Moving from Exercises to Activities to Tasks

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As we plan learning experiences for our students along the learning continuum, how can we make them more engaging, contextualized, and communicative?

Let’s begin with some definitions for the purpose of our conversation:



Exercises are often recall-based, highly structured, somewhat controlled and guided.  Students complete exercises individually, typically in the form of a worksheet.  Exercises may be used during the guided phase of instruction.  Exercises may not be cognitively challenging for advanced learners and  may not be engaging to reluctant learners.


Classroom activities are typically structured around a routine, process, or strategy.  Some examples are information gap activities, think-pair-share, and inside-outside circles. They are often hands-on and interactive and are planned for the guided or independent phases of the lesson.  Here are some links below for additional ideas for strategies for classroom activities:



Classroom tasks involve a context, based on a problem, challenge or scenario.  The students have a purpose for completing the task, the steps of the task should be outlined, and expectations for the performance or product students create are clear.  Tasks are completed individually by students or in small groups.

How can I make exercises, activities and tasks more engaging and purposeful?



  1. Provide an authentic context: create a scenario which provides a context, possibly based on an authentic resource.  Consider a real life context for the exercise or activity.  For example, in lieu of using a Powerpoint with visuals to introduce new vocabulary, use an infographic or tweets in the target language.
  2. Make activities communicative, interactive, and engaging: transform individual exercises to activities where students work collaboratively, are hands-on, use technology, and allow students to be creative.  Ensure that the activity gives students a reason to communicate and builds their confidence for using the target language independently, while providing supports to allow them to persevere through the activity in the target language.
  3. Design tasks that connect to real life: consider how students can solve a problem or challenge with the content and structures they have gained and thus see the connection between their learning and the real world such as pop culture, current events, and world problems.  Brainstorm scenarios using the SCRAP acronym, including a situation, challenge, role, audience, and product.  Tasks should be scaffolded and supported for struggling learners and should be more open-ended to provide challenge to advanced learners.


An example for moving from exercises to activities to tasks:

Here’s an example of an exercise (worksheet) for the comparative and superlative in Spanish:

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Move an exercise to an activity by adding context using posts from Twitter in the target language containing the comparative and superlative:

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Create a real life task where students use an infographic to give advice to travelers about best seats to select on planes using comparatives and superlatives:


Visit the webpage linked below to access ideas for designing real world tasks:

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What about intentional skill building?


As we facilitate student growth across the proficiency continuum toward meeting learning targets, we plan learning experiences for students through the various phases of learning, guiding them from input to independence.

Much focus has been placed on comprehensible input, where students acquire new content on various topics and on output or independence, where students are able to use the new content on their own in real world contexts.

How do we ensure that our students are building literacy and communication skills?

Along with students acquiring more content over time, attention needs to be paid to the building of communicative skills.  What we know is…

  • Skills are not acquired just through input of content.
  • Students have learned paradigms for skills through language arts
  • Advancing in proficiency levels requires intentional skill building

If we take a close look at the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, they reveal to us the skills students need to advance through the proficiency levels.


For example, at the novice level in the interpersonal mode, here are the skills that appear:

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Some examples of resources that support building interpersonal skills in the area of expressing opinions at the novice level might be the following graphic organizer, anchor chart, and expressions list:










For building student skill in identifying the main idea and key details from a text,

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for French at the at the novice level, some resources to support that skill building might include an anchor chart, graphic organizer, and instructional strategy:



And here’s one for the presentational mode at the intermediate level:

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And some resources for building the skill of narrating a story in Spanish:











Where can I find resources for intentional skill building in the target language?

I invite you to visit a page on my website, entitled “Intentional Skill Building” where I have begun to gather resources in the target language for building students’ communicative skills (click on the image below).

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The page is divided into Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced proficiency levels, with segments in between entitled “Preparing for Intermediate” and “Preparing for Advanced.”  The resources linked within the charts are anchor charts, graphic organizers, expressions lists, and instructional strategies.

Anchor charts are visuals that remind students about processes or routines that can use

Graphic organizers allow students to place ideas into groups or categories either based on interpretation of text or for preparation of a speaking or writing product

Expressions lists serve as supports or scaffolds for students to assist them in persevering through a task in the target language.





A thinking process for embedding authentic resources into lesson plans

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Once you have collected a variety of authentic resources on a particular theme or topic and you have established your learning targets (can-do statements), the next step is to make decisions about how each of those resources will fit into your unit plan and lesson plans.

Let’s begin by brainstorming a list of ways you might use authentic resources in your lesson plans.  One organizing framework would be to think about the gradual release of responsibility model.  Which authentic resources will be used as introductory activities, which ones will work for guided activities and which ones will fit best into the independent phase?

