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Card Talk

November 8, 2011

Card Talk is one of the most simple lessons known to language-teacher-kind. It is zero prep, student centered, and is easy to extend into other activities and content.'s FUN!

I first saw Card Talk done by Carol Gaab at AFLA 2011. Even though I had read extensively about Ben Slavic's version of Card Talk ("Circling with Balls"), seeing it demonstrated was critical for me. Seeing what kinds of follow-up and clarifying questions can be asked and getting a feel for the pacing of Card Talk–when to "park" on a card and when to move on–was immensely helpful. Carol used the question prompt "Where did you go last summer?", and  ended up with some hysterical vignettes about various attendees and their summer adventures.

Card Talk makes a GREAT first day of school plan for returning students, and it's makes a great plan any day!


To Card Talk, you need...

  1. a discussion prompt (a personalized question)
  2. a piece of paper or index card for each student
  3. a writing utensil for each student (a marker, ideally)
  4. a voice

...and that's it!


  1. Ask your students a question.
  2. If necessary, establish or clarify meaning for the question (This might mean writing down the word in the target language and its meaning in English on the board beside it).
  3. Have students sketch their answer to your question prompt (ex: if your question is "What did you eat for breakfast?", they might sketch a bowl of cereal.
  4. Check out your students' drawings.
  5. Choose one drawing that looks interesting or ambiguous.
  6. Take it from the student.
  7. Walk around and show it to the class as you repeat the third person form of the question over and over (ex: "What did Kluane eat for breakfast?"). In this way, you are inviting your class to interpret the drawing.
  8. Take guesses from the class. With each guess, ask the student that you are talking about to confirm or deny the guess.
  9. Continue having classmates guess the student's answer/sketch until EITHER they guess correctly OR someone says something so creative, so funny, so preposterous, that you just have to pretend that it's true.
  10. If the real answer is uninspired and doesn't spark some enthusiasm from the class, pick a new picture and repeat the process.
  11. If the answer is interesting or it seems that you can build a compelling story around it, start asking for details, and develop a story or vignette.

Card Talk is a powerful discussion strategy for providing comprehensible input to language learners, and one benefit is that can be adapted to ANY lesson!You can use ANY discussion question for Card Talk!


Here is an example of the beginnings of a Card Talk conversation in Spanish:

Teacher: ¿Adónde fue Maya?
Student: ¡Fue a Hawaii!
Teacher: ¿Fue a Hawaii? Maya, ¿tú fuiste a Hawaii?
Maya: [shakes her head ‘no’]
Teacher: Maya dice, “Yo no fui a Hawaii”. Clase, ¡Maya no fue a Hawaii! ¿Adónde fue Maya?
Student: ¡A la casa de Bruno Mars!
Teacher: ¿Fue a la casa de Bruno Mars? Maya, ¿tú fuiste a la casa de Bruno Mars?
Maya: [shakes her head ‘no’]
Teacher: Clase, Maya dice, “Yo no fui a la casa de Bruno Mars”….pero yo tengo un secreto. ¡Maya SÍ fue a la casa de Bruno Mars! El verano pasado, Maya fue a la casa de Bruno Mars.


First, we always READ a summary of the conversation or story that we developed as a class. This might be something that I typed up (in all my spare time ;-)) between classes, or it might be a class generated summary that we create together using Write and Discuss.

Not familiar with Write and Discuss? No problem!

As you write out the story, ask students to share what they remember from the conversation so that they are the ones guiding the writing process. You can also “pretend to get it wrong” by saying a false statement from the class conversation and waiting for students to correct you. 

As you write out the story, ask students to share what they remember from the conversation so that they are the ones guiding the writing process. You can also “pretend to get it wrong” by saying a false statement from the class conversation and waiting for students to correct you.

For example:

Teacher: Ayer, Muhua fue al cine con Destiny… Class: ¡Noooooo! ¡Centro comercial! Teacher: Ay sí, tienen razón. Ayer, Muhua fue al centro comercial con Frankie. Class: ¡No! ¡Destiny! Teacher: Ay de mí, ¡sí! Tienen razón. Ayer, Muhua fue al centro comercial con Frankie. Fueron a la tienda Apple porque Mutua tenía un teléfono roto.

Here is an example of a reading generated from our class Card Talk:


Hay un estudiante en mi clase de español que se llama Armando. Armando es un muchacho muy interesante porque fue a Guatemala el año pasado. Él fue con su familia para ayudar a gente pobre. Cuando yo le pregunté, «Armando, ¿por qué fuiste a Guatemala para ayudar a gente pobre? Hay gente pobre en los Estados Unidos», él respondió, «Yo fui a Guatemala porque quería hablar español».  Entonces, le pregunté, «Entonces, ¿por qué no fuiste a Guatemala este año también?» Él dijo, «No fui a Guatemala este año porque no tenía mucho dinero. Usé todo mi dinero el año pasado». Armando es un chico muy simpático.


There is a student in my geometry class named Armando. Armando is a very interesting guy because he went to Guatemala last year. He went with his family to help poor people. When I asked him, "Armando, why did you go to Guatemala to help poor people? There are poor people in the U.S.!", he responded, "I went to Guatemala because I wanted to practice Spanish". Then, I asked him, "Then why didn't you go to Guatemala this year too?" He said, "I didn't go to Guatemala this year because I didn't have much money. I used all of my money last year". I think that Armando is the nicest guy at my school.

Read together the class story (ideally while it is projected). As you do, pause to ask clarifying questions, personalized questions, and comprehension questions. Click here to see a demo.

After you read your Card Talk

Once you have a written form of the conversation or story, you can do any number of reading-based activities with it.

My students have always enjoyed turning their Card Talk cards into writing prompts. I do this by scanning and shrinking the card and placing it onto a writing form--easy! I usually pick the Card that generates the most interest from the class.

In this example, I had my students write their own explanation of the picture using at least 50 words. This was a writing assessment, and I embedded the Free Write Rubric on the back side of the document.

Extend Card Talk with a writing assignment based on students' favorite Card.Click here to access Free Write Forms with embedded rubrics.

Here are some more reading ideas!

Volleyball translation

In volleyball translation, each student has a copy of the text. Students work in pairs to read aloud and translate each sentence. Partner A reads a sentence in Spanish and Partner B translates it afterward. Then, Partner B reads the next sentence in Spanish and Partner A translates it afterward. This continues until they get through the whole reading. Read this post for more information about volleyball reading.

Read and respond

Give students individual copies of the text. Scattered throughout the text—either in the body or in the margins—include personalized questions designed to help students make connections with the text. For example, if the text says, “Maya fue a Hawaii”, the question in the margin could be, “¿Quieres ir a Hawaii?” or “¿Alguna vez fuiste a Hawaii?”. As students read, they write responses to the questions.

Blind Retell

One student tries to retell the summary from memory while a partner reads it and coaches the reteller. For complete directions, see instructions on this post.

Draw 1 - 2 - 3

Click here to learn more about Draw 1 2 3. Students read the story. Then, they illustrate it with ONE picture. They add TWO speech bubbles to the illustration; each of which contains a minimum of 10 words in Spanish. Finally, they write a THREE sentence summary of the illustration in Spanish or English (your choice, depending on whether your primary purpose is to check for comprehension or to check on their productive ability in Spanish). 


Card Talk is the core of the first lesson in the SOMOS Level 2 Curriculum, and many teachers do this particular lesson many times over as they work through SOMOS Level 1 in the form of Weekend Chat.

Core structures:

  1. fue - s/he went
  2. el fin de semana pasado - last weekend

Instead of "Last weekend", you could do "Last week", "Yesterday", "In a past life", ....anything!

Use Card Talk to talk about where students went and what they did in the past--perfect for coming back from a weekend or summer vacation!

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