Explore problems from own and different perspectives

Pedagogical Principles

1) Cognitive Challenge - Do I select texts and assignments based on their cognitive challenge or only based on students' expressive skills? If not, what modifications would be required to make the task interesting to a native speaker of the same age as my students?

2) Simplify the Language - Even though the task may be complex, the language students use to talk about it does not have to be. Think about how you would explain the task (or the conceptual content students need in order to accomplish the task) to a three- or four-year-old in English. Then use that same, simple language to engage students in conversation about it.

3) Scaffolding - Students can accomplish pretty sophisticated tasks with extremely limited language IF they are given adequate support (in terms of content, process, and language).

Informe de formación para una ciudadanía crítica y activa

Cognition at the Core


  • Creative Projects – One of the best ways to engage students in higher order thinking is to give them opportunities to create for authentic audiences and purposes. This brief, but excellent article does a great job of showing how that might work (particularly the section called Blooms21: Let’s Put Creating at the Forefront) http://plpnetwork.com/2012/05/15/flipping-blooms-taxonomy/

  • Debates - Introduction to Speaking Skills: Language for Discussion- Excellent list of sentence starters for negotiating meaning (in English), categorized by communicative function, that highlights word choices
    • PromoverElTrabajoColaborativoDebates.JPG - Excellent materials containing examples of types of scientific debates, scaffolding worksheets for students, etc. (all in Spanish)

  • Hypothesizing
    • Build Your Wild Self - Students create a character by combining the head, torso/arms, and feet of 3 different animals, then describe, "If I had the head of a ---, the body of a ---, and the feet of a blank, I could/would be able to ---, ---, ---." Students can expand by adding ". . . because . . ." and can use transition words to link sentences.

  • Icebreakers
    • Juegos de rompehielos - A list of ideas in Spanish
    • RompehielosParaGruposPequenos.JPG - Icebreaker games in Spanish that will get students moving and talking in the target language

  • Making & Explaining Choices -

    • Four Corners - Students answer a question by selecting one of four corners and then justifying their decision to a partner. A simple example might be, “What kind of food do you prefer, fruits, vegetables, meats, or sweets? Students go stand in the appropriate corner and then have to justify their decision, “I prefer --- because . . . . “ Obviously, in a beginning class, students will be expressing themselves in simple language such as, “I prefer fruit because it is sweet, but healthy.” “I prefer meat because it gives me energy.” Teachers may have to pre-teach some phrases for possible responses. The key is instead of teaching EVERY possible answer, teach one or two patterns that students can continuously customize and then re-use throughout the activity.

    • Human Graphing - Call out a quote, statement, or proverb and students line up based on how strongly they agree with it. Possible categories include “die for it, strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree, and die for it.” You can then ask probing questions about the choices students make after each statement.

  • Opportunities to Analyze & Evaluate -
    • Expressing & Explaining Preferences - Have students list something they like and then give 3 reasons why (for example, “I like strawberries because they are sweet, healthy, and easy to grow.” Or I want to visit China because I like the food, I want to see The Great Wall, and I want to practice Chinese.).

    • Evaluating Videos - Watch a video clip from the target culture and then evaluate it. What did they like? What did they dislike? Why? What was effective about the format? What could be improved? This activity is especially effective when you ask students to evaluate sample videos prepared by other students in preparation for making their own videos.

  • Perspective Shifting - Students can consider dilemmas, events, and problems in fairy tales, popular movies, or entertainment from different points of view. Here are some good examples:

DearPeterRabbit.jpg - Characters from different fairy tales write to one another



  • Problem-solving ­– Many of the games that businesses and community organizations use as icebreakers to foster leadership, team-building, etc., work well for this. Here is one simple example: http://www.icebreakers.ws/team-building/lost-on-a-deserted-island.html Again, you would keep the language limited. “This object will help us because . . . .” or “we can use this object to ---“

  • Trials -
    • Fairy Tale Characters - State v. Wolf (Spanish) (There are a few errors in these materials, but the idea is sound.)
    • Having an Argument & Functions & Notions Level 2 - List of phrases that could serve as a model
    • State v. Roberts (English & Spanish - well-scaffolded materials)
    • Scaffolding: Big & Bad or Just Misunderstood (Webquest in English for fairy tale characters - simple tasks)
    • La historia oficial - As a more culturally authentic example (which I used in an advanced class, but the process could be adapted for beginners): After watching the movie La historia oficial , I divided students into 4 groups and had each group adopt a different perspective (Judge, child, adoptive parents, legal parents). Students read various newspaper articles and watch video clips related to Los desaparecidos in Argentina in the 1970s presented from the perspective they were assigned. Next, I had students form groups of 4 (i.e., jigsaw style) and each person had to present their case to the judge for why the adopted child (who was now 18) should/n’t be returned to the biological family from which it had been kidnapped. This activity really required students to explore multiple sides of a very complex issue (which, at the time, had resurfaced in the news with real cases).

  • Webquests - Webquests can be a great way to scaffold students' thinking and interaction about complex issues and tasks. Here are some Japanese examples, and you can create your own webquests using this free tool(or search for examples from many other languages including French, Portuguese, & Spanish).
    • DeTapasTacosYMuchoMas.JPG
    • LiteratureCreactiva.JPG

Language-specific Examples


PonUnCuentitoEnOrden.jpg - 4 panel, illustrated stories in Spanish that can be cut apart and sequenced by elementary students




Creativity v. Critical Thinking


Higher Ed's Biggest Gamble