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there is a special doorway into a child’s world

“The best way I have found of getting to a place where everyone knows and approves of each other in a classroom, to form a community in an authentic sense, is by sharing images created by the students to use as a basis for stories. That’s the glue.” – Ben Slavic

Ben & Tina´s book, A Natural Approach to Stories , has just become available today on Teacher´s Discovery. I have so much affection for this approach to stories that it is hard for me to single out a few bullet points as to why you should use this book as your guide to CI. The approach described in this book is substantial enough to entirely replace my previous (already effective) CI curriculum. After a year of Ben´s approach my students are performing better, and happier, than ever before. And it is not just my experience: I have recently learned that two teachers in my CI meet-up group (which focuses on Ben´s approach) have earned the Teacher of the Year award at their respective schools. Take a look at Cameron Taylor´s blog to read about his experiences with the power of stories rooted in One Word Images and Invisibles.

As I leave my district in California behind this June, I will be sure to leave a hard copy of A Natural Approach to Stories, placing it in a discreet place in the hopes that the teacher who replaces me will discover it.

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Recipe for a fantastic year

Pre-planned targets, emergent targets, Light-circling, heavy-circling and not targeting at all: they all have their place in a level 1 classroom

A few years ago, when all of my stories had targets, we created a fun class story called Frankie el mentiroso. You can see the original lesson here. Looking at that post helps me see how far I have come in these past years. This is a story that I created with a Spanish 3 class. This year, about seven months into Spanish 1, my students are just sitting back and enjoying hearing this story.

Back in those days I targeted obsessively, mistakenly believing that students acquire what I target and mostly do not acquire what I do not target. I must have been confused if I had read Stephen Krashen´s suggestion that most of what we acquire is almost certainly non-targeted input. I was too close to the grammar syllabus that I was in the process of rejecting to be able to recognize that a vocabulary syllabus is just as absurd.

My experiences this year working mostly with emergent targets has flipped everything on its head. While before I would carefully lay a foundation of essential structures, this year working mostly with One Word Images (OWIs) throughout the first semester has ironically led to a stronger foundation due to incredible student interest generated by the process. Here is my recipe for an awesome year:

(1) I started the year with student interviews and quickly getting students familiar with the third person of the Super 7 verbs. I purposely chose interview questions that featured these highest of high-frequency verbs. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually used this power point with the interview questions in both Spanish (large letters) and English (small letters). During August kids would just turn around and read the question I asked… until they did not need to. It happened naturally while we were busy paying attention to their answers.

(2) Early in the semester I taught my students the process of creating OWIs. We made them twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. These might take 20 minutes each time; the rest of the time was used on interviews (one student could easily take another 20 minutes) and other CI activities. OWIs are definitely the WOW! activity that I incorporated into my teaching this year, and I am not the only one enamored with this powerful technique. Take a look at one of Cameron Taylor´s blog posts about using OWIs with his daughter. Important: we ended each class with a short Write & Discuss activity to summarize what happened in class that day and then added that writing to an FVR binder.

(3) Very quickly kids wanted to start expanding their OWIs into stories, which we did on Tuesdays and Fridays. Both OWIs and the narrative vignettes that emerged on the following day depended heavily on the Super 7 verbs, but there was also a lot of emergent structures. When, for example, students wanted a fountain from which blue chocolate flows, I needed to slowly circle the new information (una fuente de que salía chocolate azul… notice how I carefully simplified the language). Here you can see a story they made in early September (a month into the school year) about that fountain; if this had been a pre-planned class story the story would have been a hopeless failure. Look at how complicated it is! But this OWI turned class story was THEIR story unlike any TPRS story I have ever worked with before. It is fascinating how powerful the OWI technique is.

(4) By mid-October I was occasionally sprinkling in a pre-planned target structure. Mostly this was by “asking” one of the stories that I have used before. In the past I prefaced these targeted lessons with a lot of PQA; this year I would just work with the main text in one single class period. If the lesson required more than one period then I put it off and waited until later, when we could finish the targeted lesson in one period. Here is an example of a “one class” targeted story that we did to focus on the word ningún. The first power point took most of one whole class. We then read the additional story “Panqueques” about two weeks later, and that was also completed in one class period.

(5) But I was also telling completely non-targeted stories via the Story Listening technique, as you can see in this lesson.

