Repetition

No prep? No prob! 😄😄

There are teachers who carefully plan every detail of a lesson, from circling questions to the story plot. Some people even write Movietalk scripts!

I’m more like this:

Image result for disorganised teacher

Since beer, climbing, reading, my other classes (Social Justice and English), friends, ladies, bicycles, Go, writing, family and other fun things take up so much time (and I’m lazy and disorganised), I generally don’t plan much in Spanish beyond thinking uhh we should probably work on quiere impresionar and is there a Youtube video where a dog goes shopping? (yes there is).

Luckily for people like me we have things like Slavic and Hargaden’s OWIs, untargeted stories etc. And thanks to a combination of my laziness and the epic powers of caffeine, we have some zero prep activities. These are easy on the teacher, they let us deliver loads of comprehensible input, and they personalise the class: we link kids to vocab.

Most importantly, these activities build community through tasks. Community– sharing a purpose, and feeling good about oneself and others in the group– is crucial for everyone. Language-class tasks, as Bill VanPatten notes, have two properties:

1. They use but do not focus on the language.

2. They have a meaningful, non-linguistic and communicative purpose (to entertain, to sort, to rank, to persuade, etc).

For Class TeamFunky Venn, Comic Panel and Partner Diagram, we do the following:

  1. We solicit details from students.
  2. We draw– quickly— on the board, overhead or doc camera.
  3. We write key vocab.
  4.  We ask and answer questions, circling style, but don’t beat things to death.
  5. We don’t introduce too much new vocab. 5-10 items for a 30-min session is lots.

The Class Team (or whatever)

For this, all we do is make some ridiculous drawings of various kids and group them into a team. Here, we made two soccer teams: No Lo Sé and La Mezcla. The players had superpowers. Saveena’s was that she could text at the same time as she played. El Chongo has only one leg but luckily has wings.

Q&A here would be things like who has five legs? That’s right, Jasraj has five legs. Whose superpower is being invisible?  No, not Chongo: Hamza Dos is invisible! We would also personalise this by asking students these questions: Ravneet, do you have five legs, or three, or two? Sukhman, are you invisible? etc.

The Funky Venn

One day we were talking about dogs (I talk about dogs constantly), and I asked the class what do dogs like to do? and they said dogs eat, sleep and play, and then El Chongo said sounds like me! 😜

So I made a Venn diagram comparing El Chongo with dogs. Here it is:

Both sleep, run, play and eat.  But El Chongo uses the bathroom while dogs use the ground, and dogs don’t comb their hair, while El Chongo (Mexican Spanish for “Man bun”) does, etc.

My student Manjot (who goes by Muffin Princess in Spanish class) said I’m like cats, so we drew a Venn for her.

The Partner Diagram

My beginner student Khushi, taking a cue from her Spanish teacher, said yo tengo seis novios (“I have six boyfriends”). So of course we had to draw and discuss them.  For this, we first drew Khushi, taking some liberties (she is hideous, has three eyes, and two noses). Then we added five boyfriends and one girlfriend. Then we invented weird characteristics for each (Hairie has no mouth; Alberto has short legs, etc).

The Q&A here involves tiene, body parts, and the relationships between them.  So Adam is scared of Khushi (even though they are dating) and Atam is scared of Alberto.

The Personal Story (with picture)

This was inspired by Beniko Mason’s Story Listening method, which is “pure C.I.”– no “activities” after input. Basically, you tell a short story about yourself (or somebody famous), and you use 1-3 drawings to illustrate

Here, we have vocab on the left and my Grade 8 math teacher, Mr McKay, on the left.  I started by describing 13 year-old me, and school, and math class.  Then I drew Mr McKay. Then I told how he both looooooved coffee and cigars and was blissfully unaware of the existence of dental hygiene.  As a result, we didn’t ask him questions– he could kill bacteria from ten feet away with that dragon’s breath– so as a result I got a C minus.

Here, we just tell a one-scene story and we do Q&A about both the story and the pictures.

(By the way the art was inspired by Stephen Krashen’s famous C.I. demo.)

Comic Panel

Here, we draw a one-panel comic and include basic dialogue. Khushi said I’m getting 90% or more in Spanish and we argued a bit and I drew this. Note that my art is so staggeringly bad that I had to label Khushi and me.

Again we will do Q&A here.  We can also recycle by erasing dialogue and adding other words.

When I finished with these, I took these photos.  They will be added to the class soap opera (pasted into an MS-Word document) and printed.

Una Encuesta (a survey)

This is an old idea from textbooks. We take any subject– here, how kids feel about classes– and survey them. So I said raise your hand if you find Spanish interesting and then raise your hand if you find Spanish boring 😜.

I then talked about what were overall favorite/least favorite subjects etc. I was also able to ask a lot of comparison questions such as which class is more boring, Math or Spanish? and what is the most/least boring/interesting class?

This emerged organically out of me asking Justin ¿cómo son las matemáticas: interesantes o aburridos? during opening routine. You could make this waaaaay more interesting: who’s the most/least _____ celebrity? You could survey class members and (treading with emotional care) find out what 4-6 kids like, whether they like ____ etc.

The basic system is, value judgements go across the top (eg good idea or bad idea, fun or boring, useful or pointless). Things being evaluated go down the side (eg swimming with shoes on, doing hwk in the bathtub, etc).

Picturetalk Plus Survey is another fun thing. Today Abdullah drew this:

So we Picturetalked talked this dragon. Then, we did a survey: if you had your own dragon, what would you do with it? Here is what the 1s came up with.

ANYWAY…I hope you can use and enjoy these zero-prep activities.  Got any more ideas? Email me or leave a comment.

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.

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.

 

 

Soap Operas? Hells Yea!

Check this:


So after weather and date, for our daily opener, I ask the kids ¿qué hiciste ayer? (what did you do yesterday?), and sometimes they talk about dates and romance. I encourage them to lie heh heh, and sometimes they do, and sometimes we actually hear about their real lives.  Because it was impossible for me to remember who was with who, I started writing down their “dates” on the homework board and they started bringing them up on subsequent days.

So now we do telenovelas every day and the stories are great:

  • Shyla was at the mall with a male friend when her new boyfriend SAW THEM OMG so now he is not texting her.
  • Manpal– the total music-geek hipster– is dating his ukelele.
  • Nihaal was with a girl who is 18″ tall
  • Sharky’s GF is short, ugly and smelly, but since physical appearance doesn’t matter to him he is happy.
  • Hafsa’s ex is now dating her twin sister Hajjar…but Hafsa’s new guy (although not as good-looking as the old one) is nicer, smarter and funnier.

Every day, we add a sentence or two to each of the various dramas. Amazing how much the kids remember and it’s a riot playing around with this endless deployment of mini-stories.

You get to mix a whole lot of grammar together, and you get a lot of buy-in, cos the kids are basically inventing everything. The quieter ones just have to show comprehension.

The trick– as always in C.I.– is to get a load of interesting miles out of very little vocab. One noun and one verb (or other word) per day is loads. So lately we have been focusing on dejó a ___ (s/he dumped ___) and engaño a ___ (s/he cheated on ___). Great soap opera material. The only problem is getting 1st and 2nd person reps but that’s what imaginary text convos are for. Here, Abby dumps Abdul:

Here, Nihaal’s new girlfriend, la rapera Soulja Fraud, has a blood feud with rapero Quavo. So Nihaal threatens to not road trip (to UtAH) with S.F.

Anyway this is major fun.

Update: here is Soap Opera Entry #2

The Wayback Machine

I was recently at a conference and thought, OK, I should go see what the Intensive Language teachers do, nd went to a workshop called something like “Get Your Beginners Talking!” Every language conference I’ve ever been to has a workshop like this. 

Here’s a part of a handout:


And here is what the kids would have handed out to them:


This is a classic “communicative” activity: it wants people to use the target language to bridge information gaps as a way to acquire the target language. 

So…what do the research and our classroom experience say about these activities?

1. Speaking “practice” as the exercise suggests does not improve aquisition.  We’ve heard this from VanPatten, Krashen and of course Kirk (2013). 

2.  Feedback– in this case on pronunciation– does not work. There are two main reasons for this:

  • You can’t produce language in real time while self-monitoring to make sure you are using the feedback correctly (Krashen). 
  • Conscious info does not end up in the implicit linguistic system, as VanPatten notes (see this). 

As BVP puts it,

3. This turns the teacher into the language police.  Someone asked the presenter “do they ever speak L1 while doing this?” and they answered “yes, I have to keep an eye on them.”  No fun. I personally find using L2 with other L2s “fake” feeling…and I’m a language geek. 

4.  In terms of personal interest, we have a problem: what if Johnny likes playing with dolls, and doesn’t care that Suzie is really interested in playing Grand Theft Auto?  What if these are low-frequency words?  If these are the case– and they usually are– the amount of vocab that the kids hear that is repeated is going to be minimal. If I hear about 15 different people’s 15 different activities, I am getting less input per item = less acquisition. 

5.  The junky output becoming impoverished input problem among L2s is here unaddressed.  

6. The repetition would be boring. In the presenter’s example, a classic beginner question is do you like to _____? and kids have to answer Yes, I like… or No, I don’t like… This is going to get old really quickly and of course it would be more natural, easier and faster just to use English. 

Anyway…the wayback machine took me to activities that I have never been able to make work. However as they say, your mileage may vary. 

I’ve been able to ditch 95% of output-focused activities, and– thanks to the ease and power of comprehensible input– I have ironically managed to build better speakers by avoiding making kids speak. Go figure. 

Two For One!

Anyone who reads this knows I have two main skills: putting my foot in my mouth, and getting a bad idea in my head and (despite all evidence to the contrary) pursuing it.

I used to think, OK, when introducing adjectives & adverbs, best to introduce paired opposites, e.g. guapo<->feo (good-looking <-> ugly).

This year I played around with limiting vocab (even while switching to fully unsheltered grammar from Day 1). How do I cut the word-load down? I wondered.

So I tried the simplest thing: I just introduced one adjective at a time and used no+adj instead.

So where I used to say la chica era muy guapa, pero el chico era feo (the girl was good looking, but the boy was ugly), now I say la chica era guapa, pero el chico no era guapo (the girl was good-looking, but the boy was not) and I add a happy and then distasteful face when presenting it live.

(I do introduce the opposite word a day or two later.)

The effect was that the kids seemed to pick words up more quickly, and I got fewer errors like this: *el chico era no guapo.  I think this was because they got to use their mental bandwidth of fewer items so the input was more focused and their brains got the “rules” more easily.

I dunno what people think. But this was a major revelation for me, and in line with standard T.P.R.S. practice: limit vocab and recycle it as much as possible.

Why do T.P.R.S. teachers overpractice everything?

One feature of a T.P.R.S. classroom– especially during story-asking– is an apparently insane amount of repetition. The teacher is constantly asking questions such as “is there a boy?” and “are the boys dancing in the rain?”. We also use parallel characters to get even more repetitions on vocab.

Now, we know that the more we hear something that we understand, the more we acquire it. But, as it turns out, there is another very good reason to “overpractice” things.

In research done in Colorado, scientists basically did two things while watching subjects learn new skills (here, using a mechanical arm to move objects around). First, they showed that as people practiced more, they used progressively less energy to get a task done. Mastery was defined as, they could do the task with way less energy than they started (i.e. they got more efficient), they could correctly do it, and they could do it quickly and without thinking (little conscious focus).

Secondly– and more interestingly– they showed that once subjects had mastered the task but kept on doing it, their energy expenditure for doing the task kept dropping, while the subjects were unaware of this process. In other words, the subjects got better at the task without realising they were getting better.

When I told some professional musician friends about this, one guy immediately said “amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.

The implications for the languages classroom are enormous and I’m only starting to think about this. (Of course, Mr Intuition himself, Blaine Ray, figured this out twenty-five years ago– now science backs Papa Blaine up on it):

A) “overmastery” should be the goal. We want to make it so that first, students understand without any thinking or pauses. And second, we want them to be able to quickly and easily and unselfconsciously and fluently “spit out” responses to questions, or statements describing things, or questions, orally or in writing.

B) the reason we want this, as the article shows, is that once we have “overmastery,” we are using both much less mental bandwidth and less energy to process the “known” (acquired) stuff, which, crucially, frees mental processing power for newer input.

This last point’s importance cannot be overstated. You want as much “open mind” as possible available for what you are now learning. The more mental clutter you have– unconscious self-talk along the lines of wait, what does that mean? What did he say? How do I say ____ again?— the less energy and mental room you have for new stuff.

C) if you think mental processing power is unlimited, read The User Illusion. Norestranders shows that since about 98% of mental processing is unconscious, we have very limited opportunities for conscious input, and it follows from this that the more we limit the variety of input, and “smooth out” the mind’s unconscious operations– by “automatising” them with practice– the easier it will be to acqure new stuff.

It occured to me that this could potantially be a “communicative” teacher’s argument for yet more student talk in the languages class–“the research obviously says they have to practice”– but this is probably not the case. The reason for this is that practice, in the languages classroom, is literally 90%+ listening and reading. The more we listen and read, the more automatic the language becomes. Blaine Ray was asked at a workshop whether the actors in stories acquired more than the rest of class (most T.P.R.S. teachers seem to have a regular crew of actors) and he said “no.” You don’t learn (much) by talking; you learn a ton by listening.

D) If we “overmaster” the seven basic “power verbs,” we can do pretty much anything even with limited vocab. Has, is, wants, needs, goes, likes/loves, gives/receives I am betting will get 80% of the needed work done in any language. So if students have these automatised, they have some really good “real world” prep (a point made by Jim Tripp on Ben’s).

