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Lessons and Activities Index

Lesson Name Language Level
Handbook for Proficiency Oriented Language Instruction ANY ANY
What Keeps Me Busy ANY Novice-High
Los Maya y el Norte SPANISH Novice-High
Using Film Clips in the Spanish Classroom SPANISH ANY
Culture Fair: Bringing parents and community together in elementary school ANY ANY
Integrating Sciences in Language Classes SPANISH ANY
Lesson Plans for Math and Foreign Language Learning ANY ANY
Values and Images Reflected in TV Commercials ANY ANY
Helping Students Prepare an Exciting and Engaging Digital Presentation. ANY ANY
Techniques for Using Art in the Foreign Language Classroom ANY ANY
Making Connections with Other Content Classes ANY ANY
Narrative Structures in the World Language Classroom using TPRS ANY ANY
Jigsaw Puzzle ANY Language (example given for SPANISH) ALL Levels
Reaching out to the Community Through Art Various Projects (SPANISH) ALL Levels
Balloons ANY Language BEGINNER
Find Someone Who... ANY Language ALL Levels
Poetry Puzzle ANY Language (example given for FRENCH) ALL Levels
Writing an Autobiography ANY Language (example given for FRENCH) ALL Levels
Quiero SPANISH (could be adapted to other languages) Intermediate
Learning Strategies Lesson - 1
Activating Background Knowledge
ANY Language ALL Levels
Learning Strategies Lesson - 2
Identifying and Evaluating Strategies
to Unlock The Meaning of New Words
ANY Language ALL Levels
Understanding Politics ANY Language (example given for ITALIAN) Intermediate
Using FL Teenager Interviews
Note that this link will take you to our FL Teen Interviews Section
ANY Language ALL Levels
*For more lessons and activities you can also go to our Teaching Guides online. The direct link to the lessons and activities index page is:, and to our Culture Club Lesson Plans in the Teachers’Lounge Collection. Also, you can see our Vocabulary Activities under the Classroom Solutions on our Teachers' Corner section. Finally you can look into other sites that offer lessons and activities, we have a list of sites in our section on links to Foreign Language materials, click here to go to the Sites Index.

Current Entry
January 2009
Proficiency-Oriented Language Instruction and Assessment: A Curriculum Handbook for Teachers

Diane J. Tedick is the editor of The Minnesota Articulation Project, which has produced this wonderful resource for foreign language teachers.

The Handbook is comprised of classroom tasks and thematic units. Each task and unit appears in a standard format or template that stipulates the corresponding theme, standards, level, purpose, functions, language structures, cultural aspects, and modalities. These can be viewed at

The Handbook has organized the tasks and units to correspond to a preliminary model of a curriculum framework based on a series of nine broad cultural themes including (1) Self, (2) Interpersonal Relationships, (3) Basic Needs, (4) Social Activities and Cultural Practices, (5) Leisure, (6) Education, (7) Responsibilities, (8) Cultural Identities, and (9) Cultural Contexts. Each theme and corresponding sub-themes can be incorporated into the language curriculum at every level of instruction so that a spiraling effect occurs.

The tasks are divided into four major sections: (1) Negotiated Interaction, (2) From Comprehension to Interpretation, (3) From Presentation to Creation, and (4) Critical Explorations. The first three sections correspond to the three communicative modes used to characterize language proficiency in the national standards document and to the three standards that comprise the Communication Goal of the national standards. These communicative modes emphasize the context and purpose of communication. The final section, called “Critical Explorations,” includes tasks that are designed to help students dig deeply into culture issues.

The four Thematic Units are included in the Handbook to show teachers how a series of lessons can be planned to treat a cultural theme more extensively. The tasks and thematic units in the Handbook are designed to correspond to a variety of proficiency levels according to the ACTFL Guidelines. In each section, the tasks are sequenced from beginning (Novice) levels of proficiency to more advanced (Intermediate and Advanced) levels of proficiency. In addition, at the end of every task and unit is a series of extensions that list ways to adapt the task or unit for students at more beginning or advanced levels of proficiency.

For two sample tasks, see:
What Keeps Me Busy, an activity through which students learn about a target culture by comparing their daily schedule with that of another student from the target culture. Students also compare their schedules with their fellow classmates and enhance their speaking skills in the target language by negotiating meeting times with their peers.

Los Maya y el Norte, an exercise consisting of class interaction and discussion through which students learn about the Mayan culture and use their understanding to explore the universal issues of culture clashes, oppression, and human rights violations. The lessons are arranged in such a way that students become informed about the Mayan culture through songs and movies, and then re-visit this knowledge through specific activies such as comparison charts, enabling them to become more aware of culture clashes.

August 2008

Using Film Clips in the Spanish Classroom

by Sheila Cockey

Film clips are a way to use authentic realia in the classroom, employing a media that students have an interest in, and reinforcing the lesson of the day.  The ¡Cine con Clase! website fills this need by providing clips from 26 Spanish films, along with background information and activities.   Another source is our very own NCLRC website, where we are posting activities to go along with an additional 10 films, although only 4 are currently available.

Given the constraints of time, appropriateness, and relevancy to curriculum, showing a film in its entirety is not possible.  Locating specific scenes within a movie takes a lot of time.  Designing lesson plans to incorporate a scene requires even more time.  The two websites mentioned above removed these concerns.  As always, it is strongly recommended that the teacher carefully review the clip before deciding to use it in a lesson.

¡Cine con Clase! was designed and developed by Spanish teachers for use in middle school, high school, and college.  There are 26 movies, with two to ten clips each, and several activities for each clip.  The clips are 2-4 minutes long, have a script, an illustrated dictionary, and some background information.  There is a search feature with 3 categories to facilitate finding a clip and a lesson that fits into a lesson idea.  This project is the result of a 3-year NEH grant and was developed at the University of Virginia. You can access this site at

Participants of the June 2008 NCLRC Summer Institute, “Using Film Clips in the Spanish Classroom” brought a film with them and prepared a lesson for a selected scene.  There are 4 films posted so far, along with their activities.  Users will have to locate the DVD and fast forward to the scene, based on the time elapsed numbers given in the activities.

Both sites are free, although ¡Cine con Clase! does require registration.  Both sites welcome your input.

Your work is done!

Enjoy the movies!

Lesson Plans Using Film Clips

El Mariachi

El Mariachi-Script





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Culture Fair: Bringing parents and community together in elementary school

The National Standards for Language Learning suggest that foreign language teachers incorporate members of the target language community to support their students’ learning about culture in addition to language. Laytonsville Elementary School in Maryland regularly hosts an International Night at which over 30 countries (food and culture) are represented at the school. Some of the booths are staffed by families of students at the school who are sharing their own country’s culture and traditions. Others are staffed by members of the school community who have traveled to a particular country and want to inform students about it.

In 2007, the Japan in a Suitcase program took part in the International Night. Their room included these activities: an Origami Station, a Chopsticks Station (students tried to pick up beads with chopsticks), and a Katakana Station where students’ names were written in Katakana. The highlight of the Japanese program was a fashion show in which students dressed in kimonos and yukata, or wore school uniforms and carried Japanese school backpacks.

Parents brought in foods from their native countries or the countries they had visited, so it was possible to eat one’s way around the hallways of the school.


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Integrating Science in Language Classes
Sample Lesson Plan: Fantastic Frogs
Reviewed by Karelia Pallan

fantastic_frogLanguage teachers often have lessons that revolve around culture: food, music, fashion, history, traditions, and sites of a particular area. But few know how to teach an equally important subject—science—in a different language.

Using the Background Knowledge technique, the Spanish "Fantastic Frogs" lesson plan in The Elementary Immersion Learning Strategies Resource Guide guides instructors through a sample lesson integrating science in foreign language learning. In "Fantastic Frogs," instructors simultaneously teach students the life cycle of frogs and the language structure of sequences of events. Students learn words like primero, después, luego, y finalmente, and by applying the new vocabulary to talk about how frogs develop from tadpoles to adults, students can both practice and recall the vocabulary more easily.

The lesson also encourages students to apply their previous knowledge of the life cycles of other animals to discover the similar life cycle of frogs. Students receive a worksheet depicting the various stages of the life cycle and have to cut them out and place them in order matching the correct descriptions in Spanish.

Download the "Fantastic Frogs" lesson plan.

Additional lesson plans for other languages and other content areas are also available in The Elementary Immersion Strategies Research Guide.

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Lesson Plans for Math and Foreign Language Learning

The National Standards for foreign language learning guide us toward the integration of language and content. This month, we are looking at ways to integrate math. We found a fun lesson described in the Chinese part of ACTFL’s Standards volume:

Ti Jiànzi


Chinese shuttlecock

Mrs. Lee’s third grade students in Livingston, New Jersey, use three pieces of colored tissue paper, a quarter or two metal washers, scissors, and a piece of string to make a Jiànzi (Chinese shuttlecock). Students first review colors and the name of materials used in this activity. They use the math concept of fractions to fold papers. Students follow the procedures step by step and repeat simple instructions after the teacher. Students count the numbers when their teacher shows them how to play. Students learn to recite a childrens’s rhythm that gives commands to use different parts of the body to play Jiànzi. (jiăo băn xī n, shŏu băn xī n. dào guăizi, luόdĭ xī n, zuŏ shŏu dă lái yi tiáo xī n.) In pairs, students give and respond to the commands, such as yòng zuŏ jiăo ti sān xià (use the left foot to kick three times). Students compete in small groups and choose a winner from each group to perform at the school talent show.

1.1 Students learn to follow instructions and respond to simple commands.
1.3 Students perform and make presentations at a school talent show.
2.2 Students participate in making and playing authentic children’s games.
3.1 Students use math concepts, and reinforce their skills for arts and physical education.
4.2 Students compare the differences and similarities of Jiànzi with "hacky sack."
5.2 Students play Jiànzi for personal enjoyment.

This activity can be extended to middle and high school students. Middle school students can watch a video and learn authentic ways of playing Jiànzi. High school students can make a report on the history of Jiànzi and write down detailed instructions for making them. This activity is fun for students, their friends, and their family members as a physical fitness exercise. Playing Jiànzi provides good training for eye, hand and leg movements.

Reprinted with permission from Standards for Chinese Learning, pg. 197, in American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) (2006). Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century. Alexandria, VA: ACTFL. Ordering information here

Video Lessons With Math and Science
When we want to see how people are teaching according to the ACTFL Standards, we look to a wonderful resource hosted by The Annenberg Foundation at The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) collaborated with WGBH Educational Foundation to produce videos showing outstanding standards-based lessons. That site, Teaching Foreign Languages K–12, shows instruction in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Latin, Russian, and Chinese. Each has English subtitles. A Web site and print guide accompany the video programs. Two of them show teachers integrating math content, and are described below.

Food Facts and Stories
This is a great video of a Spanish lesson where students make connections to science and math in Spanish as they explore the nutritional content of an authentic fast food menu. Students talk about the food pyramid and identify which food groups are contained within McDonald’s food. They talk about the caloric content of the food, about the different body systems that benefit from the different food groups. The lesson focuses on bringing math, food vocabulary and scientific vocabulary together in the discussion of a bigger idea- a fast food menu. The students then participate in dialogue activates where they act out going to a fast food restaurant. Video link:

Sports Stats
In a fifth grade German class, classmates share their sports preferences and take a poll on sports likes and dislikes. Then they record the class results on a graph. Their teacher makes connections to math by having students analyze the data and compare it to the responses of young Germans. Video link:

And more…
Here is a link to other classroom lesson videos from Annenburg:

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Values and Images Reflected in TV Commercials

From the Proficiency-Oriented Language Instruction and Assessment: A Curriculum Handbook for Teachers (2002) edited by D. J. Tedick. Used with permission from the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota. More information about this CARLA publication can be found at:

Download Standards information

Time Frame:
One class period (45 minutes).

Materials Needed:

  • Videotape with at least six current U.S. television commercials portraying various American values
  • Videotape with six current Latin American TV commercials that reflect various Latin American values
  • Handout for listening comprehension exercise (provided)
  • TV, VCR
Description of Task:

Prior to this activity, the teacher should record on videotape a variety of current TV commercials that reflect common mainstream U.S. values (e.g., independence, beauty, economic success, prestige, freedom of choice, etc.). Alternatively, such a task can be assigned to students. A similar videotape of Latin American commercials also needs to be made or obtained. Again, commercials that reflect common Latin American values (e.g., importance of family) should be recorded. These may be taped from cable channels, or videos having commercials can be purchased (see resources below).

This task assumes that students have explored common cultural themes in magazine advertisements and commercial advertisements. They will know most of the basic vocabulary used in the commercials as well as the imperative form. The purpose of the activity is to have students compare cultural values by first becoming aware of their own perceptions of themselves and then by exploring their perceptions of Latin Americans (Kramsch, 1993). Commercials provide a powerful means of making such comparisons (Martin, 1995).

The teacher begins by showing students six U.S. television commercials portraying various American values. They should prepare to discuss the following questions (which are written on the board) after viewing the commercials:

  • What kinds of images are used in the ads to persuade American audiences?
  • What American values are evident from the images in the ads? (e.g., beauty, success, prestige, money, belonging, fame, etc.)
  • Do you think that Latin Americans have the same values as Americans? (Students should be asked to recall what they learned after exploring magazine ads from various Latin American countries.)
  • Would the images portrayed in American commercials persuade Latin American audiences? Why or why not? If necessary, a review of imperative forms can occur prior to the listening activity.

During Listening:
The teacher distributes the handout and plays six Latin American TV commercials one at a time. Each commercial should be viewed three times (Shrum & Glisan, 1994). The first time through, the TV screen should be covered with a towel or paper, so that students are only exposed to the audio portion of the commercial. Inform students to listen for the name of the product and to jot down words (including imperative forms) that they hear on the handout.

The second time through, show students the visual only by turning the mute on. Students are to verify what products are being advertised and to look for persuading images, which they should record on the handout. The third time through, allow students to view the commercial in its entirety with audio and visual. Students are to note additional language and/or images that are used to persuade Latin American audiences on their worksheets. This three-stage process should be repeated for each commercial. Students are to provide as much detail on the worksheet as possible.

Post Listening:
Students share their completed worksheets with a partner and discuss the impressions they had. Then, the whole class discusses the points that the students were supposed to identify in the commercials. The teacher may ask the following questions to guide the discussion:

  • What products were advertised in the commercials?
  • What words did you hear in the commercials?
  • What images or language was used to persuade consumers?
  • What do the commercials suggest that Latin Americans value a great deal?
  • Do you believe this same value is as important in U.S. culture? Is this value evident in the U.S. commercials?
  • Do you think that the Latin American commercials would have the same impact if they were translated into English or would the images used need to change to persuade members of the U.S. culture? Why?
  • Which was your favorite commercial? Why?

The handouts that students complete act as an assessment of listening comprehension. Informal assessment can be done throughout this entire lesson while monitoring class discussions. The teacher should also walk around the room to scan the worksheets as the students are filling them out. The teacher should ask herself or himself the following questions:

  • Are the students making an effort to answer all the questions?
  • Are they demonstrating comprehension of the listening material? (i.e. Are they filling out the worksheet correctly? Are they answering the discussion questions adequately?)
  • Are the students participating in the discussion?

Suggestions for adapting the task for various levels:
For beginning levels: Instead of writing words on the handout as they view the commercials, students can circle words they hear on a handout containing lists of words (prepared ahead of time by the teacher). Most of the discussion can occur in English. For advanced levels: The discussion can occur primarily in the target language. Students can be asked to design and perform their own TV commercial, which is to be geared toward Latinos in Minnesota. (Or their own state)

Other extensions:

  • Commercials from the U.S. and the target culture that advertise the same product (e.g., McDonald’s or Coca Cola) can be compared/contrasted.
  • A similar activity involving cross-cultural comparison can be done with magazine advertisements.

Cultural extensions:
Small groups of students can be assigned to explore a particular value as reflected in a variety of products in the target culture (e.g., the importance of family can be explored in advertisements, literature, music, idioms, etc.). These groups can then report to the class.

References and Resources:
Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.
Martin, E. (1995, April 6-8). “Linking multilingual advertising to foreign language teaching.” Paper presented at the Annual Eastern Michigan University Conference on Languages and Communication for World Business and the Professions.
Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (1994). Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language instruction. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Suggested Commercials taped from Univisión (these emphasize the importance of family in particular):
- Mazola
- Mission Tortillas
- Vicks Vaporub
- McDonald’s
- Mazda

TV Commercials in French, German, and Spanish can also be purchased from Teacher’s Discovery (1-800-TEACHER).

Download Complete PDF version

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Helping Students Prepare an Exciting and Engaging Digital Presentation.
By Sheila Cockey

The presentational mode of communication lays out expectations that students must be able to present information to an audience without any direct, interpersonal communication. Of course, if the presentational mode is oral, it is likely that the student and audience are in the same room. However, in today’s connected, digital, electronic world, that is no longer necessarily the case. The question then becomes, how do we prepare the student to do an oral presentation when the audience is not visible?

I refer the reader to an article published earlier in the Language Resource (Francisco, Cockey) on methods for preparing students for general public speaking in front of a live audience. The current article will take this base one step further and explore ways for preparing an exciting and engaging digital presentation.

Choose a medium that is appropriate for the topic or exercise. For example, a WAV or MP3 file would not serve the purposes of a demonstration speech or something with many visual elements, nor would an MP4 file be necessary for an interpretive reading. Media available include PowerPoint, Podcasts, YouTube, and so forth. In addition, it is important to choose a medium that is available to all of your students. To that end, we will explore the preparation and use of a video that can be posted as a podcast. For how to create a podcast, go to this article (Robbins) on the NCLRC site.

Prior to introducing the assignment, it is a good idea for the teacher to demonstrate appropriate use of the medium in a variety of ways. In other words, use podcasts regularly as a normal part of your presentational armory. Through repeated modeling, the students will already know what a dynamite presentation looks and feels like.

The student should select a topic with which he has at least a passing interest, if not prior knowledge; it will make research and practice easier and lead to a more inspired presentation. Each presentation should include a good combination of:

  • Talking to the camera
  • Close-ups on items or pictures that further demonstrate the topic.
  • Referrals to charts that illustrate the more technical aspects of the topic.
  • For diversity, audio or visual files of an interview with an expert would add an additional level of interest to the presentation.
  • If the topic lends itself to unique and particular sounds, audio files of those sounds would be a positive addition to the whole.
The planning phase should lay out the organization of the presentation and should include:
  • What will be said and when
  • Preparation of the visuals
  • Where the camera will focus and for how long
  • When additional audio files will be presented
  • Assuring the content addresses the assignment in an organized fashion For some students, a list will be sufficient; for others story boarding may be more helpful.
The practice phase should emphasize familiarity with material, comfort with speaking, knowledge of the order of the presentation, and should include
  • Opportunities for practice
  • Provision of constructive feedback
  • Setting the timing of the speech, adding or deleting material as required to meet the time constraints of the assignment
  • If the student is using notes, they should not be visible, nor should they be read
  • Adjusting content and timing to meet the requirements of the assignment
Above all, a successful and engaging presentation appears to be an impromptu conversation with the audience. The presentation phase starts out as a continuation of the practice phase and should include
  • Work with the camera
  • Actual filming of the presentation
  • Viewing and deleting extraneous footage
  • Reworking of order, visuals, additional audio files for the best effect
  • Assuring that content meets the expectations
Filming several times for practice, rearranging, and deleting non-essential footage will avoid the time-consuming editing of the file. The editing phase should put the finishing touches on the final product and should include
  • Adding titles and credits
  • Adjusting sound
  • Tweaking the opening and closing shots for maximum effectiveness
  • Checking the length of the presentation
  • Verifying that the content addresses the assignment
Once the final product is created, the student should do a final test showing for a final critical look before submitting the project to the teacher.

The submission phase is the end of the experience, where the student delivers the digital project to the teacher, posts it for review, shows it to the class, and otherwise presents it for public consumption. If the student has diligently followed the advice outlined above, he should have a stellar product of which he can be exceedingly proud. In addition, he will have learned skills that will stand him in good stead for his future where he may need to prepare presentations for a variety of audiences and in a variety of media.

Things to remember to do:
  • Talk the presentation
  • Put inflection into the speech
  • Modulate the voice and speech patterns
  • Use a tripod to avoid jerky footage
  • Include a variety of camera angles and supporting materials
  • Focus on the close-ups long enough for the audience to actually see why they are included
  • Find a quiet place to record the audio
  • Ensure the content follows the requirements of the assignment
Things to avoid doing:
  • Reading the script
  • Monotone or racing speech patterns
  • Jerky camera work
  • Excessive zooming in and out
  • Background noise
  • Long periods of silence
  • Unusual mannerisms (playing with hair, uhm or uhh, poor posture)
  • Letting everything go until the last minute providing no planning and practice time

-Foreign Language Education Applications of Podcasts:
-Tips for Presenters (adding animations, video, music, and song to PowerPoints):
-Preparing Powerful Presentations:

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Making Connections with other Content Classes
By Sheila Cockey

This month’s newsletter is about reaching out to other content classes. Our usual advice columnist, Sheila Cockey, shares her experiences in teaching content in the foreign language classroom in the beginning of our special series on content-based lessons.

I remember going to a conference several years ago that was focused exclusively on how to break down the barriers between subject areas and open up the connections among the things our students were learning. The visual metaphor the presenters used to explain the existing approach to education was that of a wall of cubbyholes for storing things and keeping items organized and separate one from the other. Each presenter encouraged the participants to "think outside the boxes" and to connect the various disciplines into a larger, more meaningful web of interconnected learning experiences. We have made a lot of progress since then, but we still have a long way to go. Recognition of this distance is reflected in the fact that we have a national standard explicitly dedicated to connections.

One of the many advantages to teaching a foreign language is the opportunity to teach anything and everything on a regular basis. Foreign language curricula are filled with cross-disciplinary topics that can be integrated into lesson plans on a daily basis. Here are some ideas for making connections, recognizing that these suggestions risk doing nothing more than enlarging the cubbyholes and combining a couple.

Calculate distances, weights and measurements using the metric system Work with exchange rates Figure the area of a living space (How does 200 square meters compare to 2,000 square feet?) Budget a grocery store trip Plan a balanced diet with appropriate calories, grams of fiber, etc. Create a wardrobe, using the sizing of the country where your language is spoken

Wildlife in the areas where your language is spoken Distribution of wildlife, climate patterns, etc Geologic activity and geography and the impact on life styles and foods Water resources and how they are used Industrial impact upon environment (chemical effluents, etc.)

Language and Literature
Figures appearing in American literature that reflect the culture of your language Literary characters, themes, writing styles that have influenced American literature Words from your language that have been assimilated into English Writing techniques that carry over from English into your language

Social Studies
Charts demonstrating population, inflation, land use, literacy, average income, etc Political and economic events in other countries that affect your country and the US Global economy International treaties and alliances

Fine Arts
Musical influences across cultures (rhythms, instruments, dance steps) Music as an expression of life Art as an expression of life Art as an illustration of historical eras

Physical Education
Play games popular in the country of your language Learn the rules of games in your language

Career and Technical Education
Compare and contrast house plans, furnishings Compare and contrast building methods and materials Compare and contrast food preparation techniques and ingredients Learn the terms for using a computer, creating a balance sheet, running a business Learn vocabulary for use in a health-related career

Foreign Languages
Historical personages that appear both in your language and in the world arena How events that transpired within your country affected world events Looking at the same phenomena from differing points of view Additional sources of information available only in the language

An example of a project that puts nearly all of the individual cubbyholes into one:

  • Plan a city
  • Base it on the classical city plan of the Romans
  • Consider the geography of the area
  • Consider climate and weather as they will affect the people
  • Include public areas, houses, and commercial areas
  • What building materials are available?
  • How will building materials and weather patterns affect the architectural style of the buildings?
  • Include sources of water and means of sanitation
  • What are the food sources?
  • Consider transportation, both within the city and between cities
  • Draw a map to scale
  • Develop a code of law

The exciting piece of the connections standard is that it opens the door wide to innovation and creativity. It permits us as teachers to find ways to involve all students in the learning process because it encourages us to include everything else. Use your imagination. Listen to your students. Combine their interests with the subject matter and create memorable learning opportunities.

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Narrative Structures in the World Language Classroom using TPRS
Robert Williams, High School German Teacher Fairfax High School Fairfax, VA

Today’s students come to a world language classroom with less native language ability, much less grammar knowledge, and fewer study skills. A newer second language teaching methodology called Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) is taking the language teaching world by storm because it addresses many of the challenges facing the world language teaching profession. TPRS helps students to communicate in the target language, much like the way they learned their first language. TPRS can help jumpstart a language program, give new enthusiasm to the teacher, and most of all help more of today’s students learn the target language and stay in the program.


I use TPRS because it meets students where they are when they first arrive in my classroom. Most students come to my class not knowing grammar terminology. Students have heard the rumor that "foreign language is hard", especially German, which is the language I teach. Many students do not study at home, and fewer students do homework. TPRS takes them from these beginnings, and helps them be successful language learners without making assumptions about previous knowledge or skills.

TPRS makes language learning appealing, while maintaining high standards. It is action based, with quick success due to an emphasis on communicative skills rather than grammar. Students experience less grammar frustration and more success with communication, and the motivation from that success encourages them to continue in the language.

TPRS emphasizes best teaching practices. It employs current language acquisition theories. It reaches all types of learners and addresses all modalities of learning. In fact, my experience has been that more students than ever are successful in learning German.

For languages that suffer from low enrollments, TPRS can increase enrollment, starting with level 1 and moving on to upper levels. Students are successful, which creates satisfaction with the language program. Word of mouth encourages more students to take a language, and the satisfaction from the program keeps them signing up year after year.


Guiding Philosophy
One of my favorite sayings in German, which guides my entire philosophy of teaching language, is "Es ist besser falsch zu reden, als richtig zu schweigen." Loosely translated, it means "It is better to speak with incorrect grammar than to not speak at all." This does not mean that I totally disregard grammar in the classroom, and in fact, most observers are surprised to find out that grammar does play a major role in the stories I use.

Teaching with stories is a complete reverse approach to the way I used to teach, which was to teach a grammar concept first, and then have students practice. Now I teach grammatical structures within the context of a narrative, and then teach the grammar concept after the students have become comfortable in using the particular grammar.

Main Theories of TPR Storytelling

Comprehensible Input
Stephen Krashen’s theory of Comprehensible Input is of utmost importance in the TPRS classroom. His theory in summary is that the majority of language is acquired through comprehensible input – not output. The point is not to get the student to repeat the new vocabulary, but to hear it many times first. Everything must be made comprehensible to the learner. Repetition is a crucial element in Comprehensible Input. The student must hear the target structure in the language over and over before the language starts to become internalized.

Affective Filter
Another concept important in using TPRS is the idea of lowering a student’s "affective filter". The "affective filter" develops from a fears on the part of the learner – fear of failure, fear of peers, and fear of appearing stupid. When the "affective filter" comes in to play, the student does not receive the Comprehensible Input – it is as if a wall surrounds the learner. To lower the "affective filter", the classroom must be an environment in which the learner feels safe to learn, and does not fear using the language. One of the main ways to accomplish this type of a classroom is to encourage use of the language in a low-stress environment. Discipline also plays a major role in making the learner feel safe – an out of control classroom is stressful for everyone involved.

