Best Blogs of 2019

12-31-2019  All News, Featured Post, The Wayside Way, Teacher Resources, Authentic Resources
Start off 2020 with ideas on how to refresh and renew your teaching from some of our most popular bloggers.  Subscribe to the Wayside blog

The best tips & ideas for your classroom

Hi educators,

Revisit some of our most popular blog posts from this past year and get tips & ideas that will help you refresh and renew your teaching practice in 2020. 

4 steps for refreshing your teaching & starting strong in 2020
By Elena Spathis
Teaching often seems like running a marathon—we train and prepare, we push ourselves, and we keep going no matter what the circumstances. Reaching the end-of-year “finish line” to winter break gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect, and recharge.

The power of authentic resources
By Ed Weiss
When there is a real task involving real materials for a real purpose, students discover the purpose and need for learning a language and subsequently staying with that language throughout their secondary years. 

Helping students overcome their fear of mistakes
By Elena Spathis
In order to see our students really use the language successfully and authentically, we must encourage risk-taking in our world language classrooms. 

Activities that help create a safe classroom space
By Angelika Becker
Investing the time early in the school year fosters a sense of community that helps with partner and group activities throughout the school year.

How fewer, intentional goals will make you a happier, better language teacher
By Meredith White
Less guilt, less stress, less sense of imposter syndrome, less to keep track of —fewer goals that are more specific and intentional end up being less to keep track of and think about.

Happy New Year and Happy Teaching,

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Proficiency Insider - September 2019

Wayside's Community News
09-05-2019  All News, The Wayside Way, Learning Site
Help your students take a risk, speak up for languages, meet us at fall conferences, and learn about our new proficiency trackers. Subscribe to a Wayside newsletter

Proficiency Insider

Bold ideas and practical resources for your language classroom

Hi educators,

Welcome to this month's edition of the Proficiency Insider, your go-to source for everything you need to take your language instruction to the next level. In this issue:
  • Help your students take a risk
  • Speak up for languages
  • Catch up with us at a fall language conference
  • Watch a video on how to use our new proficiency trackers

What would you like to read about? We'd love to hear from you

Happy Teaching!


Help your students take a risk


Because you can’t learn a language without making mistakes: Spanish teacher and blogger Elena Spathis suggests that putting the right supports in place helps students take a risk in the language classroom.

Your voice matters

You can help make a difference in language education! We are collecting stories from teachers like you who are on the front lines of teaching the next generation of global citizens. Tell us how and why you became a language teacher or about the role languages play in your life and become a part of a growing community of language advocates.

On the road with Wayside

It's our favorite time of the year! We are packing our bags and hitting the road to meet with language teachers across the country. We can't wait to meet you at a language conference in your area. Stop by for free digital samples, get your questions answered about proficiency-driven instruction, and pick up a cute owl sticker.


Proficiency trackers

Help your students track their growth and their performance toward proficiency with our new proficiency trackers, now available on the Learning Site. Available for both our Spanish series EntreCulturas and our French series EntreCultures, you can use the trackers by downloading and printing them from the Learning Site or assign them online for each unit and for the entire year. 

Here's a brief tutorial with our digital specialist Jen Cornell, who walks you through how to find and implement the trackers, using EntreCulturas as an example. 


Not familiar with our Learning Site yet? Sign up now to explore our Spanish and French series, including the Proficiency Trackers, or to sample any of our other language programs.


Advanced Placement, Advanced Placement Program, AP, and Pre-AP are registered trademarks of the College Board, which was not Involved In the production of, and does not endorse this product.
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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, The Wayside Way, Authentic Resources

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™ -
Read More

Acquiring vocabulary, part II

9 strategies for using graphic organizers
04-16-2018  Featured Post, Teacher Resources, Author Spotlights, All News, Comprehensible Input, The Wayside Way

By Deborah Espitia

April 16, 2018

I see it, I say it, I know it... but, maybe not

In Part I of our Aquiring Vocabulary series: I see it, I say it, I know it... right? , we set the scene for a movement in which fewer and fewer teachers are exposing students to meaningless drill and practice exercises to help them acquire new content. Instead, teachers are moving toward truly authentic resources and communicative tasks to teach vocabulary and language structures in context.

