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6 ways to build community online

Use the target language to create shared goals and experiences in your classroom
11-19-2018  All News, Featured Post

By Deborah Espitia

Immersing students in the target language embraces all facets of the classroom environment—physical, social, emotional. This immersion encompasses a variety of tangible elements through which we can purposefully use the target language in our own classrooms: print, audio, and video authentic resources; authentic tasks in the three modes of communication—interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational; formative and summative performance assessment; classroom management; teacher-to-student plus student-to-student informal interactions.

While using the target language for curriculum-oriented items (i.e. authentic resources, authentic tasks, assessments) is more easily incorporated into our teaching, we may find it challenging to stay in the target language to establish rapport and build relationships with our students who are at the Novice or Intermediate proficiency levels. There is a sense that the lack of language stands as a barrier to developing those social and emotional connections.

But don't let that stop you from bringing the language into all facets of your classroom.  Staying in the target language creates a more cohesive sense of community, a community that has shared goals and experiences, empowers its members to contribute, provides a safety net for taking risks, and consequently, builds trust, collaboration, and a “can-do” attitude with using the language.

There are many strategies and tools we can use to build community through immersion in the target language. Today, let’s take a look at one tool and six strategies that take advantage of the power of social media.

No, we’re not going to access one of the social media tools that students may use with their friends. We’ll be working in a secure environment that comes with your Wayside product: the Classroom Forum in each Explorer course on the Learning Site. This is one of my favorite tools for building that sense of community with students as well as immersing them even more into the language and culture.

Highlight school events, student achievements and celebrations

Post notices of upcoming school events (i.e., concerts, theater productions, sports) in which your students are participating. Highlight their achievements in these events, but also include what they’re doing outside of school. Provide notecards on which students can share what they’ve done if they’re too humble to post the notice themselves. Also, encourage parents to send in notices and links to photos or online news stories. And don’t forget to post birthdays, along with bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, cotillions, quinceañeras, Eagle Scouts, etc.

Another idea is to feature a student of the week (Nuestro/a estudiante estupendo/a). Include in the post why he or she was selected and encourage classmates to add their own kudos or congratulations.

Share student work

The Classroom Forum is a great spot to display exemplary student work. Take photos of the work and attach them to a post. Upload and share audio or video recordings students have made for a specific task. Create a series of “awards” (i.e. most creative, best use of vocabulary, most culturally authentic) and post multiple works for a given assignment. Have classmates add positive comments and ask follow-up questions about the content or context.

Conduct team challenges

Post a prompt with a list of partner challenges. In groups of two, have students “spin” an online spinner and then complete the corresponding challenge. Include tasks that encourage kindness, collaboration, teamwork, expression, and the sharing of ideas and opinions. Here is an example for Novice learners who have been expressing likes and dislikes:

  1. Write a note of appreciation to one of your teachers.

  2. Talk for one minute to your partner about what you like to do in your free time.

  3. Draft a top-ten list of your favorite things about your school.

  4. Talk about three things you would like to do if given a free-choice activity in language class.

  5. Describe three things you would like to take with you on a month stay in Paraguay (or another country other study).


Share memories

Each month, share class highlights from the previous month. In preparation, take photos of class activities, student work, and students in action (headless shots are my favorite; I don’t post students’ images and they have fun trying to guess who is in the photos). Post the images and have students write captions (i.e., adjectives, rejoinders, simple sentences, complex sentences).  Or post sentence starters and have students submit their versions of the complete sentence. Some examples include (prompts that reinforce language structures serve double duty):

  1. Three adjectives that describe class last week are …

  2. The best moment in class has been ...

  3. Last month, I remember when …

  4. My favorite activity last semester was ...



Select a student blogger or student paparazzi

Have students take the lead in posting a comment, task, or prompt to which classmates can respond. Have a student take photos related to the content under study or of interest to classmates so that they can write captions or design memes.



Pose a Friday 3-2-1 reflection

Choose a day of the week and have students complete a 3-2-1 reflection or task. For example, on Fridays, the following makes sense:

  • 3 words that describe my week

  • 2 things that made me smile this week

  • 1 thing I plan to do this weekend.

On Wednesdays, many students love celebrating Zachary Jones’ Miaucoles:

  • 3 words that describe cats

  • 2 things that cats do that make me laugh

  • 1 name I would give to a cat and why.

Come up with a creative task for the other days of the week and over the course of the school year, use each of them once.

And it goes without saying (but, I’ll state it anyway) that all these posts and responses are in the target language.

So, take the plunge! Immerse your students even more in the target language by using the Classroom Forum to build a positive, supportive language community!

Watch what EntreCulturas "Can Do"

11-19-2018  All News, Teacher Resources, Featured Post

Watch what EntreCulturas can do! In this brief video, authors and teachers talk about our groundbreaking Spanish language program. See how can do statements help teachers think about student performance in a new way and help students focus on what they can do with the language right from the beginning. EntreCulturas leads with culture, which helps students engage in language learning as they find themselves pushed to communicate on an authentic level. 


Immigration & changing demographics strengthen french programs

06-11-2018  Featured Post, Teacher Resources, Author Spotlights, All News

By Elizabeth Zwanziger

June 11, 2018


Five weeks to AATF!

AATF in La Pointe-du-Bout, Martinique is only five weeks away! Here is the convention website. This will be my first time there, and I’m excited to celebrate Francophone language and culture in a new venue.


The French language has traveled from its birthplace in France and settled in many places around the world. We all know about Francophone Africa, Polynesia, and the Caribbean, but do you know that more and more French is being spoken in the U.S. thanks to immigration to many states across the country? Quebec is not the only place in North America where you’ll find French. In this post, I’ll be sharing a bit about the French language situation in what may seem an unexpected location: Iowa.


The Iowa flag resembles the French flag and reflects Iowa’s history as part of the French Louisiana Territory.


Iowa and French language and culture

Iowa has a significant French and French Canadian heritage. French has been the second most commonly studied world language in Iowan schools for many years. However, approximately 20 years ago, many French programs found themselves in danger and were even discontinued due to budget cuts for non-core courses considered as low hanging fruit. Many French teachers who still had positions advocated, promoted, and recruited to fill French classes. Little did we know that things were about to change.

In recent years, there has been an influx of French speakers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Togo, and Angola immigrating to many of the larger metro areas in Iowa. They have come to start a new life, and are enriching ours. A local school has begun a French-English dual immersion program. Banks, hospitals, and grocery stores want to better serve their customers by offering French language translations for their services. Thus, people are seeking ways to study French in order to communicate with our new neighbors, and French programs are holding steady or even seeing growth.


What an exciting time to be a French teacher!

Let me tell you more at my presentation at AATF on Saturday, July 21 from 8:20 to 8:50 in the Fort Desaix room au Carayou. 

Participants will take away knowledge of newcomer Francophone populations around the U.S. and ideas for partnering with members of their own communities to promote linguistic and cultural diversity as well as to bolster French language programs that mutually benefit both existing and newcomer populations.





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Hook, line and sinker

Introducing the unit, part II
05-29-2018  Featured Post, Teacher Resources, Author Spotlights, All News

By Deborah Espitia

May 29, 2018


In the previous post, Packing a punch with pictures, we talked about bringing James Bond into our classrooms.

Alright, so not actually bringing James Bond, but starting the unit off with an activity that pulls learners into the theme and motivates them to want to learn what we want to teach.  But, how about bringing that level of motivation to every lesson every day and not just reserving it for the start of a unit?


Remember, motivation emerges from a hierarchy of motivators. 

First, the subject matter should be intrinsically motivating. Think about how we can make the topic or theme interesting.
Second, instructor enthusiasm is key. Our excitement for a topic spills over to our learners.
Third, there needs to be a focusing event that gains the attention of the learners and hooks them into wanting to know more.  It should introduce or reinforce the content.
Last, and not least, elements of fun should be included - not just for the initial focusing event - but, woven throughout the unit.


