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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop


This six-minute video introduces you to the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop series and provides you with a virtual tour of the Web guide. Watch the video to familiarize yourself with what you will be doing as a participant in the workshop, or to launch a study group using the workshop.

About the Workshop

The Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop offers you a dynamic and interactive way to understand and apply current research in foreign language education to evaluate your teaching practice. Each of the eight workshop sessions examines one research topic from the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages National Standards as it applies across languages and skill levels.

Using This Guide

The Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop can be used by individuals or groups. The videos and workshop guide together provide a complete professional development experience for teachers, including pre- and post-viewing activities, video discussion questions, readings, interactive activities, and other resources to help you reflect on your practice and enhance learning.

Guide Components

Each workshop session is organized into the following sections. This is the suggested order for completing each session, but you may elect to watch the video before reading the articles for an introduction to the session topic. However, it is important that you have the information from both the articles and the video before moving on to the activities in the Examine the Topic and Put It Into Practice sections. You can access any of these pages within a session by using the links found on the left-hand side or bottom of each page.

The Introduction page for each session provides an overview of the session topic and outlines the learning goals. It also lists the key terms (with links to their definitions in the Glossary) and any materials needed in the session.
Before You Watch
This section includes two parts: Reflect on Your Experience and Examine the Research. In Reflect on Your Experience, you are asked to draw on your own classroom work as a way to begin thinking about the session topic. In Examine the Research, you read research-based articles and answer related questions to begin your exploration of the session topic.
Analyze the Video
This section provides a summary of the companion workshop video, as well as questions for you to reflect on after watching the video.
Examine the Topic
This section provides an opportunity for you to explore the session topic further through an interactive activity.
Put It Into Practice
This section lets you apply what you have learned to your own teaching practice by helping you develop resources, such as lesson plans, based on your students’ needs.
Action Research Project
This section leads you through the process of planning an action research project — an investigation that you can incorporate into your practice with the goal of effecting positive changes in teaching and learning — based on that session topic. If you are completing this workshop for credit, you will need to submit one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.
Reflect on Your Learning
This section helps you to review and summarize what you have learned about the session topic.Within each of the above sections, you will be asked to answer questions and complete activities. These will be marked with an icon and either the word Reflection or Assignment.
Reflection questions are designed to help you access your prior knowledge and experience in foreign language instruction. They also give you the opportunity to compare your experience with what you observe in other foreign language classrooms featured in the workshop videos. You are encouraged to respond to these questions, but you are not required to submit your answers for credit or professional development points.
Assignments are designed to help you internalize new information and develop a deeper understanding of the session content. You will be asked to answer questions about the readings, delve into the content through an interactive activity, apply new learning to the development of new lessons or activities for students, develop an action research project, and summarize what you have learned in each session. If you are taking the workshop for credit or professional development points, you will be required to submit your completed assignments, so be sure to print or electronically save them as you go.
This section provides a list of additional books, articles, and/or Web sites that you can use to explore the topic further.
Library Videos Chart
Each workshop video features classroom excerpts from the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library. The Library Videos Chart lists each lesson in the order in which it appears in the workshop video, and links to that lesson’s Web guide on the library Web site.
The Printouts page includes a complete list of the readings and forms needed for the workshop session. If you lack regular access to a printer, you may want to print all documents for a session at one time from this page, before you begin the session.
The Assignments page provides a list of the required assignments for the workshop session.


Using the Guide

Whether you are completing the workshop for credit or exploring it for personal enrichment, you can work on your own or with a group. Use the following suggestions to help you get the most out of your experience.

If you are working alone:

  • Identify your goals as you prepare for the session.
  • Use the questions to generate self-reflection.
  • Write responses to questions in a journal to review later.

If you are working in a group:

  • Prepare for the session before meeting with the group.
  • Use the questions to stimulate discussion.
  • Compare experiences to better understand foreign language instruction in different grades or languages.
  • Collaborate in planning activities and developing resources.

