Interpretive Listening Ideas in Spanish Class

February 16, 2020 Sra. Shaw

Hi, guys! I’m Jen from Spanish with Sra. Shaw and, inspired
by Allison’s recent post on interpersonal speaking, I thought it seemed only appropriate
to continue the trend of talking about the three modes. Today’ I’m excited to
share with you all about my favorite mode of communication: interpretive. 
When I survey students, they nearly always say that they feel
listening to Spanish speakers is their worst skill.  Even though students get nervous about
speaking in the target language, I think they’re better at having conversations
than they are at understanding something they’ve heard in Spanish. 
This is why
it is so important to give them as much practice exposure to authentic audio,
but it’s also our job to scaffold what they’re hearing so it’s comprehensible.  In fact, ACTFL emphasizes the importance of teachers guiding “learnings through interpretive authentic resources” as their #2 core practice (see image below). So let’s talk more more about how to create engaging interpretive listening activities! 

ACTFL. “Core Practice for World Language Learning.” GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR LANGUAGE LEARNING, ACTFL, (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.actfl.org/guiding-principles.

Finding the audio or

My favorite place to look, hands down, is Youtube. I know this
sounds like common knowledge, but I can’t be the only one who has spent hours
and hours looking for the perfect video, right?
It’s easy to get sucked into a black hole of scouring the internet and
looking at videos on YouTube, but there are things you can do to make your
search faster.
  1. Search in the target language. 
  2. Once you’ve found a decent video, click the
    suggested videos along the righthand side.
    This is where the good stuff is.
  3. Once you see some terminology that happens to be
    popular, change your search terms.  As an
    example,  I started searching “Mis clases,”
    but quickly changed to “Primer día de clases,” which seems to have a viral
    number of videos that teen vloggers post. Cha-ching!
  4. Under the video and the red “subscribe” button,
    you’ll see three dots that are about to change your life.  I’m not sure how new this feature is, but my
    amazing Spanish colleague, Laurel, was raving about it to me a couple of days
    ago and then I saw a really involved thread on the iFLT/ NTRPS/ CI Teaching Facebookgroup.  Everyone seems just as startled
    and surprised as I am because apparently Youtube has started posted transcripts
    with timestamps.  Just imagine how much
    time you’ll save!  Rumor has it that the
    transcripts, like the closed captioning feature, are not entirely accurate, but
    I’m so excited to start using them that I don’t even care.  Follow-up post to come!



Evaluate the text
(AKA audio or video)

Once I find a text, I always evaluate it to make sure it meets
the following criteria:



  • Clarity: I need to be able to clearly understand
    the speaker. I check to make sure there isn’t too much background noise and
    that the speaker’s words are clear. Does the speaker have an accent that makes
    their words indecipherable? Does he mumble? Does she speak too quickly?
  • Length: I typically try to stick to videos that
    are less than 2 minutes. If it’s too long, I usually crop it using a website like https://ytcropper.com/.
  • Rigorous, but also not too difficult: I’ll touch
    more on this next

Change the task, not
the text

So often when working with teachers to create an interpretive
reading activity, I hear, “But my kids don’t know a bunch those words.” Now, if
your students truly don’t know any of the words, it’s not the right text, but if
they know some of the words and the text is comprehensible, I often find I just
need to change what activities I’m expecting my students to do with the video.
A common adage is, “Change the task, not the text.” That
means that we just need to shift what we expect our students to be able to do
with the video. Instead of, let’s say, having novices fill in a cloze activity
(which can be a surprisingly difficult skill for students or even for me) they
could match a time stamp of when the video talks about different topics. 

Make it authentic

This is a controversial statement to make, but I am of the belief
that audios and videos should be authentic.
An authentic text is one that is made by native speakers for a native
speaker audience.
I’m not completely opposed to using some fabricated videos
or audios or reading some CI stories here and there, but I try to mostly stick
to videos that were created for a truly Spanish-speaking audience.  Read more about my experiences with authentic texts here.
Madame Shepard, who is a French teacher blogger, and I share
similar interests related to IPAs and I loved her rationale for using authentic
texts whenever possible here.

Prep for IPAs (AKA my
favorite unit assessments)


If you’re new to IPAs, a popular and the ACTFL recommended
unit assessment model, they are a three-tiered way to see what your students
know. The first task of the IPA is always an interpretive reading or listening,
which are then followed by a presentational and interpersonal task.

I am a HUGE proponent of IPAs and you can check out all of
my pre-made thematic IPAs here. I honestly could go on and on about IPAs
forever and I did in a six-part blog series here.
 If you want to save yourself hours, and I mean HOURS of time, check out my pre-made thematic IPA assessments here.

ACTFL Interpretive Tasks

Once you’ve found your video/audio, the best place to start
when creating activities is the ACTFL Interpretive Task Comprehension Guide AKA Appendix D.  I’ve honestly Googled this gold
mine of a PDF document probably thousands of times since I discovered it.  Note to self: Why don’t I have a bookmark for
it yet? Shrug.
ACTFL Appendix D provides a starting place for teachers when
creating interpretive activities.  It
lists 9 tasks that allows us to see what our students have understood from an audio.

