6 Ways to Build Community Online

Immersing students in the target language embraces all facets of the classroom environment—physical, social, emotional.


Immersing students in the target language embraces all facets of the classroom environment—physical, social, emotional. This immersion encompasses a variety of tangible elements through which we can purposefully use the target language in our own classrooms: print, audio, and video authentic resources; authentic tasks in the three modes of communication—interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational; formative and summative performance assessment; classroom management; teacher-to-student plus student-to-student informal interactions.

While using the target language for curriculum-oriented items (i.e. authentic resources, authentic tasks, assessments) is more easily incorporated into our teaching, we may find it challenging to stay in the target language to establish rapport and build relationships with our students who are at the Novice or Intermediate proficiency levels. There is a sense that the lack of language stands as a barrier to developing those social and emotional connections.

But don’t let that stop you from bringing the language into all facets of your classroom. Staying in the target language creates a more cohesive sense of community, a community that has shared goals and experiences, empowers its members to contribute, provides a safety net for taking risks, and consequently, builds trust, collaboration, and a “can-do” attitude with using the language.

There are many strategies and tools we can use to build community through immersion in the target language. Today, let’s take a look at one tool and six strategies that take advantage of the power of social media.

No, we’re not going to access one of the social media tools that students may use with their friends. We’ll be working in a secure environment that comes with your Wayside product: the Classroom Forum in each Explorer course on the Learning Site. This is one of my favorite tools for building that sense of community with students as well as immersing them even more into the language and culture.

Highlight school events, student achievements and celebrations

Post notices of upcoming school events (i.e., concerts, theater productions, sports) in which your students are participating. Highlight their achievements in these events, but also include what they’re doing outside of school. Provide notecards on which students can share what they’ve done if they’re too humble to post the notice themselves. Also, encourage parents to send in notices and links to photos or online news stories. And don’t forget to post birthdays, along with bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, cotillions, quinceañeras, Eagle Scouts, etc.

Another idea is to feature a student of the week (Nuestro/a estudiante estupendo/a). Include in the post why he or she was selected and encourage classmates to add their own kudos or congratulations.

Share student work

The Classroom Forum is a great spot to display exemplary student work. Take photos of the work and attach them to a post. Upload and share audio or video recordings students have made for a specific task. Create a series of “awards” (i.e. most creative, best use of vocabulary, most culturally authentic) and post multiple works for a given assignment. Have classmates add positive comments and ask follow-up questions about the content or context.

Conduct team challenges

Post a prompt with a list of partner challenges. In groups of two, have students “spin” an online spinner and then complete the corresponding challenge. Include tasks that encourage kindness, collaboration, teamwork, expression, and the sharing of ideas and opinions. Here is an example for Novice learners who have been expressing likes and dislikes:

  1. Write a note of appreciation to one of your teachers.
  2. Talk for one minute to your partner about what you like to do in your free time.
  3. Draft a top-ten list of your favorite things about your school.
  4. Talk about three things you would like to do if given a free-choice activity in language class.
  5. Describe three things you would like to take with you on a month stay in Paraguay (or another country other study).

Share memories

Each month, share class highlights from the previous month. In preparation, take photos of class activities, student work, and students in action (headless shots are my favorite; I don’t post students’ images and they have fun trying to guess who is in the photos). Post the images and have students write captions (i.e., adjectives, rejoinders, simple sentences, complex sentences). Or post sentence starters and have students submit their versions of the complete sentence. Some examples include (prompts that reinforce language structures serve double duty):

  1. Three adjectives that describe class last week are …
  2. The best moment in class has been …
  3. Last month, I remember when …
  4. My favorite activity last semester was …

Select a student blogger or student paparazzi

Have students take the lead in posting a comment, task, or prompt to which classmates can respond. Have a student take photos related to the content under study or of interest to classmates so that they can write captions or design memes.

Pose a Friday 3-2-1 reflection

Choose a day of the week and have students complete a 3-2-1 reflection or task. For example, on Fridays, the following makes sense:

  • 3 words that describe my week
  • 2 things that made me smile this week
  • 1 thing I plan to do this weekend.

On Wednesdays, many students love celebrating Zachary Jones’ Miaucoles:

  • 3 words that describe cats
  • 2 things that cats do that make me laugh
  • 1 name I would give to a cat and why.

Come up with a creative task for the other days of the week and over the course of the school year, use each of them once.

And it goes without saying (but, I’ll state it anyway) that all these posts and responses are in the target language.

So, take the plunge! Immerse your students even more in the target language by using the Classroom Forum to build a positive, supportive language community!

Deborah Espitia

Deborah Espitia has been a world language educator for more than thirty years. She is a lead author on EntreCulturas 3 and has written numerous articles for Wayside surrounding proficiency-based learning.
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