Draw and Discuss

This is awesome, interesting and zero-prep.

Some of my kids started drawing on the board between classes or when I was out grabbing coffee. Some of these pictures were awesome, and so one day I just started discussing these.

What the kids drew

Today we had a cigarette-smoking penguin, and Dracula grabbing Phish. I asked questions such as what is Dracula thinking? and why does the penguin smoke? I wrote some answers down, and then circled— asked comprehension questions about— the kids’ answers.

What we ended up with

I added personalised questions such as Bikram, do you smoke? and who likes to drink blood? We got some good weird answers and fun chat out of it.

Spanish teachers, note use of the subjunctive 😂😂. I don’t care if the kids can produce it but if they understand…

The next logical step would be, write these down and discuss them. I should upload the photos onto our class Team and get the kids to read these.


The Four Rules of Teaching

What makes a decent teacher?

People do their PhDs— hell, their careers— on this topic. But since you are a busy teacher and you are just dying to get home and grab a drin— er, a stack of papers to mark— we’ll provide a short ‘n’ sweet four part answer, three parts of which were told to me by a guy who started his career as a substitute teacher and ended it as a Deputy Minister of Education.

Life isn’t fair, neither is work, there are no guarantees, bla bla bla…but here’s what you gotta do if you want a chance.

  1. ACYA: Always Cover Your Ass.
  2. Steal anything worthwhile.
  3. Get to appropriately know your students.
  4. Do what it takes.

1. ACYA. Worried there’s too many kids to safely supervise on the fieldtrip? Email your admins stating your concerns. Want to show a risqué film? Send a permission letter home first and cc the admin. Photocopying something you need but don’t have the $$ for? Notify your department head. Johnny failing French? Email his adults and lay out the facts and consequences. If push ever comes to shove, you need to have the receipts. The bottom line sadly needs to be, my boss(es) were notified about this.

2. If you see something, steal something 😉. If the basketball coach does something that works in your Spanish class, you do that. Find a great ____ in the photocopy/staff room, on Facebook/Insta etc? GRAB IT. Do not reinvent the wheel, acknowledge authorship, and definitely prize your non-teaching life.

3. Any psychologist will tell you something like the following: nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. This goes doubly for kids. You must get to know kids, starting with their names properly pronounced, their pronouns, and progressing to basic facts about them, if you expect them to open up and to respect you. I recall reading somewhere that knowing name + two facts about someone = “trust baseline.”

For the language teacher, part of this is personalisation, which means making the subject matter reflect students’ interests. If people feel like they have input into ____, they are much more likely to care about it.

4. Any successful teacher will do what it takes to get kids to succeed, given who their students are, what the school & community are like, and where the students are in their learning.

This means some or all of the following:

  • ignoring stupid school/District/State mandates re: planning, texts, textbooks, activities, tests. One size almost never fits all, and if a publisher makes it, it serves an agenda which probably has very little to do with kids.
  • closing the door and focusing on what works even if your Defartment Head who has been teaching the same class as you for 30 years disagrees.
  • customising instruction for your students. If you have eg Black kids, you may want to avoid To Kill A Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, even though white liberals looooove these. Language teachers will personalise input. As Blaine Ray says, any good teacher will “figure out what they don’t know, and start there.”

It is really important to note that we know very little about how learning actually works, as David Bowles notes. If I could summarise 22 years of observing kids, I would say that students want to feel like they learned something from a class, and that this learning leads to both freedom and commmnity.


Should I Use Word Clouds?

Word-clouds look really cool. Here’s one in Spanish:

Somebody asked, should I use word clouds in Spanish? My answer: it depends. Here are bits of the conversation and comments.

First, it seems to me that if you need “support” to write, you havn’t fully acquired the language you are using. This raises the question of what exactly one is assessing. Second, using written prompts for oral output…this won’t help acquisition, but— for the kids who actually bother doing it instead of chatting in L1 to their friends— it might boost confidence. Third, for the music, there is no meaning processing going on, which means no acquisition.

If somebody gives me the Blablabian word “gerfzl,” gets me to listen to a song by Blablabian singer Zpfl, and I hear Zpfl sing 🎶 gerfzl 🎶, I have completed a task that I could do without knowing the meaning of what I am hearing. And not only am I not necessarily processing the individual words, but I am almost certainly not processing Zpfl’s meaning at the sentence & verse level.

