Making Interpretive Tasks More Authentic

Posted by Kara Parker on May 19, 2017 in 3 Activities, Listening, Reading, What's New

The Interpretive Mode. I have more questions than I have answers about this mode. But I do know this! I want to make them mimic what learners will encounter in the real world as much as I can in a World Language classroom. I have included some tasks and lesson examples that I use to make interpretive more authentic.

Several years ago, I realized the following about traditional interpretive activities like comprehension questions, cloze-listening, matching, fill-in-the-blanks, etc:

– Students were copying off of each other

– Students were just skimming for the answers, not really reading/listening

– It took me a long time to create them – Not an efficient use of my time

– I was deciding what was important – I’m doing all the thinking

– They were boring

– They don’t promote language growth based on proficiency

– They rank low on rigor/relevance scales and Bloom’s Taxonomy

– In real life, there are few times that these happen naturally

So that explains “why” I wanted to change. Then I was struggling with the “how” when I talked with Paul Sandrock a few years ago. It was a big ah-ha moment when he said to think about what is done in real life. When you read a news article, what do you do next? Hmm… Well, I might send the link to a friend and include a point that connects to something we had discussed. Or tell my husband about what I read during our walk to get his thoughts. Or write my opinion in the comment section. I promise, I am not a troll.

Another example: If you watched a music video, what might you do next in real life? Think about it before you read on…

Give your opinion. Critique it. Tell someone about it. Vote (thumbs up/thumbs down). I use to do a cloze-listening activity for a song, but now I see very little value in it. It’s ok, but there’s something better!

So this is where I’m at today. I am trying to make my interpretive tasks more authentic and increase higher order thinking. Especially for my novices, that was a planning challenge (simpler language but higher thinking). Sometimes it takes production to show what they understand, but I’m ok with that.




I can understand information about an eco-trip package.

Listen to your classmates’ presentations. Vote based on the categories.

Lesson on

This will show what they understand about what the trip has. It also gives them a reason to listen to each other.


I can say what fruits and vegetables I eat.

Read this “listicle” (list + article). Pick your top 5 and bottom 5.

This is also a good way to learn vocabulary since there are words/phrases with pictures.


I can talk about superstitions.

Read this “listicle.” Which ones do you believe in the most? The least?

I love using this site to find listicles in Spanish!





I can dedicate a love song.

Listen to these love songs. Make a dedication to a someone special!

This will also show what they understood about the theme and main ideas in the lyrics. Click to read about the entire lesson.


I can nominate a someone for “Athlete of the Year.”

Read through the nominated athletes on “Premios Univision Deportes.” Persuade someone to vote for your favorite.


I can give my opinion about the “Song of the Year.”

Now that the awards are over, watch the video that won “Song of the Year” at the Latin Grammys. Add your own comment about what you think about it. Should it have won?

Click to read more about a unit based on an awards show.



I hope this gives you a few ideas to add to your own lessons! Share back one of your ideas in the comments below.

12 comments for “Making Interpretive Tasks More Authentic”

  1. Lilian says:

    interesting…I never thought about this. Ugh, so many cloze exercises made! Do I just throw them all out? What about Edpuzzle? Then how could I still use this?

    1. Sarah Thatcher says:

      I think the cloze exercises still have some value in the early stages of a unit. In my opinion they are still great at getting kids to recognize the target vocab. Don’t forget about all the practice that is needed to get them ready for the interpretive tasks.

      1. Kara Parker says:

        I did a cloze listening in an observed lesson once that I thought was great, and my principal gave me so many reasons why it was not as effective as another activity. She made me think about that… could they do something better? It’s not that they are awful, just that they are not higher rigor/thinking and higher relevance.
        I then saw a cloze activity in another language where I had not learned or been practicing the vocabulary. I could complete it without knowing what it means. I didn’t have a clue what it said. So what is the learning there?
        My biggest ah-ha is that cloze activities take them back to Novice Low. Too many activities at novice low gets lower proficiency results. As I started replacing novice low/vocabulary practice activities, I started seeing higher results (like Int Low at 6 weeks in level 1). That sold me! Cloze activities are ME picking what’s important and ME doing all the work. Wise words of Thomas Sauer – The person doing the work, is doing the learning.
        I would need more than a comment section to talk about vocabulary practice changed for me and how I found that it’s not as needed as we think. I had level 1 students at novice high (or higher) on day 1 of every unit. Communicative, engaging lessons that have a reasonable measurable objective are powerful. The language “stuck.” “Practice” becomes reusing the vocabulary and structures in new communicative situations throughout the unit. This rocked my world (in good and bad ways), but now I wouldn’t go back.
        Lastly, I did not have compliant students. If it didn’t feel like it had a real purpose, they would not do it. Worksheets didn’t work with them either.
        When I transitioned to proficiency, there were so many activities that I was reluctant to let go of. Some of them I adapted, and others I got rid of. I’ll never tell anyone to throw everything out – you make those decisions! What works for me, may not work for you! I had some great mentors challenge me on my lessons and I’m glad they did!

