Beginners

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
#40  
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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Frequency Lessons #2: What Really Matters?

Thought experiment, and neat discussion item for Defartment Meetingz, or Headz or Adminz who don’t understand why Textbookz are the devil in disguise. 

First, read the following lists.  These are English equivalents of Spanish words from Wiktionary.com’s frequency list. If you are using this with colleagues, don’t at first tell them where you got the words. 

List A: welcome, together, window, comes, red

List B: went, that he be, world, shit, that she had gone out

First, you could think about what these lists have in common, how they differ, etc. 

Second, anwer this question: which words will be the most useful for students in the real world?

The obvious answer is List A. After all, we always “welcome” people, kids need to know words for classroom stuff like “windows,” we set the tone for classes by working peacefully “together,” and common sense suggests that “comes” and colours such as “red” are super-important. 

The List B words are, obviously, either less immediately useful or “advanced” (ie textbook level 4 or 5) grammar. 

Now here’s the surprise for us and our colleagues: the List B words are all in the 200 most-used Spanish words, while none of the List A words are in the 1000 most-used Spanish words.

What I got from this was, first, that what is obvious isn’t necessarily true, and second that a sequenced plan of instruction (eg from “simple” to “complex” grammar) would majorly short-change students for their real-world Spanish experiences. 

The textbook, or the doddering grammarian (or even the smiley new school grammarian with their apps, feedback gadgetry, evidence of learning portfolios, self-reflections bla bla bla) will see language acquisition as a set of skills that we master one rule set or vocab set at a time, starting with simplest and going to “more complex.” However, what people need to actually function in México or Spain is, well, high-frequency vocabulary, as much of it as possible. Why is this? Two simple reasons. 

First, high-freq vocab is what one hears most. Knowing it means getting the functional basics and feeling good because you can understand lots. If you easily understand lots of the target language, you can function even if– as is always the case– you can’t speak as much as you understand. When I’m in Mexico and I can’t say blablabla, I can gesture, point, use other words etc. Never yet had a problem with getting my point across, but I’m always wishing I understood more. 

Second, high-freq vocab builds the “acquistional platform.” When our students are finally in a Spanish or Mandarin environment, knowing high-freq vocab reduces the processing load for new input. If students already know a high-frequency sentence such as I wanted that he had been nicer (in Spanish quería que estuviera/fuera más amable), it will be much easier to figure out what I wanted that she had been more engaging means, because we only have to really focus on the word engaging

This is the acquisition platform: when we have the basics (high-freq words and grammar) wired in, it gets steadily easier to pick up new words. 

Anyway…be curious to see what ppl and their colleagues think of this. OH WAIT I FORGOT THE DEVIL 😈. Textbooks. Well the basic prob with texts here is that they don’t even close to introduce words along frequency lines, as I have noted elsewhere

C.O.F.L.T. Conference Reflections

The energy-loaded Tina Hargaden, vice-president of the C.O.F.L.T. in Portland, organised a conference and I got to do the T.P.R.S. part of it– a one-day workshop with German storyasking demo, reading, Movietalk, Picturetalk, method explanation, Q&A, etc.

To say I had a busy weekend would be an understatement:  work Fri, drive 7 hours to Portland (through Seattle traffic, its own special Hell, thank you NPR for making it bearable), have a beer and talk shop with Tina, sleep like a baby at the Kennedy School Hotel (a high school converted to hotel– awesome– “fall asleep in class” is their tag), do presentation, drive back to Canada, time change, it’s now 1 AM, sleep three hours, get on plane to Cuba…where thank God they have mojitos  and overhung limestone rock routes.

Anyway, we had the most people of any workshop at the conference (almost 30) and Tina told me that we were the only room where people were regularly laughing.  There were a bunch of Chinese student teachers doing their degrees in Portland, a few TPRSers who were in for a tune-up, and a whack of curious rookies.