(6) We also started watching El Internado in January using an emergent approach. No way I am going to pre-teach all of those structures!! Instead I look at each scene and ask myself, “What do the characters want?” That question is enough to simplify the tv show to make it comprehensible to my students… no need to doddle translating all of that dialogue!!

(7) A tremendous amount of reading is essential, starting in the first semester with class-created texts being added to the FVR binders every day. By September I was doing short, simple book talks (mostly on Wednesdays) about the books in my FVR library that they would eventually start reading independently. By January we started FVR for the first 5-10 minutes of class… students who do not feel confident reading from the TPRS books pick up the FVR binders that we created during first semester and reread texts that we created together.

Watch the video below and look at how easily students are interacting with a story that I originally created for a level three class. As I watch this, I can recognize that there is no such thing as “hard structures”. After telling them the story in a story listening style presentation, students read a copy of the story on their own. Afterwards I quickly read the story aloud, clarifying any remaining doubts. By slowly exposing them to (a) a lot of non-targeted/emergent-targeted input as well as (b) a well-curated foundation of targeted high frequency input, my students are all superstars.

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Wafflina, an Invisibles Spanish 1 lesson

wafflina(Click here if you just want to watch the video of my lesson)

Wafflina is a character that one of my students created when we had a few minutes the day before Thanksgiving break. She is a pink waffle that lives in IHOP and laughs at all of the pancakes that get eaten there. She does not realize that humans eat waffles too.

Before the class period I was flipping through my pile of characters and I found this picture. One of my students had written a description of her Invisibles character on the back of the paper. I started the class with the picture projected against the board and I supplied a few details that came from my student´s imagination. There is something about a student-generated illustration that immediately draws other students into the drama of the class. Teaching with Ben Slavic´s Invisibles method, we use student drawn characters to co-create little vignettes in class. When I have a pre-planned TPRS story I am usually exhausted at the end of a school day, but after a day of Invisibles I feel invigorated and ready to go live my life at the end of the school day. As you will see in the video, I am not working terribly hard at moving the story forward. The kids do most of the work… I just keep it comprehensible and in Spanish.

Prior to the video we spent 5 minutes on FVR (these level 1 students are just starting independent reading). At the end of the video, after writing up our story on the board, I had students turn their backs towards the board and I asked them comprehension questions. However in the action of turning their chairs around about a half dozen students placed their chairs within sight of the camera, so I had to delete that last section. You will hear me frequently consulting with the time keeper, a student who moves our stories along so that they are completed within one class period. In this class we agreed to spend 5 minutes per section. I have a poster with the four sections of the story on my back wall. In the first section we determine Who? Where? and With whom?, in the second section we flesh out the problem that the characters face, in the third section there is an attempt to solve the problem but that attempt fails, and in the last 5 minutes of the story there is a successful resolution to the story.

The next day we used a variety of activities to reprocess the story. Jillane Baros, a gifted teacher who posts often on the facebook CI-Lift Off page, recently shared a quick list of CI activities to process a reading, which you can download here. I use Textivate a lot… often rather than writing on the board I will write directly into Textivate so that it saves our class stories for the future. Every 2-3 weeks my students create a quick write on their own using phrases that they have acquired from these class stories, but creating their own narratives. Through these quick writes I observe the natural development of their second language. Check out the CI-Liftoff facebook page or the videos posted on youtube to see other teachers adapting this method to their own classroom.


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Teacher Appreciation lottery for Month of May

I have been thinking about how to show my appreciation to the many people who have supported me since I started this blog. After a lot of thought I have hit upon an idea that I hope will make a big difference in the life of one lucky teacher. I am talking about something that could save a career!

benAt the end of next August my school is going to host Ben Slavic for a three day intensive workshop. There will be a maximum of twenty participants, which means that everyone will get A LOT of coaching from one of the true masters of TPRS. But it gets even better; if you have seen Ben before then you know that he is amazing, but you have probably not seen his newest approach which he tells me is so tight and well-built that it eliminates the uncertainty of PQA. Tina Hargaden reports that, after Ben´s three day intensive workshop, she finally feels like she is doing TPRS the way it is meant to be done. I am ready to bring my teaching up to a new level, and I want you to be there with me.

