Secondary Language Learning

Twelve Tips for Implementing Authentic Resources in Your Classroom

Lisa Sobb, OFLA Secondary Language Learning Committee Chair
Sylvania Southview High School

The importance of including authentic resources in the world language classroom cannot be overstated.  Not only do they provide exposure to current, authentic language, but they also can be inspiring and motivating when students get to see just how far their language has progressed.  Here are some suggestions I’ve gathered from my experiences incorporating authentic resources in my classroom:

  1. Start small.  There’s no need to throw away the textbook completely from the get-go!  Make the commitment to implement at least 1 authentic resource activity per unit to begin with and build your library each year.
  2. Feel free to focus only on specific sections or paragraphs.  Especially with lower level students, you may want to focus only on one section or piece of an authentic resource.  For example, you might want students only to look at the subheadings or the first paragraph of a resource, or maybe 1 minute of a 10 minute video.  Don’t edit the content or remove anything, but instead direct your students’ attention to specific parts of the text or video.
  3. Plan on 3-4 lessons at minimum to fully explore an authentic resource.  Always include a pre-reading or viewing activity, an activity to complete while reading and a post-reading activity. Use your pre activity to generate excitement and interest and to pre-teach some of the vocabulary that students will need to understand the resource.  During activities should scaffold the material and help students understand the content and message.  Post activities are where kids get to shine and show off what they learned, extend their learning, express their opinion, or output the content they’ve just learned.
  4. Choose resources that are visual-heavy for lower-level students.  Remember that your students depend a lot on context and visuals for meaning at lower levels and they’ll lose interest quickly if they don’t understand.  Infographs, advertisements, menus, maps, tickets, forms, identification cards, short travel videos, videos made for children – these are all authentic resources that are great for lower levels!
  5. Choose high interest resources for upper-level students.  Survey your students and find out what they’re interested in learning, choose subjects that are usually popular with teenagers, or capitalize on a trend (hello, mannequin challenge!).
  6. Make sure that your students can understand the majority of the resource without help.   Dr. Gianfranco Conti, PhD, author of The Language Teacher’s Toolkit emphasizes the importance of positive experiences with authentic resources.  If students feel empowered and capable of succeeding, authentic resources are more likely to have an impact.  To ensure this, make sure your students can understand at least 80% of the content without help.  Use the remaining 20% to stretch your students’ abilities.
  7. Get your resources from a wide variety of sources.  Authentic resources don’t always have to be news articles or clips.  Remember – what’s interesting to YOU may not necessarily be interesting to your students!  Follow a few pages on Facebook or a few people on Twitter that you like, or scope out resources on Pinterest.  Enter your searches in your target language for best results.
  8. Use the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements as inspiration for activities.  I always consult the Can-Do statements for my students’ current and target levels to get some ideas of activities to design.
  9. Ban dictionaries and translators for interpretive tasks.  Students are often amazed at how much they can understand and their frustration level is lower when you explain that you don’t expect them to understand every single word.
  10. Reuse resources.  Found a video you love?  You can reuse the same resource with multiple proficiency levels as long as you change the expectations and goals of the activity.
  11. Always, always, always watch or read the resource in its entirety to ensure appropriate content BEFORE giving it to students. Nothing is more embarrassing than finding out in the middle of a lesson that while the first half of your video is perfect for what you need, the second half has a lot of skin that you definitely DON’T need.  Also beware of the Copycat Trap!  Just because someone else used it successfully in their class doesn’t mean it’s going to work with your kids.
  12. Save your resources.  The internet is always changing!  Use the “print as PDF” function on Google Chrome to save articles, documents, or websites that you like.  Use a website like KeepVid to download YouTube or Facebook videos that you like.