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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

Meaningful Interpretation Assignments + Projects

Examine the Topic

Now that you have read the research and viewed the video discussion on interpretive communication, you will examine the topic further by analyzing a sample interpretive task.

For this task, you will put yourself in the role of a student and interpret a Web page titled “Carnaval en la calle” (see Resources), or “Carnival in the street.” This task might be part of a unit on holidays, a cultural unit on festivals, or a February activity. The Web page has been selected for high school students at an intermediate proficiency level. The same theme could be done with novice learners and younger learners, but a Web page with more visuals may be more suitable.

A. Previewing

Previewing activities can serve several purposes: to motivate students, to tap into their background knowledge, to create anticipation for the information to come, and more. They are designed based on students’ ages, interests, prior knowledge, and proficiency level. The following are two examples of previewing activities for this interpretive task:

  1. The teacher writes the word Carnaval on the board, circles it, and tells students that it is una fiesta en muchos países (a festival in many countries). The teacher asks the students to help brainstorm words or phrases in Spanish that might describe aspects of Carnaval. These terms are then used to create a web that clusters similar ideas. Students are encouraged to respond in Spanish, or with a definition if they don’t know the exact word; the teacher can then negotiate meaning by elaborating on what the students say. The teacher also adds specific vocabulary to the web. Some word clusters that the word Carnaval might generate include the following:

Parades: floats, music, spectators
Costumes: colors, masks
Traditions: ties to Lent, fasting, religion
Practices: eating, drinking, partying

If the teacher and students live in a region where Carnaval, Mardi gras, or Fasching is celebrated, the activity could then be tied to local lore.

  1. The teacher asks students to look at the photograph on the “Carnaval en la calle” page and describe what they see. If students have already brainstormed ideas to describe Carnaval, the teacher asks them how the photograph reflects these ideas.

B. Skimming, Scanning, and Interpreting

During skimming and scanning, students begin to work with the text itself. Skimming involves glancing through the text quickly to get the gist or main idea. Scanning involves searching the text for specific information. Some texts lend themselves to both processes, for example, a lengthy document or one with multiple sections. Other texts may be suitable for just one of these processes. For example, students don’t need to skim an entire brochure to understand what it’s about (publicizing an event or attraction), but students can scan it for specific information like time and place. In this Interactive Activity, skimming and scanning are combined into one phase of the process.

Students then move on to interpreting and reacting to the text. To comprehend the author’s message, they use contextual guessing, inferencing, background information, and associations with the language and content. After comprehending the text (i.e., reading/listening to the lines), they can begin to react to it (i.e., reading/listening between the lines) by considering the message in the context of their learning and experience.

Note: The Web page is written in Spanish. Although you should be able to follow along with this activity regardless of your knowledge of Spanish, an English-language translation (PDF, 82 K) is available for reference.

Write a brief summary of what you learned from this activity to submit as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice


  1. In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. This five-part activity leads you through the development of an interpretive task that you can use in your classroom.
  2. Submit your interpretive task as an assignment.

Designing an Interpretive Task

  1. Select an authentic text that you would like to use in an upcoming lesson. Describe the text you selected and your reason for choosing it. For example, you could select a Web site, literary text, audio recording, or film that relates to the theme of the lesson or focuses on cultural issues.
  1. Prepare a previewing activity for the text that engages students in thinking and using language to explore:
    • their own background or prior knowledge;
    • the social or cultural context of the text;
    • their curiosity or anticipation of the message (content) of the text; or
    • new language for familiar topics.
  1. Prepare a skimming/scanning exercise to introduce students to the text or part of it. For example, you might do several of the following:
    • design a worksheet, chart, or graphic organizer in which students can record their findings from the skimming/scanning exercise;
    • have students work in pairs to respond to skimming/scanning cues;
    • review the results of the skimming/scanning activity with the class to make sure that everyone is on track before the next part of the activity; and
    • use what you know about your students’ proficiency levels, background knowledge, and interests to design skimming/scanning activities that are most likely to lead to successful interpretations.
  1. Design an activity in which you will lead students through a close or intensive reading/listening of the text. Consider how the information that students gathered during the skimming/scanning exercise would help them with the interpretation. For example, are there unfamiliar terms that they identified while skimming or scanning that they will need to define in order to do a close reading? Determine the degree of understanding you expect students to develop (it need not be complete), as well as whether and how you would use pairs or group work. Formulate the questions or prompts you will use to initiate the discussion and keep it moving.
  1. Optional: Once students have gained content and language from the interpretive tasks, design a follow-up activity 1) in the presentational mode, or 2) with an additional interpretive text.

Action Research Project

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


  1. The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about the interpretive mode of communication, implement action plans for improving the interpretive abilities of your students, 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.

I. Thinking

  1. What issue concerning instruction and interpretive communication do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could examine the use of multiple texts in a lesson focusing on interpretation, or you could explore your students’ interpretive skills. This will be the focus of your action research project.
  1. Why is interpretation important to you as a teacher? How have you approached the use of texts in the past? How do you want to change that approach and why? What has been your experience with using various texts with your students? Are you satisfied with the students’ performance and/or your instructional strategies? Why or why not?
  1. What is your research question concerning the interpretive mode of communication? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
  1. What strategies do my students use to interpret texts?
  1. How do my students react to using multiple texts during a unit of study?
  1. What does an interpretive discussion look like in my classes? What are the participation patterns, and how are interpretations co-constructed between teacher and students and among the students themselves?

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:
  1. How will I incorporate multiple texts into my lessons? What steps do I need to take to make this change to my teaching?
  1. How will I help my students to move beyond comprehension to interpretation? What instructional strategies will I use?
  1. How will I conduct an interpretive discussion? How do I prepare for this type of discussion?
  1. How will I assist my students in using the target language during an interpretive discussion and ensure that they do not fall back on English?
  1. What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, you could record your observations by taking field notes, keep a teaching journal, distribute student questionnaires and self-assessments, or gather student work samples. 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 a journal? Summaries of interview data?
  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 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 address interpretation and use texts in your classes? If you had to research interpretive communication again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?

Reflect on Your Learning

In this session, you analyzed effective approaches for building students’ interpretation skills. You will now write a one- to two-page 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. Reflect on the interpretive task activity that you designed in the Put It Into Practice section. Do you feel that this approach would help your students process meaning without needing to have every term defined in advance? If so, how? If not, how might you revise the activity to achieve this goal?
  1. Review your answer to the second question in the Reflect on Your Experience section (What is the difference between comprehending a text and interpreting a text?). Would you make any changes or additions to your answer based on your new learning?
  1. How might you facilitate an activity in which students have the opportunity to interpret texts creatively? How would you field students’ questions that are open-ended and may have multiple answers, or that require additional research to answer?
  1. How would you decide if an interpretive task activity was successful?

Submit your summary as an assignment.