About Action Research

Teachers look for professional development opportunities that can make a difference in their practice, connect to their lives as teachers, and ultimately improve learning and instruction in their own classroom. But how can they do this, particularly given the time pressures and other demands of teaching?

One answer is to conduct action research. The goal of action research is to investigate a self-selected issue in your own classroom to effect positive changes in your teaching and in your students’ learning. In this way, you have the opportunity to extend existing professional development experiences to meet your individual needs and the needs of your students.

During the course of this workshop, you will have the opportunity to design one action research project of your choosing across any of the workshop session topics. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you may be required to complete an action research project. Check with your facilitator or credit-granting institution for more information.

The Benefits of Action Research

Although conducting research is not something that most teachers feel prepared to do, teaching is, in actuality, a research activity. This is because research is already a part of what teachers do on a daily basis as they plan, deliver, and monitor instruction and learning. Teachers are well positioned to conduct research in their own classrooms because they continually ask questions about their teaching and seek answers to instructional issues through various forms of evidence (for example, student work samples, formative assessments, observations, etc.). The benefit of action research is that it provides a framework for systematic inquiry into your own practice.

Action research is local and focuses directly on issues surrounding a teacher’s school, classroom, and students. In this way, the questions posed by an action research project and the findings it reveals are anchored in the specific circumstances of one teacher’s class or one school’s foreign language program. The personalized nature of action research means that it is not appropriate to generalize research findings to larger populations of students, as would be the case with formal experimental studies in laboratory settings.

The Process of Action Research

So what does an action research project look like? It begins with you selecting any issue that you would like to investigate in your classroom. You might begin by observing an existing aspect of your teaching or of your students’ learning. For example, you could look at the kinds of strategies that your students use to interpret authentic texts. Action research can also be used to investigate how a change in your practice might affect students’ learning, participation, and motivation. For example, you could look at how a change in your feedback techniques affects student performance and which feedback techniques work best for particular communication goals.

Once you have selected what you would like to investigate, you will pose a research question. In action research, the goal is to describe a situation so as to improve upon it. Therefore, research questions should be framed using question words like “How,” “What,” and “What if.” Once the research question has been established, you will design a plan for carrying out your investigation, determine how you will organize the data that you gather, and then use the information you gathered to reflect on and improve your teaching practice.

An Example of Action Research

The following is a sample action research project conducted by Sherri Blose, who prepared it while earning her Master of Arts degree in teaching from the University of Pittsburgh:

This action research project investigated the issue of language creativity. Language creativity, or the ability to combine and recombine learned material in novel ways, is an important goal of foreign language education because it is the hallmark of an intermediate-level speaker as specified by the ACTFL proficiency guidelines. In this study, the teacher wanted to discover whether her French II students attempted to use language creatively or merely parroted memorized utterances she had taught them.

To answer her question, the teacher tape-recorded a conversation between each of her nine students and a native French speaker, then transcribed the conversations for analysis. Her analysis revealed that the conversations consisted of 74 student utterances made up of either memorized utterances that the students routinely used in class or creative utterances that they had never heard before. These creative utterances consisted of language already learned but applied in new ways. To insure the reliability of her own ratings, she also allowed the class to judge whether the utterances she had analyzed were creative or memorized chunks of language. She found that she and her class agreed 60 out of 74 times, or 80 percent of the time, on whether an utterance was previously memorized or creatively constructed.

She then tried to identify which students used creative utterances during their conversations with the native speaker and was pleased to learn that all nine students used creative utterances, with the high-achieving students using the greatest number of creative utterances and the low-achieving students using the fewest. Although the quantity of the utterances varied across nine students, the interesting finding was that all students used some creative utterances during the conversations.

Finally, she compared the number of creative utterances that students used to the number of memorized chunks of language and found that 60 percent of the time, students were relying on what they had previously learned in class for conversing with the native speaker. The other 40 percent of the time, their utterances were novel combinations of learned material. Another important finding was that when students attempted to be creative with the language, they often made errors. The teacher thus appropriately entitled her project, “To Err Is To Be Creative.”

