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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

Engaging With Communities Assignments + Projects

Examine the Topic


Now that you have read the research and viewed the video discussion on engaging students in community interactions, you will examine the topic further by planning a community outing for students.

A. Planning a Community Experience

For this activity, you will plan an outing to a local restaurant where the wait staff speak your target language. You can focus on an actual restaurant in your area or imagine the type of restaurant that would be a good community experience for your students. As you prepare for the restaurant visit, consider the following three stages of a well-planned community interaction:

  • Prepare: How will you prepare students for this outing?
  • Interact: How will you monitor and assist in the interactions during the outing?
  • Debrief: What activities will you do with students to help them debrief their experience?

You will now plan for each of these stages in an interactive activity. On the final page of each stage, you will have the opportunity to print what you have written. Be sure to save a copy of each stage to submit as part of your assignment.

Note: The restaurant scenario is just one example of a community experience in which students can participate. This planning process can also be applied to many other community activities, such as attending a movie or concert or visiting a store.

B. Reflect on the Activity

If you have the opportunity to take students to a restaurant or other community event, you will want to reflect on the activity afterwards to judge its effectiveness and to consider what you might do differently next time. You can use the following questions for reflection:

  1. Was the students’ language preparation adequate? Were they challenged to negotiate meaning?
  1. Was the students’ cultural preparation appropriate? Did they gain new cultural insights? Did I gain new cultural insights?
  1. Did any situations arise for which I felt unprepared? How might I prepare better for such an interaction in the future?
  1. What linguistic and cultural outcomes did students demonstrate in the debriefing?


Submit your plan for the three stages of a community interaction from the interactive activity as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity A

In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing opportunities for students to use their developing language and cultural knowledge. Choose one or both of the activities below.

Activity A: Creating Electronic Communities

Electronic communication can help teachers — especially those who teach a language in the absence of a local community of speakers — provide their students with opportunities to interact with native speakers. Throughout this session, you have seen several examples of email interactions. In the article “Communities of Learners,” Spanish-language students in New York communicated with students in Chile. In the video, students in Marylee DiGennaro’s Italian class exchanged information about U.S. and Italian homes with students in Italy.

For this activity, imagine that you have set up an email exchange with a classroom in a region where your target language is spoken. Design email tasks for students that will span the entire school year. You can use the Plan for Email Interactions (PDF, 56 K) form.

  1. Theme/Topic. For each month of the school year, select a theme or topic from your curriculum that can be the focus of students’ email exchanges. Keep in mind that current events may arise that you will want to incorporate into the exchanges. Although planning the interactions is important, be prepared to be flexible so that students gain the most from the interactions.
  1. Preparation. Determine how you will prepare students for each exchange. For example, what vocabulary terms and grammar structures will students need to understand in order to write their messages? Also, are there cultural aspects that students need to learn about?
  1. Email communication task. Describe the email communication task that students will complete each month. For example, if students will be studying sports, they can describe their favorite sports and those of their family or friends in the email.
  1. Cultural inquiry. Finally, determine what questions about culture students should ask their keypals to respond to in their email. You may want students to ask their keypals about the same topic that you are studying now. You might also have students ask questions about a topic that you will be studying the following month or about a current event, so that you can incorporate the responses into future lessons.


Submit your plan for email interactions as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity B

In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing opportunities for students to use their developing language and cultural knowledge. Choose one or both of the activities below.

Activity B: Observing Language in the Local Community

Foreign languages are used in many communities throughout the U.S. They may be spoken by residents, printed on street signs, or heard on local radio or television programs. Some place names are even derived from foreign words — Los Angeles, for example. Other cities and towns are named after places in another country.

For this activity, you will design a task that gives students an opportunity to observe examples of the target language in their local community.

  1. Teacher brainstorm. Think about where you might observe examples of your target language, in oral or written form, throughout your community. If you find that there are not many examples of your language in the immediate community, consider extending your search to include neighboring communities. For example, you might include the metropolitan area of which your community is a suburb.
  1. Student brainstorm. Next, consider how you might lead students in a class discussion of where they think the target language is evident in the community. Think about any materials you could make available to students to help trigger their thinking (for example, local maps or business directories).
  1. Field observations. Next, determine how you will instruct students to make additional observations when they are out in the community. These observations can be a short-term task or an ongoing exploration throughout the school year. Create a bulletin board or poster display where students can record their observations about incidents in which they heard or saw the target language being used. The following chart is an example of observations that could have been made for a French class or a Japanese class.
Evidence of Target Language in the Community
Observation Date Description
Local towns have French names: Dubois, Duquesne, Versailles Township 11/22 These Pennsylvania towns were named at the time of the French and Indian Wars.
Tourists at Bryce Canyon were speaking Japanese with a guide. 9/29 The National Park Service has Japanese-speaking guides who give daily tours to speakers of Japanese.


4. Recording interactions. As a follow-up activity, shift the focus from students simply observing the language in the community to students interacting and negotiating meaning in the target language. Develop specific tasks that encourage students to seek out opportunities for interactions, but keep the activity flexible enough to allow students to include additional events as they naturally arise. Be sure to plan for regular in-class check-ins to learn about the types of interactions students are having and how they are experiencing them.

