Nathan for You!


One of the goals of an OWL classroom is to empower students to take control of their language learning experience.  With this end in mind, my students and I spent several classes discussing and exploring ACTFL proficiency levels.  First, we examined the levels and  how they are measured.  Then we discuss their individual oral and written proficiency levels and made a road map of how to arrive at the next level.

Below, I share with you my lesson plan for the class discussion of the ACTFL levels. However, before you read the lesson please take a moment to watch this clip from Nathan for You as it is the basis for the whole discussion.  This Comedy Central video, in which seven year Amir is interviewed for a position at a law firm became the hit of English week. It was funny and students empathized with Amir, but most importantly it was a fantastic introduction to the concept of language levels. Additionally, many students who did not identify as Spanish speakers do now thanks to Amir. It was obvious to them that he spoke English, but they saw that it was limited to certain contexts, vocabulary and structures. Drawing the connections between Amir and themselves, they grasped that just like him, their language has limits but without a doubt, they speak Spanish.

OK enough with the explanation, onto the lesson!

Time: Two forty minute class periods.

Levels: Spanish One and Two

Students will be able to:                                                                                                                           Describe the difference between novice and intermediate speakers using ACTFL level descriptors.       Assess language levels using ACTFL level descriptors.

1.  Watch the video clip and laugh.

2.  Watch the clip again, but have students answer the following questions in their notebook:

a) What is Amir able to communicate in the video?

b) What difficulties does Amir have?

c) Does Amir speak English?

3.  Record questions a) and b) on the board.   Here is a sample:

IMG_20140922_094221341       IMG_20140922_094241669

4.  Pass out the Proficiency level descriptors and have students read silently. Here are two that I use.  One is from Jefferson County Public Schools and the other is from teacher extraordinaire, Wyatt Crane.

PBA_Rubric_color (2) (1)ACTFL Level Descriptors


5.  Discuss with students the meaning of context, form, function, comprehensibility and comprehension.

6.  Pair students up and ask them to discuss the differences between a novice and intermediate speaker.

7.  Watch sample videos of novice and intermediate speakers.  Using the descriptors, ask students why the novice is a novice and what makes the intermediate an intermediate?

8.   In a T chart have students and summarize novice and intermediate capabilities.

9.  Watch Amir one last time have student assess Amir’s proficiency level.  Make sure students justify their response either orally or in writing.

10.  End class by asking students if Amir speaks English.  Then flip it on them and ask them if they speak Spanish!

This lesson is a bit late for English week, but perhaps it will prove helpful for next year, as a sub plan or as a refresher.  At the very least, appreciate the video!



8 thoughts on “Nathan for You!

  1. Dawn Webster Williams

    I think the Comedy Central clip is a great hook and way to start talking about proficiency levels. The questions you posited in the debrief look like they elicited quality observations from the students that leads right into looking at the proficiency rubric. Thanks also for finding those sample videos of language levels on the ACTFL site! I believe those were the exact same ones that Arnold B. used when presenting an ACTFL OPI (oral proficiency interview) Familiarization Workshop.


  2. Katie D

    This will be my 1st year doing OWL and this post, along, with the rest of your site, is SO helpful to me as I start this journey! Thank you so much!


    • elizapfeifer

      I am glad! I hope to be posting more and more this year! When I started OWL, I felt very on my own and wanted to get into someone else´s head at times. Hopefully, this blog will help to see what others (or at least me) are thinking or doing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s