I pointed this out, and got the following response:

I’m not sure what is meant here by “recognition.” I do think demonstrating comprehension is a good idea though. The second writer’s comment again raises the problem: this activity can be done without processing meaning.

Another person chimed in with the following:

If you didn’t take more than a minute to show the kids how many words from the cloud they know, great. But again…processing isolated words means students are not processing grammar, or sentence-level meaning.

The final comment— using word-clouds to see what ppl know and don’t— is mayyybeeee not a bad idea. But it raises the question, why in a c.i. class are people processing or working with non-comprehended vocab? As somebody who follows TPRS dictae— comprehended, or stop and circle/review until comprehended— I wouldn’t use anything non-comprehended.

Another question here is, what will you do with the info regarding which words are comprehended or not? If we find students know most of the vocab, great. If they don’t? Well, you have to “review,” and we know how poorly the “hear it once and try to remember” approach works.

I think a much better way to show kids vocabulary that you want them to use would be…in a story. There, they get “whole” language where the words are used in context.

We should remember one thing: acquisition occurs when comprehended input is processed for a purpose in a communicative context. And “communicative” means meaning-based. An activity that has students “recognizing” words, or putting words into blanks (cloze), or reviewing meaning (basically a test) is not communicative. And if the purpose is “learning” or “reviewing” vocab, this is also not meaning-based in an interesting way.

How interesting would you find it if your _____ language teacher said “ok here is a lis— er, cloud— of words. Tell me which ones you don’t know, and I’ll tell you their meanings”? 😉

There Are No Shortcuts

It has been oft-observed that no matter what your first language is, your brain acquires additional languages in the same way (ie via comprehended input, in stages, following a set order, etc).

One study looked at L1 German and English speakers acquiring L2 French. For example, in French, you have to say aimes-tu faire l’amour? (literally, like-you to make love).

It was found that both Germans and English made the same mistakes with subject-verb inversion during question formation, despite German having the same “rule” as French.

This should be comforting to language teachers, who often see “errors” persisting seemingly forever. Why can’t the kids just use plural verbs?, ask Spanish teachers. What is so difficult about the fartitive arricle? whine our French-teaching colleagues. Well, here is a story that may shed some light.

I’m a native German speaker who learned English starting in kindergarten, French in grade seven, and Spanish at age twenty-two. I acquired a lot of Cantonese from neighbourhood kids around age three, but I forgot it.

In Spanish, when you say I wash my hands, you don’t say lavo mis manos. You actually say me lavo las manos, which literally means something like “for myself I wash the hands.” The me makes it clear that these are my and not somebody else’s hands.

This “rule” took me forever to acquire. Like, years. And then it hit me.

In German, we have exactly the same “rule” as Spanish. To say I wash my hands, you don’t say ich wasche meine Hände. You say ich wasche mir die Hände, or “I wash for me the hands.” (The only difference between Spanish and German is where the reflexive pronoun me/mir goes.)

I had to acquire the same “rule” in Spanish that I had already acquired in German, and I had to acquire it the same way that I— and anyone else— acquires it: from the input.

So if your kids are taking forever to say eg estoy bien instead of soy bien, or whatever, relax. Even if their L1 “rule” is like the L2 “rule” they are acquiring— and equally so if there is no similarity— they still have to work through ordered development.

And if there is one lesson here, it might be, resist the urge for grammatical explanations, or cleverly-disguised “practice”, or God help you worksheets, when your kids’ emergent grammars raises your teacherly hackles. Patience, my good sir and madame— there are no shortcuts.

How Not To Start The Year

It’s August, which means I’m going climbing and my poor American colleagues are thinking about The First Day of School, the poor things, and writing about How To Start The Year.

Well here at tprsquestionsandanswers, we take a different tack. We here provide a list of what not to do, and why.

1. Don’t discuss proficiency levels. Nobody benefits. Nobody cares. Nobody will remember. And omfg is this ever boring. The time to do this is roughly mid-year, when people have enough language in their heads that rubrics and descriptors and giant farting sounds make sense.

