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:

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.26.31 PM


  • 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.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 12.04.29 AMScreen Shot 2018-10-07 at 4.19.30 PM


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:

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 6.52.38 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 12.13.19 PM


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

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 8.51.42 PM

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:

screen shot 2018-11-01 at 10.05.44 pm

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

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 11.52.37 am

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):

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 4.19.30 PM

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:

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 11.58.39 am

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 11.59.29 am

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 12.00.16 pmscreen shot 2019-01-22 at 12.01.18 pm

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:

Screen Shot 2019-01-22 at 12.14.07 PM.png


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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 9.49.11 PM

or, this page on my website:

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 9.50.51 PM

Students as leaders in building their skills in the interpretive mode

lit circles

How can students take the lead in improving their interpretive skills? 

As we lead language learners to build skills in the interpretive mode,  our goal should be to work toward moving away from a teacher-centered approach and release the responsibility for unlocking and comprehending text to the students.

Of course, the learning process must begin with the teacher modeling, showing examples, doing think alouds, providing scaffolds and supports, and giving lots of guided practice to students.  This process ensures that students have the routines, resources, skills, and confidence in place to work independently.

Why is it important that students can lead themselves through interpreting authentic text?

  • Students are empowered by owning their learning.
  • Having control over their learning is motivating to students.
  • Giving students voice and choice.
  • Peer to peer teaching increases student independence with language.
  • The teacher is not seen as the sole source of inquiry in the classroom.
  • Mirroring the trend of book clubs.

Reciprocal teaching

One example of a protocol for students interpreting authentic text independently is reciprocal teaching.  Reciprocal teaching is a strategy where students work collaboratively in small groups to process their comprehension of a text.  This strategy teaches students to use each other as resources to complete a task.  The students act as teachers who guide their group discussions by taking on various roles:

  • Summarizer
  • Questioner
  • Clarifier
  • Predictor

Students begin by reading a part of a text.  Each student in the group makes notes as they read based on their role.  Providing a graphic organizer for the students will assist them in organizing their thoughts.  The Summarizer, for example, is looking for key words and main ideas and writes a summary of the text.  The Questioner is capturing questions that come up while reading the text.  During the discussion, the Questioner poses and answers questions in the group.  The Clarifier identifies areas in the text that are not completely clear.  The Predictor shares predictions made based on the text features and makes predictions about what will come next in the text.

If it is expected that students are conducting this discussion in the target language, students in the various roles should be given sentence starters to support them to persevere in the target language.  For example, the Summarizer might be given sentence frames like:

  • The important ideas are…
  • This was about…
  • I learned that…
  • My summary is…

There are many resources available online for the strategy of reciprocal teaching (click the images below to visit the resources):

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 12.21.01 PM


Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 12.23.14 PM

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 12.24.22 PM

Literature Circles

Literature Circles is a similar strategy to Reciprocal Teaching.  Students work cooperatively to help each other make sense of a text of their choice and discuss and debate about it, ideally in the target language, mirroring natural conversation.  Through Literature Circles, students are encouraged to take both written and visual notes.  Participation in Literature Circles is evaluated by teacher observation and student self-assessment based on each student’s contribution to the discussion through their assigned role.

Literature circles have expanded roles for students in the discussion groups.

  1. Narrator/Discussion Director
  2. Investigator
  3. Summarizer
  4. Connector
  5. Vocabulary Enricher/Word Wizard
  6. Illustrator

In exploring many of the online resources for Literature Circles, you will find quite a few variations and additions to the list of roles above.  The idea is that all students in the group have a unique role, examining the text from a distinct perspective.

Resources for Literature Circles

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 12.41.53 PM


Literature Circles Sentence Starters document

For French and Spanish:

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 7.32.13 PM

For more resources on these strategies and others that are similar, visit my website:

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 12.31.42 PM

or my Pinterest board:

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 12.33.02 PM

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.

before reading choiceScreen Shot 2018-11-28 at 8.09.10 PMScreen Shot 2018-11-28 at 8.13.21 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 8.21.17 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 1.18.45 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 6.01.41 PM

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):

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 8.09.20 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 8.15.13 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 7.14.09 PM

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 7.13.50 PM


Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 7.19.52 PM

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 7.21.44 PM


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:

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 7.10.54 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 6.59.34 PM

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 6.59.47 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 7.56.46 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 8.00.55 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 7.05.49 PM

Happy searching!

Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources- Part 3

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 6.24.44 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 7.21.37 AM

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):

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 4.19.30 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 4.19.13 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 10.05.44 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 10.09.12 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 10.17.26 PM

Basing learning centers on authentic text: Part 2



This is a follow up blog post to my post on April 23, 2018, “Basing Learning Centers on Authentic Text.”

Learning centers allow students to work independently with content they have learned in the various skills areas: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.  Centers also provide the opportunity to students to experience tasks that are at varying challenge levels while interacting with authentic text.

Skill-based centers allow students to put vocabulary words and grammar concepts into practice through guided reading, speaking, listening and writing activities.  Centers allow students to work either independently or collaboratively with their peers, and also facilitate more meaningful one-on-one time with their teacher.

Why implement learning centers?

  • Increased student motivation
  • Meaningful learning opportunities
  • Fosters independence
  • Challenge advanced learners and heritage speakers
  • Students working independently on activities that may have otherwise been teacher-led
  • They are fun!

Steps to thinking through learning centers

  1. Gather examples of authentic text on the theme of your choice to be used at centers as enrichment at the end of the unit.
  • video
  • infographic
  • poster
  • article
  • visual
  • commercial

2. Think about how each center might focus in one skill (listening, speaking, reading, writing)

3. Consider how students will capture their learning

  • Graphic organizers
  • Journal entries
  • Recordings
  • Photos
  • Notes page where students accumulate information

4. What will the follow up activity look like?

  • Group discussion
  • Speaking or writing performance
  • Jigsaw sharing

Tips for planning and managing centers

  • Practice each center as a whole group
  • Model use of center materials
  • Have generic directions for each center type and switch out content
  • For small spaces, centers move not students
  • For large classes, duplicate centers
  • “Ask three before me” strategy
  • Red, Yellow, and Green stoplight


Example of learning centers for novice-level Spanish class on the theme of clothing:


Writing Center: 


Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 8.24.19 PM

Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 8.27.10 PM



Listening/Viewing Center:


Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 8.30.46 PM

Video link:

Tiered activities:   Tier A        Tier B     Tier C



Reading/Writing Center: 


Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 8.36.01 PM

Que ropa llevar infographic:

Tiered Activities:  Tier A      Tier B      Tier C

Speaking Center: 
Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 8.45.00 PM
Visit my website for additional resources for learning centers:
Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 5.53.18 PM
World Language Centers Weebly site created by my colleague, Heather Sherrow:
Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 5.54.26 PM