Basing learning centers on authentic text

Through learning centers, students have the opportunity to demonstrate independence in their language learning in all of the skills areas: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.   At each center, students interact with content in a variety of ways through a range of modalities.

Learning centers can also be a venue by which students interact with authentic text.  To start the process:

  1. collect authentic text (memes, quotes, infographics, comics, articles, commercials, videos, etc.) on the unit topic.
  2. decide which skill area each authentic resource logically would match (ex. a commercial for the listening station).
  3. design the task students will do at each center with the authentic text.

To vary the challenge level at each center, more than one resource or text may be available to students.  Advanced learners and heritage speakers might interact with a more challenging text and struggling learners might have a text that has more visuals or cognates.  Those choices are all based on students’ proficiency levels and their level of mastery of the content.

Here’s an example of what learning centers based on authentic text might look like:

In a novice Spanish class, the teacher has developed a set of learning centers for the students at the end of the unit around the Can-Do statement of “I can describe myself and others.”

Speaking center: Students select between two infographics about the characters in the TV show, The Big Bang Theory”, and the movie, “Monsters Inc.”  They select one character and give clues to their group members about the person.  Group members guess which character their classmate is describing.  The teacher provides a useful expressions card at the center which includes suggest sentence frames and vocabulary for students who need the support.


Reading center: Students read the transcript to the commercial, “Sin gol, no hay fútbol.” They list opposites they find in the transcript.  At the end, they are to tell what they think the commercial is about using their own words.  As an extension, the students watch the video.


sin gol wksht

(created by Heather Sherrow (

Listening center:  Students watch the music video “Somos Uno” and complete a tiered cloze activity (multiple versions where fewer or more words are missing) for it.  The extension activity is for students to create a new verse of the song using the song as a model.

somos uno

(created by Heather Sherrow (

Writing center:  Students choose to interpret one of two memes called “Soy única” and “Pequeñas Cosas.”   They use the meme as a guide to create a similar one about themselves.


If you are interested in learning more about implementing centers into your language classroom, a great site to visit is:

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On that site, you will find guidance on how to create, organize, manage, and implement learning centers in your classroom.



Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources



In my last post, “How do I incorporate authentic text into my daily lesson plans? Part 1,  we considered incorporating authentic text into lesson plans beginning with introductory phase activities or tasks.

Now, let’s turn to using authentic resources to teach grammar in context.  ACTFL, in its Core Practices for World Language Learning, practice number 5 states “teach grammar as concept and use in context,” encouraging students to focus first on meaning and later on form.

ACTFL Core Practices

For teaching grammar as concepts in meaningful contexts, ACTFL recommends that:

*Grammar should be addressed within meaningful communicative contexts as one element of language proficiency.

*Instead of focusing on grammar rules and diagramming sentences, teachers should guide students towards an understanding of how grammar functions.

*Students learn how to use the form rather than memorized conjugations that may not be applicable across contexts.


*Research shows explicit teaching of grammar has little effect on language acquisition.

*Thinking of grammar in terms of concepts will broaden learners’ understanding and use of the target language

*Grammar should be learned implicitly through target language use and explicitly through the discovery of grammar rules through use of meaningful examples.

This “function over form” approach allows students to analyze language structures, make guesses, and draw conclusions though an inquiry-type process.  This new way of approaching the teaching of grammar moves us from the traditional lesson segment, most often taught in English, where students are given paradigms such as verb conjugation charts.  Instead, it empowers learners to use the big picture of their experiences with the language they have heard, viewed, and read as a basis for deriving meaning from discourse.

There are several approaches that can be implemented to assist students through the inquiry process:

Concept Attainment

Using an Inductive Approach

grammar inductively

Discovery Technique


The Flipped Model


PACE Model


Scenarios for teaching grammar in context

Scenario A   

The teacher of a novice level Italian class, during a unit on family, gives students a handout with a variety of lists generated from two infographics, “Quanti sono” and “Gli Animali da Compagnia.” [PRESENTATION]

In small groups, students make predictions for each set (most popular pet, how pets are acquired, identity of owners, etc.).  The teacher shows the infographics and students check their predictions against the data presented.  Each small group of students is given two sentence strips.  One has “We predicted that _______” and the other “We were surprised that ______” (in the target language).  Groups share their sentences with the class.

   gli animali

Next, the teacher asks students to find words in Infographics with which they are unfamiliar but can guess using the visuals or because they are cognates.  The teacher uses target language examples, circumlocution, and visuals, etc. to reinforce their meaning:

  • millioni
  • spendono
  • veterinari
  • accessori

Students are provided a list of question frames about the infographics in Italian.  Students work in pairs asking and answering the questions.

