Comprehensive Support & Programs for World Language Educators

4 Non-Tech Ideas to Engage Students in Your World Language Classroom

Colored map of the world over chalkboard with hand directing white toy plane through it


Written by Jen Degenhardt, Spanish Teacher and Instructor for Idioma 

Raise your hand if you have ever forgotten to change the share settings on Google...

Or if you’ve stopped mid-task between juggling platforms just to try to remember a password...

Or if you’ve gotten all excited about some tech activity that took you 45 minutes* to create only to have it fall flat (or worse, not work at all) in class, with roomies or zoomies. (*Never mind the time it took you to LEARN how to work the app!)

Yeah, me too. It totally wrecks my chi and jams up my teaching juju.

So, when I am in class with my students, I have decided to go old-school, which is perfect because I’m old too, and muscle memory from my heyday comes right back.

And you know what? Not only am I able to hit that sweet spot for myself as a teacher, but I don’t think my students even notice, and frankly, I think they welcome the tech break. 

Maybe you feel this way too?

And I don’t even Flip(my)Grid, or Deck(my)Pear. I don’t woot woot Kahoot or Quiz(my)let either. I can’t. So, I can’t imagine what y’all are having to juggle these days. 

We’re lucky, though. As language teachers, the biggest and best skill we can give to our students is that of speaking (and interpersonal confidence as a bonus), and speaking requires interaction with people, however that happens in your pandemic world. Read on for a few speaking activities to get your students engaged. They will NOT win any prizes, but they WILL give you all a tech break and probably a good laugh.


1. Famous Person/Character Interview

This activity is a great way to involve historical figures, pop culture peeps or story characters. Have two sets of partners choose the same figure, peep** or character. Students work in partners to create open-ended question ideas/themes so that the “figure,” “peep,” or “character” is encouraged to speak, even if s/he/they don’t have the exact right answer. (Because, really, who cares?!). Then, once “questions” and “answers” are talked about, have students switch partners with the other dyad to conduct the interview. 

Open-ended questions are the way to go. “Tell me about…” “Describe…” “What is __ like?” No wrong answers.

Objective: have fun and speak in the target language

Evaluation: informal

**not to be confused with the marshmallow thingies that appear around Easter time.


2. Figure, Peep or Character Meet and Greet “Party”

Have each student adopt a persona and know it well. Before you allow students the time to mill about the classroom in a “getting to know you (pre-pandemic anyway) fashion,” remind them about the power of the question word “why.” Not only does it cause the OTHER person to have to talk, it also helps with curiosity. Armed with some info on their figure, peep or character, let the students see what they can come up with. Perhaps you set a minimum number of people with whom they need to interact, or some other guideline. I have used this activity and told students to learn as much about another person as they can, so they would be able to write a compare and contrast paragraph afterward.

Objective: have fun and speak in the target language

Evaluation: informal


3. Speed Networking

Networking. It’s a thing in the business world. I don’t know how helpful it is, but we can adopt the concept for the classroom. Use this activity whenever you want students to review and practice listening. Pre-pandemic I would arrange the desks for ease of movement. Now… for roomies: you can do this in two concentric circles. One of the circles stays put and the other moves. Provide students a certain amount of time (not a lot) to deliver their part of the review (whatever that happens to be) and to listen to the person facing them. You can all review at the end to see what info was missed.

Objective: review, repetition, talk to EVERYONE (not just one’s pals)

Evaluation: informal


4. Comic strip: Draw and Retell

Unlike some people who love to come up with names for things, I don’t! So, this activity is exactly what it sounds like: draw a comic strip and use it to retell the story to someone else. But it’s so much more than that. It’s my favorite, really, because it can take a few days (who doesn’t love that?!?!).

  1. Have students summarize a story or a video in 8 simple sentences.
  2. From student submissions, choose and combine to create eight sentences/phrases that can best be drawn.
  3. Read and repeat the sentences, giving students the time to process what they’re hearing and (more importantly), the time to draw. My college students love this, too. Everyone likes the break from “learning”.
  4. Allow students to review their drawing and then give them time to tell their own version of the story to someone else.

Objective: too many to list! 

Skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

I have only used this as an activity with a reading that the whole class has worked on, but I imagine that those of you good with logistics can tweak it to apply to readers that students are engaging with during free-choice reading. It’s a good way to get students excited to read another story too!

Okay, you’re probably tired of reading. I’m gonna shut down this popsicle stand now. Please remember MY objective when I create activities: whatever is less work for me. I wish the same for you. And if you need some materials to make your life less plan-ny, check out my books. I’m a little biased, but I like them, and I use them. The college students love reading, but they love the discussions more. Website:, or books AND audio!

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