All four of these elements can be integrated to get our daily lessons off on the right foot.  So, let’s take a look at how we can do this by revamping that warm-up activity that generally starts each lesson. Often, students do some sort of drill, such as fill-in-the blanks, conjugations, answering questions, or translations.  As rote exercises, these set a somber tone for the rest of the class. Let’s mix it up and have students engage their brain with higher-level activity that sparks interest, curiosity, or fun.

A great option for higher-level activity is the use of authentic print and audiovisual resources.  To that end, we’ll examine several types of resources and related activities that will provide a transition into the daily content, and in the process, reel our learners in - hook, line and sinker.


Still images

Photographs, clipart, and artwork make up the bulk of the resources in this category.  We tend to use still images for most of our vocabulary presentation - as much as possible - and we’ve taken to using art from the target cultures that we speak the languages we teach as well.  For the lesson warm-up or introductory activity, there are a number of options for expanding our use of these staple resources. For example, have learners:

  • Identify items in the image and describe their use.

  • Tell where items are located.

  • Describe the surroundings.

  • Fill in speech bubbles for people in the image.

  • Engage in a conversation with a classmate, taking the role of two people in the image.

  • Work with a partner to take turns describing people or objects in the image and guessing who or what is being described.

  • Make comparisons between two images or works of art.

  • Tell what happened before the image was taken or what will come next.

  • Engage in guided imagery.


Guided imagery taps into students’ prior knowledge as well as the affective domain. It really empowers learners since they decide what images represent the vocabulary in question.  An example of this that I’ve used with my learners at the Novice level is around foods at the market. Have learners close their eyes and image they are going to the market with a family member.  The first section they see is the produce section with fruits and vegetables. Ask them questions, such as the following, based on the target vocabulary or previously-learned words and expressions:

  • What fruits and vegetables do you see?  

  • What colors are they?  

  • What shape are they?  

  • What do they smell like?  

  • What do they taste like?  

Then, have learners open their eyes.  Have them jot down in one circle of a Venn diagram, keywords for the items they saw, heard, smelled, etc.  Then, show learners an image of a market from the target culture (i.e., an open-air market, a corner store, a supermarket).

In the other circle of the Venn diagram, have learners note items from the image that are unique to that place. In the space provided by overlapping circles, have learners note what’s common between the two. 

Photograph: Mercado de Villa de Leyva, Colombia (photo by Debbie Espitia).


Images with text

With the advent of more target-language comics, memes, charts, and advertisements available to us via the Internet, there are a myriad of authentic resources that flaunt the language in authentic contexts.  And, no doubt, the invention of infographics was designed with language teachers in mind. Try having learners:

1. Continue a conversation (i.e., Pon, Ten, Ven). 


2. Identify actions that should or should not be done based on what’s happening.

3. Add text to create a new meme (i.e., Tell where they are going and what they will do there).

4. Answer questions posed with original answers (i.e., Écris quatre raisons, Qu’est-ce qu’un bon poisson d’avril pour le 1er d’avril?). 

5. Summarize details.  

Example: Use the infographic to

Create taglines.

Make inferences.

Extract supporting details.

Create a survey.

Act it out.

Source: EntreCulturas 2, p. 299









Video clips

Authentic resources are not limited to print images. Inclusion of video clips brings language to life and can be directed toward visual literacy or aural skills. Select clips from sources, such as gifs, music videos, commercials, announcements, how-to videos, and documentaries. Remember to keep clips to under a minute and a half and don’t hesitate to replay them or have them loop as learners:

  • Identify key vocabulary.

  • Identify the purpose.

  • Label or create graphs or charts.

  • Sequence events.

  • Add examples.

  • Narrate scenes.

  • Make comparisons with own environment or experiences.

  • Compose true/false statements.

  • Draft interview questions.


Tweets & headlines

In essence, tweets are the new version of headlines. Both, give learners a snapshot into the context, summary, nuance, or inference of a cultural event. Even at the novice level, learners can access the language used, and often get at the heart of the intent as they:

  • Identify cognates.