2. Do not assign target-language names. Do you even know your kids’ actual names yet? Do you think it might be, uh, stereotypical to provide a list of French (or whatever) names? Do your kids want Spanish names? What actually is a “Spanish name,” anyway? I know Spaniards named Desirée, Pedro, Mandeep and Ahmed.

3. Do not show a video/play a soundclip in the target language that your kids don’t understand. Teachers who do this say this shows students how it is going to feel during the beginning of class and while traveling to the country where ____ is spoken. Well, DUH, Johnny signed up for Intro Blablabian because he doesn’t know any Blablabian, and believe me, he knows what he doesn’t know. I cannot see the point of this. And if it’s a C.I. class, they are supposed to understand when you teach, because you make it comprehensible.

4. Do not do icebreakers, or “get to know,” or “find someone who ____”- type activities. Dunno if you know this, but most people of all ages haaaate icebreakers. If you are doing a “find someone who ___” activity in the target language, a lot of L1 is going to be used, most adolescents don’t really want to talk to strangers, and people find these activities silly (especially people who have spent years in school together, and who know each other).

5. Do not do “goal setting.” This is one of those stupid ideas that comes from the mix of psychobabble and corporate wankguage that is common to North American workplaces. There can only be one goal in a language class: learn the language (and hopefully a bit about the peoples who speak it). What are you going to do if a kid has a silly goal? What if a kid has been put into your class and hates it already? And, above all, does goal setting have anything to do with acquiring the language?

If you must do goal setting, the proper time for this is about 1/4 of the way through the course, when people have some language in their heads, some ideas about how acquisition works, and hopefully an interest in the language and its attendant cultures.

6. Do not play a game on Day 1. Especially with pure beginners, they have basically zero language in their heads, and games typically involve things like name-guessing/remembering, or one-word answers. This is impoverished input. Also, we want people to see what class is actually like, and if you don’t play a lot of games…

7. Do not “go over the syllabus” on Day 1. It’s boring. Nobody cares. Nobody will remember. You probably won’t even look at it again 😂😂. The way to “go over the syllabus” is when you need to address a specific point, eg marking, management bla bla. As teacher Wendy-Ann Alisa says, “just dive in and show them what a true lesson in the class looks like. Then, you can go back and do the necessary things to get everything set up in the days/weeks to come.”

I mean, Day 1 is First Impressions Day, and you better show kids what is going to happen and how much they can easily learn.

8. Do not administer a “placement test.” Placement/“level” tests might show you that a kid is placed way above/below their level…and so? If you can’t move the kid into a more appropriate section, what are you gonna do with the info?

Placement tests (for 80% of students) feel like a judgement, serve no purpose (unless the kid can get moved), and waste time. If you have a split/multilevel class, don’t stress, we gotcha.

9. Do not make people learn and orally repeat the alphabet, numbers, or anything else. Chanting & repetition can be done without knowing what one is saying, and therefore isn’t teaching anyone anything (it’s not communicative). And it’s silly. Yes, students will eventually have to learn boring crap…here is how to make that process less painful.

10. Do not avoid using the target language on Day 1. We need to get kids processing easy input ASAP, because we only have 100 or so hours. Card talk works. So does a TPRS story. Whatever you do, get them processing a limited number of words (in sentence form) which deal with an interesting idea and which can be repeated over and over.

11. Do not discuss metacognition. It’s boring, nobody cares, nobody will remember, and you cannot really reflect on the implicit linguistic system. After a few weeks, sure, ask your class what is going on in our class to make Blablabian easy to learn? and discuss from there.

So, what should we do on Day 1? Here’s my routine:

  • collect phones into the Hoteléfono when kids come in
  • make a seating chart, hand out the syllabus, & take attendance
  • tell them I’m Sr Stolz. To acquire Spanish, pay attention, ask questions, and don’t interfere with me or other kids.
  • Grab a kid and start asking a TPRS-style story.
  • Do a simple exit quiz

Happy teaching! I’m headed to the Valhallas.

What Is Learning Chinese With Terry Waltz Like?

I took a three hr/day, five-day Mandarin workshop via Zoom with Terry Waltz. The tl;dr: CI works; Terry is a badass; I learned some stuff.

She has a setup where there is a picture in the middle of the screen, question words on top, and new/current vocab (Chinese word written with Roman letters and translation) on the sides and bottom. When she talks, she points the cursor at the word, and it gets highlighted = easy to follow.

Class was daily the following:

A. Some focused talk around a topic, eg Day 1: who is cool/not cool. Day 4: days and numbers.

B. A story with an ocean of repetitions (circling questions)

C. Terry re-telling the story whilst pointing and clicking on words.

D. On the 4th day, some reading.

It’s three weeks later and I still have Chinese ricocheting around my head, which I cannot say about the language I took two years earlier at a conference which focused on “non-targeted” input, where there was so much vocab and so little repetition that I only remember how to say “I like beer.”

So…what did I learn? In no particular order:

1. Some shi— er, stuff— is too boring to ever make even a 5-min lesson around. Numbers, days, dates, weather.

2. Anything in a story is easy to remember. Anything randomly talked about, not so much.

3. Chinese is easy the way Terry taught it: with very focused C.I. and a lot of repetition. I’m gonna make a claim here: there is no way to effectively teach a language such as Chinese without narrowly-focused C.I. The language is a joke in terms of “grammar rules”: no genders, tenses, cases, articles etc. The barrier is, no cognates, and a weird writing system.

4. The “cold character” reading method works. They write an English word eg a name, then you read the Chinese character for it, then they put in another English word. Eg “Chris 他爬進去 Squamish” = Chris climbs in Squamish. You read that middle bit enough and presto! you’ve acquired it. You need a LOT of reading to remember them so the readers feature an ocean of repetition.

5. Zoom blows.

6. Any suggestions from teacher or other students about “how I remembered the meaning of ____ was by thinking ____” does not work (for me). Like in math, metacognition works best (or only?) when you do it your way.

7. Only two things worked to acquire the language: comprehended input, and clarification of meaning. Eg when I heard wo shi ku (“I am cool”) I thought shi meant “am” or “is”. But no— Chinese (like Russian) doesn’t have “to be”— Terry clarified and said it means something like “equals.”

8. Gestures work. Terry had gestures for the four tones of Chinese, as well as for meaning. If the gesture looks like the word, awesome.

9. There is a lot of stuff that you do not need to have explained to you that you can acquire easily just from input. Eg the “rules” for bu (no, not) and der (roughly, the ‘s in English or German): the way Terry said them, all I knew was what they meant. They got used in different ways (ie where they were in sentences, IIRC), but I didn’t worry about it: I realised that I would eventually “get” them.

The tones was another thing: Terry started off exaggerating them. On Day 4 a Chinese guy was in the lesson and when he talked— normally— I could hear the tones. No need to “practice”— just give us a good simple story.

In Spanish: I literally never teach the kids the alphabet, rules about ____, why Spanish has the ¡!, ¿? and accents bla bla bla…and yet the kids acquire them.

10. You can get a lot of mileage out of simple word games. Eg Terry’s characters visited McRonalds, Burger Duke, Taco Buzzer, etc.

Anyway, these are the same lessons I learned in my first two weeks of C.I. back in Jan 2012, but hey, good to learn them from the student’s point of view. And if you wanna acquire Chinese…Terry Waltz is your go-to 😁😁.

What Can I Do To Improve My Grade?

It’s May 32, and in walks Enid, who has spent most of the year…not doing much Spanish. Boys, food, mojitos and especially good music and books have ensured that she knows three words of Spanish: quiero mas cerveza. Her question, of course, is Sr, what can I do to improve my grade? I really need to pass this class, also my parents will kill me. Jenn S. brought this up recently in C.I. Fight Club:

Today’s question: Can a kid “improve their grade at the last minute?
Answer: Yes…but it’s almost impossible.

You need to have clear performance expectations starting on Day 1. Mine– which are in my course outline, along with criteria– are that, by the end of the course (for Level 1), students will be able to

a. ask and answer simple questions, and describe things, in simple sentences.
b. write a 125-word paragraph describing a picture (or on a given topic) in 5 min.
c. write a 600-word story in 50 min.
d. read basic Spanish stories and demonstrate comprehension thereof
e. listen to aural Spanish and write down what is being said (eg a 10-sentence story)

During the year, we do reading, writing and listening assessments (see this), so the kids have a “sort of” idea about their grade. Every 10 days or so I add up their most recent marks, and they get a provisional grade.

