Course Design

Readers who have not taken a foreign language class in many years may wonder how Swedish and other foreign languages are currently taught. People whose experiences date ten or twenty years back may recall spending a lot of time in class on pronunciation exercises, detailed grammar book studies and long fill-in-the blank exercises. These activities were designed to make sure that when the learners eventually started using the language outside of class, they would know how to do so correctly. This moment may never have come. Many former U.S. language students will say that they were taught to comprehend written language and also learned about the language in detailed, metacognitive grammar lessons, but they didn’t learn to comfortably communicate in the language. Their communicative competence was slow to develop (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). To remedy this situation, modern language classes tend to emphasize the development of students’ functional language abilities rather than focusing on linguistic competence. Languages are taught with the ultimate goal that students should be able to use what they learn in class in real-world communication, whether they are taking a beginning, intermediate or advanced language course (ACTFL, 2012). To this end, students start to build communicative competence from day one in the classroom.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is instruction that makes communicative competence a principal learning goal (Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011). Intermediate Swedish II DILS is designed to maximize communication in Swedish inside and outside the classroom. Communication is defined as the interpretation of meaning in speech and texts, the expression of meaning in speech and writing, and purposeful interaction between speakers (Van Patten, 2017). Students develop communication skills from their instructor and each other in conversations and through listening to Swedish on topics that are likely to interest them. They participate in learning activities, such as peer-to-peer interviews, role plays, debates, language games and topic research. Comprehensible input is provided in authentic texts, audio and video recordings. The selection of input is based on the criteria that it must be comprehensible, interactive, and engaging to students. Students practice new material in scaffolded activities in the large group or in small groups and pairs. As the class is small, working with all students in a large group has many advantages. There is enough time for everyone to speak, spontaneous conversation can take place, and students receive immediate feedback from the instructor and each other on the effectiveness of their communication. Individual work is saved for assignments outside of class, in reading and writing assignments and end-of-unit tasks.

SWED 2020 DILS uses a task-based approach to instruction. In language instruction, tasks are activities in which the interpretation and expression of meaning is primary (VanPatten, 2017). Students use their thoughts, feelings and opinions and content on subjects that is likely to interest them to create meaningful communication. These tasks are theme-based and consist of a progression of input and output-based activities that typically lead up to a final task, in which students demonstrate what they have learned. The tasks are multimodal. They involve the interpretation and expression of meaning in several or all five language modes (interpretive reading and listening, presentational speaking and writing, interpersonal communication). An example of a task in SWED 2020 DILS is creating printed campaign material for a Swedish political party for a study unit on the Swedish government and political system. Another example involves an oral presentation and Q&A session on a mythological figure in Nordic mythology. It is worth noting that the vocabulary assignments described in the portfolio pre-study are not language tasks. They are activities that make task completion possible. For example, the end-of-unit task associated with the pre-study Vocabulary List assignment is to create and tell a “skröna” (an untrue, mostly realistic story). Students incorporate words and expressions learned in the vocabulary assignment when writing their story. The vocabulary assignments are thus building blocks needed to complete the tasks, but have little communicative value in and of themselves.

Learning Outside the Classroom

Since the class meets infrequently (3X50 min/week), classroom time focuses on only three of the five learning goals: to develop proficiency in interpretive listening, interpersonal communication, and presentational speaking. The other two learning goals, proficiency in interpretive reading and presentational writing, are attended to in out-of-class assignments.

Students are provided many opportunities to learn independently outside of class. Rivstart B1B2, a Swedish monolingual textbook and workbook series, are required texts in the course. Students work on select activities from this learning material on their own. The learning is enhanced with a variety of current material provided on the course website, including study guides, video and film links, a discussion forum, links to useful websites and dictionaries, audio recordings and grammar and vocabulary notes. There is no lack of interesting authentic material for students to explore independently, whether they find their favorite topics on the Internet, in film or in print. Students are also encouraged to use supportive commercial applications to learn vocabulary, such as Duolingo and Quizlet. Furthermore, the instructor offers campus events that support language acquisition and interculturality throughout the semester, such as fika (Swedish coffee hour), a fitness class with instruction in Swedish, guest lectures, and cultural celebrations, such as Lucia celebration and Våffeldagen.

Meeting Course Goals

Methods, materials and assignments assist the student in meeting the course goals in several ways. Unit assignments provide a mix of comprehensible input and level-appropriate output that introduces students to new content and provides opportunity for practice and demonstration of learning. The assignments are connected to learning objectives that are steps to the achievement of the SWED2020 DILS learning goals. The course learning goals are based on ACTFL standards. These goals are broken down into learning objectives that are attended to in the different study units. Each study unit has between 6 to 8 learning objectives per week, one or two for each learning mode plus grammar-focused and intercultural objectives. These objectives are expressed as Can-Do statements. For example, a course goal for presentational speaking is “to be able to make presentations on a wide variety of familiar topics using a series of connected sentences or short paragraphs”. This corresponds to an Intermediate High proficiency level in the ACTFL standards. This is a broad learning goal for an undefined number of content and context areas. Each study unit in SWED 2020 DILS will build skills towards this main goal. In a unit on Swedish history, two learning objectives associated with this particular course goal are “I can describe the location and exterior and interior features of 3 historic buildings in Stockholm“ and “I can describe the historical significance of these 3 historic buildings.” Students use the Can-Do statements for self-assessment of their progress. Students may use can-do statements for self-assessment of their progress. They can share their learning with their instructor by indicating whether they can do, can do with assistance, need more practice, or cannot do a particular action yet.

The learning objectives of the assignments in SWED 2020 DILS are connected to the overall course goals in the interpretive, presentational and interpersonal communication language modes. Students work on their ability to interpret the Swedish language by reading texts on one of our six major course themes. These themes are Regional Culture in the Swedish Provinces, Current News Media, Folklore and Storytelling, The Swedish Political System, Swedish History and Nordic Mythology. Texts may come from the course textbook or select webpages and documents posted to Canvas. The students also find their own material on the web. They build interpretive listening skills from audio recordings and video clips, films, and news media. Students work on their presentational skills in writing and speaking assignments focused on the study unit theme. They participate in discussion forums, e-mailing and texting, peer feedback sessions, and create multimodal presentations. Interpersonal communication skills are developed in whole class and small group activities and are also part of the multimodal presentations.

Since this course uses a standards-based approach to learning, keeping the learning outcome in focus is important in lesson and unit plan development. Each plan is designed to integrate the five modes of communication with meaningful and mainly authentic content and contextualized activities and tasks. Backward design is used in lesson and unit plan development. This method keeps the desired learning outcomes at the end of the class, unit and semester in focus. Another useful tool in choosing materials and activities for the course is a foreign language planning model based on Bloom’s revised taxonomy. This model relates learning actions and corresponding types of activities to lower- and higher-order thinking (Shrum and Glisan, 2010). Aside from its use in curriculum planning, it serves as a reminder of the benefits of foreign language learning in the students’ broader university education.

Implementation of Vocabulary Assignments

As previously mentioned, key vocabulary for the theme-based tasks in SWED 2020 DILS study units was previously introduced in class during the first couple of meetings, while vocabulary enrichment took place in context throughout the study unit. Students would find vocabulary instructions on the course website prior to the first class of the week, so that they would familiarize themselves with the new vocabulary before coming to class. In the instructor’s experience of previous courses, few students would take time to study the new vocabulary before class. A negative feedback loop was in place, in which valuable classroom time was spent on the introduction of key vocabulary, while students would choose not to study the new vocabulary before class, as they knew that the vocabulary would be covered in class. To improve the learning experience, pre-class assignments were implemented, and were followed up with reading and listening assessments in the classroom.

The instructional strategy of giving students assignments to prepare for their classroom interaction is characteristic of the flipped classroom (Brame, 2013). In the flipped classroom, students are first exposed to new knowledge outside of class, and class time is used for application and assimilation of this knowledge (Berrett, 2012). The flipped classroom model was helpful when thinking about how to restructure the course. As a result, pre-class vocabulary assignments were developed and the instruction in class was modified. The students were now first exposed to new content in out-of-class vocabulary and/or grammar assignments. The vocabulary was then practiced in the classroom in whole class and group activities, after which students moved on to apply the vocabulary in input- and output-based activities and tasks with analytical, evaluative and creative components.

Vocabulary Assignments Details

  • The first pre-class vocabulary assignment was a structured vocabulary assignment. Students were asked to complete an assignment in Quizlet. Quizlet is a free, commercial online learning tool, in which users play matching, sorting, spelling and translating games to help with vocabulary memorization. There is a simple listening tool that allows students to hear the pronunciation of words and phrases. The learning environment is multi-sensory and interactive. It lacks images and recording capacity. The vocabulary can be sorted into content areas. The vocabulary is presented out of context. In this assignment, students used the learning tool to familiarize themselves with the vocabulary by playing paired-associate, flashcard language games in the learning tool. Grammatical information for each word was provided. The vocabulary was not contextualized. The tool provided students with direct feedback on their responses.
  • The second pre-class vocabulary assignment was also a structured vocabulary assignment. Students were instructed to complete the assignment in VoiceThread. VoiceThread is an online learning tool that is integrated into the University of Colorado’s learning management system. Students and instructors can create, share, and comment on images, videos, documents, using microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file uploads in VoiceThread. The learning tool is interactive. Student can respond to queries and record their responses by voice or text. In this assignment, students read and listened to new vocabulary in context and were able to respond to questions in writing or speech. The assignment provided images and speech in addition to written text. Grammatical information was also provided. Direct feedback to students was provided in an associated quiz.
  • The third pre-class vocabulary assignment was an unstructured vocabulary assignment. Students received a PDF document with a list of key vocabulary, examples of how the words are used in context, and grammatical information. No other supportive activities and tools were provided. Students memorized the vocabulary using their own learning strategies. This assignment did not provide any supportive images, recordings, interactive features, or direct feedback.

Participation in the study was voluntary.

How the Learning Outcome was Assessed

The learning outcome on the pre-class vocabulary quizzes was assessed with reading and listening quizzes following each assignment. At the time of the assessment, the students had completed the vocabulary assignment independently and had also completed language tasks in the classroom that required familiarity with the new vocabulary. The quizzes assessed student performance on reading and listening comprehension tasks. The students read and listened to authentic texts and provided phrases and sentence-level responses to content questions.


ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners 2012 Edition, The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL),

Lightbown, P.M. and Spada, N. (2006). The implications of classroom research for learning in How Languages are Learned (pp.176-180). Oxford University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. and Anderson, M. (2011). Communicative Language Teaching in Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching (pp. 115-129). Oxford University Press.

Shrum, J.L. and Glisan, E.W. (2010). Blooms Taxonomy of Thinking Processes in Teacher’s Handbook - Contextualized Language Instruction, Fifth Edition (pp. 75-77, Appendix 3.1). Cengane Learning.

Van Patten, B. 2017. While We’re on the Topic: BVP on Language, Acquisition and Classroom Practices (p. 3). The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Alexandria, Virginia.

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