Pop-Up Grammar

How have we traditionally taught grammar?
In the most traditional language classes teachers implement the PPP model of grammar instruction. Students are Presented with a grammar structure, they Practice the formation of the structure, and then try to Produce the structure in meaningful ways. In languages that have verb conjugations students would get the infinitive form of the verb, learn how to remove the infinitive ending, and add a new ending to change the meaning of the verb for person and/or time frame. Students would then practice these conjugations with charts, fill in the blank activities, or other mechanical drills. The same could be done with practice of object pronouns, noun agreement, etc.

What’s the problem with that?
In my classroom, I want to make sure that a vast majority of class time is spent on communicating and using meaningful language, if we focus only on getting students to practice grammar, we are robbing them of the opportunity to process loads of input. Furthermore, according to Bill VanPatten (2019), paradigms (like verb charts) are NOT what end up in students’ heads, and the way we store vocabulary isn’t by stems and endings, but whole, meaning carrying words/phrases. If you’re teaching linguistics, I say go for the PPP model, but if our focus is on helping students to communicate, we should first focus on meaning, not grammar rules.

What is pop-up grammar?
Pop-up grammar is a term credited to Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido, though the technique has been around for ages, and I have experienced it first-hand as a student from Dr. Terry Waltz. In a nutshell, pop-up grammar is quick grammar explanations that assist students in making form-meaning connections. That is, we focus on the meaning first, and draw some attention to form to support that meaning.

How should I use pop-up grammar?
Pop-up grammar can be used at any time with any lesson. Rather than planning a lesson around a grammar point, lead with interesting content. As you and students work with the content, you can draw attention to whatever grammatical feature you want that may be preventing students from fully comprehending a text. A pop-up should last no more than about 30 seconds to make sure you can get back to the input! You can also do pop-ups in the language you teach, or your shared language with students. Whichever will most quickly and effectively help YOUR students make form-meaning connections.

Checking for understanding
It’s always important to check for understanding because in using pop-up grammar, we aren’t teaching a grammar lesson, we are using grammar to support comprehension.  You can ask scaffolded questions such as yes or no, either/or, or wh? questions to check that students know who, or what you’re talking about. This also provides more robust exposure to the language, which will help build students’ linguistic system.

Take a look at how I frame Pop-Up Grammar in my class here: Pop-Up Grammar

TASKS: What? Why? How?

It’s not a BLT with extra tomato, it’s Task-Based Language Teaching.

First and foremost, I am in no way an expert on TBLT. What I have learned about tasks I have learned, mostly, from Bill VanPatten, and Claudia Fernández. So here, I am sharing my understanding, and my personal application of TBLT in my classroom.


TBLT provides opportunities in language classes for learners to experience, and take part in, communicative events. You may have heard BVP’s definition of communication before: “The expression, interpretation, and sometimes negotiation of meaning in a given context. Communication is also purposeful“. I’m bolding this word “purposeful” because it is going to come back up.

VanPatten (2017) gives a few points on what makes a task a task rather than an exercise or activity.

An exercise doesn’t have a communicative purpose, and its only use is language practice. Think, fill in the blank activities or conjugation drills. These kinds of exercises can be done without really having to comprehend or process the language.

An activity, in BVP’s distinction, is something learners do that requires expression and interpretation of meaning, but doesn’t have a purpose. The example BVP gives is telling students to ask each other what they did over the weekend. They need to express, and potentially interpret language, however, it lacks purpose. What are learners doing WITH the information? If you’re like me, a lot of times that answer may be “nothing, they were just practicing talking about the weekend”.

Finally, a task in language classrooms requires communication (see the above definition) AND is purposeful, it results learning something about the people and the world around us. There needs to be a reason why students are using language beyond just “they’re practicing”. Rather than telling students “go tell someone about your weekend” we need to make it so they actually need to pay attention to what their partner is saying, so we can add the instruction “find out who had the busiest/least busy weekend”. This gives students a reason to listen, and pay attention to the input, and gives them a reason to share what they did. To find out if they were the busiest or least busy this past weekend! This would be an example of a psycho-social task. Students are using language to find out about the people around them. There are also cognitive-informational tasks in which students use language to learn about the world around them.


