Prepping to Teach World Language Classes Either Online or In Person
Starting the year by creating a strong community and tapping into the target culture is a good strategy no matter where students are learning.
In the realm of world languages, interaction is everything. I am accustomed to engaging in two-way dialogues with my students in their target language every day. I have my students engage in constant conversation and collaborative work. These interactions not only require use of the target language in a real-life context but also aid me in building relationships with my students.
In the upcoming school year—whether we’ll be teaching virtually, in person, or in a hybrid model—building relationships with students is critical. Though we’ll need to make some changes to our traditional teaching practices, providing quality world language instruction and fostering a positive learning environment are still attainable goals.
Follow the guidelines below to help you prepare for any possible scenario this next school year. As the teacher, participate in these activities with your students; you can use tools like Google Slides, Canva, Google Meet, or Zoom.
Start With Connections
Whether you’re teaching by video or seeing your students in person, the first few days of the new school year should be spent not by clinically reviewing a detailed list of rules and procedures but by building relationships and creating a positive, upbeat classroom.
In my traditional in-person class, I typically start off my Spanish courses with the following first-week activities.
Name tags: Each student receives a piece of paper and creates a name tag. Students write their name and draw three objects that represent them. Then, students explain why they chose the objects they did, either in the target language or in English, depending on the level of the course.
Guess Those Facts: In my beginner Spanish I class, I post three facts about myself in Spanish with corresponding images. I then give students a few minutes to guess what each fact means in English. This is one of the first activities in which students are exposed to the target language.
Two Truths and a Lie: I break students up into small groups, and one by one, each student shares two truths and a lie about themselves. Their group members must guess which statement is the lie. (Note that in a Level 2 course and above, students can conduct this in the target language, but in a Level 1 course, students can participate in English. No matter the level, you might post some key words in the target language for students to use.)
Artifacts: Each student brings an artifact to class that holds special meaning for them. Depending on the level of the course, they can explain why this artifact is important.
Tap Into All Communicative Modes
Once you’re ready to kick off instruction, ensure that you’re tapping into all communicative modes—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—in the target language. Reflect on the technology tools you’re using, and ask yourself whether these tools specifically target at least one communicative mode.
Weave in Cultural Connections
The study of cultural elements and practices should be at the core of any world language curriculum. Review the units of study you cover with your classes. Ask yourself: Are they culturally focused? Do they allow students to make observations about and connections with cultural practices that are different from their own?
Take inventory of the resources you’ll be using in person or virtually, and aim to compile as many authentic resources as possible. Utilize authentic video clips, including commercials, interviews, or how-to videos featuring native speakers. Spend time learning about holidays or traditions in the communities in which the language is spoken. These authentic learning opportunities ensure that students are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn.
Here are some Spanish-language resources that allow me to weave in cultural connections:
- Pachas en Perú and VideoEle for authentic video clips
- Infografías en castellano for infographics
- BBC Mundo and Univision Noticias for news articles
- Google Arts & Culture for virtual tours and artwork
Periodically Check In and Offer Support
This pandemic has turned our students’ worlds upside down. Feelings of fear, stress, anxiety, and depression are likely to be at an all-time high. No matter whether you’re teaching in person or virtually, check in with your students.
There are ways to incorporate this into the curriculum. You might dedicate time each week to journaling, in which students write in the target language; with their permission, read and comment on students’ entries. Model mindful meditation and guide it in the target language, in person or through a video chat.
Additionally, consider creating a survey with an easy online tool like Google Forms to gauge students’ feelings. Address the survey results in your next lesson, or individually with students as needed. You might also consider hosting a weekly or biweekly “wellness lunch” in which students can freely voice their feelings or concerns, whether in the target language or in English, and invite another colleague, such as an administrator, school psychologist, social worker, or guidance counselor, to facilitate these sessions with you.