Yeah, no one wants to be that teacher…. The one who assigns the dreaded summer assignment.
At the same time, though, you’ve been a language learner long enough to know that two to three months of break from practice and exposure to a foreign language can cost you that much time—at least—in catching up and reviewing just to get your students back the ability level and progress they had reached in June. And, especially if you’re hoping to run a virtual exchange with Level Up Village this fall, you’ll want your students to feel comfortable conversing with their peers abroad in the target language as soon as possible!
Some colleagues put together pretty intense review packets, chock-full of verb conjugations and reading comprehension exercises; however, while they mean well, I often find that they become frustrated when they learn students tend to wait until the last minute to complete them, and it’s usually something that the students do out of necessity more than routine practice. Plus, there’s nothing inspiring about being handed a Frankenstein’s monster of xeroxed worksheets and ransom-note amalgamation of directions cut from some manila folder of handouts made from the late 90s. You know the kind I’m talking about….
Instead, why not consider some of these tactics to keep your students interested, well-versed, and engaged in the foreign language they’re learning so they come back from summer break refreshed and ready to hop into their virtual exchange with confidence and enthusiasm!
Whenever I get the inevitable question from parents, “What can my teenager do outside of your class to practice more,” I always respond in the same way. “Start a new show. Discover some music. Put on a movie. Start listening to a podcast. Read a book.”
Yeah, I know—would that every kid did this instead of…whatever they’re always doing on their devices…right?
But honestly, while these are generally wholesome activities in any regard, I always add this disclaimer: “—In the target language!”
The world of the internet has made all these media available to us; through algorithms, many of these offerings actually get hand-picked to our taste, as well. So, the work of sorting through record collections, bookstores, and video rental stores (remember those??) has been all but eliminated.
And just think: your students consuming media in a foreign language carries several benefits. First, of course, they’re getting exposure to the language, which is something hard to control while they’re on break and not traveling. But, furthermore, the power of the content will inspire them to keep going with it: think of an addicting Netflix show produced in another country, and its power to enthrall its viewers into an evening binge! Moreover, it gives your students some cultural touchstones to fall back on when they’re communicating with peers in a virtual exchange. They can discuss new singles dropped by the international artists they found on a Spotify playlist this summer or talk about scenes from a movie they liked (even though they had to read subtitles!)
And this recommendation is easy to leverage into an assignment when school comes back in session: a reflection, or a presentation, or if you’ve found something the whole class will enjoy, a guided discussion on the work will fit in nicely as a welcome-back lesson plan.
I don’t know about you, but people are always asking me which I think is better: Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, or any of the other dozen gamified apps that supposedly teach foreign languages. Not really having the desire, need, or even interest to explore these apps for my own usage, I only know friends’ and students’ experiences. And guess what?
These apps, predicated on the idea that users will access them every day, loop in users with the gamification of learning and a reward system that encourages them to come back and utilize the app every day. Often, there’s points or leadership boards where users excel because of their consistency and regularity. And, even if the apps themselves may fall short of the curriculum you’re trying to teach…umm, hello? Every day? To have a student do anything consistently, every single day, should sound like a dream come true!
Whether it’s basic vocabulary, verb conjugation, or simulated conversation, the consistency here translates into value for your students, and ultimately you. In particular, though, is how some of these apps build in several skills that will be useful for your students to practice for that virtual exchange course you’re going to have them do. Pronunciation practice through voice recognition. Listening comprehension. Simulated dialogue. These are all great aspects of what they’ll be using to communicate through Level Up Village’s asynchronous video exchange portal, so it can only serve them in the long run to demystify these aspects of conversational and presentation speaking now through routine use.
Keeping in Touch
If you’ve already done one of Level Up Village’s virtual exchanges, then you might have another secret weapon against the summer doldrums: encouraging your students to keep in touch with the friends they’ve made abroad! Naturally, the manner in which you do this should be discussed and approved by your institution’s administration, the partnering teacher, their school, and the parents, as necessary. However, just think of the learning benefits to your students keeping the conversation going over the summer months with kids whose native tongue is your pupils’ target language!
Whether it’s following each other on social media, writing to one another, or using your classroom software to broker communication between the two schools, there’s a lot of good that can come from students keeping in touch! Undoubtedly, the students from both institutions will have a chance to routinely exchange information in the target language—whether it’s a comment on someone’s post, or a direct message here and there! I would caution students, however, not to rely too heavily on the social media translating messages for them, though, since of course this would defeat the linguistic purpose of communicating.
Of course, not every social media platform offers the security of the Level Up Village virtual exchange platform, but if you don’t mind being the facilitator, you can easily negotiate this into a monthly assignment that gets turned in to you for credit! Simply ask each student to prepare something—a video, a letter, a voice recording, or whatever—and send them to you over the summer. Then, you can compile these missives and share them with the teacher you worked with on a virtual exchange. Like the pen pal programs of old, imagine your students’ excitement when they return from break to hear replies from their old LUV friends!
Don’t let summer be a drag! You don’t have to assign rote memorization drills, or boring worksheets to keep your students engaged in language learning. Think of fun ways in which you might practice a foreign language: chances are, it’ll probably be fun for your students, as well! And this way, if you have a Level Up Village course planned for the fall, you’ll have your pupils in the best shape for communicating with their new friends abroad!