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20 Ways to Get Your Students Speaking in French or Spanish, World Language Cafe

20 Ways to Get Your Students Speaking in the Target Language, Part 3

So, we’ve already talked about the changes that you need to make in your classroom to prepare for success and I’ve given you 20 strategies to get your students speaking in the target language as well as a few pointers for implementing your strategies.  Today’s post is about what to do when you try some of these strategies and still struggle.  You might find yourself saying . . .

“But Sherry, I tried a few of these strategies, and then I had a few bad days and my class reverted back to English.  Am I back to square one now?” Read more…

20 Strategies to Get Your Students speaking French or Spanish, World Language Cafe

20 Ways to Get Your Students Speaking in the Target Language, Part 2

Hopefully, by now you have read the first part in this series which gives you some pointers and teaches you some of the habits that you’ll need to change to be successful in getting your students to speak in the target language.  If not, take a sec. to check it out here.

And now for the good stuff . . .

The 20 Strategies:

Some of these strategies are my own, but most, I have collected from other World Language teachers who were kind enough to share their best tips.

  1. The Clothespin Method:  “My students wear clothespins for classroom activities.  They hold each other accountable for staying in the target language by taking the clothespin of students that speak English. At the end of the activity each clothespin is worth 1-2 Class Dojo points.”  Variation:  Award just 1 point for the top 3 people with the most clothespins.   Variation:  Award a point to everyone who still has a clothespin and an extra point to the person with the most.  If you don’t use Class Dojo, you can count these as participation points or have students save up points for a free homework pass, an extra few points on a quiz, or a pass to pick where they sit in class. ~Gail Tuccillo Gillis
  2. Speaking Rubric:  Fill out a weekly speaking rubric.  Students self assess for the first few weeks, just holistically, how well they’ve held themselves to staying in target language and how richly they have been expressing themselves. It’s not graded for the first month or so.  Then after they get comfortable with the idea, they continue to self-assess, but the teacher assesses and combines their evaluation with the teacher’s assessment for the speaking portion of their grade. ~Catharyn Crane from Sol Azúcar
  3. The One Word Strategy:
    Write a word on the board at the beginning of the period. Any time you hear ANY English, erase a point. If the class has any letters left over at the end of the period, they each get an extra point on the next test.  As they get better, they must keep the word up for a few days or a week.  See Angie Torre from Best Power Points for Spanish’s blog post explaining more.
  4. Don’t Tell Me, Show Me:  You must become an actor or actress, master of charades. Angie remarks that 80% of learners are visual learners, so the more visual cues that you can give (photos, charades, etc.), the more comprehensible the input becomes.  Here are some more ideas from Angie:
  5. Mime Method:  Mime what you are saying.
  6. Signaling:  Point to what you are talking about.
  7. Use Gestures:  Whenever you’re teaching songs, teach gestures for the key words before starting and have the students practice them. Say the word and have them do the gesture.  Then they do the gestures along with the song.
  8. Draw:  Draw a picture of what you’re talking about.
  9. Use Photos:  Print out pictures or photos to illustrate concepts. Tape the target language word or phrase on the photograph.
  10. Student Vocabulary:  Assign each student a vocabulary word or phrase and have them make a meme to illustrate its meaning. Find a picture online to represent the concept and then add a text box on top with the words.
  11. Post Your Instructions Visually:  If you’re an elementary school teacher, you might like this blog post from about staying 90% in the target language.  In it, Julie from Mundo de Pepita suggests posting your instructions visually.  For older students, Angie Torre also suggests using a PowerPoint showing the key language that you are using in the target language. When we watch a movie in another language, it’s so much easier to understand if we can read the words while we listen to them.  Do this in your class, too.  Put key phrases on bulletin boards or on your white board for the day.
