As a former legacy teacher of Spanish (fully converted to TPRS/CI now) I used to work hard to sell my class to my students. I talked about the benefits of learning a language for entering the job market (and followed it up with clips from Shark Tank and salaries from local companies looking to hire Spanish speakers). I met with my students before and after school and at lunch to help them pass the fast paced textbook we had to complete. I had fun with my students, and know that they trusted me and enjoyed my class (in spite of the sometimes boring and challenging work we had to do).
Inspite of what seems like an expected level of success I didn't feel satisfied. While I did convince many students to keep taking Spanish after their requirements were met, many still struggled and would only complete enough to graduate high school (and some just barely). Average scores on End of Year exams were in the 70s (common across the grade level). As a student of the old method, this seemed normal to me from my days in school, and I would smile and nod when parents would talk about not remembering a word of "Spanish/French/German" from their high school days. Secretly (though I guess not so secretly now since I am blogging about it) I even felt jealous that Science, Gym, and Woodshop were always listed as kids favorite classes on the student of the month board. I wanted something more in my teaching, but didn't see how to get to it (or even know that it was there). I wanted language that was both fun to learn, and accessible to everyone.
Enter my first training with the great Blaine Ray. It was a short one day training in my district, never had I been so inspired by a PD before. I laughed almost the entire time, and remembered far more German in a one-day training than I had after a summer spent trudging through Rosetta Stone (which became boring to me, after the initial novelty had worn off). That very weekend I sat down to write my first story for the class (no it's not required that you write your own stories especially to start, but I like to dive in); it took me nearly 2.5 hours to write one 15 minute story. I don't say this to scare you off if you are new. The stories get MUCH easier with practice. You can read abouy my experience, and my advice for beginners here if you are new to TPRS/CI.
After practicing a bit with TPRS/CI in my classroom I attended a longer 3-day workshop with Blaine Ray, followed by an advanced 3-day workshop the following year with Craig Sheehy. In each workshop I grew confident in my skills both as a teacher and as a speaker of Spanish. Since then I've also attended IFLT and CiMidwest (and am planning to attend MittenCI in April).
Working closely with TPRS/CI has been an eye-opener for me, and one of the most EXCITING things I've realized is that learning a langauge is for EVERYONE. When students struggled in the past in a language I would follow my legacy teacher route for improvement. I'd contact home, advise parents to have their student study more, meet with the student before and after school for extra grammar practice, etc. Even with all this extra help I often felt I was just able to teach these students barely enough to pass the test. And of course, all the students would promptly forget what they had learned after the test. That is until TPRS/CI and neurology opened my eyes. Instead of thinking of the information I needed to cover for upcoming tests, I started thinking about the language journey of each child as a whole. Having my own young speakers at home (2, 4, and 6) also has allowed me to study the langauge acquisition progress up close and personal. Much like my students, each of my children learned to speak at their own pace. Never was there a need to study flash cards, or grammar to make progress with their learning. In fact, I can guaranty my children would not humor grammar lessons. My youngest can barely stand to wait 30 second for his birthday cake (as pictured above); can you imagine the volume of screams that would echo throughout my house if I tried to make him study grammar (I can, and believe me, it isn't pretty)?! What is more, when we communicate with each other, we aren't thinking about how to modify nouns or conjugate verbs. We just speak, and this is how we should teach languages too. We talk about the same thing every day, sometimes for days on end, but we do it in fun ways, in silly ways, in active ways, in compelling ways; and my children begin to speak.
At CiMidwest, Justin Slocum Bailey said, "the odds of everyone in the room being able to acquire the same target at the same time are 0." This stuck with me, we need to tier language teachings so all of our students, slow processors, fast processors, and all those in between, acquire what we are teaching.
It is this simple, yet profound aspect of TPRS/CI that makes studying a language really for everyone. Instead of following my legacy teacher route for improvement with my lowest students, I decided to stick to methods that held TPRS/CI as their core tennent. Instead of having these students drill with flashcards, I made sure to add something personal to each story that connected to them. It didnt matter if it was something as simple as the choosing the color hair the shark in the story has, to making their favorite stuffed animal in the class a character in the story, I always try to make sure something is extra compelling to these students. I also make sure to ask some questions I know they can answer in each class (even if the questions seem shockingly easy), and I give them a chance to answer them. When possible I also try to have a personal joke or phrase I use with each student (my artist, my helper, my minecraft expert) etc. This in addition to tiering material has been my main intervention for these students. Very rarely have I had parents concerned with progress, but when I did I referred them to a blog I wrote about watching cartoons in the language, listening to music, and playing on Textivate and Duolingo. Parents of fast processors are happy too as I try to ask a variety of levelled questions for all learners during class.
