The Blog

Repost: A story for demonstratives

I’ve been blogging for a long time, longer than most of you have been reading here, and it occurs to me someone might benefit from a repost once in a while.  Here’s one from early 2009.

I’ve come up with a story that in both Spanish 1 and 2 has worked really well with teaching demonstratives. We’ve worked with those quite a bit for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been amazed at how fast my students have become consistent and proficient at using them.

Foto: Mariah Demarco

There is a girl, her name is Goldilocks, she has blond hair, and she’s however old the students decide (reviewing beginner phrases). She’s wearing a (color) dress. Is she sad? No, she’s happy. She has a friend, her friend is an animal, he’s a little bear, and his name is Charlie.

(I draw these two on the left side of the board, and then draw three long arcs at about equal widths across the board to indicate space close to them, a bit farther, and farthest away.)

Goldilocks wants lots of things. Charlie has lots of things in his house. Charlie offers her these things. Goldilocks wants soup.

Charlie says, ‘Do you want this soup’? Does Goldilocks want this soup? No, this soup is too hot. (repeat for that soup, which is too cold) (repeat for that soup over there, which is perfect).

Now what does Goldilocks need for her soup?  She needs spoons.  She wants one one for each hand to give us the opportunity to practice the plural.  Two are too red, two are too green, and two are perfectly yellow, the color of her hair.

What is good with soup?  She wants bread.  One is too big, another too small, but the third just right.

We did this in Spanish 1 talking about home and eating, but you can use anything. In Spanish 2 we were working on dropping the noun to get esto, ésos, etc, and we used gorra, pantuflas, and something else that escapes me at the moment.

Believe it or not, once you’ve gotten high-schoolers to accept the fact that where a second language is concerned, they’re like kindergarteners, they’ll tolerate just about anything–including nursery rhymes!

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November 12, 2013 1 Comment

Seven keys to a great story

It’s no secret – I believe the single best way to keep students’ attention, deliver comprehensible input, frame new content, and interact with vocabulary is storytelling.

You may not think you are a natural storyteller, but you are.  Everyone is.  Telling stories is a part of life.  You tell your spouse the crazy things your child said in the car after school today.  You tell your best friend the plot of the movie you saw last week.  You tell your colleague about something that happened to you when you were a child.

That said, it does take some practice to simply make up stories that frame your content and keep your students’ attention, but I promise it’s worth it.  When you see the magic that storytelling injects into your classroom, you’ll never let go of it.  Here’s what I think are the seven keys to a great story.

  • Goals
    Stories aren’t just for fun.  The purpose is to deliver content and get your students interacting with it.  How can the story be aligned with your current theme?  How can you use your target vocabulary? How can you get students to notice the definite article changes, or plurals, or demonstratives, or whatever?
  • Student involvement
    Make sure every story involves your students in a very positive light.  So someone’s having a party and Brad Pitt is there but so is Chuck and which one is more handsome? Chuck, of course.  All the girls want to dance with Chuck.  And everyone’s dancing because Julia’s playing guitar and everyone knows she plays guitar better than Santana. And so on.
  • Questions
    I believe carefully designed questioning is the single greatest characteristic of an effective teacher in any discipline, but it’s of paramount importance in the world language classroom.  Ask and keep asking, and use your questions to let students design parts of the story that aren’t necessary to your target features.  Who’s at the party? Who’s with Chuck? What are they eating? How much are they eating? Who threw it all up?
  • Strange characters
    Last year I thought I was leaving my school and I was throwing away a lot of visuals and other things I hadn’t used in a long time.  One of the things I put in the trash was a posterboard visual of a penguin.  One of my former students, a college student who works in after-school care now, rescued the penguin from the trash, took a picture of it, tweeted at other former students, and before I knew it I was being reprimanded on social media for throwing away such a precious piece of Spanish class nostalgia.  These college students remember (and care) that once upon a time a Martian penguin named Jeffrey was a regular character in their Spanish class stories.  (Yes, this is the penguin in the Musicuentos logo.)
    It doesn’t matter what the character is – let your student pick it.  But a turtle who can play tennis or a Transformer with a personal vendetta against Walmart can go a long way to creating long-term memory.
  • Simplicity
    You know your students aren’t ready for the level of complexity that exists even in a child’s picture book.  Water down the language until you absolutely know it’s comprehensible.  Challenging, but comprehensible.
  • Repetition
    Research shows that people need to hear vocabulary in context dozens of times in order for it to become part of their active vocabulary.  Imagine the repetitions required to acquire the ability to manipulate verbs and the like.
    Think about children’s stories – I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.  Old MacDonald had a farm. I love you this much, said the nut brown hare.  Where is baby’s belly button? Good night, moon.  On Monday, the caterpillar ate through one red apple.  So repetitive. Even when the content is different, the sentence structure is the same.  The questions are often formed the same way.  Why? Because that’s how children acquire language.  Through repetitious play with language.
    It’s fairly easy to design stories with effective repetition by thinking of a question that leads to your learning target.  Working with verbs?  Think about subject, verb, location. Who dances on the couch?  Who dances by the pool? Who dances in the kitchen? Who eats in the bathroom? Who eats with the dogs?
  • An unexpected ending
    I let my students choose a lot of the story, but I rarely let them choose the end, especially at the beginning of the year when they’re not used to how outrageous I want them to be in choosing story elements.  Think about it – right at the end, when you’ve worked through your content and storyline, and you’re about to lose their attention, wham, Chuck is abducted from the party by fire-breathing aliens.  Julia plays the guitar so fast it bursts into flames.  As it turns out, the whole story was just a dream Sam the somnolent student had last period dozing in math class.  Recapture attention and create more memory by creating a memorable ending.