  12. The Págame System:  TPRS guru, Blaine Ray, suggests using a “Págame”.  Students start with 100 points each quarter and if they aren’t actively engaged in the target language and participating, the teacher says the student’s name and “Págame” (ex. Luis, págame.).  Then the teacher makes a mark next to the student’s name on a list at the front of the class.  Students can make up págame’s by writing in the target language. Read more about Blaine Ray’s, (the TPRS guru), Págame System on p. 17 and 18 of this link.
  13. Safe English Space:  Create a space or time when students can speak to you in English if necessary. Mine was always outside my doorway in the hall before or after class or in my department center (although I always would start speaking the target language and they would need to request to speak in English).
  14. The Ticket System:  Appoint one student in the group to be the “ticket taker” if they hear English. The winner of the next round gets to be the new “ticket taker.” Get free euro tickets and read more about how Elisabeth Edwards Alvarado from Spanish Mama uses this system here.
  15. Pass the Piñata:  Have a large object (ex. a piñata) that gets passed to anyone who speaks English.  If the person with the piñata hears anyone else speaking English, they can give it to that person.  Whoever has the piñata at the end of class gets a small punishment (an extra sheet of homework, has to pick up anything on the classroom floor, etc.)  Spanish Mama says there are a few drawbacks:   Great in theory, and for specific discussion times, but she usually only remembered it because the students said, “Profe, la piñata! because they wanted to get an unlucky friend in trouble.
  16. Teach Circumlocution:  Joshua Cabral from World Language Classroom emphasizes the importance of teaching his students circumlocution.  Here are some of his suggestions that you may wish to post in your classroom: Use vocabulary that you already know.  Try to think of another way to convey the message.  Describe the concept.  Explain who uses it, why it’s used, or where. Use a synonym.  Use a more general category word (fruit, clothing, etc.)  Explain what the object is and object is not.  Check out Joshua’s circumlocution resources and a recap of one of his periscopes about using the target language here.
  17. Comprehension Checks:   Do lots of comprehension checks.  Students hold up fingers from 1-5.  5 = they completely understand, 1 = they don’t understand at all.  Thumbs up, thumbs down, or a sideways thumb works, too. ~Laura Lee from For the Love of Spanish
  18. Secret Student Method:  Reward the whole class if a particular (secretly chosen) student is speaking in the target language (or demonstrating whatever other behavior you’d like) on that day.  Pick the name beforehand and put it in a box or some other location in class. ~Tammy at FSL Teaching
  19. Magic Tissue Box:  Create activities that have set pieces that only use the target language.  uses a “magic tissue box” and puts questions in the target language inside.  The students take turns pulling out a question, sneezing (class responds in the target language to the sneeze (Salud, À tes souhaits, etc), and then the person answers the question.  Another person picks a tissue and so on.  ~Carolina Goméz from Fun for Spanish Teachers  (Read more about it in her blog post).
  20.  Speaking Rocks:   Use decorative pebbles (the kind you find in flower vases) to encourage speaking in the target language. Each student takes 2 rocks when they come into class and must have 5 when they leave class.  They earn extra pebbles by participating in the target language.  She takes away a pebble when they speak English (without any other verbal reminder).  And get this – her students loved it and asked for it the next day!!!  ~Holly from Spanish Sundries (Read more here).

Wow!  So many ideas from amazing veteran World Language teachers.  Try some over the coming weeks to see which ones work best for you.

You may want to read this next part to prepare for when everything doesn’t run quite so smoothly (because we all know there are days like that).

Have any more suggestions that I should add to this article?

Email me at:

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

See you in the Teachers’ Lounge soon!

The World Language Cafe

Happy Teaching!


Teacher Feature: Gema Perez, World Language Cafe

Teacher Feature #3: Gema Perez from Spain

Teaching can be so lonely sometimes so I  wanted to create an online teacher lounge where all the language teachers can hang out.  We’ll be sharing the up’s and down’s of teaching, as well as peeking into the lives of some of our World Language teacher friends. Hope you’ll join our World Language Cafe Facebook Group.  The more, the merrier!

Teacher Feature:

To help create a sense of community in our group, we’ll be featuring teacher profiles and stories.  I love hearing other teachers’ stories, don’t you?

Today’s featured teacher is Gema Perez from Fun Monkey Bars. She lives and teaches elementary students in Spain. Here’s what she has to say:

Her Teaching Background:
I was teaching dual immersion in Utah for a couple of AMAZING years and after that I came back to Spain to the same school as before. I have been a teacher for 18 years… almost 19 but I’m pretty young!! I’m only 40. Elementary…Changing grades lately: Last year I was in 2nd, this coming year I will be in 1st… Who knows next year … I teach every subject (Spanish, English, math, art, science…).

Most Embarrassing Moment:
You know that all beginnings are hard… moreover when you are with little kids… I remember one time I was in 1st grade and we spent almost all morning working on a water cycle project. We were working in groups. Each group had a different technique. At the end of the day the principal came to my class and asked one of the students what have they been doing all day and the student answered.. NOTHING!! WE WERE PLAYING ALL DAY!!!! My face was as RED as a tomato!! After that I explained the project to the principal and he told me he was glad that children were learning while playing!

Gold Star Teaching Moment:
There are a lot of great moments but one of the most exciting ones is the first time you see the face of a student who understands what he/she is reading… This wonderful face whose eyes talk to you saying … I CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT THE SENTENCE SAYS!!! I CAN READ A STORY BY MYSELF!!

Best Teacher Tip:
Use brain breaks and engaging activities that allow students to stand up during the day… They need movement and they learn more if they don’t have to focus during a long explanation sitting in the same place the whole day.

Favorite Word/Expression in the Target Language:
¡Querer es poder! (To want to is to be able to)

What You Do in Your Non-Existent Free Time:
Read, see movies in English with my kids, cycle, Pinterest

Other Interesting Info:
I also love learning, studying and improving everyday. For that I started blogging and sharing what I find. I started socializing with my fake name FUN MONKEY BARS on some of the best known social media but I don’t let that be my priority. FAMILY AND FRIENDS are the most important in life!

Thanks for sharing, Gema.
Happy Teaching!

Want exclusive freebies and teaching tips, plus 50 World Language Games instantly? Sign up here.

* Remember to join our World Language Cafe Facebook Group so you can see future Teacher Features and hang out with all the awesome World Language teachers – we really are a fun bunch!

* If you’re interested in being featured, fill out this Google Doc.

Teaching Irregular Verbs and Tricky Grammar

How to Teach Tricky Verb Tenses and Grammar, Part 2

In the first 2 parts of this series, you learned how native speakers learn differently than language students and how to break down tricky verb tenses into manageable chunks by teaching only specific verb forms at a time.  This third part in the series talks about ideas for teaching irregular verb forms.

I previously mentioned that when learning irregular verb forms you need to practice, practice, practice. 

And by practice, practice, practice, I don’t mean conjugate verbs over and over.  Native speakers don’t do this and conjugating verbs doesn’t create fluent speakers, it creates speakers who conjugate verbs in their heads when they’re trying to communicate.

Teach irregular verbs in context with lots of repetition.

Introduce an irregular verb and create a small activity to use it in context, but within a structured environment so that students are guaranteed to use it correctly.  The idea is that you want them to hear it being used correctly many times.

Here are a few examples from my Spanish Preterite Imperfect Unit.

For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, students are playing the classic picnic activity to review the irregular verb “traer”.  What did you bring to the picnic?  Paco brought apples, Laura brought hamburgers, and I brought sandwiches.  Jen, what did you bring to the picnic? The next person repeats that list and adds another item.   This type of repetition helps students to learn this irregular verb so it becomes second nature.

Spanish Preterite Imperfect Lesson Plans

In this second example, students are practicing stem changing verbs.  They have to fill in the sentence which says, “Paco ordered _______ in the restaurant, but the waiter served him _________ and laughed.”  Students then share their sentences out loud and the class votes for the funniest sentence.  So they’re hearing the repetition of how these tricky verbs sound, but in the context of a funny, engaging sentence.