Language Acquisition Device
A third important concept is Noam Chomsky’s theory of the "Language Acquisition Device". According to Chomsky, everyone has a "Language Acquisition Device" in which language is acquired involuntarily. If there is Comprehensible Input, the learner has a low "affective filter", and the language is used and repeated in interesting ways (using stories), then the learner will acquire the language.

Three steps of TPRS:
1. Establish meaning of target language structures
2. Tell the story in collaboration with the students
3. Develop reading and writing skills

Step 1: Establish meaning
There are several ways to establish meaning. I start by writing target structures on the board with English translations. This may be a shock, but I have found that explaining to students what the words mean clears up any confusion quickly, and then I can focus the rest of the time on practicing the structures in the target language.

Another way I help establish meaning is to teach a hand gesture for each target language structure. Not only does this help students learn the words, but also the pronunciation as they hear the words over and over again while they are gesturing. Many times, I don’t teach gestures I have developed, but have students invent their own as I say the words in the target language.

The most powerful way to establish meaning in the learners mind is to use personalized questioning technique. Students are highly interested in questions that deal with their daily lives. In addition, the questions are a wonderful way to stay in the target language for extended periods.


Developing personalized questions: some guidelines

  • Use the structures in as many different contexts as possible.
  • The goal is not for students to repeat the new vocabulary, but to hear the new vocabulary used many times correctly in different contexts.
  • Use all types of questions: who, what, why, when, how, how many, etc.. Put a large poster of the question words in the back of the room so that you can see them and be reminded of the types of questions you can ask.
  • Give students choices if needed. Don’t leave questions open-ended until they can handle it.
  • Recycle previous vocabulary words (colors, numbers, etc.).
  • Use cognates where needed.
  • Make it fun and high interest by asking students for details that interest them.
  • Get every student involved – use your best questioning techniques – individuals, entire class, left side, right side, milling around the room as you ask. Your goal is not only to use targeted structures/vocabulary in contexts, but also to get to know your students better.
  • Limit to 5-10 minutes
Sample personalized questions for beginners Target vocabulary: the shoes
  • What color are your shoes?
  • Are you wearing shoes or pencils?
  • Are your shoes too big, too small, or just right?
  • Where did you buy your shoes?
  • When did you buy your shoes? In summer, fall, winter or spring?
  • How many shoes do you have?
Sample personalized questions for intermediates Target vocabulary: I’m inviting
  • I’m having a party and inviting my friend. Who are you inviting to your party?
  • The phone is ringing. Who is inviting you?
  • You’re inviting your mother. Why are you inviting her?
  • Who are you not going to invite?
  • What can you do if someone comes you did not invite?

Step 2: Tell the story
The story is developed as a collaborative effort between teacher and students. In TPRS terms, the story is called the "Personalized Mini-Story". It develops as a process of asking many questions about each statement of the narrative (a technique called "circling") , and then directing the story as the students provide details.

As the story progresses, the teacher writes key structures on board to facilitate retell and accentuate new vocabulary and grammar points. The guide words are written in order of the story. Pictures also help students in retelling the story. The students can act out the story as it is being told, or as it is re-told by a student, teacher, or combination.

Characteristics of a Personalized Mini-Story

  • Includes no new structures or vocabulary other than the ones targeted
  • Includes vocabulary and structures from past stories as review
  • Includes culture whenever possible
  • The story always makes the students involved look good
  • The story should have as many details provided by the students as possible

Narrative questioning technique (Circling)
First, the teacher begins with the first statement of the story. For beginning language students, the teacher might say "the girl goes".

The lesson could develop in the following manner:
First statement of the story

Teacher: The girl goes.
Question with „yes" answer (after class response, teacher restates complete answer)
Teacher: Does the girl go?
Students: Yes.
Teacher: Yes, the girl goes.
Question with either/or (teacher restates complete answer)
Teacher: Does the girl go or does the girl jump?
Students: go
Teacher: Yes, the girl goes.
Question with „no" answer (teacher states negative, then positive answer)
Teacher: Does the girl jump?
Students: No.
Teacher: Correct. The girl does not jump; the girl goes.
Question with „yes" answer again (teacher restates complete answer)
Teacher: Does the girl go?
Students: Yes.
Teacher: Yes, the girl goes.
Who/what/how/when question in which the answer is in the statement Note: have question words posted in target language and English in the front of the room, and point to the question word and pause as you use it..
Teacher: Who goes
Students: the girl
Teacher: Correct. The girl goes.
An open-ended who/what/how/when question that will add a student-provided detail.
Teacher: Where does the girl go?
Students: (various answers – teacher chooses one)
Teacher: Right – the girl goes to Germany.
Using the questioning technique, the details of the story are developed from the answers provided by the students.


Step 3: Develop Reading and Writing Skills
Up to this point, the majority of the class has been speaking and listening. To provide reading and writing skills, the final stage of the TPRS process is crucial.

The teacher provides a pre-written story using the same structures that the teacher targeted in the previous steps. In my situation, I wrote the stories several years ago, so I don’t even remember what the story is about. The story is usually not related to the story done with the students in class, because the students provide the details and the storyline. The important factor is that the teacher-written story utilizes the same target structures and maintains the elements of TRPS.

The teacher-written stories provide a key opportunity to point out grammatical structures. I often use the readings as grammar reviews, and ask questions such as "why does the verb in that sentence appear at the end?" or "why does the article in that phrase change from "der" to "den?". I have found this to be a very effective way to review grammar concepts that the students have previously learned.

With every written story, I like to have students write about it. Many times I will ask students to re-write the story from a different perspective, or in a different tense, or change the plot so that the ending is different. I always include comprehension questions in the target language about the story, which is often the homework assignment for the lesson.

The stories I have written in German are published by Teacher’s Discovery. They are thematically based, and include vocabulary typically used in each level of instruction. A colleague of mine, Tracey Kyle, re-worked the stories for Spanish.

Spanish Thematic Short Stories All About Me by Robert Williams/Tracey Kyle
(beginning Spanish – level 1)
Spanish Thematic Short Stories All Around Me by Robert Williams/Tracey Kyle
(Spanish level 1 into level 2)
Thematic Short Stories About Me by Robert Williams
(beginning German - level 1)
Thematic Short Stories All Around Me by Robert Williams
(German level 1 into level 2)

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Techniques for Using Art in the Foreign Language Classroom
Vocabulary, Story telling, Civilization, and Culture
By Sheila Cockey

Are you looking for a refreshing approach to presenting lessons in class? Re-energize your teaching by adding art prints to your arsenal of teaching props and you will enliven the interest of your students and their teacher. It is very easy to bring art into your classroom every day in the normal teaching process, not as an additional topic to teach the students. You can expose your students to great art in an easy and seamless fashion simply by using prints to cue vocabulary and content items. This technique integrates not only the textbook and standards of learning requirements for specific vocabulary and content, but also your desire for a more aesthetic, culturally rich environment for learning. This method requires no additional preparation time, nor does it require additional instructional time. It does not detract from the essential objectives of your course; rather, it enhances these objectives.


An excellent technique you may already use to enliven language learning is the use of magazine pictures as prompts; it is easy to add museum art prints to your collection of graphics. The art in your textbook is an excellent point of departure; nurture your collection by purchasing inexpensive museum prints and use them for vocabulary, culture, or creative exercises in the classroom. For cueing vocabulary learning and recall, choose prints that do not have a lot of activity, so the concept is clear, concise, and immediately obvious. If you wish more involved use of vocabulary and structure in richer contexts, then choose prints that are busy with activity and have more characters and things happening in the picture. These provide room for interpretation and enough material for creating a story with some plot and character development.


Another excellent source of material is coloring books of masterpieces of art, which can be found in the children’s section of most museum shops. Prepare the painting for use in the classroom, either by making copies for work at the desk in the classroom, or by scanning it for use on a computer. Directions in the target language lead students through the steps to successfully complete the activity. These directions may include colors and prepositional phrases that locate items. This is an activity to do either in pairs in the classroom with crayons or colored pencils, or in a computer paint program.


Another approach is to have students identify body parts, furniture, clothing, or other items in the painting by writing a letter or number in the correct space. These activities not only reinforce basic vocabulary, they force students to look carefully at the details of a painting, prompting many questions about the content of the painting.

