My colleague stopped me in the hall one day to share a story: “This student’s abuelo asked when [the students] were going to learn how to say ‘Grab the drywall’ in Spanish.” We both cheered: For the 2022–23 school year, the world language department in the vocational school where I work aimed to integrate career and technical education (CTE) language into our instruction, and this family tale meant that the integration was working its magic.
Incorporating CTE concepts into world language instruction necessitated the introduction of conversational CTE vocabulary. The goal was for students to communicate with workers and customers who do not speak English while learning words and phrases that pertain to the curricula of our CTE school.
Exposing students to these concepts and skills affords them novice speaking abilities in their target language, pertaining to the trades in which they’re gaining expertise. It also builds relevance, which increases student motivation.
To that end, the initiative has grown into a student-led activity, promoting autonomy. Students collaborate to identify, evaluate, and assess key phrases that benefit their industry. Ultimately, they compile the vocabulary and phrases in a CTE dictionary that serves as a reference for students.
What does a student-developed, teacher-facilitated CTE dictionary geared toward students’ trades look like?
The first step in presenting this idea to teachers included listening to the podcast “We Teach Languages, Episode 151: Task-Based Language Teaching and Heritage Learning.” We listened with an ear toward adopting these practices through the lens of CTE language. Then I asked teachers to share their ideas on a collaborative Google Slide to make collaborative thinking visible.
From there, the department discussed their ideas and how this approach could build relevance and increase engagement in the classroom. Teachers agreed that CTE-centered language was not included in the world language curricula. We were committed to considering how best to individualize language learning for the students’ CTE academy.
The department needed to develop a format in order to proceed. Two upper-level language teachers visited SlidesMania and found the “Building Vocabulary—Foreign Languages” template. They presented the template to their students and asked them how it might work as a CTE dictionary aimed at helping them communicate in their future careers. Students loved the template and were eager to dive in—an important moment that fostered a connection between students and curricula.
From there, world language teachers presented the project idea to our department and discussed implementation. We decided to use Flip to add video to the slides. And to further differentiate the assignment, we made sure that the podcast feature was available. Video and audio elements served as formative assessments: Teachers could review students’ pronunciations and word selections prior to the publication of students’ CTE dictionaries.
We decided to divide students into groups according to their trade: engineering, automotive, health sciences, etc. This division allowed students to build dictionaries customized to their chosen fields. We tasked them with collaborating to determine what information was most important to include, assessing and evaluating what words would be most appropriate for the project at hand.
Piloting the Project
Upper-level teachers included the project in their classes as a pilot and presented at our department meeting, reporting that participating students were excited and engaged and felt ownership over the activity.
However, there was an obstacle: At times, students weren’t finding the right words to use in certain situations. This opened up a useful opportunity to teach students about situations common to their trades that might require different language than previously expected, galvanizing deep thinking about word choice.
As the project unfolded, participating teachers decided to streamline some of the academy language. To maintain continuity, they carved out time in monthly meetings to develop consistent language across the classes but maintained student involvement by collecting input for group consideration.
As we approach the second year of the project, we plan to ask students to include their CTE dictionaries in their digital portfolios so that the dictionaries will serve as living documents, ready for students to access throughout their trade training and into their careers.
Developing the requirements for a CTE dictionary might take time, but deciding on the minimal CTE language acquisition needed for novice, intermediate, and advanced learners will help. Here are some other ways to navigate common implementation challenges:
Novice speakers are new to the academies and do not have a lot of CTE language at their disposal. This is a great time to see what students do know: the name of the academy, for example, or different career opportunities, tools, and other basic vocabulary. Once you’ve assessed students’ background knowledge, you can better individualize and scaffold instruction.
You may find that you do not have enough students in a trade group to engage in this in-depth collaboration. If this is the case, consider allowing students to collaborate with other classes asynchronously through Flip.
To make learning more multimodal, you might invite students to use Canva to create websites, tutorials, videos, infographics, comics, and more. Or Flip, with which students might role-play interactions, create podcasts, or design mini vocabulary lessons based on their dictionary. You might also invite native speakers into the project to help students identify language to include in their dictionary, making the project even more collaborative—and perhaps connected to the community beyond your classroom.
CTE dictionaries not only enhance students’ language acquisition; they also ignite engagement and self-efficacy in the world language class, building opportunities for true teamwork among students and all project stakeholders—skills that are transferable across trades in and beyond school.