Teaching a language using Comprehensible Input (CI) is my favorite way to teach, hands down (and in my 13 years in the classroom I've taught in a lot of different roles including 3rd grade classroom teacher, 5th grade classroom teacher, after school/summer Spanish teacher, Spanish, a French, and German Exploratory class, Science, Middle School Spanish, and Elementary Spanish. Before teaching with CI I would have been hard pressed to name my favorite subject or age level to teach with, as I found things to enjoy at all levels. After teaching this way however, it would be hard to imagine teaching anything else. CI lights up the way our brains are meant to learn. The classroom becomes a joyous place where intense and meaningful learning and community building takes place. I see it in the bounce in their step when students walk through the door; and I hear it in their voices when they walk by my room at conferences and say in hushed and excited tones, "Mom and Dad that's the SPANISH room."
There is a drawback however, teaching this way can be both energizing, and completely exhausting. Some days I am drained and don't have a creative story or interesting thing to talk or read about. When I get that tired, I have to take a step back; and so should you when you feel that way! I know that if I have been up too late grading, or planning, or even with a sick kid, then I don't put quite as much energy into my lesson, and I don't have quite as much patience with my students. Science backs up the need not to over-do! In our brains we all have neurons, which send signals to other neurons that cause us to do...everything! There are even specialized neurons called Mirror Neurons, that help us understand the moods, motivations, and actions of those around us. When you see someone doing something, the same neurons that would light up in your own head if you were doing the action, light up (even though you are only watching someone else do the action). It's part of why you feel scared when you are in a scary movie, flinch when you see a bad injury, or are thrilled by an intense football game. If we come into our classrooms without energy and interest for our subject, the Mirror Neurons in our student's brains will pick that up, and they will not be as interested either, therefore learning less. Notice how you feel looking at the pictures of the exhausted people below. If you want to experience the effects of Mirror Neurons a little more intensely, watch the video of the "Rooftoppers". If you watch the video, the dropping sensation in the pit of your stomach is your Mirror Neurons predicting what would happen if they made a wrong move.
Read on for a list of my favorite low-energy CI activities!
You're in your house...
House vocabulary is something that is on many curriculum lists, and as many of the words from 'the house' rank in the top 100 words in many languages it is also valuable vocabulary. One way I can sneak in house vocabulary, plus lots of repetitions with whatever I want is with 'You're in your house' stories. The fun thing about these stories is that they are low prep, everyone acts at once, and they are very visual and basic (I don't even circle when I do them...much). Before teaching a basic story I introduce the following words (each word has an action):
la casa - the house (draw a house starting with a pointy roof around yourself)
la ventana - the window (make your arms into a square and 'peek' through it)
el cuarto - the room/bedroom ( draw a square around yourself)
la puerta - the door - (open and close a door)
abre- he/she opens (open your hands like opening a book)
cierra- he/she closes (close your hands like closing a book)
de repente- suddenly (I always clap once, suddenly and dramatically after I say it)
The only prep (other than making sure they know the above words) is having some 'monsters' available (either stuffed animals, or print outs). All of the below is done in the target language (TL), and actors (the entire class acts at once) are only allowed to do what the narrator (teacher) says. All the quotations are the teacher 'script' with student actions described for each step.
I keep this from being too scary for the elementary kids by having all the 'monsters' be non-threatening in appearance (as seen below). For older students you could do something similar, but with slightly spooky endings. If I was doing Middle School Spanish still, I would prep the my screen ahead of time so that when the students opened their eyes, Sr. Wooly's Ganga girls were peeking out at the students when they opened their eyes. The 'noise' could be a snippet of the Ganga song. If you are reading Sr. Wooly's newest graphic novel, La Dentista, you could also have that character ready to surprise students when they open their eyes!
Textivate is incredible for CI teachers. Students can practice both words in isolation and in a story. All you have to do as the teacher, is type your vocabulary and story and hit the 'Textivate button', you will instantly be rewarded with almost 30 different games your students can play to practice their CI. Textivate even has voice-to-text! There are many great instructional videos on Textivate's blog so I won't go into a how-to. Creating a Textivate activity with vocabulary the students already know, and a new simple story, can be a great way to have a meaningful lesson for students when you have a sub as well! Below is an example of work I am leaving for my 1st graders when I am out next week!
Charades or pictionary
I have cards made up with high frequency words sitting in the front of my room (I also have student lists laminated). As I create stories with the class throughout the year, I add sentence strips from stories we have done as a class to the 'bag'. A student or student pulls a strip from the bag. If we are playing charades they act it out, if we are playing pictionary they draw it. Simple, and low prep, plus lots of practice of important words and structures. The student lists, are so that if groups of students finish an activity early, they have a 'go-to' . To see the words I have in my word bag (plus some times I made to practice them, click the link below. If you are a Spanish teacher, you can use this list to make your own. You could also buy the one I made, if it's easier.
There are a lot of Comprehensible games that practically run themselves once you have taught them to the students. For a list of some of my favorites click here. From this pages the best for low energy days are:
What's in the backpack/suitcase
What's in the backpack/suitcase/bag/box/present etc. (whichever word you need to practice) is exactly what it sounds like, throw some things in your container of choice. Describe them, using words the students know, and have them guess what you have in your backpack. Lots of repetitions for descriptive words, colors, size, has/does not have, etc.
PQA 4 Square/ Read and draw / Create a character
I have worksheets made up ahead of time that are very generic, they have students practice the you/I forms of Michael Peto's Super 7 and Super 16. Students answer the questions in the 4-square (as seen below) and draw a picture to go with each question. Lots of times these turn into hilarious mini-stories that you can throw into your FVR Library (Free Voluntary Reading Library). I also have blank comic templates that I can quickly write a basic story in, copy, and pass out to students. Students read and draw it. Beautifully illustrated stories can also be added to the FVR library. Finally, I have a worksheet that allows students to practice question words, and create their own "Invisibles" character (thanks Ben and Tina)! Students love making up their own characters, and 'standouts' can become class characters for your stories.
Giving yourself a chance to not be in the spotlight and recharge, while your students still enjoy plenty of CI goodness is a great thing for teachers and students alike! I hope one of these activities will come in handy next time you need a chance to breathe (as may be needed during December). Happy Holidays everyone!
p.s. If you are a Spanish teacher, my 'Felices Fiestas' site below, has lots of great movie talk possibilities for the holidays (a low energy activity, that I didn't write about as there are many great blogs on it).
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.