Happy storytelling!

Foto: Imagen en acción

 

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September 17, 2013 8 Comments

Cortometraje for narration

One of our major goals for Spanish 3 is to refine narration.  We believe this is a critical function of language.  Teenagers do it all the time.  They talk about what they did over the weekend, over the summer, yesterday in math class.  They tell stories about the amazing shot at the basketball game or the kid who threw up in the cafeteria.  They describe the plot of the movie they saw last week or the book they finished last night.  A great deal of life’s language is narrating stories.

Here’s an activity we did to practice narration.

    1. Show the cortometraje “La leyenda del Espantapájaros.”  First, show it with no audio and ask students what happened.
    2. Offer key vocabulary like espantapájaros and cenizas and molina.
    3. Show the video again, with the audio, and then ask key comprehension questions.
    4. Watch the clip one last time with the audio, pausing to point out key events and the verbs used to talk about them.
    5. Chart the film in the form of a timeline.  Use a symbol such as a triangle for description or setting the scene, and one such as an exclamation point for key actions in the storyline.  Use a symbol such as a right-facing arrow to add the sequencing phrases used like “esa misma noche,” an important proficiency-pushing skill in storytelling.  Put description above the line and actions below.
    6. Have students retell the story using their timelines.

Extension:

Use this film as a starting point to investigate and share other legends.

Transition into students doing a similar timeline of a story in their life or a good story they’ve heard so they can share with classmates while practicing sequencing and narration.

If you teach a language other than Spanish, please share a similar short film others could use for that language.

 

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March 21, 2013 6 Comments

A storytelling success story

In honor of last night’s #langchat topic, I want to share something that happened in one of my kindergarten classes this week.

At my school, we have mandatory Spanish from age 3 in preschool through 10th grade. Until 2nd grade, however, students only receive between 15 and 20 minutes of instruction per week. I’ve been told many times that this is a waste of my time, and I know there’s very little you can do in that amount of time, but as I’ve said before, that time compounded year after year as students stay at our school could produce some significant acquisition.

In preschool, I teach a story in the fall and a story in the spring. @PreKlanguages gave me a crash-course in teaching preschool that rocked my world: start with a character and a color. Add an action. Add a song. Repeat every week. So that’s what we do. It takes us an entire semester to go through our fall story: there’s the grass, and it’s green. On the grass there’s a house. It’s red. Who lives in the house? Elmo? No, the pollito. He’s yellow (song: “Los pollitos”). One day he takes a walk. He walks fast. He walks slow.It continues from there but you get the idea.Fast forward to kindergarten. At this point the kids come to me and I can use my projector, so we have a powerpoint story and a lot of YouTube videos and playing online games, etc. In late winter – this week – the bear in our story takes a walk to the park where he finds a dad and girl, and a mom and boy. So I start telling the story and doing the action -el oso camina- and that word barely gets out of my mouth when I hear a little guy up front say “espacio” (despacio).

It almost took my breath away, and you have to understand why. This boy was in my preschool last year and hasn’t heard that word from me in almost a year (and I know he doesn’t receive any Spanish input outside my class). He has behavior problems. He has attention problems. Sometimes it seems he has processing problems. And he produced a comprehensible word in an appropriate context when I hadn’t used it with the bear and actually didn’t intend to.Children learn language because people are constantly telling them stories. Why wouldn’t this work in SLA as well?
photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

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February 3, 2012 2 Comments

Activity 1: Cuento poco a poco

Telling a story by categories

photo by flamingoo
This idea came from a session at CSC on theater that was generally so awful that I left halfway through. Really, it was so bad it was painful. But, I came away with this activity that I thought I could make work in my classroom.

In “Cuento poco a poco,” I use the fruit machine chooser to randomly choose a student to start. Then, the student has to begin a story with something from the first category. So, if it is ‘things that are blue,’ the student may say, ‘En un planeta azul vivía un mónstruo’ or something else according to his/her ability. Then the next student picks up the story by adding a detail from the next category. Make sense? These are the categories I started with:

• Cosas que son verdes• Un sonido extraño
• Cosas que son cuadrados
• Cosas que son altos
• Una acción inesperada
• Un pariente
• Un hábito curioso
• Una persona en un show de televisión
• Un fin triste
The first time we did this, I found an unexpected benefit: the first time around, some students added a random detail that seemed disjointed and didn’t actually further the story, like “the monkey had a grandfather who was a giraffe.” So I explained that students should incorporate all the details together to make a coherent story. It made them listen to each other more and use other students’ details to come up with a logical continuity. Sounds like subtle AP practice to me. :) We changed random words to whatever they wanted (green to red, tall to fat, sad to tragic, etc.) and began again, with a different student starting.Thoughts?

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March 29, 2011 5 Comments

And the winner is…

This year I picked up some early childhood Spanish to free up some time for our K-8 teacher to increase his instruction in our grades 6-8. So I teach 3-year-olds through 1st grade. I get 10 minutes per week with 3-year-olds, 15 minutes with 4-year-olds, and 20 minutes with kindergarten and 1st grade.

The first reaction I get from language teachers at this is laughter. What can you do in 15 minutes per week? Nothing.

I laugh back. Not nothing. Something big, or so I have found. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s a breakthrough for me.

A little more background–the private school where I teach is connected to a church with a very strong emphasis on adoption, and we have a lot of internationally adopted
students in our school. This year in my younger classes I have, for example, two four-year-old Russians and a 1st-grader also from Russia. I had a few questions at the beginning of the year, people asking me if I thought them taking Spanish would hinder their English acquisition. I told them, bah, absolutely not. Bring on the languages, right?

All–and I mean 100%–of my training is in secondary education. So I started this blind. I knew it needed to be immersion. I knew it needed to include stories and questions. Songs. I knew last year they learned a few words of vocabulary and did a color sheet and I knew that wasn’t the route I wanted to take. But the format? Clueless. After my first day in preschool I sent a shout-out for help to @PreKlanguages who called me and gave me a 30-minute crash course in teaching preschool Spanish.

So, we’re building a story. There’s a red house on a green hill. The yellow chick lives in the red house (Los pollitos dicen pío pío pío). One day he takes a walk and finds a blue lake. He drinks the water. He sees his friend the brown frog. The brown frog jumps 10 times and sings “Cucú.” And so on. It’s crazy fun.

For 10 weeks I’ve been asking, ¿Quién vive en la casa? Providing options. Superman? No. ¿Tú? No. Your teacher (name)? No. ¡El pollito vive en la casa! Waiting for someone to answer. So far, nothing. Which doesn’t bother me, it’s natural acquisition and you just wait for it to take its course.

Until yesterday. I’m in one of my four-year-old classes and telling the story. Here’s the red house. ¿Quién vive en la casa?

And there it is. One of the little boys pipes up in all seriousness, “Pollito.” Like “pozhito” with a rasp on the ll and all. I jumped up and high-fived him and nearly went through the roof.

And the winner is…

One of the Russian adopted boys.

Oh and today? In a three-year-old class I asked, ¿De qué color es la casa? And a little girl answers,

Roja.

She flipped the vowel to feminine. They have never done that before.

That’s what 15 minutes a week can give you.

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October 29, 2010 2 Comments

Books recommended as ‘easy’

I found a helpful post on Amazon.com where someone recommends easy novels to read while learning Spanish. I hope to order them and see whether they might be good for Spanish 2, since I’m all about feeding kids authentic rather than learner Spanish from the beginning.

One is La Tierra del Fuego, and the other is El Clan de la Loba/La Guerra de las Brujas.

For Bethanie, who asked a long time ago, and anyone else who cares.

**update**
Here are a couple of other options recommended to me via Twitter and Amazon:
A children’s sensation in Spain, Manolito Gafotas (if you can find enough copies en español)
The last of the Manolito series, Manolito Tiene un Secreto
Adventure novel Limpieza de sangre
El pirata Garrapata (and sequels) - I’ve been able to read part of this book since the original post.  I don’t believe it’s “easy” at all and I don’t recommend it for novice learners because it’s packed with satirical language and double meanings.  Everyone’s name means something else, or a combination of things, and the dialogue between characters goes back and forth in constant misunderstandings and rephrasings of plays on words.  It’s fun, but not for a novice.