  2. Kathleen Desmond says:

    “listicle”! ❤️👍

    1. Kara Parker says:

      I thought you’d like that! Thanks for teaching me that awesome word!

  3. Deb Streacker says:

    I love your “out of the box” ideas. I have to admit that I struggle with making relevant tasks that judge student understanding. In following the ACTFL template for these types of IPA tasks, I feel a little “caged”. But your ideas are exciting…..I hope that I can begin thinking differently to create some similar tasks for next year….

    1. Kara Parker says:

      I agree Deb! It’s REALLY hard to judge their understanding… especially in an authentic way without translating. Right now I use lots of graphic organizers to prepare them to use the language. I plan to do another post one day that has some purely interpretive tasks after I educate myself more on the ACTFL template. Before then, we have these categories if you want to browse: Reading: Listening:

  4. Beth says:

    One of the reasons that I like cloze activities with songs is that it forces students to listen and read at the same time. I have read that doing both simultaneously helps increase fluency and comprehension, though I would have to go flip through my books in order to properly cite that. But beyond that, for French at least, cloze activities are an engaging way for students to start creating a mental map of how French is written vs. how it is pronounced. I still definitely see value in using cloze activities in the classroom.

    That being said, songs are such rich cultural resources that it doesn’t make sense to stop at the cloze. Once I’ve found a good resource, I try to milk it for everything it’s worth.

    For actual interpretive assessments, I have recently been modeling many of my interpretive assessments on the model that Toni Theisen presented at ICTFL last year, which is originally from Implementing Integrated Performance Assessment by Bonnie Adair-Hauck and Eileen Glisan. I include sections on key words, main idea, supporting ideas, getting meaning from context, making inferences, determining the author’s perspective, comparing cultural perspectives (so important when preparing for AP), and a personal reaction. All of these are authentic things that we do all the time; it is just rarely so explicitly stated.

    Since this is how my assessments are created, I do try to make sure that the activities leading up to the assessment are similar. It just gets so stale if it’s presented in the same format over and over again, so I appreciate how you’re doing the same things (like giving a personal reaction on their peers’ presentation), but you make it look novel.

    1. Kara Parker says:

      You mentioned a huge difference – they engaged your students. They did not do that for mine. My students would copy off each other just to be done with it. This is a perfect example of “know your students.” I still do listening/writing activities, just ones that are more open that prepare them for the next task – Listen to the song. Categorize the words: ones that shows how he loves her and the ones that shows how he hates her. Now let’s read the lyrics and do the same thing while we listen. Then we will decide what the song was about, and then we can “dedicate” it to someone. Since students pulled different words, it created more of a discussion point in class too. – What did you hear? Anyone else pull that?
      I love how you mention that there is so much more to a song or video! That’s my point! That’s what engaged my students.
      I hear teachers complain all the time how students are non-compliant or don’t behave. So for those that have that problem, I found that it was what I was asking them to do.

  5. Kelley Westerberg says:

    Hello there!
    Fellow high school Spanish teacher here. I was interested to read what you wrote about some of the issues with interpretive tasks in your classroom. I have come across all of those as well, but I was particularly struck by the one where you mentioned, “I was deciding what was important – I’m doing all the thinking”. You’re absolutely right. We spend so much time coming up with questions, and deciding what is important to take from an article or a video, why don’t we let them do that? But, there are times when we SHOULD be deciding what is important because maybe we need the students to be drawn to certain points for a discussion or follow-up activity. So, my question is, how do you determine when we should embrace the idea of “how would they use this in real life” versus when “this is just a plain and simple comprehension based activity”? (I may have begun to answer my own question in my head). I plan to share this site with some of my colleagues as we plan to talk about superstitions this year in our reality and fantasy unit.

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Hi Kelley! It all leads back to the daily objective. I rarely choose to do a “plain comprehension activity” all alone. I definitely ask some questions that were basic, comprehension checks (in the TL), that would eventually lead to something else. I’d usually do those informally, as a class conversation. My post is about how I started to let go of the control more and make my lessons more authentic. I found there were just too many times that I was controlling everything because I thought I had to. My students would say that I was making their head hurt from thinking too much… I was glad to hear that! They were doing so much “sit and get” and “regurgitate information” in other classes. I wanted to change my class. You may want to look at our posts about unit planning and daily goals (under the “planning” category in the dropdown menu on the homepage on the right sidebar) that may clarify and give some more examples (this is tough to explain by writing!).

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