Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Tuesday Tips: Choosing a 'Just Right' Authentic Resource Part 1

AUTHENTIC RESOURCES, in the context of reading and listening, are a powerful addition to our foreign language classes, providing our students a window into real life language use, language that, according to the popular definition, is created by natives for natives. In reference to this post, I want to thank fellow Spanish teacher, Charlcie Swadley, with whom I had a very inspiring conversation the other day about this topic- she really helped me crystallize my thoughts!

FOR NOVICE LEARNERS, the challenge is in finding resources that match their level, without being so difficult they cannot access them. I've created an infographic with FOUR questions I ask myself when vetting an authentic resource- next week I'll add some great examples for elementary and novice classrooms!

LET ME LAY THEM OUT in a bit more detail here:

1) WHAT IS THE RATIO of known to unknown vocabulary/structure? We have all been there, as students and as lifelong learners- we encounter that text or movie or song that makes little sense to us. We can pick out a few words along the way, but the larger whole escapes us. Does choosing a resource like this help our students? Or would a resource that is very comprehensible and accessible be the better choice? I think you know my answer! I look for resources that have typically a 80/20 ratio of known to unknown content, utilizing the CI +1 hypothesis. Providing just enough new content within a larger frame of previously learnt vocabulary/structure means students can actually utilize what they already know to access and acquire the new information. When there is too much new content, students go on overload and they can't make sense of what they are encountering.

2) DOES IT FIT INTO YOUR THEME or topic? I teach thematically so I am very partial to this one... content that is connected intellectually has been proven to be more effective for students in terms of acquisition (Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct); it triggers more deeply held knowledge about the theme at hand, and, since you are most likely spending more than one or two lessons on the theme, you can integrate the learning from the authentic resource over and over again, recycling as you go. We all know repetition is the name of the game in language learning!

3) IS IT IN CONTEXT? Related to the above, authentic resources provided in context give students a greater frame to interact with. Isolated bits don't allow for a connection to be built, have little relevancy, and make it difficult for students to synthesize how to use what they are learning in a real world situation. I give the example of idioms- providing a list of idioms to translate, even with an explanation of how to use them, is far less effective than integrating a relevant idiom into your daily routine or interaction. Another example is cooking vocabulary- far better presented in a recipe than in a list format. Even better when you have your students participate in the preparation of the recipe while using the vocabulary they are learning!

4) DOES IT PROVIDE 'SUCCESSFUL MOMENTS' for your students? Authentic resources can be intimidating to some students; they hold the belief that their language is insufficient to the task. However, when a student interacts with an authentic resource successfully, even if it is a very basic one, they gain motivation and interest to interact with them in the future. Celebrate those successes, call attention to the amazing progress your students are making, and keep moving forward!

NEXT WEEK ON TUESDAY TIPS I will share some examples (and types) of good authentic resources for elementary and novice classrooms- be sure not to miss it! You can follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter to stay up to date!

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