Comprehensible Input

C.I.-taught Students Evaluated by A.C.T.F.L. Writing Standards

How well do C.I.-taught students do in terms of ACTFL writing standards? Well…pretty darned well, I’d say.

Inspired by a Facebook post, I thought I would measure some of my Spanish 1 students’ writing on the ACTFL scale.

Here is their criteria for Novice High

Writers at the Novice High sublevel are able to meet limited basic practical writing needs using lists, short messages, postcards, and simple notes. They are able to express themselves within the context in which the language was learned, relying mainly on practiced material. Their writing is focused on common elements of daily life. Novice High writers are able to recombine learned vocabulary and structures to create simple sentences on very familiar topics, but are not able to sustain sentence-level writing all the time. Due to inadequate vocabulary and/or grammar, writing at this level may only partially communicate the intentions of the writer. Novice High writing is often comprehensible to natives used to the writing of non-natives, but gaps in comprehension may occur.

Here are some writing samples.  This is Bani’s work, after about 60 hours of C.I. (I do mostly TPRS, along with Movietalk, Picturetalk and some Slavic-style Invisible “untargeted” stories.)

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Let’s see…Bani uses a load of sentences (actually, she uses only sentences). She fully communicates her intentions. There are no gaps in comprehension, The writing is far beyond the “lists, short messages, postcards, and simple notes” that ACTFL says Novice High writers can produce.  So, where is Bani?

Considering her use of various verb tenses, clarity etc, I would say somewhere between Intermediate Mid and Intermediate Advanced. What do you think?

Next, we have Marcus. This kid has an IEP, and has missed about two weeks (~13 hrs) of class.  He has some behaviour challenges, some of which involve staying focused in class.  Here is his most recent story:

 

 

 This is obviously not even close in quantity or quality to Bani’s. He uses English, has some problems with basic verbs, is occasionally incomprehensible, and the story does not really flow.

So, where does this fit on the ACTFL scale? Well, here is their Novice Mid descriptor set:

Writers at the Novice Mid sublevel can reproduce from memory a modest number of words and phrases in context. They can supply limited information on simple forms and documents, and other basic biographical information, such as names, numbers, and nationality. Novice Mid writers exhibit a high degree of accuracy when writing on well-practiced, familiar topics using limited formulaic language. With less familiar topics, there is a marked decrease in accuracy. Errors in spelling or in the representation of symbols may be frequent. There is little evidence of functional writing skills. At this level, the writing may be difficult to understand even by those accustomed to non-native writers.

Marcus fits most of this.  However, he does use sentences, sometimes properly. So– at about 50 hrs of C.I., plus behaviour and learning challenges– he’s at Novice Mid.

The lessons?

  1. C.I. works very well indeed, even for students who are not especially motivated or focused, or who have attendance issues. One of many key C.I. plusses: the vocabulary is constantly recycled in comprehensible but new ways.
  2. C.I. does get the “grammar teaching” done, despite traditionalist “those TPRS kids don’t know grammar” complaints. As we have all experienced, the stereotypically successful  language-class kids– wealthier, whiter  and fairly L1-literate females– will pick up and memorise whatever grammar rules etc we throw at them. The rest, not so much. Bani can’t tell you what a verb is, or conjugate one in a chart, or explain the difference between preterite and imperfect verb tenses…but she can use them correctly and meaningfully. Grammar: my kids havn’t been taught it…but they got it.
  3. C.I. is going to reach kids who would be dead in the water with a textbook. I have had loads of kids like Marcus over the years.  Most of them failed with the text.  Worse, most were disengaged.  Now, I’m not much of a teacher…so if *I* can get Markus this far, anyone can do well!
  4. Anyone who has issues with department members who complain that eg “when I get your TPRS kids in Spanish 2, they can’t write out all the numbers from 555 to 579,” or “they can’t conjugate the verb traer in the pluperfect ablative subjunctive causal declension” can just point at ACTFL guidelines to show where their students are. Verb charts, memorised grammar rules, etc, are not part of ACTFL’s proficiency scales: the ability to write in contextually clear and meaningful ways is.
  5. ACTFL broadly suggests that in a regular (ie non-Immersion) classroom, students will need about two years to get to Novice High, another two for Intermediate High, and two more to Advanced. These writing samples suggest that we can go waaaaay faster than ACTFL thinks.