Preterite vs. Imperfect Lesson Plans

Again, (if you read Part 1 of this series), you’ll notice that we’re not focusing on using all forms of the verb conjugations.  We’re using just a few at a time.

Maybe now you’re thinking, “Sure, Sherry, these ideas sound great, but I don’t have lesson plans that go with your new teaching strategies and I don’t have time to create all this.”

No worries – I’ve got you covered.  Check out my new preterite, imperfect bundle (over 400 pages), everything you need to teach the preterite and imperfect tenses from start to finish:

  • 145 slide PPT explaining formation, usage, and how to differentiate between the two tenses
  • Games, songs, videos, speaking activities, writing activities, Internet practice
  • Quizzes, tests, regular verb flashcards, trifold flashcards, homework assignments.

Find other French and Spanish resources here for teaching grammar, vocab, culture, and more.

Stay tuned for future posts in this series on how to teach tricky verbs and grammar.

Happy Teaching!


World Language Cafe, engaging French and Spanish lesson plans for your class

Teaching Tricky Verbs and Grammar, Part 1

How to Teach Tricky Verb Tenses and Grammar, Part I

Don’t you just love teaching tricky verb tenses? 

Nope, not really!  In particular, the past tenses and the subjunctive can be so troublesome to teach.  But why are they so hard to teach?  Well, for the first thing, many of us aren’t teaching our students the way that native speakers learn.  If you’re interested, read the beginning of this series, “How Native Speakers Learn Differently Than Language Students” here.

To sum it up, it’s very difficult to replicate the repetition that you get as a native speaker with your parents speaking to you 24 hours a day.   As teachers, we often only have between 1 and 5 hours a week with our students.

There just isn’t enough time! 

For this reason, I’m taken some of the ways that native speakers learn and created a hybrid system so that even though we don’t have as much time with our students, we can still teach them effectively in native-like situations.  Here are a few solutions to get your students speaking more fluently instead of conjugating verbs in their heads.

  1. When you’re teaching a new tense, instead of teaching the full conjugation with all the subject pronouns, start with teaching just the “I” forms and then the “you” forms.  

Almost all of our natural communication is in these forms, so focus on them first.  Teach regular verbs, reflexive verbs and irregular verbs in just these two forms.

Here are a few examples from my Spanish Preterite Imperfect Unit.  For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, the first slide shows the formation of regular verbs in the “I” form, the second slide is practice (students click to see the answer),  and the third slide has fill in the blank sentences using the “I” form.

Preterite vs. Imperfect Lesson Plans


Preterite Imperfect Lesson Plans


Preterite Imperfect Lesson Plans

3.  Practice, practice, practice.  Have students ask each other questions and spend extra time with any irregulars.  Create small activities using especially awkward, but common irregulars so that students get used to hearing them and using them.

Tip:  Pick 3-4 irregulars to work on each day.  If you teach them all at once in a huge list, it’s much harder for students to learn them all (and remember, learning in lists is not how native speakers learn).

4.  Once students have mastered these, add the he, she forms, then the they forms, and finally, the we forms.  You’ll find that these are so much easier once students have mastered the first two forms.

Want more than just a few tips?  Find ready-made, teacher tested French and Spanish resources here including this 400 page preterite, imperfect unit.

Keep reading to find out more about teaching tricky irregular verbs in Part 2 of How to Teach Tricky Verbs and Grammar.

Happy Teaching!


World Language Cafe, engaging French and Spanish lesson plans for your class


How Native Speakers Learn Differently Than Language Learners

How Native Speakers Learn Differently Than Language Students

When I applied for a new teaching position this month, it made me realize how much my language teaching philosophy has changed as a result of raising my own kids bilingually.