My personal favorites for interpretive listening are




    • Main idea: Students tell what they perceived to be
      the main idea of the text.  I ask my
      students to provide evidence (either paraphrases or quotes from the text in TL)
      of what the speaker said to demonstrate they understood details. At the novice-intermediate
      levels, this is likely to be done in English, but at the upper levels it can be
      done in the TL.


    • Supporting details: This activity is kind of
      like true or false, but without a 50% chance of getting the answer
      correct.  Basically, I write a bunch of
      statements (either in English or in the TL, I use either depending on the activity)
      that are supported (AKA true) according to the text or that contradict.
      Students circle the statements that are supported by the text. I try to choose
      important details that are key to the main idea, not just random or nit-picky


  • Guessing meaning from context:  Find important TL quotes from the text and
    have students infer what they mean in English.
    When using videos, I like to put these statements in chronological order
    and provide a time stamps so students know when to listen.  What I really love about this section is that
    I find students build a lot of vocabulary that they are then able to use later when
    they speak and write.  This is key with
    my IPA unit assessments. 




Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran of interpretive listening
activities, the ACTFL suggested interpretive tasks are a great jumping off point
when you’ve found that perfect authentic text.  However, save yourself the time and check out all of the interpretive activities I’ve already created in this money and time saving interpretive activity growing bundle here.



Branch out from the
ACTFL interpretive tasks

In maybe 2016, I was attending the keynote at my state WL
conference and Paul Sandrock (read: basically the reigning king of all things
WL and ACTFL) was talking about interpretive tasks. I was all ears. Then
something happened. Paul Sandrock starting showing a bunch of interpretive
activities unlike any I’d ever seen! I was aghast. Could he do that?! They
weren’t part of Appendix D!



Not sure what to think, I hunted Mr. Sandrock down after his
keynote to ask, basically, what the heck was going on.  I’m sure he thought I was completely crazy as
I asked how he, one of the major ACTFL visionaries that probably wrote Appendix
D was showing a bunch of different types of activities.  He sweetly calmed me down, explained that
Appendix D was just meant to be sample activities, and that, indeed, you can do
any interpretive activities you wanted to do. Breathe, Jen, breathe.



Once I realized there were indeed options outside of
Appendix D (which, by the way, is still my go to), I had a lot of full playing
around with different types of activities.
I like to use checklists of things students here, matching statements
n English) with timestamps of where it was heard in the video.  It’s ok to be creative! 

Assess what students hear, not what they see

This is something that had never occurred to me.  A couple of years ago, I was at a conference
session on interpretive mode and the speaker insisted that teachers be more careful
that teachers use activities that assess only what can be heard, not just what
students see in a video.  I immediately
realized that many of my “listening” activities were actually assessing what
students saw and had nothing to do with what they heard.  Gulp.
It was a reality check.
I went and looked at my interpretive practice activities and my IPAs and
realized, in horror, that a good chunk of the tasks could have been completed
without even having to listen.  I changed
a bunch of them around so that I was isolating students’ listening skills and I
saw their skills improve dramatically.   
A few years later, however, I’ve come to realize that while it
is important to see what students can actually understand from an audio text, I
absolutely love having conversations with my classes about all of the cultural
information they glean from what they see in an authentic video. More to come
in the next bullet…


As much as I love speaking and writing, I love interpretive
listening and reading activities most of all.
All off the language experts agree, culture should be the backbone of
your class and using interpretive listening activities with videos will open up
your students’ eyes to the products and perspectives of how other people live.
I love when I find a video that fits all of the above criteria,
lends itself to engaging interpretive listening activities, and, best of all
provides context for a cultural conversation.
The ACTFL Interpretive Tasks Comprehension Guide (referenced above)
suggests having the students do cultural comparisons (either in T1 or T2).  Some of the suggested questions are:
  • What are the cultural similarities and
    differences between XXX and XXX?
  • How do the practices/products in the article
    reflect the target culture perspectives?
  • What did you learn about the target culture from
    this article?
  • How would this article have been different if it
    were written for a US audience?
Note that you could easily adjust
any of these questions and substitute the word “article” with “video,” “text,” “audio,”
I absolutely LOVE hearing my students do cultural comparisons
(ahem, meets ACTFL standard 4.2) especially when they are able to do so in Spanish.
The nuances that even my novice-level 8th graders notice and their
creativity in expressing them in Spanish (grammar goes a bit by the wayside
here) is incredible. It’s where I really see what my kiddos can do when they
aren’t afraid to make mistakes and can just share their ideas.


EdPuzzle is an amazing FREE website that allows you to create
interpretive listening activities using any video, either one you upload or one
you link from sites like YouTube. There are a bunch pre-existing activities
that other teachers have made and those are convenient, but I’ve found I prefer
to make my own to fit my students’ skills.


So there you have it, a condensed view of ways to rock interpretive listening activities and assessments with your students.  I’d love to hear what strategies you use!  Comment below, email me at spanishwithsrashaw@gmail.com, or find me on social media. I love sharing ideas and hearing what works with your classes.

Sra. Shaw

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