Deliberate Practice in the Language Classroom

Deliberate Practice in the Language Classroom

It is well understood that to improve skills practice is required. Athletes at all levels practice regularly, musicians practice, singers practice, you get the idea. As language teachers we plan intentional practice into our lessons everyday so that our students can grow in their language abilities. How can we make it more productive?

Altuwairesh’s (2017) approaches the idea of practice in the language classroom in their article “Deliberate Practice in Second Language Learning: A Concept whose Time has Come”. Altuwairesh cites studies that looked at the practice and expertise level of people who practice a particular skill. The studies looked at musicians, asking them to log how long they practiced as well as the type of practice undertaken: practice versus extensive practice.

Some take aways from the article, based on the studies cited include:

  • “Extensive practice one gains in a certain field does not inevitably lead to expert performance.”
  •  “…diligent and persistent application of the basic principles of deliberate practice …play a crucial role in expert levels of performance.”

What is deliberate practice? It is “defined as “activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance (Ericsson et al. 1993 as cited in Altuwairesh, 2017). At the centre of this practice is deliberate time for intentional practice. Deliberate practice is also a consistent occurrence, not occasionally; Ericsson suggests daily. This type of practice also focuses on the student, in the case of a language classroom, going beyond their current abilities” (Ericsson et al. 1993, as cited in Altuwairesh, 2017). Ericsson continues to point out that deliberate practice is effortful. This ultimately places demands on the language teacher to prepare practice activities that would be accepted as deliberate practice and that would engage the language student so they put effort into their classroom practice.

How might a language teacher create deliberate practice activities? Planning is at the centre of these types of activities. Teachers should also consider how they will scaffold students, enabling them to enter the activities at a level they feel comfortable and capable in, while guiding them to go beyond their current level of ability. Scheduling intentional activities at regular intervals so that students have multiple opportunities to practice and improve. Regular feedback to students during the activity so they understand what they are doing well and how they might go beyond their current ability. A logical next step to feedback is to discern whether feedback should be formative or summative. The intention of the practice and the amount of practice students have had will help with determining this. Motivation is a common factor in student improvement and one a teacher needs to be aware of. Students must be willing to participate and to work hard at this deliberate practice.

The role of the teacher in deliberate practice is one of coach or facilitator. Teachers set the scene (activity). Deliberate practice is learner-centred and therefore the learner takes on the responsibility for their learning and their improvement. Small groups enable the teacher to circulate and give feedback in the moment.

Different from the rote memorization of years past, deliberate practice offers learners multiple opportunities to practice with effort and concentration while receiving in-the-moment feedback from the teacher who acts as a guide or coach. Setting classroom activities and schedules to include such practice will enable learners to continually improve their level of language ability.

Here are some other resources on deliberate practice:

Altuwairesh, N. (2017). Deliberate Practice in Second Language Learning: A Concept whose Time has Come. International Journal of Language and Linguistics, 4, 111-115.

Baron, R. & Henry, R. (2010). How entrepreneurs acquire the capacity to excel: insights from research on expert performance. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 4, 49-65.

Eliason, N. (2017, July 3). How to use Deliberate Practice to reach the Top 1% of Your Field. Website.

Ericsson, K. (2006). The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Lawless, L. (2023). Deliberate French Practice. Website.

Getting connected

Getting connected

Looking for a community of French teachers with whom you can share ideas, ask questions, and share resources?


Once a month, French teachers from across British Columbia meet via Zoom to discuss professional development opportunities, best practices, to share resources, and exchange ideas.

If you are interested in being part of this group, please email The Zoom link will be sent to you including links to Google agenda and meeting minute documents.