So I got my evaluations back.  You can see the COFLT 2016 Stolz TPRS feedback forms if you want to see how awesome I am 😉 and how much Oregonians appreciate their gluten-free, salad-based, vegan or organic meat, locally-sourced artisanally-cooked dishes, etc 😄.  But mostly what is interesting in the comments are the themes that recur.

1.  A lot of people said they really appreciated the German demo aspect of the presentation (an idea I got from Blaine Ray).  People wrote along the lines of “it was great to experience what it is like to be a student.”  I remain convinced that the only way to make any language-instruction method convincing is to teach people part of a language they don’t know.  It is so easy for us to forget how tough it is– even with good C.I.– to pick up a new language.

2.  Recognising that, and because we had some native Mandarin speakers at the workshop, I asked participant Yuan to teach us some Mandarin (Blaine Ray also does this).  She parallel-circled two sentences:  Chris climbs mountains and Tina drinks beer

  
This put me into the students’ seat and it was enlightening.  I noticed two things:

a) I needed a LOT of reps to remember the Mandarin, and I was glad Yuan went s.l.o.w.l.y.

b) Mandarin does not seem very difficult.  No articles, verb conjugation, etc, though word order seems crucial.

3.  Most people wanted more time with T.P.R.S. (or even me as presenter).  There seems to be a need (in OR and WA) for more C.I.-themed language workshops.  Luckily, Tina Hargaden and C.O.F.L.T. on it and there will be a conference Oct 13-15 which will feature Steve Krashen, Karen Rowan, etc.

4. I talked to another presenter who had a workshop called something like “using authentic docs to design authentic tasks for authentic assessment.” He did some explaining and I wondered two things:

a. What do you actually do with the info from an “end of unit” assessment?  If Max and Sky do well, and Rorie and Arabella terribly, now what? How does that info shape your next “unit”?  I guess if you want a number, awesome, but numbers help neither teachers nor students. 

b. How much energy is a teacher productively using when they design #authres-based activities for assessment? I mean, most #authres don’t use high-freq vocab and are often more of a guessing game for students.  

As I talked to this guy, it struck me that you would get a lot better assessment with exit quizzes for reading & translating, and with comprehension checks along the way– especially with what Ben Slavic has called “barometer kids”– so that, in the moment, you can provide more input for what the kids are misunderstanding. 

5. Laughter matters. Laughing bonds people, lightens any mood, is a brain break, comes from when unexpected ideas are conjoined, etc. So I am glad that we got to laugh at our workshop (yet another practice that Blaine Ray is all about with his dancing monkeys and girls without noses). 

6. There were some experienced C.I. teachers there and I was super-stoked (sorry I can’t remember names). These folks asked good questions, and they often said “well Chris does ____ but I do _____ instead.”  Which teaches us that while there is a basic C.I. recipe– use a story, limit and recycle vocab, have people read the story, add images and short films for more vocab recycling– there are many cooks with a panoply of flavours.  Also,  the experienced people generated great lunchtime discussions over craft organic artisanal salads and quinoa vegan quiche 😉. 

So, thanks COFLT and Tina for a great opportunity for all those language teachers. Their Oct confernce will rock– stay tuned. 

My Marking System for a Language Class Summarised.

“How do we mark kids in T.P.R.S. classes?” asks a C.I. newbie on the Yahoo listserv.  Assessment and evaluation are always hot topics.

First, definitions.  Assessment is observing how people are doing, and based on that observation

1. changing what you the teacher do and

2. giving students feedback in order to

3. improve student performance.

Assessment in a comprehensible input classroom means checking whether individual students (or the class) understand both statements and questions, and– if they don’t– clarifying. Weak choral responses?  No response?  Wrong answer?  Go back and clarify. The same goes for individual kids.  If Johnny can’t answer the question “What does ___ mean?”, go back and re-explain.  BOOM! that’s assessment.

Evaluation is assigning a number to student work based on a student’s performance in relation to standards (criteria).  This we do at the end of instruction.

Second, principles.  If you havn’t been in-serviced about “assessment for learning,” google it, I can’t explain it all here, but let’s make three things SUPER CLEAR.

A.   We only evaluate “final products,” not practice, homework, behaviour, attitude, etc.   The long and the short of this surprisingly controversial statement is that we expect our kids to do X, Y and Z, and the mark we ultimately assign them at the end of Year ____ of Blablabian Language Class should reflect how well they do X, Y and Z.  Whether Johnny is nice (or a total jerk) in class, and whether or not Suzy does her homework are irrelevant: what matters is how well they do in relation to criteria.

B.  We only evaluate what has been taught.  No random new vocab, no activities on tests the kids havn’t done, etc.  You test what you teach, period.

C. We always let ppl re-do work so they can improve their mark. In my class, this means that their mark is always their most recent writing, reading and speaking mark.

Assessment should be fast, simple and minimal, because people learn from interesting comprehensible input and not from testing, and because teachers need to see their families & have a life 👍.  

Now, here is what I do.

OVERALL YEAR MARKS:

  • 10% all work done during year
  • 10% two culture projects (5% each)
  • 80% final listening, reading & writing exam (speaking for Level 2 & up)

First, this is how I mark writing.

Second, for reading and listening marks, the easiest thing is the exit quiz.  One a week for reading and one for listening.  Speak– or write on the board– five sentences.  For listening, the kids write in the target language and translate into English.  For reading, they translate into English.  You can have them trade papers and mark.  You can do an exit quiz in ten minutes, the marks recording is quick, and you’ll know immediately if they understand or not.

Another great idea– thanks, Ben Slavic and also ironically legacy methods– is dictation.  For dictation, read a very short (e.g. 10-sentence) story aloud.  The kids write down what they hear.  Then, they translate.  Finally, you project the story, and they fix their errors.  I have no idea how to mark dictation.  Suggestions?

I also mark my kids’ comics for a reading mark.  This is Adriana’s idea from her special-ed course and it’s simple & excellent:

  • read the extended version of the most recent story (if using embedded readings, read the most complex one)
  • make a 10-16 panel comic (Internet clip art etc fine) of the story
  • each panel MUST have at least one “narrating sentence,” (e.g. “John was hungry and went to the store”)
  • each panel MUST have EITHER dialogue or thought-bubbles (characters either describing themselves, e.g. “I like girls” or thinking, e.g. a girl thinking “I am hungry”)
  • the pictures MUST accurately support the meaning

This is what Adriana calls “deep reading.”  It makes the kids read, extract the main points, and illustrate them.  It’s also fairly easy, and the results– which I say should look decent, be in pen, have a bit of colour and not use lined paper– go on the wall, where the kids read each others’.  If you have Adminz or Headz who get excited about Technologiez, the kids can make them using Computerz!

The comic marks are cumulative: if they don’t do them, they get zero until they are done.  A comic typically takes a kid about 30-40 minutes to do, and is the only homework I assign (other than occasional reading).

Third, I do not assess “speaking skills” in Level 1.  Shocker, I know, but there’s a few reasons.  I know exactly how well each student can talk.  And–unless your modus operandi is hand out worksheets and put your feet up– so do you. Level 1 is where we lay foundations, where we plant seeds, and if the kids are getting a load of input, these seeds, as Ben Slavic puts it, will bloom in Level 2.  And practising speaking does not develop speaking skills.  My kids can talk– a lot— but I don’t pressure them with “prepare for your oral test” nonsense (how do you “prepare” for an oral test anyway?!?).

I assess speaking skills in one three-minute interview at the end of Level Two (and up).  These interviews are 100% random questions.  For Level Two, I am basically looking for their ability to understand and respond (they should be able to answer a question like “What do you like to do?” or “What did you do last weekend?” with 1-3 sentences).  I also get them to tell me a story.  For Level 3 and up, they should be able to provide longer answers and ask me questions as well.

Now, how does it all hang together?

