language, but it does spark interest so that the cultural things can be inserted among the useful things.

Some other suggestions that may spark some interest are below. Always, always, always pre-view before assigning!

  • Look through YouTube for songs that are popular in the countries that speak your language. YouTube is easy to navigate and you will find thousands of music videos there. Just put in the name of an artist, or a type of music and you will find tons of choices. Once you’ve located a song you wish to use, it can be the spring board for a discussion about the lyrics, about the style of music and the instrumentation, or used as a listening activity. Sometimes it may be a good illustration of a grammatical point as well.
  • Most TV and radio stations have websites with snippets of their programming, or the entire program available.
  • Google video has many possibilities as well.
  • Movie trailers are an excellent way to pique student interest while introducing them to some cultural phenomena. They love movies, and trailers don’t fill up exorbitant amounts of instructional time. In a search engine, type in your language and the words "movie trailer" and something should come up. If not, type in the name of a movie, followed by "trailer" and that will yield a clip that may be useful in your class. If your students have high-speed internet access, they could watch the trailer at home as many times as they need to in order to understand what is being said.

Especially at the end of the year when everybody’s motivation and interest are flagging, exciting and different approaches are important. Using video, music, and real life activities are just some of the ways to turn a class around and get them enthusiastic about language and culture again.

Good luck!

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How to teach level one students in the target language (TL)?

I want to teach in the target language (TL) as much as possible, but with level one students it is difficult. I will start doing it and we’ll see how it goes. Do you have any ideas for me?

Dear Reader,
Obvious things from day one for the teacher:

  1. Greet in TL – as they come into the classroom and when you see them in the hall
  2. Act out what you are saying
  3. Repeat things several times, trying at first to use the same words, later using a variety of words to get the idea across.
  4. Make use of cognates! They’re a give for everybody.
  5. Use a lot of pictures – start with magazine ads or clip art. (I had a huge box of pictures that I put on construction paper and used for all kinds of stimuli at all levels. Enlist the help of your students and you’ll cover a lot more ground more quickly. Some pictures need to be simple if they are going to be used for vocabulary cues; others need to be complex so they can be used for story telling.)
  6. Don’t give in!

Maybe not so obvious things for the teacher:

  1. Answer all questions in TL, gradually reducing your understanding of English
  2. Give out all assignments in TL (be sure they’re posted where students can see them so there is no confusion)
  3. Keep the book closed so their memory has to work and whatever they are saying/hearing is more like real language than sounds from a page.
  4. Teach vocabulary in context – not just English-TL equivalents. Use words in sentences almost right away.
  5. Warm-ups should be interactive rather than filling in the blank or writing a list. (Use 5 of the following words in a conversation with another student.)
  6. Be sure they leave your classroom everyday with new conversational skills (new and relevant vocabulary, ways to ask questions, ways to circumlocute, etc.)
  7. Part of their homework is to practice the skills out loud, either with another student, or by self-recording and listening to themselves.
  8. Don’t give in!

Obvious things from day one for the student:

  1. Repetition of whatever the teacher asks
  2. Greet in TL
  3. Ask questions in TL (I put up a bulletin board with all of the TL interrogatives so the word bank is available to them. One year my theme was "What on earth is she asking?" and all of the interrogatives were written on cloud shapes.)
  4. Listen carefully to songs, tv programs, the radio, etc. There’s so much out there on YouTube, podcasts, etc that they really don’t have much of an excuse these days.
  5. Keep the book closed in class unless the teacher asks you to open it.
  6. Review every day
  7. Learn vocabulary in context – not just a list of words and meanings. Conversation is not a list of words, rather vocabulary has meaning and context to be conversation.
  8. Don’t give up!

With your colleagues

  1. Try to get your colleagues to talk to you in TL, especially if they stop by your room for something during class, or when you are standing in the hall between classes. Anywhere where students will hear you and become aware that it really is a language of communication.
  2. Don’t give in!

