Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Envisioning World Language Goals that Go Beyond the Language

I FREQUENTLY SEE WORLD LANGUAGE TEACHERS ASKING ABOUT GOALS FOR THEIR CLASSES... or, trying to answer a student who asks, 'Why are we doing this?'. I suspect this question is raised in all content areas, most especially as students are no longer buying into the 'learn for the sake of learning' mantra nor the 'because you will need it in the future' explanation. As Joshua Cabral of World Language Classroom so rightly notes in his interview on the Inspired Proficiency podcast (Nov 6, 2018 episode), students want to see meaningful application of the learning NOW, not later.

Re envisioning World Language Goals that Go Beyond the Language

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO REWORK THE LEARNING GOALS IN MY ELEMENTARY SPANISH CLASSES to reflect in their wording a greater purpose and/or meaning-changing the idea of 'we are doing this because you are learning Spanish' 'or, we are doing a Movie talk so you can practice your Spanish vocabulary' to goals that reflect community and connection. This is how I frame it in my mind: WHAT IF WE WEREN'T WORKING TOWARDS STUDENTS MOVING ALONG THE PROFICIENCY LADDER but rather PROVIDING THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO USE THE LANGUAGE AS IT'S BEING LEARNED TOWARDS A GREATER PURPOSE? What if we were using the language for enjoyment- singing a song together just because IT'S FUN, reading a picture book because IT'S MESSAGE IS INSPIRING, playing a game together because IT BRINGS US ALL CLOSER TOGETHER? What if we are using the language TO SOLVE PROBLEMS or to LEARN NEW INFO we are interested in?

I'LL BE THE FIRST ONE TO ADMIT, these musings don't bring up anything particularly new, especially for elementary teachers who've taught content-based instructions as a matter of course... and I'm super excited to see more teachers incorporating the environment and social justice, amongst others... and yet, I know for many, a large number of theme or unit goals still lie somewhere in the linguistic realm; after all, we are hired as language teachers, right? That is what we are supposed to do, teach language. But, what if we re-envision how we frame the purpose for what we do in class?

Re envisioning the purpose of class activities in world language classes

GO FROM a goal written like this: Student will use greetings & leave takings appropriately
TO: Students will reflect their partnership in our class community by brightening someone else's day via the greetings & leave takings they use with one another (in Kid Speech: Let's brighten someone else's day by greeting them!)

BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A GREETING? Is it to show you know how to say one? or is it truly to say 'I see you, I acknowledge you, I care about you.'?

Here's another example:
GOING FROM: Student can write a description of a familiar object or person
TO: Students' descriptions of their pets allow all of us in the class community to learn more about each other (Kid Speech: Let's learn more about each other's pets!)

BECAUSE WHEN WE KNOW MORE ABOUT EACH OTHER, we are more likely to respect one another, period.

GOING FROM: Student demonstrates comprehension of verbal directions
TO: Students take care of classroom materials by listening to, and following, classroom instructions (Kid Speech: Taking care of our classroom also takes care of our planet)

BECAUSE RESPONSIBILITY OF OUR SPACE AND MATERIALS contributes to taking care of the earth- recycling, not wasting materials so we don't need to throw them away prematurely, etc.

GOING FROM: Student demonstrates comprehension of written text
TO: Based on information drawn from written texts, student learns more about their favorite animal. (Kid Speech: Let's learn more about our favorite animals!)

BECAUSE WHEN YOU'RE SEVEN YEARS OLD, learning about what a panda eats is pretty darn interesting and engaging!

LET ME TELL YOU, this is a slow and challenging process as I weed through the many goals for my program and re-envision them with the above thoughts in mind, and I know they aren't perfect by any measure! And, I suspect that some goals just might not be re-envisionable (I know that's not a real word but it serves lol) and that's ok. However, what I observe is that when I articulate goals like the ones above to my students, they really RESONATE. This tells me I'm on the right track, even if I am bumbling along as I do it :)

I RAN ACROSS THIS TWEET from Wolf Conservation Center in NY, and it resonated so deeply for me-THIS is why we sing together, whether we are wolves or humans-to strengthen relationships and enjoy time together. 

GOING FROM: students will identify vocabulary in a song 
TO: Singing songs together strengthens our class community 
(Kid speech: singing songs is a fun way to spend time together)

BECAUSE SINGING SONGS TOGETHER IS FUN! Using a song merely as vocabulary practice is kinda a killjoy, really. Sorry, not sorry.

ANOTHER AREA TO FOCUS ON in terms of relevant, meaningful outcomes & goals is in moving away from ‘comprehension checks’ activities which don’t match the purpose of why we are sharing certain information with our students, in this case in the realm of social justice. So, for example, after reading a few simple facts about Rigoberta Menchú Tum’s life, instead of asking them questions related to what they’ve read, such as ‘Where is Rigoberta from?’ Or ‘What international prize did she win?’, I provide a prompt related to what I really want to get to-how Rigoberta might inspire my students to fight against injustice and for peace, justice, and equal rights for all. What might they do? What act could they put into practice? 

GOING FROM: Student demonstrates comprehension of written text 
TO: Reading social justice passages inspires me to reflect on, and take action, to make my community & world a better place. 
Kid speech: I can be an activist, and here's how I'm doing it.


NOTE to above activity: While the reading is in the target language, the prompt and their answer is in English-strategically provided at the end of class (with just a few minutes left)-this allows me to read what they’ve written, engage with them via our online platform outside of class, then bring back a visual synopsis to next class which we can then talk about/react to. This helps me to stay more in the TL in class, while at the same time leveraging English to get to some deeper conversations.

I would love to hear your thoughts, reactions, how you are writing your goals-put them in the comments below!


  1. This is great! Thanks so much, I am switching from high school to elementary school and will definitely use this next year. ¡Gracias!

    1. I am so happy to hear this! Let me know how it goes! :) Julie

  2. Love it. It has me thinking about how to add similarly to my hs latin and world history classes.

    1. Yes, I think this process is applicable to ALL grade levels and content areas; we have to get away from the dry statements in current use to reflect the true purpose behind our content! Julie

  3. Beautifully written and a stellar job getting your course charted with a curve in your purpise behind the "I can statements". Well done!

  4. Nice post. I really enjoy reading it. Very instructive, keep on writing.Thanks for sharing.

  5. How can I say how much I love this? These re-framings are a wonderful mind resets.