Scavenger hunts are high on the students’ list of favorite activities, especially if it gets them up and out of their seats. By participating in scavenger hunts, either within a single painting, or among a gallery of paintings, students will carefully study the paintings for the items on the list. An excellent "prize" for this activity is a bookmark of some detail of a painting included in the hunt that you have created on your computer and then laminated. Jigsaw puzzles are another intriguing magnet that will encourage your students to look at paintings with a more careful eye. Purchasing puzzles of artwork in museum shops may or may not be within your budget, but also don’t forget to look in the discount stores. With the investment of a little bit of time, it is an easy task to make your own puzzles in accordance with your particular requirements. Puzzles can be made to meet the needs of a particular lesson by carefully choosing the paintings and forging the directions for the activity. Once the prints are scanned and you have printed several copies, glue the prints onto lightweight cardboard and cut out the pieces in any set of shapes you desire. Place the pieces for each individual painting in a zip-lock bag with the name of the painting, the artist, and the topic written on the bag with an indelible marker. The students recreate the painting, placing individual pieces together correctly by following directions that include vocabulary relevant to the painting and prepositional phrases that locate items. Students predict what neighboring pieces will be (shape, content, color). This is easily done in the classroom in pairs. If class time allows, the students can be asked to do the preparation and then pass the puzzle on to another group to put together.

harlequim crossroads

Getting students involved in creating their own fine arts is another way to include all students in the creative process, no matter how "artistically talented" they are. Stick figures and line drawings can be just as expressive as a full-blown masterpiece, or perhaps more so. For example, as a follow-up to the study of muralism, students design and paint a mural on a wall either in the classroom or in one of the school hallways. The creative process includes the choosing of a theme, the framing of a metaphor, and the design of specific images to explain and convey the message. Be sure to include as part of the mural a written description in which the origin, message, and process are described and the participants are listed, either painted onto the wall, or posted as a plaque. These are just some of the many ideas about using art in the foreign language classroom that you will see throughout the October issue of The Language Resource and in future editions of Culture Club. Please share your ideas with us and we will post them on the NCLRC site.

Brown, W.H.. Bareback Rider. USA. Micklethwait, Lucy. A Child’s Book of Play in Art: Great Pictures, Great Fun. New York: D.K. Publishing, Inc. 1996. p.41.
Local High and Elementary School Students. Crossroads: A Panorama of Our Community. Virginia, USA. Photo credit: Sheila W. Cockey. 2001.
Dalí, Salvador. The Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. Spain. Postcard purchased at the Salvador Dalí Museum. St. Petersburg. FL.
Picasso, Pablo. Harlequin Musicians. Spain. Print purchased at the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C.
Rivera, Diego. Día de las flores. Mexico. Cards for Kids to Color: Mexican Masterpieces. USA: Pigment & Hue, Inc.

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Jigsaw Puzzle
by Sheila Cockey, adapted by Laura Blythe


This is a great lesson plan for teachers who are looking for ways to keep their students engaged in class before winter vacation! Students are placed in pairs and receive a plastic bag with a Spanish painting cut into puzzle jigsaw pieces.
After each pair has pieced the puzzle back together, they write a description of the painting using descriptor words determined by the teacher. Each pair takes a turn reading their descriptions to the class while students in the audience attempt to draw the described painting.
Students practice both skills for detailed description and listening. This activity may be done at any time of the year, though if near holidays commonly celebrated in the target culture, the language teacher may use paintings that have a celebratory or religious nature to them.

Purpose: To review vocabulary of the body, clothing, and prepositions of location.

Materials: Several copies of works of art by artists representing the target language.

Introduction: The more modern paintings seem to work better for this exercise because items are not always where they are expected to be, nor are the colors the conventional ones. For this example we chose Harlequin Musician by Pablo Picasso (on the left)


  • Choose paintings the students have not seen before.
  • Paste copies of reproductions on lightweight cardboard or poster board.
  • Cut into irregular shapes, being sure to divide the more complicated parts of the painting into separate pieces.
  • Place each painting in a separate zip lock bag, marking the bag with the name of the painting, the artist, and the topic written in indelible marker on the bag.
  • Working in pairs, students put the jigsaw puzzle together.  Separate groups so each puzzle is not visible by other groups.
  • Students then write a description of their puzzle, indicating where the various parts of the body are located.  There must be a total of 6 items of clothing and/or body parts, 4 different prepositions of location, and a one-sentence description of the painting.
  • Possible items include: hat, feet, knees, arms, shoulders, ruffled collar, profile, face, ear
  • Students read the description to the class and the remaining students draw the painting according to the description.
  • Students compare their drawing with the original one.

- Written description
- Oral presentation
To bring this type of an observational activity into the daily lives of the students and have it become more personalized, have students observe and sketch (stick figures and line drawings are fine) a scene outside of class. The next day each student will describe the scene while other students in the class attempt to draw the scene. This may be done as a whole-class activity or in groups of four. This kind of activity increases their observational acuity and assists them in creating descriptive passages of their surroundings.

Standards Addressed:

  1. Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.
  2. Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.
  3. Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.
  1. Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines (art) through the foreign language.

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Reaching Out to the Community Through Art:
My Personal Stories
by Sheila Cockey

Joining two passions, art and foreign languages, and then bringing those passions into the community at first seems to be a daunting task.  However, when students become involved in the planning of activities that will show evidence of community orientation, it becomes an exciting journey of exploration and discovery.  Reaching out and connecting with the community through art came about through two distinct avenues over many years with a variety of students.

Mexican Mural Project
One, originating in a class of extremely creative thinkers and artists, was the result of a unit on Mexican muralism.   Very simply, the students wanted to do nothing more than create their own mural on a wall in the school.  The result is that there are now several brightly colored murals painted on walls around the schools.

The murals are personalized stories about life in the school and the community and add a note of interest to the otherwise barren hallways.  Every student in the building can relate specifically to a variety of the images in the murals, and they are often seen discussing them in groups gathered around a particular portion of them.  Among the themes chosen are Our Community as a Crossroads, The Road Through High School, The Millennium, and After Hours.  During class discussion a theme was settled upon and a metaphor was devised that would enable them to visually represent the theme.  The mural was sectioned off, sketched, and re-sketched before the class approved a final version.

Before proceeding further, the principal was invited to the class and the project was presented to him, the only piece of this to be done in English.  To gain his approval, in addition to selecting the wall and preparing the sketch, the students prepared a budget for the project and presented a task calendar.   During the presentation, individual students talked about why they wished to do the project, outlined the procedure, and explained the benefit to the school. 

After making final adjustments, the students prepared a full-sized cartoon, which was subsequently used to transfer the drawing to the wall.  The transfer was accomplished by covering the back of the paper cartoon with artist’s charcoal, taping the large paper to the wall, and tracing over the drawing.  When the cartoon was removed, the wall resembled a huge coloring book, with black lines outlining the images.  Finally the long-anticipated painting fun began!  We scheduled the painting for Memorial Day weekend, with the tracing of the cartoon done on Friday afternoon, a half day in our system, painting on Saturday, a long day, and drying on Sunday and Monday.  This procedure was followed for the murals at the high school and the one mural done at an elementary school.  Regardless if the mural is the original or the most recent one, everybody stops and looks at them: parents waiting to pick up their children, students talking about the content between classes, and teachers using them as teaching aids. 

Personally, the best part of these murals are the signature pieces the students drew to represent themselves within the theme and metaphor of the mural.  Grants were sought and obtained from various local arts organizations to cover the cost of the paint, brushes, and other supplies.  The project does take a fair amount of class time, but the students made the decision to do the majority of their work after school and during lunch.  Everybody in the school and community is highly congratulatory about these murals and it certainly helped my students understand the entire creative process.  There’s nothing like seeing your work in public!

Alternative Assessment Becomes Community Service
The second avenue is somewhat more circuitous in its origin and development.  One year I had a class that balked at the traditional end-of-course final assessment format and said they wished to do something that would not “be thrown in the trash can” after they finished the course.  They wanted to become more personally involved with their language, to bring it out of the classroom, and to use it as a vehicle to make contact with the local Spanish-speaking community.  What a challenge they presented to themselves, and they responded with some ingenious and ambitious alternatives!  The way to the grand finale was paved by several short-term projects that occupied the students throughout the semester.  Many of their initiatives have endured, while others were not quite so long lasting; some of those initiatives included art, and some did not.

A chance encounter conversation with an employee of the local hospital initiated a link between my class and the hospital’s education department.  The students worked as translators of documents for them, working on everything from employment forms to training modules.  Not many of these contained any artwork, but the things they enjoyed the most were the ones that did have illustrations of one kind or another to go along with the text.  These included flyers of advice for expectant mothers, the menu for room service meals, and a coloring book for very young children about various people who work in the hospital.  The purpose of the coloring book was to dispel the fears that young children may have about the hospitalization of a family member or themselves, by acquainting them with the staff they will meet there.  Part of the students’ enjoyment came from the production, but even more because the projects had very broad applications to a diverse public and enabled them to use image programs to create graphics to go along with the text.  These items are still in use at the hospital and the students are extremely proud of the positive impact their work has had through the years.

Students Create a Children’s Page in Spanish Newspaper
This particular group of students also was very interested in art, so when they came up with the idea of creating a page for young children to be included in the free monthly newspaper for Spanish-speakers that our local paper published, they pursued it vehemently until the editors approved it.  An on-going project that lasted for two years, the students produced monthly pages centered on a particular theme.  To avoid copyright issues, students created all of the content themselves, including the artwork, on the computer; they used PaintShop Pro to draw and colorize their work.  It was an exciting and very professional product that was extremely well received by the Spanish-speaking public.

These are three ideas that take language and culture out of the classroom, combine them with art, and include the wider public in a positive and interactive way.  The coloring book idea is something that can be adapted to a variety of public service agencies.  I strongly recommend pursuing a similar project with your students, either as a class project or through your language club; it is exhilarating beyond belief.  The confirmation of the importance of using another language is incredible.  The self-confidence of the students visibly grows by leaps and bounds and they are willing to tackle just about anything you send their way.