"Games" to play

  1. On select days, do not use the words Sí and No
  2. On select days, let the students ask you questions about yourself
  3. Towards the end of a lesson, call for ¡Fiesta time! Get them out of their seats and paired off. The topic of the conversation is whatever the vocabulary of the lesson is. As if at a party, where conversations never last very long and everybody changes conversational partners quickly, the partners talk using the vocabulary for a specified length of time (start with 30 seconds, and gradually increase to 3 minutes). Call out ¡Cambien! They change partners and have the same conversation again. Do this at least 3 times, maybe 4. They are surprised that each conversation is unique.
  4. Let them talk about whatever they wish with a friend in the class. Tell them they must do this for 1 minute. If they’re still going strong, let them keep going for another 30 seconds or more. They will be astounded that they went beyond what you asked.
  5. Don’t give in!

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How can I get my students to speak more in class?

Dear YANA:
I know that I need to remove myself from the center of instruction and let my students participate more in the class. My supervisor has told me that I must create a more learner-centered environment. How do I go about doing that? My students always do well on their vocabulary and grammar tests, but don’t like to speak. How can I get them to speak more in class?
(Former) Teacher-Centered Instructor

Dear Teacher-Centered:
Students come into a foreign language (FL) class for a variety of reasons, one of them being the desire to be able to communicate with speakers of the language they are studying. Teachers need to keep their students’ enthusiasm and sense of achievement at a high level and can do so by stepping away from the podium and encouraging the students to take over the talking in the class. From the first day of the first year, students can speak their new language, and we must provide them with infinite opportunities to do so.

Not everything has to be graded, but students seem to attach more importance to graded activities than to ungraded ones. Provide time for ungraded practice and preparation before using a rubric to assess the final product. Always provide participation credit for the ungraded practice.

Break the lesson into small, manageable parts. Present the material and then let the students practice with a partner while you walk around the room listening and correcting where it is needed. Do a quick follow-up with the whole class so everyone knows they are accountable for the practice time. If the students are required to speak in front of the class from the first day, they will more willingly continue to participate as the course continues.

Provide regular opportunities for the students to ask questions of each other, with reporting back to the class as a follow-up. Sharing of information is useful to you and of interest to the other students in the class. In addition, ask to students to interview you about the topic at hand.

Students should use the foreign language for all of their conversational needs. Require that all requests and responses be in the FL. This includes borrowing a pencil, sharing a book, finding out about homework, asking how to say a word, and all other classroom conversation. Always, the students should be using the FL when talking with you and with other students in the class.

When giving students time to plan a presentation, part of their preparation grade is the use of the FL. All of the planning should take place in the FL. If you prepare the students well, so they know what the purpose of the presentation is, and what is expected of them, they can plan in the language. If they pare preparing a skit, suggest they start by defining the situation and location. Once they have that clear, they make a list of words they wish to use. Creating sentences using those words in their situation will help them start a conversation. From that point on, they can role-play without writing specific lines. Even beginning students can do this!

Plan the practice so it is incremental. By the time the lesson is covered, students should be communicating in complete sentences and at relative length about a given topic, using the structural and vocabulary limits of the lesson. As long as you have made the connection between the vocabulary and structure and their lives, they will be able to talk about what is important to them.

Let students know what they will be able to do at the end of the lesson, and help them to understand how each incremental step brings them closer to the final goal. When students know where they are headed, they have a focus point that will help them get through the mini-steps along the way. At first they will be over-whelmed, so start with small goals. If it is early in a beginning level class, perhaps the goal is to introduce friends to parents and provide some information about each of the friends. The first step is to introduce friends to parents, and parents to friends. The next step is to be able to say one sentence about that friend. The third step is to combine the first two steps. The final step is to put it into a conversational situation with greetings, and some sort of logical closing.

Asking a student to sit quietly and listen for more than 10 minutes is pushing their powers of concentration. Make the explanations quick and clear and immediately require the students to use the concept, in the FL of course. I often do something that requires students to be out of their seats, talking in groups of two about the topic of the day. At the end of 30-60 seconds, they switch conversational partners and do the same thing again. After doing this 3 or 4 times, the students are comfortable with the content. I call it "Party Time" because it is sort of like the quick snatches of conversation one has at a party.

When doing the summative evaluation for the lesson, appropriate emphasis must be placed on the communicative skills. If the test is matching, multiple choice, and fill in the blank, it is testing discrete items that contribute to communication, but it does not test communication. The evaluation must include proficiency activities that focus on the communicative skills – skits, conversations, presentations, essays, stories, etc. Both the receptive and productive skills need to be included. If the final test includes these skills, students will place more importance on the oral practice in class.