One last thing:  these kids do well not because Mr Stolz is a brilliant teacher, but because C.I. methods allow us to stay in the target language much more than the textbook does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to teach “to have” and “to be.”

Kids’ souls, err I mean cell phones, fit perfectly into the Intro Routine and are an awesome way to teach “to have” and “to be located in” (tener and estar).

  1. If you cruelly collect cell phones, you walk around with the phone basket as class starts and you have these simple conversations. You’re going to have to model them the first time or two. I hold my phone out and use it to clariify if kids have trouble answering.

Do you have your phone? — Yes, I have my phone/no, I don’t have my phone.

How much battery do you have? — I have lots of/little battery. In Spanish, ¿cuánta pila tienes? –Tengo mucha/poca pila.

Do you have a Galaxy 96/iPhone 24? –No, I have a Galaxy 6/iPhone 7.

Where is your phone? — my phone is at home/in my locker/in my pack — I don’t have my phone

(in Spanish, ¿dónde está tu teléfono? — está en… or no tengo mi teléfono)

I also like to react with mock horror: What?!? You don’t have your phone?!? (in Spanish, get your pronouns on: ¿qué? ¿No lo tienes?

The “cell phone hotel”:

2. If your kids put phones in a “cell phone parking lot” (especially good if spots are numbered/named) you stand beside the “lot,” point and pause, and ask the questions above, plus ones such as these:

Where is John’s phone– in 4 or 17? Whose phone is in 6? Does Mandeep have her phone, or is it in the phone hotel?

In my class, any kid who gets 100% can have their phone. Major jealousy from slackers! So to model plurals, I’ll point at a kid who has their phone and ask/say things such as

Do Bani and I have our phones? Do Bani and Jagveer have their phones? Where are out phones?

Anyway. Simple, easy and of some interest to kids. Note: don’t overkill: kids will hear this every day, so no need to beat it to death. Just make sure they understand.

How To Teach Clothing (etc) Vocabulary

Must you teach clothing, colours and verbs like “it looks good on” and “wears”? If so, read on.  If not, don’t bother: according to Wiktionary, there are very few clothing and colour words in the top 1000 most-used words in most languages.

The easiest way to teach clothing etc vocabulary is the very old-fashioned Who Is It? game, which is very easy.

  1. Find and project an image/get the class artist to draw a guy and a girl wearing the relevant clothing. Label these and let the kids look at these. As always, we must make sure input is comprehensible. No point in guessing!
  2. I would have a colour poster somewhere in the room. Here is a picture of mine:

3. Divide the class into 2-5 groups. Get a scorekeeper.

4. Tell them I am going to describe someone in the room. When you figure out who it is, hand up (no blurting) and if you can say “You are describing _____” and you egt it right, your team gets a point. 

5. Describe anybody at random: Class, this guy is wearing pink track pants, a pair of blue glasses, and a purse.  Who am I describing?

6. First kid to put their hand up and say you are describing ____ correctly, their team gets a point.

7. You can include any clothing words you have taught, physical description words e.g. this girl is medium height and has blond hair and possessions (especially class in-jokes e.g. this girl owns three Ferraris and is wearing a green dress).

8. Include yourself occasionally to throw them off heh heh 😉

9. You can also use negative statements e.g. this girl is not wearing a dress.  She does not have long hair etc.

Another great option: describe two kids at the same time. This will get kids thinking and comparing, and your input kicks into plurals:  Class, these guys are wearing sneakers and red shorts.  Class, these girls are wearing tights and white T-shirts.  Best of all, describe both a guy and a girl: class, these two/three/ they are wearing jeans and black T-shirts.