In rethinking her practice, the teacher stated that the project made her more aware of when her students were being creative with the language and the importance of documenting and pointing out these creative productions to the class. Additionally, she informed her students that error in language learning is not necessarily bad, but a necessary part of the language learning process. Finally, she decided that her classroom assessments needed to give credit to students who went beyond the comfort of memorized language and made efforts to use the language in new and creative ways to express their personal ideas.

Applying Action Research
Although the principles of action research are applicable to many academic subjects, the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop uses a four-step approach specifically designed for foreign language instruction. The four steps are as follows:

  1. Thinking: What issue do you want to describe, document, and investigate? Why is this issue important to you? What research question will help you investigate this issue to understand it better?
  2. Acting: What is your plan for carrying out your project? What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? How much time will you allot for your action plan?
  3. Reflecting: After you’ve collected your data, how will you organize and review it to help you answer your research question? How will you display the data so as to clearly reveal your results, both for your reference and so that you can share it with others?
  4. Rethinking: How will you rethink your teaching practice based on your research data?

Each workshop session includes an Action Research Project section that provides questions and examples to help you frame your thinking and shape your project. Please remember to focus clearly on the issue or problem you are trying to address and to explain how your research project will provide new data regarding this issue.

Note: The four-step action research project model was developed by Professor Richard Donato of the University of Pittsburgh.


For more information on action research, check out these additional Web and print resources:

Web Resources:
Action Research: Reseeing Learning and Rethinking Practice in the LOTE Classroom
This paper by Richard Donato reports on a professional development project for Texas teachers that was initiated by the Languages Other Than English Center for Educator Development (LOTE CED) at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas, and includes summaries of several of the teachers’ action research projects.
Networks: An On-line Journal for Teacher Research
This site provides a forum for teachers from preschool to the university level to share their classroom research with one another.
Research: Holding Up a Mirror (PDF)
This article from Education Week describes one teacher’s introduction to educational research, and how she eventually changed professional development at her school with the concept of teacher research.
Teacher Research: Action Research
This site from the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University features a wealth of resources about the action research process, including links to relevant articles and other action research Web sites.
Print Resources:
Burnaford, G., J. Fischer, and D. Hobson, eds. Teachers Doing Research: The Power of Action Through Inquiry. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.Burns, A. Collaborative Action Research for English Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Cochran-Smith, M., and S. L. Lytle. Inside/Outside: Teacher Research and Knowledge. New York: Teachers College Press, 1993.Freeman, D. Doing Teacher Research: From Inquiry to Understanding. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1998.Hopkins, D. A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Research. 2nd ed. Buckingham, England: Open University Press, 1993.Kemmis, S., and R. McTaggart. The Action Research Planner. Geelong, Victoria, Australia: Deakin University Press, 1988.Mills, G. E. Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall, 2003.Stringer, E. Action Research: A Handbook for Practitioners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.Wallace, M. J. Action Research for Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

National Standards

The following is a description of each of the Five Cs goal areas and its related standards. To learn more about the standards, refer to the Standards and the Five Cs video in the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library.


Communicate in Languages Other Than English

Standard 1.1: Interpersonal Communication
Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.

Standard 1.2: Interpretive Communication
Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.

Standard 1.3: Presentational Communication
Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.


Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures

Standard 2.1: Practices of Culture
Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied.

Standard 2.2: Products of Culture
Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied.


Connect with Other Disciplines and Acquire Information

Standard 3.1: Making Connections
Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language.

Standard 3.2: Acquiring Information
Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures.


Develop Insight into the Nature of Language and Culture

Standard 4.1: Language Comparisons
Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own.

Standard 4.2: Cultural Comparisons
Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.


Participate in Multilingual Communities at Home and Around the World

Standard 5.1: School and Community
Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting.

Standard 5.2: Lifelong Learning
Students show evidence of becoming lifelong learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment.

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century reprinted courtesy of the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, a program of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.