Just like that everything has changed. Students that would barely look up in class, now raise their hands eagerly. I know in my previous incarnation as a legacy teacher these kids would not have done well. I would have been able to get them through the tests, I would have thought that learning a langauge was not for them. I would have been so wrong.
These kids now eagerly raise their hand, they answer advanced questions in complete sentences, they love coming to class. They are communicating in a new language, building relationships with their peers, building confidence, and building future ready skills, all while having fun. Thank you TPRS/CI, I wouldn't have been able to do it without you!
Blogging is a bit harder to keep up with during the school year! However I know a lot of people are curious about Sr. Wooly's amazing new graphic novel, Billy La Bufanda. I know I keep watching for someone to blog about it. There are so many great activities you COULD do as a TPRS/CI teacher, it is sometimes hard for me to use my time with the students for anything I'm not sure is going to be a hit. I love reading blogs about an activity before I try it, because it's a great practice run for how the students will respond. However, the students have been drooling over the book for a few weeks now, so I can delay no longer (trying new things is exciting anyway). One of students even came to school wearing her very own "Billy La Bufanda" that her parents ordered for her from the site. :) I watched the tutorials from the creative Sr. Wooly and Carrie Toth, I read the comic, and I decided to begin. You can watch the video of most of the lesson below, and read my breakdown underneath the video. The part of the lesson that addresses 'Billy La Bufanda' starts at about the 9:00 minute mark. I left the start of my lesson in, as I thought teachers new to TPRS/CI might enjoy seeing one way to start a class. You cannot actually see any students in the recording to protect student privacy. The video cuts out at the end when students perform a smalls scene from Sr. Wooly as a few students were in the camera zone, and I caught them in the picture (you can read the scene between Perro y Damita if you get the comic ;). I myself am in and out of the camera.
It is both slightly painful and enlightening to watch myself teach. I see lots of things I like, and lots of things to improve too. :) For example, I probably used 'puntos' more than necessary during this lesson (what can I say, it was a Friday of a long week? I also noticed myself falling out of the TL a few times consistently that I really shouldn't (I keep meaning to say 'punto posibilidad' instead of a 'chance for a punto'). I also fell out of the TL at the end when explaining the game. I could have explained that game to my students in Spanish. However, I only had 5 minutes to teach and play (my classes are only 36 minutes long), so I cheated and explained the game in English. Those are my 'things to improve' personally, however other than that I feel like the lesson went very well and was a lot of fun! Students in this lesson are in 3rd grade, they have been taking Spanish twice a week with me (36 minute lessons) since Kindergarten. They have had a focus of TPRS/CI for 3 years.
I always start class by telling the students 'el plan' with a mad scientist laugh thrown in for fun (and as an attention getter). This always helps focus attention for my students. After this I passed out their name-tags. Students have just finished choosing Spanish nicknames. If you want to know more about this process click here. I try to do this quickly but I have several purposes here. One, I like my students to practice 'eres/soy' and 'estás/ estoy' until it feels natural. This helps them get repetitions in of important phrases. This also gives me a chance to at least briefly, personally connect with each student. I teach 8 classes a day, and in that time I see almost 200 students a day. I like to make sure I talk to each one at least once. Saying their name is powerful, and their self chosen nicknames (words like artist, swimmer, runner, chicken) say things about who they are to me. It also helps them learn a set of personalized vocabulary for the class as they learn each other's nicknames. This year I also introduced rejoinders (I learned about these from Grant Boulanger). Rejoinders are simple phrases like 'that's gross' or 'its obvious' that allows them to respond to things naturally in Spanish. My students love using these, and this gives them a chance to try them out (and often leads to teachable moments). Right now I am giving them a lot of puntos for using them, so that they get used to using them. I will scale back on these as they use them more automatically. If you just want to hear the part of the lesson about Billy la Bufanda, skip to the 9:00 minute mark.