What’s the word? Vocabulary in the language classroom

What’s the word? Vocabulary in the language classroom

Vocabulary has always been one of those things about being a language teacher that I have struggled with. I see the need for vocabulary, however, I hated how I was taught it in school. The teacher would hand out a huge list of words, we were told what day a quiz for each section would take place and it was up to us to review and study for the quizzes. No matter what, I rarely succeeded on these tests, and yet, I could have detailed conversations using the vocabulary. So as a teacher, I do not like giving out the large lists or the vocab quizzes. I find I have flip flopped between the two spots on the pendulum. That changes now.

In their article Assessing Vocabulary in the Language Classroom, Coombe (2011) sheds light on some of the basic questions language teachers should ask when looking at how they are teaching and assessing vocabulary.

From what I have read, and continue to find on the internet on the topic of vocabulary assessment is that it is linked to assessment in general – whether in a language classroom or not. Additional questions I find myself asking as I plan out units and lessons include: What material is being covered in lessons? How are the in-class activities being completed? What age and level are the students? What is the purpose of the assessment – formative or summative? With some intentional thinking and planning these questions can be easily answered. Questions that may be a bit more difficult to answer quickly can include: How do I encourage my students to be motivated to learn the vocabulary? How do I encourage buy-in of my students during classroom activities? Am I wanting students to self-assess core competencies or am I wanting them to reflect on their learning and demonstration of a skill or curricular competency?

The questions that work as headers in the article are:

  • How should I test vocabulary?
  • Which kind of vocabulary should I test?
  • Which format(s) should I use?
  • How many itens should I include?
  • How important is context?
  • Are there any tools or resources that can help me?

This brings me to what does review and practice in the language lesson look like? I teach high school and while I am a student who makes lists and writes things over and over to remember, not all of my students learn like this. So I have come up with a few activities I have found useful for a variety of learning styles over the years.

  1. Have students fold an A4 unlined paper into 8. Unfold. In each square have students write a vocabulary word in this unit of study as well as draw the word as an image. If like me, students will have stick people in almost every box. Other, more artsy students may have mini masterpieces!
  2. Get active! Whether inside on a rainy day or outside when the first dry day arrives, getting students to complete small actions while making sentences using the vocabulary words – this includes using the word in context portion of learning vocabualary. This can be jumping jacks, hopscotch, hoola hooping, or skipping, even a type of Simon says game. Anything that gets students attaching an action to the words they are learning.
  3. Riddles. Even the simplest of riddles can be helpful to students as they practice and recall vocabulary words. I often will use riddles as an in-betweeen, before we get things started, or we have a few minutes left at the end of class activity. This can use current vocabuarly and previous vocabulary – another way of showing students that just because we learned vocabulary in a previous unit doesn’t mean we no longer use it in the current unit.
  4. Let’s talk about it! I regularly have students start classes with partner discussions in which they are asked to get out their vocabulary sheets, and use as many of the words as possible in their conversations. The focus in these conversations is vocabulary first, grammar second, and so if I overhear students making some grammar errors, I tend to overlook them and rather focus more on creating a safe space for students to practice using vocabulary. There are other times in the lesson when grammar, pronunciation, or other language concepts are the focus and therefore mentioned.

As usual, I am by no means an expert on assessment or vocabulary. What I am convinced of is that the days of assessing a student’s ability to memorize words or verb conjugations should be things of the past. Do students need to broaden their vocabulary? Yes. Do students need to know how to conjugate verbs to communicate effectively? Yes. But memorizing and fervently writing them on a paper before they are forgotten is not, in my opinion, a demonstration of the skill of communicating in an additional language.

Resources on this topic:

Brown, J. D. (2005). Testing in the Language Programs: A comprehensive guide to English language assessment. McGraw-Hill.

Coombe, C. (2011) Assessing Vocabulary in the Language Classroom.

ACSI Teacher Conference 2022

ACSI Teacher Conference 2022

Friday, October 7 marked the ACSI Teacher Conference 2022 in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

This was an opportunity for me to share with fellow educators the research I have been doing over the last 2.5 years as I have studied culture, identity, and language acquisition. The goals for the session were to share the researchers I have been reading, the theories that are being discussed in our field, and to give some examples of how we can incorporate these into our classrooms so that we can go beyond grammar and vocabulary to include the vast culture of the Francophone world, as well as prepare our students for a plurilingual and pluracultural world.

The 2022-2023 school year is just taking off! Lesson plans and unit goals to be uploaded in the coming months.

The writing on the wall – murals with messages in Montréal

The writing on the wall – murals with messages in Montréal

I’m currently in Montréal, Québec for three weeks as I complete a course related to my M.Ed.  Besides meeting my cohort, who I have been learning with for 2 years now via Zoom, I have really enjoyed walking around and discovering the city.

As I walk, I pay attention to how the shop windows are dressed up or down, the way slogans are written, I pay attention to what people around me are saying and how they are saying it (example “ouais!”). I also pay attention to graffiti and murals. To be honest between doorways, bees, and streets, I likely take as many photos of painted walls.

What I’ve noticed in Montréal is there is a strong creative vibe, there is also a vibe that is calling out for justice. Specifically speaking, I have noticed a few murals that cry out the injustice experienced by the Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

This, like many other topics that are woven into the history of Canada, is raw, and is difficult. A question teachers may have is how can we present this topic to our students in a way that is respectful, that brings them into the conversation, and also age appropriate (as some of you may teach younger students).

As a high school teacher, I have been talking about May 5 and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for years now. I can do that. They have the capacity and usually are mature enough to recognize this is a serious topic and one that deserves respect. Primary teachers should take into consideration the age of your students and how you would approach it. However, I don’t believe it means it’s a topic that can’t be discussed with young students. Like with the topic of residential schools, it should be approached with care.

For May 5, I usually hang red dresses around my classroom, this is a change to the class environment students notice right away and so they begin to have questions and chat amongst themselves about what it might be fore. I can start conversations in French with them with questions such as “Qu’est-ce qu’il y a de different dans notre salle de classe?” “Pourquoi pensez-vous que les robes rouges sont utilisées?”

This week in my course we discussed the different ways of responding to something, like in this case an idea or an experience. These are physically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. You can ask your students, « Quand vous êtes entrés dans la classe, et vous avez vus les robes, qu’est-ce que vous avez senti? Avez-vous eu une réaction émotive? Avez-vous eu une réaction physique? Voulez-vous la décrire pour nous? » And here is the opportunity for you to help students find the words in French for the answers they are giving.  They can use English words as they need, and you can help them to fill in the blanks with the French words. Here the students are thinking of a topic that is complex and complicated, using the French they know and hearing and seeing you model the French they are grasping for in their answers.

I can’t wait to show these photos to my classes and ask them if they have noticed such murals in our community. Think of the conversations we can have on whether they feel this is an important topic to be presented on a mural, perhaps there are other ways they think would be more effective. I can’t wait to open the space for the students to think about this topic, the impact it may have on our own community, and what they can do to advocate for this topic. Students will be able to work together, practice their French together and with the teacher circulating they can be helped to fill in the gaps with the French they are grasping for.

To learn more about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls:

Native Women’s Winderness

The inquiry into MMIW

Moosehide campaign bringing awareness

Une communauté de locateurs de français – A community of French speakers

Une communauté de locateurs de français – A community of French speakers

English follows the French.

Comment avez-vous appris le français? Est-ce que c’est un sujet que vous aimez? Est-ce que c’est complètement nouveau pour vous? Pas de soucis!

Même si je faisais des fautes quand je parlais français ou des erreurs quand je l’écrirais, j’adore la langue française et souvent, j’ai le nez dans un livre ou manuel de grammaire.  Je suis chanceuse que j’ai des ami·e∙s qui adorent le français aussi et nous parlions souvent, des fois pendant des heures, de la grammaire.

Mais comment améliorer votre niveau de français si, comme on dit en anglais, « French grammar isn’t my thing »? Tournez-vous à une communauté d’ami·e∙s, collègues, ou copains/copines!

Le but de parler en français n’est pas d’avoir la grammaire parfaite. Selon moi, c’est de communiquer des idées et d’agrandir mes compétences de grammaire et de vocabulaire. J’ai trouvé que quand je parle avec d’autres en français, j’apprends beaucoup – et en particulier quand je faisais des fautes! De plus, en parlant avec des locuteurs natifs/locutrices natives j’apprends des mots et des phrases spécifiques, comme des phrases idiomatiques par exemple.

Mais quoi faire quand vous ne trouvez pas une communauté française? Vous avez toujours moi et cette communauté! J’ai hâte de parler avec des nouveaux amis/nouvelles amies et de partager des idées avec des enseignant∙e∙s. Envoyez-moi un courriel à et nous pouvons nous rencontrer sur Zoom ou mieux encore, en vrai! J’ai des ressources que je pourrais partager et nous pouvons travailler ensembles sur d’autres projets pour nos élèves. Un de mes buts pour ce site web est d’agrandir ma communauté d’enseignant∙e∙s de français et de partager les ressources que j’ai ou que je trouve.

Here’s the English.

How did you learn French? Is it a subject you like? Is it completely new to you? No worries!

Even if/when I make mistakes when I speak or errors when I write it, I love the French language and I often have my nose in a French grammar book or textbook. I am fortunate enough to have friends who love French as well and we often spend hours just talking about French grammar.

But how does one improve their level of French, if like they say in English, “French grammar isn’t my thing”? Turn to a community of friends or colleagues.

The goal of speaking French is not to have perfect grammar.  In my opinion, the goal is to communicate ideas and deepen and widen my grammar and vocabulary competencies. I find that when I speak with others in French, I learn a lot – and in particular I learn specific words and phrases, such as idiomatic phrases.

But what can one do if there isn’t a community that speaks French available? You can turn to me and this community! I look forward to speaking with new friends and sharing ideas with other teachers.  Send me an email at and we can meet on Zoom, or better yet face to face! I have teaching resources that I can share (I’m happy to actually) and we can work on new projects together.  One of the goals of this website is to broaden my community of French teachers and to share resources that I have or that I find.

À plus! Vanessa

Authentic Resources

Authentic Resources

If you are teaching French in a part of the world where French is the minority language you may find it difficult to find authentic resources for your classes. With the help of the Internet, there are so many resources available to language teachers and our students. No longer must all our resources be a hardcopy in our hands.

How does one begin to search for resources? First and foremost, understanding your literacy goals for your students are is important. This may direct you to one form of resource over another. Below I have listed some resources I have used with my students with a brief description of how I have used them.

Romans/Livres: Some romans are available with an audio file that has a native French speaker reading the book.  This is great for having students read along with the audio clip. In doing so, students hear native French speaker pronunciation, as well as an appropriate pace and tempo for speaking and reading. Here are two books I have used with my Core French 10-12 classes

Bebey, K. (2013). Enfin chez moi. Les Éditions Didier.

Marrama, T. (2021). Zeinixx. Independent.

Balados/Podcasts: Often podcasts have transcripts available on their website that students can read along with while listening to the podcast. Podcast can be short clips of information of 3-15 minutes, which is a good length for keeping student interest and attention.

French Bla Bla

Journal en français facile – rfi saviors

Nouvelles en français facile

Youtube videos:

Audrey D – From Québec, Audrey covers culture, to accents, to food. A great way for students to hear different accents in Canada.

DocSeven – covers a wide range of topics from history, to culture, to geography. Its creator is from French Guiana.

Easy French  – This is a great channel to provide authentic French resources to your students! The pace of the speakers is usually slow enough so students can follow along and you hear a number of accents (mostly from France).

OIFrancophonie – The channel of the Organization International de la francophonie has a number of useful, and eye catching, videos about the Francophone world. They also have a website ( where you or your students can go to keep up to date with the Francophone world.