For novels specifically written with language learners in mind, I do recommend any novels put out by TPRS Publishing and of course, you can also check out the Blaine Ray TPRS novels.

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September 23, 2010 2 Comments

My level 1 and 2 stories (for Bethanie, and whomever else)

A little while ago I made a post about pleasure reading that elicited a few comments from Bethanie:

Bethanie said…

Could you elaborate on what you do with the reading guides/palabras claves? I would like to incorporate more long reading into my classes in addition to the shorter pieces I already use, but struggle with some of the same things you mentioned.

Also, if you could select books for levels 1 and 2, what would you pick?

Thanks!

24 November, 2009 21:08

Sarita said…

Hi Bethanie! Now I just hand the students the guides/palabras claves and they turn them in on the due date. A couple of tips that are important, I think, are 1) to reduce frustration, read together at first to teach them how to find the important things without looking up every word (make sure you understand subject/verb, leave the sentence as soon as you have the gist of it, leave the paragraph as soon as you have the gist, understand every part of a sentence when you know the answer to a ? is there); 2) give them the page numbers of the answers to the questions and make sure they’re chronological; 3) give a list of high-frequency words from the chapter that they’re not likely to know; and 4) rehash the chapter in a TPRS/circling way when they turn in the guide to gauge who understood what.
As for books for lower levels, have you seen the TPRS books by Blaine Ray et al? You can start here. Good luck!

25 November, 2009 16:07

Bethanie said…

Hi Sarita,
Thanks for your response. I have a few of the Blaine Ray novels, and I think they are a great idea to consider. I find teaching this type of reading to be a greater challenge at the lower levels (1-2) than at the upper levels (3+), so I appreciate the ideas that you’ve shared.

01 December, 2009 22:47

When I first started giving my students stories with comprehension questions as assessment, I remember wishing there were more available for free on the internet, especially for lower-level students. I’m still not aware of anyone publishing or offering such stories on the internet, but at least I’d like to offer mine to Bethanie and anyone else who wants to use them. A few notes about them:
1-I believe that students pay more attention with a lower affective filter (and therefore acquire more) if the stories are interesting, funny, weird, or all of the above.
2-Long stories are frustrating so none is longer than 1 page.
3-Sorry for any mistakes/misprints. Feel free to make them your own.
4-They deliberately use vocabulary my students learned in that particular quarter. You may want to replace words to match your students’ vocabulary.
5-The stories that are one page long with questions on the other page, I scored as tests.
6-There are a couple of stories I wrote for them to answer questions on (quiz grade) and then they filled in blanks with different details to make the story their own (daily grade) and exchanged with another student(s) who answered the questions based on the new story (quiz grade).

Level 1 stories
Level 2 stories

Hope you find them useful!

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January 7, 2010 3 Comments

A case for pleasure reading

Stephen Krashen has done a ton of research on what he calls Free Voluntary Reading. Catch up on his research by checking it out on his website. Basically, the premise is that kids learn more (and language learners acquire more vocabulary) when reading at an appropriate leve and something that is pleasurable to them. I was so won over by the research in this area that last year I decided my students were going to read a fiction book outside of class. Mi criteria were that the book had to be related to Latin culture in some way, preferably by a Latino/a author. As a result, my students read Cajas de cartón in the fall of Spanish 3, Esperanza renace in the spring of Spanish 3, and Ciudad de las bestias in AP Spanish. Watching my AP Spanish students read now, after reading the two books last year, I can see how much their reading comprehension has jumped. Also, they could tell you countless stories of how certain vocabulary are imprinted in their memories because of reoccurrences in context in the books, which they like.

Last year I had them read the chapter and then take an open-book quiz in class the day the chapter was due. There were some problems with that, especially that it was very time-consuming and I value my in-class time too much. So this year, they are doing reading guides instead, and this has worked wonderfully. As a taste, here is the list of Palabras Claves and here is the Reading Guide for Chapter 10 of Ciudad. I’m a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel, so if you want any or all of the reading guides (and vocab lists) message me on twitter at secottrell and I’ll upload them all to my Google Docs.

Get kids reading level-appropriate fun stories–it works!

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November 11, 2009 4 Comments

El campesino y la princesa (a Spanish 3 story test, with a bit of subjunctive)

Today I gave my 3rd quarter story test in Spanish 3. It’s about a peasant and a princess who get married despite the facts that they just met and her father doesn’t approve. It uses a lot of the vocab we’ve worked on in Spanish 3 this quarter. There’s a mistake on the question part–I left a de out I think–but if there’s anything else I blame it on sleep deprivation, lol.

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March 9, 2009 0 Comments