Hand-in-hand with contextual learning is making input comprehensible so that learners can then produce comprehensible output. Leading experts in the field of education, such as Robert J. Marzano, address the need to include such non-linguistic representations to create context and meaning in acquiring content. But, it’s what the teacher has learners do in relation to these non-linguistic representations that’s the bridge to acquiring the content.  

Through his research, Marzano (Classroom Instruction that Works, 2001) outlines five strategies that use non-linguistic representations to assist learners in acquiring content:

  • Creating graphic organizers;

  • Making physical models;

  • Generating mental pictures;

  • Drawing pictures and pictographs; and

  • Engaging in kinesthetic activity.

In Part II of our series, let’s take a closer look at creating and using graphic organizers to support vocabulary acquisition. We can’t wear out the use of graphic organizers – there are so many variations.  Here are just a few that we use in our new EntreCulturas 1, 2, 3 series that you may adapt to your lesson plans on vocabulary development.


Interpretive Mode

Graphic organizers help students process what they are reading, hearing, or viewing.

​​​​​Evidence Chart 

Defiende las ideas (Novice High) – Gather evidence from two infographics to support the notion that Miami is more than just a city in Southern Florida, but also “la capital, comercial, y global de las Américas.”  Chart source: EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 6, Actividad 41, p. 348

Information Gathering 

¿Cuánto vas a gastar? (Intermediate Low) – Listen to three students talk about what clothing they will buy in a Peruvian shop with the $100 they each have.  Note that the rate of exchange is 3.29 soles per dollar. Record the price in soles and dollars; then, indicate how much money is left over. Chart source: EntreCulturas 2, Unidad 5, Actividad 13, Paso 3B, p. 265

Main idea and Supporting Detail

Beneficios de los primeros trabajos para adolescentes (Intermediate Mid) – Watch the video to discover the five main benefits of a young person’s first job and write them above the appropriate description in the newspaper article.  Then, read the benefit listed in the article, and on the organizer, add more benefits. Chart source: EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 5, Actividad 3, Paso 3, p. 233


Interpersonal Mode

Graphic organizers assist students in collecting their thoughts before having to engage in a spoken or written conversation with someone else.


Mi identidad/Tu identidad (Novice Low) – Ask and answer questions of classmates to discover who they are. Record their responses. Targeted vocabulary is listed on the organizer along with a model conversation.  Chart source: EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 1, Actividad 5, Paso 1, p. 43


Aprovechando una oferta especial (Intermediate Low) –  Take advantage of a sale while shopping for clothes with a friend.  First, review three different scenarios that may occur and make notes of vocabulary, phrases, or questions that may be useful. Chart source: EntreCulturas 2, Unidad 5, En camino B, Paso 3, p. 281

Main idea and Supporting Detail

Beneficios de los primeros trabajos para adolescentes (Intermediate Mid) – Use the information in the organizer in which you captured the benefits of working, along with your own ideas, to engage in a chat on the class forum. Explain why having a job now will benefit you in the future.  Read classmates' responses and reply with a comment or a question. Chart source: EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 5, Actividad 3, Paso 3, p. 233


Presentational Mode

Students can use graphic organizers to plan spoken and written presentations.


Turistas en Santo Domingo (Novice Mid) – Put together an itinerary of things to see while in the Dominican Republic with your class for Carnaval, using charts and exercises in EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 5, Vive en culturas.



Iconos que nos representan (Intermediate Low) – Identify icons (i.e., places, animals, clothing, food, people) that represent the communities of which you are a part. Use the icons to create a t-shirt to sell to visitors to your area; be prepared to explain your concept to the shop owner selling the shirt. Chart source: EntreCulturas 2, Unidad 3, Actividad 5, Paso 4, p. 130


Main idea and Supporting Detail

Beneficios de los primeros trabajos para adolescentes (Intermediate Mid) – You would like to work this summer, but you have to convince your parents who want you to use the time to study. Use the information in the organizer in which you captured the benefits of working, along with your own ideas, to prepare the rationale you are going to present to them. Chart Source: EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 5, Actividad 3, Paso 3, p. 233


Tying It All Together

Did you observe that throughout the Intermediate Mid tasks, we used the same graphic organizer for the various activities in the different modes? The repeated tasks with the same vocabulary and language structures, but in new contexts, will add to language acquisition.