Who's Who


Richard Donato
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Core Advisors

Martha G. Abbott
Fairfax County Public Schools
Fairfax, Virginia
June K. Phillips
Weber State University
Ogden, Utah


Alvino E. Fantini
School for International Training
Brattleboro, Vermont
Marjorie Hall Haley
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia Marjorie
Joan Kelly Hall
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Patsy M. Lightbown
Concordia University
Montreal, Canada
Paul Kei Matsuda
University of New Hampshire
Durham, New Hampshire
Virginia Scott
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tennessee
Allison Zmuda
Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development (ASCD)
Alexandria, Virginia

Participating Teachers

Davita Alston
Shue-Medill Middle School
Newark, Delaware
Yo Azama
North Salinas High School
Salinas, California
Barbara Pope Bennett
Benjamin Banneker Senior High School
Washington, D.C.
Leslie Birkland
Lake Washington High School
Kirkland, Washington
Lauri Dabbieri
Westfield High School
Fairfax, Virginia
Marylee DiGennaro
North Haven High School
North Haven, Connecticut
Paris Granville
Pleasant Hill Middle School
Pleasant Hill, California
Lori Langer de Ramirez
Herricks High School
New Hyde Park, New York
Pablo Muirhead
Shorewood High School
Shorewood, Wisconsin
Michel Pasquier
Herricks High School
New Hyde Park, New York
John Pedini
Driscoll School
Brookline, Massachusetts
Fran Pettigrew
McLean High School
McLean, Virginia
Elizabeth Runnalls
Nanuet Senior High School
Nanuet, New York
Jai Scott
Ecole Kenwood Alternative Elementary School
Columbus, Ohio
Jane Shuffelton
Brighton High School
Rochester, New York
Debra Terry
Rebecca M. Johnson Elementary School
Springfield, Massachusetts


authentic text

Authentic texts are print, audio, and visual documents created and used by native speakers. Examples include books, Web sites, articles, artwork, films, folktales, music, and advertisements.

backward design

Backward design, also called backward planning, is a pedagogical approach to unit or lesson planning in which the teacher first identifies the desired end task or product, then works in reverse from the assessment task(s) to identify the prerequisite learning tasks.

Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy is a method of categorizing cognitive skills by increasing order of complexity and can be used as a means to organizing tasks and assessments in the classroom. The categories are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The taxonomy was devised by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom. More information can be found in Bloom, Benjamin S., ed. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Education Goals. Handbook I, Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman, 1956.

classroom discourse

Classroom discourse refers to connected verbal (oral or written) exchanges used for teaching and learning purposes. Discourse may be sustained by the teacher or students.

co-construction of meaning

Co-construction of meaning is a process in which a teacher and a student, or two students, collaborate to interpret and understand written or oral communication.

communicative action

A communicative action is a response given in the course of a conversation between a teacher or expert and a student or group of students that furthers a substantive exchange. For example, one of the speakers might clarify, expand upon, or react to another’s statement, rather than end the conversation with a response such as “Good” or “Correct” that evaluates form rather than message.

communicative modes

The three communicative modes — interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational — are the basis of the Communication goal area of the National Standards. (To read more about each of these standards, go to National Standards.) These modes emphasize the context and purpose of communication, unlike the traditional four-skills approach of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, which treats skills as isolated units.

comprehensible input

Comprehensible input, an element of language acquisition identified by education professor Stephen Krashen, refers to written or spoken language that is possible for students to understand, but is just beyond their current level of competence. The information should also be interesting to students and presented in a low-pressure way to help them better understand it.


Constructivism is a learning theory based on the premise that learners develop their understanding by linking new knowledge to prior knowledge. Teaching in a constructivist manner means that new information and experiences are presented in a way that places them into context and integrates them with knowledge the students already possess.

content-based instruction

Content-based instruction describes a curriculum or lesson that emphasizes subject matter (content) over elements of language such as grammar and vocabulary. In this method of instruction, students use the new language to learn engaging content.

cross-disciplinary content

Cross-disciplinary content is subject matter that relates to multiple disciplines. For example, World War II could be studied in social studies, language arts, geography, and foreign language classes. Thus, while students are learning the history of the war in social studies class, they could also be reading stories or newspaper accounts of the war in Russian in their language class.

differentiated instruction

Differentiated instruction occurs when teachers adapt tasks to meet the diverse needs — the different ability levels, proficiencies, learning styles, heritage backgrounds, ages, or grades — of students in a classroom. Differentiated instruction is often a necessity in the foreign language classroom, as mixed levels are not uncommon.

four-skills approach

The four-skills approach focuses on listening, speaking, reading, and writing as distinct skills. The current communicative modes model reconfigures the approach such that the four skills are intertwined in real-life communication. (See communicative modes for more information.)


