Most would agree that learning a language is about extending one’s ability to express him/herself. A learner begins with the most basic needs. Am I hungry? Is it hot? Are you happy? Beyond basic needs, a language learner can work to express more advanced functions like conjecture, recommendation and hypothesis. Teachers can and should help by scripting and scaffolding communication. I’ve worked with all kinds over the years, with all levels of language learners. Some are successful, others, less so.

Just recently I’ve worked within a particularly successful scaffolding framework–one I’ll call the “Veo…/Creo…” Framework. In Spanish, “veo” means “I see” and “creo” means “I believe.” It is a simple framework of seeing and supporting what one sees that can be scaled up or down depending on the nature of the task or the time you have. The rhyme in the name and the the elegant simplicity of the activity make this a go-to for many levels. This framework is equal part open-ended prompt and controlled protocol. My experience is that students immediately understand and appreciate how it works.

In the “veo” phase students describe what they see. I have used Powerpoints or Google Slides with tons of images. (The Next Web just published a list of the top 12 free stock image resources on the web.) It’s just as easy to use a photo from a news or social media site. It could be a mountain, a man, a modern sculpture. I have had success with works of art from Mexican muralistas like Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. (There is so much to see!) I instruct students to look carefully and describe what they see. This is best accomplished when students have a scaffolded vocabulary. The most successful responses are clear, perceptive and descriptive. 

The next phase is the “creo” phase. Here students are encouraged to delve deeper. Where is that mountain? Why do you think that? Who is that man? Why is he so sad/smiley/stoic? What might that modern sculpture be suggesting about our shared spaces? I’ve worked most recently at level 4, but this can work up and down the curriculum in any language–likely in ESL too. These thoughts and interpretations can be scaled according to the language and rhetorical level of the students. It would be both easy and effective to scaffold these with specific language functions, for example hypothesis, reaction and recommendation. Over time I’ve been surprised by two things: first, how quickly students pick up on the framework and the language functions I want them to use, and second, how readily they take this exercise in unexpected, creative directions

In addition to what I’ve described above, this “Veo…/Creo…” framework can work in the following ways:

  • as an introductory exercise for new units
  • as a do-now/bell-ringer to set the tone
  • as a pair/share activity
  • as a journal entry activity
  • as a way to brainstorm vocabulary, turning written responses into a class-sourced lists or–even better–class-sourced word clouds
  • as a way to introduce current events into class
  • as a way to recycle old material and step up communication–the same image with increased fluency and more advanced functions
  • as a way to unpack thinking, even at the novice level: “¿Por qué crees esto? [Why do you think that?] ¿Por qué cree X esto? [Why does X think that?] ¿Qué opinas tú? [What do you think?]”
  • as a way to combat the instinct every English-speaking Spanish learner has to say “Pienso que…” You can’t say that here at any time; why is that? It doesn’t rhyme!

Give this framework a try and adapt it to your students’ needs.