Well, what I have is a “rolling” gradebook.  That is, their mark always reflects their latest performance (the exception:  the comics, which are all added together under the reading mark).  Their mark is always the most recent thing they have done (for writing, listening and reading).  We do assessment during the story-asking process for listening and reading skills, and at the end of a “story cycle” for writing.

This allows me to say “right now, you are getting ___%” and also “if you blow off coming to class, reading etc, your mark can drop.”  With T.P.R.S., most kids do quite well, so I have very few parent or kid complaints.  In the last three years, one parent has complained…and when I told her that her son missed an average of 60% of classes, she said “oh, I see” and that was that.  Also, the kids know that if they have a crappy day on writing assessment day, they can boost their mark next time around.  Generally, the marks are quite consistent.

When I get the dreaded question “how can Maninder improve her mark?” from a parent , I say all you can do is listen in class, read, and try to find easy listening or reading in Spanish outside of class.  This also happens to be the only thing that really helps.  There is no edubabble like “look in your portfolio and revise your ____” or “master your ____ verbs” or whatever (feedback is useless: if it adresses the conscious mind, it will be either forgotten or unavailable in real-time interactions).

Teachers say “well, a kid could do nothing all year and then try to ace the final.”  Yes, they could.  But…for one, as Bill VanPatten reminds us, the “work” in a language class is processing input.  No processing input = no (or very little) acquisition. And sure enough, the kids who blow off listening and reading (and/or skip classes) see their marks drop.  If they keep re-writing the same story, and don’t learn new vocab, the end-of-year writing criteria takes that into account.  They are also expected (in Level 1) to write about 75 more words in each 40-min story-write and 10 more words per 5-min speedwrite (describing themselves or a picture) than they did the previous time.  Kids who skip etc see their marks drop, because their output has less varied (and less well-used) vocab, and lower wordcount.

In 2015 Spring semester, I had two kids who missed about 50% of classes.  Sure enough, at the end of the year exam, their wordcounts for stories were in the 300 range (the rest of the class could do 600, and the top kids almost 900), their 5-min speedwrites were about 60 words (every other kid was over 100), and their reading and listening comprehension was significantly lower.  Most interesting:  these kids did not badly…but would have failed under the grammar grind/communicative system.

So, they have “ongoing” evaluation where their marks are always the last thing they’ve done.

For final evaluation, I do a 45-min story write and a 5-min describe-a-picture write.  I use this Timed Writing Rubric (from Kristin Duncan) at the end of the year.  In Level 1, the story word target is 800 words in 45 min; for Level 2 it is 1,000.  For the picture,t he target is 100 words in 5 min.

For listening, I do dictation:  they listen to a 20-sentence Spanish story, write it in Spanish, then translate into English. For reading, I give them 20 questions relating to the embedded (long) reading versions of the asked stories, and they have to hunt through the stories (re-reading! reps!) for answers.  The answers are 1. copy from the text and 2. translate.  The evaluation here again is of comprehension, not output.

Generally, I use 80% final evaluation (read, write, listen; oral for 2s and up), 10% culture projects and I make the entire year’s work worth 10% for their final Spanish mark.  Interestingly– I kept stats this year– there was very little difference between kids’ final exam marks and their during-the-year marks.

This has never happened, but I tell kids, if you blow it on the final writing or reading exam, you can re-do it.  As Vancouver T.P.R.S. teacher Steve Bruno remarks, one of the great things about T.P.R.S. is low test anxiety.  The kids know what they have to do, they can do it, and there is zero difference between a final exam and a regular test.

So anyway…to sum it up:

  • students are always marked on their most recent work
  • no oral evaluation for beginners
  • this is real “assessment for learning” where only final products are evaluated with reference to criteria
  • there is no marking of attitude, homework, participation, etc.  If kids screw around, or don’t work, I deal with it– but not by using marks as carrot or stick

How do I start the Year with T.P.R.S.?

Craig West asked me, “how do you start your year?”  Good question.  So here is what I do on Day 1.

A) Kids come in, I take attendance, they sit where they want, I make a seating plan. If it turns out they can’t work together, I will move them later.