To start my lesson on Billy we used the pictures from my teacher's guide. I projected them up on the screen and talked about them with my students. To get them warmed up, we used the pictures to review old vocabulary and grammar concepts (weather, colors, emotions, etc). After reviewing old information, I talked about the pictures with the specific vocabulary from the comic book. I focused on phrases I thought would give my students a bit of trouble if they read them without guidance. For example, my students know the word 'triste' well. However in the first few pages of the book, there is the phrase 'llena de tristeza' (full of sadness). Some of my kids probably would have got it, most would have go the idea, but that isn't enough. Instead by making 'llena' comprehensible, and having them hear and see the word 'tristeza' with my actions, they were able to understand the phrase easily. This held true in all of my rotations. When I felt like we had been sitting too long, or to help students pay attention we would make faces 'full of sadness' or 'full of happiness'. When they got a little wiggly, we stood up and walked' full of sadness' or 'full of happiness' etc. After picture talking through the first few pages we acted out a very, very short scene between two characters. It gave me a chance to practice a few more quick phrases, and I ended with a 'cliffhanger phrase' set them up nicely for the next phase of the story.
We ended with a 5 minute game. This game is one I adapted from Sr. Wooly as well. In the game, a student stands up and says the phrase ' something is better (or worse than) something else in the TL. For example, "Pepsi is better than Coke" (totally). If students agree with the phrase they stand up, if they disagree with the phrase they sit down, if they don't know (as in they have never tried Pepsi or Coke) they hold up both hands and shrug. Students love this game. I adjusted the game slightly to be 'I like/ I don't like' instead of 'better than/worse than' based on what vocabulary my students are using more currently. I lay down a few ground rules of no saying I like or I don't like any people in our school, and no politics. If you listen to the very end, there are quite a few fun comments from the students. This is a nice quick way to end a lesson. Especially after sitting still for a long time. It gives the students to use their rejoinders a bit, sometimes to learn some new highly compelling vocabulary, and to be the center of attention. Wins all around. I hope this video helps someone!
At the start of my teaching career, I had students pick Spanish names, solely because I liked doing it when I was in Spanish class. It helped me connect to the language, and helped me focus on Spanish when in class. Twelve years down the road, and the activity has become so much more than that, I was inspired to try using nicknames instead of solely Spanish names by Bryce Hedstrom. Read on to find out what I think can be in a "name".
Why give students Spanish nicknames?
I love this activity and find I get a lot of value from it but I would like to make the process move more quickly. Next year I am going to try it slightly differently. I plan to have students write 'I want' and their top 3 names on a half sheet of paper. I will put them all in a 'sorting hat' (yes I am borrowing this from Harry Potter) and pull student names out of the hat. We will give the names in a similar format to that described above, but I think we will be able to move more quickly this way, as I will just be pulling the next student instead of calling on students (and they all BEG to be the first, or the second, or the third to get their name.
I also plan to create a class mural with the nicknames later this year. I want each student to 'draw' their nickname and write it in Spanish on the same sheet of butcher paper, I can hang these in the halls for quite a while (and have lots of students reading compelling input as they walk through the halls).
I hope this helps you, let me know if you think of ways to improve it or extensions!
I came back from CiMidwest 2016 very early Sunday morning (early as in, my flight left at 5:30 am early). Due to timing, attending this conference was a major feat for me. It included sleeping an average of 3 to 4 hours a night several nights in a row, after one of the most tiring days of the year at school (Spanish Snow Ball tag, 20 games of tag, 12 minutes each, 500 kids. Last year I barely got off the couch all weekend after playing). Given the chance to do it all over again, I would in a heart beat. This conference was incredible, and I was very excited to be a part of it both as an attendee and as a presenter. I love learning from other teachers, and talking to them about what I am doing in the classroom. I learn so much both in sessions and as a presenter. I am even more excited to be in my classroom each time I attend something like this, I only wish I had more time so I could try all the things!!!
My first conference was this summer at IFLT 2016. I had considered attending either IFLT or NTPRS many times in the past, but the cost of a trip to a major conference had always seemed like more than I could spend. Then in an odd turn of events, I was able to use two years of teacher improvement money from my contract at once. I decided it was now or never, and registered and bought my tickets. I had heard equally amazing things about both conferences, but since NTPRS fell on the date of my 10th anniversary I chose to go to IFLT 2016. Although I expected to learn a lot from amazing people, there were a few things I didn't expect. First there were amazing presenters everywhere I turned. It was as if everyone I had been following and learning from online was in one place at the same time. It was hard to know where to go first. Not only did they all have incredibly thoughtful sessions, but they were all friendly and approachable too. They listened when people asked questions and had great advice. Coaching (mentoring by expert teachers), which seemed like it would be an intimidating experience, was also more like a warm hug. Instead of feeling like I was being reviewed, it was more about honoring the best of what each teacher did, and helping the work through difficult spots in their practice. It made me realize how nice it is to be complimented on your teaching, by others who get exactly what you are trying to achieve. The last big surprise for me was the sense of deep camaraderie I felt with the other teachers at the conference. Going to the conference without knowing anyone, I had expected to go back to my hotel room, swim, read and go to bed (as a mom to 3, eight hours of sleep and some alone time is not a bad thing). However, other than the first night of the conference, I spent each night out with people who felt more like lifelong friends then recent acquaintances. I barely slept at all, and returned home feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to get back into the classroom. I loved the conference, and didn't think anything could possibly compare.
Although it was only a 1 day experience, I found my amazing comparison in CiMidwest 2016. The presenters were all dedicated and passionate educators with strong messages. Each session was filled with laughter, activities I could take back to my classroom, and helped me come away with a deeper understanding of my practice. The presenters were engaging, knowledgeable, and approachable. Much like IFLT, my only complaint was that I was not able to be in ALL the sessions, or talk to everyone. Maybe in the future it could be 2 days (fingers crossed)? I would love to catch all the sessions. It was also great to attend a conference closer to home; I truly hope it becomes a yearly experience, it is wonderful to collaborate with educators from across the MidWest. I am very grateful to the organizers of the conference (pictured above). I can only begin to imagine what it took to pull this off so quickly (Grant Boulanger, Haiyun Lu, Elizabeth Dentlinger, Kimberly Huegerich, Kelly Ferguson, Carla Tarini, Yinghan Xue, Marta Yedina you are incredible. Thank you for the time you dedicated to "growing our story". Below is a brief write up from each session I attended, as well as a summary of a few sessions a colleague was able to attend that I missed.
The day started out with Dr. Krashen as the key note speaker. As always when speaking, he was funny, thought provoking and informative. He spoke that morning about a few 'hot topic' discussions from the IFLT/NTPRS Facebook group. Both the need to define what CI/TPRS teachers mean with their terminology, and about the beauty of non-targeted language instruction. He raised some very interesting points. Speaking to the fact that since high frequency words naturally are the most frequently used words we use, there is not a real need to target specific structures. He also pointed out that if we create stories or activities just to practice specific aspects of the language, our story can sometimes seemed forced, or lose it's ability to create interest in our learners. After reading about this online, and listening to Dr. Krashen speak I was ready to hear more. I only wish I had been able to attend his session as well. I did not get a chance to speak with Dr. Krashen, which is probably a good thing as I stand slightly in awe of his work and probably would have been a bit tongue-tied.
Dr. Krashen's keynote speech was the perfect lead into my first session with Justin Slocum Bailey. His session: Beyond Target Structures; The Fun and the Fruits of Non-Targeted CI was the perfect way to start the day. As a presenter Justin had energy, and made a personal connection with his audience. He gave concrete ways to use students own talents to cover non-targeted CI in a stress free and fun way. In addition, he gave ways to do this even if you are tied to certain grammar or vocabulary topics. Two big takeaways from his session were, "The odds of everyone in the room being ready to acquire the same target are 0." This speaks to the need to use the language our students are both ready for, and express a desire to learn. I also loved when he shared the following, "Foreign language teachers are not constrained by set syllabi. We can use any subject matter we want to, as long as it's compelling". This is why I find this method of teaching so exciting. As long as we can use sheltered vocabulary and grammar to teach our students, the sky is the limits! Justin was a dynamic presenter, and I hope I get the chance to hear him speak again in the future.
o. Next I attended Inspiring Higher-order Thinking Using Level-appropriate Language with Carol Gaab. This session was another home-run. Carol talked about ways to inspire higher level thinking in students, even with very basic language. Incorporating her ideas will help make it much easier to show higher level thinking in class in the target language. I also think getting students thinking on this level will help them 'forget' that they are learning a new language. Allowing them to learn subconsciously. One of the things Carol said that really struck me, is "Less is More! Being right is not all it's cracked up to be." Carol talked about using "possible or probably" in her classes, instead of "right or wrong". The affective filter goes up when you are wrong, and you stop learning when this happens. I had a chance to experience this first hand during the session, when Carol asked if someone could define 'pragmatics' my over tired brain heard 'pragmatic' (no s) and I raised my hand to define the wrong word. Carol was VERY kind at correcting me, but it did make me feel uncomfortable to be wrong in that setting. I didn't stop paying attention, but I can see how this would change the lesson with a student. I can't wait to use Carol's suggestions in the classroom! Carol and Kristy Placido also very generously donated copies of Kristy's novel, "Robo en la Noche" to me to give away as prizes during my session. Thank you Kristy and Carol!