10. If you’re in a school where ppl wear uniforms, project 2-4 pictures on the board of kids the same age as your students. You can describe either a student or a young person in the picture. Students have to think, is Profe/a talking about one of us, or the picture(s)?

11. Another option if you are in a uniform school is to simply project 2-4 (interesting!) pictures of people wearing the clothes you want to describe, and then Picturetalk them.

12. The best idea of all in uniform schools: get some students to take photos of themselves wearing whatever you want to talk about.  They send you those, you project them, and you picturetalk them. They will be very interested in talking about and seeing themselves and their friends. You can also include a baby or high-school photo of yourself (giggles)…and poof! past-tense practice: I used to wear…when it rained, I would wear…I looked good in…., but I didn’t look good in…

Here is someone you know, aged 9. dressed in Hallowe’en finery:

If I were going to describe this person, I would say things such as is this a boy or a girl? Is she wearing pants or a skirt?  That’s right, she is wearing a skirt. Class, is she wearing sneakers or heels? That’s right: she is not wearing heels. [to a girl in class] Mandeep, I don’t wear heels. Do you wear heels? [to class] Class, is the girl beautiful or hideous? That’s right, class: she is very beautiful.  Class, is she wearing a blouse? etc.

Anyway, there you go: now you have a zero-prep, fun and easy way to teach clothing (and to review anything else).

The Curriculum That Actually Works For Everyone

Longtime C.I. badass Mike Peto recently weighed in on a good question. Peto, who led his entire department from textbook servitude to effective C.I. (all their kids who write A.P. and I.B. exams pass), addressed this:

We are getting rid of the textbook.  What should we teach? What are people’s favorite stories and themes?

This is a good question.  Standard language teaching is organised around cunningly-disguised grammar units: we learn the present tense verbs with school vocabulary, the conditional a year later with shopping, etc.

My answer: agree as a department to use 250 high-frequency words per year.  Peto’s is better:  focus on “the Super Seven verbs” (Terry Waltz’s list of highest-frequency verbs), along with nine more that add up to what Peto calls “the Sweet Sixteen verbs.”

super72 

Here is Peto’s explanation of how and why his language department organised their language program the way they did.

Short answer: 16 verbs & a commitment to fill every class with compelling CI.

Long answer: As a department chair trying to design a common experience for students in different classes, with a half dozen different teachers on staff, I could have insisted that every teacher follow the same collection of story scripts, movie talks, and novels. That is, “all Spanish 1 students will read X novel and discuss Z movie talk. All Spanish 2 students will acquire this list of target structures so that they will be “ready” for Spanish 3.”

The problem Peto correctly notes here is that we are not guaranteed acquisition of “rule”/word ______ on any teacher’s schedule. Just because you taught it doesn’t mean they got it.

 On the other hand, the Sweet 16 verbs represent a different path towards creating a common experience between classes. We do not simply repeat sixteen words for four years, but we do agree that structures with these verbs are the ones that are recycled and given priority at every step in the journey. The Sweet 16 gives a department the flexibility to allow their teachers and students to pursue different interests in class, to use different language, but guarantees that there will be a common communicative foundation throughout the entire program. For example, the Sweet 16 verbs allow one teacher to develop an independent reading program for her students in which students are all reading different books (and thus developing their own idiosyncratic vocabularies), while another teacher develops his CI skills guiding his students through an authentic telenovela, while another teacher spends a good part of her classes discussing student illustrations and spinning stories from them.

This is how it’s done: you make enough horizontal links– the sweet 16– to ensure that kids in different classes can end up a year later with the same teacher and be able to function.  And you leave it open enough that what kids (and teachers) find interesting can be explored.

We collect everything: novels, Martina Bex units, TPRS textbooks by Carol Gaab as well as the ones by Blaine Ray, our own stories, huge collections of movie talks, telenovelas. We invest in PD like some departments buy workbooks; we brought Ben Slavic to our department to show everyone how to make One Word Images and next summer they are all going to Boston to refresh their skills on classic TPRS techniques. When someone starts using a new item (book, movie, whatever) then that person has the right to claim it for a particular level. Teachers can opt in to use it in their classroom, but nobody is obliged to use any particular item. Therefore, I claimed El Internado for level 1 and Gran Hotel for level 3. Any Spanish 1 teacher could use El Internado. Someone else claimed Fiesta Fatal as a level 1 book… I then included it in my FVR library while my colleague taught it as a whole class novel. A colleague claimed La Vampirata as a Spanish 2 whole class novel, so I did not include that in my FVR library (which is potentially read by Spanish 1 students).

We recognized that in any classroom there will be many different interests, and that when students and teachers are following their own interests then the input is likely to be more compelling. More compelling leads to faster acquisition. That is the funny thing about those studies which try to count how many times a student needs to hear a word to fully acquire it… teachers know that swears might be fully acquired the very first time they are understood, whereas an abstract transition word that the student never uses in their own L1 could be uttered comprehensibly 500 times and not be fully acquired. 

There is another major advantage to running a department this way. When any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes.

Or, as Blaine Ray so perfectly puts it, “figure out what they don’t know, and start there.

At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

This illustrates exactly what high-frequency vocabulary does: it provides the flexible foundation onto which people can “stack” whatever vocabulary interests them. The football coach can play around with “el rodilla de Tom Brady se vuelve mejor” while in another class, students can create an OWI who “se vuelve loco por no haber comido.”

Terry Waltz has also famously made this point. She says, imagine you are learning Mandarin Chinese and you are going shopping, and you want to buy a wrench and some apples. If you had to pick one phrase which mattered most, what would it be?  That’s right: want to buy.  This works everywhere.  And ultra-low frequency words (hammer, apples, most clothing words, etc etc) you can figure out on the spot, or gesture, or look up, etc. Waltz elsewhere makes a similar point in response to a teacher who asks shoudl they not know food vocabulary? Waltz, who is translator-fluent in Mandarin (we are talking 10,000 characters plus real-time translation) says, despite having lived for years in Taiwan, that she doesn’t know most of the food words.  Is this a problem?  No, she says, most of the time when I (and Taiwanese) who don’t know the name of something we want to eat just say “I’ll have that” and point. Brilliant. The same is true in, say, Mexico: every region has basic staples– frijoles, tortillas, cerveza– but the local dishes are ultra-low frequency so you just ask about it when you are there. There is no point in teaching Spanish students chapulines, tlayudas, de lechon, etc.

This is also necessary because students move into our district at every level, and we cannot just leave them behind because they did not start with us. We need to provide a comprehensible experience at all levels, even if students missed the first 3 years of our CI  CI program because they were learning thematic vocab in another district.

This is brilliant:  C.I. accommodates everyone, while the textbook does not. The kid from Greg the Grammarian’s class will show up in Peto’s room and go, OMG wut? and probably spend quite a while simply listening.  However, whether or not he has spent four years or four weeks in Grammar Grinder Greg’s class, he will be able to catch up in Peto’s class.

Peto leaves out only one thing: when kids leave his school for Grammarian Greg’s class, high-frequency words will serve more of them much better than anything else.  A teacher (or department) who obsesses about themes and topics is rolling the dice on whether their alumni will end up in a class that uses the same vocabulary. Those who teach high-frequency vocabulary are preparing students for anything.

 

 

How Should I Teach School Vocabulary?

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Stuck where some genius has decided that low-frequency vocabulary such as “pen” and “taking notes” is important? Have you been ordered to ensure that students have “proficiency” in listing things they Absolutely Need For School?