©2006 The National Capital Language Resource Center

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Balloons - A Sample Language Lesson
Bruce Zehnle, Union Catholic High School, Scotch Plains N.J.

Language: Any
Level: Beginner
Age: Any
Objective: This task-based activity is a fun way to:

  1. reinforce the vocabulary of colors,
  2. review demonstrative and comparative adjectives and
  3. develop aural skills.

Preparation: Blow up at least 50 balloons of different colors and sizes. A language honor society or club member can help you. Put symbols or numbers on some of the balloons with a magic marker. Put all balloons into big trash bags and bring to class. When the time comes for the activity, start emptying the balloons around the front of the classroom.

In class: Let the fun begin! Students will be amazed and excited when they see the balloons floating around. In the target language, encourage students to ask each other questions about the balloons, such as:
Who can break the yellow balloon?
Which color balloon has the star on it?
How many black balloons are there?
Is this balloon larger than that balloon?
Which color balloon is the smallest of all?
What does the largest green balloon have?
Is that balloon over in the corner larger than these balloons?

Obviously, in this activity the students become very active and involved and they like the excitement of breaking the balloons. Do a lot of this! If you blow up even more balloons, it will generate new and different target language questions and answers (and becomes more fun!).

Alternatively, when emptying out the balloons, you can personalize the lesson by giving each student a balloon. For example:
Is Mary's balloons larger than Bill's?
Who has the pink balloon?
Everyone who has red balloon, break it.

Note: Surprise the students with this activity for the best effect, rather than have them blow up the balloons. The surprise makes it more exciting!!

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Find Someone Who...
Abigail Bartoshesky

Language: This lesson may be adapted to suit any language.
Level: Low - Intermediate - High
Description: Using the simple present, students will conduct question and answer interviews with each other to complete a worksheet. This activity may also be used to introduce, practice and review most grammatical structures.


  1. Students will review questions and answers in the simple present
  2. Students will develop speaking skills
  3. Students will review and add to their descriptive vocabulary
  4. Students will meet and get to know each other

Preparation:Translate the worksheet (below) into the target language, adapting it to reflect the size and interests of your class. Add an entry for each student, making it general enough so that several students can answer, "Yes". E.g.: ".eats apples," ". likes rap music" or ". talks in her sleep." Try to avoid questions that identify students’ socioeconomic or family status, such as "lives in an apartment," "plays baseball with his father" or "has a TV."


  1. Introduce the activity: Explain that this activity is designed to help students get to know each other. Tell them that in an orderly manner, they will move around the classroom, asking each other short "yes" or "no" questions in the target language. According to the answers provided, students will fill in the worksheet with the appropriate names. Tell students that they cannot repeat names, and each line must be completed with a different name.
  2. Pass out the worksheet: As a class, scan the worksheet and let students identify unfamiliar words. Encourage others to volunteer the definitions as you create a word bank by writing them down on the board.
  3. Model the activity: In the target language, ask a blond student "Do you have brown hair?" when she responds, "No," say "Ok, thank you". Next, ask a blond student "Do you have blond hair?" When he responds, "Yes" say "Ah! What’s your name?" and put the student’s name by the example on the worksheet.
  4. Provide necessary language: Have students recall the questions you modeled. Put "Do you have blond hair?" and "What’s your name?" on the board, so students can use them during the activity. As a class, practice the question with a couple of verbs on the sheet (especially irregulars if you include them).

Practice: Give students an allocated time to move around the classroom, interviewing each other in the target language. By the end of the period, they should have completed the worksheet with the names of classmates who fit the description, and become familiar with vocabulary used when phrasing questions in the simple present.

Evaluation: This activity will serve as a valuable informal assessment of your students’ speaking abilities, so monitor the interaction carefully. As a class, have students share their findings by asking, "Who walks to school?" "Who reads before bed?" and "Who loves chocolate?"

Expansion: For homework, have students write 10 third person descriptive sentences about their classmates based on what they learn from the activity. E.g.: "Juan walks to school." For future lessons, have students design a "Find Someone Who." worksheet to practice new grammar structures or vocabulary.



Fill in the blanks with the name of the person who best fits the description.

Example ___Elena______has blond hair.

  1. ________________________walks to school.
  2. ________________________reads before bed.
  3. ________________________eats dessert every day.
  4. ________________________has a dog.
  5. ________________________speaks Spanish at home.
  6. ________________________loves chocolate.
  7. ________________________writes in a journal.
  8. ________________________exercises in the mornings.
  9. ________________________rides a bicycle.

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Poetry Puzzle
Alissa M.Webel & Alisa Belanger

Language: Any language (example given in French)
Level: Any level
Sample Text: "Déjeuner du matin" by Jacques Prévert
Lesson Objective: To increase students’ awareness of language structure and logic
Language Structure: Distinguishing between "à" and "de" / Use the passé composé
Materials needed: 1 copy of the text; 1 envelope per student, scissors

Preparation: -Select a text that is language level appropriate & clearly divisible into parts and phrases. (A poem is usually an effective text, especially one that adheres to a regular form and pivots around a central theme). -Make sufficient copies for the students, cutting copies into pieces according to the section breaks of your choice. (Using large font will make this easier!)

Put one complete set of poem fragments in each envelope & distribute amongst students. Students will rely on their understanding of words, logic, and grammar rules to reconstruct the text as it appears in its original form so that the text will make sense. Ideally, the parts should not combine to form a coherent whole if placed out of order. The smaller the parts, the more students will focus on grammar, e.g.: subject-verb agreement, noun-adjective agreement, verb with direct/ indirect objects, etc. The larger the parts, the more they will focus on meaning.

To illustrate this exercise, I have included a sample poem: "Déjeuner du matin", (appropriate for a beginner level main activity, or an intermediate level warm-up). The lines appear scattered, as they would coming out of an envelope, followed by what might be a student's mental process to reconstruct the poem:

Il a mis le sucre / Dans la tasse / Dans le café au lait / Il a mis le café / Il a reposé la tasse / Dans la tasse de café / Il a mis le lait

Student’s Mental Analysis:

"The poem talks about a cup and coffee. It is possibly, about breakfast because there is also milk, and I know French drink café au lait for breakfast. In fact, if I look carefully here are 3 things that he could put into the cup: sugar, coffee and milk, along with three different references to the cup or its contents. I know it’s not a coffee cup, but a cup with coffee because of the "de" and not the use of the preposition "à" which would imply the contrary. Logically, one would start with an empty cup, then add the three other elements.Some people put the sugar first, then coffee and finally their milk, but here it looks like "he" does things differently. For one, you would have the cup of coffee (tasse de café) before the café au lait, thus the milk is added after the coffee. Logically, I thus have: "Il a mis le café dans la tasse / Il a mis le lait / Dans la tasse de café." I am left with sugar that he needs to add and a cup of café au lait, which means that the sugar was added after he had poured the milk into the coffee. Following these lines I have "Il a mis le sucre / Dans le café au lait" and I’m left with "Et il a reposé la tasse." It only makes sense for this line to come at the end of the others, because it implies that he drank and is putting the cup back down ("re-poser"). Am I correct?"

When the students come up with what they believe to be the correct format, ask them to read their versions aloud and proceed to discuss their decisions, after which, you show them the original text. In this case, Jacque Prévert's poem reads:

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Il a reposé la tasse [.]

Another idea is to put the activity into a personal/ academic context by framing this exercise with pre and post activities. For this poem, one pre-activity will be to ask students what they do for breakfast: What do they eat and drink? Do they prepare it a certain way? As a post-activity, students can compare their breakfasts with this one: What are the similarities and differences?

This activity is particularly advantageous, as it provides students with more support than merely asking them to construct their own poem, yet, it nonetheless forces them to understand and use the building blocks of the language. It aids students in the revision of recently learned structures and helps clarify ones that remain confusing to them. Without asking them to create something new, it forces them to use their skills creatively to restore the poem-not unlike discovering a puzzle’s solution in a new way.

If you choose a rhyming poem, then one pre-activity option is to discuss and give examples of the target language’s rules concerning rhyming. Compare these with English rules in order to raise students’ awareness of how rhyme organizes language. What is the same and different? For the post-activity, students can analyze the poem’s actual rhyme scheme: What form is it? How do these rhymes compare to the traditional rules?

In another variation, you may select a descriptive paragraph instead of a poem. If you choose prose, it is best to break the text down into subject-verb-object and keep adjectives together-include pronouns, and it becomes even more fun. A long sentence or a paragraph works equally well.

If you opt for a poem, here are two expansion activities I suggest. You can distribute refrigerator magnets for students to use in class to construct sentences, rhymes, and poems. Or you can ask students to write their own poem, without rhyme, for homework. Students should now feel comfortable enough to write it using the vocabulary and structures they manipulated in the class exercise. Have them create their own sample text!

It can also be beneficial for students to complete this exercise in pairs or small groups, using longer poems or passages. The advantage to grouping students is that they talk to each other, think aloud, and work through problems together. As in any exercise, this group work emphasizes that students must communicate efficiently in the language to achieve their common goal.

This sample lesson was contributed by Alissa M. Webel, NCLRC Research Associate and Professor of French Language, Culture and Political Science at Georgetown University.