I also tell them, you could– in theory– do nothing all year, and then crush the final. This is 99.9% unlikely to happen, though…please do not show up on May 32nd and ask for extra work to pull your grade up. That’s extra unpaid work for me.

However, I base my grade 100% on the final.

So, if Enid walks in and says “can I raise my grade,” I say, “Sure. The standards are in your course outline.” Enid just has to sit down and do the reading, writing and listening quizzes, and I’ll mark them (word count + grammar mark) and that will be her grade. 5 min of casual Spanish chat will show us Enid’s oral proficiency.

Now…what if she says “is there anything else I can do?” Here, there are two answers:

  1. Yes, pay me. $750 gets you a pass; $1000 gets you an A, small unmarked bills only, no Bitcoin.
  2. No. I taught, and provided you with specific activities to do to acquire Spanish. You either didn’t show up, or you didn’t pay attention.

If I get grief from parents or admins– which I don’t, because along the way I have phoned & emailed them about Baninder or Suzie not doing much– I show them my gradebook, which will generally have either zeros or INCs. Parents may argue, but when a kid hasn’t actually…done anything, the kid hasn’t got much of a leg to stand on.

The point is, at the end of the course, I am measuring performance (and to a certain extent proficiency). What counts is what you can do with no prep and no support. What doesn’t count: attendance, “attitude,” homework, binder organisation, note completion, role-play memorization, bla bla bla.

Your grade ultimately is not what you have done, but what you can now do.

What If I’m Stuck With the Text?

You went to IFLT or NTPRS, or you got a Terry Waltz or Wade Blevins workshop, whereby seemingly magically in 90 minutes you became able to understand and tell a simple story in Chinese or German or Cherokee.  You ran into Stephen Krashen at the Starbucks at the conference and bought him one of his trademark gigantic lattes. You’re all hopped up on BVP.  And your Blaine Ray workshop included a set of Look, I Can Talk! and man, is September ever looking fun!

And then it’s mid-August and the email comes from your Head, who says at the first defartment meeting, we will be discussing the grammar and vocabulary target piece across grade levels and classrooms, to ensure that all students in all classes have the same learning opportunities for standards-aligned assessment bla bla bla and suddenly you know exactly how Cinderella felt at 12:01 AM.  Because what the Head is saying is, we are all going to follow the textbook and have students write the same exam.  They might have gussied this up into fancier language, by saying “integrated performance assessment” instead of “unit,” “structures” instead of “vocabulary,” and “proficiency” instead of “marks” or whatever.  To you, however, it’s all lipstick on a pig.

Yes, this totally sucks, because as researcher Michael Long reminds us, the idea that what we teach is what they learn, and when we teach it is when they learn it is not just simplistic, it is wrong.  Language acquisition cannot be scheduled by teacher or text or testing requirements.  BUT…you are still stuck with District/Adminz/Headz who want everybody on the same team and so you are stuck with the text.  Preterite tense mastered by November!  Clothing unit assessment in January!  Numbers mastered on the 13th day!

Anyway, here in no real order are a few ideas about Dealing With The Text.  There are a few basic things that have to happen (other than you keeping your job): educating colleagues, actually effectively teaching a language, keeping the ignorami off your back, and getting kids through the test.

1. Colleagues have to be educated about what actually happens during S.L.A. and what actually works.  Bill VanPatten said these exact words to Eric Herman in 2016.  So, how?  Well…

a. Results.  Nothing, ever, will trump 5-min timed writes and story writes.  If you show at a dept meeting with crusher results, especially from “weaker” students, and/or from students who do not use notes or dictionaries during writing, the resident dinosaurs are going to have a very hard time arguing against C.I.  The C.I. kids will write more, and more fluently, and more interestingly.  Blaine Ray says as much.  Kids who get good C.I. in whatever form (targeted, untargeted, OWIs, stories, Movietalk, Picturetalk, reading) will in the long run outperform grammar kids.  Your colleagues who actually care about kids (as opposed to their own comfort, or keeping their workload low) will notice.

b. Bridge building.  The apparent weirdness (to a grammarian and/or textbook teacher) of comprehsnion-based instruction can be off-putting.  So show them good C.I. that they can do with the text, what I have called the “six bridges.” In my dept., most of my colleagues don’t do or “believe” in C.I.  But my department head likes Movietalk, Picturetalk and novel and story reading.  Some C.I. beats none.

