Unsheltered Grammar

No prep? No prob! ūüėĄūüėĄ

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

Then, there’s me (like this but not a woman).

Image result for disorganised teacher

Since beer, climbing, reading, ladies, bicycles, Go, writing and other fun things take up so much time (and I’m lazy and disorganised), I generally don’t plan much 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.

For Class Team, Funky 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 S√© and La Mezcla. The players had superpowers. Saveena’s was rhat 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 (actually, 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! ūüėú

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 List

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.)

One-Panel Comic

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.

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

Some Weirdness Tricks

Surrealism 101: All the Surrealist Art you need to see today

 

You want to make the story/character more interesting. The best way is to use Slavic and Hargaden’s “Invisibles,” which gives students a way to drive the C.I. bus.¬† What kids think is funny, interesting, etc is¬†always funnier than what we teachers think is funny or interesting.

BUT…if your class story needs a boost, you can try these ūüėĄ. Take something normalish, and do any of the following. The key to surrealism is to take one or two weird things and add them into something otherwise prosaic, and deliver it enthusiastically but also deadpan straight-face.¬† As Spike Jonze says, “when you replace a¬†C-sharp¬†with a¬†gunshot, it has to be a¬†C-sharp gunshot¬†or it sounds awful.”

1. Character has an unusual number of normal possessions (eg 39 cats).

2. Character has a part-possession (eg Ravneet has half a boyfriend; Dave has 1.5 cars). Even more fun if you draw them.

3. Character does a normal activity in a weird place (eg Suhail cooks in the shower; Mr Stolz marks Spanish stories whilst scuba diving).

4. People or objects have unusual colours or textures etc (eg the boy had a hard pillow; the girl has a green girlfriend but wants a blue one; the French fries were delicious because they were sweet).

5. Unusual place names are always fun. I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy a pizza in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania?

6. Normal places do unusual things (eg a school teaches flirting, a shooting range only allows waterguns, a wedding chapel only marries penguins).

7. Normal things have unusual functions (eg Mr Stolz swims with a mandolin, Mandeep cooks with an iPhone).

8. Try a surrealism generator from this list.

9. Use a stock story– fairy tale, movie, fable– and modernise it. Eg Cinderella, but the protagonist is a boy and he wins a ticket to a show through Instagram, where the rapper sees him and falls in love with him.

10. Use a stock story but change the ending. Eg in “The Three Little Pigs,” the pig who builds the brick house dies of exhaustion and the wolf comes and eats him, while his brothers vacation in the Bahamas.

11. Repurpose well-known brands, stores etc. Eg the man owns a Pringles car and a Ferrari bicycle.

12. Transfer human qualities to animals (eg the Blaine Ray story where a horse in school  studies Math, History and Horse). These are often student favorites.

13. Retell a stock story/film etc using animals, toys etc.

14. Celebrities have superpowers and/or weaknesses (eg Chance the Rapper is scared of cats; Lil Pump can eat thirty pounds of spinach). Even better: find something real and socially cool but not obvious that a celebrity does (eg Barack Obama likes craft beer).

15. Your student/the character/you the teacher beats a world record (actually look them up). The world record is factual; the in-class achievement is not. Eg Mr Stolz deadlifted 1200 lb (word record is 1020 lb or so); Mandeep skied from the Moon to Earth (world record is from top of Everest).

Variation: the world record is ridiculous.  Eg John has lost the most toy cars; Mr Smith has forgotten to mark the most assignments; Suzie has slept in the longest.

16. Ironic inversion: flip ONE element of a world around (there was a cat who had three pet boys and a snake who had a pet Spanish teacher). For a brilliant take on this, read Martin Amis’¬†Time’s Arrow or his¬†Heavy Water short stories).

17. Things take the wrong amount of time, quantity, effort, etc (eg the boy drove from Alaska to Hawaii; the girl became a doctor in 97 years; the monkey easily ate 497 bananas).

 

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 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‚Äôt 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¬†√™tre¬†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 pass√©-compos√©/pret√©rito?)

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 cherch√©¬†right along side your¬†√™tre¬†verb.¬†And 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 all√©¬† 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‚Ķ, 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 sort√≠¬†instead of¬†est-ce que le train est sort√≠,¬†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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 M√©xico 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 quer√≠a que estuviera/fuera m√°s 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 ūüėą. 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

Frequency List Lessons

There was a recent discussion in which a teacher said, my department head insisted on teaching only the present tense in Level 1, the preterite in Level 2, etc.  This Head’s reasoning was, people must “master” one set of “vocabulary” at a time. Bad idea.

Anyway, let us look at which verbforms in Spanish are actually most frequently used.  Here, from Wiktionary.com’s Spanish Frequency List, are the most-used verbs in Spanish, then some ideas about what this means for teachers.

The verbform is as given, and the number refers to how close to most-used the verbform is.  The lower the number, the more often used the verb is. Reference point: in Spanish, the most-used word is que (“what” or “that”) whose number is therefore 1.  The second most-used word is de (“of” or “from”) whose number is 2, and the articles la and el (“the”) are the 6th and 7th most-frequently-used words.  OK, verbs:

8.             es
22           est√°
42           vamos
44           hay
47           estoy
48           tengo
53           ha
55           s√©
56           est√°s
58           puedo
60           quiero
62           soy
63           tiene
68           fue
69           ser
70           hacer
71           son
73           era
74           eres
76           tienes
77           creo
79           he
81           voy
82           puede
83           sabes
91           quieres
100        estaba
102         est√°n
103         va
109         siento
110         tenemos
111         puedes
115         ver
124         decir
128         ir
132         has
136         estar
137        estamos
141        quiere
146        trabajo
148        mira
149        vas
150        sea
154        hecho
156        dijo
157        pasa
162        hablar
169        espera
171        han
173        sabe
177        fuera
181        podemos
182        dije
184        necesito
185        estado
186        podr√≠a
187        acuerdo
189        tener
190        dice
192        crees
194        gusta
197        ser√°
198        haciendo
202        hab√≠a

 

First, the facts.

A.  The top 202 most-used Spanish words include

  • verbs in seven verb tenses (present, preterite, imperfect, present perfect, present progressive, formal future, informal future e.g. va a hablar)
  • verbs in two subjunctive moods (present and past)
  • reflexive verbs

B. Verbs we think are oft-used such as gustar are less-used than for example fue

C. The traditional textbook order of teaching verb tenses (typically, present ‚áí preterite ‚áí imperfect ‚áí present perfect ‚áí subjunctive) is totally at odds with how frequently verb forms are actually used.

The implications (in no particular order):

  1. Traditional textbook verb sequencing will not help students in real-world use. Most students will not take five years of Spanish– two is more typical– and so traditional sequencing will overplay less-used “categories” (e.g. stem-changing verbs) and underplay what actually gets used (everything, basically).  They will therefore understand less than they should/could.

    We know this:  according to Davies and others, the 1500 most-used words make up 85% of all spoken language (in any language).  A reasonable target for a five-year high-school language program would therefore be, 300 words per year, more or less.  What if students only take two?  Well then, they will get the most benefit from using the 600 most-used words.

  2. Textbook sequencing does not properly “model” grammar “rules.”  It is pretty obvious that everything normally used is “mixed together.”  A four year old will say something like yesterday Daddy took me to a playdate.  I hurt myself playing with Jason. But it was fun.  I like playing with Jason.  He’s nice.  Here, there are three verb tenses and a reflexive verb.In Spanish, English speakers have a whack of verb subtleties to soak up.  For example, the term “I was” could be estaba, estuve, me sent√≠ or fui. If we teach one tense as a time, as the textbook does, we play up the morphology (form) at the expense of contextual “rule” awareness.  E.g. a Colombian will say cuando estaba cansado ayer en la tarde, me tom√© un tinto (“when I was tired yesterday afternoon, I grabbed a coffee”).  The Colombian has acquired the “rule” that the preterite tense “interrupts” the “background” that the imperfect tense establishes.In a traditional textbook, however (eg the ¬°Juntos! books I used to use), students will spend quite a while on the preterite, and then on the imperfect.  Even if they acquire the specific forms (which they generally don’t, because nobody is on anybody else’s schedule in terms of acquisition), when a new form shows up, two things happen:

    a. they will start using the new form (verb endings) everywhere and apparently forget the older form’s endings.  Kids who knew to say ayer yo fui a la escuela now say ayer yo iba a la escuela intending to mean the same thing.

    b. when (if) they pick up the new form, they will have huge problems “knowing” which form to use where.  Why?  Because there are so many “rules” to remember that the only effective way to pick them up is from contextual input modeling.  Basically, we need to hear an ocean of meaningful Spanish sentences which use both these verb tenses together.  This is true in any language of any grammatical structure.

    An English speaker can do a thought experiment here:  what is the “rule” for using the very high-frequency English words some and any?  Why can’t I ask do you have some advice? or answer no I don’t have some advice for you?  Why can I say do you have some of those washers for my drum? but not do you have some ideas? 

Anyway.  There you go: some data and ideas about word frequency.  Comments as always welcome.

 

Soap Operas (3): a simple verb trick

I’ve been playing with soap operas (details here and here). ¬†Our¬†telenovela is La Muerte y las Rosas (death and roses) and every day we add a few sentences to it. ¬†I write these sentences on the board, circle them a bit, and when I have enough for a full page, I type it into my¬†telenovela Word doc and hand the kids another page of it.

I am storyasking (and doing Movietalk and Picturetalk) in the present tense, but we are also doing our¬†¬Ņqu√© hiciste anoche?¬†class opener routine in the past and the¬†telenovela in whatever tense(s) we need.

Written on the board (from yesterday) what happened in the present tense:¬†Will Smith est√° en el hospital, porque se le cay√≥ una coco en la cabeza. ¬†(Will Smith is in the hospital, because a coconut fell on his head). ¬†Yesterday, when this had come up (student Kajal’s dad is Will Smith, and her Mom is Rihanna, ssshhh don’t tell Mrs Smith), I had written it down, and circled it. ¬†So today, a simple trick:

I just changed the verb endings into the past tense and added a tense marker word: Ayer, Will Smith estaba en el hospital, porque se le había caido una coco en la cabeza (Yesterday, W.S. was in hospital, because a coconut had fallen on his head).  I circled this for a bit.

This might be a not-bad idea because we have 95% of meaning established when we generate the sentence, write it down, and circle it. ¬†When we switch to the past tense, we only really have to circle the verb a few times so the kids can hear the difference. ¬†I’m going to make this a regular routine: generate ideas in present, then rehearse in past. ¬†Blaine Ray has done something like this– storyasking in present, and reading in past.

Anyway, simple trick: translate from one tense to another, keeping rest of vocab the same.

 

 

Soap Opera Part Two

Here’s Soap Opera Entry #1 and #3

soap-opera-pic

 

March 2017: ¬†I have Spanish 1 and we are about 20 classes¬†in. ¬†I am doing two parallel sets of activities: “classical T.P.R.S.” story asking √† la Blaine Ray (with Movietalk and Picturetalk to re-use the vocab), and playing around with my¬†telenovela (soap opera) idea¬†which came from our daily routine of asking “what did you do yesterday?”

Anyway, what I am now doing is writing everything down every couple of days. ¬†When I have one page worth of material, I copy it (onto that free brown crappy paper whose clicks don’t count against my total) and hand them out to the class.

Because this has been student-developed, and because I have generally previously written many of the sentences on the board, it is both interesting and comprehensible.  So when I hand it out, the kids can easily read it.  Note:  while storyasking (and the readings from stories) are in present tense, the telenovela is totally unsheltered grammar.

So, here is what we came up with so far. ¬†I encourage the kids to lie/invent stuff/exaggerate, and they have final say in whathappens/does not happen to “them” (ie the fictitious versions fo themselves). ¬†So Ronnie has been murdered in a fit of jealous rage…but he is happy about this, because he gets to be reincarnated. ¬†So here it is, our ¬†Spanish 1 telenovela:

 

Lunes, el veinte de febrero, fue un día muy interesante.

Primero, Ronnie estaba en una de sus cinco casas.  Ronnie tiene una casa en Sydney, y tiene otras casas en Whalley, Washington, Corea del Norte y Paris.  En Paris, la casa de Ronnie es el torre Eiffel.  El torre Eiffel es muy bonito.  Ronnie estaba con sus veinte novias.  Una chica que se llama Avlin fue a la casa de Ronnie:

Ronnie le dijo a Avlin:¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Hola. ¬ŅQu√© necesitas?
Avlin le contest√≥:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Necesito un novio.¬† ¬ŅYa tienes una novia?
Ronnie:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Tengo 19 novias.¬† Pero, quiero otra novia.¬† ¬ŅQuieres ser mi novia?Avlin:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† S√≠, quiero ser tu novia.

Mientras (while) Avlin hablaba con Ronnie…

Una chica que se llama VogueIsha fue a Marte para (in order to) beber café en CafeMarte.  A VogueIsha, le gusta much el café.  Pero no fue a Marte sólo (only) para beber café…fue a Marte porque en CafeMarte hay dos baristas guapos e cómicos.  Se llaman Pootin y Dave Franco.  A Vogueisha, le gustan mucho Pootin y Dave.

Mientras VogueIsha estaba en Marte…

A una chica que se llama Noor, le gusta mucho Park Chan Yeol.  Noor y Chan Yeol tenian una cita.  Fueron a la playa en Corea del Sur.  Park es alto, guapo y muy cómico.

Viernes, el 24 de febrero, fue otro día muy interesante.  Avlin y VogueIsha fueron a un centro comercial en Paris.  Las dos chicas estaban en el centro comercial, ¡cuando vieron a Ronnie con otra chica!

VogueIsha:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬ŅEs Ronnie?¬† ¬ŅEst√° con otra chica?
Avlin:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† S√≠, es Ronnie.¬† ¬°√Čl est√° con otra chica! ¬°Yo estoy furiosa!
VogueIsha:               ¡También estoy furiosa!

Las dos chicas estaban MUY furiosas.  Estaban celosas. Entonces, tiraron a Ronnie desde encima (from the top of) el torre Eiffel.  Ronnie murió.  ¡Las chicas son muy violentas!

Martes, el 28 de febrero, Noor vio a Chan Yeol frente del cine Strawberry Hill con otra chica guapa.  ¡Noor estaba muy celosa! 

Noor le dijo a su amiga:¬†¬†¬† ¬ŅEst√° con otra chica Chan Yeol?
Su amiga le contest√≥: ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† S√≠.¬† √Čl est√° con otra chica.

Noor no hizo nada (didn’t do anything) porque le gusta mucho Chan Yeol.

Mientras Noor estaba en el cine Strawberry Hill, VogueIsha estaba en Marte con Dave Franco.

Emma Watson le dijo a VogueIsha:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬ŅBesaste a Dave Franco?
VogueIsha le contestó:                             Sí. Yo lo besé.  ¡Fue un beso increíble!

VogueIsha estaba felix, porque le gusta mucho Dave Franco.¬† Ahora, Dave Franco es su novio‚Ķpero hay un problema: ¬°Dave ya tiene novia!¬† √Čl est√° con Alison Brie.¬† Y Alison Brie no sabe que Dave tiene otra novia.

Soap Operas? Hells Yea!

Check this:


So after weather and date, for our daily opener, I ask the kids ¬Ņqu√© 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 dej√≥ a ___ (s/he¬†dumped ___) and enga√Īo 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. 

What Is Rule Overgeneralization, and What Can We Do About it?

So you are teaching with your text and in year one the kids “learn” first how to say “I like” in Spanish– me gusta– and then how to conjugate regular present-tense verbs.  And suddenly they are saying *yo gusto no trabajo. Then in Level 2 you “teach” them the past tense, like “she ran” is corri√≥.  And suddenly they are saying *los lunes corri√≥ a la escuela.  These are a lot like how kids pick up L1:  they acquire Daddy went to the store and then later say Daddy goed yesterday.

This is “rule overgeneralisation:” a new “rule” shows up and suddenly it gets applied everywhere, inappropriately.

Kids pull out of this very quickly, mostly because of the masses of input they get from L1 parents and other adults.  But what can we do about this in the language classroom?

So some random notes:

1. Avoiding conscious learning is the first key.  If you have to consciously learn AND remember AND apply “rules” in real time– ie during oral production– you will naturally default to the most recently-learned rule.  So all that hard work on the present tense seems to go out the window when the pass√© compos√© gets introduced.  This is not cos kids are dumb, lazy etc, but it is a brain-structure and bandwidth problem: you have a limited amount of conscious brainpower, and forcing it to “learn” and then remember and apply “grammar rules” (and the brain, as Bill VanPatten reminds us, doesn’t even actually use what we teachers call “grammar rules” in the first place) is too much.  Too many mental balls to juggle. TPRS or AIM-style stories, Movietalk, Picturetalk, novels etc– i.e. interesting comprehensible input– will take care of a bunch of this.

2.  Unsequenced or “unsheltered” grammar is second. Blaine Ray and Susan Gross pioneered using “unsheltered” grammar– using all verb tenses, pronouns, verb #s etc — from Day 1.  If the input is “modeling” L2 in all its diversity, the brain won’t default to conscious or recently-“learned” rules.  Yes, beginners can cope with sentences like El chico quer√≠a un mono que bailara (the boy wanted a monkey who might dance) easily.  There you have inperfect, subordinate clause and past subjunctive all in one sentence.

This way, the brain has “everything” coming in at once, and it is getting the “mental spaces” for the different “rules” built, ground up, from Day 1.  The kids won’t substitute trabajaba for trabaj√≥ because they have been hearing and reading them– mixed together, naturally– from the beginning.

(There is, btw, another argument for the use of unsheltered grammar: frequency.  A glance at any word frequency list shows us that the 250 most-used words (i.e. what Level 1 of any language class should teach) includes verbs in five tenses and the subjunctive mood.  And it’s not like Mexican moms or French dads delay speaking the subjunctive (or whatever) till their kids are ten years old!)

3. Avoiding “grammar practice” is the third key. The problems any output activity where we “practice” grammar are numerous:

  •  How do we expect people to do what they are trying to learn to do?  Are we not putting the cart before the horse here?
  • If we acquire languages via input, what good does output do?  “Little or nothing” is Steve Krashen and Bill VanPatten’s answer.
  • This will inevitably be accompanied by tons of English or other L1 discussion.  Even the eager beavers will be saying “is it the thingy, the subtunction?  Is that like you put an -a on it?  No wait that’s an -e. OMG this Snapchat. Shut up I don’t like her, OK it’s *ella trabaji√≥.
  • It’s boring. Generating sentences such as “the girl wants her cousin to cook” or “I want my friend to run” is not fun.  I’ve tried everything–everything– and believe me, I can get kids to listen to a fun story that has [whatever grammar] in it, but I cannot get 90% of kids to “practice grammar” or “practice speaking” in any meaningful way.

4. Remember that “errors” do not exist, from the learner’s point of view.  If somebody “screws up” in writing or speech, they quite simply have not acquired what they need to produce the language properly.  They are being asked to do something they quite literally cannot do. There’s an entire Tea With BVP devoted to this question. So, rule overgeneralisation– like any error– has more to do with what teachers want than how “good” students are.

5. We have to remember that acquisition is non-linear.  We can minimise problems such as rule overgeneralisation, but we can’t get rid of them.  Check out this mama bear and her cub going rock climbing.

They test pawholds.  They back down.  They try the sequence differently.  They don’t get there in one fast line.

Teachers are mama bear and students the cubs, if you will. They’ll do the moves…when they are ready.

Finally, we need to up the input.  Students only acquire via input.  Yes, it may seem like they are learning from doing worksheets, or using the subjunctive chart above, or practicing dialogues.  But such “learning” is incidental, and as we see from research, much less effective than lots of good input.  If you keep hearing “j’allais √† l’√©cole hier” or “yo gusto hamburguesas,” the students need to hear (and read) more je suis all√© and me gustan las hamburguesas.  In the long run, that’s the only thing that is going to work.