Monday, December 26, 2016



There are a lot of conversations about the pros and cons of using textbooks in the foreign language classroom. Some schools carefully chose which textbook their school/district/state will adopt, having preview committees, review functions and lively discussions then votes. Others wish they had all that, but  find out that there is no money for textbooks. Still others don’t even have textbook conversations. They instead make (or allow) the teachers to piece together their own materials.

For those of you new to the debate (winging it versus using a textbook) and possible recently educated, you may know only one way. It might be time to consider the following:

Why some teachers don’t want to use a textbook:

A teacher throws away her textbooks into the garbage preferring to use her own materials instead/

"I know better than they do. I'll dump my textbook
and make up my own curriculum.

·      They don’t like using books in the class as they find them restricting

·      They don’t like using the vocabulary/grammar presented

·      They don’t like their pictures/activities/cultural snippets

·      They have a different methodology which they design in accordance to their class make-up or needs( TPRS) or others.

·      They may be teaching language incidentally, through immersion with academic content. activities, games, or just living (as a first language  is learned) and language teaching textbooks just have no room in their curriculum.

Why many teachers use textbooks in their classes:

A teacher is bowing to a textbook symbolizing that he loves it and uses it all the time

"We love the textbook and always use it."

·      Their schools or districts demand that all teachers use the same curriculum/books.

·      They trust the collective knowledge and abilities of the large group of authors of the textbook.

· They enjoy the many colorful (copyrights cleared) photos and other art in the books.

· They want uniformity and accountability from all their teachers to make vertical alignment more seamless.

·      They benefit by the large array of basic and ancillary materials available and related (controlled, on - level vocab and grammar). The worksheets, digital games and activities, self-correcting assessments, links to authentic materials and much much more.

·      They like the freedom to design their curriculum according to the abilities and interests of their particular student while still staying within the school’s need for “uniformity of content”.

·      It frees up the teachers from having to create worksheets, games or other materials that they may not be qualified to create.

a cartoon of a teacher carrying a textbook as she walks on the road (Shown on a map) of teaching. This symbolizes that the textbook helps guide the way.

"I'll follow the textbook, use it as a guide 

but not ONLY the textbook"
Most teachers have been trained to intelligently choose materials, methods and how to deliver them. Also, although fluent and proficient, teachers have different levels and abilities. Some may only know one type or region of the language and not be able to expose their students to other ways of saying things. Sometimes native speakers know what sounds right, but may not instinctually know how to explain the whys and hows to non-natives. Others are great at using others’ materials but have no idea of what and how to create their own. This is not a complaint, just a fact. The majority of teachers can benefit from some sort of “road map”, which is what a textbook provides.

What if you are a creative, experienced and independent type of teacher who loves to write and create materials?

Go for it.  It’s a lot of work. It may take a number of years until you have all of your materials ready. If you are lucky, maybe you only teach one level and therefore have only about 180 hours worth of materials and activities.  If not, like many of us, you teach 3-4 different classes, you would require quadruple the amount of work. That probably would make you 1 - crazy and 2 - asleep for your own class. Because no man is an island, you should enlist a cadre of proof-readers when possible of competent, intelligent and well - traveled teachers. Educated native or near native speakers (and quite literate, of course) are also good proof-readers to have on board.


A new teacher asked me, “So  what’s the problem with textbooks?  I hear some language teachers smugly bragging that they didn’t use the textbook, like a badge of honor. Are textbooks bad?  Am I less of a teacher because I use one?“  I laughed since that has become a frequent discussion in language teacher chat rooms, and in my then upcoming (this) blog. My answer to him:

  1. A textbook, worksheets, puppet, worksheets, songbooks, art supplies are items that good teachers may have in their toolbag or toolbox.