Personal note: you can lead a horse to water, but… It is important to try to show people that (and, later, how) C.I. works, but a best-case scenario is that many listen, a few try, and fewer than that stick with C.I.  In my experience (and I have learned this the hard way), the most important thing is keeping doors open. If you have results, are nice, are open to talk…people will at least listen.

c. Assessment straight-talk.  Sarah Cottrell makes this point: if every teacher has to do the same test at end of year or whatever, the process of deciding on the test (format, material etc) should be obvious.  The only things I can say here are that a. the ACTFL guidelines are your friend.  The ACTFL guidelines do not say that grammar testing, verb tables etc are valid (or useful) assessment of students’ abilities.  b. whatever testing is done, it should primarily involve processing of meaningful whole language and spontaneous production of language.  Reading or listening to meaningful things, like stories and situationally-clear dialogues, and writing meaningful things (ditto) are useful.  Fill in the blanks, verb tables, etc, is not.  And whatever students are tested on should have been taught:   no “authentic resource decoding.” c. State/provincial standards are your friends.  No State or Provincial standard includes “fill in the blanks” as a communicative objective.

If the department/District/whatever decides on (say) a list of nouns and verbs or verb tenses or whatever, best practice will be to not assess these on a schedule.  There is not too much harm being done by asking that, say, all French 2s will know the passé composé, but this should be an end-of-year goal, rather than “by Unit 3 in November, students will ______.” We know acquisition is piecemeal and, as Bill VanPatten says, “unaffected by instructional intervention,” so it is important to provide a lot of varied input of vocab, grammar, “rules” etc over a looong time so kids can maximise their chances of picking it up.

2. For the textbook itself, rearrange order, ditch low-frequency vocabulary, and build simple routines to master boring stuff.  OK, here is how

a. Every text I have ever seen thinks weather, numbers, hellos, goodbyes, colours, location words etc matter.  If you must “cover” these, try this, and let your Dept Head/Amin know, I am doing this, but not in “unit” form, and here is how.  For example, the Spanish Textbook Avancemos Uno puts all of this into the Leccion preliminar…just spread it out throughout the year. This is something even a textbook teacher can get behind: less vocab? Yes please!

b. For low-frequency vocab (especially in programs organised around thematic/topical “units”), ditch the non-essential stuff.  Again, in Avancemos Uno Unidad 1 Leccion 1, some things are not worth spending time on (eg. descansar, andar en patineta (to rest, to skateboard) which are low-frequency vocabulary (not in top-1000 most-used words).  We are always better off spending more time on less vocab than less time on more vocab (and, as Susan Gross, said, shelter vocabulary, not grammar).

c. The daily opening routine is amazing prep for the kids in languages like Spanish where verb tenses are an issue.  One verbform per day = they will have solid understanding by end of year.

How to Grade Reading

Reading…our State and provincial standards say students should read. Therefore, we must grade reading. This is because, as we all know well, everything that can be counted matters, and everything that matters can be counted.

Here is a great question from CI Liftoff.

I have two things to say about this.

First, yes this is largely nonsense. Therefore, ignore it.

Second, here is how to grade reading. Note this: any assessment expert will tell you that there are only really three levels of proficiency:

3. Fully Meets Expectations: the job is done with only minor errors.
2. Minimaly Meets Expectations: the job is mostly done, with some significant mistakes.
1. Not Meeting Expectations: the job is not done, and/or has significant errors mistakes

In reading, the “mistakes” are comprehension errors, and “significant” means that these errors show that the student does not understand important sections– or the main idea– of the text.

Yes, you can split hairs and make a four-, five- or six-point rubric, but why bother? Kids don’t care, and feedback won’t help. Also, we don’t need to have more work.

So here is how to assess reading:
a. Assign reading that is 98% comprehended.
b. Have the students translate into L1.
c. Read their translation and assign 1/3, 2/3 or 3/3 according to the following rubric:

3. Fully Meets Expectations: everything comprehended with a few minor errors.
2. Minimaly Meets Expectations: mostly comprehended, with a few significant errors.
1. Not Meeting Expectations: not finished, and/or enough significant errors that the main messages are lost


You can also majorly speed things up by reading 3-5 sentences of their translation at random (ie you don’t have to read the entire same thing 30 times) 😊.

In my experience, reading (and listening) comprehension scores don’t vary that much among kids who have regularly attended class and done the very limited reading homework I assign. Scores for output tend to vary more.

If you are worried about copying, hand out two or three versions of the text and move two paragraphs (other than the opening one) around. It will be quite obvious who read and who got their buddy to help them out 😊😊.

Do not assess reading sentence-by-sentence, ie via Q&A. Why not? Well, how do you mark one sentence? What if the kid misunderstands the question? You might as well subdivide the ocean.

Do not mark for higher-level thinking (inferences etc) unless you are prepared for a staggering variety of acceptable answers. Yes, I just said that. Inference is complex in L1. In L2, things get even trickier. The literal and the figurative/thematic meanings of sentences also often conflict, bla bla. For me, the bottom line is, did the kid understand what was written? and by “understand” I mean can they tell me the literal meaning?

Super basic and super-effective

The more I do C.I., the more I am convinced that the basics– use as little vocabulary as possible, and recycle the crap out of it– are the most important. Thanks to Blaine Ray and me, here are some suggestions about more with less. I do all the following.

I’m adding a disclaimer: not all of these recommendations are 100% organic free-range communicative. Rather, they are designed to optimise input for students. When I ask “did you do your homework?” and a kid answers with “yeah,” this is an authentic and 100% appropriate communicative event…for the kid and I. For the rest of the class, not so much. It would be better if tyhe kids heard “I did my homework” or “No, I partied with my boyfriend” instead. More language, and more whole language. So…

1. All output should be in complete sentences. Yes, from Day 1.
If we are story-asking, we can
1. write the response on the board
2. use an actor who can answer
3. model the response. This we do with teacher as parallel character.

If we are doing PQA, Movietalk, Picturetalk etc, we ask either/or questions and we model both possible answers, and ideally we ask kids who can answer in complete sentences. For example, I’m showing a film where a cat hunts a mouse.

Clase, el gato caza el ratón. What does that mean?
— The cat hunts the mouse.
Correcto, clase: the cat hunts the mouse. Johnny, el gato caza. ¿Caza el ratón, o caza al Sr Stolz?
–Caza el ratón.

This takes a bit of practice, but it is effective: the class hears complete output, and the student has to process two whole sentences in order to answer. The trick here is to keep a really tight lid on the vocab (yes, you must target).

2. Have students– ideally, your fastest processors–describe la situación.”

This is where a kid describes what is happening so far in the story. They can describe either what is happening to the main character, or if they are a character, what is happening to themselves. This is a good way for another rep, and lets the egg-heads shine.

I pick my fast processors to do this. It seems like the kids listen more to an actor/class member doing a retell than they do to me 😂😂

This is a Blaine Ray idea and I love it.

3. For non-personal questions, model both possible answers in complete sentences in the question. Eg:

Ayer, ¿llovió mucho, o hizo sol? (yesterday, did it rain, or was it sunny?)
— Ayer, hizo sol. (It was sunny)

This provides good input for everyone, and when the kid answers, we get quality output again which again is good input for others.

4. For personal questions, ask the question, and model an answer using yourself first. Example:

¿Dónde comiste ayer, John? (Where did you eat yesterday, John?) This sets us up. Then we say
Yo comí en DcMonalds. ¿Comiste en DcMonalds? (I ate in DcMonalds. Did you eat in DcMonalds?) Here, John has an answer. He can say Sí comí en DcMonalds, or No, no comí en DcMonalds.

5. Ask me! This is another Blaine Ray idea. When doing PQA or talking to a character in a story, ask the actor/any student a question. Have them answer….then have them ask you back, then you answer. “Teacher-as-parallel-character” (another Blaine Ray idea) demands this. We do much as in #4, above, but the actor has to ask us also, thus:

Ayer, ¿tenías una cita con Miley Cyrus o con Selena Gómez?
— Tenía una cita con Selena. ¿Y tú?
Tenía una cita con Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

These are very simple, but hugely boost the quality of language in the classroom or on your Zoom meeting :-).