Back channeling in a World Language Classroom

Recently, students in my Spanish class were allowed to BYOD- bring their own devices to class (when permissible). I gave one day of advance notice and sure enough, my “techie” 8th graders were ready to use their devices! 

Once connected to our classroom’s WiFi, students visited a website URL that I provided, which used the website: As the “coordinator” of the discussion, I was able to create the URL for an hour, day or week and provide the unique code to my students. When arriving to the website, they were prompted to provide their name and instantly, were able to back channel!

Due to the fancy technological term, some may think “what in the world is back channeling?” In the simplest of explanations, back channeling is your classroom discussion/dialogue but virtually accessible. It is just another way to create a discussion forum online, which is restricted to only those with access to the URL and only open for dialogue in a designated period of time. 

Students quickly logged their name into the website and began to respond to some questions that I had about authentic movie posters found in Spanish speaking countries, thanks to visiting the website created by Zachary Jones.(

Questions such as, What is the name of the movie? What is the name of the actor? What type of movie is this? Does it interest you or bore you? (Why?) Would you recommend this movie to others? (Why?) The questions were simple and to the point. Right away, students began to type in their answers using their devices. We were discussing our thoughts and opinions-but my room was filled with silence! Only the pitter patter of moving fingers on mobile phones or the occasion laugh, where students showed their enjoyment in reading their classmates responses. Also, many students had iPhones or iPads, so they were able to “add” a Spanish keyboard in their settings options, so the “autocorrect feature” wouldn’t change everything that was written in Spanish. 

Overall, the use of their own device with this simple online forum was successful. Students were observing authentic realia, responding to questions and reading each others responses, all in the target language. Let the BYOD initiatives continue! 


Molding our WL Assessments- One interpretive, interpersonal & presentational step at a time

This week in my 8th grade classroom, students will be demonstrating their knowledge through a series of summative assessments including the three modes of communication.

This led me to think about the other components in my classroom that I use to assess their language abilities. Why not have everything I use to grade students fall under these three umbrellas- interpretive, interpersonal & presentational? Instead of having generic categories, to classify the assessments.

Bearing in mind the world language standards & levels of ACTFL and the correlation to task -measurement of skill, let us consider the area of homework. Based on the three modes, generally speaking, homework assignments fall under two of the three umbrellas- presentational and/or interpretive. I can suggest an assignment to be done at home, which requires interpersonal communication between two students (through speaking or even writing-thanks to social media), so there may be a way to add interpersonal when considering homework tasks.

This has me consider the following, based on current categories of use in my classroom.

Homework– Presentational / Interpretive  (10%)

Projects– Presentational / Interpersonal  (20%)

Quizzes– Presentational / Interpretive / Interpersonal  (30%)

Tests– Presentational / Interpretive / Interpersonal (40%)

So instead of having separate weight categories for Homework, Projects, Quizzes and Tests- why not have everything evenly divided as: Interpretive, Interpersonal & Presentational – with an equal weight category of 33%?

Would this be something realistic for WL teachers or do generic categories in our assessment strategies & grading criteria work just as well? I’m curious to learn how other feel about this idea and whether or not something to this degree has already been implemented into their particular curriculum.


Silent Films & Creative Images Provide Great Speaking & Writing Opportunities

Silent Films:

Yesterday, my students watched a clip of “Mafalda”- a popular cartoon from Argentina.

Not only was the video completely appropriate to their unit of study but it was also funny & interesting. I found the video thanks to Pinterest. Recently joining this website has given me a wide array of access to different images, websites & video clips other Spanish educators are using.

First, I broke the movie into four segments, by creating a graphic organizer for the students to use. The scenes were as follows: Mafalda y la ola, El castillo de arena, Tomando el sol & Las estrellas.

After each scene, I paused the video for the students to jot down their ideas/sentences about what is taking place. Many students were very literal in their descriptions while others exercised more creativity in their responses. Then, students shared their ideas with their table partner. Once we had gone through all four scenes, students had the chance to collaborate as a class, to create a descriptive story about Mafalda and her day at the beach.

I’ve used this strategy before but I feel that setting up the organization of scenes ahead of time and providing titles, helped structure the activity for the students instead of just saying “describe what you see”.

It would have also been helpful to ask some guiding questions about what took place in each scene, again with the purpose of assisting students with their independent writing & then collaborative writing opportunities.

Creative Images:

Today, I took the same idea of describing images but used two different images that are anything but normal. Again, I provided brainstorming time for the students and I also provided input on new vocabulary words such as: morsa, princesa, pinguino, etc. We first discussed (in Spanish) how the images were different and which image they preferred. They also received a photocopy of the pictures (this was black & white- the color images seem so much better!). Then, I provided a graphic organizer to display to students, with the headings of: Quien, Que and Donde. Then, we continued to brainstorm a long list of words needed. I had some of my own words on the board and students asked for a few more. Then, to help students communicate their ideas, I left the lists that we created up on the board and had students speak with their table partner about their favorite image. The descriptions were interesting and creative as I went around the room to listen and some of the students were able to make each other laugh with what they were pointing out in the image of their choice. With the time left (this activity took 15 minutes- it could have been extended in many different directions), students volunteered to present their descriptions/stories to the class. While one students spoke, another circled the individual(s) he or she was referring to on the ActiveBoard while students at their seats pointed with their fingers.

Overall, the past two days of in class activities (I hope) proved to be enjoyable and valuable to students. They were able to create language using videos and images. They were also able to uniquely describe their opinions and thoughts about what was taking place. When considering second language acquisition, a comfortable, non threatening environment is key. Also, by helping to facilitate activities with purpose, meaning and also, provide some humor- make for an overall pleasant experience. I hope others will consider how silent films & creative images can spice up their own lessons. 🙂 

La piscina

La piscina

La montaña

La montaña