I hope that your supervisor is working with you on techniques to relax the traditional teacher-in-front-of-the-class type of control and to increase your control of simultaneous learning activities. When somebody walks by your classroom and hears everybody speaking in the FL at once, the class is on its way to being a learner-centered environment.


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How do I use authentic materials in my classroom?

Dear YANA:
How do I use authentic materials in my classroom? Where can I find them? What constitutes "authentic"?
Bona Fide

Dear Bona Fide:
Authentic materials pique the interest of students in one way or another. The student’s curiosity is stimulated; connections are made between the foreign culture and their own; materials are read eagerly for understanding. An authentic piece is anything that is from, and exemplifies, the culture of the language you are teaching. It might be a newspaper or a magazine, or it could be a box of cereal, a candy bar wrapper, or a CD cover. Things of daily use, such as a bracelet, hair gel, or a carry bag also are authentic materials.

Where does one find authentic materials? In addition to filling a suitcase with these items when I travel, I put the word out to my friends that I would like them to bring things back for me. The families of your students are another excellent source. If travelers do not make up a portion of your acquaintances, there are many catalogs available from which to order items. Some of these catalogs are designed specifically for teachers; others are designed specifically to market items from home to the population living in the US.

There are as many ways to use these materials as your imagination can conjure. If a student brings in a bag full of "stuff" from his grandparent’s trip, I often suggest that he put together a bulletin board and then give the class a tour of his display. These items make excellent props for skits, vocabulary cues, sentence building, and story telling. Organize and store items according to when they appear in your textbook, bring them out to illustrate what a "real life" maraca looks and sounds like. Create a scavenger hunt based on these items that are strewn around your classroom (on the bulletin board, sitting on bookshelves, leaning against the board, hanging on the wall). Not only do the students need to locate the items, but also they need to answer a question or two about each one.

On my most recent trip, we collected cereal boxes, candy wrappers, packages of salt and sugar, empty soda cans, labels from bottles, flyers and leaflets from various places, menus, napkins, potato chip bags, as well as newspapers and magazines. Of special interest in the newspapers and magazines were articles and ads about pop culture: fashion, music, movies, video games, and the like. The students were thrilled to look through the pile of things I had placed on the table. Each student was asked to select one item, look at it carefully, and then describe it for the class. Once the description was over, many students asked to see the things more closely. When they can’t travel, bring the culture to them!


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How to ensure that the students have the interaction and conversation that is so important in language learning

Dear YANA:
We are starting to have some televised courses in our school and I am wondering what will be the best way to ensure that the students have the interaction and conversation that is so important in language learning today.
Distance Learner

Dear Distance Learner,
Distance learning courses delivered over satellite and other TV media are an excellent way to offer a subject to a small number of students without a huge outlay of money. Several schools in my area have participated in a variety of foreign language distance learning TV courses through the years, so my comments are based on those experiences.

When looking for distance courses for foreign languages, look for ones that offer an interactive environment. This may be as simple as a telephone line directly to the teacher, or it may be more complex, involving two-way video. The interactivity is most effective when the class is viewing the transmission live, rather than on taped delay. So do your best to select a course offering that is broadcast live during a time when your students can watch and participate.

Check to find out how many students/schools are participating in this particular course. The danger of many distance-learning programs is that although each participating school may only have 3 or 4 students, so many schools must participate in order to make the production of the course a viable economic venture. As the popularity of a given course grows through the years at these schools, what often happens is that these courses end up being over subscribed and the teacher must deal with well over 200 students. That means grading the papers, holding one-on-one conversation sessions, and any other type of feedback required could very well overwhelm the instructor.

Another item to consider is having a designated, single-purpose site for the classroom.. You do not want the students to be distracted from the broadcast by interruptions from other students or teachers. Setting up the equipment daily takes time that may eat into the class broadcast time. The location does not have to be large, but it must be roomy enough for student seating, a work area, the TV, and phone. A fax machine is also a necessity in a distance-learning course so that tests and other materials can be sent between the teacher and the monitor. The fax does not need to be in the classroom, but there must be one available for the teacher to use.

The monitoring teacher should be an individual assigned to the class who will be in the room supervising the students at all times. This adult must pay attention to what is happening, both on the screen and in the local classroom. This person must understand that this assignment is not another planning period, social hour, or anything else other than a teaching assignment. While it probably is not necessary for the teacher to be a language teacher, it will certainly be better if that is the case. An understanding of how to learn a language will be very helpful to the students. A teacher who is interested in learning the language being taught is a definite plus and will encourage the students to do their best.