B) I hand out the COURSE OUTLINE , the INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION rubric (a modified version of Ben Slavic and Jen Schongalla’s jGR) and kids fill out paperwork.

C) I basically tell them two things. First, general expectations (no swearing, sexist or homophobic etc language, don’t make a mess, yadda yadda).  Then, I ask them “if you took another language, and it didn’t work for you, or you didn’t like it, I want to know why” and they tell the class.  Usually they say things like “[language] was boring, hard to understand, bla bla.”

Then, I tell them, “Ok, here we learn through stories and it’s really easy. All you have to do to learn a language is listen to words you understand in it, or read it.” I also tell them, the amount of fun in class depends on how much energy they bring to it (suggestions), I show them the rules poster, and I tell them how to do responses.

Then, I hand out my vocab sheet for my first story–Los Gatos Azules— where the words are written in Spanish.  They write down the English. Then I start asking the story. I write a few of the first sentences on the board.  Había un chico.  Vivía en ________. Se llamaba ________.  I get the kids to suggest funny names etc.  I ask for a volunteer to act, or appoint a native speaker if I have one, and I ask him questions from the PQA chart.  On Day 1, I probably won’t get much further than quieres, eres and tienes– questions.

This (below) is my PQA chart.


So if I narrate Había un chico, I ask my actor ¿eres un chico? and he answers soy un chico by reading off PQA chart.  (If I have a native speaker, I’ll use him/her.) I’ll also ask ¿tienes un perro/gato? and he answers Sí, tengo un gato and/or no tengo un perro, and I’ll ask ¿cómo te llamas? –me llamo _____ and ¿vives en _____? — sí/no, no vivo en. I make sure I do a LOT of comprehension checks with both actor and class. A comp check involves asking either one person or the class “what did I just say?” or “what did I just ask?” and checking if they understand.

I’ll also start with another kid as my first parallel character.  Usually a girl (so we can start in on feminine nouns etc) and my parallel character stays in her seat but I will give her a prop to help be a visual anchor.  So, with Los Gatos Azules, the main character (boy) has a dog (I give him a stuffed dog) but wants 10 blue cats.  The parallel character– a girl, seated– has a cat (and prop) but wants 27 purple dogs.

I have realia– for this story stuffed animals– which are good “meaning anchors.” Anything you say which is comprehensible– and which has any other kind of meaning support, such as realia, props, gestures– will help kids acquire language.  Below, gato and perro are vocab from the story; ratón is an obvious easy cognate that provides easy contrast for circling a pair of sentences.  I could even vary the story…el chico quería tener diez gatos azules…but…el gato quería un ratón blanco

I will stop my story 10 min before the end, and then I’ll do an exit quiz. This sets tone– yes, T.P.R.S. is fun BUT you still have to tune in– and also an exit quiz is easy. The kids “get” Spanish on their first day and that feels good.

For homework for day two, I’ll have the kids make simple desk signs. On one side goes their name (can be fake), a picture/drawing of something they like to do, and another of something they own (or a pet).  On the back goes ¿puedo ir al baño? and ¿puedo ir a tomar agua? and ¿puedo ir a mi armario? This is a Ben Slavic idea.  You can always pick one kid’s sign, write a sentence about it on the board (or write a sentence about another kid’s sign also) and presto!, instant mini-c.i. activity.  Plus, the signs help me learn the kids’ names and get to know them better.

There are a zillion other activities you can do on start-up day/week (Ben Slavic has a whole book called Stepping Stones to Stories where he describes his start-up system). Some teachers have to “norm” their classes, i.e. teach them how to behave.  But I have found that, for me, the best thing is to go straight into stories.  It seems that kids learn best when vocab is “packaged” into stories, and when they have to read embedded versions of stories.  I have basically learned that said in September, forgot by December, so if it gets said, it has to be read if I want the kids to remember it.  I do enjoy scene-spinning and improv though…

On Day 2, I start by circling weather and date (good to put boring stuff in background). I review the story, and we continue on– I’ll be able to introduce vas, te gusta(n) and queria— and this day I start personalised questins and answers.  For me, P.Q.A. is basically asking the class members the same question as the actors.