Stress no more: the easy story script for this is here.  This was developed with the help of Nicole Kunkel and Donna Yakubowski, and taken for a spin with French 2s in 2015.  Yes, we used prsent, passe compose and imparfait when we asked it.  Feel free to steal this.  I’ll type it in English.  If we have Spanish, French etc teachers, maybe you guys could write it up in those languages and post it in the comments. Students must be familiar with the Super 7 verbs.

This is an outline: the fun is in the details and what you end up with hopefully won’t look exactly like this.

MATERIALS

— a backpack with some random weird non-school stuff in it
— a student actor to be a student
— another actor to be the teacher

WORDS WE ARE TEACHING

— got annoyed/was annoyed
— had forgotten (yes, this is the pluperfect tense)
— “Have you forgotten/did you forget _____?” — “Yes, I have forgotten/forgot ___.”
— arrived late
— some words for school materials and/or classes

 

SCRIPT (blanks, and words in italics are variables– let the class develop these)

There was a boy named Mandeep.  He was _____,had _____, was from ____, wanted _____ (develop character).

One day, Mandeep arrived at school late. He went to his _____ class.  When he arrived, the teacher Mr Smith was/got annoyed.

T: Mandeep!  You are late to ____ class. I am annoyed!
S: Sorry for being late.
T: Mandeep!  Why are you late?
S: Sorry sir, I was ______. (develop)

T: Mandeep! Do you have your (school item)?
[actor looks in his backpack and pulls out a (ridiculous non-school item)]
S: Sorry, I don’t have my ______.

Mandeep had forgotten his _____!
T: Did you forget/have you forgotten your _____?
S: Sorry sir, I forgot/have forgotten my _____. (you could develop this)

[We repeat this a few times.  We can also add other teachers, classes and rooms.  We can also use ourselves as the/one teacher, but it is super-fun to have a student imitate us.]

The next day, Mandeep arrived on time in class.  But there was a problem: Mr Smith was not in class.  He was late! [actor sits behind teacher’s desk]  Mr Smith arrived late.

S: Mr Smith, you are late!
T: Yes I am late. Sorry.
S: Where were you?
T: I was in ______ (develop)

S: Mr Smith, do you have a (school item)?
T: No, I have forgotten/forgot ____

Mandeep was/got annoyed, because Mr Smith had forgotten his ______.

WRITTEN VERSION

For this, we have a student write up what happened in class, and we can add a twist ending, eg student sends teacher to office to see principal, principal forgets things, etc.

 

How Should I Teach Avoir vs Etre Verbs?

I just wrote a post about how to teach por and para, which is a classic old-school Spanish teachers’ conundrum.  And then in the staff room I heard two of my French-teaching colleagues talk about “Dr and Mrs Vandertramp” verbs.

French is like German: you have to use either avoir/haben or être/sein plus the main part of the meaning verb when you want to say like I went or she bought.  I think one is called the fast farticiple and the other is called, what is going on or the meaning verb.

I taught French like 18 years ago and kids always got these mixed up.  So like the genius I thought I was I did some research and learned about Dr and Mrs Vandertramp, a mnemonic for remembering which verbs use être and which use avoir to make the past tense. I taught that to the kids (along with the house diagram below).

Image result for avoir vs etre passe compose verbs

Th kids memorised it , and they did well on their verb quiz (my cunning motivational tool to get them to study), and when they actually had to write a paragraph or whatever on their test, they all totally blew it.  J’ai alle.  Je suis achtee, etc. 

Mais non! I thought, tabernac, what did I fail to do? Years later I would realise, thanks to Mr Blaine Ray and Dr Stephen Krashen and finally professor Bill VanPatten, that we learn grammar from language, not language from grammar, as Lomb Kato said.  Or, as VanPatten puts it, “things like person-number endings on verbs must be learnt from the input like anything else; they can’t be taught and practiced in order to build a mental representation of them.”

So, if rule-teaching doesn’t work, an grammar drills etc don’t work, and if even fun mnemonics and pictures don’t work, how DO we get kids to acquire the “rule” for avoir and être use in the past?