What I am offering to one lucky subscriber is a $250 gift certificate towards the $400 cost of the training. I am sure this is going to be of most interest to subscribers from Southern California, but if you want to come from further away then you are more than welcome. All you have to do is subscribe to my blog and then leave a comment on THIS blog post with your name and email address. I will not publish the comments so that you do not get spammed– the comment is just so I can get in touch with you. On May 27th I will place all of those names in a bowl and randomly choose one lucky winner. If you are already a subscriber then just leave a comment with your name and email address.

My school is located in Lake Elsinore, California; when I used to live in San Diego the commute was 73 minutes and traffic was never a concern. For those of you living in Orange County, I hear that we are roughly an hour away from Disneyland. The workshop will take place from Tuesday, August 30th to Thursday, September 1. You can find more information about the workshop by following this link. If you want to attend regardless of whether you win the gift certificate, please sign up quick because there are only 12 spaces available to out of district teachers.

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An unusual class job

Many people have written about the positive impacts of creating class community through class jobs (for instance, click here and scroll down to “Classroom management” on Bryce Hedstrom’s website for a very comprehensive list of class jobs or click here to read a post on the public part of Ben Slavic’s PLC blog). Here is one additional job that we created in my classroom that has added an great element of fun: the class cat.

cat class 2Whenever someone not from our class community comes into the classroom, the class cat starts whispering the words gato gato gato (cat cat cat) in a steady voice to inform me that there is someone new in the classroom. I may be deeply absorbed in the story we are creating… or I may just want to finish whatever we are doing, but the class comes first! The rest of the class, however, is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for their signal to act. They are waiting for me to utter the phrase “había un gato”, at which point every student says “MEOW” at exactly the same time in a loud, confident voice. At that point I address our visitor as if nothing unusual had happened. My kids really enjoy this.

One of my colleagues, Tammy Cullen, has taken this further. Every several weeks she changes class jobs and, with that, the class votes on a new animal. Of course she then teaches them the Spanish voice for each animal so that the class remains in the target language whenever a visitor arrives. Here are a few that they have done:

el pollito (baby chick): pío pío pío

la paloma (dove): cucurrucú

el pavo (turkey): gluglú

el gallo (rooster): quiquiriquí

el burro (donkey): ji jo

el perro (dog): guau guau

la rana (frog): croac croac

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My Matava scripts

Three original stories:

Lots of beginning CI teachers use Matava scripts, and for a good reason. Anne Matava wrote two volumes of simple stories in English that lend themselves perfectly to the novice who is first learning how to “ask a story”. If you google “Matava scripts” you´ll find plenty of information on how to craft a story (including this masterful post by Martina Bex) and even this link to purchase them from Ben Slavic´s website.

My modest contribution is linked below, which you can download for free. If you are a Spanish teacher using the Matava scripts you´ll want some sort of reading that recycles the vocabulary to maximize acquisition of target structures. Here are a couple of readings that I made to loosely accompany the scripts. I wrote them for a level 2 class; even without the original Matava scripts they would make great stand-alone homework assignments or emergency substitute plans if you want your students to do more reading. Who doesn´t want more reading?

niño charro

Update January 22, 2014: I updated this first story into a three day lesson with a movietalk, PQA, a class story and a tie in to a Beyoncé song. Click here to see the updated lesson

(A) One of my favorite stories that I have written accompanies the story “Try It On!” (page 13). It is about a smart boy who is known only for his stylish clothing. The story comes with many, many questions repeating target structures (mimicking a session of circling) and space for students to draw pictures (which I used the next day for retells under a document camera). The amount of new vocabulary structures presented is too much if you have just presented the Matava story, but just right if the students are further along. My new target structures were tenía puesto, como si fuera, and se dio cuenta. We were recycling se puso and se quitó. Finally I was able to work a piece of cultural knowledge into this reading as the hat that the boy wears is that of a Mexican charro.  Click here to download Try it on.

(B) This half-page story accompanies “The Baby Story” (page 9) and recycles the vocabulary closely. It also includes questions and space for drawings. I believe I used this in class after asking our own version, but it would work as a homework assignment too. Click here to download The baby story.

(C) My very first attempt at writing a story was supposed to accompany “An Important Test” (page 6), but as I look at this I see that I was mostly responding to the needs of my class and giving them lots of reinforcement of the phrases iba, se dijo and le dijo. It is a good enough story that it made my student Trenton a minor celebrity among my classes. I am leaving all of the files as word documents so that you can change them; you´ll definitely want to change the name of the student, teacher and city to make one of your students famous. It comes with questions and space for pictures. Click here to download Trenton wants to skip class.doc