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Topic of the Week: Connecting Concepts and Place

By Christopher Daradics, CASLS Language Technician

Exploring the connection between a concept and the physical environment from which that concept emerged encourages abstract thought, meta-pragmatic awareness, and functional language use. In other words, understanding the systemic relationship between concepts and place helps students understand how meaning emerges from their environment (e.g. the classroom, their homes, and their communities). As a result, students are empowered to better read and navigate the linguistic and cultural aspects of the target language environment. For example, the language needed to shop at an open air market as compared to a grocery store is not only conceptual in terms of structure and words, but also directly tied to the places and spaces in which the language is used. Three focus areas are especially useful for connecting concepts and place, both physically and metaphorically.

Abstract Thought:

When students anchor familiar concepts into their natural physical contexts, they can make increasingly informed associations between the concrete facts of a situation and the abstract language used to talk about this and similar situations (Lantolf and Thorne, 2006). For example, using pre-activity reflection which asks learners to visualize what they already know about a grocery store enables them to situate new terminology for food shopping behavior into a space they already know.

Meta-pragmatic Awareness:

Through studying abstract concepts in physical context learners become better oriented and adapted to their own physical and intellectual habitats (Ortega, 2014). This ability to orient and adapt oneself to the demands of a given situation is a hallmark of meta-pragmatic awareness. It allows learners to make choices about the language behaviors in which they engage. For example, when apologizing, metapragmatic awareness enables the learner to consider the severity of an offense to determine how much explanation is needed as part of the apology.

Functional Language Use:

Making connections between a place and its associated concepts can provide learners with opportunities to engage in personally relevant ways (Lantolf and Thorne, 2006). For instance, conceptually motivated, place-based approaches to language learning have been found to inspire curiosity, willingness to take risks, and teamwork (Holden & Sykes, 2011). Highlighting the language functions required in any given context allows for the isolation of key language patterns especially useful for engaging in curious, daring, and collaborative functional language use. Returning to the grocery store example, this means a focus on greetings, requests for information, and leave takings needed to buy the food one needs.

In order to make the connection between concept and place explicit, learner support via instructor facilitation is fundamental. Prompting learners will help them notice the people, places, sounds, and physical objects within the contexts of their language use. As learners begin to explore the interplay between the environment and the kinds of abstract thought different environments facilitate, they are better able to make the critical connections needed for abstract through, meta-pragmatic awareness, and functional language use. Some potential questions for exploration follow:


  • Who are the people involved in and influencing a given situation?
  • Why are they involved and what are their interests in sustaining or altering the situation?


  • What sounds are present (or absent)?
  • How might the situation change if the soundscape changed?

Physical Environment:

  • How is meaning being communicated through the organization of the environment?
  • In what ways is the physical environment supporting or influencing the situation?

As they reflect on these elements as part of their language learning experience, meaning emerges from the environment itself, and in this realization context awareness can be raised, and functional language can be more consciously and skillfully tuned.


Holden, C. L., & Sykes, J. M. (2012). Leveraging mobile games for place-based language learning. Developments in Current Game-Based Learning Design and Deployment, 27.

Lantolf, J. and Thorne, S. (2006) Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of Second Languge Development. Oxford University Press.

Ortega, L. (2014). Understanding second language acquisition. Routledge.

Activity of the Week

  • Community Exploration with Ingress

    By Katie Carpenter, Ben Pearson, and Stephanie Knight

    The purpose of this activity is to help novice language learners acquire vocabulary by exploring their community. In order to engage in this exploration, learners play Ingress to guide their search for items needed to throw a party celebrating Afro-Latino heritage.

    Objectives: Learners will be able to:

    • Negotiate unknown meaning in a commercial app.
    • Create lists in the target language of items needed to throw a party.
    • Predict and verify the influence of African culture in Latino communities.

    Modes: Presentational Writing, Interpretive Reading, Interpretive Listening

    Resources: Ingress mobile app, Ingress introductory video on YouTube, Portal Documentation Sheet

    1.     Put learners into groups of four or fewer and explain to them that they will be tasked with planning an authentic Afro-Latino celebration. In order to plan this celebration, learners will create lists in the target language that are separated into the following categories: dress, decorations, food, and entertainment. The creation of the lists will occur in Step 4 of this activity.

    2.     Next, introduce learners to the Ingress app, a game designed to familiarize players with their local communities. Allow learners to view the Ingress introductory video on YouTube, download the game, and select a faction to represent. This step should take roughly 20 minutes for large classes and can easily be completed at home.

    3.     After that, learners will go to a neighborhood in which the target language is predominantly spoken. In their assigned groups, the learners will travel from portal to portal within the game. Their goal is to defend and hack as many portals as possible, all the while tracking their progress on the Portal Documentation Sheet. As the learners defend and hack portals, they must search out items for their party (food, dress, decorations, and entertainment). This step in the activity should take between 1-2 hours and will likely have to occur as a field trip.

    4.     After the outing is complete, learners will regroup as a class. Together, they will discuss all of the materials that they need to find for their party and brainstorm any other materials that they think they might need.

    5.     Finally, have learners reflect on the limitations of what they were able to find in the community as they played Ingress. It is fine if this discussion takes place in the first language, target language, or a combination of both. Use the following discussion questions as a guide: Where did you look for your materials? Why did you look there? How difficult or easy was it to find what you needed? What language did you learn from the process?  How did interacting with your environment impact your learning?


    Teachers may find it necessary to help learners figure out the meaning of words that they don’t already know as the learners are conducting their exploration.

CASLS Spotlight: OIIP: Language and Culture Learning Coupled with Career Experience

Integrating language and culture learning with practical career experience makes a powerful combination. CASLS Oregon International Internship Program (OIIP) does just that for students from China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Over the course of six months, OIIP students enroll in a course designed to specifically explore intercultural communication while they complete internships in Eugene-Springfield elementary schools. OIIP students share their native language and culture and help local students learn common core curriculum. In addition, OIIP students stay with local families to future learn about American family life.

“I have learned authentic American education system by observing teachers. I have also met a lot of friends and learned how to be independent,” says Yu Dian, a current student in OIIP who served as an intern at Adams Elementary School.

On Friday, January 12, CASLS said farewell to a group of eight OIIP students from Minzu University, East China Normal University, and National Chiayi University. OIIP will welcome another group of students in February. 

Language Corner

Resources on Differentiated Grading for English Learners

Source: Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... Back to Quick Links


Larry Ferlazzo has begun to curate helpful resources on differentiated grading for English language learners, available here:

Podcast: Assessments, Affect, and Proficiency Goals

Source: We Teach Languages Back to Quick Links


In episode 34 of the We Teach Languages podcast series, Danielle Dorvil interviews Professor Raul Rosales Herrera, Associate Professor of Spanish at Drew University. Dr. Rosales Herrera discusses his perspective on excellent language teaching and the goals he and his institution have set for students.

Access this podcast at

Flipgrid: for Reactions and Reflections, and for Formative Self-Assessment

Source: Various Back to Quick Links

A few teachers have been posting about how they use the video sharing platform Flipgrid.

First, Kara Jacobs describes how her students used Flipgrid for a presentational writing/speaking assessment:

Second, Laura Sexton describes how she plans to have students show their progress toward self-improvement goals with others around the country using Flipgrid:

Blog Post: Make Learning Visible by Graphing Performance and Proficiency

Source: Madame's Musings Back to Quick Links


Lisa Shepard has been having her students graph their performance on each Integrated Performance Assessment that they do, noting the proficiency level they performed at each time. She writes, "There are a few reasons why I consider the simple task of graphing proficiency/performance progress to be one of my successes in 2017. For one, I LOVED the conversations that I heard among my students as they completed their graphs each time. It is so much more meaningful to hear 'I moved up to Intermediate Low 1' than 'I got a B.' These graphs are also a great visual for my students. As we transition toward teaching for proficiency (and away from discrete point assessments) some students question 'what' they’re learning. These graphs help students to see their progress in a concrete way." The graphs also informed the instructor, leading her to conclude that she needs to change the prompts and provide more direction and targeted practice for the third IPA.

Read the blog post at

Research Summary: Influences of Native-Speakerism on Teachers and Students

Source: ELT Research Bites Back to Quick Links


Jeremy Slagosky revisits the issue of the native/non-native speaker dichotomy, or "native-speakerism," by summarizing the findings of two 2016 articles that investigated the phenomenon. His conclusion: "These studies illustrate the extent to which the labels of native speaker and non-native speaker can, but not necessarily do, impact teaching and learning English." He finishes with suggestions for teachers from Aneja's 2016 study.

Read the research summary at

Concepts and Specific Ideas for Engaging Students

Source: Sandy Millin Back to Quick Links


Sandy Millin has written an excellent blog post around the theme "Why should they care?" For each skill (speaking, reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation), she presents a common scenario of uninterested students and then provides concrete suggestions, based around more widely applicable concepts, for making the activity or task engaging. Here is the example for speaking:

You ask students to discuss a question like this in pairs:

Tell your partner what you did at the weekend.

They each monologue for about 30 seconds, and the whole activity peters out after less than two minutes. Neither student really listened to their partner, and apart from saying a few words in English, they haven’t really got anything out of the activity.

...Here are a few little tweaks that might avoid this situation.

Give them a listening task too. These can also be used as questions for feedback after the activity.
‘Find something your partner did that you didn’t.’ > Feedback = ask one or two students to say what their partner did and why they didn’t do it.
‘Decide whose weekend was more boring.’ > Feedback = put your hand up if you had the most boring weekend.

Add challenge.
Students have 15 seconds to tell their partner what they did – time it strictly. Afterwards they change partners and tell someone else what their partner did. Give them thinking time first to decide/rehearse what to say in that time.
Students can only say two sentences before their partner speaks. Give an example, and make sure you include questions!

Change the interaction pattern.
Students mingle, speaking to as many others as possible. They have to find one person who did the same three things as them/did none of the things they did/did something they wish they’d done.
Play Chinese whispers with two teams racing to correctly write down one thing each person in their team did.

Give them some functional language you want them to use.
‘No, really? Why did you do that?’
‘That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.’

Read the full blog post at

Strategies for Staying in the Target Language During “Housekeeping” Tasks

Source: Teaching in the Target Language Back to Quick Links


Here are a few tips for staying in the target language during classroom situations such as school announcements or student requests:

Professional Development

Call for Articles: Journal of the National Network for Early Language Learning

Source: NNELL Back to Quick Links


The journal of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) serves the profession by providing a medium for the sharing of information, ideas, and concerns among teachers, administrators, researchers, and others interested in the early learning of World languages. Learning Languages embodies NNELL’s commitment to promote opportunities for all children to develop a high level of competence in at least one language and culture in addition to their own.

Submissions are currently being sought for the Fall/Winter 2017 issue, whose theme is "Reaching Out: World Languages for Community Engagement." The due date for submissions is January 31, 2018.

Learn more about the journal and its submission guidelines at

Fulbright-Hayes Seminars Abroad for Educators

Source: Kentucky Teacher Back to Quick Links
Applications are being accepted for the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program at the U.S. Department of Education (USED), which provides opportunities for qualified educators to participate in short-term seminars abroad – mainly on topics in the social sciences, social studies and the humanities – for the purpose of improving their understanding and knowledge of the peoples and cultures of other countries.
These programs will be offered in summer 2018:
• Elementary/middle seminar (grades K-8): Exploring Cultural and Social Diversities in India
• Secondary seminar (grades 9-12): Examining the Impact of Ecuador’s History, Biodiversity and Cultural Diversity
• Postsecondary seminar: Exploring Contemporary United States-Poland Relations
Eligible educators must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents with at least three years of full-time teaching or administrative experience at the time of departure and must be educators in the arts, humanities or social sciences or administrators.
Upon their return, participants are expected to develop and disseminate a curriculum project and to share their broadened knowledge and understanding of the host country or countries with students, colleagues, civic and professional organizations and the public in their home communities.
The application deadline is February 2. 


Book: Task-based Grammar Teaching of English

Source: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. Back to Quick Links


Task-based grammar teaching of English: Where cognitive grammar and task-based language teaching meet
By Susanne Niemeier
Published by Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. 

The focus on communication in TBLT often comes at the expense of form. In this book, the task-based approach is enhanced and coupled with insights into (cognitive) grammar, an approach which sees grammar as meaningful. The book shows how grammar teaching can be integrated into a communicative lesson in a non-explicit way, i.e., “by the backdoor”. The learners are involved in situations that they may also encounter outside their classrooms and they are given communicative tasks they are to work on and solve, usually with a partner or in small groups. What teachers need to invest for preparing such lessons is their own creativity, as they have to come up with communicative situations which guide the learners into using a specific grammatical structure. The book first discusses the didactic and the linguistic theories involved and then translates these theoretical perspectives into actual teaching practice, focusing on the following grammatical phenomena: tense, aspect, modality, conditionals, passive voice, prepositions, phrasal verbs, verb complementation, pronouns and articles.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Complexity Theory and Language Development

Source: John Benjamins Publishing Company Back to Quick Links


Complexity Theory and Language Development: In celebration of Diane Larsen-Freeman
Edited by Lourdes Ortega and ZhaoHong Han
Published by John Benjamins Publishing Company

This volume is a state-of-the-art display of current thinking on second language development as a complex system. It is also a tribute to Diane Larsen-Freeman for her decades of intellectual leadership in the academic disciplines of applied linguistics and second language acquisition. The chapters therein range from theoretical expositions to methodological analyses, pedagogical proposals, and conceptual frameworks for future research. In a balanced and in-depth manner, the authors provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary understanding of second language development, with a wealth of insights that promise to break the status-quo of current research and take it to exciting new territory. The book will appeal to both seasoned and novice researchers in applied linguistics, second language acquisition, bilingualism, cognitive psychology, and education, as well as to practitioners in second or foreign language teaching of any language.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Phonology in Protolanguage and Interlanguage

Source: Equinox Back to Quick Links


Phonology in Protolanguage and Interlanguage
Edited by Elena Babatsouli and David Ingram
Published by Equinox

Phonemic awareness and phonetic skill are the backbones of phonological theory. In phonological acquisition, the presence or lack of the former crucially determines the outcome of the latter. This inescapably becomes a common thread that interweaves developmental phonology in both childhood and adulthood. Child and adult-learner speech in the course of development constitute separate linguistic systems in their own right: they are intermediate states whose endpoint is, or ought to be, mastery of targeted speech either in a first or a second language. These intermediate states form the theme of this volume which introduces the term protolanguage (to refer to child language in development) and juxtaposes it with interlanguage (to refer to language development in adulthood).

This volume brings together different methodological approaches with a stress on both phonetic and phonological analysis. It includes both child and adult developmental perspectives, descriptive and/or theoretical results from a combination of methodological approaches (e.g. single-case, cross-sectional; spontaneous speech samples, narrative retells) and a consideration of speech acquisition in the general context of language.

The volume aims to motivate a shift in the general tendency among researchers to specialize in language subfields (L1 acquisition; L2 acquisition, bilingualism; typical/atypical language) of what is actually one common linguistic domain, i.e. the study of speech sounds (phonology/phonetics).

Visit the publisher's website at

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