  • How many _____ are there?
  • Are there are more _____ than _____?
  • Are there fewer _____ than _____?
  • Do you have ______ at home?
  • Who has _______?

If the teacher feels the students are ready, in lieu of providing question frames, students write their own questions that are answered in the visual using the teacher’s questions as models. The students then pair to ask and answer student questions with a partner.

After, the teacher leads the students through a discovery process such as concept attainment, using the resource to draw conclusions about how plurals are formed in Italian which was a concept that students struggled with in the previous class.  Students use a T chart to chart out their ideas showing singular forms in one column and plurals in the other.  The teacher asks students to extend their thinking to other vocabulary words they know. [ATTENTION, CO-CONSTRUCTION, EXTENSION]

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As an extension activity, small groups of students create one question for a combined survey about pets using Google Forms for their classmates:

  • What pets and how many they have
  • How they got their pets
  • Age of their pets
  • Who in the family takes care of the pet(s)

Once the data is collected, students compare the data with the data from the infographics.

Scenario B

For a novice level Spanish class’s homework assignment from the previous class, the teacher uses the flipped model by asking students to review an infographic and a video about the imperative (El Imperativo) and take notes on an organizer that has columns labeled “You do” and “You don’t do.”


For the following class, the teacher shows the infographic, “Buenos Hábitos al Comer en un Restaurant” (Good habits for eating in a restaurant) as part of a unit of study on the theme of healthy eating habits.  The teacher leads the class through interpreting the infographic, using target language examples, circumlocution, and visuals, etc. to reinforce the meaning of unknown words. [PRESENTATION]

buenos habitos

Students create a T-chart with the columns “Estoy de acuerdo (I agree)’ and “No estoy de acuerdo (I disagree).”  Students organize the tips on the infographic into the two columns.  The teacher then asks students to share their opinions with the class, providing sentence stems.  The teacher adds to the list in response to student need.

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  • In my opinion…
  • When I go to the restaurant, I…
  • I agree/disagree with…
  • It is difficult to…
  • I agree because it is ______.

Next, the teacher draws students’ attention to the use of the imperative in the infographic.  The teacher and students collaboratively add to the chart from the homework that shows infinitive forms of verbs, “You do,” and “You don’t do” and then come up with a rule about how the imperative is formed. [ATTENTION, CO-CONSTRUCTION, EXTENSION]

As an extension during a subsequent class, the teacher guides students through creating an infographic about advice for eating in the school cafeteria.

Scenario C

For a novice level French class, the teacher shows examples of regular -ir verbs in context using authentic resources (memes, tweets, and other social media posts) in the form of a PowerPoint.

guinea pig      toi choisis       jaime

on hyberne balletScreen Shot 2018-03-01 at 9.03.07 PMScreen Shot 2018-03-01 at 8.58.38 PM

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(idea credit:  Mary Belz,

The first time through the Powerpoint, the teacher asks questions about each image in the target language.

  • What is the guinea pig doing?
  • According to Ice Heart what happens in winter?
  • What did Yasmine’s mother tell her about eating salami?

Students are given a table that contains infinitive forms of the -ir verbs given in the context of the authentic resources.  The second time through the PowerPoint, students fill in their observations about the -ir verbs based on the visuals.

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After, in small groups, students discuss what they think the rules are.  They then complete the second table based on their conclusions:

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As an extension activity, in small groups, students create a meme using an -ir verb.

For more resources on teaching grammar in context, visit


How do I incorporate authentic text into my daily lesson plans? Part 1

ACTFL, in its Core Practices for World Language Learning challenges language educators to “guide learners through interpreting authentic resources” and speaks to the implementation of tasks using authentic text that are interactive, are focused on comprehension, and include the appropriate scaffolds and support.