So, if this was Day 2 PQA, I would do the following before reviewing and then continuing the story.  I would first say “OK, yesterday we started a story, and today, I want to get to know you guys, so I’ll ask you some of the questions I asked [actor and parallel character]. Answer with whatever you are comfortable with: sí/no, a word, or a sentence.” Then I’ll point to the PQA chart, make sure they know what the questions mean– and how to answer them– and off we go.

I pick a random kid and ask ¿eres un chico? and he has to answer , or soy un chico.  I’ll repeat the same with a girl, then I’ll do ¿tienes un gato/perro? This is where personalisation starts.  Little by little, you start to learn about your kids.  Who has a dog? Who likes/hates cats?  I also tell them, if you want, totally lie, as long as it’s not inappropriate (e.g. if you said it to your Mom, would she laugh or perma-ground you?) so some kids will want to say tengo un dinosaurio and that can become part of class culture.  It is also fun to ask a boy ¿eres una chica? etc.

Then, we go back to our story. I’ll review details from Day 1, then ask for more details, introduce the problem, etc. This year, I started changing things a wee bit– I now ask characters in my stories present tense questions about other characters– e.g. Donald Trump, ¿es un chico Barack Obama?–  which gets me present-tense reps.

So there you go– starting the year with t.p.r.s.

How should I teach boring stuff, like numbers, weather and pronouns?


This animal is bored. Make surr your kids aren’t like this animal. 

At a workshop, somebody asked me how T.P.R.S. deals with boring stuff.  Some things are essential, but boring.

  • Hellos and goodbyes
  • weather
  • time
  • numbers
  • days, dates & months
  • the alphabet
  • pronouns
  • colours
  • location words
  • Connectors, like “she said” and “then” and “afterward”
  • verbs such as “there is/are,” “to go,” etc

YAWN.  Some textbooks– e.g. Avancemos– do entire units on this stuff.  DOUBLE YAWN.  I used to make games to teach this stuff TRIPLE YAWN I AM FALLING ASLEEP!  Boring stuff is like a nice salsa: a bit makes everything better; an entire jar at once will turn you off Mexican food forever.

Today’s question: How do we teach boring stuff without boring students?

a) Days of the week, months, numbers 1-31.  Every day, you write the date on the board in TL.  Under the date, write how to say the date in TL.  E.g. hoy es lunes, el 4 (cuatro) de mayo.

At the start of class, circle the date for a bit.  Clase.  ¿Es el lunes?  Si, es el lunes.  ¿Es el martes? No, no es el martes; es el lunes. ¿Es el lunes o el martes?  Es el lunes.  Clase. ¿Es el cuatro o el cinco de mayo?  Si, clase, es el cuatro.

If you don’t know what “circling” is, it’s easy.  Make a statement, then ask about it.  Ask a question with a yes answer, then with a no answer, then an either/or answer.  For every question, restate the positive.  Don’t keep the same question order for circling.

This should, over 5 months, help the kids acquire #s 1-30 and days of the week.  You literally need 30 seconds per class.  After awhile, the kids will start saying them.

b) Colours and #s greater than 30.  Throw one colour– and one number the kids don’t know– into every story you do.  The boy doesn’t want a cat; he wants a blue cat.  No, no; he wants 54 blue cats.  You can do the same for hellos and goodbyes— throw one or two into every story.

c) Weather.  I start the year with one weather expression on board for the weather that day and circle that.  If the weather is different the next day, I write that on board and circle it for a minute.  30-40 seconds of weather circling every day = weather done by end of year.  This eventually extends into PQA.  Once the kids know a few expressions, you can then feel class energy and start circling something like “When it’s raining, Suzie dances in the street!”  You can also add weather as background in stories– “when Suzie went dancing, it was raining” (bonus: imparfait/imperfecto input!).

If the weather where you are never changes, ask “what’s the weather like in ____?” and circle that for a bit.

d) Also works for location words: in most TPRS stories the characters move somewhere.  So when you say “there was a boy in Spuzzum, B.C.” and then you ask “where in Spuzzum was the boy?” (and kids make suggestions) you can add something like “the boy was in the purple Ferrari behind his Spanish teacher’s house.”

e) Time is easy to deal with.  I just randomly once/class point to the clock and say “Clase, son las diez y veinte” or whatever, then translate.  I circle that.  Clase, ¿son las diez y veinte or son las diez y quince?  Si, clase, son las diez y veinte.  If I said “son las nueve y diez, what would that mean?”  I also throw time into each story once– great chance to toss in the imperfecto/imparfait— and briefly circle.

f) For connecting words— like asks, answers, then, after, before, etc– just translate.  The kids will see these so often during the year that they will pick them up.  Every story has “she said” and “then he answered,” etc, in it.

g) for boring and high-frequency verbs, throw them into every story, use them over and over, but don’t circle them obsessively. Verbs like to like, have, be, want, go, come and need are going to be in every story, basically.  The first time you use one, circle it by adding interesting student-suggested detail.  (“Class, was there a boy or a blue turtle?  That’s right, there was a boy….”). After that, use the verbs (in various person and tense forms) but don’t circle them, and do comprehension checks.

Students will see/hear the “boring” verbs a zillion times during the year. They will get the reps, so keep things interesting. 

Blaine Ray does this in his Look, I Can Talk books and it’s simply brilliant: the boring stuff is simple easy background.  If you get rid of the idea that students must learn all “things in a category” at the same time (which they don’t, and can’t, and it’s boring and silly, and even if they do learn it, they forget), you’re set.

H) The alphabet.  Oh God what is more boring? Nothing.  Also note that the only place the alphabet is regularly used is the classroom. It is low frequency and therefore not important. WASTE NO TIME ON “ALPHABET ACTIVITIES,” PEOPLE 😏. Label your parallel characters with letters (chica jota = “Girl J”) and just write and point during quizzes (e.g. label your exit quiz questions n,o,p,q,r, point and say). Also note that if you do alphabet (or number) “games” or songs with your kids, they are probably learning the song a whole lot better than the numbers and letters.

i) Pronouns.  Put them into the background of stories.  You are narrating el chico quería a la chica.  La quería muchíisimo (the boy liked the girl.  He liked her a lot).  You say “la means her” and then you check to make sure they understand the sentence.  Then, you use that (and other pronouns) for the rest of the year.  Because they are of low communicative value, pronouns are late-acquired, so don’t stress if your kids don’t start using them right away.  Whatever you do, do not make a “unit” around pronouns, and do not expect to teach your kids a song or rap about pronouns and expect them to pick them up.

If you’re teaching with a text, just locate all the boring stuff for the year and spread a nice thin layer throughout your year rather than forcing your students to swallow the whole Boring Jar in one tedious go.  The greetings unit (eg Avancemos 1 Ch1)?   Use one new greeting and goodbye per story.

One final note on circling: do not beat boring stuff to death (i.e. don’t let boring stuff take over your story).  Do NOT spend 3 minutes per class on the weather, or circle the time in a story for 5 minutes.  A few reps each day over the year adds up to the same thing as 60-100 reps in one story.  If they know that hace buen tiempo means “it’s nice weather outside,” it doesn’t matter if you repeat it eighty times in one day, or eighty times in one year.  However, if you do it eighty times in one story, some kids will tune out…and your boring stuff will, sadly, have become boring.

There is also research regarding memory which states that “distributed” practice beats “massed” practice for retention. If we need, say, 100 repetitions of hearing something to remember it, we have (broadly speaking) two options: repeat it 100 times in one class (massed practice), or repeat it four times per class for twenty-five classes (distributed practice).  It turns out that for learning sports skills and music, distributed practice wins hands-down.  However, I havn’t seen S.L.A.-specific research on this topic, so caveat magister.