Genre refers to a class or category of authentic text that has a distinctive and recognizable style, form, or content (for example, poetry, biography, cartoon, etc.). Working with genres in the foreign language classroom requires that both teacher and students be familiar with the conventions of each genre. This knowledge is also helpful to both interpreters (readers/listeners) and presenters (writers/speakers).

heritage speaker

A heritage speaker, also called a heritage language learner, is a student who is exposed to a language other than English at home. Heritage speakers can be categorized based on the prominence and development of the heritage language in their daily life. Some students may have full oral fluency and literacy in the heritage language; others may have full oral fluency, but their written literacy was not developed because they were schooled in English. Another group of students — typically third- or fourth-generation — can speak to a limited degree but cannot express themselves on a wide range of topics. Students from any of these categories may also have gaps in knowledge about their cultural heritage. Teachers who have heritage speakers of the target language in their class should assess each student’s proficiency level in order to understand what their strengths are and what gaps in language skill may exist that need to be addressed. For more information about heritage speakers, go to the Characteristics of Home Background Students (PDF, 79 K) chart.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

An Individualized Education Program entitles students with qualifying disabilities to receive specially designed instruction, accommodations, and services, at no cost to parents. An IEP is created for a student by classroom teachers, subject teachers, other professionals, and parents, and all of the student’s teachers, including foreign language teachers, are required to comply with it. (For more information on the IEP, go to Session 6 Resources to access a link to the U.S. Department of Education Guide to the Individualized Education Program.)

Initiation/Response/Evaluation (IRE) communication pattern

IRE is a teacher-led, three-part sequence that begins with the teacher asking a student a question or introducing a topic for the purpose of finding out whether the student knows an answer. In the IRE pattern, the student answer is evaluated by the teacher, who makes a brief reply such as “Good,” or “No, that’s not right.” Then the interaction ends. This is in contrast to the Initiation/Response/Follow-Up pattern defined below.

Initiation/Response/Follow-Up (IRF) communication pattern

IRF is a sequence that begins with either the teacher or student asking a question or introducing a topic. After a response is given, the initiator then uses the response to move the conversation forward. This conversation can continue for as long as the participants wish to talk about the subject, and may include contributions from many people in the class. This approach is in contrast to the Initiation/Response/Evaluation pattern defined above.

instructional conversation (IC)

Instructional conversations are classroom interactions that simulate real conversations, but with a focus on topics and processes related to classroom instruction.

intercultural competence

Intercultural competence refers to the ability of an individual to move beyond his or her own language, culture, and world view and interact effectively with members of another culture.

interdisciplinary content

Interdisciplinary content is subject matter from several disciplines that is combined in one lesson or unit. For example, a unit on the French elections in language class might combine topics from social studies (such as U.S. and French history, civics, and geography) with the study of the French language.


Keypals are students who communicate with one another electronically (via email or instant messages) for the purposes of practicing their communication skills in the target language and learning more about the target culture. The process is parallel to the letter-writing process for pen pals, but more immediately interactive.