Musical analogy:

When I started with Irish music, every new tune was major labor. But I went to sessions weekly and after awhile they became faster and faster to learn. (My first-year goal was two tunes/week and I almost did it– I’d hear something awesome, ask its name, then look the music up online and practice at home). The learning became quicker because a) my fingers got the moves wired and b) I started to internalise the scales and rhythms. Irish is mostly in mixolydian and dorian, so the classically-trained and rock guy (me) will naturally play a C# instead of C natural in a mix tune. Eventually I just naturally unthinkingly started hitting the dimished 7ths of the mix and dor scales

Once you play (and listen) enough, the input soaks in and you stop making certain kinds of mistakes. You also subconsciously note tune and bar similarities and you find yourself going “well the B part of Scatter the Mud is more or less like The Noonday Feast except with a mix 3rd” or whatever.

And when these things start happening– when finger movement and scales (what’s “in” and what’s “out”) get automatised– acquisition of tunes becomes easier and quicker. Indeed, I now mostly learn purely by listening, and only occasionally look at sheet music.

Another interesting effect: the more “wired in”– automatised– tunes become, the more you can experiment on them. I still remember playing Cooley’s, a tune I’d played a hundred times at least, and finding myself playing triplets– hard on mando– because I had the tune so wired in that my brain could now explore a new music trick.

I also remember the exact moment I acquired the Spanish subjunctive. After a month of lessons, lots of travel and work, on a sunny day waiting for a bus near Huehuetenango, Guatemala, a guy asked me “when is the bus coming” and I said “espero que venga pronto.”. If the input is there and you get it, the more of the basics you unthinkingly do, the more easily the non-English stuff comes.

Anyway, the analogy’s point: the more you solidify the basics, the easier anything subsequent becomes. Luckily for us, T.P.R.S. allows us zillions of reps because stories– especially with multiple parallel characters– accomodate repetition without boredom because the language is the container, not the content: we teach stories with language, not language with grammar.

What is “sheltered subject matter teaching,” and does it work?

Susan Gross has said of T.P.R.S. that “we shelter vocabulary, not grammar.” This means we do not give our students tons of vocab items– we “shelter” them from a downpour of different words– but we do use whatever grammar we need right from the get-go (keeping it all comprehensible). This is what we call “sheltered subject matter teaching.” Today’s question:

Does sheltered subject matter teaching have a research basis?

The answer, it would seem, according to a new study mentioned in the Times, would appear to be “yes.” (I have emailed the author asking for a copy of the paper; forthcoming).

Background: there’s lots of evidence that poorer kids are exposed to– and pick up on– much less language than wealthier kids (Hart and Risley 1995 is the best-known study). So, people have suggested poorer kids need to be exposed to more language. The question, of course, is what “more” should mean.

Researchers studied parent-child language interactions and, long story short, found that

A) the number of words parents use with their kids does not significantly affect how linguistically capable they become in the future. In other words, super-dooper edumacated parents who went to one of them fancy Ivy League schools– and use a greater variety (and quantity) of vocabulary than do the less-educated– do not manage to make most of their vocabulary “rub off” onto their kids. While wealthier, better-educated people do end up with kids who know more words,this acquisition does not happen because the parents know, or say, a greater number or variety of words.

B) The article notes that “the prevalence of one-on-one interactions and frequent use of parentese — the slow, high-pitched voice commonly used for talking to babies — were reliable predictors of language ability at age 2. The total number of words had no correlation with future ability.” In other words, it is the type and quality of communication that matters more than the quantity.

C) Researchers “found that among 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.”

Sound familiar?

So…if older kids learn anything like their younger siblings, we can maximise language acquisition by

— reducing the variety of vocab we use. We don’t have to stampede through 1,400 words/year– as my Avancemos text demands– to get kids to learn a ton…we just really focus on using our fewer words quite clearly.

— using realia to to support meaning (props, wigs, costumes, actors, etc)

— using rituals– shared, repetitive actions– to support learning by providing context clues/prompts to clarify meaning. E.g. We begin stories with “there was a girl/boy…” Blaine Ray emphasises one specific technique– the teacher turning their shoulder to audience and facing the actor– about which I thought, “why bother?” initially. But now I get it: it’s a ritual signal to the audience that we are switching from narration to questions (and often from one verb tense to another).

— “saying it back” to students (part of the circling technique). If we ask “did the girl forget her giant purple dog at the nightclub?”, and the kids answer “yes,” we repeat back to them “yes, the girl forgot her giant purple dog at the club.”

— using “wacky voices,” baby talk and other prosodic tools to clarify meaning (Michelle Metcalfe is the goddess of this technique). These “other prosodic tools” include changing tone and volume, using accents, exaggerating question and exclamation intonations, etc. The more “shaped” language is, the easier it is to understand. If I exaggerate my question tone, the kids don’t need to devote mental bandwidth to wondering is Señor Stolz asking a question, or is he stating a fact?. Rather, they know that it’s a question, and can focus directly on the meaning.

We want to do everything we can to ensure that the kids understand.