ACTFL Core Practices

What do high quality lesson plans include? Activities that…

When thinking about how to embed authentic text into lesson plans, let’s first reflect on some examples of how to plan lesson activities that are high quality.  Lesson activities should…

  • be aligned with the learning goals and targets
  • have a common thread or connection
  • be engaging and relevant to students
  • provide practice in all three modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive, presentational).

Thinking about activity types in a lesson plan

How do authentic resources fit into my lesson plan?  Let’s begin with thinking about your lesson plan in terms of the activity types:

  1. Introductory activities

Introductory activities include warm-ups (bellringers, do now’s, etc.), lesson hooks, and introduction of new vocabulary or language structures.  It is important to note that not all introductory activities occur at the beginning of a lesson plan.  Some examples include activities or tasks that:

  • gain students’ attention
  • tap into students’ prior knowledge
  • connect new content with prior learning
  • provide input of vocabulary and structures
  • engage students in an inquiry process about new content

 Scenarios for using authentic text in introductory activities

Scenario #1:  Provide input of vocabulary

Early in a unit on the world of work and careers in a novice level French class, the teacher uses an infographic, “Les professions qui font rêver les Français,” as a lesson opener.  She chose this authentic resource due to its visual support and cognates.

The teacher asks some initial questions about the infographic.  Some sample teacher questions:

  • Who is a famous _____?
  • Who works with students? With animals?  With numbers?

The teacher asks the students to talk about the infographic with their partners.  Students are given sentence frames and conversational phrases to assist them with their partner conversations.

  • ____ percent think that a ____ is an ideal career.
  • I agree/disagree.
  • In my opinion, I think _____ is an ideal career.
  • I’d like to be a ______,
  • Really?
  • Not me.
  • My _______ is a ______.

Using the infographic, the teacher leads the class through charting the gender of the career words and drawing a symbol for each.  To extend their use of language, students practice using previously learned descriptive adjectives and school subject vocabulary with the career words.  This information is added to the charting activity.  The teacher gives the students sentence frames:

  • A _________ needs to be _____.
  • A _________ needs to be good at _______.

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 12.15.12 PMLater in the lesson, students will be introduced to additional vocabulary related to careers and will add them to their charts based on the patterns explored earlier in the lesson.

As a follow up, students create a guided writing product on a career of their choice with the help of sentence frames provided by the teacher.

Scenario #2: Gain students’ attention

The teacher of an intermediate level Spanish class selects the meme, “¡Quítamelo!” (Get off of me!) to gain students’ attention at the beginning of class.  Students are asked to do a free write about the story behind the photo.

scen intro 2

The teacher gives the students guiding questions in the target language to assist them with their writing:

  • Who does the bird belong to?
  • Where did the bird come from?
  • Why is the bird on her head?
  • How does the girl feel?

Then, students are asked to share their ideas with their partners/small groups.  Small groups vote for the best description and those are shared with the whole class.

Next, students are asked to come up with alternative titles for the photo in a command form (affirmative or negative).  The teacher addresses any gaps that arise regarding placement of direct and indirect object pronouns in affirmative and negative commands which has been addressed in previous lessons.  If needed, the teacher responds by showing various examples to clarify the forms.  The teacher may also remind students of the diffrerence in placement of object pronouns in declarative statements.

As a follow-up assignment, students create their own meme using a positive or negative command form with direct and/or indirect object pronoun.

Scenario #3: Connect new content with prior learning

For a novice level Portuguese class, the teacher selects the infographic, “Pense Antes de Comer,” (Think Before You Eat) to connect prior learning of food vocabulary and numbers with the new content about healthy lifestyles and exercise.

The teacher begins by reviewing the food vocabulary from the infographic by asking questions such as:

  • Do you like ______? Who likes _______?
  • Do you eat /drink ______?

She then uses either/or questions to check for comprehension (ex. Which has more calories, a milkshake or 2 pieces of pizza?)  She asks students to act out what they think the various exercises suggested in the infographic are.

The teacher provides sentence frames to assist students working in pairs or small groups in interpreting the infographic through writing sentences in the target language:

  • ___________ have ______ calories.
  • If you want to eat ______, you have to do ______.