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Or, you might identify how each authentic resource will be implemented based on the communicative modes:

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How will the authentic resources be used to provide opportunities to students to operate in the interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational modes?

One approach to thinking about how to make authentic resources work for you is represented through the game board below called “Embedding Authentic Resources into Lesson Plans.”

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Think of each authentic resource you have for a theme as a puzzle piece looking for its “best fit.”

In the Introductory Phase, authentic resources might be used as:

  • a lesson hook
  • the basis for a free write
  • the basis for an interpersonal partner exchange
  • the basis for introducing new vocabulary
  • the basis of discovering grammar in context

In the Guided Phase, which authentic resources might you use to model a routine or conduct a “think aloud”?

In the Independent Phase, which authentic resources might be used as the basis for:

And, will you add an expressions list or a graphic organizer to support learners through the task?

What does your planning puzzle picture look like?

For examples of how this thinking process might play out, go to:

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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:


Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Supports and Scaffolds


This is my second post on the topic of deepening students’ comprehension of authentic resources.  The previous post focused on visual strategies.  This post will highlight supports and scaffolds that assist students in comprehending authentic text.

Graphic organizers

Interpreting authentic text can feel very daunting, especially to our reluctant and struggling language learners.  Having scaffolds and supports to help students focus and organize their thinking can make a big difference in student confidence in and perseverance through tasks.

A graphic organizer that is labeled with specific categories gives students “buckets” for the ideas they glean from the text.  Am I looking for opinions, reasons, and examples the author is giving?  Am I interpreting a description of a person and categorizing my notes into physical and personality traits?  A well-labeled graphic organizer can be just the support some learners need in lieu of being a given a blank sheet of paper on which to collect “notes.”

For example, in a French class while reading a children’s storybook in the target language, the teacher gives students a graphic organizer set up as a story map.  The story map helps students know what they are reading/listening for in the text.


Here’s an example of a story map organizer for Spanish:


Here’s an example of a graphic organizer in Spanish from Really Good Stuff where students write the main idea and details from an authentic text.  Click on the image below to access a PDF of multiple graphic organizers in Spanish.

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For similar tools, visit this Pinterest page:

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Anchor Charts

Another example of a scaffold or support is anchor charts.  Anchor charts give students a framework to think about a text and its structure.  They are visual and often are created by the teacher in real time with the students where student input is added to the chart.

Here’s an example of an anchor chart about how to make connections with a text-

  • text to self
  • text to text
  • text to the world

It gives students sample sentence frames they can use to make those connections with the text.  The anchor chart remains visible in the classroom as a support to which students may refer to in the future.


Here’s an example of an anchor chart in French reminding readers about the types of details for which they are reading or listening while interpreting an authentic text.

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Below is an anchor chart in Chinese that gives students guidance on how to express their opinion about a text they have read/listened to called “OREO Opinion Writing.”  This is an example of a structure that students likely have learned in their English/Language Arts class and is easily tranferable to the language classroom.


For more examples of anchor charts, here’s a link to my Pinterest board:

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Productive group work

A very powerful way to support language learners in deepening their comprehension of authentic text is to provide them with opportunities to work in pairs or in a small group. Having a partner or group members to check and verify their thinking can be a great way to build language learners’ confidence level in their ability to interpret authentic text.

Some of the advantages of productive group work from the Center for Innovation and Research in Teaching (CIRT) include:

  1. Students able to take ownership of the subject matter.
  2. Students develop communication and teamwork skills.
  3. Content is reinforced as students work together and “teach” each other.
  4. Content may be broken down into parts.  This allows students to tackle larger and more complex problems and assignments than they would be able to do individually.
  5. Students can work together to pool their expertise, knowledge and skills.

Collaboratively tackling a challenging task that involves interpreting authentic text is a bridge to language learner independence in the interpretive mode.

Some of the best routines or processes to use during productive group work time is cooperative learning structures like Jigsaw, Numbered Heads Together, and Round Table.  Visual directions on how the various cooperative learning strategies work can be found online to ensure that the teaching of the routine can be done in the target language.  Here’s an example of visual directions for the Kagan structure called “Rally Coach”:


For more ideas for productive group work, go to the Flexible Grouping page on my website:

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or visit my Pinterest board on the same topic:


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“Scaffold” by erix! is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Visual Strategies


As we guide learners to interpret authentic text, what strategies might help deepen their comprehension of the text they read, listen to, or view?

This will be the first of three posts on this topic.  This post will address visual strategies that assist students in comprehending authentic text.

Background Information on Visual Strategies

According to Robert Marzano (2001), learners use dual coding to store information in their brains: a linguistic form and an imagery form.  That means that when you learn a word like “hamburger,” you not only have a memory of how it is spelled in your mind, but also an image.

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Imagery involves:

Imaging:  the visualization in the mind’s eye of something that person has actually experienced

Imagining:  visualization in the mind of something the person has not yet experienced

David Sousa (2001) describes visualization as:

  • When the brain creates images, the same parts of the visual cortex are activated as when you process what you see with your eyes.
  • Imagery can be used in the classroom in the form of notetaking, cooperative learning groups, and alternative assessments.

9 Reasons for Using Visuals


As illustrated by the infographic above, there are many reasons for using visuals in teaching and learning.  Perhaps, some of the most powerful reasons have to do with the impact they have on students by reducing anxiety and building independence.

Benefits of Using Visuals in Teaching and LearningVisuals_Brain_cut
Benefits of using visuals include:

  • Enhancing long-term memories
  • Faster message transmission
  • Improving comprehension
  • Better critical thinking
  • Better creative thinking
  • Increasing students’ attention, motivation, and curiosity


Empowering the Brain in Learning Using Visuals


  1. Using visuals for comprehensible input

Visuals are a type of authentic text whether or not they contain printed words.  They are learner-friendly and open up multiple opportunities for student writing and speaking products.  Visuals, particularly those that contain much more than a single item, provide more of a context and a basis for communication such as the one below:

Martin Melogno

Using an image as a follow up to reading a text:

Example: After having read an article in the target language about recycling efforts in a town, the teacher follows up by showing an image in a tweet that contains visual representations of many of the ideas from the article.  The students use the visual, along with their notes, to support their understanding of the text during an interpersonal exchange with a classmate.

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for a collection of images, click below to visit this Pinterest page:

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To read a post about how to use visuals like infographics to teach new vocabulary in context, click here.

2. Using word clouds, word splashes, and word pictures to reinforce meaning and isolate key words and phrases.


Making vocabulary words visual is a very brain-friendly strategy.  By adding a visual element to a word or phase, it causes an emotional connection and is more engaging.  As students create word clouds, word splashes or word pictures, they make physical and mental connections between the visuals and the words.

By inputting a section of text into a word cloud generator, the words that appear most in the text appear larger and by eliminating all of the non-meaning bearing words (the, a, and, etc.), often the big ideas and supporting details become emphasized.

Students can also create word clouds to demonstrate their comprehension of a text by inputting all of the key words and phrases into the generator.  After, students might review each other’s word clouds to compare the key words each student selected.

Popular word cloud generators include:

3. Creating visuals through visual notetaking and sketchnoting to capture ideas from a text

Visual notetaking and Sketchnoting are strategies whereby students draw symbols and pictures to indicate their understanding of a text.  The result is a visual version of the text that was read, listened to, or viewed.

For example, a teacher plays audio text and students draw what they hear in any type of non-linguistic representations. This could be shapes or stick figures, etc.  Using their drawings only, students must retell the main events of the audio text.

What is sketchnoting?  According to Mike Rhode, author of The Sketchnote Handbook:

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The sketchnote below might represent notes a student took while listening to a video clip of a student talking about what he/she wants to do during Spring vacation:


4. Graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are handy tools to support learners as they view, listen, and/or read.  In addition, graphic organizers provide students with a visual way to organize notes and information.  In many cases, you can find graphic organizers on the web in the target language.


You can find lots of graphic organizers on this Pinterest page:

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Foldables or 3-D graphic organizers are a hands-on way for students to visualize and organize information.  By folding, cutting, labeling, and drawing pictures, students create a product that represents their learning from a particular text.

Here’s an example of a foldable for a unit on houses and homes in Spanish:


Fore more on foldables, click the image below to go to my Pinterest page on Interactive Notebooks and Foldables:

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Basing learning centers on authentic text: Part 3

streicker reading group Amarillo

Learning centers or stations are a great way for students to work independently with the language in the various modes.  Students can gain confidence through working with the station tasks, especially when basing them on authentic text.  This post is the third on the topic of embedding authentic resources into learning center tasks.

Many teachers feel as if preparing learning centers is far too much work and in some ways, it is.  One way to look at putting together learning centers is to think about activities that would have been teacher-led and how those activities or tasks can be adapted so that students can work independently with the material without teacher intervention.

Take a look at the authentic resources you have curated on a particular topic or theme and match them to the various skills areas: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.  To encourage student engagement in the center activities:

  • allow for choices by offering multiple resources at any one station
  • allow for varying challenge levels by providing authentic resources at different levels of difficulty.

Centers activities can be “generic” in the sense that the same type of task might be done at that particular skill station.  For example, at the speaking or writing center, students often have a photograph, painting, or other authentic visual on which they will base their speaking or writing product.

The previous posts were:

For this post, I am sharing additional ideas for basing learning centers on authentic resources hoping to inspire you to plan learning centers of your own.

Topic: Vacations

Reading and Speaking Center 

Students are asked to categorize the tweets about vacations.  They may create your own categories.



Talk about whether the opinions expressed in the tweets match your preferences.    You may use the speaking mat for help.

Speaking mat

Reading and Writing Center


Graphic organizer


Listening Center 


Activity sheet

Links to audio files 


For more information on learning centers, visit my website:

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Or, visit this very useful Weebly site:


Fine art as authentic text



In the interpretive mode, the word “text” carries the same definition as the Language Arts Common Core: anything that is read, listened to, or viewed.  Not only does that definition include videos, audio clips. memes, infographics, poems, articles, and short stories, but it also includes visuals.

Visual Literacy

Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image.  In an article on Edutopia, Common Core in Action: 10 Visual Literacy Strategies, the author, Todd Finley, discusses ways to increase students’ visual literacy skills such as:

  • Think Alouds
  • Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)
  • Five Card Flickr
  • Image Analysis

For more information on Visual Literacy or Visual Thinking Strategies, here are some links:


“Reading” Pictures

In my blog post entitled “Teaching Listening and Viewing Skills Using Authentic Resources,” I shared some simple ideas for having students interpret visuals:

Some strategies students can use when “reading a picture” are:

  • describe what they see (what is going on, who is doing what)
  • make connections with the visual
  • describe how the picture makes them feel
  • express an opinion

In that same blog post, I shared a tool called a “picture description frame” which gives students the language they need to describe a picture:

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Examples of the picture frame for multiple languages can be found at:

Focus on Fine Art

We have heard the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  How can we leverage the power of authentic visuals such as fine art to give students a context for interpersonal exchanges and presentational products and performances?

Fine art, in particular, offers some unique benefits in that it usually has a cultural context.  So, the discussion of the artwork extends beyond what is seen in the piece to the connections the artwork has to the historical time period and to the cultural products, practices and perspectives.

The painting below, La Tamalada, by Carmen Lomas Garza shows a family working together to make tamales:


In addition, consider the possibility that viewing fine art can also be a practice in language structures.  “The Boating Party” by Renoir (which is the artwork at the beginning of this post) can be used to talk about who is looking at whom, a great practice in using object pronouns.  “The Artist’s Bedroom at Arles” by Van Gogh is a great piece for practicing prepositions of place.



Scaffolds and Supports for “Reading” Fine Art

There are expressions lists that exist to serve as scaffolds and supports for students when describing a picture or piece of art:





And here’s a PDF from the Instituto Cervantes that offers a more in depth look at describing artwork in the target language.  Scroll to the appendices to see expressions lists they provide:


Students interpreting authentic text using the Daily 5 Framework

What is Daily 5?

*Daily 5 is a framework developed by Gail Bushy and Joan Moser for structuring literacy time so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently.

*Daily 5 allows for differentiation of instruction and engages students in learning.

*Daily 5 is a literacy instruction and classroom management system.

*The structure teaches students five independent literacy tasks.

Why use Daily 5 in the world language classroom?

  • The reading, writing, speaking and listening skills practiced through Daily 5 provide comprehensible input and practice to students and increases language proficiency.
  • Students interact with authentic text on topics of interest to them and at the appropriate level of challenge to add to their vocabulary banks and to increase their reading and speaking fluency in the target language.

What are the 5 strategies?

  • Read to Self    Picture1
    • Students develop reading skills in the target language by using strategies such as looking for cognates, using illustrations, and through context.
    • Reading to self adds to students’ vocabulary base and deepens understanding of syntax and sentence structure.
  • Work on Writing  Picture2
    • Through tiered assignments, students of all skill levels develop writing proficiency.  Students practice writing skills in the target language progressing from words to phrases and then to sentences and paragraphs.
  • Read to Someone  Picture3
    • Students practice speaking and listening skills by reading to classmates in the target language.  They practice pronunciation and work together to understand the text while increasing their fluency and literacy.
  • Listen to Reading    Picture4
    • Students practice listening comprehension skills in the target language and hear examples of a variety of speakers in the language.
    • Students follow along to increase vocabulary recognition, pronunciation and work together to understand the text while increasing their fluency and literacy.
  • Word work    Picture5
    • Students practice writing target language vocabulary words using a variety of instructional tools such as magnetic letters, Bananagrams, stamps, and dry erase boards.


If you are interested in exploring resources for the Daily 5 framework, including some for French and Spanish, visit my Pinterest page:

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or, this page on my website:

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