There are several resources available to help make a selection appropriate to your particular circumstances. Putting something like “learning foreign languages via satellite” into your search engine will supply some interesting information that may be of help. Also, check with your state department of education. They should be very helpful. From a distance but never out of reach.

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How to use magazine pictures and art prints in my classroom?

Dear YANA,
I inherited a "magic box" of pictures from a teacher who just retired. There are mostly magazine pictures of one sort or another, but also some art prints. What can I do to use these pictures?

Dear friend,
Lucky you! You have been given a jewel that will enliven your classroom beyond measure. There are infinite ways in which you can use the contents of the box and I will share with you a few that will get your own creative juices going. These pictures will be great for vocabulary, for writing, for conversation, and for grammar.

For vocabulary: The pictures you select to work with vocabulary should be relatively uncluttered with a single obvious item as the focus. To acquaint the students with both the picture and the vocabulary start by using the pictures as flash cards. As they learn the words, then group them and have students create sentences using more than one of the words. Supply a choice of 6 pictures and ask students to create a 5-sentence story using a different one of the words in each sentence.

For writing: Choose a picture with a lot going on in it. Have students write the story of the picture. Or, ask them to imagine what happened before or after the picture. Randomly group 4 pictures together and distribute the sets to students who will either work alone or with a partner. They must use 3 of the 4 pictures to illustrate a coherent story.

For conversation: Chose pictures that have at least two characters. Pair students, give them the picture, and have them create a conversation between the two characters. Present the conversation to the class, with the picture posted on the wall so the class can see it.

For grammar: The most obvious one is to ask students to narrate action in the designated tense.Pictures also provide a good springboard for descriptive passages. Students spend a lot of time learning adjectives, but then forget to use them to enhance their communication. Going beyond that, there may be some that are especially applicable to the various types of object pronouns (direct, indirect, reflexive).

What are some good sources for pictures? I'm sure as you look through your box you will note that many of them are advertisements. Ask friends who subscribe to specialty magazines (cars, gardening, diving, skiing, etc.) to give you their magazines before they throw them out. It will only take you a couple of seconds to leaf through and tear out the pictures that will work well with your particular curriculum. When you are visiting a museum, look in their shop at the prints and post cards. See if you can arrange for a subscription to a magazine in your language and rescue authentic illustrations from that after the students have had an opportunity to read the magazine.

As you add to your collection, it is a good idea to mount each picture on a standard-sized piece of construction paper and then perhaps laminate it. Once laminated, sticky notes are easy to attach and remove.
Enjoy your new collection and remember to continue to add to it. You will find hundreds of uses for it.

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How to teach grammar and vocabulary through songs?

Dear YANA,
Could you give me some ideas for using Spanish songs to teach grammar and vocabulary?

Dear Ana-Maria,
Teaching songs is an extremely useful activity for helping students acquire the target language. Students find it fun and the teacher has to do very little explicit teaching. As students learn the songs, they naturally learn new vocabulary, improve their pronunciation, and master grammar structures. You can give students worksheets with fill-in-the-gap or text-reconstruction exercises. You need to choose the songs carefully, however, keeping in mind what you want to teach. You can choose songs according to language forms or vocabulary terms. For example, to teach vocabulary, you could use "Vamos al Zoológico" ("We're Going to the Zoo") for the names of animals and "Qué Bonitos Colores!" ("What Beautiful Colors!") for colors. Examples of songs specifically designed to teach grammar are "Los Pronombres" ("Pronouns") and "El Verbo" ("The Verb").

All of these songs and more can be found on the Spanish Page of the Website "Songs for Learning New Languages" ( This site also has songs in French, Hebrew, Italian, and Russian. Doing a Web search, you can find many terrific resources for teaching with songs in almost any language imaginable!
Have a wonderful time,

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How best to do error correction in speaking?