(While we’re at it, we might as well solve another classic French (and Spanish, and German) teachers’ problem at the same time:  how to we teach the difference between the imperfecto/imparfait  and the passé-composé/pretérito?)

Easy!

First, we start using these–yes, in the past tense– from Day 1 of French 1.  Yes, our total beginners can handle more than one verb tense at a time.  If kids hear this a lot, and understand it, they will eventually pick it up. You can start asking/creating a story on Day 1 of French 1 with the following sentences:

il y’avait un garcon 
il est allé
il a besoin de…

Yes, you have three verb tenses here.  Kids can understand.  In your next story, you use an avoir verb, like elle a cherché right along side your être verbAnd you keep doing this–using language naturally, albeit with carefully limited vocabulary– from levels one to infinity.

If you are a French teacher who has been saddled your whole career with a textbook, and you are wondering what?!? teach three verb tenses from Day 1?!? Impossible!, trust me.  Our brains pick up all grammar at once, so to speak.  And if even I, a terrible C.I. teacher at best, can do it, anybody can do it.

Second, we do not ask kids to memorise mnemonics or rules.  This is because even if they do something as pointless and boring as memorisng Dr And Mrs Vandertramp, this grammatical knowledge is useless in real-time writing and speaking.  It takes too long to remember and apply the rules consciously.  And, as Bill VanPatten reminds us, conscious knowledge cannot become implicit competence.

Third, when we translate, we translate meaning and not grammatical geekery.  So in French, we translate il est allé  as “he went,” and we do not add “and this is the direct vocative object transitive verb tense bla bla.” For il a besoin de…, we do not say “French requires the use of a bla bla bla…”  We just say “it means he needs” and if little Johnny ever gets curious, we can say, “well it more specifically means he has need of“.

Fourth, we don’t worry about it.  When Maninder goes to Paris and asks est-ce que le train a sortí instead of est-ce que le train est sortí, the Frenchman with whom he is talking will understand him perfectly and say pas encore.  The Frenchman will think, allors c’est un americain but whatever. meaning has been communicated.  We have waaay bigger fish to fry in our French classes than obsessions about verbs.

 

Anyway.  The bigger point?  “Un-Englishy” grammar should be used from Day 1, comprehensibly, naturally and frequently.  If the kids hear and read it enough, they will pick it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Should I Teach Por and Para?

Today’s question, from Facebook: any fun ways of teaching por vs para? This is a classic question, much like how do I teach ser vs estar?

For those not teaching Spanish, these words can be translated as “for.”

So how should we teach por and para?

First, we do not make a list of their similarities and differences, and we do not  make a list of usage rules for kids to memorise.  Why? Because even if kids do something totally boring and dumb, like memorising grammar rules, not even the best of them– in real time speech or writing– will be able to remember and apply the rule.  There isn’t enough time in real time.

Imagine having to memorise and then remember this!  😦

Image result for por vs para

Second, we do not make a “unit” around por and para. The textbook “unit” around a grammar concept, verb tense, topical vocab set etc is a bad idea: it will artificially narrow and limit language: John buys a blouse for Suzie.  He buys it in order for her to like him.  He pays $20 for it. He passes by Nordstrom on his way home from buying the blouse for Suzie.  He wonders, “did I pay too much for that blouse?” You can see how limiting this is.

Third, we start using them, from Day 1, appropriately, in context.  A perfectly good sentence for a beginning story comes from Blaine Ray: el gato quería un iPhone para comunicarse con otros gatos (“the cat wanted an iPhone in order to communicate with other cats”). In any quest story, we can have a character try to buy something:

¿por cuánto salen?      (“how much do they go for?”)                                                                      — salen tres por veinte (“three go for twenty”)

Fourth, when we do translate, we avoid using the word “for” (which will be confusing). Instead, we translate each “use type” of por and para with context (and usage-) specific words.  So we write

le da veinte por tres he gives her twenty [pesos] for three [of those]
es para su madre it is meant for his mother
fue por la calle she went through the street
aprendió por escuchar he learned by listening
por ahí close by
se perdió por haber dormido she got lost because of having slept
te amo para siempre I’ll love you forever

(This is much like ser and estar.  We don’t translate them as “to be (+ a bunch of rules)”.  Rather, we translate them as “to be” for ser, and “to feel” or “to be located in” for estar.)

Finally, we don’t obsess about it. The gringo who ends up in a Mexican market saying le doy veinticinco para dos sounds foreign to a Mexican, but also perfectly comprehensible.  This is the equivalent of a Mexican saying why you don’t have no oranges? to a Canadian Safeway employee.  The Mexican’s not having acquired any yet has zero impact on how comprehensible she is to a Canadian.

 

 

 

How Can I Teach Family Vocabulary?

One of the first questions I was asked in any conversation in India was kya aapake bache hain? (“do you have children?”) and, pre-stepfatherhood, I quickly learned to say mujhe koee bache nahin hai. This happens anywhere.

Now, although family vocabulary is relatively low-frequency, it is still a reauired part of most curricula, and it’s useful for travelers. So, today’s question: how do I teach family vocabulary?

As with any vocabulary “topic,” family words are best taught contextually— in stories— a word at a time. In C.I., we will simply give each character a relative, and then ask them questions about that relative (and add a different relative per story). However, if you must teach this vocabulary in a “unit” by Nov 27th because your Headz and Adminz think Languagez can be learned on strict Timelinez, this is how you do it.

What we’re going to do is build a famly tree on the board/OH/document camera. We will include some kids from class, plus the famous people they choose, and we are going to make it as wacky as possible.

So we ask for a volunteer— say, Jameel— and we ask him who’s your brother? Jameel can use his actual brother, or another kid in class, or someone famous, eg Kobe Bryant. Then, we ask about, say his Dad. Jameel or another student can answer the question who is Jameel’s father?

We will keep going, and then we might get this:

Now, note the labeling. The arrows’ directionality indicates the relationship. In Spanish, we can’t say “Jameel’s brother.” We have to say “the brother of Jameel,” so the arrow points and is labeled the way it is.

Once we have eight or ten people in our family tree, we are going to Q&A the crap out of it. For beginners, the questions will be things like

• who is _______’s sister?

• how old is _____’s aunt?

• is ____ Jameel’s brother or boyfriend?

• how many wives does Señor Stolz have?

For more advanced students (those acquiring lower-frequency grammar), questions (thanks Carol Gaab) will include things like

• who would you like your brother to be?

• if Barack had another kid, how many aunts would Michelle have?

The idea is to generate something student focused, and to provide input (via questions) about people’s relationships, ages, pets, possessions and really anything else you can fit into your picture.

If we want to talk about age, we will have something like this:

This is also a great bail-out activity for dead stories or a time-filler. Kids always remember these: “Sr Stolz, Manmeet was Trey Songz’s girlfriend not his sister!” etc.

Basically, we are inventing and and then Picturetalking a family tree. REMEMBER THIS ABOVE ALL ELSE: this is not an “output activity.” Kids supply details, but 95% of talk is the teacher asking y/n or e/o questions and making statements. We do this to deliver comprehensible input.

VARIATIONS

1. If we/class don’t like wacky, we can do this á la Bryce Hedstrom’s persona especial and just ask a kid straight-up factual questions about their family. This often works because there’s always someone interesting in any family, and because, well, we are always curious about others. Doing this– if your kids are cool with it, and nice about it– will also build classroom community.

2. The “famous family” is a great hook. For this, we just draw a family tree of the Simpsons, Griffins, Star Wars characters etc. Kids will find this quite compelling and will argue details.

3. If we are doing a novel– especially a simple one like my own Berto y sus Buenos Amigos or the more advanced El Nuevo Houdini— we just make a family tree based on the novel.

Anyway. Easy and fun– enjoy!

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!

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.