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Writing an Autobiography
Christine Meloni, NCLRC

The following lesson plan teaches the concept of learning strategies to facilitate writing in the foreign language. The use of learning strategies, such as the one highlighted below Organize/Plan, helps students take control of their own learning, and solve problems they may encounter along the way. In particular, Organize/Plan is useful for writing tasks that may seem daunting at first, but become more manageable if students can develop a structure for the information they want to present. This lesson introduces the learning strategy as well as the content so that students can practice using the strategy with some guidance. Please take a moment to review the complete list of the NCLRC’s learning strategies with descriptions and examples.

Language: French
Level: Grade 5
·Decide on your content objective: Students will be able to write two pages in French describing the basic events in their lives.
·What learning strategy could help them meet this objective: Organize/Plan

1. Preparation: Activate the students’ background knowledge about the topic and the strategy. Ask students' about the main events of their lives. Tell them a little about yourself. Ask them to share their life stories in pairs or groups. Include questions about what happened in which order. Elicit that it is important to organize this kind of a story in order of earliest to most recent events.

2. Presentation: Present the content of the lesson and the strategy that will help the students learn the content and/or carry out a task. (Remember this has several stages). Tell the students you are going to ask them to write their autobiographies. Explain what an "autobiography" is and the elements of the task. You might want to include reading an autobiography or watching an autobiographical film. Then tell the students that there are strategies that can help them write their autobiographies and present the strategy. The presentation of the strategy should take a minimum of time and should always be integrated into the task and the content objectives. (This lesson plan will focus on describing teaching the strategy. During an actual lesson you focus on the content and seamlessly slip in the explicit instruction on using learning strategies and reflection on their usefulness).

a. Name the strategy: Once it is understood that it is important to organize the information, tell the students that you are teaching them a learning strategy and name it - "Organize/Plan" (in the target language) or devise a different name appropriate for your students. Write down the strategy name on your "Learning Strategies List" poster kept on the wall to refer to in later lessons.

b. Explain how and when to use the strategy:"You can use Organize/Plan to help you organize stories or anything else with a lot of parts that need to be in order."

c. Model the strategy: Retell some main events in your life and write them down in order on the board. Tell the students you are using Organize/Plan to organize your autobiography.

d. Point out the importance of the strategy:Start to tell your autobiography out of order, ask if it makes sense, ask students what this tells us. The answer: that planning and organizing are important.

3. Practice: During the Practice phase, the students have the opportunity to carry out the content-based task using the learning strategy to help them accomplish it. Ask the students to start working on their autobiographies. Ask them what they will do first. Elicit that they should plan/organize their information. You can ask how they can do this. Elicit writing down an outline before starting (or any other method that is appropriate). Continue helping students to write out outlines/plans for their autobiographies and by helping them write the autobiographies.

4. Evaluation: Evaluate the students' learning of the content and the effectiveness of the strategy. During this phase, the teacher and the students evaluate how well they accomplished the objective and also how useful (or not) they found the learning strategy. To evaluate the autobiographies you may ask students to evaluate their own work using a rubric. You will probably want to read the papers and evaluate them yourself. Perhaps using the same rubric, you may ask students to share autobiographies and give each other feedback. Part of the evaluation would focus on the organization of the autobiography and whether it leads to clarity. As with all writing tasks, it is a good idea to allow students to rewrite after receiving feedback. To evaluate the strategy use, you can ask students how useful it was to organize their ideas before writing, and whether their method of organization was efficient (writing a list, a summary, etc.). Would they use it again?

5. Expansion: In this phase the teacher helps students identify other situations and tasks where they could use the learning strategy. Give examples and ask students for examples of other situations (in and out of the classroom) where planning and organizing could help them.

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Kristin Coelho

Language: Spanish
Level: Spanish III/ Mixed grade levels
Adaptation: May be adapted to suit other languages and proficiency levels

Objective: Students have already been introduced to the subjunctive tense and have been taught the rules of formation and usage. This lesson will serve to further familiarize students with the subjunctive of selected verbs, as well as allow students to experience current Latin culture.


  • Song: "Quiero", from the 1996 Shakira CD, Pies Descalzos
  • Overhead projector and markers
  • Overhead transparency for warm-up exercise on the subjunctive
  • Shakira "Quiero" worksheet with cloze activity and verb conjugation

Preparation: Write a sentence on the overhead projector that includes a verb in the subjunctive tense. Ask students to explain as a class why and how the verb in the example is conjugated. Review some additional examples of the subjunctive's main use- to express hope, desire, and emotion. (You may want to leave the example sentence visible for students to use as a reference during the lesson.)

Presentation: Point out that songs are often used to express the types of feelings that call for this verb tense. Ask students if they have heard of the singer Shakira, perhaps show a picture of her to the class, and then tell them her song "Quiero" can teach a lot about the subjunctive.


  1. Students listen to the song and fill in the blanks in their cloze activity with the subjunctive form of the verbs. As a whole, the class reviews the "missing words" while the instructor or a student writes them on an overhead transparency.
  2. In pairs, students take the words in the blanks (from the cloze activity) and conjugate them on the backside of the worksheet (identifying the verb in the infinitive form, and then conjugating for each subject).


  1. Encourage student participation by asking them to exchange and correct their papers in groups of four.
  2. Ask students whether they enjoyed learning about the subjunctive from Shakira's song. Lead a discussion about why you might have selected the song as a classroom resource, helping them realize that the subjunctive is more than an abstract grammatical formation. Conclude by saying that we can see and hear the subjunctive used in our everyday lives, just as we did in "Quiero."


  1. For homework, have the students listen to the local Spanish language radio station and try to distinguish other examples of the subjunctive tense used in song lyrics. As an alternative, students may identify subjunctive phrases in their favorite English language songs and then translate them into Spanish.
  2. Students can write a poem or song using the subjunctive.

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Learning Strategies Lesson (1):
Activating Background Knowledge

Jennifer Delett

In explicitly teaching learning strategies, it is important to name the strategy, model it, and discuss it with the students. The goal is for students to be able to assess whether the strategy is useful for them, determine when it is useful, and use it at those times. The teacher should encourage and facilitate students' gradual independent use of strategies. The following is a lesson which can be used to introduce or practice the strategy of activating background knowledge.

Level: All Levels
Language: Any language
Strategy: Activating Background Knowledge. For more information on this strategy click here.
Strategy Rationale: Students who think about what they already know will be better prepared for and more successful in their second language reading. By having in mind what they already know, it will be easier for them to understand and learn new information by relating it to existing knowledge. Students can better predict and infer while reading after activating their background knowledge.

Objectives: To use the reading strategy "activating background knowledge" to prepare to read. To compare what they and their classmates know about the topic to increase prior knowledge. To discuss the strategy and assess its usefulness.

Materials: Colored markers, newsprint, newsprint with example, newsprint with instructions, tape, book

Prepare: Ask students to consider what they do to prepare for a sporting event, such as a soccer match, or a musical performance. (Do they just run out onto the field or do they do something beforehand to prepare themselves?) Write all ideas on the board, overhead, or newsprint. Sample teacher script: "It is helpful to prepare before a race or a match to put forth our best effort. Preparing for reading in language is just as helpful." Ask students for ideas to prepare for reading and list them in a column next to the preparation strategies for sports or music. Encourage students to draw on their first list for ideas and to identify similarities. Try to elicit from students a preparation strategy of thinking about what they already know (activating background knowledge).

Present: Tell students that they are going to practice using a strategy for preparing to read and that they will assess the usefulness of the strategy afterward. Sample teacher script: "We have knowledge about many topics and ideas in our heads and we can pull from the back of our mind things that we already know about a topic which will help us relate new information to what we know, anticipate events, and understand what we are reading. The strategy is called activating background knowledge because you draw on and put into action your knowledge to learn something new. It is similar to brainstorming to recall what you know about a topic." (You and your class can decide to give the strategy another name that is easier to remember or is in the target language.)

Tell students that you are going to demonstrate first. Put up newsprint (or overhead) with a diagram consisting of a center circle and four smaller circles around the center circle. Write in the center circle the name of the story or book. In each of the outer circles write one of the four key concepts. Explain that you are going to think aloud so that they can hear what you are thinking as well as see what you are writing. Begin to think aloud about one of the four concepts and write elaborations around the word in brainstorm fashion. (For example, if one of the words is wolf, you might say "Let's see, wolf. Well, they are scary. I think they live in forests, and they eat rabbits. Wolves are often in fairytales and folktales...what else...They have long noses, whiskers...") Do the same for a second word. Stop and ask them what you thought/wrote about. Do a third word together. Ask students to think about what they know about the idea and jot it down. Have students share what they wrote.

Practice in cooperative groups: Explain to students that they are going to practice this strategy in cooperative groups. Ask them what the benefit of working in groups is. Add that by working in groups, they will have access to more ideas and further activate their prior knowledge by elaborating with others. Explain the task. Tell them that they will get into groups of four with each group member having a role. Tell them that each group will get a diagram and each person will get a colored pen. They will have one minute to think about and write down what they know about one of the four words. Their group members will each be writing about one of the other three words. When the minute is over, they will rotate the chart and write about the second word. Each person will have a chance to write about each of the four words one at a time. After brainstorming, the group will compare what they know by filling out a report (identifying one thing that they all had in common, one thing that one member knew that the others did not, and noting the most interesting thing discussed.)Then they will share their responses with the rest of the class.