Dear YANA,
My intermediate level French students have begun to speak in class! Although this is a joyous occasion, I am now faced with a new issue: error correction. I have encountered various (sometimes conflicting) theories on error correction techniques. What are your recommendations? Looking forward to hearing your ideas,
A University French Instructor

Cher Professeur,
You have brought up a highly-debated, complex issue, but I would venture to guess that many language educators would agree with the following simple maxim: Do not correct students when the objective is communication, but be sure to correct the structures being practiced when activities have a grammar focus. For example, when a student is making an oral presentation in French to the class, do not interrupt his or her speech with error corrections. When the task objective is to develop students communicative skills, halting their work can negatively affect fluency and confidence. You may, however, jot down any salient errors and tell him later, either orally in a student-teacher conference or in writing, using an evaluation form. For instance, during students' role plays or other speaking activities, I often walk around the room listening for and noting errors. (Try to collect one example from each student). I put them on the board anonymously and have the students correct them as a class. If, however, your students are practicing a specific language structure (orally or in written form), you should always monitor and correct that structure. For example, if students are making predictions using the French future tense, you can ignore other mistakes but you should indicate and have them correct future tense errors. In these circumstances, I find that self and peer-correction are particularly effective.
Bonne Chance,

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Encouraging students to speak in class

Dear YANA,
Help! Some of the students in my high school Spanish class simply refuse to speak in class - no matter how much I try to bribe or blackmail them. How can I convince them that it's ok to make mistakes and not feel self-conscious?

Dear Susan,
This question has plagued language teachers for a long time, and language educators have varying ideas on the best approach. Here is one approach you may find helpful. Try dividing the class into pairs or small groups. Many learners will find it easier to talk to one or a few classmates rather than to the whole class. Students will find it difficult to avoid practicing speaking if they are expected to carry on one side of a conversation.If you believe that students would like to participate, but think speaking in class isn't "cool," enlist the help of the students you consider class leaders. Tell these more confident learners that their participation is a great model for other students. Ask them to try to convince their peers that talking in class is fun and that it doesn't matter if they make mistakes.

If some learners seem extremely shy, consider not compelling them to speak in class. Forcing them to do so can do more harm than good. Instead, have them keep a special notebook where they write down their responses to your questions. (You can collect this notebook every day or once a week and write your feedback in it, almost like a class journal). If possible, meet with the student once a week for about 10-20 minutes. During these one-on-one meetings, you can ask them a few questions conversationally in the target language, to practice the forms and vocabulary you are working on in class. You can also choose to do a few exercises from the book or workbook together. Such measures might build up their confidence and encourage them to speak more in class.
Best of luck!

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Managing role plays

Dear YANA,
I teach 6th grade Spanish in Ohio. I know that functional speaking practice is essential in class so I have my students do role-plays at least twice a week. However, with a class as huge as mine, it's a battle to keep all the students on task. Help!

Dear Ines,
When you have a big class, it is important to make sure all students have an opportunity to speak. Doing role-plays in pairs is a great idea but you say that your students don't always stay on task. They might be more motivated to stay on task if you require a final product from them. For example, you might have pairs prepare and rehearse their role-play. Then ask the pairs to videotape each other and put the videotapes in the language lab for all to see. Or you might ask each pair to hand in a written script of their role-play at the end of class. Make the role play activity relevant to the students' needs and interests. Too much control might dampen their enthusiasm but they do need to be on task.

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Language Lessons for Pre-Teens (7th graders)

Dear YANA,
The school year is almost here, and I am in a panic about teaching French to seventh graders for the first time. I've taught elementary, so I know how to adapt French lessons to young learners, but what about preteens? They are too "old" for children's activities but too "young" for activities for adolescents!
Stuck in the middle

Dear Stuck in the Middle,
Ah, it's that time of the year again: time to prepare the classroom for your new students; fresh, eager faces wondering what language they will learn this year. Middle school students can be challenge because they are still children (but don't want to be treated as such). It's understandable that you feel your material and activities may not seem adaptable, but never fear! Contrary to what they would have you believe, these young teens do enjoy doing "kids' stuff" so long as you avoid singsong activities or Barney characters!

When your students apply their language skills in a real life setting, learning becomes fun and less intimidating, encouraging class participation, which, as we all know, is key in foreign language classes. Plan imaginative lessons that will keep them active and engaged. Activities such as a skit on grocery shopping (asking for the price and location of produce, money exchange, customer service), learning first aid skills, cooking, songs/dance, and competitive, interactive games such as Jeopardy and Hangman, in the target language, are a great way to capture the imagination of your students while cultivating a lifelong interest in the language. Ensure you are off to a good start by clearly establishing your rules, your objectives and your expectations. Once you've established your foundation you should be set for the year. Have a good year!

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Beginning teacher of Spanish: what to teach?

Dear YANA,
I am a first year Spanish teacher, and although I am familiar with the language, I have never taught it as a subject before! HELP!
New Teacher

Dear New Teacher,
You are not alone! In my first year as a language teacher, I was enthusiastic, excited, and yet frightened by an enormous responsibility. Although I felt confident about my own language ability, I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to pass it on. My best advice is to identify and use resources to help you. Being a new teacher or teaching a new subject can be overwhelming, but there's help out there. For example, see what successful methods other language teachers in your department have used, perhaps moderating them to fit your class's needs. Senior teachers have infinite ideas, materials and tips to share with you. You may find a teacher mentor which is invaluable. Spanish community organizations are excellent resources for materials and target culture information. Use real materials (silverware, light switches, clothing, etc.) to help students put the new words and language structures in context.

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Should I use only French in class?

Dear YANA,
I am a high school French teacher in Chicago, and I am from Marseilles. I have been told not to use English too much in my first year class, but everything in French they don't understand. How can I teach in French and be understood by all of my pupils?
Madame le Professeur

Dear Madame,
Thank you for sharing what I have observed is a common problem for native speaker language teachers. Please don't worry! Non-native speaker teachers often use and re-use simple French phrases to conduct class. Due to your mastery of French and the richness of the French language, your commands, instructions and explanations may change a little each time you give them. One way to approach this issue is to analyze your language use by taping a few lessons using a hidden cassette recorder. Look at which points you use English for, such as classroom management or grammar presentations and which parts your students don't understand. Try to identify which parts of the lesson must be conducted in English and which you could use French. Then see if you can simplify your language and use the same phrases in every lesson. Once you've decided on phrases you will use with students (start with phrases you can act out), use these commands or explanations every time so your students will get used to them. I believe you'll discover that fixed routines will make students feel more secure and they will have an easier time understanding you. This concept can help you structure your class as well. Knowing what to expect will make it easier for students to understand and will build their confidence. In addition, you can provide incentives for understanding. For example, if you ask students to turn to page 98, loudly praise a student who has opened to the correct page. Have a "magnifique" stamp ready to reward the first student to complete an instruction. It may seem hard to believe, but learners of ALL ages respond to stamps of approval.

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E-Mail writing exchanges

Dear YANA,
I would like to set up an e-mail exchange for my high school students with French students in France or another Francophone country. Unfortunately, I don't have any teacher contacts overseas. Do you haveany suggestions?
Marie-Louise Pettit

Dear Marie-Louise,
International e-mail exchanges are a great way for students to develop fluency in the target language. You must first decide what the objective of the exchange would be. For your students, the primary objective would be improving their French. But what's in it for the French students? They obviously don't need to improve their French! They might, however, go for a "tandem" project. Tandems are bilingual e-mail projects in which language learners communicate both in their native language and in the target language. Each participant acts as an expert informant for his or her language while learning the target language from a native speaker partner. Students are generally very enthusiastic about participating in such exchanges as they communicate with peers on subjects of interest to them. When students are motivated, they write more and, as a result, their proficiency in the language improves markedly.

Two tandem formats are available, pairs and listservs. In the pairs format, each student has a partner who is a native speaker of the target language. The two students exchange messages, half written in their native language and half in the target language. The exchange is private but you could require your students to copy you on every message. In this way, you could monitor the content and the language of their messages. In the listserv format, a large number of students participate and carry on a general discussion in the two languages. The forums are open so you could join the one that your students would be participating in if you so desired.

The International E-Mail Tandem Project would be appropriate for your students. This project finds language partners for students in France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Canada, and the USA. It also provides the following bilingual forums: English/French, Spanish/French, and German/French. The URL is

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Finding classroom materials on the web

Bonjour YANA,
I am looking for French teaching resources to supplement my current classroom materials. I've been told the web is a good place to start, but how do I begin, and will this prove expensive and time consuming?
-Merci, Jean-Jacques

Dear Jean-Jacques,
The great news is that there are infinite free French and other language resources on the Internet. You will find two major types of web resources you can search through. First, there are language teaching ideas in the form of materials, language games, lesson plans, and downloadable worksheets and assessments. For example, look at the Foreign Language Teaching Forum at Be sure to visit "A few things to check out," where you can find a number of free online materials and "WWW resources for language teachers," which identifies some of the owner's favorite language education web sites. Second, you can find authentic materials to supplement your classroom texts. You can find target language poems, articles, stories, maps etc. If you like working with authentic materials, you can adapt textbook comprehension or discussion activities to suit French texts. Check out the Foreign Language Web Sites Surf Report at This site offers an extensive list of links, reading and listening material in many languages, as well as access to information about the history and culture of other countries. You can access a handful of general FL sites and then there are specific links for French, German and Spanish learners and educators.

I recommend exploring the web using a search engine like Yahoo or Google. Type in the following key words: teaching, learning, language education or instruction, French, teacher resources, K-12, language activities or games, and ESOL (the phenomenal materials designed for teaching and learning English for Speakers of Other Languages can be adapted to suit foreign language try also ESL and EFL).

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What is a MOO?

Dear YANA,
I am a high school Italian teacher. One of my students has asked me if there are any Italian MOOs. I have absolutely no idea what a MOO is and my student doesn't, either. She says that her friend is always talking about the fun she has in a French MOO. I promised her that I would look into it. Can you help me? I am not very computer savvy although I do send the occasional e-mail message.

Dear Perplexed,
It's very difficult to imagine what a MOO really is. It's similar to a Chat Room. I suggest you go to a MOO and see for yourself. MOOing is not for everyone but some people get addicted very quickly, teachers and students alike.

A MOO is a place in cyberspace, where users/students can move around and "talk" (via the keyboard) to the people they meet. MOOing gives students an opportunity to use the target language outside of class at any time of day or night (24/7) in a non-threatening environment. Some language teachers decide to make MOOing a required assignment for their students while others make it optional for particularly motivated students.

The best-known Italian MOO is called Little Italy. To learn more about it, connect to the Internet and go to the Little Italy Homepage at You will find that the Little Italy MOO is divided into various "rooms" including a cathedral, a desert, two space stations, a piece of the planet Mars, and a forest. Choose a room, and you will hopefully encounter other users in this room. These other users could come from anywhere in the world. Approximately 70% of the Little Italy users are native speakers of Italian and 30% are non-native speakers. Of the Italians most are university students in Milan. Just type a greeting (in Italian, of course!) and wait for the other users in your room to reply. Although you will be communicating via text, after a while you will have the illusion that you are carrying on a spoken conversation. It's a strange feeling! And you will not only be "talking" but also interacting with virtual objects in the room.

MOOs are also available in other languages such as English (schMOOze University), French (MOOFrançais) and Spanish (MundoHispano). To find other language MOOs, go to the google search engine ( and enter the keywords "MOO" and the name of the language you are looking for. (In case you are curious, M stands for Multi-user domain and OO stands for Object-Oriented.) Sincerely,

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Setting up a collaborative Internet project

Dear YANA,
I teach French at a university in Richmond, Virginia; I have a friend who teaches French in Chicago, Illinois. We would very much like to have our two classes work together on a collaborative Web project where we have our students working together. We have never done this before and we'd appreciate some suggestions. Do you have any ideas?
Very excited

Dear Excited,
Michael Krauss, an ESL instructor in Oregon, developed a marvelous project that you might be interested in. This project is called "Web-Based Culture Capsules." You can read the details of his project at While Michael's project was originally designed for international students in an ESL class in one location, it can easily be adapted for foreign language students in a variety of contexts. Let me suggest how you and your friend could adapt it to your situation.

First, pair up your students so that each pair has a Richmond student and a Chicago student. Ask the students to communicate with their partners via e-mail and to decide on an aspect of French culture they would like to focus on. They might choose, for example, fashion, food, or geography. Then, after each student has done some research, have them collaborate via e-mail on writing an essay, a "culture capsule", on their topic. Finally, create a project Web page and post all of the culture capsules to this page. Photos of the students can be added to the page as well as other relevant graphics. Let the students do as much of the Web creation and design work as they can. Often there is at least one student in a class that is equally or more computer-savvy than the teacher! Writing for a distant audience, whether for another class or for unknown Web users, is highly motivating for students. You will notice that your students take greater pains in writing clear and correct French when involved in a project like this. Depending on your students' proficiency in French, you could have them do the planning work via e-mail in English or French. The culture capsules, of course, would be written in French.