The teacher points out the use of the infinitives in Portuguese for “wanting to ___” and “having to ___” phrases in the target language.  The teacher asks students to apply the structure to other verbs they know.  Their ideas are recorded on the board/document camera.

The teacher challenges students to come up with a summary sentence about the infographic in the target language.  As an extension, students do research to add a row to the infographic.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series where we will explore ways to use authentic resources in guided practice activities.

Can my novice learners interpret authentic text?

Can my novice language learners interpret authentic text?  This is a question I have gotten quite a bit lately.  Most language educators are very comfortable with exposing intermediate and advanced level learners to authentic materials from the target language culture(s).  Their level of confidence is rooted in the fact that students at the intermediate and advanced proficiency levels, through their learning experiences, have acquired enough language and a sense for how discourse is organized in the target language to be able to handle the challenge.

But, when it comes to novice level learners, there is real hesitation.  Let’s explore some of the challenges and possible solutions to them.

  1. Do novice learners have the skills to interpret text, particularly if it contains words and phrases with which they are unfamiliar?

Novice level learners benefit from being taught routines and procedures for approaching text.  These routines should be modeled for learners as they are guided through the processes.  Some examples include:

  • using text features such as visuals, titles, and captions
  • looking for cognates
  • using context to derive meaning

2.  What can I expect novice learners to do with text?

In speaking with educators about unsuccessful attempts at having novice learners interpret authentic text, my standby response is: “Is what you were asking them to do aligned with what the ACTFL-NCSSFL Can-Do Statements and the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners tell us novices can do?”  Here’s a screenshot from the Can-Do Statements:

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When interpreting authentic text, novices can:

  • list words with which they are familiar
  • make a guess about a word that looks/sounds like one they know
  • categorize ideas into simple categories
  • write a short summary sentence describing the purpose of the text
  • answer choice questions
  • complete cloze activities
  • complete more complex tasks with modeling and sentence framing

(You can download a copy of the checklist above by clicking this link.)

When designing interpretive tasks for your novice learners, use the Can-Do statements and the bulleted list above to guide your planning.  Ensure that the tasks you are giving the students are in line with what learners at their level can do.  Asking students to demonstrate interpretive skills too far above their ability level may cause frustration, disengagement, and push back from students.  It may also perpetuate the students’ belief in their inability to read, write, and view authentic text in the target language and derive meaning from it.

3.  Where do I begin?

Start small.  Opening a class with a meme or quote that reflects the current thematic unit can be a great confidence builder.  Memes are visual and can engage students through humor and interest.  Memes and quotes can also provide an example of language structures in context.  Here are some resources for you:

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French memes and quotes

German memes and quotes

Italian memes and quotes

Spanish memes and quotes

4. Believe that novices can interpret authentic text.

Using the ideas in this blog post, I challenge you to begin to incorporate authentic text into your lesson plans for novice level classes.  And as with all new strategies, after having implemented them, reflect on the impact the interpretive tasks using authentic text had on student learning and student engagement.


How do I build my students’ skills to prepare them to interpret authentic text?

As language educators, we understand the merits of exposing our students to authentic resources.  So far in this blog, our focus has been about finding, selecting, and storing authentic resources.  Now let’s turn our attention to what can we do as teachers to intentionally build skills with our students for the interpretive mode.

What do readers bring to the interpretive task?

From the Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction (2010) by Shrum and Glisan, they suggest the following list of what readers bring to interpretive tasks:

*Their knowledge of the target language

*Their background knowledge and world experiences

*Their knowledge of how discourse is organized

*Their ability to hold information in short-term memory

*Their ability to use a variety of strategies to help them arrive at meaning

(adapted from Shrum & Glisan, 2010, p. 183)

What are some ways I can build students’ interpretive skills?

Next, let’s consider some practical ways we can build students’ interpretive skills on a daily basis in our language classrooms:

1.Integrate authentic texts into instruction on a regular basis.

2.Provide opportunities for students to explore an authentic text in order to glean either the main idea or specific details, but without having to demonstrate an understanding of the entire text.

3.Prepare students for the task by activating their background knowledge and engaging them in anticipating the main idea of what they will read.

4.Provide students with strategies for comprehending authentic texts such as:

*Using contextual clues

*Using word families as clues to figuring out the meaning of new words

*Identifying key words that provide meaning clues

*Using titles and visuals that appear with the text as clues to meaning.

5.Use interpretive tasks as the basis for interpersonal and presentational communication.

6.Design interpretive activities that include pair and group collaboration.

7.Assist students in moving from literal comprehension (key word, main idea, and supporting detail detection) to interpretive comprehension (word and concept inferences, author/cultural perspectives, organizational principles of the text).

(ACTFL Integrated Performance Assessment Manual, 2003)

If you are interested in completing a self-assessment around the seven points above, click here.

Resources for building interpretive skills:

On my website, I have created a page called “Addressing the Interpretive Mode.”  I have linked there many resources in multiple languages for building students’ listening, reading, and viewing skills in the target language.

A. Building students’ confidence with text

Talking about what successful language learners do will emphasize to students how not knowing every word and making mistakes are both part of the language learning process.  The image on the right (below), is a poster that gives students a protocol for encountering unknown words in their reading of authentic text.

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There are also many resources and tools available online in multiple languages that support students’ listening, reading, and viewing skill building.  Here are a few examples below (each is hot linked to its source):




B. Before, During and After Reading, Viewing, and Listening Activities

Mirroring the routines and processes students use in their language arts classes reinforces their interpretive skills.  Here are some examples below:

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C. The Power of 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.

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D. Tech Tools for Supporting Listening, Reading and Viewing Skills

There are so many web-based applications that pair well with listening, reading, and viewing activities in the language classroom and technology-enhanced classroom activities are highly engaging to students.  Click on the image below to access the links to the various web tools.

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Finally, almost all of the resources in this posting can be found on my Pinterest page called “Reading in World Languages.”

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How do I store the authentic resources I gather for my students?

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BWW, Before the Worldwide Web, teachers stored everything in manila folders in a bank of file cabinets in the back of their classroom.  Authentic resources were limited to physical items such as books, magazines, art prints, newspapers, posters, CDs, VHS movies, maps, schedules, and product labels and packaging.

Today, although many language teachers adorn their classrooms with some of the resources listed above that they have accumulated over the years, the internet has changed the game.  The students now have 24/7 to real life authentic video, audio, text, and images.

So, it is only logical that in the 21st century, there are technology solutions for storing our authentic resources.  Here are a few:

  1. Google Drive: Google Drive is a convenient choice because many teachers now store their lesson plans, student work, slide presentations, surveys, and other documents in Google.  You can upload images, videos, and audio files there.  The downside of using Google Drive is that there is no way to upload links to it.  So, if you want to capture a link, you would need to copy it and paste it into a Google Doc and save that doc.  Given the link, students can access files in the Drive electronically.  Here is an example of a teacher’s Google Drive folder that contains resources for a Career IPA:


2. Blendspace (tes teach):  Blendspace allows you to collect multimedia for interactive lessons on a particular topic.   It allows you to store digital content with files in the same location.  Here is an example of a teacher’s Blendspace page for an IPA on Health and Wellness in Spanish.  As with Google Drive, students can access the Blendspace page online:


3. Pinterest:  Pinterest is my favorite place to store links and online items.  You can organize your “boards” by theme or category.  Once you have set up boards, Pinterest will recommend “pins” to you based on the themes you have chosen.  It is also possible on Pinterest to “follow” certain “pinners” who are also teachers of the same language.  You will then be alerted when they add pins to their boards.  Here’s an example of a Pinterest board for the AP Global Theme of Global Challenges for German:

And here is the result of a search in Pinterest for the AP theme of Contemporary Life for French which yields many boards on the topic:

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All of the above mentioned online solutions to storing authentic resources are dynamic not static, and therefore allow you delete and add files/links as needed.


How do I select authentic resources for my language classroom?

My previous post addressed the ways you can search for authentic resources for use in your language classroom.  Now, let’s explore criteria by which you might select the resources that are the best fit for your learners, your learning targets and your lesson plans.