  • Answer WH-questions.

  • Match a headline or tweet to its accompanying photo.

  • Create a new headline.

  • Create an original tweet for a hashtag (use cloze sentences or sentence frames, as needed; for example, En el #soundtrack de mi vida, hay al menos una #Cumbia. or #5ChosesQueJ’aimeJouer  1) jouer aux cartes 2) jouer au football  3) jouer au softball 4) jouer au basketball  5) jouer au hockey)

  • Compare headlines or tweets across countries or individuals.


Mad libs

While not actual authentic resources, mad libs are extremely popular among world language teachers and an online search will bring up many examples. These mini-paragraphs are great at reviewing vocabulary and language structures, but their zaniness and hilarity are what our learners find so attractive.  Once learners have written their words, have them take turns to:

  • Read aloud the paragraph with their words while classmates draw what they hear.

  • Act out the paragraph with their words while classmates determine which words they used.


Mystery box

We all love a good mystery and our learners are no exception. Hide an object that depicts the vocabulary theme, language structure, or topic under study in a box or a bag (if you have one from a country that speaks the language you teach, all the better). Have learners draft yes/no questions to discover what is hidden in the box or bag. Play a round of 20 questions to try to identify the object and the direction for the day’s lesson. Give clues, if needed.  


Tying it all together

Keep in mind that these warm-up activities are short - 3 to 4 minutes, at most. They provide an introduction to the daily outcomes and a priming for activities to follow.  At times, we will use the same resource with additional, extended activities that further engage learners as they develop their interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational skills.  

Ready to have your learners eager to get to class to see what you have in store for them?  Then, get started and let us know in the comments section how you are using authentic resources to start off your units.



  • Schwenkler, C., Cory, M., & Carrión, P. (2017). EntreCulturas 2. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.


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Packing a punch with pictures

Introducing the unit, part I
05-14-2018  Featured Post, Teacher Resources, Author Spotlights, All News

By Deborah Espitia

May 14, 2018

Planning a unit is like developing the script of a James Bond film.

That opening scene starts off with a bang! The viewer is immediately thrust into a high-powered action thriller, be it a car racing around hairpin curves, a speedboat jumping a dock, or a hang glider weaving between mountain crevices.  It’s only after this initial thrill, after the viewer is drawn into the story, that the plot plays out and the viewer discovers the connection between that initial drama and mission elements.

That’s how I want learners to experience each unit of study in my classes.
Realistically, we may not be able to bring that same excitement that we feel watching James Bond as he chases or flees from the bad guys, but there are a number of ways we can begin our units that connect learners to the content, help them understand why we’re learning that content, and motivate them to want to know more.

Motivation emerges from a hierarchy of motivators. 

First, the subject matter should be intrinsically motivating. Relevance or pragmatic utility usually play a part in this intrinsic motivation. 
Second, instructor enthusiasm is key.  High energy and excitement for the content on the part of the teacher fuels student interest.  And, it needs to be genuine; learners can tell when we’re feigning.

Third, and this is where James Bond comes in, there needs to be a focusing event that gains the attention of the learners and hooks them into wanting to know more.  It goes without saying that the focusing event should be relevant and connect to the content of the unit.  


Last, and not least, elements of fun should be included - not just for the initial focusing event - but, woven throughout the unit.


Let’s zero in on focusing events for opening a unit of study. 

A great option for these is the use of photographs, artwork, or even video clips from the target cultures.  Teachers have been using these kinds of authentic resources to introduce units, lessons, and segments of study for longer than most of us have been teaching.  Along the way, we’ve refined the technique to include strategies that move learners beyond simply identifying what they see in the images.  One such technique comes from TCI™’s social studies curriculum, History Alive!. Visual Discovery brings to life compelling visuals as learners discover key concepts. The strategy sharpens visual-literacy skills, encourages learners to construct their own knowledge through higher-level thinking, develops deductive reasoning, and taps visual, intrapersonal, and body-kinesthetic intelligences.

