blog post written by Arianne Dowd

Are you tied to a textbook? Or do you have a thematic unit that does not seem to have any engaging resources your students are connecting with? Well, Carrie Toth’s session had the answers to solve these common problems for teachers. Carrie is extremely knowledgeable about how to bring high interest and engagement to her students through unit redesign.

An important piece of redesigning any unit is to keeping in mind or goal to push students to higher proficiency. In order to get students to Intermediate High, we need to talk to them about what happened, what is happening and what will happen. This must begin in level 1! A simple way to do this is to present a story in the present tense. The next day you can review what happened in the past tense. It is a simple way to ensure that students are exposed to the past tense in lower levels. We do not need to teach the entire tense as Paul Sandrock said earlier this week, but instead teach chunks of language as vocabulary such as “había.”

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Carrie Toth 

During the session, Carrie had us think about thematic units that we are often expected to teach such as Family, Self, Leisure Activities, Travel and School. Next she gave us some tips on how to redesign these units.

  1. Incorporate more than 1 tense in your unit. Retell a story or make predictions.
  2. Teach verb forms in usable chunks! We do not have to give every bit of information we know of the verb tense to our students.
  3. When planning our core vocabulary for a unit, we don’t want to include too many nouns nor too much grammar. Balance is key. Transition words more critical particularly to move students beyond the text type of strings of sentences into more paragraph style writing.
  4. Authentic resources are great! Some examples are tweets, memes and infographics.
  5. Resources for learners are also a wonderful resource to include in your unit. You can take an advanced infographic and make it more comprehensible for your students with a technology such as Piktochart.
  6. Interculturality is a key component of any unit design. We need to ensure that the culture of the world is more than a part of a textbook page. Carrie does this beautifully in units that are about SDGs.
  7. Teach about your passion! Design units that you are excited about and you will in turn see the excitement in your students’ eyes. Students can feel when you ARE and ARE NOT super excited about what you are teaching.
  8. Plan well and use UBD to lead students to perform well on assessment. Don’t forget that assessment MUST look different at different levels.

Next Carrie addressed how to find resources for her unit.

  1. She finds readings in social media posts. She suggests searching key hashtags in the TL that relate to the topic she needs. She screenshots the tweets so that she does not pull up Twitter in class. She likes to find six solid tweets and have students read and respond to 3 of 6 tweets.
  2. She uses authentic pieces too, such as art, signs, film, photos or guests.
  3. Comprehension based readers are another great resource to include in your unit redesign.
  4. Finally she likes to include manipulatives to keep all students engaged.

A key element to unit redesign is the C The Chuck It Bucket allows you to carefully plan what students will take away and learn forever. We don’t want that to be verb endings but instead the content! Read more about how Carrie uses the Chuck It Bucket here.

This was a longer session, so there are even more golden nuggets of wisdom that Carrie shared. She gave advice on things to try while designing a new unit:

  1. Centers…I love her idea of using the teacher as a center. Students can come and chat with you in small groups about questions related to the unit theme. Here is one of her posts with an example of centers.
  2. A Unit Hook! One Carrie uses is giving students stainless steel straws as she begins her Plastic Ocean unit. Or here is a fun hook for her Medicina o Cura/Health unit!
  3. A Performance Based Assessment. I love what she did with her Medicina o Cura unit or with La Guerra Sucia.
  4. A story. I interpret this as using TPRS with something silly or fun that the class creates and/or a true story related to the topic. If you use both, it is a great way to get repeated exposure of the structures and then to have students work on the language function of comparing and contrasting.
  5. Use many text sources. Tweets, infographics, comprehension-based readers, memes, articles and more.
  6. Engage all senses. (Carrie’s chocolate unit is a great example of this.)
  7. Cross-curricular connections and exploring the SDGs is a perfect way to do this!
  8. Include an engaging game from the target culture. I loved playing Marmoria with her Plastic Ocean Unit!

Sustainable Developmental Goals are a project from the United Nations. They are global goals that are interconnected The goal is that by 2030 EVERYONE on the planet will have these goals. This post has a link to all the units Carrie has redesigned about SDGs. She also told us about this fun game on global goals that you can use in your target language. I am very refreshed after being in this session and ready to tackle creating my next unit! I hope you are too!

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