I am always looking for new resources that will show the wonders of the Francophone world, are relevant, and catches the interest of my students. If you have any to suggest, please share!

The Language of Languages

The Language of Languages

So often in life, naming and identifying something makes things easier, more manageable.  Someone says, “Come see the new car” and no one looks in the pantry, but someone says, “This is an example of a robust culture”, and you may find people looking around wondering what exactly is meant by culture.

So, let’s run down a short list of words often used when discussing language and language classrooms:

  • culture (small ‘c’), refers to “shared patterns of behaviors and interactions”.  These behaviors and interactions then help the group share in an identity and distinguish between groups. (CARLA, 2020)
  • Culture (capital ‘C’), while this once referred to art and literature, now includes “a shared way of life” (Byram et al., 2002, p.5)
  • Linguistic identity is a person’s identity as a speaker of one or more languages. One’s identity is formed as we interact with other people, whether from the same culture as ours or different.

Culture, small ‘c’, and identity are not static entities, they are constantly being shaped and changing based on the experiences we, and our students, have.

What impact does this have on our teaching and our classrooms? This means that each one of our students has a linguistic identity, each one understands themselves as being part of a culture, and each student’s linguistic identity is constantly changing and growing based on what happens in and out of our classrooms. As teachers we do not need to be the centre and distributor of all information, but rather, our students are sharing and growing, with each other and with us. Even more beautiful is that each student brings with them a bounty of knowledge to share from their linguistic and cultural identities.

Gone are the static worksheets.  Here are the interactions, the discoveries, and the projects that encourage us to learn with our students and help them to grow in the skills they will use when they meet new people in new places.


Byram. M., Gribkova, B., & Starkey, H. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in

Language Teaching: A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Strasbourg: Council in


Centre for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. (2019, April 9). What is Culture?

 The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA): Culture (

European Parliament. (2020, February 4). Linguistic Identity and Language Portrait. Terminology

Coordination. Linguistic Identity and Language Portrait | Terminology Coordination Unit (

The Cornerstone of Language Classes

The Cornerstone of Language Classes

I’ve been a language teacher for 16 years now, and I will admit that two words that automatically come to mind when I think about language learning are ‘grammar’ and ‘vocabulary’.  I often share with my students that I was never very good at remembering vocabulary on quizzes.  I dreaded those quizzes; I still do when I am taking a course and there is vocabulary to memorize. Having said that, I also share the importance of broadening our vocabulary. Grammar on the other hand, when not being tested on it, I love! But should these two items take centre stage as we plan and teach our lessons? After much research by myself and others, I would say a firm ‘no’.

The centre of our lessons should be curiosity, discovery, and patience. Understanding a language goes beyond knowing how to conjugate verbs and identify random nouns, rather, it is understanding a people, valuing their perspective, and ideally, being able to interact with people from a different culture than one’s own.

In fact, this idea of being able to interact between cultures has been called ‘Intercultural Communicative Competency’ or ICC. A researcher by the name of Michael Byram is known as the originator of this theory in 1997, and it is his research on which many other researchers have based their studies.  In this theory, there are 5 ‘savoirs’.  You can often see and hear Byram being cited in podcasts, on websites, and in articles. See below for a list of these.

ICC is “the ability to navigate intercultural differences in order to communicate successfully and can be defined as a set of knowledge, skills and attitude which are considered essential for successful intercultural communication”. (Byram, 1997). ICC has been successfully used in both K-12 schools and post-secondary schools around the globe. I have personally been looking at my units for my high school Core French classes to see where I can put less emphasis on the grammar and vocabulary and more on the discovery and inquiry of other Francophone cultures. I’ve included below a well written article by Byram, Gribkova, and Starky (2002) which explains ICC well and gives examples to frequently asked questions about implementation in the classroom.

As always, please reach out should you have resources to suggest or questions about today’s blog topic.

Mme. Drew


Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Byram. M., Gribkova, B., & Starkey, H. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching: A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Strasbourg: Council in Europe