To begin, choose 2 or 3 images to introduce the key concept(s) of the unit.  Make sure they include a combination of the following:

  • connect to the curriculum and student outcomes;
  • illustrate key concepts;
  • graphically show human emotion, suspense, or interaction;
  • are interesting or unusual;
  • have the potential for learners to “step into the scene;”
  • are culturally relevant.

Ask learners carefully sequenced questions that lead to discovery of the key concepts.  Questions move through three levels, from basic identification to higher-order processing.

Level 1 - Gathering evidence (identifying the details)

  • What do you see in this image?
  • What are some details?
  • How would you describe the scene and the people?
  • What do you hear (or smell) in the scene?

Level 2 - Interpreting evidence (providing evidence to support answers)

  • Where might the scene be taking place?
  • What is happening in the scene?
  • What are people saying in the scene?
  • What might this person be thinking?
  • What might have happened prior to this scene?
  • What might happen next?

Level 3 - Making hypothesis from evidence (formulating ideas)

  • What is happening?
  • What does this say about the concept or culture?
  • How do we know?
Have learners interact with the image(s) to show what they have put together by: 
  • taking the roles of characters in the image.
  • inserting themselves into the scene and acting accordingly.
  • creating captions for events depicted.
  • crafting summaries of events.
  • conducting news reports on the scene.
  • interviewing key characters.

Let’s look at examples from Wayside Publishing’s Spanish series, EntreCulturas 1, 2, 3

EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 5 - La vida es un carnaval (p. 252)

Productos de la República Dominicana y del estado de Nueva York

Observa las imágenes. ¿Puedes identificar las que representan la República Dominicana? ¿Y los Estados Unidos? ¿Puedes identificar algunas conexiones entre los dos lugares?

Each unit of EntreCulturas 1 begins with a collage such as this one.  Learners note items depicted in the photos (Level 1) and then, make comparisons and connections between the two places on which the unit focuses (Level 2).  From here, have learners make predictions about the kinds of things they may be studying in the unit (Level 3).  Refer them to the unit’s goals and essential questions for additional clues.  Then, have learners identify items in which they are interested and would to know about.


EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 2 - #CiudadaníaDigital (p. 58)

¿Cómo se defina la ciudadanía digital?

En esta unidad, vas a explorar el concepto de la ciudadanía digital, algo que afecta a todo el mundo. Para empezar, examina las siguientes imágenes. ¿Puedes adivinar la definición de la ciudadanía digital? con el apoyo de Google. "Todo a un clic". Extrado de
Use the Cooperative Learning structure, “Jigsaw,” to have learners process six images taken from the video they will view, Todo a un clic.  Have learners work in small groups of six members each; assign each member one of the six images.  Then, have learners regroup and sit with classmates who have the same image.  In their “expert” groups, have learners discuss their image using the Visual Discovery approach.  First, they note what they see in the image; have them identify nouns, adjectives, and verbs that apply to the image (Level 1).  Then, have them make inferences about what is taking place in the image.  Have them extend their thinking to identifying consequences of the actions depicted (Level 2).  Finally, have them jot down advice for the viewer: what to do and what not to do (Level 3).  Then, have learners return to their original groups and work together to draft a definition of digital citizenship.  After viewing the video, Todo a un clic, and working through the tasks connected with the opening activity, have groups revisit and refine their definition.  Post the different versions around the room and have learners note similarities and differences.  Have them identify which one component they believe to be most important.  As learners proceed through the unit, have them refer back to the definitions and their choices.  Do they change their mind as they delve deeper into the theme?

Want to know more? 

Check out the resources in the reference section and let us know in the comments section how you are using images to start off your units!


Resources (used as references in this post):

  • Mar, A., Davis, R., Sloan, M. & Watson-López, G. (2017). EntreCulturas 1. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.
  • Espitia, D., García, P., Cornell, J., & Vásquez Gil, I. (2017). EntreCulturas 3. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.
  • For more information on Visual Discovery, visit TCI™ -
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