Elementary C.I.

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).

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Amy & Gisela’s great Elementary Spanish Classes

Minneapolis part 2: I got to see Amy Roe and Gisela Schramm-Nagel’s elementary Spanish classes.  These are two master teachers and I sure learned a ton.  Maybe others can too.

They teach at a ritzy private school (literally every car in the senior students’ parking lot is a $100,000 S.U.V.) and have short (30 min) classes with about 10 kids/class.  First, Amy:

  1. The kids come in and she says hola, ¿cómo estás? etc etc and they can all answer
  2. Today they are learning weather.  She projects a picture of a tall grumpy bald man and his dog.
  3. There are a few Spanish words on the screen (está lloviendo, hace frio etc)
  4. She gets a kid to be Mr Grumpy (Señor Marrero) and every time she says his name he has to go “bah!”
  5. Another kid wants to be the dog, so she kneels down beside Señor Marrero (who starts petting her!  ha!)
  6. She says a sentence or two, and then asks the kids a question or two.  The sentences are things like “it’s cold and Señor Marrero is not happy (BAH! yells the actor).” She asks simple Spanish questions like “does Señor Marrero like the cold?  Dos his dog like the cold?”
  7. The class is input-focused and the kids are all following along.  Everybody wants their turn acting and all are quite good at it and at hamming it up.  I saw every kid answering every question.
  8. At one point she said something like “do you like the cold?” to the dog.  The dog said yes.  Then she asked me, and I answered slowly, and then I asked a few of the kids “do you like ____” and they said yes/no.
  9. She also put pictures of weather on the screen, and asked questions about that.
  10. This class went by really quickly.  As soon as a kid fidgeted, she switched actors or activity.
  11. At the end the kids lined up and she has a routine (using Spanish) where she says “who is the first?  who is last?”

She was able to be in Spanish most of the time, the kids were engaged (and understanding), and went s.l.o.w.l.y., she pointed and paused, etc.  It was high input, fun and comprehensibility.

I next got to observe Gisela.  she has Grade 1s so they cannot yet read (though they know their letters).  I have never seen a C.I. class where kids could not read so I was excited.

Gisela’s main trick is to have a ton of routines in Spanish.  The kids follow the routines, so basically they are doing T.P.R.: they hear a command in Spanish and do an action. So they come in, and she says (in Spanish) “sit down please” and “watch me.”  (By the way literally every word was in Spanish for the whole class)

  1. She spent a minute or two on the weather (she had pictures on the screen).
  2. She then got the kids to sit on the floor on a big circular rug with emoji faces and Spanish the matched the emojis.  So the smiley face had a estoy feliz beside it.  She asked them how they were doing and they all answered in Spanish.  She later told me she had never “taught” them these but they had basically picked them up by osmosis.
  3. She then did this suuuper-cool activity to do with jobs and parents.  She held up a picture of a doctor. She asked “who’s Mom or Dad is a doctor?” and little Johnny put up his hand.  Johnny got the doctor pic.  Then she said “who has a businessman/woman in their family?” and another kid put up their hand.  Then, she said “Ok, who needs____” and held up realia.  So the doctor needed a stethoscope, the fireman needed a hat, etc.  The kids “collected” realia.
  4. Eventually each kid had a picture and at least one item belonging to that picture.  Then she asked questions like “who has ____?” and “who is a ____?”
  5. There was also a ton of “filler” Spanish going on, like “con permiso” and “ven aca” etc.
  6. For leaving, they all had to line up and she had a bunch of questions and commands for them:  who is first?  where is the door? etc.
  7. At one point she was asking ages and one kid didn’t know how to say “seven” so she said “figure it out” and he did by scanning the room and finding the #s 1-10 chart.
  8. Another thing she did: her room is labeled with all the masculine things (e.g. el escritorio) were red and the feminine things (e.g. la puerta) were red.  But Gisela doesn’t “teach” gender.  It just shows up in the input.

This class like Amy’s had lots of engagement, variety, movement, etc.  Gisela was able to be in Spanish basically the entire time.  The kids were clearly understanding everything and she managed without any written input (although some of them clearly had figured out the basics of reading and sounding out letters in Spanish).

Both classrooms had some Spanish (e.g. #s etc) on walls but the rooms were not Spanish-overloaded.

The two ladies are in the process of giving their elementary Spanish program a makeover and are in their 4th year of 100% comprehensible input.  When I asked how it was working, they said that the middle-school teachers (who had just received their first batch of C.I.-taught kids) were delighted because these kids had two things:  solid command of the basics, and a good “feel” for the language.  The ladies are not focused on output (although the kids are able to say a fair bit) and deliver loads of interesting input.

We talked about “what should an elementary curriculum look like?” and the suggestions only I could think of were:

  • it should start with the “super 7” verbs:  to be, located, have, want, like, go, need
  • it should use unsheltered grammar
  • whatever kids found interesting would be good subject matter (even if that meant lower-frequency vocab)

But I didn’t have much to say– the ladies are the experts and know their stuff.  I also wondered about speed.  Both are speaking at what sounds like adult speed.  They said they knew they should be slower, but said it felt “boring” to slow down.  But we all agreed that it was amazing how much the kids had picked up (especially the grade 1s, who had almost no written support for their Spanish).

I was reminded of a recent Ben Slavic post, where he describes observing the brilliant Mandarin Chinese teacher Linda Li.  He saw her 2nd year kids spitting out perfect Mandarin sentences.  When asking her how they got so good, she said “I am convinced that the reason these kids can speak and write like this is because of all the input over the past year in level 1 and now up to this point in level 2. I NEVER make level 1 kids speak or write. It’s all input at level 1.”

This is well worth thinking about: you do not need output to develop fluency.  Li showed it, so did Amy and Gisela.  The aim of language teaching is to build mental representation:  gut feel for what sounds good, and understanding.  Everything– everything— flows from that.

Anyway, Thanks to Amy and Gisela for a very interesting chance to watch elementary c.i.