One Thing I Will Stop Doing Now

Recently I was in China and I was reminded what it was like to be a novice language learner. I tried doing some apps and lists to help me get a small set of words before I left. I was frustrated because these apps have predetermined what I needed to know. Do I really need to know “girl” to survive? Or “horse?” I had some some specific activities I wanted to do there and none of those words helped me. Then I thought about my students. I pick the words/phrases they needed. Am I taking away their chance to pick what’s important to them? Am I strengthening their problem-solving skills? So how can I let students have control over their vocabulary and phrases?


By connecting to prior knowledge or experiences, STUDENTS should be figuring out what vocabulary they need. My real life example: I went to get a massage in Shanghai. About 15 minutes in, I really wished that I had learned “easier” and “perfect.” Also I didn’t know if I should tip or not. I should have thought it through before I got there! I’ve had a massage before and I know what I will need to say. Well… let’s just say I was a little sore the next day because my charades didn’t work so well.

massage China

In the classroom, I would often ask them what words they wished they knew AFTER an experience or assessment, but how often was I letting them do that before? Not often. So here’s what I’m thinking. After they find out the goal for the day, I will let them brainstorm a few words/phrases and knowledge about the culture that they will need to know. As the teacher, I can usually predict this; however, I need to let them learn to do this important step/skill so they can apply it to real situations.

Predict vocab

Put this in your target language


Having these in my back pocket (literally on my phone) helped me to solve some simple problems. Whether it was just understanding them (in the taxi- Where… ) or actually using them (in the pearl store- How much..), I could easily get and give simple answers. Now I’m think level 1 students should have these immediately on day 1. This will help keep them in the target language too.

Time for an upgrade (Question Word Posters)

preguntas questions

These are two quick ways that will help language learners be more successful in class and real life situations. By the way, can anyone tell me how to say “easier” in Chinese?!


  1. Elena Boshier

    One of my goals for this year has been to teach questions words (and asking yes/no questions) EARLY and OFTEN. Using these questions helps extend the conversation. My goal for next year is to teach at least two essential question words for each topic (e.g., ¿Dónde? for the travel unit) and implement your handy dandy question can as exit tickets or conversations starters.

  2. kochoa

    I downloaded the question word posters and love them. One question for you though. In the above picture, I see a poster for Cual and Cuanto Cuesta but they are not in the Power Point. Do you have them in another place? I would love to include them with my posters. Thanks.

    • Melissa

      Como is also not included, I downloaded these posters last year and wondered the same thing:)
      They are great tools, thank you very much for them.

      • Kara Parker

        Figured it out. When we originally posted the item, we only had a few made and that’s also why we made it free. Since then we’ve made more. I’m not sure when we will get around to updating it.

  3. Ellen Mitchell

    Thank you so much for this post! I am now through with presenting initial vocabulary, asking students to brainstorm their own, and then dashing around the classroom playing human dictionary for an ad hoc word bank on the fly as they write, speak, and create. We will brain storm first using a template and then head out on the open road of speaking and writing. 🙂

  4. Candi McKee

    Buenas tardes! I really need some input. I am very seriously considering “Flipping my classroom.” Have you done the flipping? How does it work in a Spanish class? I teach 8th grade through 11th grade Spanish. My Spanish II and Spanish III classes meet two times a week an hour and a half a day. Then, every other week we meet three times a week. Meeting twice a week is not ideal for learning a foreign language, but the administration didn’t ask. If you could even point me in the right direction, I would be grateful. Thank you so much. I have enjoyed getting the email from Creative Language Class.

  5. Paula Li

    A colleague shared your website today. It rocks! For a Chinese massage, you can say “qinq yi dian” 轻 –> means soft/gentle and 一点 –> means “a little”. They will tell you if that it isn’t doing anything if it doesn’t hurt. Whining/howling seems to be understood across language barriers too. 😉 Haha!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.