Adding depth and interest to novice level units through authentic resources

IMG_2701(photo credit: Heather Sherrow)

Many language educators of novice level courses struggle with student engagement.  The students are acquiring very basic vocabulary and sentence structure which limits what they can express in the second language.  The imbalance between what novices can communicate and what they want to express can be very frustrating and disengaging for beginning language learners, especially at the secondary and college levels.

What if extending and deepening typical novice themes to those in which students are interested and about which they care increases engagement?

Understanding the iGeneration


The students in our classrooms, right now, are members of what is called the “iGeneration.”  They were born from 1996 to the present.

They are independent and competitive.  They are digital natives.  They have an 8 second attention span and they suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  They will have 17 jobs in their lifetime and 15 homes.  They spend an average of 10 hours per day using technology.  They would rather watch or listen to streaming media on demand than traditional TV.   They rarely use email because it is too slow and want to engage with relatable but not overly famous influencers.  They value uniqueness, authenticity, creativity, shareability and recognition.

60% of i-Geners want to change the world.  They feel empowered, connected, and empathetic.  They are self-starters and they want to stand out and make a difference in the world.  They are self-aware and self-reliant.  iGeners would take a 10-20% pay cut to work for a company with a mission about which they care deeply.

Students from the iGeneration are also called Generation Z, Founders, Builders, Globals, Makers, Curators, and Developers.  Notice how many of the labels are action words.  Our students want to be involved in their learning, solve problems, and make a social impact.

Note: To find out more about the iGeneration, go to:

Tapping into what engages the iGeneration

How might we tap into what our i-Geners seek by making our content themes more action-oriented and socially-conscious through authentic resources?

Typical novice level content themes in a beginning language course might include topics such as:

  • personal descriptions
  • family
  • food
  • school
  • house
  • clothing
  • weather
  • travel
  • my community

Let’s explore some possibilities of how we can increase language learners’ engagement in typical novice themes.  Many of the authentic resources in these extended themes include vocabulary and language chunks that will reinforce and stretch student language.  Keep in mind that the topics should be age-appropriate for the students.

For each idea below, click on the image to go to the Pinterest page containing authentic resources for multiple languages on that topic.

Novice unit: Personal Descriptions

Theme extension: Identity and Diversity

Note: The photo at the beginning of this blog post is of posters made by middle school level one Spanish students after exploring identity and diversity during the personal descriptions unit.

Novice unit: Family

Theme extension: Types of Families, Adoption, Caring for Elderly Relatives

Novice unit: Food

Theme extension: Food Waste

Novice unit: Food

Theme extension: Hunger

Novice unit: Food

Theme extension: Meatless Mondays

Novice unit: Food

Theme extension: Veganism and Vegetarianism

Novice unit: School

Theme extension: Bullying

Novice unit: House

Theme extension: Homelessness

Novice Unit: Clothing

Theme extension: Buying Vintage/Second-Hand Clothing

Novice unit: Weather

Theme extension: Climate Change/Global Warming

Novice unit: Travel/Vacations

Theme extension: Ecotourism

Novice Unit: My Community

Theme extension: Earth Day

Novice Unit: My Community

Theme extension: Recycling

Other socially-conscious topics of interest to i-Geners include:

Volunteering and Giving

Children’s Rights

Women’s Rights


Human Rights


Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Thinking Routines











This is my third post on strategies for deepening students’ comprehension of authentic resources.  The previous posts were:

Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Supports and Scaffolds and Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Visual Strategies.

For this post, we will focus on how to use thinking routines as processes through which students demonstrate deeper comprehension of text.

What are thinking routines?

In the book, Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, authors Church, Morrison, and Ritchhart report on research done at Harvard by a group called Project Zero.


The authors describe “thinking routines” as:

  • ways to make student thinking visible
  • patterns by which we operate and go about the job of learning and working together in the classroom
  • any procedure, process, or pattern of action that is used repeatedly
  • being designed to promote students’ thinking
  • being goal-oriented, and targeting specific types of thinking
  • getting used over and over again in the classroom
  • consisting of only a few steps
  • easy to learn and teach
  • used in a variety of contexts
  • used by groups or individuals

Here’s a great infographic that speaks to the idea of how to implement a culture of thinking in your classroom:


The thinking routines are divided into categories based on their function:

  • Core Routines
  • Understanding Routines
  • Fairness Routines
  • Truth Routines
  • Creativity Routines

The Core Routines include:

  • What Makes You Say That?
  • Think Puzzle Explore
  • Think Pair Share
  • Circle of Viewpoints
  • I Used to Think…Now I Think
  • See Think Wonder
  • Compass Points

To read more about all of the thinking routines, click on this link.

How to embed thinking routines into your lesson plans

Here’s an example of how a thinking routine can be incorporated into your classroom.

  1. Students interpret several infographics in the target language on the topic of school lunches.  Students take notes about the information they gain from the infographic on an organizer.



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After, they meet in pairs or small groups comprised of students who interpreted different infographics to discuss and share what they gleaned from their infographic using their organizers.  Students add ideas to their organizers they gained from classmates.

As an extension and to deepen student comprehension, the teacher regroups the students to have a discussion about what they learned from the infographics.  They use the thinking routine called “I see…, I think…, I wonder” as a guide for their discussion.  The teacher provides the students with an expressions list to use while they share in small groups (agreement, disagreement, I think that…, I wonder why…., better, best, etc.).  Students talk about opinions they have and questions they have about the topic of school lunches.


There are many resources online that have versions of the thinking routines in other languages.  Here are some links for Spanish:

Visual Thinking- Rutinas de Pensamiento

Rutinas de Pensamiento

Rutinas de Pensamiento (weebly)

¿Que son las rutinas de pensamiento? (infographic)

Rutinas de Pensamiento (PDF)

Rutinas de Pensamiento (strategy cards)


To explore more about thinking routines, visit my website:

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or my Pinterest board:

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To read more about Project Zero, go to: