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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Another way to think about grammar in context

This is my fifth post on thinking about grammar in context using authentic resources.  Why?  Because it is a topic that teachers and leaders are at this very moment trying to digest and actualize from the core practices.

ACTFL Core Practices

As stated in the Core Practices, grammar should be approached as a concept and in context.  That means that we are having students focus on function over form.  This shift in instructional approach is aimed at increasing student proficiency in the language, to be able to communicate meaningfully with others.

There is no question that grammar is a necessity in communication.  As learners advance along the proficiency continuum, the understanding and use of grammar become a differentiating factor.  It’s how we are having students learn about language grammar that is changing.

What if we thought about grammar as an outgrowth of an exploration of a topic of interest?  And, that the grammar becomes a secondary point of reference after the meaning being communicated in the text.

Let’s consider the variety of ways we might have students discover grammar in communicative contexts through authentic text:

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  • Grammar in context does not impede meaning.
  • Structures can be treated as vocabulary without in-depth analysis.


  • Text is chosen for content/theme alignment.
  • Text contains grammar in context with which students are familiar.
  • Teacher makes connections to prior learning.
  • Students notice familiar patterns in the text.


  • Text is selected to draw attention to particular grammar points in context.
  • Teacher may employ a protocol for grammar discovery.


  • Teacher selects follow-up texts that provides additional context for a grammar point.
  • Students can explain the patterns they notice and test their hypotheses to find additional examples.


  • Students can transfer and apply understanding of grammar to new texts.
  • Text may contain examples of multiple grammar points in context. Students can identify grammatical clues that support meaning.


It is also worth pointing out that having students see grammar as part of communicating messages in another language is a key part of building language fluency.  Instead of using isolated, meaningless practice sentences, there are protocols through which students can use inductive thinking to gain an understanding of syntax and grammar.

Those protocols include:

  • The PACE Model
  •  Concept Attainment
  • The Inductive Approach
  • The Discovery Technique
  • Unlocking Language Patterns

All of the protocols above and more can be found on my webpage called “Grammar in Context.”

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If you’d like to visit the previous posts, here are the links below:

Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources (4/13/18)

Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources: Part 2 (7/27/18)

Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources: Part 3 (11/2/18)

Using Memes to Show Grammar in Context (1/28/19)

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:


Using memes to show grammar in context

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Memes are funny, have limited text, and often involve cats or dogs.  First, it must be pointed out that there is virtually no way to prove that a meme is an authentic text.  Anyone can take a picture and overlay words.   With that said, students find memes humorous and attention-grabbing.

In the language classroom, memes can be used as lesson hooks or serve as the basis for an interpersonal exchange or a free write.  They can also be great examples of grammar in context.

For the example at the top of this blog post, several memes were collected that demonstrate adjectives in French.  They could be presented in a Powerpoint format or as a collage like above.

Below, is a grouping of memes all showing the present progressive tense in Spanish:

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And here’s a collection of memes that all have definite articles in German:

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In my blog post on April 13, 2018, “Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources,” multiple routines or protocols were discussed that can be used to have students discover language structure and grammar rules from context, which includes the PACE model.

And in a more recent post, “Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources: Part 3,” I shared a protocol I recently developed to assist students in unlocking language patterns.  Here’s the link to the poster (click on the image below):

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And the link to the student worksheet.

To find the memes in the examples in this post and many more, click on the icons below for the appropriate language:

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To find more memes in the target language, you may want to follow a pinner on Pinterest who has created boards organized by grammar themes.  Here is an example from one of my teachers for Spanish:

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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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Increasing student comfort with authentic text through choice



Trying to interpret a text in a language other than your first language can be intimidating.  And, in this day and age, students’ first impulse is to use Google Translate.  How can we lower students’ anxiety around interpreting authentic text?

In a previous post, I’ve discussed ways to build reading skills in the target language, implementing scaffolds and supports to support learners through interpreting authentic text.

Showing students how reading in another language has many similarities to reading in their first language and giving them the support to persevere through interpreting an authentic text can build confidence and lower anxiety.

Another approach might be to offer students choices.  Providing choices:

  • is motivating for students
  • draws on student strengths, abilities, and interests
  • gives students a sense of control, purpose, and competence

What types of choices might we offer students?

  • choice in the text they interpret
  • choice in the tools and strategies they use to gather information
  • choice in the way they complete tasks
  • choice in the planning and design of products

Let’s explore some strategies that lead to increased student comfort with authentic texts through choice.

  1. Allow students to select authentic text for independent reading time.



In my blog post from May 11, 2018 called “Independent Reading: Building students’ confidence in interpreting authentic texts,”  I shared the benefits of providing time for students to read a text of choice independently in the target language (listed below):

  • It builds confidence with reading in target language
  • The texts are sources of comprehensible input and add to students’ vocabulary and understanding of structure and syntax
  • Choice is motivating and engaging
  • The experience increases fluency
  • Reading texts of choice adds to cultural knowledge
  • It allows students to read text at their challenge level

Allowing students to read a book of choice (either in hard copy form or online) in the target language lowers students’ stress and anxiety about reading in the second language where the goal is reading for pleasure, without being given worksheets or comprehension questions.

2. Implement before, during, and after reading choice boards

When students are required to demonstrate understanding of a text, using choice boards allows students to select the best way for them to reflect on what they learned from the text.  For each phase (before, during, or after reading), the student selects one task from the board to complete.  Click on the examples below to download a copy.

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3. Allow students to select an authentic text from a group of curated resources.

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Imagine that during a unit on the environment, intermediate level students are exploring the challenges of food waste.  Giving students a link to a Pinterest page like the one pictured above allows them to select from a collection of authentic resources that have already been curated on the topic.  For example, students may be asked to collect as many statistics as they can on the topic and then use that information to participate in a discussion or debate in the target language.  The teacher might provide a generic, flexible graphic organizer for students to capture their notes while interacting with the various authentic resources.

4. Encourage students to enrich and extend their learning by diving more deeply into a topic of their choice through authentic resources

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During a unit on personal technology, intermediate level students may be given several ideas for extending their learning on the topic based on their interests.  Some examples might include:

  •   exploring the idea of internet safety and digital citizenship
  •  researching the impact personal technology has on users’ health
  •  examining the topic of privacy and social media

These experiences may lead to presentational products or performances such as a short public service announcement, an infographic for young children, or a lesson created for English Language Learners on the topic.

5. Give access to students to authentic text at a variety of challenge levels

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In order for students to interpret authentic text that is neither too easy nor too hard for them, students can be taught strategies for selecting a text that is the best fit.  One way students can judge the difficulty level of a text is to count how many words in the first paragraph or section are unknown to them.  If there is only one unknown word, the students should select a more challenging text.  If the student counts 5 or more unknown words, the text is likely to be too difficult.  The “just right” authentic text contains 2-4 unknown words in the first segment.

In my blog post from May 25 2018, entitled “Tiering authentic text to meet the needs of all learners,” I shared strategies for selecting more than one text on a topic that have a variety of challenge levels.  When allowed to choose their challenge level, students become self-reflective about their confidence with the content and are able to select a text that is the best fit for them.

In a novice level Chinese class during a unit on healthy eating, for example, the teacher may give the following authentic text to the students from which they may select (click on each image below to access the source):




Even the most reluctant learner can judge which infographic to interpret based on the number of visuals and the amount of text.  The generic graphic organizer for the task is a blank plate.  Being able to select the authentic resource which they will interpret can be motivating and engaging to students.

Consider how offering choices in authentic text might increase your students’ confidence level in the interpretive mode.



Using Twitter posts as authentic text


Our students from the iGeneration see social media as a way to access interesting content and as a form of entertainment.   And, it is easy to access social media posts from individuals from target language countries.  As you can imagine, our students would find posts from real people in real life contexts very engaging.

Tweets for Content:  Searching Twitter using your content theme can generate lots of publicly available tweets on a topic of interest to your students that will demonstrate vocabulary in context.  For example, the tweets below were generated by putting “mis pasatiempos” (my pastimes) into the search bar on Twitter (curated by the teacher):

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Here’s a series of tweets that were collected on the topic of vacations (in Spanish):

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For tweets about current events, you may want to follow news and information Twitter accounts:

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Tweets for grammar in context:  Social media posts can also serve as examples of language structures in context.  Imagine that during a previous class, while interpreting a text, a question came up about a particular language structure in the text.  As you plan the lesson for the next class, you decide to gather some posts from Twitter that demonstrate that language structure in context.  You type in key words into the search bar in Twitter and glean through the results for examples that best fit your purpose.

Some examples of phrases that might be typed into the search bar to generate tweets in context:

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Here are some examples of tweets generated in French when “si j’étais riche…” (If I was rich…) was inputted into the search bar that show sentences with the imperfect and conditional tenses in context:

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Here are some tweets that came up when I typed in “dudo que” (I doubt that…) to find tweets in context using the subjunctive:

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This set of tweets for Spanish came from searching for the phrase “Cuando era niño, creía que…” (When I was a child, I thought that…) which provided lots of examples of the imperfect tense in context.

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For those Spanish teachers who follow Zachary Jones, you know that he creates activities using tweets called “Twiccionario.”  You can check them out on his website: Zambombazo.

And, as with all authentic resources:

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Happy searching!

Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources- Part 3

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This is my third blog post on the topic of “teaching grammar in context.”  Many language educators find this core practice the most challenging.

ACTFL Core Practices

Many ask, “if I’m no longer teaching grammar in isolation, how exactly is grammar addressed?”

I have some thoughts on that topic for you.  What we know is that

  • research shows us that teaching grammar in isolation has little impact on language acquisition
  • people we meet in our social lives report to us that the only things they remember from their language learning experiences are verb charts and conjugations
  • the shift to proficiency-based instruction has called us as educators to make communication the focus of language learning, not structure
  • the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do statements show us that students do have to have a strong understanding of grammar and structure in order to progress to higher levels of proficiency as illustrated by the visual below:

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The most natural way for students to experience grammar patterns or language structures is in context.  Begin with unlocking the meaning of a text and then draw students’ attention to the language patterns within the text (much like the PACE model).

Here is a new model I’ve designed to help students unlock language patterns (downloadable by clicking on the image below):

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And here’s the student worksheet that goes with it (downloadable by clicking on the image below):

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One approach for putting together text that all demonstrates a particular pattern is to look for memes, quotes, or tweets that all show the language patterns in context.  There is one example at the top of this post which is a collection of memes that show the present tense of the verb “tener” in Spanish in context.

Here is an example below of a collection of memes that all show the present progressive tense in Spanish in context:

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Here’s an example of a collection of tweets that show the use of the imperfect and the conditional in French with the theme of “Si j’étais riche…”  Imagine how engaging it might be to students to interpret real world tweets to unlock the language patterns within.

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I invite you to visit my webpage on Grammar in Context for additional ideas and resources on the topic:

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Music as authentic text


Music is a universal language.  Using authentic musical selections with language learners can be very motivating to students and a friendly way for students to hone their listening skills.  Songs lyrics can be presented in written format, as an audio clip or as a music video (sometimes with subtitles).  And, at times, students may be familiar with the artists.

Why use music as authentic text in the language classroom?

  • Includes repetition
  • Reinforces pronunciation
  • Shows language structures in context
  • Connects to culture, history, current events
  • Can be used as a classroom management strategy
  • Improves listening skills
  • Motivates students’ interest in the target language
  • Reinforces grammar and syntax
  • Encourages creative thought in the target language

Konig, Patricia.  “Language Can Be Music to Students Ears.”  The Language Educator, 2011.

Strategies using music as authentic text

Here are some examples of lesson activities you might use as processes for interpreting songs:

Alternate Title: Invent a new title for the song.

Alternate Verses: Given every other verse of the song, imagine the missing verses.

Before and After: Imagine what happened before and after action(s) in song.

Category Lists: Place words heard in specified categories. Variation: Given lyrics, read and place words in categories.

Chronological Order: Given a list of actions in song, decide probable order of occurrence. Listen to verify correctness.

Cover Design: Draw a CD cover to represent theme in song. Variation: Given a CD title, imagine the cover. Cover Speculation: Make conjectures based on CD cover.

Dialogue Adaptation: Adapt song to a dialogue.

Figures of Speech: Locate similes and metaphors in lyrics; discuss.

Four Corners: (1) After hearing song, go to designated corner of room (“love,” “like,” “don’t like,” “hate”) and discuss impressions. (2) Line up to show degree of like/dislike for song; discuss. (3) Rotate partners in inside-outside circles to share opinions about song.

Grammar Recognition: Raise hand/card or stand when you hear a selected grammatical feature in song (specific tense, gender, subjunctive, etc.).

Guess the Title: Listen to song and try to guess title. Imitate the Songwriter: Write a new song on the same topic or change original lyrics.

Incorrect Lyrics: Correct lyrics as you listen to song (listen for extraneous words or substitutions).

Key Words: Take word card or picture and stand when/if you hear your word in song. Variation: Given a list of possible words, check off if you hear a word in song.

Letters: Write a letter to the singer.

Lyrics Modification: Substitute other logical words for underlined words in song.

Motivation: Speculate about reasons for writing song.

Name That Word: When music stops before end of song, tell last word sung. Variation: Predict next word.

Predictions: Before hearing song, predict which words might logically fit in lyric blanks or which words would rhyme.

Ratings: Listen to snippets of songs to rate/compare.

Stories: Narrate or write out story from song. Variations: (1) Retell from another person’s point of view. (2) Write as a newspaper article.

Title Associations: Given song title, brainstorm list of words you might expect to hear in song; check off list as you listen.

Video Speculation: Imagine video of song.

Word Search: Given list of words, listen for synonyms/antonyms in lyrics.


Examples of tasks using music in multiple communicative modes

Songs not only provide practice in the interpretive mode for students, but can also serve as a springboard to interpersonal and presentational tasks.




I invite you to visit my website where on the page entitled “Authentic Resources,” you will find multiple links for songs in the target language, often aligned to vocabulary and grammar points:

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Many of our language colleagues have aligned popular songs in the target language to grammatical structures that they demonstrate in context and have generously shared those lists/databases with the rest of us.


Clarisse Les chanteurs français et leurs chansons (crowd-sourced database)


Ten Songs with Hidden German Grammar Lessons


El mundo de Birch Spanish amazing music database!!!