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Special Article 4

Kagan in the Foreign Language Classroom

Using Kagan Strategies to Promote Language Acquisition

Jessica Hertz

To cite this article: Hertz, J. Kagan in the Foreign Language Classroom: Using Kagan Strategies to Promote Language Acquisition. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #64. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

A few years ago, I had the chance to attend a Kagan conference. It was the most fun I've ever had while getting professional development hours. The Kagan strategies all emphasize teamwork and teambuilding. Each day, we were seated in a pod of four, and the first thing that the trainer would do was take us through an activity or two to help us form a positive relationship with our new "team." We would do goofy activities and games, so that before we did anything academic, we had already had positive experiences with our group mates. I have used this same concept in my classroom since.

For me personally, the learning structures I learned during my Kagan training are my favorite take-aways. Below I will outline two of my favorites, and explain how I use them in an acquisition-driven classroom.

What is CI?

First, let me explain the methodology I use to teach in my own classroom. I have been convinced by everything that I have read, researched, and seen within my own students that Comprehensible Input is the most effective methodology in the foreign language classroom. Input is any language that we give or show to students. The comprehensible piece just means that students can actually understand the language that I put in front of them. Year 1 students reading a Spanish newspaper article is technically input, but it’s certainly not comprehensible. However, year 1 students reading a very simple text with words that they have been exposed to in class? Much more likely to be comprehensible. Any time that you are communicating with your students in the target language and they can understand you, you are more or less “using” CI. There’s a lot more that can be said about this, but for those of you that aren’t familiar, that is the gist. If you are completely unfamiliar with CI, that’s ok! This teaching business is a process. You can read about my own journey to CI here, and read a more fleshed out description of teaching with Comprehensible Input here.

A few reasons that I love these two Kagan strategies for an effective, acquisition-driven classroom:

  • They force students to speak in the target language with one another.
  • Students are only “performing” in front of one or a few classmates, instead of the whole class.
  • Students are forced to practice their listening skills as questions are being read to them.
  • Students are talking, interacting, and (in the case of Quiz-Quiz-Trade) moving!

Ok, now on onto strategies themselves:

1. Quiz-Quiz-Trade

I use this strategy probably close to once a week per class, if not more than that. It allows the kids to be up and moving, and it's a great way for students to review information without being glued to their desk or a worksheet.

While students are still seated, give each student a card that has a question or problem on it. You can make cards with answers on the back if you want. I typically don't because the kids will accidentally show whomever they partner with the answer if they hold the card the wrong way.

Explain to students that as soon as you give them the go ahead, they are to stand up, raise their hand, and partner up with someone. To partner up with someone, they give them a high five. (This is called StandUp-HandUp-PairUp.) My students are seated in pods of four, so I tell them their first partner has to be someone from a different pod.

Once students are partnered together, you can start Quiz-Quiz-Trade. Students will take turns asking each other the questions on their cards. So student A asks student B the question on his or her card, and student B answers. Then, they reverse roles. Once both students have asked and answered their question, they switch cards before they part. Then, their hand goes back up and they go partner up with someone new who also has their hand up.

Repeat this until students have answered a number of questions, until you begin to see off-task behavior, the kids are answering the same question multiple times, etc. Use your judgment as a teacher to see what's best for you and your class. I typically let this activity go between 5-10 minutes depending on the type of questions.

A few rules to keep the kids in check:
Once a student’s hand goes up, they partner up with whomever is closest to them. Partnering up is based on location to another classmate, not who I feel like talking to today. (Kagan goes into much more detail on this and how to encourage students to do it).

Ways To Use Quiz-Quiz-Trade in the CI Classroom:

Comprehension Questions about a Novel or Class Story
One of my classes is currently reading Brandon Brown Hace Trampa. I purchased the teaching guide in addition to the book, and with each chapter you get about ten comprehension questions in Spanish to get even more repetitions of essential vocabulary. Lately, I've been printing the comprehension questions on little cards so that the students can use them in Quiz-Quiz-Trade. I like that the kids have to read the questions out loud, and I like that they get a little more listening practice.

Note on student interactions:
Sometimes, if student A understands the question, and student B doesn't, student A will just immediately start translating the question for student B. I instruct my students very specifically that when we're using Quiz-Quiz-Trade, they perform the following steps to help their classmate understand: 

  1. Read the question in Spanish.
  2. Read the question a second time, this time showing them the words as they read, if possible.
  3. Help their classmate with any words/phrases they're stuck on.

They may only have to read the question once in Spanish, but these are the steps I have my students go through if a classmate is struggling to understand.

Questions to Practice Specific Structures
One of my personal favorite question sets that you can use really early on is simple "te gusta" questions with proper nouns and cognates. Once students have had some exposure to te gusta, me gusta, and no me gusta, they are ready for this activity. I just use a number of simple cognates and proper nouns that students can easily understand, such as chocolate, McDonald's, Starbucks, Justin Bieber, etc. I print them on cards, and we're ready to go!

You can easily make these pretty quickly yourself, but if you're in a pinch, I have two sets for sale on TpT:

Note that I have a few words in Spanish that my students learn early on (dog, cat, etc.) in my question sets that are not cognates.

2. Fan-N-Pick

This one has grown on me as time has gone on. This one requires students to be seated in groups of four facing each other. You also need some sort of "placemat" or paper that tells each student their role during each part of the activity. Lastly, you need the set of question cards.

There are four jobs or roles:

  1. Fan out the cards so that the next student can pick one.
  2. Pick one of the cards and read it for the group (and specifically, for whoever has job 3).
  3. Answer the question.
  4. Congratulate student 3 on a job well done, help them if needed in responding to the question, be a cheerleader.

After each one of these four steps is complete, students must rotate the "placemat" once so that each student has a new role. Student 1 is now student 2, student 2 is now student 3, etc. Now each student completes their new role.

Ways to Use Fan-N-Pick in the CI Classroom

Comprehension Questions Based on a Novel or Class Story
I would almost recommend this over Quiz-Quiz-Trade for this type of question. For my students, questions about a reading in the target language can be tough, especially if they're just hearing it and not seeing the words. Fan-N-Pick forces the whole group to slow down and make sure they understand the question. Like Quiz-Quiz-Trade, it forces students to practice speaking and listening, which some of my students are hesitant to do.

This is not directly a "learning" activity, but I think it's important. As I mentioned, I have my students in pods of four desks and they have two different partners within that pod. Sometimes they work with a partner, and sometimes it's the whole group working together. Anything you can do to encourage positive relationships between students that are seated together helps. You want the kids to be predisposed to getting along well and having patience with one another.

The genius thing about both of these structures? Students aren't facing the pressure of "messing up" in front of the whole class. They are interacting one-on-one or in small groups.

There are about a million more ideas I want to share with you and a million ways to use each of these activities, but I'm going to stop here for now. Let me know if you have any questions, or if you try any of these strategies in your own classroom!


This article has been adapted for Kagan from its original form, "Kagan in the CI/ADI Classroom.

Additional resources: