An alternative to El Internado with far fewer questionable scenes
I have something special for those of you using El Gran Hotel in class: not only is the episode 2 student guide being released today, but this and future guides benefit from a fruitful collaboration with the amazing Kara Jacobs. Those who have worked with me know that I work s l o w l y. Kara has added focus to the project, pushing the text to be more appropriate for an upper level class while maintaining the elements of simplicity and comprehensibility that make these guides so effective for language learners. I am really excited to finally have the reading resources I need to make watching El Gran Hotel a super-powered language acquisition activity.
This guide is being released with a three page introduction explaining how I make an authentic novela comprehensible to intermediate students. I have reproduced that introduction in its entirety below, where you can see a sample of our work. Also included in the guide is a cultural note about gender in the early 20th century, a link to a Quizlet Live! game, a crossword puzzle and a cartoon activity that could be used as a substitute plan at any point during the show. You can see all currently available guides for El Gran Hotel by following this link.
Copied below is the introduction to the episode 2 guide.
Thank you for purchasing this study guide. This is the first fruit from what I hope to be a lengthy collaboration with the incredible Kara Jacobs. I think you will see that Kara´s guidance has pushed the text to be more appropriate for an upper level class while maintaining the elements of simplicity and comprehensibility that make these guides so effective for language learners. You can, of course, use this guide any way you like. However we have a few suggestions on how to make the most of this highly compelling video series. Take a look at this example of a scene from episode 2:
First you will notice that we have numbered the scenes from 1-19 and provide exact Netflix time stamps for each set of scenes. We recommend that you teach one set of scenes at a time, planning on spending anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes on a single set. Or more, if you act out the scenes. When I teach an episode of El Gran Hotel I usually plan on spending the last 20 minutes of class, three or four times per week, so that we progress through the episode slowly.
Before watching a scene, I chose one of the bold-faced expressions within the reading to target so that my students thoroughly acquire it. In the example above I might choose quiere que le dé. Students do not have to have any prior experience with the subjunctive. In fact, do not use this as an opportunity to lecture about the subjunctive or how to conjugate a verb in the subjunctive. Just write the entire phrase on the board with a translation in English and start using the phrase with your class.
It is best to start with easy questions that can be answered with either a sí or no. The goal of these first few minutes is to get your students to process the target phrase quickly, not to get them to actually produce the phrase. I might pick up an apple that I happen to have on my desk and ask a student, ¿quieres una manzana? Regardless of how the student responds, don´t give her the apple! Now there is tension as I hold this apple that the student either wants or does not want. I hold it just out of reach; while staring at the student I ask, “clase, quiere (Student name) que yo le dé… una manzana?” Say the phrase slowly at first, pointing at the board and pausing before completing the question. A Spanish 1 student could answer that question! Modify your questions by using a variety of question words: ¿Quién quiere que yo le dé (point at the board and pause) una manzana? Increase the speed of your speech as students begin to respond with accuracy and without hesitation. ¿Cuál estudiante quiere que yo le dé trescientos manzanas? ¿Por qué Samantha quiere que yo le dé una manzana muy pequeña?
When you change the verb conjugation, casually write it on the board with an English translation. If I asked, ¿Quiero que tú me des un regalo?, then I would write me des on the board. I would probably even ask (in English) “What does the s on the end of the verb mean?” Immediately slow down if students show any hesitation or confusion; return back to the board and start again slowly. You will be done when students respond confidently, accurately and without hesitation without looking at the board. Watch their eyes; you will see hesitation in their eyes if they are not ready.
Mike´s comment: I believe that a 3 second question in English calling attention to the way form influences the meaning of a word is a powerful way to teach grammar. “What does the s on the end of the verb mean?” “What does the emos on the end of the verb mean?” “What does aste at the end of the verb mean?” Whether focus on form has any impact on language acquisition is still hotly debated among researchers and denied by some linguists. If you decide to use grammar pop-ups, use them sparingly. Your main goal before viewing the scene is to get your students to process the target structure at the speed of a native speaker, not produce it or analyze it.
You may have noticed that having acquired the bolded target structures are not required to actually read the text provided. You can substitute your own target structure appropriate to your class. Throughout the series we have written the scene descriptions with high-frequency target structures that are appropriate to what we consider to be level three work. Our experiences, prejudices and biases lead us to emphasize high frequency idioms and a variety of so-called “advanced” verb constructions (such as perfect tenses, subjunctive phrases, future and conditional, si clauses). However the actual text of the scene summary is written in a simpler form to ensure that the text is easy reading for your students. It is supposed to be easy reading; if your students have to struggle to decode the text then you need to spend more time slowly discussing the scene beforehand. After having taught classes centered on novelas for several years, I am convinced that the reading is the motor that leads to truly profound language acquisition in the upper levels. While the video is compelling and grabs students’ attention like no other activity, I firmly believe that it is the repetitive, easy reading (accompanied by similar teacher talk) that cements the structure of the language into their minds.
While watching the scene I like to stop the video mid-scene whenever I can use the target structure to describe what is occurring. I allow a student to sit at my computer (a highly-coveted class job) while I stand next to the screen. I raise my hand and tap the screen whenever I want the student to pause the video. I have found this to be more effective than sitting in the back; students pay close attention when I am in front and make eye contact. Being in the front also allows me to easily point at parts of the scene that I want to discuss. Sometimes I talk a lot, sometimes I talk very little, but the indisputable rule of watching a telenovela in class is that the teacher is in control of the pace. Students will want to move quickly through scenes, getting the gist by observing gestures and watching scenes with plenty of action. El Gran Hotel is compelling in part because it is visually appealing, but just watching large chunks does not aid language acquisition. The compelling nature of the show is a pretext to talk, talk, and talk about it in class. Highly comprehensible input drives language acquisition; do not fool yourself into thinking that the rapid, educated speech of the actors is highly comprehensible to your students. It is the teacher´s speech, spoken slower and simplified, that provides the CI.
After watching the scene I project the reading against the white screen (I rarely print out these packets). Often I will give a few minutes for students to read on their own before we read it together as a class. Sometimes we read it as a chorus so that no single student is singled out on the first pass through. In my classroom we have an agreed upon gesture, a punch to an open hand, which signifies that a student does not understand something. The moment I hear a smack I go back and clarify the last phrase read. After the choral reading I am free to ask anyone to translate any portion of the text, or ask pointed questions. I leave the text projected against the screen to encourage students to reread during the Q & A period. I might ask ¿Qué le gusta doña Teresa? and then either ask the entire class by saying ¿clase? or picking a specific student, who would respond el título de nobleza. Circling through the question words quickly allows me to effectively exploit the text before moving on to the next scene or activity: ¿Cuántas personas con títulos de nobleza hay en la familia Alarcón? ¿Es Alfredo un hombre común como Diego? ¿Qué tiene Alfredo que a doña Teresa no le gusta? ¿Dónde está doña Teresa? ¿Quién es débil, Diego o Alfredo? Be careful with questions that begin with ¿por qué? as these are the easiest to ask and hardest for students to answer. Instead seek a quick, easy rhythm to your questioning so that students experience a lot of success understanding this novela.
I personally never watch two scenes in a row without pausing for discussion. Even if the post-scene discussion is limited to twenty seconds, skipping straight to the next scene is a slippery slope that will train students to whine in order to always watch multiple scenes! There is always something to say, even if it is just a physical description of the background. If students insist on whining then I pull out a pre-printed set of the cartoon assignment at the end of this packet, which I keep for emergencies and substitute plans. It can be used at any point and takes my students between thirty and forty-five minutes to complete in silence.
Other activities that you can do after watching the scene include writing a summary as a whole class activity; I describe how I do that in the last several paragraphs of this blog post: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/internado-episode-3-student-guide-now-posted/. Occasionally I will ask students to complete a 5 to 10 minute fluency write about a recent part of the show. The best description of how and why to assign fluency writes was written by Judith Dubois on her blog, TPRS Witch: http://tprs-witch.com/fluency-writing-2/.
A few other useful blog posts illustrating how I use these guides include this one: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/1a-tips-on-how-to-teach-el-internado/, as well as this one that discusses whether you should use subtitles while watching the scene: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/should-i-show-the-subtitles-while-watching-el-internado-in-class/ and this last one even includes a video of me teaching El Internado (a different Spanish tv program) to one of my Spanish 1 classes: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/nothing-is-a-stretch-for-your-students/.
Finally, the last two resources in this packet can be used as (easy) final assessments, substitute assignments or, in the case of the crossword puzzle, a twist on the running dictation activity that I describe on my blog: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/crosswords-lame-or-fabulous/
Further resources: The techniques that I have described are not unique to me! If you have not heard of TPRS, or if you dismissed it years ago before it had developed into the powerful method it now is, you should join the thousands of second language instructors who have been formally trained at a TPRS workshop. Look at Blaine Ray´s website for a list of workshops (http://tprsbooks.org/tprs-workshops/) or consider attending one of the national week-long conferences during the month of July (NTPRS or iFLT), or even one of the international conferences (google “TPRS conference Agen France” or “TPRS conference Netherlands”).
Thanks for purchasing this study guide,
Kara Jacobs & Mike Peto