    "I use the textbook as one of my many tools in my teacher's toolbox"
Yes, sometimes there is some degree of smugness or air of superiority when some teachers brag that they don’t use the textbook. Some teachers don’t use textbooks because their schools or states can’t afford them. More often than not, other   teachers have unique ways of teaching so they don’t, can’t or won’t use a textbook. However, many, if not the majority of language teachers, use the textbook in some capacity or another. It saves time, paper, and headaches. Some use the textbook and many of its extras almost exclusively. Some pick and choose what they want to use and then supplement what they want or need to. For them, the textbook and the extras, is just one of their many tools in their teacher’s tool bag.

Some items you might want to consider for your language teacher's toolbox or tool bag:

Dia de los muertos readings, activities and more decorative packet cover by Lonnie Dai Zovi

Example of some cultural
 readings and activities

To see more of my products in many languages and in many subjects go to:

Sunday, August 14, 2016


picture of Lonnie Dai Zovi holding up cards from Musical Echoing visual and chant methodology

Lonnie Dai Zovi teaching in the target language

But what if the criteria mentioned in the previous post is not and cannot be met? Can you still approach 90? Eventually or sooner than you think.


  1. Don’t feel bad. Remember, like drinking 8 glasses of water, and exercises every day, this is a goal. Surprisingly, when I ask large groups of teachers at language conferences how many of them teach immersion at the lower levels, only about 10-15% raise their hands. For upper levels, (3 or 4)  the number goes up. This is like when my dentist  told me never to give my children soft drinks. When I saw  her at a fast food restaurant with her 3 children drinking soft drinks, she confessed that she suggested that to her patients, but she herself could not enforce the no soft drink rule with her own children. Theory vs. reality.

  1. Do your best. You CAN teach your way. Many people who are fluent today were taught in many ways. None of my teachers taught in all Spanish, save my college professors, and I am fluent.

    A picture of the visuals in Lonnie Dai Zovi's actual classroom showing her famous Spanish Snappy Sayings and a few of the subjunctive posters to help the visual learners

    Some of the Spanish Snappy sayings above the board
    and few Subjunctive Posters
    • Speak  and present as much in the TL as your situation allows you to. One teacher I know does 50% immersion. She speaks first in Spanish then again repeating the same concept in English. Double work for her? A time waster? Efficient scaffolding? Could unmotivated students not listen to the TL part and wait for her to say it in English? Maybe yes to all.
    • Adopt words and phrases in the beginning of the semester and never deviate. (Who is absent today? Pass up your homework. Bless you, excuse me, etc, May I go to the bathroom, etc. ) Spanish (Italian and French, German, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Japaneseclassroom expression pics are good to display and use for this. Soon, without even demanding it, the kids will volunteer to speak more TL and /or asking how to say…

    • Use snappy sayings (Spanish, French, Italian) that pre-teach and review a lot of vocabulary and structures and grammar, and also teach and practice pronunciation. Besides being fun, building community (explained in a future blog), it also readies the kids for future fluency.

    • Institute Fluency Friday.  The kids actually respond very well to this day The teacher ONLY speaks in the TL. Later the students have to also speak only in the TL. This can be gradual, by semester and level. It is not too long and not forever. It is a challenge and not a mandate. Most students rise to the challenge to compete to be the first to know what the teacher is saying.

  • In upper levels , the TL should always be used. If the student have been scaffolded and prepped sufficiently, it is quite expected and welcome. The kids need to speak to each other informally in the TL also. That is harder to enforce all the time, but I try. Often the kids leave the room speaking Spanish after class, not even realizing it. After we read a passage, a story , or even have a grammar lesson (always in Spanish) I think that I have done a great job of explaining or acting it out. However, just in case I often ask who needs to step outside for another explanation, but in English. The rules don’t apply outside of the classroom walls, unless I say that they do. Usually the kids DID understand everything, they just needed to make sure.
    The football players from Lonnie Dai Zovi's Spanish 1 class are holding the "unifome" chant (a new member of the popular Spanish Snappy Sayings) said when they wear their sports uniform.

    The football players holding the "uniforme" chant

    In conclusion:

    • The ACTFL  90% immersion guideline does work well if the conditions are conducive to it.
    • Don’t beat yourself up if you are unable to do immersion. Do it little by little. You may find it gets easier and the kids adapt to it well.
    • Upper levels, honors classes, and  small classes really should institute immersion.
    • Those of you who successfully use the TL 90-100% of the time, be gentle on those who don’t. They are also good and effective teachers. Don’t judge – they are not you.
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    Tuesday, June 14, 2016




    an engaged and motivated student who appears to understand her immersion teacher's instruction

    Immersion is great for the motivated
    The  official ACTFL position  statement recommends that the target language be used 90% of the time in class. It is a good goal, not a mandate. Many teachers feel frustrated and guilty at their inability to reach the goal of 90% immersion, or even 50% or 10%.  Many state that  they don’t know how to successfully use the target language to that degree. They may worry about getting “it all covered” and that speaking all the time in the language will hinder them. Frankly, many teachers don’t have the confidence to use the TL (target language) full time, like in explaining grammar, directions for the activities, or handling behavior problems when they occur.

    So should teachers be made to feel like failures for not use the target language the suggested 90-100% of the time? Should they use the immersion no matter their abilities, confidence level, situation and beliefs? Like anything else, there are differing philosophies and guidelines that are debatable. The ACTFL position statement of 90% immersion in the target language does have its pros and cons.


    1.     Not all teachers have the ability to smoothly and correctly converse and explain grammar, directions and otherwise manage classroom procedures and behavior in the target language.

    2.     Some students (more than we’d like) are not motivated enough to pay attention to the constant “blah, blah, blah” of the unfamiliar language. They tune out and are not engaged. Besides not learning, these kids may start causing behavior problems thereby preventing other kids from learning, too. The teacher then is distracted from his teaching or supervising the activity, time is lost and the class atmosphere is tainted.

    3.     Sometimes despite utilizing strong visual aides, using cognates, physical acting out, speaking slowly, writing words or meanings on the board and other strategies for understanding, the students may still NOT understand the word, phrases or concept being taught. Sometimes it is more effective and quicker to just say ”salesman”. (Many years ago my daughter had a new teacher who ineffectively used immersion to teach her first - graders Spanish. She came one day and told me she know how to say “wall” in Spanish. “Miércoles” she told me. I corrected her and still to this day wondered what the teacher had done to make my daughter think that. I know that she only spoke Spanish (in monotone) and didn’t use any techniques to aid in comprehension.)

    students appear to be disengaged and not at all interested in their immersion class. This shows that not all students benefit by immersion. Some close their brain and learn nothing.

    Immersion is not perfect in some cases
    4.     Class size and demographics can make it more challenging to effectively teach through immersion.  Many high school classes are 35 and over. Comprehension checks are a lot harder, in addition to behavior maintenance (or anything else, for that matter). Many administrators load up the elective classes. Are the students in the class there because they want to learn or because the parents want them to, or maybe the counselors just put them there since all the other classes were full? In these cases motivation to learn the language can be very low, no matter how dynamic and well trained the teacher is. If the class is in mostly in the target language, these kids can act out even more.

    5.     Instructions for the activities or worksheets can be quite confusing or ambiguous at best. Publishers often wonder if they should write the instructions in English or the TL, or both. Some opt for using English for the first semester level  of  level 1 in English, then Spanish after that. I have had students tell me that they didn’t do the homework because they didn’t understand the instructions (written in the TL) Since I know I had explained very clearly what they were to do, I assume that this is just an excuse, but who knows.

    6.     If the TL is learned in an uncontrolled, non-academic milieu (T.V, movies, comics,
    friends) what is picked up can be incorrect, inappropriate, bad grammar, questionable vocabulary and more. I had some kids (twin brothers) come to my high school Spanish class who had been in an immersion class. Their accents were very good, and their sentence structure was quite good as well. Their grammar was very bad, their vocabulary not well developed and their spelling was lamentable…even though Spanish spelling is rather phonetic. I just wanted to wipe their brain clean and start from scratch!

    So, is ACTFL’s position or guideline of 90% immersion   an unrealistic or unattainable goal? No, It’s very effective and certainly do-able given the right circumstances.

    1.     The teacher needs to be both competent and confident in his abilities to immerse his students correctly in the TL, and to be able to scaffold sufficiently.

    ·      Does he have native or near native fluency for the level he teaches?

    ·      Does he use clear and simple visuals and physical actions and gestures well to explain?

    ·      Does he speak at a speed that is both realistic and simple enough in the beginning for comprehension?

    ·      Does he check frequently for understanding?

    ·      Will he allow some kids to translate in some cases to clarify meaning?
    (Some people don’t think that should be allowed as it makes the non-understanding students rely too much on others instead of figuring it out himself.)

    One of Lonnie Dai Zovi's famous "Spanish Snappy Sayings  For the Spanish Classroom" posters that adorn her classroom wall
    Spanish Snappy Sayings  For the Spanish Classroom
    2.     The class should be a manageable size. I don’t know the correct number, but I do know that a class of 35 will have different outcomes in motivation and performance levels than a class of 25. It is INSANE that so many schools do not factor this in when assigning large numbers to language classes.

    3.     The behavior expectations need to be explained clearly one way or another either with actions, pictures  or even in English (orally or in writing ) on the first day.

    4.     You may need administrator support for having an immersion  class. Even though this methodology is wildly accepted as being one of the best, there still can be complaints with the students or parents.

    5.     Parents should be informed that  the teacher intends to use the TL almost exclusively. Often the students will complain that they don’t understand anything and that they want to be taken out of the class. Sometimes the administrator will tell the teacher  stop using the TL so much. (Yikes!)


    1. Students will learn grammar, vocabulary and syntax effortlessly as they did as babies.

    2. Generally, 1000 hours of language contact is needed for near fluency (the number depends on many variables). Having the teacher and later the student speaking only in the TL will help the students reach fluency faster.

    3. If the teacher is:
    ·      comfortable and is competent in  providing comprehensible TL instruction full time
    ·      knows how to deliver comprehensible input
    ·       the students and other conditions and variables are optimal…

                …the teacher should use the target language 90+ % . It’s the most effective way to learn a language.

     But what if, for the reasons explained in this blog, the teacher won’t or can’t?


    That is the subject of my next blog. Sign up and you will be notified when it is ready. Thank you, Lonnie

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    Wednesday, April 6, 2016

    Should We Use Movies, Videos and Films in the Foreign Language Classroom?

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    Should We Use Movies, Videos and Films in the Foreign Language Classroom?

    A movie marquee type poster showing a few cultural, beloved (but not cultural) and authentic films

    Using films and videos of all types are great audio input for the FL class

    There are some teachers that are proud or even smug that they don’t show movies or videos in the classroom. There are others who show way too many movies or videos, and even worse - they have no front loading, worksheets, or follow up discussions or writing activities. They seem to use movies as time wasters or “babysitters’. To answer the  title question, yes, we should use movies, films and videos in the foreign language classroom.  However, there should be good reasons and some specific strategies when they are shown.

    Why? - Why should we show movies and videos?

    • Movies and videos are very entertaining both for there visual and auditory content.
    • Both the teacher and the students enjoy that they are receiving language education in a calming and low energy manner.
    • Some movies present cultural insights
    • the constant and authentic (usually) auditory input
    • It’s a great way to reinforce vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation, and grammar
    • If the movie is familiar to the students (They may have seen it a number of times in English or their native language), they will not have to pay attention to the story line so they instead can listen to and learn how to say the familiar lines in the TL (target language)

    Which Types of Videos Should You Show?

    A marquee type poster showing a few Spanish language, cultural and authentic and very educational films available for the Spanish class

    There are many authentic films available
    Which ones?  Should they be cultural? Should they be related to the culture of the language being studied? Should they have a lesson or a moral? Can they be fun and light? Should they be only short ones or can they be full-length movies? Can they be in English (native language?) Yes to all.

    • There are very good movies, new and old, that are in English but that teach culture in some way. El Cid, Man of the Mancha, Evita, travel videos for example can be shown in the first year classes. The follow up activities can be in the Target Language if need be.

    Beloved, interesting movies in Spanish
    offer good audio input but no culture
    • Disney or Pixlar movies (of any culture) are great because they are enjoyable, they have priceless auditory input, and are usually familiar to students of all ages. "El Rey León", "La Bella y la Bestia", "Congelado", "Mulán", "Valiente"

    • There are movies that are cultural, enjoyable and in the target language. For Spanish, these include “El libro de la vida", "El Norte", "El camino hacia El Dorado",  "Las locuras del emperador" ,"Diario de motocicleta"  and more. Many of these DVDs are available at Red Box, Net Flix, or companies like Applause, Carlex and Teacher’s Discovery. Be sure to view the movies, especially if they are rated R or NR. Most schools require parental permission to view such movies, if they give permission at all. Also, some parents will not allow even their teen-agers to view any non-G movie and  berate you for wanting to show such a movie. (Unfortunately, I have experience with that!)

    Subtitles– I don’t usually show a movie unless I feel that the students at that level can understand it to some degree. If the movie shown is cultural and way above the level of the students, sure, by all means, use English sub-titles. Be forewarned, that often the  target language sub-titles do NOT match what is heard (in the TL). That may not bother the lower level students, but the upper levels are confused and their attention is misdirected. Occasionally if the language heard is either very hard vocabulary, heavily or regionally accented or full of dialect or slang, I will put on the English subtitles. If nothing else the students are receiving some TL.

    Is There a Special or Suggested Way to Best Use Videos in the Foreign Language Classroom?

    How – If the video you are showing is an educational video  (El Desfile de las Cholas en Bolivia, Landfill Harmonic in Paraguay) the optimal time has been proven to be 11 minutes. However if it is full movie, there are various ways  to take full advantage of movies’ language teaching attributes:

    • There should be some preparation, or front loading for optimum viewing. You could write important, interesting or repetitive vocabulary from the movie. I prefer to write the words in the TL (as heard on the movie) and have the students look them up before the movie. It’s a good idea to check that the students have the correct meaning or nuance.

    • You can have them listen for those words (or certain words) and give them a prize, smile, point or bragging rights when they point them out.

    • Have sheet of simple questions, ideally sequential. You may want to warn the students when that question is coming up. You can also replay that section.

    A marquee type poster showing cute and interesting cultural Spanish language videos appropriate for all ages

    Cute G-rated yet cultural movies
    • The questions at the lower level should be easy, present , present progressive, true/false, lists, maybe simple past. The higher levels can have questions in various tenses, including future (anticipatory questions), conditional (alternate endings or actions), subjunctive (era important que…)

    • Sequencing activities, write words they hear for lower levels, group summary(written or oral) as a whole class or small groups, crossword puzzles using the vocabulary and/or characters, true/false, fill in the blank sentences or paragraphs, mini-research about subjects introduced by the movie, coloring pages of scenes, or characters if available.

    • The upper level classes can write more advanced pieces or even essays. For example: After viewing "Mulan" can write a compare and contrast paper about Mulan compared to  Joan of Arc; Viewers of "Evita "can write an opinion piece about Evita - did she help or harm Argentina?; "Bajo la misma luna" can stimulate conversations or papers on immigration, mothers leaving their children for good reasons etc.

    • Some movies are based on fact, or contain some fact. It’s good to discuss (or have the students think for themselves) what is fact, what is exaggeration, and what is total fantasy. The movies Pocahontas, The Road to El Dorado, and some others are good for that.

    How often: The frequency with which you show movies depends on the level. I show only a few movies at the lower level (but quite a few short videos) . At the upper levels I show  more movies because they are able to understand more and therefore able to benefit more from the awesome auditory input.

    In conclusion, don’t be afraid to show purposeful movies , but try to avoid the temptation to just pop it in with no prepping or post activities. Movies, videos and films can be great listening and cultural assets in the foreign language classroom.

    To see some of Lonnie's many products in  many languages and many subjects, go to:

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