Season 5, Episode 3: Passion, Play and Proficiency with Gale Stafford

Welcome to Inspired Proficiency and thank you for joining us for episode 3 of season 5. As always, please tweet any takeaways and inspirations to #inspiredproficiency. Don’t forget that Ashley and her podcasts are also on Facebook in the group “Inspired Proficiency Teacher Collaboration” with lots of great ideas for the classroom.

Download the episode here or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here or find it wherever you listen to podcasts! 

Today’s episode:87439469_822928158174511_5405830681253117952_n

Ashley wants to thank everyone for listening AND sharing the podcast with all your friends and colleagues! It’s a weird time for all of us and we’re all doing our best. Ashley’s friends and family made her smile by planning a surprise car parade for her son’s birthday and it meant a lot to her. What else are you all doing during this time to be at home? How are you staying connected with YOUR people with social distancing?


Today’s Interview:

GaleToday Ashley chats with her colleague and friend Gale Stafford. They work together at the Innovation Charter Academy and Gale teaches Spanish 1-4 at the high school level. They presented together at ACTFL and here is their presentation “Passion, Play, and Proficiency.” When this episode was recorded, it was the first day of school closures in their district but we still want to share the ideas to keep thinking of ideas for when we all return to school. They used their interests and strengths to create their ACTFL presentation and it also helps them engage students in the classroom.

  • Bring your interests and passions into the classroom!
Gales’ Interests: 

  • Music
  • Dancing
  • Social justice and identity
  • Food/ eating practices
  • Word play and puns
Ashley’s interests:

  • Games/ party games/ board games/ competition
  • Novels
  • TV shows and great characters and plots
  • Family
  • Teaching
  • Improv
  • Podcast
  • Social media
  • Building up school culture with students AND teachers


  • Think through what your interests list would be and what you’re passionate about
  • Make a list
  • Now think about your own students and who can you connect with based on what you already know about them from their interests and your interests
    • The point of this exercise is to figure out HOW to connect personally with all the students in your class.


  • Pick 2 specific students and things that those 2 students have in common with each other
    • Can you combine any of your interests with theirs? Can you combine the interest of one student with another? Can you make it really interesting and engaging and hilarious by combining 2 seemingly NOT related things? What can you do with these tidbits of information from your students? How can you HOOK their attention?
  • The best way to lower a student’s affective filter is to engage them in a meaningful and real way that affects their life and makes them excited to be in class or engaged and excited about the topic.
  • If they are excited about the topic then they will be more motivated to use the target language to communicate about the topics they like.
  • Caleb Howard was on a previous episode talking about similar topics. 

Types of Play in the Classroom

  • Sometimes it’s planned and sometimes it’s improvised
  • Reacting to something that JUST happened or planning something to happen so there can be a reaction
  • Mario Kart
    • Gale loved to play when she was younger
    • Application came out this fall and kids were obsessed with it
    • Tried to access it in a way to engage students but IN the classroom with a track of chairs (picture in the slideshow of the presentation)
    • Kids had to “run” around the track and the spectators threw ball pit balls at their feet
      • If a kid was hit then they had to say their name and then like Mario Kart say bananas and then do something like wiggle in place like in the game when you get hit
    • All kids WANTED to play
      • Some didn’t want to race, so they were happy to throw balls
      • Some were die hard racers and did not want to throw the balls
      • Everyone participated in their own way language wise by saying what they wanted or like or how the game went in the target language
      • Teacher can also narrate and give instructions in the target language too so it can be all input and listening if words are newer
  • The Winter Olympics
    • Kids who really like sports will buy right into something like this
    • Play a news clip or highlight from the target language
    • Create a game kids can do that’s related to something from the Olympics

Tips for teachers who want to bring planned play into the classroom

  • Don’t be nervous because it feels rowdy! 
    • Have clear expectations for students so they know how to behave
    • Invite yourself to grow in your faith in yourself and your students and you can do things that require patience
    • The payoff of what they can do with language and community building are totally worth it
  • Don’t be afraid to let it feel informal!
    • You don’t need to buy tons of of supplies or weird things
    • Borrow from other teachers (PE teachers have tons of fun toys and things to borrow)
    • Fancy materials don’t make a fun game
  • Check for danger
    • Make sure your room is equipped
    • Ashley and Gale are deskless so they have the space, take the kids somewhere in the building (or outside) if they need more space, or make the space in your room
  • Interests are semi-universal
    • Just because one kid in Spanish 4 likes Mario Kart does not mean the level 1 class will enjoy the same activity
    • Modify your game for your different levels

