Is integrating 21st Century skills synonymous with technology?

When we think of 21st Century skills we tend to think that the pedagogy which guides us to incorporate these skills must be accompanied by high tech tools. Of course by definition some skills (such as technology literacy) will need to be fostered by high tech tools, but there are others that can go low tech to match your purpose or classroom situation.

Your main goals should be:

  • How do I get my students to be college- and career-ready?
  • How is my learner-centered classroom also learner-responsible?

Let’s explore some techniques and technologies that help foster 21st Century skills while encouraging participation, responsibility, and ownership of learning from language learners. Since we want our students to engage with each other as well as with technologies, here are some ideas that can be easily integrated (high or low tech) to help differentiate, individualize, and motivate student learning.

NASA science: revealed. This is the NASA Visualization Explorer App, the coolest way to get stories about advanced space-based research delivered right to your iPad. Download it starting Tuesday, July 26th and tap into the power of NASA's cutting-edge research. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagramrch. Download it starting July 26, 2011: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram

Do you flip?

Flipped learning is more than a buzzword, it provides an opportunity to differentiate for learners where they really need it. On a cognitive level, flipped learning focuses on students building their lower order thinking skills of memorizing and understanding at home, and instructors facilitating the development of higher order thinking skills (for example, creating with the target language in meaningful ways) during class sessions. Flipped learning is a pedagogical hop for language educators, not a leap. Unlike other disciplines, we are very accustomed to, and comfortable with, students working in groups and pairs as they problem solve, think critically and create content in the target language to demonstrate knowledge.

The keys to flipping lessons are to always provide students with some form of a concept check after they do the learning on their own so they can identify what it is that they don’t know, and to NOT reteach. Having access to what your students actually are able to do before they come to class helps you focus on where students really need your help and support rather than reteaching what they already know and are able to do. If you are looking for high tech solutions for flipping lessons, check out this page: You can also take a look at what your textbook company offers for online videos and comprehension checks. Those are sure to be focused on the lower order thinking skills of understanding and remembering. Keep in mind that these video lessons should be short, under 8 minutes is ideal, followed by a comprehension check. Preliminary research in world language classrooms shows that students are better able to ask questions about what they don’t understand when they have had the opportunity to learn at their own pace at home witha concept check so that they are aware of what is confusing to them (Roberts, in press).

Low tech?

A version of the same thing can be done with students reading grammar explanations and studying vocabulary by quizzing themselves with paper flashcards at home followed by a concept check. Taking the grammar and flashcard scaffolding pieces outside of class will help us to reach 95% in the target language regardless of what level we teach. Grammar explanations are often the cause of switching to English, particularly at the lower levels. Again use your textbook ancillaries here as a resource. You do not always have to create these materials.


Honestly, do all your students always do their homework now? The students who really didn’t bother at home will not be able to do the small group work that builds on the language in class. These students may need to be in a separate group during class to learn what they should have been doing at home. With some coaching from you or their classmates, these learners can then rejoin the group when they are ready. Students are now taking responsibility for what they know and don’t know which supports the skill of initiative and self-direction. We will always have students who don’t do their work, but why not reward those who do by giving them an opportunity to really use the language they are learning. You may finally get to those great interactive, high level thinking activities that you currently have at the end of your lesson plan, but didn’t reach before, because you were busy teaching lower order skills during your face to face time.

Augmented reality anyone?

Sounds kind of high tech and scary but really it’s not. hitechqrAugmented reality is simply taking something real and putting a layer of information on top of it. If you have ever printed a QR code and put it on something, that is a form of augmented reality. You just take something real, like a student  project, and by placing a QR code on it that connects the observer to more information about the item they are looking at. That information can be text, a website, a video, or anything else you or your students might think up. If you are not familiar with how QR codes are used, just for your phone, open up your food cabinet, a newspaper, or a magazine and start scanning to see what it does.

During a trip to Toledo, Spain last summer I came across an area designated with windowslayarexample
into the past. There were icons for Layar. Layar, like Aurasma, is an app for your phone that allows you to learn more than what the eye initially sees. In the Toledo exhibit, I was able to see images and hear poetry that told pieces of the history of Jewry in Toledo.

Consider turning those in-class presentations that take up multiple days of learning into a full class learning adventure. Each student creates their poster of content related to the theme being studied. Then they video record their oral presentation and post it to an Internet site such as Vimeo or YouTube. Using Aurasma studio the student can create trigger images out of the photos on the poster that lead the audience to their video. Provide students with a data gathering sheet and let them walk around the room at their own pace listening and watching the videos of their classmates so they can learn from each other. If Aurasma seems too difficult, as it can be picky about trigger images and users being in the same channel, students could also just attach QR codes created with a QR code generator to their posters that lead to the video presentations. This is where technology literacy comes in as students determine the “best” technology to use for a task. Of course “best” is dependent on access, skill, availability, and many other considerations.

Or how about giving Thinglink a try. This application has both an app for mobile devices and works well from the web. It allows for annotation of an image. Take for example this Thinglink of “Guernica: el cuadro” where the instructor has added trigger points with questions that help focus students on particular aspects of this famous painting. After having students answer the questions on a separate sheet of paper or in a google doc, provide them with a variety of other paintings where each group of students creates their own Thinglink with questions that help to analyze that additional work. After students trade Thinglinks and answer each other’s questions, have each student take on another painting of their own, but this time they can add descriptions, videos and URLs to demonstrate what they understand about this final work. In the process students will be collaborating, communicating, and developing their critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Thinglink has a great teacher feature that puts all of your students together in your account for easy sharing.

Low tech?

While all of these may seem a bit less obvious in terms of a low tech solution,

Lift-the-flap poster

Students create a poster in the target language modeled from

do you remember when you used to read lift-the-flap books or perhaps even created a lift-the-flap poster for your language class back before everyone had mobile devices? Think of augmented reality like electronic lift-the-flap whereby the electronic part allows for audio and video options that didn’t before exist. If access to technology is a problem for you or your students, you can resurrect those books and posters as students create projects with a lift-the-flap for more information feature. It could be a fun, and engaging blast from the past while still fostering creativity and innovation skills in your students.


Rosen, L., Roberts, N., & Maeda, M. (in press). Gain Time & Differentiate To Meet Student Needs in University Learning Environments: A Flipped Learning Approach. In J. Loucky & J. Ware (Eds.), Flipped Instruction Methods and Digital Technologies in Language Learning Classrooms. IGI Global.

Join our mailing list now

By subscribing to our mailing list, you will get the latest news from us.

Resize font
Contrast mode