One model I can offer is the four “A’s”.  Those four overarching themes for choosing authentic resources include:

  • Authentic
  • Accessible
  • Appealing
  • Aligned

Authentic:  Authentic resources are prepared by and for the target language users, not for language learners and are created solely for the use of target language speakers for pleasure or information.

Accessible: Authentic resources should be appropriate to the students’ age and proficiency level and at an appropriate level of rigor or challenge.  They should be rich in visual support, cognates, and known words and should be linked to students’ background knowledge.

Appealing:  Authentic resources should be connected to real life, be interesting to students, and grab their attention.  They may be novel, humorous, and tech-based.

Aligned: Authentic resources should be matched to learning targets, offer opportunities for students to practice interpretive skills, and can act as springboards for interpersonal and presentational tasks.  They are sources of comprehensible input and are examples of vocabulary, language structures, and culture in context.


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You can download a PDF of the document above by clicking here.

How do I find authentic resources for my language classroom?

One of the challenges to implementing authentic resources into instruction for teachers is the time it takes to find them.  Using a generic Google Search can be arduous and time-consuming.

Using a Google Search in the target language will render the best results.  Some examples include:






Another tip for finding authentic resources is to search the topic or theme you are teaching followed by the type of resource you are looking for in the target language.  For example, if you are searching for infographics for your German students on the topic of vacations, you would search “Urlaub infografik.”

Here are the results I received in that search:

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In addition, searches can be done on You Tube using the topic/theme in the target language.  For example, if you are looking for videos for the theme of “Back to School” in Spanish, enter “regreso a clases” into the search bar in YouTube.  Here are the results I received:

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“Work smarter, not harder” is an adage that most educators aspire to because time is always a challenge.  In my experience, I have come to realize that language educators are part of a community that regularly practices “professional generosity.”  Sharing and collaboration are valued in our profession.   Many of our colleagues have posted the authentic resources they have gathered online through applications and websites that are public, the most popular of which is Pinterest.

First, if you are not a member of Pinterest and are interested in using it to find resources,  I encourage you to become a member (at no cost).

Once you are on Pinterest, search for a topic or theme in the target language.  Often you will find a whole Pinterest board that someone has put together on the topic or theme which contains multiple types of authentic resources.  If I want to find authentic resources for one of the AP Global Themes for my French class, for example, I search in Pinterest for “Défis Mondiaux.” (Global Challenges).  Here are the results of that search:

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Once you have used Pinterest several times, you may find a “Pinner” that you want to “follow.”  Following a Pinner means that you will regularly have access to his/her boards on Pinterest.  For example, a great Pinner to follow on Pinterest if you are a novice level Spanish teacher is my good friend and colleague, Señora Sherrow:

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Finally, I invite you to follow me on Pinterest:

I have created boards on general topics relating to language teaching (Resources for Elementary World Language, World Language Advocacy, World Language Pedagogy, Centers, etc.).  I have also created Pinterest boards for authentic resources, either organized by text type (memes, infographics, commercials) or by theme.

Some of the themes include:  Ecotourism, Back To School, Bullying, Tiny HousesImmigration, Pets, Homelessness, Poverty and Hunger, and Natural Disasters.

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For more links to authentic resources, you can go to:

Using authentic resources in the language classroom

ACTFL includes in the Guiding Principles of Language Learning six core practices.  One of the core practices is “Guiding Learners Through Interpreting Authentic Resources.”

When we talk about the value of authentic resources in world language instruction, several questions arise:

What are authentic resources?

How do I find them?

How do I select them?

How do I store them?

How do I incorporate them into my teaching?

Over the next few blog posts, I will attempt to address each one of these questions separately.

  1. What are authentic resources?

Authentic resources are created by and for the target language users either for information or entertainment.

Authentic resources include:

auth text wordle.png

in addition to: fine art, photographs, charts, maps, schedules, etc.  Since the advent of the Common Core, the idea of “text” has been expanded to include anything students view, listen to, or read.

Some examples:



Poem:                                                   Chart/schedule:

503576f7d7e8fe0f29ec81947ed21503.jpg      d9fbc77bd31fbb70a105a101f7900ec5.jpg

Comic strip:



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Audio clip: