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


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