reflections Video

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.



  1. Thank you for sharing! Could you speak to how you limit the new language when you discuss a new word? I teach Chinese, and there are very few cognates, so I am concerned about giving them too many new, unfamiliar words in the process of creating a OWI in class. Thank you!

    1. I have seen this done marvelously in Japanese and the key is that the teacher limits the new language. You ask a simple question and accept a simple answer… if you ask what color is the object, all you want is a color, nothing else. The first couple of times through we ask the questions in both L1 and L2 and accept responses in L1 if the students don’t know the L2. I also have a poster in L1 that outlines the process, so when I am asking for a color I can just point at the poster while I speak in Spanish.

      With my Spanish 1 students, I ask, “What color is it? ¿De qué color es?” and then allow the students to respond in English. I do not translate their responses, I let them answer and then choose one response. “Ah… it is white. (if we already established that it is a car then I would say) Es un coche BLANCO. What does BLANCO mean? (everyone says WHITE)” and then I would ask a lot of follow up questions so that students can hear the new vocab over and over. Either-Or questions are preferred when students do not have a firm foundation in the language: (in Spanish I would say) “Is the car black or is the car white? It is a car, right? Is it a white hamburger? No, it is not a white hamburger, it is a white car. So, do we have a white hamburger car? No, it is just a normal car, and it is white. There is a white car.”

      Once students are processing the phrase “there is a white car” easily, then I ask the next question in the OWI process. The more details you get, the more you are recycling slowly to make sure everyone can process the words. You do not have to go through every characteristic, you might only get through the first four and that is okay. You might work for 20 minutes and eventually have an illustration of “a very big white car that is very sad”. Don´t push the students beyond what they can process easily.

      1. Thank you! I was wanting to do this, so this helps! It helps to let them answer in English and not have to accept all their answers, or at least not use all their answers. Do you ever draw the image- like provide a generic car in the example you gave and then add on as you discuss? Have you had more success where you provide the image or where you use student generated images?

  2. Thank you so much for sharing video…I especially appreciate seeing the process of eliciting the story from the group and writing it up on the board. Your posts are really valuable for me. Gracias!

  3. Very cool!! I would love for students to come up with their own story. I love the idea. When I taught in middle school, we did it all the time. For some reason now that I am in high school, I have done it with my students. This is inspiring. Thank you!

  4. Love this! Can you say a bit more about this class? Just curious, what year of Spanish, age, how many students are in the class? What are your expectations for students regarding suggestions in English? Do you assess students’ understanding of the story for a grade eventually? Struggling as a teacher who learned about CI last year how I can do this. Gracias!

    1. This is a first year, Spanish 1 class. Most students are high school freshman. At the beginning of the year their suggestions were all in English and I would move much slower as I translated and then used the expressions over and over until they clearly responded to the Spanish. At this point you can see that I am trying to conduct the class all in Spanish but sometimes we get swept up in the story. Assessment for understanding is fundamental to this method. When I have students turn their back to the board and ask students questions, that is an assessment. When I ask follow-up or quick comprehension questions within the flow of the story, that is a very important assessment. The most important assessments are informal and are used in the moment to help me teach (either I proceed or I circle the detail a bit until I get the desired response). I do sometimes give exit quizzes, just so that I can get something in the grade book, but I wait until everyone is very clear on the story. Every 2-3 weeks the students complete a quick write, which is another assessment. I am not eager to force speaking… I let that emerge when students are ready and you will hear that there are plenty of students who, without any coercion, are eager to speak. Forcing them to speak raises the affective filter and changes the playful nature of the class. They do speak in pairs, however, when they retell the story.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.