Starting the class with planned play

  • Cup Volleyball
    • Paper cups, not plastic
    • 4-5 students in groups
    • Keep the cup up
    • Last person to touch before it falls is IT
    • It means they ask a question to the board OR some other prompt you have set up OR some other task you have prepared for them

Improvised Play

  • Becoming comfortable with funny, weird things that happen in class
    • Feels better to lean into those moments than fight against them
    • Gale has an AC in her room and sometimes it makes random sounds so they make it part of the class in the target language
  • The world is interesting so improvised play is about being interested in it
    • Language is a lot of improvisation so leaning into these moments are TRUE and AUTHENTIC times to practice language
    • Authentic curiosity 
  • One day a weird cockroach with a bunch of legs appeared in class
    • It became a huge class discussion of everyone’s opinions
      • Kill it!
      • Free it!
      • But why are you scared of it?
      • Too many legs?
      • Not enough legs?
      • Is it even a cockroach?
    • Quick search of bugs and something else the kids are interested in which was milk
      • Found a bug milk that’s for sale certain places
      • Use the internet to see what kind of tidbits of fun you can find!
      • Continued in class another day
        • Would you eat cockroaches?
        • Would you think this milk?
        • Why not? Why? 
  • Another day in October
    • Short scary videos in October and the lights in the school went out while watching
      • The kids on their own wanted to talk about why the lights went out
        • Is this a real scary story?
        • Is there a monster?
        • Are we in danger?
        • Did the school pay the electric bill?
        • Enrich the experience of WHAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW with the target language and real life language in your room
  • Teachers are not the only way to bring language to the classroom so it empowers the students to know that they have a serious voice within the classroom

Game Segment with Sarah Breckley:

Triangle Run

  • Numbers brain break
  • Open space
  • Designate 3 areas as far apart from each other as they can be
  • Divide the kids into equal numbers into those 3 spaces
  • Each person needs to travel clockwise to each area within a few minutes as fast as possible
  • To move a person must win the quick counting game against one other person in their designated space
    • Turn to whoever is closest
  • Winner can leave clockwise to the next space to play more people
  • Loser stays and plays someone else
  • Person who completes the most rotations around the 3 designated spaces is the winner
    • Worried they can’t remember who went the farthest?
    • Teacher holds something to hand to kids (like popsicle sticks) so they all know who passed the most because they passed the teacher and received however many things to count their rotations
  • Counting game
    • 1, 2, 3 shoot like rock paper scissors
    • Both players put out however many fingers they want to with their hand or hands
    • Whoever shouts out the TOTAL number of fingers FIRST is the winner
    • Could ALSO play with many other activities in the pairs like rock paper scissors

If you try this TWEET ABOUT IT with #inspiredproficiency on Twitter. We want to know how it went! 

Calm Segment with Julie Speno:

Brain Gym

  • Is an approach that is geared specifically to activate the brain for learning
  • Great for many different ages
  • Activity 1
    • Cross your legs or feet in front of you
    • Put your arms out straight and cross your arms
    • Turn palms and link fingers together
    • Fold hands into your chest, still folded, and still linked fingers
    • Hold and count to 10, count softly, quietly, and slowly before releasing from this position
    • Really energetic kids? Count longer 
    • Uncross arms, uncross legs and transition into something else
    • Very simple but very effective talking about the midline of the brain and activating both sides
  • Activity 2
    • EARS
    • Take your hands and put them at the bottom of the lobes of your ears, gently squeeze
    • Squeeze and move all the way up your ears and around then back down the lobes
    • Go slowly and breathe 
    • Julie compares it to acupuncture with the stimulation

Inspired Trivia:

Visit Wayside Publishing to answer the trivia questions and enter the prize drawing! Winners announced on Twitter.

Resources and links mentioned on the show:

  • Ashley and Gale’s ACTFL presentation
  • Caleb Howard’s podcast discussion about creating a target language discourse community
  • Brain Gym information


  • Gale Stafford, 
  • Sarah Breckley on Twitter @SarahBreckley and her blog
  • Julie Speno on Twitter @MundoDePepita and her blog

Season sponsorship brought to you by:

Episode sponsors:

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