Month: November 2017

New Idea? Novel Re-telling

I teach English, Social Justice and Philosophy as well as Spanish.  In English, we start every class with silent reading, and I usually read a kids’ novel.

The other day, as we were doing our “what did you do yesterday?” part of our opening routine, I said “last night, I was reading a book” and a kid asked “which book?”

I’m reading The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B (in English) and so I held it up and said “I’m reading this.”  A kid asked in English “what happens?” and I narrated Chapter One in Spanish, in story listening mode (i.e. I drew some pictures on the board, and some lines, and words):

There is a boy named Adam.  He is 14.  He has a Mom, a dad and a half-brother.  His parents are divorced.  He likes playing videogames and reading. He also has O.C.D.  He goes to a therapy group.  One day in his therapy group, a girl walks in.  Her name is Robyn.  She has dark hair and dark eyes, and she is beautiful. Adam falls in love with Robin. But there is a problem: she is older! And Adam does not think she likes him!

Now, this is massively simplified vocabulary– these are Spanish 1s after about 60 hrs of input– but I am able to get the main points across.

So basically, what I did was this:

  1. I narrated the story one sentence at a time.
  2. I left out extraneous detail, words I didn’t know in Spanish, and anything that would clutter the narrative.
  3. I drew simple pictures of the main characters on the board (and a few pictures of other things in the story). As per Beniko Mason’s ideas, this slowed me down and made the language more comprehensible for kids.
  4. I did a few convos in exaggerated voices.
  5. I left the kids at a cliffhanger chapter ending.

Today, I narrated Chapter Two. The kids are pretty into it.  Basically, all I have to do is narrate a chapter a day (adding some wacky-voice dialogue) and boom! I have a good ten minutes of C.I. per class.  On Monday, I’m gonna review Ch1 and 2 in past tense, and I’m gonna narrate Ch3 in present tense.  Stay tuned!


Some Notes on Level 1 Results (Fall 2017)

Meaningful discussion of language teaching is kind of like language learning itself: you need a thing to discuss. Language acquisition starts with stuff: language to be processed.  Language teaching discussion starts with student results.  This semester I have two English 9s, Social Justice 12 and intro Spanish, so I have too little time to “curate” results regularly.  Feb 2017 I have both more 1s and time so I will publish more results then.

Bott…ehhhmm, as they say in Ireland, here are two interesting recent story writes.  30 min, no notes or dictionaries, paper-and-pen only.  These students have had about 50 hrs of input.  Instruction is almost pure C.I.: no metacognition, grammar practice, talking practice, writing practice, K/W/A activities, peer group work, bla bla.  Just a lot of input.

This is the fourth story they have written.  Word target was 400.  Most kids are below average this year.  This is possibly because I am doing mostly Slavic-style “untargeted” input, where we have much less repetition of specific vocabulary targets in the short term.

First, here is Angela’s story.  Ang is Filipina and still has a bit of an accent.  She has been in Canada for two years, and reads a lot.  She is also a Duolingo user.  She tells me she is putting in about four hours/week.  Check it:


There is a bunch of stuff I havn’t used in there.  She is generally getting it right in terms of meaning but there are still grammatical holes.  I’m including this because, yes, Duolingo– which frankly bores the crap out of me– does deliver decent C.I.  Krashen noted in a paper that Duolingo works about as well as traditional college Spanish instruction, if the user can manage to stay interested, which most do not.  Angela says she likes the new story feature on Duolingo.

Next, we have Nisha.  She is Punjabi, and has had zero previous Spanish. Lotsa words, a good story, but some obvious issues (eg noun gender).  What is tough for the Punjabi kids (in writing) is that adjective and noun endings in Spanish– -a indicates feminine– indicate masculine in Punjabi (e.g. bacha = boy, bachi = girl, bache = kids) so we get confusion. Also in Punjabi (as nearly as I can tell) there is a lot less verb conjugation (or maybe I just can’t hear it when I ask them about it). Nisha is not a Duolingo user.  Her only Spanish is at school.

But anyway, props to Nisha for doing so well after only 50 hours.


Textivate Reflections

I am not a fan of most tech in the classroom.  Kids already spend 5-8 hours a day on screens; there is an epic amount of fiddle-around time involved when loading programs and apps; kids with devices would waaaaay rather Snapchat than do their Spanish activities (and I can see why), etc.

That said, I do like using Textivate, which is a platform that allows you to upload stories (or whatever you use in your target language), and then have students do stuff with these activities.  There are all kinds of activities available, from Hangman games to re-order scrambled sentences from stories. You need the basic paid version ($50 or so Cdn. per year) to get full functionality. The best deal is the group membership, where you get 10 accounts for about $100/year– awesome for a dept.

Textivate allows you to assign (and score, and track) sets of activities called sequences great for homework).  You can also have challenges, where students choose activities and compete for points (the game generates a leaderboard, etc).

I like Textivate because it involves students reading and processing meaning, it is relatively low-tech, it is simple and reliable, and kids don’t need accounts, apps etc (it is doable on a phone).

textivate pic

Anyway, I have used it three times this semester with my Spanish 1s.  Recently, I uploaded a French story my colleague wrote, and I “played” the Textivate challenge to see what it was like being a student.  I am functional in French but not awesome at it.  Doing Textivate made me think. So, today’s question:  what are some guidelines for C.I. teachers using Textivate?

  1.  Make the stories short. The French story I uploaded was 107 words…and it was real work getting through multiple activities.  The Textivate limit is 500 words.  But a 500-word story is waaaaaay too long.
  2. Use only meaning-processing whole-language activities.  If your kids are reading whole sentences (narration, or dialogue) for meaning, this is helpful.

    So, I will not use the following activities:

    • jumble
    • space
    • snake
    • invaders
    • speed read
    • next word

Why not?  Well, these activities have one (or more) of the following problems.

a. They do not involve processing of “whole” language (sentences of narration, or dialogue).  Some involve separating strings of letters into words.  Others involve guessing.  These are not input processing.

b. They put pointless pressure on students (eg speed read, invaders).  I don’t know how rushing somebody will help them understand.  When I read in a second language, I find the opposite: I like to sometimes stop and go, oh that’s what ____ means.  I also find I can’t really “think” or understand any faster than I naturally do.  Mind you, I’m

c. They require students to have the entire story in front of them.  If this is the case, they can simply look for words and match, rather than reading.

3. Make sure that when students use Textivate, they do not have the written version from the class story in front of them.  This is so that they have to actually read the sentences, rather than just looking for one-word visual cues.

4. Mark the activities.  I find that if I don’t mark the challenges, some kids are like hey free time to Snapchat! so now I assign marks.

Anyway– props to Martin Lapworth for making a useful tool for C.I. language teachers.

Frequency List Lessons #3

So…in Spanish, the “super 7 verbs” are to have, to want, to go, to like, to exist, to be, to be located.  This Terry Waltz-compiled list is the most-used verbs.  Mike Peto added nine more to make the “sweet 16.”  These are worth heavily focusing on in Year 1 of any language. They are the acquisitional platform on which subsequent Spanish is built, and they allow us to get about 90% of necessary work done in Spanish (with circumlocution etc).

It’s a central tenet in C.I. teaching that we want to focus on high-frequency words.  Then, on C.I. Fight Club, the topic of how frequently used numbers are came up, and Terry had this to say:

This is why the “Super 7” is a list of concepts, not specific words. For me, thinking about getting students able to express or work with concepts is more important than specific vocabulary. They need some way of quantifying (at first maybe just “many” and “few”, later more specific). That’s really important, but it’s made up in turn of a whole lot of options. Individual number words don’t “score” highly on standard frequency lists of words, but if you looked at the concepts those words stood for, I bet the “quantity” concept would be right up there.

So I went and looked at how frequently numbers and quantity-connnoting words appear in the 1000 most frequently used Spanish words. (The only numbers in the 100 most-used Spanish words are 1 and 2).

#37  mas    more
todo   all
#72  todos all (plural)
#96  tan (used for as…as)
#153 mismo (same)
#204 tres (three)
#205 menos (less)
#240 cada (each)
#296 casi (almost)
#311 primera (first)
#327 cuanto (how much)
#392 ningun (none, not any)
#425 cinco (five)
#428 cuando (when)
#430 algunos (certain)
#434 unos/unas (some)
#435 muchos (many)
#437 segundo (second)
#456 cuatro (four)

The next numberish word is diez (ten) at #708.

So it would seem that Terry is right: there are a whopping five numbers in the most-used 708 words, but there are 14 words which have to do with quantity.  In other words, having a feel for quantity is more important than knowing lots of specific numbers.