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

Spanish: Hearing Authentic Voices Class Context

Part of what I do as a foreign language teacher is try to open students up to what goes on in other parts of the world. To some students, it’s inconceivable that there is no NFL, inconceivable that there is no Michael Jordan.

– Davita Alston




Describe Weather

Describe Family and What a Family Does Together

Extend, Accept, and Decline Invitations

Make Plans With Someone

Talk About Getting Ready To Get Together With Someone


  • Talk about restaurant meals
  • Order food
  • Ask for and pay a bill

Ask for and Give Directions Downtown

Comment on Clothes

Make Comparisons

Express Personal Preferences

Talk About What People Are Doing Right Now (-ing form of verbs)

School Profile

Davita Alston teaches grades 7-8 Spanish at Shue-Medill Middle School in Newark, Delaware. The 1,200 students in grades 7-8 reflect the diversity of the school’s surrounding communities, which include both urban and suburban settings. Students from across the state can also apply to attend Shue-Medill through Delaware’s School Choice program. At the end of sixth grade, students elect to take French or Spanish in seventh and eighth grade.

Lesson Design

When designing her lessons, Ms. Alston refers to the Standards, the Christina School District Curriculum, and her textbook, then adjusts the content to the needs and abilities of her students. She also includes in each lesson opportunities for reading, writing, listening, speaking, and cultural understanding. Ms. Alston likes to begin lessons with individual practice, then move to information gap and pairs activities that give students multiple opportunities to practice the language. As students grow more comfortable with new words and structures, they are able to use their language skills in original, less structured dialogues. These original dialogues become culminating activities that Ms. Alston can assess.

The Lesson

In this lesson, students reviewed language structures and vocabulary while making plans for activities to do in their spare time. Students also had the opportunity to talk with fellow students who are native Spanish speakers about how they spent their free time in Mexico, and compare the typical activities of young Mexicans to those of young Americans. Although the lesson was mainly a review of familiar grammar structures, students also came away with new cultural knowledge. Ms. Alston regularly makes contact with native speakers in her community to try to arrange interactions with her students. On other occasions, she has taken students to a restaurant that has Spanish-speaking staff, visited a museum display of colonial Mexico, and brought in native speakers to talk about the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead.

This class included several students who had taken Spanish in elementary school. Although Ms. Alston taught the same curriculum to all students in her class, she took into account that some students had been exposed to the language longer than others and encouraged them to move ahead during certain activities.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Providing Interactions With Native Speakers: The teacher designs opportunities for students to use the target language with native speakers, either in person, over the phone, or via email.
  • Scaffolding: Scaffolding is a method of structuring an instructional task in a way that helps learners gradually advance through the process. Initial portions of the task are designed to be within learners’ competency so that they can complete them on their own. As students’ confidence, skill, and knowledge increase, the teacher provides less and less scaffolding for that task in a gradual release of responsibility.
  • Student Grouping: The teacher designs activities that allow students to engage in multiple types of interactions, including working with partners, in small groups, and as a whole class.

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