Here are some of the differences that I have noticed from how native speakers learn a language and how many language teachers teach:

How Native Speakers Learn Languages

  • When we learn our native languages, we never conjugate verbs and we definitely don’t sit around the dinner table talking about verb tenses!  So why do we spend so much time doing this in class?
  • As parents, we don’t tell our kids that we can’t talk to them about what we did yesterday because they haven’t learned the past tense yet.  We incorporate complex vocabulary, grammar, and verb tenses in our daily language because that is how people speak naturally.
  • We correct our kids when they make mistakes in the language.  We don’t say, “I don’t want to hurt my son’s feelings because he’s saying it wrong.”  We just gently correct the child by saying it correctly and having them repeat it correctly.
  • Parents speak to the child all in one language (for the most part).  Some parents do a one parent, one language approach (one parent speaks one language and the other parent speaks a different language, but they are always consistent with the child).  Why is this?  Because it’s really hard for your brain to switch back and forth between languages (until you have reached a certain level of fluency).

It’s very difficult to replicate the repetition that you get as a native speaker with your parents speaking to you 24 hours a day when as teachers, we often only have between 1 and 5 hours a week with our students.

There just isn’t enough time! 

Read more about how to teach languages more effectively using my hybrid system (how native speakers learn, squeezed into 1-5 hours a week for maximum impact) in How to Teach Tricky Verbs and Grammar, Part 1.

Happy Teaching!


World Language Cafe, engaging French and Spanish lesson plans for your class

French Spanish Library in Your Classroom

Create a Reading Library in Your World Language Classroom, Part 2

You may have been inspired after reading part 1 of Create a Reading Library in Your World Language Classroom.  Perhaps you even thought seriously about doing it, but probably, something was holding you back.

World Language Cafe Reading Library for French, Spanish Class

To solve this problem, I’ve put together lists of French and Spanish books that I ordered for my World Language libraries.   Read more…

Don't do it! Try a different French or Spanish activity instead of showing a movie - World Language Cafe

Why You Shouldn’t Show Your Students a Movie the Last Few Days before Break

Don’t do it!!!  Don’t show your students a movie the last few days before a long holiday break!

All the teachers do this and the poor students end up watching movies all day long.  Save your movie for another time (when you’re feeling under the weather, when you have a sub, etc.).

Here are 10 activities to save your sanity and keep your students engaged in the target language before a long break. Read more…

20 Ways to Get Your Students Speaking French or Spanish

20 Ways to Get Your Students Speaking in the Target Language, Part 1

Know what makes my language teacher heart break?

When I tell people that I am a French and Spanish teacher and they proceed to tell me that they took X number of years of French/Spanish/Italian, etc, but can’t say anything.  Or they rattle off a few lines of a useless dialogue that they memorized, but that’s all they know.

What is the #1 reason why this happens?

Teachers don’t speak in the target language and they don’t make their students speak in the target language.   If that’s you, don’t worry, I’m not blaming you – I’m here to help.

So now you’re probably thinking:

“Sherry, I know it’s really important to get my students speaking in the target language, but every time I try to do it, it’s soooo haaarrrrrddd!

“But wait!” you say, “The school year already began.  I can’t start now.”  


Don’t worry, this blog series has everything you need to be successful in your classroom:

* 7 tips to get you started

* 20 strategies to get students speaking in the target language

* 50 free World Language games and resources

* Facebook World Language Teachers’ Lounge Support Group

Read more…

Spanish French Thanksgiving Lesson Plans, Games, Writing Activities

Recipes and Resources – A Tasty Combination!

For many of my Thanksgiving resource descriptions, I write, “Need some time to bake pies and clean the house before your guests arrive or to pack before you travel to visit relatives?  This Spanish Thanksgiving bundle of print and go writing activities, lesson plans, games, and crafts has everything you need to make it through the last 3 days before Thanksgiving break.”

Just received this great feedback from a teacher on one of my Thanksgiving resources that inspired me to write this post.

“So awesome! I seriously DO want more time to bake pies with my own kiddos at home. Thank you!”

Who doesn’t love pie?? So today, I’ll be sharing one of my family’s recipes for chocolate pecan pie, along with some Thanksgiving resources for your classroom. Read more…