Return on Investment (ROI) in World Languages

How much teacher preparation, materials needed, and class time go into an activity and how much student learning comes out it? If we measure student learning by ACTFL’s Can -Do statements, then we have an objective measure of student learning.

If a teacher prepares a vocabulary bingo game to help students learn common actions by preparing  bingo cards for two hours and the students spend ten minutes in class, what ACTFL proficiency has been achieved for that investment? The answer is none. Vocabulary by itself is not communication. If on the other hand, a teacher prepares om thirty minutes two sets of ten written questions about the common actions of family members and this activity takes ten class minutes, then the return is a student demonstration of Novice Mid,  “I can communicate basic information about myself and the people I know.” There is a high return on the investment.

Backward planning improves ROI. How do what we do and what our students do lead directly toward the students achieving a specific oral proficiency? If we spend days on students learning and practicing vocabulary, we have a low ROI. If we quickly move our students from learning vocabulary to using the vocabulary in meaningful sentences then we obtain a high ROI.

What is your ROI in World Languages?

Some materials that can help you students communicate about topics are at http://bitly/ml, click on a top topic and then look at the list below.

Five Minute Classroom Check

What world language students do in their classroom reveals much about their teachers’ priorities. If teachers say that speaking is a priority and yet their students do not speak / converse in class, then speaking is not really a priority.

Teachers can do an every five minute check to determine what their students are doing in class. At the end of each five minutes, the teachers write down the exact type of activity that their students are doing in the classroom such as “learn vocab,” “tell time to partner,” “do gram. sheet,” “play gram. race” and “talk about classes.” Whenever the class is doing the same activity at the five minute mark, the teachers place a slash after the already written down activity.

After class, the teachers tally up what activities the students did and for how long. This provides a realistic view of what actually happens in the class. Teachers may find that their students spend more time preparing to speak such as learning vocabulary then in actually speaking. Teachers might consider ways to move their students from  “learning about” to “using” language.

World Language Teachers Still Ingrained in Grammar Translation

Burke’s “Rituals and Beliefs Ingrained in World Language Pedagogoy: Defining Deep Structure and Conventional Wisdom” explains how grammar-translation is part of the deep structure and conventional wisdom of modern day world language teachers (2011,

Grammar-translation teachers divided language into listening, speaking, reading, and writing; they do not see language as integrated. Culture, if included, is an add-on. Furthermore, English is the predominant language of instruction. The purpose of language instruction is the learning of vocabulary and grammar.

1. Translation

– When teachers introduce a new unit, they distribute word lists or refer students to a textbook page with the words translated.

– Teachers review vocabulary through drill practices and games. The games focus on the discrete meaning of the words. The only context is that they are from the same list.

– Students are to learn a set number of words each unit, Their teachers have the students pratice with the words so that the students can cover the unit, not so the students will be able to communicate with the words.

2. Grammar Practice

– Most teacher assign activities out of textbook or make up grammar activities.

– Teachers ask questions to see if the students know the correct forms; they correct the students.

– Students study the language through translation and verb conjugations.

– Teachers emphasize a sentence-level structure with explicit attention to forms.

– The grammar activities have no personal meaning to the students.

– Attempts to produce communication are absent

3. Non-contextual explicit grammar teaching

– Teachers give explicit instruction on forms and the teacher frequently test the forms through quizzes, online and paper exercises, and tests.

– Teachers usually use English during grammar lessons and students usually ask questions in English.

– Numerous explanations of grammar rules with many exceptions and irregularities are explained in grammatical terms. Students learn many different tenses.

– Teachers have the goal of grammatical mastery for their students. One of the teachers’ primary goals is for the students to use grammar correctly

– Comparisons are made to the structure of English sentences.

Are you a grammar-translation teacher? Or a communicative teacher?  contains many communication activities for beginning to advanced students; they have high structure to help students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

Equal distribution of questions for world language students

Do world language teachers engage all students equally? Do they have an equitable distribution of questions for all students as indicated in the Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement model? The research shows that teachers consistently call on those students with higher ability more often than students of lower ability. (Teacher Expectations for Student Achievement: TESA and GESA, Those students who do not get called on as often feel inferior to the other students. Often those of lower ability need as much if not more teacher time as students of higher ability.

Teachers can assess if they do equitable distribution by using a paper or online seating chart. Each time they call on a student, the teachers record a slash for that student. At the end of the class, they can analyze if they did call on all students equally. Teachers may ask a colleague to do this observation as teachers do in the TESA model.

Teachers who want to do equitable distribution can use several techniques. In one technique, they use their seating chart. They may start on the left side from the back to front, go on to the next row from back to front, until they have called on all students. Likewise, teachers can write the students’ names on 3×5 cards, mix up the cards, and then call on students based on the card. The teachers do not call on any student a second time until they have called all students. When the teachers have gone through all the cards once, they mix up the cards and continue to ask students questions.

Teachers can vary the type of questions asked to students: yes-no (Do you eat pizza?); either or (Do you drink soda or water?); factual (When do you eat supper?); or evaluation (Why do you eat at Roberto’s?). Teachers can insure that all students can be successful in answering questions by modifying the type of question.

Although technically not equitable distribution by the teacher, simultaneous pair work ensures that all students get equal opportunities to participate.

How do you guarantee equal distribution of questions to all your world language students?

There are many pair language activities at for beginning to advanced students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

Minimize Transitions to Gain 5 weeks of Modern Language Learning

One of the ways to save time in the modern language classroom is to minimize the  transition time between activities. If a teacher does five activities during the class and there is a minute transition between each activity, then the teacher has lost five minutes per class. Five classes a week times five minutes per class is twenty five minutes lost each week. Twenty five minutes per week times forty weeks of school  equals 1,000 minutes; 1,000 minutes divided by forty minutes (a class) is 25 classes or five weeks of school!

Transition time may be lost in the classroom due to the teacher having to hand out material, rearrange the room, collect materials back  or the students having to regroup themselves, get material from their notebook,  or move to a different location. For example, the teacher may have to give each student a  card before the students can do an activity. The students may have to  get up and go to the section of the room that represents their group number.

Teachers can minimize transition time.  When students enter the classroom, they go to the desk nearest the door and pick up a card that they will need for a classroom activity. The teacher makes the  card activity one of the first activities they do and  when the students leave they return the card to the desk. Likewise, students may be in the same group for multiple days to avoid the time in regrouping students each day.  In a similar manner, a teacher may have groups and their locations listed on a PowerPoint screen as the students enter the class. In addition, instead of students moving from one location to another many times during the class, they can stay at one location and progress from a vocabulary activity to a sentence creation activity at that location. Futhermore, the teacher can have a packet for each student with all the various materials for the day.The teacher spends time before the class in preparing these packets but then the students quickly move from one activity to another by going through the packet. As they finish the activity, they move the material for that activity to the bottom of the packet. At the end of class, they hand in the packets as they leave the class.

Modern language teachers can increase the amount of learning time by minimizing the transition time in the modern language classroom.

How much time do you spend in transition time?

To help your beginning and more advanced students move toward spontaneous speaking, I have developed 5 Visual activities/games  for any modern language (no words) and have developed 28 Spanish activities for students.  I am developing activities based on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements. Teacherspayteachers:

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at can instantly use these many communication and cultural activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at