After lunch it was time for my session, it was a small (roughly 8 attendees) but quality group. A takeaway I have from being a presenter is to put serious thought into the description of my session. I was too focused on the actual presentation. In the future I will describe what attendees will take away from the session, as well as open it to more people. I think the 'clever' title (I am not good at making clever titles) probably scared a few people away, as well as the fact that I said it was designated experienced for elementary. Many of the strategies covered will work for all age levels and all experience levels of teachers. I will also probably try to cover less in future presentations, so I can demo more, as that is where the fun comes in (I wanted to give everyone lots of takeaways for their classroom). Two of my main topics were classroom games, and Reader's Theater. Please click on the links to read more about each of these items. I asked my friend Jonathan (in the corner in blue in the above picture), to write up my session, plus one more that I missed. He did a wonderful job, so the words below are his, not mine.
Jonathan writes about my session:
Erica Peplinski - Elementary My Dear Watson - TPRS CI Elementary Style
When choosing the sessions to attend, I like most attendees, wanted to chose the most relevant sessions for me. Being an Elementary CI Spanish teacher, I was immediately drawn to Elementary My Dear Watson - TPRS CI Elementary Style. After finding out that my colleague was giving the presentation, I was even more excited. You see, I have worked with Erica for four years and she always is improving her art and adding more techniques to her repertoire. Even though she shares out her ideas and new findings with the department, I knew that I was going to learn something new.
Of course, she did not disappoint. She shared valuable CI techniques that only only the kids get excited about, but beg for more. My big take away was "Unicornio Malo," an elementary version of Martina Bex's Mafia. As with most of the techniques presented on in her session, Erica had us engaged, out of our seats, and playing the game. For me, I internalize the material when I actually do it instead of watching it. It was not only fun for me, but will be fun for my students when I try this game out in class this week.
Jonathan also was able to attend Amy Roe's session, another that I was sad to miss. He was kind enough to blog about it for me though, below are his words:
Another Elementary CI session, appropriately named "Elementary CI" caught my attention. When Amy Roe, the presenter, told me about her background - a high school teacher that has taught every grade level from preschool through university, I immediately knew that this session would be precisely for me. You see, I am in the exact same situation. I have taught every grade level from preschool through university as well, and just like her, I was a high school teacher that went to the middle school and then to elementary school. I hung on to every word that she said, since her nuggets of knowledge spoke directly to my heart. Even though the session was geared to the more beginner CI teachers, I found this invaluable even as a seasoned veteran. Amy demonstrated how she uses stories in class and then talked about "persona especial." Not only does Amy use this fantastic CI technique, but she co-creates stories about the "persona especial" and incorporates them into her classroom library. Of all the stories in her classroom library, the stories co-written by her students about her students are the most read in her classroom.
This CI Midwest conference was an exciting experience for me to collaborate with other CI teachers and improve myself as a CI teacher. I'm looking forward to attending the next conference to improve my skills and help my students acquire Spanish. - Jonathan Bowles
The brain craves novelty, and so I was excited for my next session with Janelle Afrasiab (Magic Tricks in the CI Classroom). Using a magic trick to spice up a story or to increase student interest is a great idea. Janelle walked us through several tricks during her session and then allowed us to practice with decks of cards she had brought. She was very kind when Jonathan and I messed up her pre-set deck by immediately shuffling the cards she put in front of us. She helped us fix our deck, and taught us magic for our classroom. Thanks Janelle!
My final session of the day was Turn Up the Volume! Using Music for Comprehensible Input with Rebecca Moulton. Rebecca's session was another amazing experience. She shared a step by step process for using music in the classroom to teach TPRS and CI. Not only did she speak to how to use music with beginning language learners, she also shared hands on activities and a multi-step process for success. Rebecca was a warm and creative presenter with several wonderful videos to share for all languages. She also took the time to connect with the people in her session, and shared creative extension activities for her music. I also appreciated that she had a list by the door for people to add their favorite music in different languages. It was long by the end of the day, and another valuable resource. One of the things Rebecca said that struck me was " What we learn with pleasure, we never forget". This couldn't be more true in my opinion, and Rebecca's session was very memorable for me. Can't wait to try her ideas in the classroom.
I wanted to be at all the sessions, but one of the sessions I was very sad to miss was Sr. Wooly's Circling with a Beat. I tried to find a video I could embed of his session, but was unable to make it work. I didn't attend this session as it was marked for beginners (and I figured it would be packed/this gave me time to attend to OTHER sessions I wanted to see) but it sounded like it was both fun and informative from next door. In case you are not a Sr. Wooly fan yet, I included one of his videos below. My students LOVE this song and learn it on their own at home after a showing in class.
Other sessions I was sad to miss include (but are not limited to) those pictured below, Mira Canion, Jim Tripp,Alina Filipescu, Mike Coxon, Grant Boulanger and more (oh my)!
I don't see how CiMidwest 2016 could have been better (unless it was longer and I had more time to attend ALL the sessions). Thank you very much to all the organizers, presenters, and attendees for such an amazing experience. I was honored to be a part of the first CiMidwest, and hope to be there for all future experiences as well. If you have not yet been to a conference, I highly recommend it. Not only will you be laugh and be inspired, but you will be surrounded by support and encouragement, which is something all educators need!
I struggled with whether or not to assign homework to my students. On the one hand, research shows that the more you hear and are exposed to comprehensible input, the more of a language you will acquire. On the other hand I think kids today are overworked and have less free time, creative play, and time with family than is good for them. Many recent studies show that homework does no good until students are in upper grades. Science has definitely come down on the side of sleep being crucial for learning, memory and the brain.
I was not sure how to win, until it occurred to me. If I was going to get students to practice outside of school it had to be with compelling input that would make them want to do it! It was out of a need to provide this to my students that the resource center of my website was born. If you are a Spanish teacher I recommend you check it out. Here you can find games, stories, cartoons, and music organized by topic or story. My student's homework? Simply to play on this site twice a week, in the buttons I have "open" for them at the top of my page (three or four specific links that re-inforce what we do in class). Students in 2nd or 3rd grade can also play on Sr. Wooly or Duo-lingo. Once a month I use a Google Form to have parents check-in to say if there students are playing (though I don't need that for Sr. Wooly or Duo-lingo as I can see student progress). I do a prize drawing for kids that participate. It is 100% voluntary. Does it work? On weeks when I finish a lesson early enough to preview the website in class (it's a motivator if they clean up quickly enough), I usually get 500-2000 hits (for 500 students). On weeks I don't preview it usually ranges from 200-500 hits. I rarely use it in class, other than if I have saved a movie talk on a homework page (I add Spanish subtitles when I can and students love to watch them at home). Students also love bragging about seeing something on the website before the other students. It comes in very handy for last minute sub plans if I am sick, since the students have so many appropriate options.
Parents often tell me that students LOVE practicing their Spanish this way at home. :)
The only other "homework" I ever give out is a story re-tell. I only do this with a story students know well. Before bringing it home students have either drawn the pictures for the story in a concept with words I put in for them (in younger grades), or written the words and drawn the pictures for the story with my help or on their own. In younger grades I let them change story details (name, what they want, where they go) later in the year when they are ready for it.
Before taking a store re-tell home students also listen to me read it (wrong on purpose, I pretend I didn't sleep well and need their help). They correct me when I make mistakes. Then they read it to their self in a 'whisper phone' which magnifies their own voice. Then they read it with a friend. Only then do I let them take it home. I give my students a plenty of time to do this, and they can do their re-tell with any older family member. They are allowed to do the re0tell in any manner they want. Some just re-tell with the pictures in their comic strip, others use family members, dolls, or stuffed animals. Parents are instructed not to correct their mistakes, and to celebrate their successes. I do this as young as first grade, and then response from parents is always phenomenal. If you'd like a free download of my basic blank comic strip, and/or parent letter please click here. I don't know where I got these originally, but I have modified them a bit over the years. :)
Reader's Theater is a great way to get in more repetitions. To be more successful, I recommend making sure the text you choose is both funny and compelling. It is also a good idea to do this with a text this students already learned. Below are some of my favorite ways to do Reader's Theater with students.
All The World's A Stage-
Karen Rowan did a wonderful presentation about this at IFLT last year. I am looking forward to trying this with my students. While I have done variations on this, Karen's presentation helped me see ways to make it more successful. In this version the teacher breaks students into groups. Each person in the group has a part (even if it is just a windmill or a door....my students always love being the door in stories). The teacher reads the script aloud, everyone acts at the same time. The teacher can rewind, pause, or fast forward, while reading. If you "pause" the action, you an also freeze one group and have everyone else listen and watch as you "circle the group in a picture talk." Taking pictures of groups when paused are great for putting up online. You can take pictures of different groups at different parts in the story to picture talk, and/or have a caption contest in the TL. You could also just give students copies of the pictures and allow them to put them in the correct order and add text.
Master Puppet Theater
Have students use dolls, stuffed animals, or puppets to re-enact a scene. A small table can be set up as a stage. Flashlights can be used for spot lights.
I learned about this variation (and the next) at a training with Craig Sheehy. In it, the teacher has the whole class stand up and act out a known text with their eyes shut. For example if the character in the text is walking along, the students walk along too. This is a great way to check for understanding. With the right class you could also videotape and re-watch. This would both be funny, but also a chance for more repetitions. Very confident students sometimes even want to try this in front of the group.
Theater with Style
I also learned this at a Craig Sheehy training, and watching others try it was hilarious. To add a little variety, have students act out the text in a different style (i.e. cowboy style, fairy style, etc). I will list my student's current favorites below, but we are always adding to this list as they come up with new ideas. They find this hilarious.
Ensemble Production (aka Rocky Horror Style)
Although I have only done this once, it was a favorite of my students. I will try to find other videos to do this with as well this year. To do this one you take a video that everyone can have a part in (even if it's just throwing snowballs or wind). The video I used for it was an older version of Jack Frost. We started this process by learning a lot of high frequency words. When we were ready, we movie talked the below video. Then students picked their parts (we "auditioned" for the part of Old Man Winter with evil laughs). On the day we 're-enacted' it, we all sat in a semi-circle. We'd watch a part and narrate it, and then we would act it out. Students would say things like "oh no" and "behind you" and "run" or "fast" at the appropriate parts. We also threw a lot of snowballs. I even borrowed a scooter with wheels on it from the gym for the sled ride at the end of the clip. You will see where that comes in if you watch the below video. I'll post videos of myself with my class if I get permission!
A Tufts University study shows that the brain (auditory cortex) responds differently to different types of sounds. Sounds that carry more intense emotions (which vary based on culture, personal experience, and many other factors) create greater neural response.
The last version I am excited to share with my students is "Sound Stage". I learned this technique in a wonderful session with Kristy Placido. You take a text, and add sound effects. In a younger class the teacher reads it, in a more advanced class students could read it. Students provide the sound effects for the text (walking feet, birds or insects, rushing water, the rustling of a bush, etc). The sound effects give us a more vivid mental image of what is happening, which in turn, should help us acquire more quickly. We did this as a competition at IFLT in Kristy's session, and even though everyone had the same text, it was still a lot of fun to do listen to all the groups.
I can't wait to try this with my students. I may encourage groups that are listening to close their eyes (and turn the lights off) for ambience. Check out the first few minutes of the two side by side videos of sharks below. See how different the sound from each video makes you feel about the sharks! Think of what infusing sound and music into your classroom can do for how your students can connect to the emotion!
The beginning of the school year is always an exciting and exhausting time. It seems like no matter how many things I get done, my to-do list just grows! I think it is important to make sure that you don't create teacher burnout before the new school year starts too. If you go into it exhausted you are in for a long year. I know that it makes me a better teacher when I go into my classroom refreshed and excited. I also try to spend as much time with my family as possible, because the first few weeks of school are such a whirl wind. I love being with my students, but I miss the snuggles from my own little monsters (said with the utmost affection).
Part of the reason there is so much to do, is that the first few weeks seem to always set the tone for what the students will expect for the rest of the school year. The relationship and climate you create with the students can make or break (or at least complicate) any classroom. Our brain works better when it's happy; and can only reach it's full learning potential when it is in a safe environment. Read more about that here. An important goal for me for the start of the year (and all year really) is that I want the students to feel joy and confidence in my room and in their language learning journey.
What do I do the first few weeks?
The first few weeks of school, my focus is on the following: building relationships with students, creating a warm and safe classroom environment, setting expectations to the school year, and getting the kids excited about Spanish. My favorite quotation about education is "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel." (Socrates). During these first few weeks, I want all of my students excited about the year to come, and ready to learn in a safe environment. What exactly do I do? Read on for a brief description of what I do with each grade level. I'm working on making units for the first few weeks of elementary (with all of the below worksheets available) . However, I'm a perfectionist and want them to be my best work, so it is taking me more time than I had anticipated; I will blog about them when I am done!
When (if) you read through the below lesson please take the amount I complete in each lesson with a grain of salt. I am an over planner, I like to have lots planned, and what often ends up happening, is that what I think will be done in 5 lessons takes 7 or 8 lessons. The lessons are only meant to progress if students are ready to do so.
I see my Kindergarten students at the end of their day. Some of them are away from Mom and Dad for the first time in their life; all of them are exhausted. I want their first Spanish experience to create happy memories and confidence in their abilities. I want them to LOVE Spanish and be ready for more.
Lesson 1 Kindergarten:
At this point Kindergarteners are close to the limit of their attention span for this point in the year. If they are still paying close attention I introduce them to my "friends" Pablo and Clara (see pictures below). I couldn't tell you exactly where the names come from. I made them up several years ago, mid-activity when a student asked me what the puppet's were named. There is no way I can change them now though because the students LOVE these puppets. They have taken on a whole life of their own. This is the first time students get to meet either of them. I introduce Pablo in the TL. "Here is my friend, Pablo!". Pablo wants to practice saying "hello" and "goodbye" in Spanish. The rest of the class is a giggle fest. "Pablo" pops up in silly places as the kids close their eyes. Sometimes he is under a desk, sometimes he is sitting next to a student (or on their cabeza), sometimes he is up in a tree. When the kids spot him we all yell (I'll be honest it's loud) "Hola" and then he does something silly and says "adiós" as he disappears behind my back to hide again. I could stretch this out the whole hour (but I don't ). This game usually fills up any remaining time the first day. If they need something else we have a dance party to "Unicornio Espacial", the only 'required' move is making a unicorn horn with their hands if they hear the word in the song. As students leave Pablo and I say "adiós" on the way out. I often get enthusiastic "adiós's" back, but I always get big smiles by this point. :)
Lesson 2 Kindergarten:
I start introducing the following word: salta, escribe, anda/camina, mira, señala, toca, se levanta, se sienta, rápido/despacio, una vez, dos veces, levanta/baja, aplaude, toma, escucha.
I also do what I call a 'soft' pre-test. My district requires data, and this means pre-tests (which I don't want to do with K), here is what I do instead. Before trying to connect any of the above words to meaning, I start with the first word and say does anyone know what 'salta' means? If they do know it, I record it quickly on my attendance grid(probably only native speakers). If not, then I show them the slideshow image below and do the action. Now all of my detectives have it (and I have my first point of data, none or only one or two students showed understading). Next all the students do the motion as I act it out. I only introduce about half these words at once, using the same basic process for each word. Then we do silly things like "Follow the leader" and whichever of these words the leader acts out, I say, and everyone else does (charades, or pictionary work too, depending on your group). You can also combine the words to do silly things, make silly stuffed animals do actions with the words, etc.
At this point we start filling out a very basic "Todo Sobre Mí". I give them the below worksheet. The first day I ONLY have them work the side on the left below with the boy and the girl. My goal is for them to try to write their name, to draw a picture of their self, and to practice some frequently used vocal (me llamo) (soy/chico/chica). I left the faces blank on purpose. Those that are fast processors can draw faces on them. They can also circle the word that matches their self (chico or chica). The second half of the worksheet (on the right) is for a different day. I say "goodbye" again at the door with Pablo and Clara (and collet the worksheet)..
What's next? Over the next few weeks we will continue to review/acquire the above vocabulary through games, and songs. We will also learn to count to 10 through music and counting a lot of silly things, including "bugs" that we hunt for with flashlights. I introduce the colors (oso café), go on a nature walk to draw the colors, and start our first few stories (one of them is about chicks, which gives us a chance to dance to Pollito Pío; and watch last year's Kindergarten Music Videos). Yes, I am crazy enough to make 20 fan music videos each year with my 500 students. It is a high light of the year for them, and thanks to a tip from Leslie Davison this year at IFLT I have ideas to make them even better next year. I even play Spanish Snowball tag with all 500 kids at one point (and then I crawl home afterwards and don't get off the floor all weekend). ;)
The intention when I started this blog was to cover all the grade levels in one post, but since just the few lessons of Kindergarten took me a week to put together, one at a time. More soon.... what is your favorite activity the first few weeks of school?
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.
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.