IFLT 2014 Denver Take-Aways

John Piazza has compiled a list of take-aways from his experiences at IFLT 2014 in Denver. He said:

…I tried to limit this to specific strategies that I will implement or keep in mind as I prep and begin the new school year. I hope it will help other teachers as well. There are too many teachers, friends and colleagues to name, but I tried to give credit for specific strategies or pointers that I recall….

1. Jobs Jobs Jobs

When going from class discussion (PQA) into a story, it is at times very precarious, and the conversation can easily break down when the energy of student answers is either too high or too low. One easy solution for this is to designate one or two students to be Arbiter/Arbitrix, that is, judge or decider. Then, once you have heard 3 or 4 possible answers, you ask the arbiter, and everyone turns to that student to hear the official verdict. An arbiter is usually a quiet student who has a certain amount of respect/authority/seriousness, even if they are not the most popular. As with all student jobs, this helps move the burden of running the class over from teacher to the students. Other essential jobs for every day include: story writer/scribe, vocab list compiler, quiz question writers, word/structure counters, Educreations artist,

1.5, The pretend student at the back of the room

When you are getting no energy from the class, and you need details for the story, just make something up, look to the back of the class, and say: “perfect, a purple elephant. Thank you, Randolph, Betsy, etc.” This will take them completely off guard, and the invisible student at the back of the room may even spark a story of his/her own. (Slavic)

2. Educreations app.

If you have access to an iPad in your classroom, get this free app, and use it to create a narrated comic of class readings and stories. Your typical student can do this in minutes, then you jump out into the hall and record your voice narrating the text (correct pronunciation being the goal for aural CI), then you present during next class, or post online for students to review on their own. (Chris Stolz)

3. Beginning students should NOT repeat after you.

Many students have the instinct to repeat after the teacher when he/she first hears a new phrase. There is no research to support that this is effective. Furthermore, it may encourage bad pronunciation habits in students who have simply not heard enough input yet in order to pronounce accurately (especially in a language like Mandarin which relies on tones). Encourage students to respond in other ways (ooh, aah; silent gesture, etc.)

(Annick Chen)

4. Reading can/should be 50-60% of the focus, especially after first year.

For the past few years, working with levels 1 and 2 only, I have focused mostly on spoken language, and reading has occupied a smaller percentage of my curriculum. However, spending 8 hours learning Mandarin from Annick Chen was a great reminder that even beginners can benefit from reading, AS LONG AS that reading is completely comprehensible–that is, a transcription (or close to it) of class discussions.

5. CI teachers DO believe in student output and teaching grammar.

Don’ t let skeptics define the limitations of a CI approach.

I was reminded of this first point by Carol Gaab in her presentation. If CI teachers want to be respected, and to educate others as to how it really works, we have to convey very clearly that we too are covering all the bases, checking all the boxes covered by the standards, having students produce language and learning their grammar–all of which is true in an effective CI-based curriculum.

6. Embedded reading strategies are the solution for reading, EVEN/ESPECIALLY for AP. If you have 3-4 versions of a reading, you can engage every student in the room, even in a mixed level class (but remember that all classes are mixed level in terms of student ability). (Laurie Clarcq)

7. Get actors up in front of the class. Even if you are disinclined or uncomfortable doing this, do it anyway. Just make sure you have set the ground rules, and don’t let anyone up who might try to take over the class.

8. Demand applause at every opportunity (brain break, and honors students for their contributions) (Chen)

9: How to “park” on a structure: use only one verb and then create five sentences using only “in” and a new detail with each one. (Slavic War Room)

10. During Read and Discuss, should the reading happen in TL or L1? Ask out loud after reading to the class: “do you see the picture? If yes, then keep going. Otherwise, go back to translation into L1, and then ask questions in TL (Bob Patrick).

11. When pointing at a word (point and pause), occasionally miss the word intentionally, and have a student help you re-position it with gestures. A little to the right, etc. This gives a student a job that will help him/her engage more fully, and will give everyone a “brain break” with a bit of comic relief. (Slavic)

12. Demand that students raise hands before answering questions.

Then, consciously wait 5 seconds before calling on anyone. Allowing kids to shout out answers favors fast processors at the expense of everyone else in the room, including the students who shout out early, as they too need more time and repetitions than they think. (Slavic War Room Latin session)

13. Processing Time

for an adolescent in one’s native language, it is 140 words per minute (think Mr. Rogers, who trained himself to speak at the processing speed of kids). This means that not only should our L2 talk be slow, but so should our L1 instructions. For TL input, slow down by half, just over 1 word per second. Extended pauses (even breaths) between phrases makes it sound more natural. Practice speaking at 60-80 WPS in L2.

14. Check in with Denver Public Schools’ foreign language webpages.

Diana Noonan has gone full-CI for the district, and is currently compiling compelling data to support a CI approach. This information will help you convince and educate administrators. More studies to come. It is great to know that an actual public school district is demanding CI, and is getting and compiling results.

15. Most of the seats in the North High School classrooms were rocking chairs.

16. When a student has trouble with a word, make him/her the expert from then on. (Slavic War Room)

17. Eye contact, inside jokes, special attention to every students’ unique contribution in the room. Every little thing they contribute is cause for celebration, applause, knowing glance, fist bump, high five. This is how we get them hooked.

18. Color strips for sentences for story – see picture. Groups randomly chosen, first meet with two of same color, then get in hetero groups, translate for each other, then arrange strips. Finish with strips on board, popcorn translate. Teacher translates, then stops, and students translate the next word.
Also, have students cut out the strips for a brain break. (Annick Chen)

19. Derivatives are way more difficult for students than we think.

For those of us who teach European languages, there is the temptation to rely on cognates to “cover” some of our vocabulary. But this is based on an assumption that our students are like us (i.e. that they are 4%ers who enjoy and/or have spent time thinking ABOUT languages and make linguistic connections, which is primarily an analytical activity). An over-reliance on cognates also puts students whose first language is not an European one at a serious disadvantage. Finally, even when students are capable of making these connections, operating in a new language can seriously compromise this kind of higher-level functioning.

20. Physical Contact

Each school/district has its own policies around physical contact. Whatever your limitations, take every opportunity to connect with students through a high five, fist bump, tap on shoulder, handshake at the door, whatever is respectful and appropriate. This helps you connect, and helps you avoid classroom management problems. Monkey studies show that the alpha is the one who gets the most physical contact from the others. Assert your role in the invisible world.




1 thought on “IFLT 2014 Denver Take-Aways”

  1. This was so helpful and concise. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this, John. I have already made notes for this year!

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