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How to make literature interesting to upper level students?

Dear YANA,
What can be done to bring literature alive and become more immediate and of interest to upper level students?

Dear Literature Lover,
There are a variety of ways in which students can become more immediately involved in their reading. In abbreviated form, here are some of the techniques with which I have success. As an introduction, I always find a short example of the author's work, either selected from the work we will read later or from another source. If I have an autographed copy of the book, that is always the one I choose to take in to the class; seeing the signature, realizing that the author actually touched that book, knowing that their teacher had to at least say please and thank you to the author in person, all these conspire to personalize the reading experience for the students. It is extremely important to present the students with something that will snag their attention, has an attainable reading level, and is exemplary of the style and/or subject matter of the author.

  1. Watch local newspapers, bookstores, libraries, museums, etc. for announcements about authors appearing for a reading or perhaps a book signing session. Before students attend the event they should be aware of who the author is, what the genre is, what some of the general themes of previous works have been, and perhaps, if it is available, have read a short selection of the work that will be highlighted. After the event, read another selection, or provide a way in which the students can obtain the book (libraries, student discounts at near-by book stores). Give them ample time to read the book, if they are reading it in English, and then have a discussion.
  2. A variation on this may be a near-by college or university that opens classes to visitors. Contact the foreign language department or the English department to see if anybody has anything on their syllabus that is within reach of your students. Then contact the instructor directly to make arrangements to sit in on one of the classes.
  3. If the piece the students are reading has been made into a short film, alternate reading with watching the film. One time read first, and then watch; another time watch before reading. Follow up with students taking parts and reading out loud. If a film is not available, perhaps a recording is.
  4. If there is a museum, art gallery, or neighborhood nearby, arrange to visit and point out things that are relevant to the reading selection.
  5. For classes with a more artistic bent, have the students illustrate the selection. Well-designed stick figures can convey the idea as well as fully formed artwork.

Alternate ways of assessing a reading assignment:

  1. Design a book jacket.
  2. Write a critical review.
  3. Act out a segment.
  4. Story board a segment (no words allowed).
  5. Choose appropriate music and explain why.
  6. Choose actors to play the major roles and explain why.

Whatever method you decide upon, it is important that the students understand from the outset what will be expected of them during the reading, in the discussion sessions, and as an assessment. The key is to engage the students from the start, to not drag out the reading over too long a period of time, and to be sure that the language used in the selection is accessible to the students. It is no fun to read if it requires a dictionary for every third word. I also would add that what works with one group of students might not work with another.

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Useful techniques for vocabulary retention

Dear YANA,
I am doing research about vocabulary retention and would like some suggestions for useful techniques and references to articles about this topic.Thanks!
Hawraa N.

Dear Hawraa,
Each individual learner develops a different set of personalized techniques that will lead to successful vocabulary retention. These are generally arrived at through trial and error with a variety of strategies suggested by a variety of people who have had success. Success comes from long hours of encounters with the vocabulary in a variety of contexts.

The key to leading students to vocabulary retention is to have a wide variety of contextual activities in which the students must process the meaning in order to perform correctly. Everybody successfully memorizes the words to a song, the sequence to a successful football maneuver, or their part in a play in a different manner. Vocabulary retention is the same kind of thing, with one difference. The examples I just listed have a context in which to remember the elusive words, vocabulary lists do not. Whatever the activities are that you devise for your students, they must have a meaningful context in which to work.

A colleague of mine swore by the statement, "If I want my students to learn their vocabulary, I must provide each one of them with at least 30 to 35 individual encounters with each word. " That's a tall order. You can see the section on Vocabulary Activities. I suggest that you draw upon those activities to provide you with a variety of encounters. They will at least be a point of departure for you, and may stimulate your creativity to develop additional activities that you will refine and one day share with others.

FL Annals, published by ACTFL, should have many articles that address vocabulary retention, as well as the various regional entities such as SWCOLT or NECTFL. There is a lot available in the TESOL archives and I have found, also, that conversations with our teachers of the learning disabled students always reap huge benefits. Consulting with your colleagues who are teaching foreign languages will turn up additional techniques and activities. A quick search in Google Scholar brings up many resources, most of which are suggested techniques and scholarly papers.
Good luck in your search for successful vocabulary retention!

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