InterCom, a customizable weekly newsletter for language professionals, is provided by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon. InterCom is sponsored through a Title VI Language Resource Center grant.

Topic of the Week: Building Relevance for Learners

By Stephanie Knight, CASLS Assistant Director

Relevance promotes learning. This statement, though simple and perhaps even obvious given the plethora of educational frameworks and resources that exist to promote relevance for students (e.g., Understanding by Design, Project-Based Learning, the International Baccalaureate, Games2Teach, authentic assessment (Wiggins, 1989 and 2011), LinguaFolio, and career academies) can be difficult to systematize in a classroom. After all, the fact that there is an implicit hierarchy in the teacher-student relationship serves to undermine the centrality of the learner in most formal educational spaces. However, this difficulty is not insurmountable. To promote learner relevance, consider these three factors when designing your class.

  1. Context: Context is as critical for decoding language as it is for promoting learning. Consider, for example, a lesson on describing one’s self to others. If learners are taught about how to say “to be” and how to make adjectives agree, they can engage in the task, but it is unlikely that they will find it relevant or personally authenticate their learning. However, if they dissect a variety of scenarios in order to learn the language function (e.g., describing one’s self when meeting for the first time, describing one’s self with someone with whom trust has been built, and describing one’s self at a job interview), the act of describing one’s self is likely to be personally salient.
  2. Inquiry: Provide learners with space to inquire and to create knowledge in the classroom. Consider the aforementioned lesson about describing one’s self. In a class discussion, learners could compare and contrast a short videos in the target language of a person describing him- or herself to a peer and a person describing him- or herself to an interviewer. This comparison would require learners to note observations about language, power dynamics, and social cues, propelling the learner beyond mere grammar and vocabulary acquisition. Additionally, since learners could potentially lead the discussion with their observations of the language at hand (with the teacher filling in and explaining what they are unable to dissect), knowledge creation in such a scenario is likely much more agentive than it is passive.
  3. Empathy: Humans oftentimes have diverse reactions to observed objects. An awareness of and appreciation for these diverse reactions is critical for learners to find relevance in the work that they are doing, particularly in language coursework in which they are exposed to a variety of cultural norms, practices, and expectations. Otherwise, any content that is potentially political (e.g., climate change, gender identity, and racial identity), content that should be embraced and explored, will likely alienate some learners from full participation in the classroom. Teachers should avoid this potential pitfall by using simulations such as those embedded in many video games or role playing activities in which learners are exposed to and experience diverse perspectives.

Establishing personal relevance for learners throughout a school year is not accomplished by considering any one of these factors once, but rather with their thoughtful integration throughout a course of study. As they are considered and implemented in the classroom, learners are likely to take ownership of their learning and feel empowered to use the content of a language classroom in the manners that they find most meaningful, manners that are certainly as diverse as the learners themselves.


Wiggins, G. (1989). A true test: Toward more authentic and equitable assessment. The Phi Delta Kappan. 70 (9). 703-713.

Wiggins, G. (2011). Moving to modern assessments. The Phi Delta Kappan. 92 (7). 63.

Activity of the Week

  • Preparing for a Job Interview in English

    By Zach Patrick-Riley, CASLS Fellow

    Interviewing for a job in one’s first language is scary enough, but doing it another language adds an additional level of complexity. Providing useful strategies and language to succeed in real-life situations like a job interview makes learning relevant for students and is a salient example of why explicit pragmatic instruction is beneficial in language classrooms. The target proficiency level for this activity is Intermediate Mid to Advanced Low, and it was created for English language learners.

    Objectives: Learners will be able to:

    • Confidently perform a mock job interview, answering anticipated common interview questions
    • Adapt register and language to the context of a job interview
    • Narrate and describe a relevant professional experience and reason(s) for wanting to work at the target interview job context
    • Articulate job interview similarities and differences from L1 language and culture.

    Modes: Interpersonal, interpretive, presentational

    Materials needed: LingroToGo Video (app available on iOS and Android devices): Work & School>Getting a Job>Introducing yourself in a Formal Context, Cut-out Interview Response Slips Sheet, Mock Job Interview Roleplay Sheet


    1. The teacher asks students to close their eyes and imagine they have a job interview in the target language next week.

    2. The teacher asks students to think about if they feel confident for it.

    3. The students share with partners how they feel. The whole class briefly discusses, and the teacher explains that this lesson will help them feel more prepared.