Put students in groups and review roles: The time keeper keeps times during the one- minute brainstorming sessions; the task master leads the discussion and directs the completion of the report. The note taker fills in the report, and the reporter reports the findings to the class. Introduce the story that they are going to read and go over the four words on the diagram to make sure everyone knows the words. Put students into groups and pass out pens and diagrams. Get students started on the thinking and writing. After four minutes, tell them to move on to the discussion. After another four minutes, have them report to the whole class.

Evaluation: After reading the passage, lead students in a discussion of the strategy. Sample questions: Did it help them read? How did it help? What was made easier by the task? Did they find themselves making any predictions? Would they use it again?

Extension: Ask students to think about what they know before doing another task before the next class. It could be before a math assignment, before watching a movie, or before reading another story. Ask them to write in their journals what they were thinking about (their brainstorming) and then, write down whether it helped them with the task. Discuss this during the next class.

This lesson is designed to be an introductory lesson, however it can be used throughout the course to practice the strategy. One adaptation would be to have students identify the concepts to "brainstorm" about from looking at the picture, the title, chapter title, author, or any other readily available information instead of providing these concepts. This will give students more control and further develop their independent use of the strategy.

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Learning Strategies Lesson (2):
Identifying and Evaluating Strategies to Unlock The Meaning of New Words

Jennifer Delett

In explicitly teaching learning strategies, it is important to name the strategy, model it, and discuss it with the students. The goal is for students to be able to assess whether the strategy is useful for them, determine when it is useful, and use it at those times. The teacher facilitates students' gradual independent use of strategies. The following is a lesson which can be used to help students activate their knowledge of the strategies they currently use to unlock the meaning of new words.

Level/language: Can be use for any language and level

Objectives: To identify and evaluate the strategies students are currently using to unlock the meaning of new words. To share effective strategies with classmates.

Rationale: Building vocabulary is an essential feature of learning a second language. Learning to recognize unfamiliar words in a reading passage is often the first step in developing vocabulary. Students have knowledge about language (prefixes, suffixes, and roots) and learning (guessing and inferring) that they use to help them learn and remember new words. Teachers can help students build their second language vocabulary by encouraging them to identify and evaluate the strategies they are using to unlock the meaning of new words. See Using Think-Aloud Techniques in the Foreign Language Classroom.

Materials: student text

Preparation: Students are often used to taking specific steps to solve a math or science problem, whereas they are less likely to use or be aware of a process for learning a language. Having students analyze these steps prompts them to think about their learning and transfer this awareness of a process to language learning. Give the students a math problem or other problem to be solved. Ask them to think about how they would solve the problem and write down the procedure. Discuss responses as a class. Ask students if they ever think or talk about how they figure out the meaning of unknown words when they are reading. Explain that they are going to practice finding the meaning of unknown words in a reading passage.

Presentation 1: Tell students that there are many ways to use what you already know about language and about reading to learn unknown words. "You have knowledge about language (prefixes, suffixes, and roots) and learning (guessing and inferring) that you can use to learn and remember new words. I am sure that you are currently using one or more strategies to do this." Tell them that they are going to read the passage you have given them and underline the words that they do not know. Explain that afterwards they are going to work with a partner to find the meaning of the words they underlined by using the text and what they already know and discuss how they found the meaning of the words.

Demonstrate the process. Read aloud a section from the text that the students are going to read or a text that they have recently read. Underline a few words that students may not know. Then, ask students to listen and watch as you think aloud how you would try to figure out the meaning of the word. (Thinking aloud is a technique in which a person verbalizes his or her thought process while working on a task. See the September, 1997 newsletter article on think-aloud interviews). Ask students to explain your process: what did you do to figure out the meaning of the words? Discuss with the class the different strategies you used--transfer of cognates, knowledge of prefixes, or re-reading the sentences and inferring from the context. (This presentation focuses on identifying strategies; later, you will demonstrate evaluation of strategies.)

During the lesson, emphasize the process with students and not the product--the right answer. Getting students to focus on how they learn new words is as important as having them get the correct answer.

Practice: Have students read part or all of the text and underline unknown words. Put students in pairs and ask them to use what they know (context, knowledge of the language, and cognates) to find the meaning of the words. (Students should not be given too much guidance here. The task is for the students to discover what strategies they are already using.) Students take turns using the think-aloud technique you modeled. While one student is working, the other is taking notes on the student's thinking process. Students should work through several words each as the think-aloud process is done. After working on several words, allow the pairs time to review their strategies. Ask each pair to make a chart on paper with columns for cognates, word analysis (prefix and suffix), infer from context, combination of strategies, and other strategies. Ask students to try and categorize the strategies they used to find the meaning of each word. For example, if a student recognized the word because it looked similar to a word in her native language, then she would write the word she learned in the column for cognates. If her partner read and re-read the paragraph to determine the meaning of a word, he would write the word in the column for inference. If a student has used several strategies to figure out a word, she or he would write the word under combination and identify the different strategies she or he used. If a person used pictures, guessing, or another strategy not listed, the person would write the word and the strategy under other.

Presentation 2: Model the evaluation of your strategies for the students.

For example, you might say "I first tried to see if the word was a cognate because that was the easiest strategy for me to think of. However, the word was not a cognate. Then I read and re-read the word to see if I recognized any part of the word--the prefix or suffix--and tried to determine the part of speech. Finally, I re-read the sentences around the word to see if I could get the meaning from context. I came up with a meaning for the word that seemed to make sense, and I could go on reading. I used several strategies to unlock the meaning of the word. I think I was successful because I got an idea of what the word meant and I could continue reading for comprehension."

Evaluation: After your modeling, ask the pairs to evaluate the strategies they each used. As each student describes what she or he did (and gives the definition of the word) she or he should follow your model of describing and evaluating the strategy used. Students can note their evaluations in the evaluation column of their chart by indicating whether the strategy was successful, somewhat successful, or not too successful. They should also indicate why.

Once students have had a chance to review their strategies in pairs, discuss the strategies as a group. Have the class discuss each strategy and evaluate its effectiveness. Did it work? Why did it work? Ask students additional questions: "What new strategies did you learn? What, if anything will you do differently when you encounter new words in a text? How do you know what strategy to use and when?" These questions encourage students to think more critically about what they learned and, more importantly, how they learn.

(As you discuss different strategies, be clear and consistent about strategy names and definitions. Two students could give the same strategic behavior different names.)

Expansion: For homework, ask students to continue reading the text and keep a log of the strategies they use when they encounter new words. After reading, ask them to evaluate the strategies--did they help them understand the text and learn new words?

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Understanding Politics

This is a learning strategies lesson that appears in Developing Autonomy in Language Learners: Learning Strategies Instruction in Higher Education The guide is available online at

Language: Any language that has cognates with English (in particular, Romance and Germanic languages)
Example: Italian
Learning Strategies: Transfer/Use Cognates
Proficiency Level: Intermediate - choose article or reading passage appropriate to level.
Materials Needed: An article from a major national daily newspaper (e.g . La Repubblica , Il Corriere della Sera , La Nazione ) These Italian newspapers and others are readily available on the World Wide Web.

Description of Activity: Students will read an article on a political topic from an Italian newspaper. They will look for English cognates.

Objectives: To develop students’ reading skills and to increase students’ vocabulary by introducing them to Italian words (or words in another target language) in the area of government and politics that have cognates in English

Culture Goal: To develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the Italian political system (or the political system of any other target culture).

Preparation: Tell your students that the learning strategy is Transfer/Use Cognates . If students recognize that a word in Italian is a cognate of an English word, their vocabulary can increase by leaps and bounds and this will undoubtedly improve their reading skills.

Students can make better progress in the target language if they can find “hooks” to relate it to their native language. Tell them of your experience. For example, you might be able to tell them that you have studied several languages and found that, when studying Spanish and French, cognates gave you a big boost at the beginning and helped you later as well. Cognates were like free gifts! Chinese was much more difficult for you because there was very little you could transfer to it from English.

Tell your students that they are going to read an article from an Italian newspaper. They will look for cognates in the article.

Practice: Give each student a copy of an article from an Italian newspaper. (Or an article can be shown on the overhead projector for all students to see.)

Tell the students to skim through the article and pick out any words that look familiar to them and that they think relate to government or politics.

Make a master list of the appropriate cognates (on the blackboard or on a transparency).

Reflection: Ask the students to reflect on the role of cognates in their acquisition of Italian. How valuable do they believe this strategy of transfer of words from English to Italian is? Ask if they have used this strategy in learning another language, perhaps Latin or another Romance language.

Expansion: The students can continue to read newspapers and magazines and be on the lookout for additional cognates. They could keep a notebook for jotting down the cognates that they find.

You should also warn your students of false cognates. Prepare a handout for them with a list of these "false friends."An Italian list would include, for example, "morbido" ( soft ) and "morbid" and "attuale" ( current ) and "actual."

Adaptation: This activity can also focus on other semantic groups such as foods, animals, and clothing.

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