IFLT 2016: Game changing insights and tricks of the trade from language lab teachers

My head is still spinning from all the joyful and productive experiences I have had at IFLT 2016. What makes this conference so unique beyond offering top-notch workshops is that it gives you the opportunity to:

  • observe language lab teachers teach a world language to students using Comprehensible Input (CI) strategies and techniques
  • hone your skills in a safe and positive environment by having access to  CI coaches

Because I was an apprentice coach at the conference, I did not have as much free time in my schedule, so I deliberately chose to focus on observing as many language lab teachers as I could. I gained game changing insights and gleaned tricks of the trade by watching them do their magic. I thought I would share a few of these insights and tricks with you. Ready?


Game changing insight:

Linda taught me to SLOW DOWN. I already knew this but you know, when we aspire to stay 90% in the Target Language and we teach a language we are extremely familiar with, it is so tempting to go too fast and lose your students. In Linda’s class, I was so grateful for all the circling, pausing, pointing, and circling again. She knew exactly where her students were at all times and her pacing was outstanding.

Tricks of the trade:

  • Attendance: use attendance to provide input “Yǒu Ryan / méi yǒu Ana”
  • Comprehension checks: have your student close their eyes and ask them how much they comprehended using their fingers (you can do thumb up/side/down or 1-10 fingers, etc.). Closing their eyes increases chances of getting an honest feed-back.
  • Question words: assign a student to translate a question word each time the teacher says it, until the class has acquired it.




Game changing insight:

You can teach past tense to beginner students. Yes you can! Again something I have been striving to do a lot more but Donna does it so naturally and so early on, I was really impressed. She retells a story using the past tense, circling the past structures with her students. For example:

“Class, where was Ben? He was at the beach or in the mountains? Yes, class he was in the mountains. And was he happy in the mountains? Yes class, he was happy in the mountains. What did Ben want? He wanted a dog or a rabbit? Yes class Ben wanted a rabbit. Class, Ben wanted a rabbit or  Sophie wanted a rabbit? etc.”

But she also does a quick scene in the present and then immediately retells/circles it in the past, I thought that was pretty cool too because you can immediately reflect with your students: “Class, what just happened?”

Tricks of the trade:

  • Follow-along: Play a song and while students follow along with the lyrics, they gesture (pre-agreed and rehearsed gestures) to the words they know to demonstrate comprehension.
photo credit: Dustin Williamson


I had the honor and pleasure of taking an Advanced Spanish Fluency Fast workshop with Jason and thanks to him, I have been watching an episode of a Spanish telenovela in Spanish with Spanish subtitles almost every night this week! I felt so empowered by Jason, I could not wait to see him teach the little people.

Game changing insight:

Teach your student “pop-up CI principles” like you do your pop-up grammar. Jason told his students: “you want to speak Spanish, you need to listen to a lot of Spanish.” World Language advocates in the making.

Tricks of the trade:

  • Question words: wherever possible, have a gestures for your questions words.
  • Speech bubble: provide reading while telling the story and give students jobs (holding the speech bubble)
  • Story characters: instead of asking for volunteers, hold auditions for roles to be played in the story (how fun!)
  • Retells: retell and the whole class has to stand up and act it out, retell and students have to make sound effects, retell with a few false statements and students have to correct you, retell and student draw, retells are never boring with Jason!




Game changing insight:

Acknowledge your students’ cultural identities. Grant had a mixed group of white, black, and brown students. They were in the middle of a story when suddenly the  conversation digressed to comparing the students’ dogs. Grant immediately went into PQA mode (Personalized Questions and Answers). A girl said her dog spoke English and Grant asked her is he also spoke Arabic because he knew this was a language spoken in her home. “Si”, she responded. And so Grant told his students: “su pero habla arabe, el pero dice: salam alaikum.” At the end of class, when Grant asked the students what worked for them, this same girl said “you listened to us more than we listened to you”. My heart skipped a beat.

Tricks of the trade:

  • I don’t understand: instead of having a gesture for “I don’t understand”, students have a gesture for “you confused me”. Simple, but it places the responsibility on the teacher to ensure everyone comprehends.


photo credit: Dustin Williamson



I could only spend 30 min in Annabelle’s class and got to witness her amazing energy and creativity before I had to go BUT fortunately Anne Marie Mitchell wrote a very well organized blog post about her experience with Annabelle.

7/25 edit: Martina Bex filmed a short snippet from Annabelle’s class and recaps all her trick of the trade here! I am definitely stealing a lot of these tricks for my upcoming Elementary after school program 🙂


photo credit: Justin Slocum Bailey


Joseph is the only teacher I did not have the privilege to observe. If you did observe him and would like to comment on this post or share your own blog post, please contact me!

What did you learn at the IFLT language labs? And if you could not go, what aha moment have you had observing other CI peers?












  1. I had the pleasure of meeting Donna two weeks ago in Kansas City. Thanks for reminding me how awesome she is!

    • Of course! If you look at the picture I took, you will see that one of the sentences repeated over and over again in this story was “Hay un problema. Hay un monstruo.” Jason made an actual physical speech bubble. One of the students’ job was to hold the speech bubble up near the actress’ mouth each time Jason would say this line. In my opinion, this gives more students a chance to be a part of the story while emphasizing listening and reading at the same time, which is the best way to acquire language. Soon enough the whole class could yell “Hay un problema. Hay un monstruo.” I hope I was bale to answer your questions!

Leave a Reply