    4. Students watch the LingroToGo video Introducing yourself in a formal context and answer the question, “What advice does the video give about introducing yourself in a formal context?" Then, students should check their answers with a partner. *It is very important to emphasize that although the video discusses interviews in Spanish, the same ideas apply for English pragmatics.*

    To further the analysis, students discuss the following questions in pairs:

    • How does/should interacting in a high power-high distance interaction affect your speech? Why? *Teacher checks understanding by doing a concept checking question on low distance-low power interactions; for example, interacting with your best friend.
    • What are the similarities and differences of job interviews from your L1 language and culture?

    5. Teacher reiterates that using formal language is important for a job interview and transitions to introducing the Cut-out Interview Response Slips sheet. These slips should be cut out before class and placed into envelopes. The teacher divides the class into small groups (3-4 people a piece) and gives each group the envelopes. Students are to put the slips into one of the four categories which are bolded at the top of each box.

    • Phrases for describing yourself/your last job
    • Phrases for describing your profile/strengths
    • Phrases for explaining why you want the job
    • Phrases for describing weaknesses

    6. The teacher shows the correct phrases on the board and clarifies any confusion. The teacher divides students into pairs by telling them to find someone in the class they don’t know too well as the greater the interpersonal distance the better the roleplay resembles a job interview.  

    7.  The teacher hands each students Mock Job Interview Roleplay Sheet. Students take turns interviewing each other. The interviewer takes notes to give as feedback and the interviewee should answer the questions as fully and naturally as possible.

    8. The teacher offers any relevant feedback they wrote down while observing the mock roleplays and wraps things up by having students discuss with partners, three things to keep in mind when you have a job interview.  


    • In step 1, students can do a three-minute free write about how they feel about having a job interview next week.
    • Involve students in the lesson more deeply by having them brainstorm common interview questions (in lieu of providing the questions to them).
    • During the mock job interview role-play, learners should be encouraged to speak naturally. However, if some students are struggling with vocabulary, they can use the Cut-out Interview Response Slips Sheet as a guide. Additionally, learners can be given a copy of this sheet to review and practice with at home.

CASLS Spotlight: InterCom Editor Lindsay Marean Earns Faculty Promotion

Congratulations to InterCom editor Lindsay Marean for her promotion to Senior Research Assistant I!

Lindsay is the reason that you’ve received an InterCom issue every Monday morning since she joined our staff in 2006. Even while on remote wilderness vacations, Lindsay ensures that InterCom always arrives in your inbox. Lindsay also shares news and resources related to language education on our social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

While InterCom and CASLS’ social media may be the most visible projects at CASLS that Lindsay works on, she’s often contributing to other curriculum and instruction initiatives. In 2014, she co-taught our STARTALK Swahili College Readiness Academy. She observed lessons taught by the co-instructor in the morning and then had interactive activities ready for students in the afternoon.

Lindsay also supports educators across the country, including STARTALK program directors and instructors, as they implement LinguaFolio Online and Pulsar into their curriculum. Lindsay provides technical and pedagogical support for CASLS’ e-portfolio services, answering questions and providing guidance.

Lindsay’s primary passion is indigenous language revitalization. She is active in documenting and revitalizing Potawatomi, her heritage language, and Pahka’anil, a California indigenous language. She works as a linguist with the Owens Valley Career Development Center to record, transcribe, and analyze texts by fluent Pahka’anil speakers, using this information to write a grammar of the language aimed at a community audience. Lindsay also occasionally teaches summer professional development classes for the Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI).

Prior to her role at CASLS, Lindsay served as a practicum supervisor for second language instruction in the middle/secondary program at the University of Oregon’s College of Education and as a Spanish and English teacher in North Bend, Oregon, and Drummond, Montana.

CASLS is grateful to have Lindsay on our team. Congratulations on a successful promotion process!