No matter the content area, students want to know that they aren’t doing busywork. They want to know why they are doing something in class.

Now, I know that by using a comprehension-based approach to language teaching, everything we do that involves input is purposeful in that it is building the mental representation of language in students’ heads. Sometimes, though, that isn’t a good enough reason for students to attend to the meaning of the input.

For that reason, I think students can be motivated by using tasks. If they KNOW they have a reason to pay attention to the input, or a reason to try to use language so that someone else can do something I think they may be more likely to engage with the language.

Tasks are also a way to organize your curriculum, and to backwards design. I’ve heard discussion of “How do tasks fit into a Comprehension-Based curriculum?” And I think it’s a pretty good combination, really.

We decide what the desired outcome of the task is and reflect on what vocabulary and language structures are needed. We use techniques to make sure language is comprehensible (see the CI umbrella below), and do activities or mini-tasks to prepare them for the task.

The Comprehensible Input Umbrella | La Clase de la Señora ...

How do I implement Task-Based Language Teaching?

This is the big question. And it’s a question that I’m still reflecting on and trying to better understand.

BVP discusses two types of tasks, Output oriented, and Input oriented.

In an Input-Oriented task, students do not HAVE to create with language. Going back to the example from before with who had the busiest weekend, you could give a list of things students may have done (I read a book, I watched TV, I went do dinner, I spent time with friends…), they check off the activities they did, you could put those statements in second person questions (Did you read a book this weekend? Did you watch TV this weekend?…) Students then could read those questions to a partner and then coming back as a class you could decide who was busiest.

That same task as an Output-Oriented task would rely on students to create the language rather than selecting from a list of potential activities.

Now I want to give you something to think about as you continue to look into TBLT, this comes from a revelation I had at ACTFL while talking with Claudia Fernández.

A task can be as simple as making a decision. Having students decide on something is a great way to give students a purpose for attending to meaning and using language in the classroom. A few weeks ago, we were doing some PQA (personalized questions and answers) about who had visited museums. I took this opportunity to have students decide, based on what their classmates said, who they would like to travel with, and which museums.

Another quick task that I have done recently, was after we finished watching a TV show in class, I had students go to the comment section of the trailer for the show, find a comment that they agreed with, shared out the comment, and we decided if we, in general, agreed with what the commenters were saying. This task came about from my discussion with Claudia as well. She pushed me, and asked what I was going to do with the show when we were done watching it. In my mind, looking at reviews, fan theories, news about sequels is just part of what I do when I watch a show, so it was an easy jump to say “Oh, of course I can have students do that. That is really meaningful. We enjoyed watching the show, we got a lot of input from it, and now we can use language to continue talking about it, and find out if people agree with us.

If you need more examples of tasks I suggest looking at “While We’re on the Topic” by BVP, Common Ground by Florencia Henshaw and Maris Hawkins, or this post from FluentU. Claudia Fernández has also written a task-based curriculum with Klett World Language

Reflecting on ACTFL 2022

The 2022 ACTFL Convention and Expo has come and gone and it was so great to see some old friends, and meet some internet friends for the first time!

I got into Boston Thursday afternoon so that I could go to the SIG (Special Interest Group) Chair meeting. It was nice to get to see some other SIG officers that I’ve only interacted with via Zoom over these past few years. The ACTFL Membership team, along with ACTFL president-elect LJ Randolph were at the meeting and they have some GREAT ideas on how to make the SIGs work better for members. I’m really excited to see where the SIGs will go, and how they will help educators grow in the coming years.

Below are the sessions I attended (or wish I could have attended) and a few notes about them.

“I still wonder…” Using an Inquiry-Based Model to Make Input Compelling (Grugan & Musser-Quist)

I was really excited for this session. Making input comprehensible can be hard, and making it compelling is even harder. The inquiry based model that the presenters talked about is the 5 ‘E’s that is often used in science classes. One of my main takeaways in how the 5Es could fit into a Comprehension-Based classroom is by using cliffhangers in stories, videos, conversations, and using inquiry as a pre-activity. Show a video or a set of images and have students wonder about what is going on. With a video, you could show it without sound and have students guess what the video is about, with a reading you could pull images and discuss the images before reading. All in all this reminded me to make sure to include hooks in lessons to get students engaged and wanting to find out what we are going to discuss.

