Skip to main content Skip to main content

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Russian: Russian Cities, Russian Stories Class Context

Creative activities make the language the students’ own. It’s not the teacher’s language or the textbook language; it becomes the students’ own creation, something that they’ve put themselves into. And you can tell. They want to present these stories once they’ve worked on them. They consider them theirs and they’re invested in them.

– Jane Shuffelton




Russian I

  • Background on Russia and the Russian Language
  • Basic Introductions; Alphabet
  • Personal Interests; Verbs and Activities
  • Family
  • School (Comparative Traditions, Subjects, Grades)
  • Descriptive Phrases
  • Numbers
  • Your City
  • Going Places
  • Geography (United States, Russian Federation)
  • Weather and Nature
  • Time and Calendar

Russian IV

  • Literature
  • Russian History

School Profile

Jane Shuffelton teaches grades 9-12 Russian at Brighton High School in Rochester, New York. The school’s 1,240 students come from Brighton, a culturally diverse Rochester suburb that is part of the Brighton Central School District. The town’s 34,000 residents are mostly professionals. The school curriculum emphasizes college preparation and offers five foreign language courses, including Latin, French, Spanish, and German.

Lesson Design

When designing her lessons, Ms. Shuffelton draws on the Standards and the New York State Learning Standards (see Resources). For her Russian I class, she selects topics that would interest high school students. She asks herself, What would students want to say if they talked with a Russian teenager? Students begin by talking about themselves, and then move on to broader, more worldly topics. Ms. Shuffelton likes to include issues that are important to the Russian people, such as geography and transportation.

Ms. Shuffelton also designs her Russian IV class based on student interests. At the end of the year, she gives her Russian III students an interest inventory that includes Russian history, geography, music, art, literature, and political life. The students select several topics that become the themes for Russian IV the following year.

The Lesson

The videotaped lesson occurred on a day when the Russian I and Russian IV students met together. Among the eleven Russian I students, five were heritage speakers and six were traditional learners. Among the nine Russian IV students, eight were native speakers and one was a heritage speaker. Ms. Shuffelton chose to focus on geography for this merged class because it was a subject that many students at both levels did not already know.

In addition to the geography content, the students learned language skills from one another. Russian I students had the opportunity to listen to native speakers, while Russian IV students were careful to speak and write accurately in order to make themselves understood. The conversations also gave traditional learners insights into Russian culture from classmates who were heritage students. Ms. Shuffelton addressed the different language levels of the students by varying the pace of her speech, as well as by paraphrasing and restating student responses. When the language became too difficult for beginning students, Ms. Shuffelton restated the information in English to keep the conversation and exchange of information flowing.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Differentiated Instruction: In a multilevel class, the teacher plans projects in which students work on some tasks according to their proficiencies then come together periodically for shared tasks.
  • Multilevel Group Work: The teacher purposefully mixes students for group tasks, including students with stronger language skills in the mode required for the task and students with weaker language skills, and assigns roles and tasks appropriate to each student’s strengths and level of proficiency. While heritage speakers are incorporated into group work as regular participants who may assist in maintaining the conversation, they are not called upon to act as “walking dictionaries.”
  • Reading to Write: The teacher has students interpret a text that can then be used as a model for their written work.

Series Directory

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2003. 2016.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2