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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

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

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Spring 2018 conferences

Join Wayside as we attend the season's top language conferences
01-26-2018  Events, All News

Wayside will attend the following conferences this year. Join us in the exhibit halls to meet our friendly staff and learn more about our products and programs! 

Date Conference Location Keynote Speaker

February 2-3

Alabama World Language Association (AWLA)

Mobile, Alabama

Dr. Mary Risner

February 8-10

Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)

New York, New York

Dr. Eileen W. Glisan

February 15

Utah Foreign Language Association (UFLA)

Ogden, Utah

Katrina Griffin

February 23-24

Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Juan Carlos Morales

March 8-9

Foreign Language Association of Maine (FLAME)

Portland, Maine


March 8-10

Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languags (CSCTFL)

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Ethan Zuckerman

March 8-11

California Language Teachers Association (CLTA)

Ontario, California

Tom Welch

March 15

Vermont Foreign Language Association (VFLA)

Colchester, Vermont

Paul Sandrock

March 15-18

Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

Atlanta, Georgia


April 5-7

Ohio Foreign Language Association (OFLA)

Cleveland, Ohio

Dr. Paul Toth

Acquiring vocabulary, part I

5 strategies to create meaning in learning vocabulary
01-26-2018  Featured Post, Teacher Resources, Author Spotlights, All News

By Deborah Espitia

January 30, 2018

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

There is an exciting movement underway. Fewer and fewer teachers are exposing students to meaningless drill and practice to help them acquire new content, such as vocabulary. We are moving away from the practice of showing an image with the word, saying the word, and having learners repeat it. We have had enough of handing out the vocabulary list, turning on the projector, and hearing that audible, collective sigh that indicates learners have also had enough. 

And, it isn’t stopping there. Teachers (and learners) are also moving beyond the series of rote, fill-in-the-blank exercises that can be done mindlessly with no connection to meaning and hence, no acquisition. They are experiencing an integration of presentation and practice in context that supports acquisition.

Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language—natural communication—in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances, but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.(Krashen, 1981).

Integral to this new movement is the use of gestures, visuals, or objects to have our learners apply new vocabulary in authentic, communicative tasks. We know that there is immense value in using visual input to reinforce what learners listen to or read. 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 outlines five strategies that use non-linguistic representations to assist learners in acquiring content. Let’s take a look at the five strategies applied to the learning of vocabulary in context.

1. Create graphic organizers

Have learners organize words and phrases into patterns using symbols, arrows, shapes, or illustrations in order to: identify and classify what learners hear or read; or make recommendations.

For example, have learners listen to a classmate describe what school supplies she needs to buy for four classes and create a shopping list. You could also have learners take notes while listening to various family members talk about what they need to do before leaving for school or work in the morning in order to make suggestions about what they should do first.

2. Build physical models

Have learners engage in hands-on tasks in order to indicate placement of objects or describe how to do something.

In this instance, have learners rearrange furniture in the classroom according to directions the teacher has left, or demonstrate a recipe for a favorite family dish. 

3. Generate mental pictures

Have learners visualize words and phrases while incorporating the senses in order to make comparisons or set a scene.

For this strategy, ask learners to visualize a map of the western hemisphere, its continents, its countries, and the bodies of water that surround it; then, compare your mental map with a map from Latin America. Or have learners visualize how they feel when they have a particular ailment, such as a headache, a cold, or a broken bone; then they can explain their symptoms to the nurse over the phone.

4. Draw pictures and pictographs

Have learners create illustrations of content in order to: describe people, places, or things; or outline a sequence of events.

For this, you could have learners listen to a Costa Rican learner talk about his school uniform and draw the outfit he describes. For outlining a sequence of events, have learners draw pictures of a series of activities they took part in on a camping trip and place each activity on a separate sheet of paper. They can exchange papers with a classmate; as one classmate narrates when she did each activity, the other student can arrange the drawings in the appropriate order. Then, switch roles.

5. Engage in kinesthetic activity

Have learners connect physical movement to mental images in order to show relationships between and among people and things and predict next steps.

For example, have your kids read a description of a Colombian family tree; but, first, assign each learner a family member to portray. As they hear the description, learners organize themselves to create a physical model that shows the relationships among the various family members.

Another example for predicting next steps would be to distribute each learner one step of the instructions for what to do prior to boarding an international flight. Have classmates take turns reading aloud their step, acting it out, and lining up in order of when each step occurs.

These examples are just a few of the applications of these five strategies. Please share ideas you have in the comment section. Stay tuned for the next in our series of strategies to link vocabulary acquisition and communication.


For more of the Acquiring Vocabulary blog series:

Part II: 9 Strategies for Using Graphic Organizers

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

Part IV: Mental Pictures and Drawing


  • Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press Inc.
  • Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction That Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


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Fall 2017 conferences

Join Wayside as we attend the season's top language conferences
09-28-2017  Events, All News

Wayside will attend the following conferences this year. Join us in the exhibit halls to meet our friendly staff and learn more about our products and programs! 

Date Conference Location
October 5-7 Foreign Language Association of Virginia (FLAVA) Williamsburg, Virginia
October 12-14 Texas Foreign Langauge Association Arlington, Texas
October 13-15 Florida Foreign Langauge Association (FFLA) St. Petersburg, Florida
October 14 Rhode Island Foreign Language Association (RIFLA) Providence, Rhode Island
October 20-21 Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) Tinley Park, Illinois
October 20-21 Maryland Foreign Language Conference Arnold, Maryland
October 20-21 Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC) Raleigh, North Carolina
October 23 Connecticut Council of Language Teachers (CTCOLT) Cromwell, Connecticut
October 26-27 Massachusetts Foreign Language Association Conference (MaFLA) Springfield, Massachusetts
November 14-16 NADSFL/NCSSFL Nashville, Tennessee
November 16-19 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Nashville, Tennessee
February 8-10 Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL) New York, New York

Now available for purchase: Scandite Muros!

Purchasing and digital sampling for the new APĀ® Latin textbook is here
09-21-2017  New Products, New Titles, All News

Wayside Publishing, known for its line of quality textbooks for the AP® level student of language, has just released its first Latin title, Scandite Muros, created to provide students and teachers with a new way to learn and teach sight-reading on the AP® Latin Exam and beyond. 

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