I am very lucky to work in a district that supports teaching a language using TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Storytelling) and CI (Comprehensible Input). In addition, my district has very supportive parents that I appreciate. Yesterday, as I prepared for the new school year (we don't start till after Labor Day), I received an e-mail from one of those parents.
While this is not something I would normally share, she encouraged me to share it with others. She is very supportive of the TPRS/CI method of teaching, and has powerful things to say about what it has done for her students. I am very flattered by her letter, but she gives me all the credit, when it is really due to the TPRS/CI method of teaching. I want to share it because support from parents is both powerful, and important. I hope that reading her words will help teachers new to the method that are unsure if it is right for them, and help validate teachers that have chosen this method of teaching but are still new to the "long game" (as it was recently well put in a Blog post, though I don't remember the author and can't credit them, please let me know if you know who wrote it)! Here without further rambling is the parent letter:
I have a first- and a third-grader who have been taking Spanish class with Señora Peplinski. She is teaching Spanish to them using methods that are quite different from the ones that were used when I was taught Spanish as a teenager. Instead of teaching "to them," she spends almost the entire class just speaking "with them" in Spanish, using props, photos, inflection, motions, etc, to help them understand what she is saying. The result is that my kids are spending a lot more time hearing and understanding Spanish rather than consciously trying to "learn" Spanish.
As a parent, what is really interesting to me is seeing what effects these new teaching methods are having on my children's learning. One of the most visible ones is that my kids think that Spanish is FUN. Spanish is one of the classes that my children both enjoy the most out of the five "specials classes" that are offered in our school. They really enjoy the games, the stories, the videos, the songs, getting to tell their classmates the weather, bringing home the class mascot, earning "puntos" for speaking Spanish in class, making music videos, and so on. She is one of their favorite teachers, and the way she is able to get them to understand and interact with the Spanish language makes it seem easy and fun. Instead of sending them home with vocabulary lists and flash cards, she has assembled a lot of online resources (games, songs, videos, apps, websites, etc) that are appropriate in age and material for them to play and watch at home. Unlike flash cards which require some amount of academic discipline, because she has sought out such varied resources to make the homework enjoyable for young children, it is also easy for me as a parent to encourage my kids to practice their Spanish on days when they don't have class.
Another neat effect of the methods she uses is that my children can UNDERSTAND so much Spanish. I was looking at one of the music videos on the class website ("No voy a levantarme"), and realized that both the audio and the subtitles were only in Spanish. I asked my third-grader if he wanted me to tell him what the video said, and I was so amazed that instead, he translated the entire song for me (as it played) by watching the video and reading the subtitles. I never would have imagined that a third grader could do that just through classes twice a week! I am so excited by what my children can do.
The last thing that I love about the method that Sra. Peplinski is using to teach Spanish is that, instead of focusing on quizzes (like I had when I was learning Spanish years ago), her method gives the kids CONFIDENCE to try to speak and understand Spanish. Even if there are conjugation or agreement errors in their speech, they want to try to speak Spanish, and they keep trying. She is so encouraging towards them, and as a result, they are able to make themselves understood without being afraid that they will say something wrong or make errors. In class, they write stories in Spanish and they are always so excited to come home and share the story with me, first in Spanish and then in English, so that I can see what they are capable of. She really makes the classroom a safe space for them to practice. And since I'm lucky enough to be a mom to two of her students, I love the occasions when they speak to each other in Spanish at home!
I have a Master's Degree in linguistics, so I know that on paper, her methods are sound and have science behind them. But this experience for me as a parent, to see that she is making Spanish fun, understandable, and confidence-inspiring for my children is so incredible. Thanks to her, they enjoy learning Spanish and are doing more than I would have thought they could. I can't even put into words how meaningful it is to me that their first exposure to a foreign language is such a positive experience. I am so grateful to Señora Peplinski for making their first exposure to Spanish so fun and accessible, and for having taught them so much that they have a solid foundation for continuing to learn Spanish in the future.
With continued gratitude,
Side note, her students are phenomenal!! I shared it in a different post, but am sharing one more time (because it is so awesome) a video her son and daughter made me. Her son is in third grade in the video and narrates it, her daughter is in first grade. This was not a required project, but something they did for fun when her daughter had the class pet (a llama) for the week. I LOVE this video, not only because it is adorable, but also because it shows active listening, and production of language, but also love of language. This was posted with permission from both parents and students.
Many years ago, when I first started this project, I had never heard of Bryce Hedstrom and his amazing "Persona Especial/Special Person" process. I created this Spanish Pets project as a way to encourage my young learners to speak more Spanish outside of the house, and to entice them into learning about the world around them. I had no idea when I started it how creative students would be with their answers, how much they would connect with the community, and how much they would love the process! After attending IFLT 2016 (International Form on Language Teaching) and listening to Bryce Hedstrom talk about the Persona Especial process, I am excited to refine my 'Pet Project' to make it even more meaningful for my students.
To start the project, I chose an animal from different Spanish speaking countries for each grade level I teach. I tried to pick animals that would have a cultural connection and be interesting to talk about with the students. I also tried to choose animals that were not too expensive, as I wanted my students to have actual physical animals to take home. You can also print and laminate pictures of the animals if your school does not have the budget for stuffed animals. I ended up with a bull for Kindergarten, a llama for 1st grade, a jaguar for 2nd grade, and an eagle for 3rd grade. More on these choices later...
To introduce the animals, I told my students that I had made some very special friends during the summer, but that my friends did not like to live in my classroom (all in the TL for older learners). I then introduced the 'pets' to my students via a slideshow, and asked if they would like to help me care for them. I used basic Spanish that my older students knew (or younger students could guess) with vivid but simple pictures. This was a great review for returning students, and fun for new students as they tried to see what they could understand. I purposefully leave the last slide blank, as one part of the student activity is to name the pet.
After introducing the pets, I explain that a different student will get to take the pet home every week. I will choose this student based on who I think did something amazing in class that day. It could be someone who took a risk with their Spanish, it could be someone that helped a friend, it could be someone that went the extra step when we completed a project. I like to vary the reason I give the animal out to students. This lets me honor students for different types of contributions to class. Some are Spanish superstars, and some are care takers and create a warm classroom environment. Giving the animal out for different reasons helps me celebrate something unique to each of them. It is also an easy way to motivate students to behave well. I do not give the 'pet' out until the very end of class, after we have cleaned up. If it is the first time the 'pet' is going home with someone for the school year, I have the whole class do a drum roll (tambor, por favor), if it is not the first time the pet has gone home, we talk about the adventures the pet had with the student that is returning the pet before giving the pet back out. For example, if Sally was bringing the pet back, and Jack was taking the pet home; Sally would share about her time with the pet, before we passed the pet back out to Jack. I make sure to use the target language the whole time during this process when possible. For example, when I give the pet out I say "Tambor, por favor' (drum roll please). Then, I say, "Ayer la llama fue a la casa de Sally. Hoy, la llama va a la casa de Jack./ Yesterday the llama went to Sally's house, today the llama goes to Jack's house". This year I am going to describe the next student before saying their name to sneak in some more comprehensible input (for example before I say: "The llama is going to Jack's house; I can say "The llama is going to a boy's house. The llama is going to the house of a boy with brown hair (blue eyes, a green shirt, likes Minecraft, etc.)
What's on the worksheet?
When students take the pet home, they get to pretend they are the pet and 'personalize' their experience. Each student gets a worksheet. At the top of the worksheet (not pictured below) there is a section for students to take a picture of themselves with the pet. Many students get very creative here and I have loved seeing the variety of pictures students bring to class. Some students photo shop a picture of themselves, some practice "Spanish" by watching a video of me with their pet, some take them to sports games, or on vacation. When students are unable to print a picture at home they have options. Their parent can send me the picture to print at school, I can take a picture of the student with the pet and print it at school, or students can draw a picture. The questions on the worksheet are designed to practice high frequency words the students learned the year before. It is a good chance to get some repetitions in, to learn something about the student, and to be a little silly. After students share with the class, I hang the pictures in the hall for the school year. Not only do I see students reading this all year in the hall, but it is a favorite piece of work to take home at the end of the school year. This year I am going to try to find time to create online albums of the "Pet Project" so students can browse through them any time of the year. They love reading about their classmates in Spanish!
CULTURE AND CONNECTIONS
I chose each of the animals as I thought each had an interesting relationship with a part of the Spanish speaking world. We talk about the bulls in Spain (G version for Kindergarten), the llamas in Perú (and Machu Picchu), the jaguar and the cultural ties to México, and the Eagle as a tie between México, and the large Spanish speaking population of the United States. Connecting the Spanish speaking world to animals is a lot of fun and very interesting for the students. After we introduce the pets I always start to see students using these animals throughout the school day (llama shirts, jaguar toys, eagle drawings, and bull moves when they run). Parents often want to know where I get the animals around the holidays, as many of the students want to keep their pet.
Three years into this project, and the animals are getting to be quite well known in the community. My students love to take them to community events and locations. A popular place to take the pet is to 'Mi Zarape' a local Mexican restaurant. I had a normally soft spoken Kindergarten student take the bull there when it was her week. Not only did she end up speaking Spanish with the server, they also took her back in the kitchen to take pictures with all the Spanish speakers in the building. I love both the connection this student was able to make with members of her community she might not have had before, but also the pride in her smile knowing that she can speak Spanish to heritage speakers successfully.
When I started this project I had no idea how popular it would be with students, and how much I would be able to get out of such a seemingly small activity. For those of you worried about the animals being dirty, a simple run in the washer and dryer actually makes them sterile enough to take into an operating room. I ask students and families to give their pet a ride inside a pillow case and the washing machine before returning to school.
If you can not get the funding for the stuffed animals, I think the project would work just as well with laminate cut outs of the pets. You can start this project very easily by yourself by choosing questions appropriate for your students, and creating worksheets and cut outs. My worksheets, complete with the parent note to explain the project, slideshows to introduce the pets, student worksheets, and a possible cut out (if you don't have the stuffed animals), are all available in my store here.
For Older Students
This project can still be completed in a similar matter with older students. My recommendation is to replace the 'pet' with a laminated cut out of a famous person you would like your students to learn about (Frida Kahlo, Barack Obama, etc.). Have them take the cut out around with them and take a picture. They can then answer questions about what they did with the cut out, write a short story about their time with the cut out famous person, or share a true story from the famous person's life. You may even have a bin of different famous people cut-out for students to choose from.
One last mini story about this project. As I leave it very open ended, students often get very creative with their projects. Below, shared with permission from the parents, is a video that two of my students were inspired to make (on their own, because the input was compelling). In the video a 3rd grade student of mine narrates, while his first grade sister moves the pet. A great example of compelling input, showing understanding without verbally communicating, and creative output (they even made a Minecraft world for the llama)!
One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is lurking in, I mean learning from, my teacher Facebook Groups. A question that seems to come up frequently is whether or not to have a Word Wall. In this post I plan to answer some frequently asked questions, explain why I love my Word Wall, and share a few of my student's favorite Word Wall activities.
Why have a word wall?
Did you know the 100 most commonly used words in Spanish make up roughly 50% of Spoken Language? In fact, learning the first 1000 most frequently used words in the Spanish language will allow you to understand 76.0% of all non-fiction writing, 79.6% of all fiction writing, and an astounding 87.8% of all oral speech. You can read more about this study here. As a language teacher, my primary goal is to help my students communicate in the target language. That makes these words super stars, and words I want my students repeating frequently. That is why a word wall, with compelling pictures, is a great use of classroom space. I love watching my students wander over to the word wall when in search of a word or inspiration for a story. Sometimes an intriguing picture on one a card they weren't even looking for will take their story off in a new and unexpected direction.
Pictures, Spanish, and English?
I like to have pictures, Spanish, and English on each word on my wall. I include pictures for several reasons. First, I am an elementary teacher. Some of my students are pre-literate, and some of my students are slow readers. Having pictures as well as the Spanish and English words helps students that are not strong readers (yet). Pictures on the cards also makes it easier to spot the correct card when students are looking for a particular word. When I designed the Word Wall for my classroom I spent hours looking for interesting pictures. While it was a lot of time to spend creating a resource, another advantage of having pictures on my cards, is that when I introduce these words to students, I have many easy ways I can talk about each word. For example, in the below picture for 'escribe' (write). I can say, "Is a boy writing or a girl writing?" What does he write?" "What does he write with (a pencil or a hand)? Why does he write (for more advanced students)? You can go on, and on, mini stories about the words help them stick in student's memories.
Finally, the pictures are compelling and interesting to look at, my students love exploring the word wall and talking about the pictures they see there. That is what we want when we teach a language, compelling input!
When it is time for a test, I use a big piece of butcher paper to cover the Word Wall. I take it'd down, fold it up, and put it above my cupboard after testing. I've used the same sheets of paper for several years.
Why not just the Spanish word?
Past practice seem to suggest that students should not see the English at the same time as the Spanish so we can be 'immersed' in our new language. That immersion is not nearly as effective though when the input is not comprehensible. When we talk to a young baby, we do not speak in complex sentences and hope to achieve understanding. Instead we speak to them slowly, using simple words and gestures. This helps the baby understand the language more quickly. As teachers, we can be even more efficient as we can directly teach students what each word means (since we usually can communicate in English clearly with the student). Telling a student the meaning of a word until they can acquire it speeds up learning time because all the time the student would have spent guessing the meaning of the word, can now be spent with the meaning known in meaningful repetition. Plus, look at the picture below. If the student had just learned the word 'rápido/fast' and did not have the English as a guide, they might not be sure if the picture meant man, run, fast, jaguar, scared, or any number of variants. The picture that may seem obvious to us, could be very confusing to someone else. Especially as some cultures emphasize different words as important in speech. For an interesting read on that topic click here.
In addition, I have found that once students do not need the English words, they simply stop looking at them and use the Spanish. I made the English words smaller in my set on purpose, so that the Spanish word would be more eye catching. You can buy my set here, or you could make your own set (free) with this list by clicking here.
What can that Word Wall do for me other than take up space and look pretty?
There are a surprising number of activities you can do with the Word Wall. I made two copies of my original wall when I created it, cut the words, into strips, and laminated them. One set I put on my wall, and one I keep use in the classroom for activities or when I have a few extra minutes. . What useful activities you wonder? Quite a few actually...
I hope this has helped you in you decide whether or not a Word Wall is worth the space in your classroom, personally I find it to be an invaluable resource, and one that I will always welcome. Share below if you have ideas I missed and you want to add..
If interested you can buy my set here, or you could make your own word wall using this master list (free) by clicking here.
In response to a few questions I've received on this post I am adding these full sized pictures of what my walls look like, as well as my classroom doors.
This very modified version of 4 Corners is one of my students all time favorite games; most days students ask to play when they walk in the door. It's easy to set up, can be used to get more repetitions on almost any topic, and it's fun! A round takes about 5 minutes (though you could draw it out); and it can be played many times. While I developed this version when working with elememtary students; I've also taught Middle School; and feel it can be used with older students as well. My 7th and 8th grade students love games for review, and it helps create a warm classroom environment. My students start playing it in Kindergarten, but still ask to play by the time they are in 3rd grade (and all the grades in between). Read on for directions below, and ways to modify the game under 'pro tips'.
Happily there is very little teacher prep for this game. All teachers need to do is label 4 different corners in the room with one of the following numbers: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Although I cheat a little and explain this to my Kindergarten students in a mix of Spanish and English (I teach this early in the year; and don't want to lose any of the littles beforw we've even really begun); I review instructions entirely in the TL (target language) for all grades (including K) after they learn it the first time. Each of the different spors in the room have both the number and the word in the TL. My signs read: 1 uno, 2 dos, 3 tres, and 4 cuatro. You may also want to come up with questions to ask students ahead of time; however I never do that as I already have in mind what structures, vocab, or past topic I want repeitions on. I actually developed most of this game for review in a Science class I taught, so it really can be used in any subject. Spanish is my favorite way to play, as students are able to stay in the TL the whole time.
Okay, so how do you play?
Please note that all gameplay is in the TL (target language; for me Spanish). I am going to give instructions in English so this can be used by any language teacher. There are tons of opportunities for repetitions on high frequency words!
One student is it; to sneak in extra vocab we call the person that is it "Sir (El señor for Spanish) or Miss (la señorita)" whatever you call them, they sit in a chair facing away from the classroom. The key here is that they cannot see the other players. I have my students sit in my big rocking chair, with a blanket on the back of the seat. This makes it hard for them to peek without being super obvious. The student that is "It" counts to 10 in the target language. During this time all other students sneak to any one of the four labeled locations (1, 2, 3 or 4). I always tell my students to be very quiet so the person that is "It" doesn't know where they are (it keeps things a little quieter). Students must reach their corner before the person who is "it" reaches the number 10. Students may not hide or switch corners after counting has stopped or they are out.
Once the person who is "it" has stopped talking; the following conversation happens between the teacher and student who is "it" in the TL.
Teacher : Do you want 1, 2, 3, or 4?
Student: I want 3 (or whatever number they choose).
All students in the corners not chosen are "safe" so on this example corners 1, 2, and 4 are safe. Most of the students at the chosen corner are out.
At this point the teacher asks the corner that is out whatever structure or vocab you want to review.
If students in the chosen corner know the answer they raise their hand (calling out the answer doesn't count as a correct answer; this allows me to sometimes ask "easy" questions and sometimes very challenging questions. I pick who gets to answer, so I can scaffold the question to any students ability level and everyone feels successful). The first person called on that answers correctly is "safe" everyone else in the corner is out. The person that is "it" (plus everyone sitting down that is "out" count to 10 again, and all students who are "in" choose a new corner (or stay at their old corner).
Gameplay continues in this manner until only 4 students are left. At that point I ask thr student who is "it" to give me 3 different numbers (to eliminate 3 different students). No "saving " question is given when a student is in a corner alone; so giving 3 numbers here eliminates 3 out of the 4 students left standing). Last person that is standing gets to be "it" next time we play. If they have already been it, they pick someone else to be "it".
What do the students who are out do?
When a student is out they help tue person who is "it" count. If they do a good job at this they may get to help me make up a question for students still in OR they may be able to get back in the game (this keeps them all paying attention). If nobody in the chosen corner knows the correct answer to the "saving question" I ask the students who are out for an answer, the first person with their hand raised to answer correctly is back in the game. Students who are out pay close attention to questions and try to answer them (in their head) when I ask students who are still playing so they are ready if a corner doesn't know the answer.
1)Vary question difficulty. Sometimes I keep it as simple as a 1 word translation, sometimes I tell a short story and ask them to translate or answer a question about it, sometimes I use PQA questions. The point is to vary difficulty so all stusenra can feel succesful and/or challenged.
2) Consider letting students who are out help you make uo questions. Even my young learners get very strategic and try to ask tricky questions that they know the answer to, this gets them really thinking about their Spanish.
3) My students are happy to play the basic version of the game, but there are many ways to modify:
I hope you and your students enjoy the game as much as I do with mine. I will seek parent permission in the fall to film a round. It is easier than it sounds, and a lot of fun! Have a question or modification? Leave it in the comments below! :)
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.