These are just a few types of graphic organizers available and kinds of activities in which students can engage.  Please share in the comment section ideas you have or connect with myself and the rest of the Wayside team on social media! Stay tuned to this blog space for the next in our series of strategies to link vocabulary acquisition and communication.


For more of the Acquiring Vocabulary blog series:

Part I: 5 Strategies to create meaning in learning vocabulary

Part III: 10 ways to get students moving with physical models and kinesthetic activity

Part IV: Mental Pictures and Drawing


  • Espitia, D., García, P., Cornell, J., & Vásquez Gil, I. (2017). EntreCulturas 3. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.

  • Mar, A., Davis, R., Sloan, M. & Watson-López, G. (2017). EntreCulturas 1. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.

  • Marzano, R., Pickering, D. & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction That Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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



Deborah Espitia
Instructional Strategist, author, and educator
Tweet to @despitia Tweet to @WaysidePublish

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Acquiring vocabulary, part III

10 ways to get students moving with physical models and kinesthetic activity
04-16-2018  Featured Post, Comprehensible Input, The Wayside Way

By Deborah Espitia

April 26, 2018

In Part I of our series, Acquiring vocabulary: 5 strategies to create meaning in learning vocabulary, we set the scene for a movement in which teachers are shifting from meaningless drill and practice exercises to help students acquire new content, such as vocabulary. 

In Part II, Acquiring vocabulary: 9 strategies for creating graphic organizers , we reviewed types of graphic organizers, and sample activities to go along with them, that support vocabulary acquisition.  

In Part III, let’s get students moving, both in terms of engaging with physical models and engaging in physical activity.


Making physical models

Physical models represent the 3-D versions of visual input and range from models to manipulatives. Here are five versions that you'll find in the Teacher Editions of EntreCulturas 1, 2, 3.

Human Graph


Post certain categories or responses to questions on the wall in the classroom.  Pose the prompt or question and have students line up under their response, perpendicular to the wall. Have students then explain or justify their choice to a partner. Examples include:

  • (Novice High) What is your favorite Friday night activity? (Homework, Movies, Mall, Sporting event, Home)
  • (Intermediate Low) What kind of volunteer work would you like to do? (Summer camp, Hospital, Daycare, Sports camp, Other)
  • (Intermediate Mid) Which social media would you use to promote a can drive for the local food bank?  (Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube)


Pack a suitcase

This activity can be done using a paper or digital suitcase and clothes, but it’s more fun with the real objects. Ask for donations of old suitcases and clothes from colleagues or parents. Have students work in pairs or in small groups and give each group a suitcase and selection of clothing. Have them pack their suitcase for a trip (give them a destination or let them pick their own) by taking turns selecting an item of clothing to include in the suitcase and explaining why they want to take that item.


Virtual tours

Engage students in tours of countries or museums virtually.  Create tours for students to look for specific points of interest or artifacts.  Or have students develop their own tours using the software, such as Google Earth, Google Arts and Culture, or Google Street view, or any of the virtual tours offered by museums and centers in the countries that speak the languages we teach.


Taste test

Depending on your school’s policies regarding food in the classroom, this can be one of the most memorable activities your students take away.  Have students prepare recipes from the target cultures (in my classroom, we focused on tapas from Spain) or have a local restaurant cater the event (the neighborhood Mexican restaurant was more than happy to come in to my classes and provide demonstrations). Prepare a tasting sheet with the names of the foods and a rating system based on appearance, taste, etc. Have students try a minimum number of different foods, rate them, and then describe their favorite(s).


Foldables (Dinah Zike)

Foldables are 3-D representations of graphic organizers which serve to organize and analyze learning. Most of them take one or more sheets of paper which students fold into organizational tools. Three of my favorites include:

  • 3- or 4-door Foldable (1 sheet of paper) - Have students fold a sheet of paper in half and then in thirds or in half again. Then, have them open the paper, fold it again in half, and cut along one side of each vertical fold to the center. Have students label the “door” and then add images, definitions, descriptions, questions, etc. on the inside flap.
  • Layered Book Foldable (2 or more sheets of paper) - This is similar to the previous foldable, but allows for more categories for note-taking.  Try using different colored paper as an organizational tool with this foldable.
  • Folded Tables and Charts (1 sheet of paper) - Have students take out a sheet of paper and lead them in folding the paper in half, then in half again, and again, and again until they have the number of columns and rows needed for the task.  Then, have students label the header row and column accordingly.


Engaging in kinesthetic activity

There is strong evidence linking movement and learning.  Take for example, the growth in the number of teachers embracing John Asher’s Total Physical Response (TPR), which integrates gestures and language, and the subsequent, Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS), created by Blaine Ray and enhanced by Carol Gaab, to provide movement, context, and meaning – a triple whammy.  Here are five more strategies that incorporate movement to enhance language learning (note that “movement” doesn’t always mean moving around the room)..

Inside out circles

This strategy works well for assigning students partners with whom to engage in interpersonal conversations. Form two concentric circles; the students in the inner circle face a partner on the outer circle. Students all move to their right one partner. If space is limited, students can stand in two rows facing each other. In this case, have all students take one step to the right to find a new partner. The students at the end changes sides.

Bumper cars

This is another strategy for pairing students to exchange information. Students prepare notes on an index card in response to a prompt. Then, play music and have students walk around the classroom as long as the music is playing. When the music stops, so do the students. They then pair up with a classmate nearby and take turns discussing their responses to the prompt. When the music starts again, students exchange cards and start walking again until the music stops. They then find a new partner and discuss the items on their new cards. Repeat several times so that students have the opportunity to hear and share a variety of viewpoints. As an example, prepare sets of cards labeled: Comer bien; Ser activo; and Ser feliz. To distinguish one from the other print the cards out on different colors of paper (i.e., Comer bien on yellow paper, Ser activo on red paper, and Ser feliz on blue). Distribute the cards randomly so that each student has one card. During the sharing period, have students pair up with a classmate who has a different colored card and take turns discussing examples associated with their label (i.e., Comer bien: Comer frutas y verduras; No comer alimentos con azúcar).


Graffiti wall

Divide the class into small groups and post large sheets of butcher paper or chart paper – one for each group – on the walls of the classroom. Provide different colored markers and invite students to express their feelings in words after viewing a video or reading a text. Students may create their own cloud of words, work with a partner, or build off the clouds of their group members. After a few minutes, have students stop and stand back. Have them note if there are any words repeated or categories of feelings that have emerged (i.e., sadness, happiness, anger). Then, have students visit the Graffiti Walls that are not their own and have them add words, make comments, or draw labeled images that add to other groups’ work. Be sure to set ground rules about being respectful and appropriate in their comments and drawings. Follow this activity up with reflection writing or free-form poetry writing.



This strategy is a spinoff of a graphic organizer, but has students engaging in a form of Think-Pair-Share.  Give each small group of students a copy of the placemat organizer or have them create their own using chart paper. Have students take notes (i.e., write keywords, draw pictures, brainstorm options, etc.) in their section of the placemat. Then, have students take turns sharing what they have written. At their turn, students share one item; group members look at what they have written to see if they have a match. If they do, they can highlight the match in some fashion. Have groups use the information they captured in the placemat to pool ideas which they write in the center section.


I think I have

Divide the class into small groups of three or four members each. Give each group a set of vocabulary words. Have one of the students in each group shuffle the words and place them face down in a stack. Have students take turns drawing a card from the stack and - without looking at it - name the word they think they have drawn and give a definition, a description, or an example. Then, have them turn the card over to verify their guess. If they guess correctly, they keep the card. If not, they return the card to the bottom of the deck and the next group member takes his or her turn. When all the cards have been collected, have students count the number they have to see who the winner is.


Tying it all together


Think of the kinds of applications for which you can use these strategies and activities to engage students in acquiring and using vocabulary or other content.  Please share in the comment section ideas you have.  Stay tuned to this blog space for the next in our series of strategies to link vocabulary acquisition and communication.


Part I: 5 Strategies to Create Meaning in Vocabulary 

Part II: 9 Strategies for Using Graphic Organizers

Part IV: Mental Pictures and Drawing


  • Espitia, D., García, P., Cornell, J., & Vásquez Gil, I. (2017). EntreCulturas 3. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.

  • Mar, A., Davis, R., Sloan, M. & Watson-López, G. (2017). EntreCulturas 1. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.

  • Marzano, R., Pickering, D. & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction That Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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

Deborah Espitia
Instructional Strategist, author, and educator
Tweet to @despitia Tweet to @WaysidePublish

Follow Wayside Publishing on Facebook