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

Spanish: Hearing Authentic Voices

Spanish I, grade 8: Davita Alston's class engages in mock phone conversations, brainstorms about how American teenagers occupy their time, and reviews a video of Spanish-speaking youths discussing their leisure activities. Later, two native Mexican students visit the class and answer questions about how they spend their free time in Mexico.



Davita Alston






Shue-Medill Middle School, Newark, Delaware

Lesson Date

December 10

Class Size



50 minutes, six times in a seven-day schedule

Video Summary

In this lesson, students talk about what they like to do when they are not in school. They begin by using new leisure-time vocabulary to make plans with a partner. In groups, they brainstorm a list of what young Americans like to do in their free time, and then prepare questions to ask native speakers about how they spend their time. Next, two young native speakers visit the class and describe typical out-of-school activities in Mexico. The class concludes with a comparison of Mexican and American activities, using a Venn diagram.

Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational

Cultures: Practices

Comparisons: Cultural

Communities: School and Community



Information gap
Information gap is a questioning technique in which learners respond to a question whose answer is unknown to the questioner. This contrasts with “display questions” that seek obvious responses. Example of an information gap question: What did you buy at the mall? Example of a display question: What color is your sweater?

Venn diagram
A Venn diagram is a type of graphic organizer consisting of two partially overlapping circles. A Venn diagram helps learners see the similarities and differences between two topics. Each circle represents one topic (for example, “U.S.” and “Target Culture”). Common characteristics are recorded in the overlapping area between the circles. Information unique to each topic is recorded in the area outside the overlap. The Venn diagram is a strong visual support for concrete and abstract comparisons.

Connecting to Your Teaching

Reflect on Your Practice
As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

  • How do you incorporate interpersonal communication into lessons whose theme and language content are derived from a textbook?
  • How do you lead beginning students toward elaboration in the target language?
  • How do you create a welcoming atmosphere for native speaker guests?
  • How do you shift the focus from grammar to communication in beginning levels of instruction?
  • How do you judge which errors to correct and which to let go?

Watch Other Videos
Watch other videos in the Teaching Foreign Languages K–12 library for more examples of teaching methodologies like those you’ve just seen. Note: All videos in this series are subtitled in English.

  • Fruits of the Americas (Spanish) shows beginning students expressing personal preferences and interacting with the products of a culture.
  • How We Spend Our Free Time (Arabic) illustrates a teacher’s approach to help students activate vocabulary they have been learning and make cultural comparisons.
  • Family and Home (French) demonstrates beginning students moving toward interpersonal communication.

Put It Into Practice
Try these ideas in your classroom. Where it’s not already evident, reflect on how to adapt an idea that targets one performance range for application to other performance ranges.

  • To encourage students to learn how to talk about their world, design lessons with interpersonal communication as the end goal. This will help motivate students to learn new information and will make that information more memorable. Plan your lessons so that students move deliberately and sequentially from working with language structures and vocabulary to talking about their own leisure activities, such as going to the mall, watching movies, or playing certain sports. The students can then focus their practice on personal information and continue to elaborate on it during oral and written tasks.
  • When planning an interaction between students and native speakers, work with both groups to prepare them for the exchange. Students can write questions in advance or listen to authentic speech on audio- or videotape. For native speakers, outline the topics your students have been working on and alert them that you may need to mediate the discussion. For example, if the native speakers are fellow students — rather than adults who are used to working with learners — you may need to remind them to slow down their delivery or use simpler terms. However, as native speakers begin to make regular appearances in your classroom, your role as mediator can lessen. Students at all levels enjoy interacting with native speakers to test their language competency and to learn about other cultures; the key is preparing both groups for a positive experience.


World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages
The World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages create a roadmap to guide learners to develop competence to communicate effectively and interact with cultural understanding. This lesson correlates to the following Standards:

Communicate effectively in more than one language in order to function in a variety of situations and for multiple purposes

Interpersonal Communication

Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions.

Interpretive Communication

Learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed on a variety of topics.

Presentational Communication

Learners present information, concepts, and ideas to inform, explain, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics using appropriate media and adapting to various audiences of listeners, readers, or viewers.

Interact with cultural competence and understanding

Relating Cultural Practices to Perspectives

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the cultures studied.

Develop insight into the nature of language and culture in order to interact with cultural competence

Cultural Comparisons

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.

Communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world

School and Global Communities

Learners use the language both within and beyond the classroom to interact and collaborate in their community and the globalized world.


Curriculum References
Delaware World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (PDF)

Davita Alston’s Additional Resources

Web Resources:
National Hispanic Heritage Month
Web links to sites with information about Hispanic cultures, organizations, research information, and more

K-12 Foreign Language
The Web site for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, which includes rubrics and useful Web links
An online tutorial featuring a wide assortment of Spanish learning tools
A resource that provides teachers, parents, and students with an online community for sharing homework and other school-related information

Print Resources:
Garza, Carmen Lomas. Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press, 2000.

Lorenzo, Patti. Get Them Talking!: Theater Games, Storytelling Techniques & Singing & Chanting Ideas. Houston, TX: Dolo Publications, Inc., 2002.

Ray, Blaine. Patricia Va a California. Berkeley, CA: Command Performance Language Institute, 2001.

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