To help students keep track of their interactions, develop a form that they can fill out as each opportunity arises. You may also want to start a new class display where students can share their experiences with one another. The following chart is an example of a form you could create for students or for the class display:

My Interactions in the Target Language
Event Date Description
At a local concert, I sat next to an Italian exchange student from another school. 5/17 I spoke Italian with the student to learn where she is from, how she liked the concert, whether the group is popular in Italy, whether she and her friends go to concerts there, and whether they have “raves” in Italy.
As a volunteer at the local hospital, I have had to speak Spanish with patients and their families. 3/14 I found that my three years of Spanish allowed me to talk with patients and their visiting relatives in the hospital, and that this is much appreciated.


Submit your design for community observations and interactions tasks as an assignment.


Action Research Project

The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about engaging students in community experiences, implement action plans for designing interactions between students and native speakers either inside or outside the classroom, and collect information to assess your instructional innovations. Before you begin this section, you can go to About Action Research for an introduction to the process of designing and conducting action research projects. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.

If you would like to focus on community interactions for your action research project, use the following questions and examples to help frame your thinking and shape your action research project.

I. Thinking

  1. What issue concerning helping students engage in community experiences do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could examine your students’ reactions to using the foreign language in the community, or what your students learn about language and culture from interactions with the target language community. This will be the focus of your action research project.
  1. Why is it important to you as a teacher to provide students with opportunities to interact with native speakers? How have you designed community experiences for students in the past? How do you want to change that approach and why? What has been your experience with designing interactions that occur inside the classroom? Outside the classroom? What has been your experience with helping heritage speakers feel challenged at their level of language ability and cultural knowledge when interacting with the community? Are you satisfied with your approach to designing community interactions for both second-language learners and heritage speakers? Why or why not? How does the focus of your project reflect your beliefs about the importance of community interactions to language learning?
  1. What is your research question concerning the design of community interactions for students? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
    • What are my students’ reactions to community learning experiences?
    • What are the most important lessons that my students are learning when engaged in an interaction with a target language community?
    • How do the preparation that I provide students before community interactions and the debriefing that follows help them to learn from the experience?
    • When students are interacting with target language communities electronically, how can I monitor what they are learning, the topics they are discussing, and whether they need assistance? What does this information tell me about the best way to create and use electronic communities with my class?

II. Acting

  1. What is the action plan for carrying out your project? Depending on your action research question, the following are some questions you might ask yourself to help you develop an action plan:
    • What materials and preparation do I need to design a community interaction?
    • How will I systematically collect information about what my students take away from a community experience?
    • How many students will be involved in my project? How many different classes will be involved? How will I select the classes and/or the students?
    • How often will I ask students to share their reactions to a community-based experience, and how will I gather this information from them?
    • Will I research the community itself as part of my action research project? If so, how? (For example, you might follow up with the people who participated in the community experience to find out what they gained from interacting with language learners.)
  1. What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, you could take field notes on critical incidents; distribute student questionnaires before, during, and after a community-based learning experience; use student self-assessments; or ask students to keep a journal of their personal reactions and learning. You should have at least two sources of information.
  1. How much time will you allot for your action research? That is, when and for how long do you plan to collect information before you’re ready to begin analyzing it? Develop a timeline for implementing your action plan.

III. Reflecting

  1. After collecting your information, how will you analyze it? That is, how will you organize and review the information you have collected to understand it better and help you answer your research question? For example, will you use percentages based on responses to a questionnaire? Themes from teacher or student journals? Summaries of students’ self-assessments at different points in time? Summaries of observations made during a community learning experience?
  1. How will you display the information so that it can be shared with others? For example, you can use charts, graphs, and/or tables. The goal is to organize your data in a way that presents a clear description of what you investigated.

IV. Rethinking

Note: The final step of the action research project is to reevaluate your teaching practice based on your research data. Because it takes time to complete an action research project, it may not be possible to do this step during the course of this workshop. However, if you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project during or after the course of the workshop to submit as an assignment.

  1. Based on what you learned through your data analysis, how will you rethink your teaching practice? What changes will you make to your lessons the next time you create interactions between students and native speakers of your target language? If you had to research the community component of your teaching again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?


If you are taking the workshop for graduate credit, submit your completed action research project on any one of the eight session topics.

Reflect on Your Learning


In this session, you analyzed ways of creating successful interactions between students and native speakers of your target language. You will now write a summary of what you have learned and how you plan to apply it in your classroom. Review the notes you have taken during this session, as well as your answers to the Reflect on Your Experience questions. Use the questions below to guide your writing.

  1. Interacting with native speakers can be intimidating to language learners, whether the interaction occurs face to face or electronically. What kinds of activities might you do to prepare students for the interaction? What kind of orientation might you give to native speakers with whom students will interact in the classroom, out in the community, or electronically?
  1. How do you facilitate community interactions during classroom visits by native speakers, student visits to the outside community, and/or electronic exchanges? Do you feel that your own status as either a native speaker or a non-native speaker of the target language affects your role as facilitator? Why or why not?
  1. What are some strategies for drawing on the language knowledge and cultural experience of heritage speakers in your class so that both the heritage and second-language learners benefit from the interaction?


Submit your summary as an assignment.