This can be done: Materials for a Task-Based Curriculum (Fernández)

The idea of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) has always intrigued me. What I always have trouble wrapping my head around with TBLT is what does it actually look like? My biggest takeaway is that tasks help us create purpose for classroom activities. A task should lead students to learn something NON-Linguistic. A powerful quote from Dr. Fernández was (paraphrasing) “I don’t go somewhere thinking I’m going to practice my L2, I go somewhere thinking I need to get something done and I have to use my L2 to do it”. Dr. Fernández uses English as an additional language, so when she is giving this presentation in English she’s not doing it to practice English, but rather to convey information to others.

The simplest form of a Task, I believe, is a decision making task. Where students get information (say we’re talking about circle of care, students may present information, and then make a decision based on their classmates’s presentations who in their circle of care they would like to meet. This presentation gave me a LOT to think about, and explained TBLT in a way that finally stuck with me.

ACTFL Comprehension-Based Communicative Language Teaching SIG Business Meeting (Langley, Bracey, Neubauer, Schweitzer, Cárdenas, featuring Wiechart, Fernández, and Bracey)

Reminder if you are an ACTFL member, you can join ALL the SIGs (but selfishly, make sure to join CCLT and partake in the forums :)) 

After we did the boring business meeting stuff we had a round table discussion with Teri Wiechart, Claudia Fernández, and John Bracey about the question “What IS CCLT?” The panelists had so many great things to say, and I wish we could have recorded it for the SIG. Our questions for the panel were “What does it mean to be Comprehension-Based?”; “What does it mean to teach communicatively?”; and “What does it look like to move from comprehension based activities to communicative activities?”

The biggest takeaway for me (Which could be it’s own blog post, really) was about WHY we need to have “Comprehension-Based” in front of “Communicative Language Teaching” because comprehension IS part of communication. This lead to an hour long discussion with Dr. Fernández later, but I think a consensus was that we emphasize comprehension because without input there is no output. So we do a lot of comprehension activities to get to the output activities.  

Simplifying for Equity (Holt)

I wasn’t able to attend this session, but this was one of the sessions that the CCLT SIG sponsored. Abbi was nice enough to share her presentation HERE

Music to my Ears: Infuse Joy & Inspire in your WL Classroom with Songs (Degadillo & Williamson)

I also wasn’t able to see this presentation because it was SO PACKED! This was also a CCLT SIG sponsored session.

ACTFL Sidebar: Why Is Teaching So Hard? (Epperson)

JJ Talked about student brain development in students and why behavior might sometimes be an issue, especially in these past few years of limited social growth.

Teacher’s Toolbox: Talk Read Talk Write Lesson Planning (Hlas)

This session was probably the one I took the most “do this on Monday” ideas from. It is based on the book Talk Read Talk Write by Nancy Motley.  Editing it for a CCLT classroom would take a little bit of work, but there are some great ideas. Essentially in TRTW there are 4 sessions in each class, the first talk.

Some ideas for the Talk sessions:
-Zoom in Zoom Out with a photo. Zoom in on part of a picture and talk about what students see, what they wonder, what they think the full picture is (Maybe use this in the Inquiry model?) 
-Ask a provocative question, could be any PQA question
– Select and defend a choice (Kind of like input bracketing [a coming soon post]).
-Post a question and have students guess what someone else answered.
-Tea Party (I REALLY like this one). You take words and phrases from a text, give each student a different word or phrase and they circulate the room saying how they connect with the word/phrase. THEN as a class, talk about all the phrases together and make predictions on what the reading could be about.

For reading, do any reading activities that you enjoy, check out Keith Toda’s reading strategies.
Speaking Two is supposed to go more in depth.
Writing is supposed to be students writing on their own but in a CCLT class, especially in early levels I think this could be shared writing/write and discuss.

Making Your Textbook Work for Your Proficiency-Based Goals (Fernández & Henshaw)

This session had GREAT ideas on how to make boring grammar drills meaningful. Thinking back to the task-based session, a lot of grammar drills can be made into decision making tasks. The presenters gave a LOT of ideas on how to make sure students have to actually focus on meaning and NOT just mechanics of drills.

Beyond Stories: Incorporating Authentic Resources into the CI Classroom (Madel)

I wish I could have seen this one, Rich has great ideas for bridging CCLT strategies to ‘authentic’ resources!

Representation and Multiculturalism in Comprehensible Input Readers (Neubauer, Perugini, Wesley)

I had to include this one as well even though I didn’t see it because it is such an important topic. I’m sure the presenters put it much more eloquently than I could, but just a reminder to all to read class materials with a critical eye, watching for anything that may exclude or ‘other’ any of your students.


I had so much fun and I cannot wait to see everyone at the next conference. And next year ACTFL is in Chicago so I can drive to see everyone!

Illustrating Lyrics

Last night on #LangChat we had a GREAT discussion on ways to use music in class, take a look at the archive of the chat!

The idea that I shared was an idea I learned from Leslie Davison at iFLT 2018 in Cincinnati when I was an apprentice demo teacher there. The idea is pretty simple, but it’s fun, gets students moving, and forces students to listen and re-listen to a part of a song.

So first thing I do, is decide what part of a song I want to use. Usually it’s the chorus, because it’s repeated often OR that’s where whatever target structure I’m focusing on is.

Next, write/type a line from the song on a full sheet of computer paper. If I type it, I try to make it so that the text is at the bottom of the page, and I include translations of words if necessary.

Step 1 of the activity is students DRAW a representation of the lyric. I then take up willing artists drawings and we talk about them a little bit.

Step 2: I play the portion of the song I want to focus on, students hold up their paper when they hear their line. We do this a few times, especially if it’s fast.

Step 3: Students try to organize themselves at the front of the room while the song plays. We do this a few times as well, this usually takes the longest amount of time.

Step 4 options: Have 1 student hide their paper, students listen to figure out what is missing, have students trade papers and re-organize while listening, students close their eyes and the teacher trades two people’s paper students listen to figure out what got switched.

This is usually a fun activity, I hope you have fun with it, and please share any way you modify it!

Optimizing PQA

TL;DR Ask the same question to a bunch of students, fish for details, before moving on to another question have students write what someone else said.

Something I struggle with often is making PQA engaging for everyone.

If you are unfamiliar with PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers), it is a communicative activity where you ask multiple people the same question to personalize class content, usually it is to front-load vocabulary OR to gain repetitions of a word or structure. For example, if we are reading a book that mentions a wedding, a Personalize Question might be “Have you ever gone to a wedding?” and then we talk about that for a bit. Maybe I am targeting the word “wedding” or maybe I’m targeting the phrase “Have you gone?”. PQA gives us an opportunity to repeat words/phrases we want students to start to acquire while also learning about students, and making connections between ourselves and our students, give our students an opportunity to find a connection between them and other students.

Students can gain a LOT of language by learning about their peers. A student can share something about their life, and I can use my strategies to make sure everything is comprehensible and available for uptake. I had been noticing recently, though, that students weren’t really paying attention if I wasn’t talking directly to them. Students NEED the input, whether or not I am talking directly to them.

The BIGGEST shift that I have made is adding a little bit of accountability to the activity. I do this by having students write what SOMEONE ELSE says before we move onto another question. So I may ask the question “Have you been to a wedding” to five or six students, but then I ask students to write whether or not someone else had been to a wedding. I take this time to walk around a bit, check in with students individually, and give some quick feedback to what students write. Then I cold call*(I have to see if I’ve written about this before… about how to make cold calling more equitable and less terrifying) students, ask them who they wrote about, and then ask the question in a different form. So I had been asking every student “Have YOU gone to a wedding” now is an opportunity to ask a different form “Has s/he/ Have they gone to a wedding”.

By adding this little bit of accountability, I think students are able to get a bit more out of a PQA session, or at least to me, it has felt a lot more productive.

CopyCat: A Quick, No-Prep, Post-Reading Game

I got this initial idea from Eric Richard’s Grafted Writing book, but today I gamified it a little bit because I needed to fill some time.

Essentially: students COPY (not summarize, because we want them to read the right forms, and write the right forms) a number of sentences. Today, I had students do five sentences because there were quite a few complex sentences in the text we read. You could vary the criteria for the sentences however you want. EG:

Copy sentences that:
1. best summarize the entire text.
2. have a color word in them.
3. have an emotion word in them
4. Have dialogue

Or any other criteria you come up with.

After students have copied (again, not summarized) the sentences from the text, they then go around the class and give themselves a point for every time someone else has the same sentence as them. Student with the most matches at the end of the game wins!

Take a look at Eric’s book, Grafted Writing for even more ideas of what to do after students have their sentences!

Brain breaks that won’t break your brain

A Brain Break is a pause in instruction to let students refocus, I’ve heard said that we should take our students average age (16 let’s say) and divide it by 2 (8) and after that many minutes you should change activities or take a break. I

In a class of 45 minutes that means we need to change activities or take a break about 5-6 times. That is a LOT.

Utilizing breaks is something that I really need to work on, and one of the issues I had is that I didn’t have enough types of brain break activities to keep things interesting, and I didn’t have enough that didn’t require students to touch each other. I, personally, like Brain Breaks that involve movement, but also can cross the midline, but need to build my repertoire.

So, as an avid #LangChatter I took to Twitter to crowd source a BUNCH of brain breaks and within a day I ended up with about 50 unique brain breaks because of the GREAT hivemind of Twitter. So I wanted to compile them here 🙂

View my Wakelet collection of the tweets HERE

Spoons! The classic card game with a reading twist!

I think we might all be familiar with the card game Spoons. Players pass cards around, trying to get 4 of the same card with a few spoons (one less than the number of players playing)in the middle of the table. When a player gets 4 of a kind they grab a spoon from the center of the table, which is the signal for everyone else to try to grab a spoon. The person that doesn’t get a spoon is out!

Martina Bex has made a version of Spoons for Spanish class and has some great variations!

Today, after hearing of some kids in the school picking up the game Spoons I started thinking about how I could adapt it to make it more input based.

What I came up with was this:

Project a story on the board, and on my free Card Template add comprehension questions, story details, story vocab, or anything that students would need to search the text for.

For example, if you’re reading the story Goldilocks, you could have some questions that are answered in the text such as: Which porridge is JUST right? Which porridge is TOO hot? Which porridge is TOO cold? Where does Goldilocks sleep?

But also some distractor questions: Why does Pinnochio’s nose grow? Who is dressed as grandma?

Students would need to find 4 questions that are answered by the text (and maybe verify too, if they win!)

You could also do sentences in English, first to find 4 True or 4 False statements, etc.

I think this variation on the game has a LOT of potential and hope you like it!

Already got an idea from my friend/colleague Emily!

Emily is using words/definitions for the game. So students still have to have 4 cards to win, but they are trying to get two “matching” pairs. Great idea!

Podcasts for Intermediate Learners

I got this idea today thanks to my new Department chair, Monsieur Jacobs.

We have alternating Wednesdays at my new school. Classes are longer, but students only go to half of their schedule. For teachers, that *could* mean that their class sections are split, and starting the school year that could mean if you continue with unit plans it could put some sections a day ahead. So Wednesdays need to be more or less independent. Something that ties in with the unit, but isn’t going to put students behind if they don’t all get it at the same time.

Then my DC told me that he was going to use a podcast as a choice activity for his Wednesday classes. He sent me a document that he uses with students, I altered it a tiny bit, but have an English copy of my edited document HERE.

I chunk the podcast transcript, and put a little text on each slide.

Students will listen to a small portion of the podcast without the text support, then will listen again with the text support and we will discuss what we can about what we’ve heard, personalizing discussion when possible.

While listening, students are looking for new words, and we will work together to circumlocute to make a simplified definition. Students then will try to find an instance of the word/phrase in the podcast, or if they want, write a sentence on their own.

Next, students work on a cultural comparison, thinking about questions like: What caught your attention? How can you connect the content of the episode to your own life? Did anything surprise you? Think critically about why it surprised you.

And finally, students will write 5 true/false questions and we will use those questions for some type of game to wrap up the class.

Eventually, I think I want to make this a choice activity, but for now I’m going to do the activity with students so we can think out loud and share our thoughts.