Common Ground (Henshaw & Hawkins, 2022): First 30 Pages All Language Teachers Should Read

This post includes practical ideas I got from Florencia Henshaw’s and Maris Hawkins’ theory-to-practice SLA (second language acquisition) book. The preface and first chapter contain what’s probably among the best 30 pages a language teacher could read, especially one having little familiarity with SLA, and/or those who missed the Tea with BVP train, and While We’re On The Topic.

My context is teaching first year Latin in a small public high school in a large city. Latin is required. It’s the only language offered. So there. I teach beginning students who have no choice (i.e., this often means no interest or any prior knowledge), and many of them didn’t have a second language experience in primary or middle school. Since “novice learners have a long way to go when it comes to developing a linguistic system” (p. 138), my focus is hardly on any output. Output “helps with the skill of accessing that system” (p. 138), which the beginner is still building, so it’s not a priority. This doesn’t mean no one speaks Latin (students do!). This doesn’t mean there isn’t any interaction. What this does mean is that I’m not thrown off by all the “Get students speaking the TL in just five easy steps!” messages that lead so many language teachers astray. Neither are the authors, although they’ve included stuff in the book for those who might be dealing with an IPA-heavy department (Integrated Performance Tasks), or who might be coming from a more traditional program and isn’t quite ready to give input its due attention. Input is key. I’d actually feel the same if I taught second year Latin as well, and maybe even year three. This would also hold true for any language. That is to say I think all Spanish I & II, or maybe even Korean III teachers would benefit from the same approach: a massive focus on input.

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Grouping/Seating Strategies

**Click for ready-to-go pairs using Picturae Database images** Updated 4.25.18

Do you have one set of cards taped to chairs, and distribute duplicate cards to students as they walk in for randomized seating? Do you have a left side/right side of the room labeled for Total Physical Response (TPR) groups? Try adding these for novelty…

Instead of cards taped to chairs, just shuffle and deal to students at the start of class (while they’re reading the one thing you’ve typed up?). Student pairs find each other, and either work together, or just sit next to one another for randomized seating.


Print and laminate images/names of things from the target language-speaking world. Keep them organized, and grab a new set every few days/week. For example, my room is labeled Rome and Pompeii for left/right, but I have other sets of cities, monsters, heroes, authors, social classes, etc. tucked away in a drawer. Next week, I could distribute 1/2 social class pulārēs and 1/2 optimātēs to the class, and have each sit on different sides of the room. This both mixes up the seating as well as gives new groups for TPR, etc. For small groups, say, One Word At a Time Stories (OWATS), I could distribute the chariot racing factions Alba, Russāta, Prasina, and Veneta, or just combine any pairs already formed, etc. This is just one more way to infuse target-culture into your class.