Knowledge, Attitude, Skill, Awareness (KASA)

Knowledge, Attitude, Skill, and Awareness (KASA), created by applied linguistics professor Alvino Fantini, are the categories by which intercultural competence is often analyzed. Knowledge refers to a person’s understanding of the target language and culture. Attitude is a person’s willingness to try to understand and adapt to the expected norms of the target culture. Skill refers to the behaviors of a person when he or she interacts in the target culture. Awareness refers to an understanding of your own cultural values, the cultural values of the target culture, and the similarities and differences between them. A person’s awareness is enhanced by his or her knowledge, attitudes, and skills, and can also lead to the development of deeper knowledge, attitudes, and skills.

learning style

Learning style refers to the general ways in which students approach the learning of another language. These preferences — for example, auditory, deductive/inductive, or random/sequential organization — should be understood by teacher and student so as to facilitate learning. In some cases, teachers may need to help students expand their range of styles and approaches. For example, helping a student overcome a low tolerance for ambiguity will make him or her more comfortable when interpreting an unfamiliar text.

multiple intelligences

Multiple intelligences, an approach developed by psychologist and educator Howard Gardner, looks at intelligence not as a single concept, but as varied areas of human ability that shape behavior and learning. He originally identified seven intelligences — visual/spatial, verbal, logical/mathematical, musical/rhythmic, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal — although recent developments in the field have suggested there could be even more. There is no consensus currently about the role of multiple intelligences theory in the field of foreign language instruction. More information can be found in Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

native speaker

A native speaker considers the target language to be his or her first language. Teachers seek opportunities for students to communicate in person or through technology with native speakers. Students in foreign language classes who are first- or second-generation immigrants and who use the language extensively outside the classroom are also considered native speakers. These students typically maintain the cultural norms of their heritage in certain situations.

negotiation of meaning

Negotiation of meaning is a natural component of conversation in which speakers work through confusing words, phrases, or ideas that have caused a breakdown in communication. When information is not understood, the speakers must convey meaning through restating, clarifying, and confirming information. The teacher may help students get started or work through a stumbling block using linguistic and other approaches.

performance assessment

During a performance assessment, students demonstrate their ability to use the target language in activities that parallel what native speakers might do. For example, students might create a newspaper, respond to a want ad, or conduct an interview to learn about a cultural topic. These assessments are best evaluated using clearly developed rubrics, although grades can be assigned in a more traditional way.

performance level

Performance level refers to the language outcomes for students in standards-based language programs according to the K-12 Performance Guidelines (derived from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Proficiency Guidelines). The performance levels include Novice, Intermediate, and Pre-Advanced. Novices operate primarily with learned and practiced material. Intermediate learners use language to communicate on familiar topics. While operating primarily at the sentence level, they begin to expand and string sentences together as they build narrative skills. Pre-Advanced students are beginning to sustain narration and description in past, present, and future time and in a range of content areas.


A rubric is an assessment tool that describes the components of a student task and the expectations for completion. An effective rubric establishes clear assessment criteria — such as the expectations for vocabulary recall, pronunciation, and creativity — and gives students guidelines for doing the task and teachers a method for evaluating it. A rubric also provides descriptive feedback so that students know how to improve their performance.


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 the learners’ competency so that they can complete them on their own. The teacher’s role is to assist with the portions of the task that are just beyond the students’ competency by encouraging and motivating students, simplifying the task, providing knowledge or practice of critical skills, highlighting relevant cues, etc. As students’ confidence, skill, and knowledge increase, the teacher provides less and less scaffolding for that task.

Schema theory

Schema is a set of rules that people use to interpret the world around them. For example, if you run into a friend on the street and the friend holds out a hand, you understand that this is a request to shake hands with you. The Schema theory suggests that learners draw upon these rules to process new information. When a schema is relevant to a new situation, the learner is able to correctly interpret and predict the next steps or probable events, even if understanding of actual vocabulary is limited. However, if the learner’s schema is inadequate or irrelevant to a new situation, misunderstanding and/or confusion can result.


Spiraling is the process of teaching a theme or language rule over time with increasing complexity to reinforce previous learning and help students develop a depth of understanding of the topic. Spiraling takes place throughout the year, and can continue across grade levels within a language program. For example, a lesson on weather can be spiraled as follows: (1) Novice students can describe the weather in short, formulaic sentences; (2) when the students move to the Intermediate level, they can talk about the weather and its effect on their activities, or gather information from broadcasts or newspapers; and (3) when the students are at the Pre-Advanced level, they can tell a story about a frightening weather-related event or follow a description of weather in a literary piece.

thematic approach

A thematic approach refers to curriculum organization that is based on content themes. Vocabulary, grammatical structures, and cultural information are included as they relate to the themes in each unit. For examples of theme-based units, see the Nebraska Foreign Language Education Web site in General Resources on the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library Web site.

top-down reading process

The top-down reading process begins with readers focusing on the main ideas of a text and any other information that they can understand immediately. They then use contextual guessing to construct meaning at a deeper, more detailed level and to understand any unfamiliar words or phrases. This is in contrast to the bottom-up process, which emphasizes the words, phrases, and structures of a text over its main ideas. An effective reading strategy requires a balance between both processes, but should begin with the top-down process.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The Zone of Proximal Development theory stems from the work of social psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who emphasizes the notion that social interaction is critical to learning. He conceives of learning as constantly moving from an “actual development level” to a “potential development level.” Between these levels lies the ZPD, where learning occurs through the interaction of an expert (the teacher) and a novice (the learner). Eventually the learner’s potential level becomes the actual level and the learning cycle continues. More information can be found in Vygotsky, Lev S. Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.

Facilitator Tips

You can use these workshop materials to provide professional development activities for teachers in a variety of settings and situations:

  • in foreign language methodology courses
  • for teachers broadening their range of instructional practices
  • for individual teacher study of a specific topic or grade level
  • in a district or school workshop
  • in professional development mentoring programs

The following facilitator tips can enhance the professional development experience:

Before the Workshop

  • Make sure that each participant has the workshop guide prior to the first session so that he or she can prepare for each meeting. You can direct participants to this Web site, or print, photocopy, and distribute copies of the print version of the guide and any reading materials they will need prior to the session.

Before Each Session

  • Review the guide and preview the video for that session. Become familiar with the reflection questions, assignments, activities, readings, and printouts for each session.
  • Print and duplicate any charts or forms ahead of time.
  • Gather any other supplies or materials you anticipate using, such as chart paper, and an easel and markers.
  • Be sure participants know what their pre-session reading and writing assignments are prior to each meeting, and that they have the materials so that they can prepare in advance.

During Each Session

  • Consider having someone take notes during each discussion, or tape-record the discussions. The notes or audiotapes can serve as make-up materials in case anyone misses a workshop.
  • Identify participants’ skill levels and build from there.
  • Begin with suggested questions from the guide and continue with other questions that interest you and your colleagues.
  • Be an active moderator. Encourage debate and discussion to help trigger ideas and focus on important issues.
  • Promote reflection as a means to improving teaching.
  • Organize participants into different groups for different activities, to give everyone a chance to work together.
  • Allow enough time for participants to respond.
  • Conclude by reviewing strategies and action items that teachers can use in their practice.
  • Ask everyone to complete the Reflect on Your Experience and Examine the Research sections, if possible, before arriving for the next workshop session.
  • Ask participants to begin working on the Put It Into Practice activities and/or an action research project before arriving for the next workshop session. Let them know what information they will need to bring with them. This can range from initial plans for developing an activity for their students, to preliminary or final results from completing an activity or short action research project in their classroom.

After Each Session

  • Remind participants that they can access more information, including interactive activities and lists of additional resources, on the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop Web site to supplement their work in the in-person workshop.

Technical Notes

To fully experience the content, interactivity, and design of the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 Workshop web guide, we recommend you access the site with the following tools:

Web Browser

Any current web browser, such as IE 5.0 (or higher), Netscape 7.0 (or higher), or an equivalent.

Note: Fonts, colors, and layout may not display properly on older browsers.

JavaScript should be enabled on all browsers.

Browser Plug-ins

To access and print forms, readings, and a hard-copy version of this guide, you will need the free Adobe Reader plug-in.

Connection Speed

In order to view the VOD clips, you will need a broadband connection, such as a DSL connection, a cable modem, or a LAN connection to a T1 line (or greater).