Language Corner

More on Not Micromanaging Students' Learning

Source: Senor Fernie Back to Quick Links


Last month ( we noted Albert Fernandez's insightful two-part reflection on assessment, the complexity of natural language, and a teacher's tendency to micromanage students' learning. Mr. Fernandez recently posted a third part in which he discusses the results of his final assessment with his 6th and 7th grade students, which was to make a brochure for incoming students. 

Read the recent blog post at

Sites for Learning About World Refugee Day

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


June 20 is World Refugee Day. Larry Ferlazzo has curated a list of relevant online resources at

World Cup 2018 Resources

Source: Various Back to Quick Links

Your InterCom Editor is excited about the World Cup, whose first match was late last week, and hopes that the best team wins, as long as that team is Brazil. Regardless of whom you're cheering for, following the World Cup is a great way to boost global awareness through a wildly popular sport and to follow teams and athletes from your target culture. Here are some resources for following the World Cup:

Keep track of matches, standings, brackets, news, and players through Google at;/m/06qjc4;2;/m/030q7;mt;fp;1

The official website of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia is available at The website is available in English, German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese.

From Deutsche Welle, here are 100 things to know about the 2018 World Cup:

From the BBC, here are 7 charts with information about the World Cup:

From the New York Times, available in English and Spanish, here is a guide to all 32 teams competing:

Read about World Cup anthems at

Speaking of official and unofficial cultural phenomena, be sure to check out this video from Peru to Denmark ( and Denmark's musical response (

French teachers may be interested in discussing this article in the New York Times about players from the Banlieues of Paris:

Chinese students may enjoy this short reading and listening selection:

Light Bulb Languages has a collection of resources for French, German, Italian, and Spanish learners:

Get some great classroom ideas from the EFL Classroom 2.0 blog:

Resources for Spanish teachers and learners abound. Follow the tournament on ESPN at or on Univisión at Learn the officially sanctioned ways to talk about soccer in Spanish on the Fundéu's website: Here is a scaffolded activity involving the Twitter handles of the different teams from Zambombazo: And finally, for Lionel Messi fans (your InterCom editor would never cheer for anyone playing for Argentina), here are some great authentic resources:

Resources for Immigrant Heritage Month

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


June has been Immigrant Heritage Month since 2013. Larry Ferlazzo has curated some relevant resources at

Videos Celebrating Multilingualism

Source: PBL in the TL Back to Quick Links


Laura Sexton has written a wonderful blog post sharing a few videos that celebrate multilingualism. First, she embeds a video of Juliet Lyan describing her encounter with a Deaf man and his joy at learning that she knew ASL. Second, a short video about senior citizens helping students in Brazil to learning English. Finally, a short clip of country singer Tim McGraw explaining why he chose to sing "Humble and Kind" in Spanish, along with the video of that song.

Watch all of these short videos to feel great about why you are a language teacher, and share with your students to celebrate multilingualism:

Article: Why Teaching English Through Content Is Critical for ELL Students

Source: KQED Back to Quick Links


Why Teaching English Through Content Is Critical for ELL Students
by Katrina Schwartz
May 28, 2018

Teaching grade-level content to students who have just arrived in the United States and whose English skills are limited is a difficult task. High school-level content specialists especially have little training on how to integrate language acquisition into their content. Often teachers deal with that by either dumbing down the curriculum to make it linguistically simpler or alternating between lessons focused on language and those about content.

Teachers in San Francisco were looking for better ways to teach their newcomer students the English skills they need, without losing a focus on the complex content all students should be learning. To do that, they looked to adopt some of the strategies of the Writing Is Thinking Through Inquiry (WITsi) work being done in New York City with the general education population.

Read the full article and learn seven basic writing strategies at

Article: Are You Schooling or Educating your English Learner Students?

Source: MultiBriefs Back to Quick Links


Are you schooling or educating your English learner students?
Erick Herrmann
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

English learners, like all students, go to school to learn. They are learning the knowledge and skills of the content areas as they are developing English proficiency. The goal, of course, is that students learn to be critical thinkers, are able to engage in society, and develop the skills necessary to be happy and successful human beings.

As we teach our students, then, are we creating situations in which students can develop those skills? Or are we teaching them to robotically follow the rules that are imposed by the adults in the school?

...The following ideas are a few examples of ways to build student voice into the "schooling" process.

Read the full article to get ideas for increasing learner agency:

Technology Tools for Interpretive Tasks Using Authentic Text

Source: passion4theprofession Back to Quick Links


We've been following a great series of posts on the passion4theprofession blog about using authentic texts (,,, and The latest installment presents different tech tools that are available for different phases of working with authentic texts:

Mastering the Art of Circumlocution with the Game of Taboo

Source: Teaching in the Target Language Back to Quick Links


Learn about circumlocution, an important skill for language learners, and how your students can build this skill through the game Taboo in this recent blog post:

Here's How a Shawnee Mission West Teacher Is Making French Accessible to All Students

Source: KCUR Back to Quick Links


Here's a nice radio feature about how teacher Katie Bogart makes her elective French classes accessible to diverse students. The practices that the article highlights include task-based learning, using mobile games to scaffold learning, and active hands-on activities, all techniques that we at CASLS also encourage to increase student engagement.

Read the article or listen at

Teaching Young Learners to Communicate Non-Verbally

Source: Mundo de Pepita Back to Quick Links


Julie from the Mundo de Pepita blog shares one of the strategies she uses to keep her elementary classes 100% in the target language: she teaches her students to communicate non-verbally. Read her blog post on gestures, pointing, and drawing here:

Podcast: Everything You Wanted to Know about English Language Learners

Source: MyEdExpert Back to Quick Links


Beth Skelton talks about English learners in this 31-minute podcast, including the stages of language acquisition, the role of the ELL teacher, and guidance on flexible grouping situations for English learners. 

Listen to the podcast at

Six Core Practices for Early Language Learners

Source: Education Week Back to Quick Links


NNELL president Nathan Lutz writes, 

"Best practices" are good for teachers to do. "Core practices," on the other hand, are essential for teachers. Think of the distinction as the "nice to haves" vs. the "must haves." Core practices are non-negotiables that must be employed in order to do one's job as an educator and must be demonstrated to secure a teaching job. If a job applicant couldn't perform these essential practices, they would not be considered worthy of hiring. These practices would also have to be demonstrated throughout a teacher's career in order to receive satisfactory evaluations­.

...These Six Core Practices for Effective Language Learning are identified as: (1) Facilitate Target-Language Comprehensibility, (2) Guide Learners Through Interpreting Authentic Resources, (3) Design Oral Interpersonal Communication Tasks, (4) Plan with Backward Design Model, (5) Teach Grammar as a Concept and Use it in Context, and (6) Provide Appropriate Oral Feedback. Here is how each can be applicable for the early language learner.

Read the full article at

ACTFL Core Practice Hacks: Tips and Tools for Engaging Students

Source: Kentucky Teacher Back to Quick Links


Meredith White continues her series highlighting the American Council on the Teaching Foreign Languages' six core practices ( and with a third installment, about engaging students when using target language in the classroom, fostering interpersonal communication, and using backward design when creating curriculum. 

Read the latest post at

Access a presentation on ACTFL six core practices by Pet Swanson and Marty Abbott at and read a 6-part series about each of the six practices at

Professional Development

IALLT Webinar: Language Resource Centers and Living-Learning Communities

Source: IALLT Back to Quick Links


The International Association for Language Learning Technology will host a free webinar on June 21 on language resource centers and living-learning communities. In this interactive session, Bridget Yaden will explore ideas for language centers collaborating with other centers across your school campus in ways that improve access to and support for language study. This collaboration can be from sharing resources and co-hosting events and professional development, to physically merging centers. The presenter will share how her center moved to a student residence hall to be part of a larger living-learning community.

For full details and to register, go to

Call for Proposals: Mobile Language Learning Experience

Source: MOBILLE Back to Quick Links


The Lycée Français de New York will be hosting a new international conference on mobile language learning on February 21 and 22, 2019. The conference will gather scholars and practitioners from all over the world in a forum about the impact of state-of-the-art technology on learning and teaching languages.

MOBILLE welcomes all who are interested in harnessing the power of such technology to enhance language learning – preK-12 teachers, researchers, professors, graduate students, policy makers, school heads, technology officers.

Presentation proposals must be submitted by July 31, 2018. 

Visit the conference website for full details:


Book: Developing C-tests for Estimating Proficiency in Foreign Language Research

Source: Peter Lang Back to Quick Links


Developing C-tests for estimating proficiency in foreign language research
Edited by John Norris
Published by Peter Lang

This book explores the development of C-tests for providing efficient measures of foreign language proficiency in eight different languages: Arabic, Bangla, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Researchers report on how C-test principles were applied in creating the new language tests, with careful attention to language-specific challenges and solutions. The final, five-text C-tests in all languages demonstrated impressive psychometric qualities as well as strong relationships with criterion variables such as learner self-assessments and instructional levels. These test development projects provide new tests for use by foreign language researchers, and they demonstrate innovative and rigorous test development practices in diverse languages.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Recent Perspectives on Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching

Source: De Gruyter Back to Quick Links


Recent Perspectives on Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching
Edited by Mohammad Ahmadian and María del Pilar García Mayo
Published by de Gruyter

The last three decades have witnessed a growth of interest in research on tasks from various perspectives and numerous books and collections of articles have been published focusing on the notion of task and its utility in different contexts. Nevertheless, what is lacking is a multi-faceted examination of tasks from different important perspectives. This edited volume, with four sections of three chapters each, views tasks and Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) from four distinct (but complementary) vantage points. In the first section, all chapters view tasks from a cognitive-interactionist angle with each addressing one key facet of either cognition or interaction (or both) in different contexts (CALL and EFL/ESL). Section two hinges on the idea that language teaching and learning is perhaps best conceptualized, understood, and investigated within a complexity theory framework which accounts for the dynamicity and interrelatedness of the variables involved. Viewing TBLT from a sociocultural lens is what connects the chapters included in the third section. Finally, the fourth section views TBLT from pedagogical and curricular vantage points.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Immersion Education: Lessons from a Minority Language Context

Source: Multilingual Matters Back to Quick Links


Immersion Education: Lessons from a Minority Language Context
By Pádraig Ó Duibhir
Published by Multilingual Matters

The body of research in this volume offers a detailed account of the success of young immersion learners of Irish in becoming competent speakers of the minority language. Taking account of in-class and out-of-class factors, it examines the variety of Irish spoken by the pupils, the extent to which the Irish spoken deviates from native-speaker norms, the degree to which pupils are aware of and attempt to acquire a native-like variety and the extent to which issues of identity and motivation are involved. The results highlight the limitations of an immersion system in generating active and accurate users of the language outside the immersion setting and will help immersion educators to gain a greater understanding of how young immersion learners learn and acquire the target language. The findings are placed in the context of other one-way immersion programs internationally with a particular focus on minority language settings, and make an important contribution not only to our understanding of the Irish issues, but how the Irish situation can be placed in a broader scholarly and socio-political context.

Visit the publisher's website at

June Issue of Language Magazine

Source: Language Magazine Back to Quick Links

The June 2018 issue of Language Magazine is available online at

In this issue: 

Bringing a Dying Language Back to Life 
Brigid O’Rourke describes how a Harvard instructor has introduced seventh graders to the world of Gullah

Making Connections That Count 
Roberto Rivera explores the vital connection between social and cultural competence—for both students and teachers

The Agency of Artificial Intelligence 
Peter Foltz, Eric Hilfer, Kevin McClure, and Dmitry Stavisky explain what artificial intelligence (AI) means for the teaching of language and literacy

Catering to Individual Differences 
Kevin McClure explains how developments in neuroscience can help students receive the instruction that they alone require

José A. Viana , assistant deputy secretary and director Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Department of Education, shares his goals with Daniel Ward

Accelerating English and Math on the Go 
Amanda Cuellar shares the benefits of learning via smartphone for adult English language learners

The Bilingual Advantage in the Global Workplace 
Mehdi Lazar identifies the four traits that give bilinguals a competitive edge

Subscriber Profile

Larry Ferlazzo Login
Email: Back to Top
Language: ESL/Bilingual
Content Area: ANY
Level: ANY
State: California
Group: Intercom

InterCom articles do not necessarily reflect the view of CASLS, and the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations does not imply endorsement.
For subscription information or to edit your InterCom profile:
Send questions about InterCom to

InterCom made possible through support from:
U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI funding for National Language Resource Centers.
Copyright © 2018 Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS)