Man’s Best Friend

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Do you have pets?  Are they important in your life?  Natalie, my wonder rescue dog in the photo above (with her favorite bone, of course) has been my constant companion for the last 10 years.  She’s getting up in years now, but is still my shadow almost everywhere we go.  She is very protective of us and our kids, and though she is a marshmallow at heart, she will make it clear that all unknown people and squirrels had better stay clear of her people.

Many of our students have deep attachments to their pets too, and I’m trying something new this year in my novice classes to leverage this attachment and innate interest in animals.  We are working on the structures of tengo/tienes/tiene, quiere, se llama, and tiene # años as well as introducing the concepts of physical descriptions.  This fits into the greater framework of a unit on family, with the goal of “I can describe my pets.”

I’m thinking that by starting with pets, we have something that is highly interesting, focused, and concrete to use as our things to describe before we launch into family as a whole–which can get a little messy.  Pets only come in a few colors, with a few places they can live, and a limited range of descriptors…but people bring more options!  My hope is that by doing this we will be able to work on descriptions and topics like adjective agreement in a way that makes sense to the students before turning them loose on families.

Here’s an outline of our three day mini-unit so far:

  1. I read Karen Rowan’s book El Secreto de Isabela  to students as it was projected on the screen.  At various points through the book we stopped to ask questions like:
    1. ¿Sacas muchas fotografías?  ¿Sacas fotos de animales?  ¿Sacas muchos “selfies”?
    2. ¿Tienes animales en casa?  ¿Cuántos animales tienes?  ¿Quieres animales?  ¿Cuántos animales quieres?  ¿Tienes un perro?  ¿Quieres un perro?
    3. ¿Comes helado?  ¿Cuál helado es tu favorito?
  2. We used Martina Bex’s listening/drawing dictation forms as I read three key sentences from the story to students.
  3. Drawing inspiration from this post, I narrated a slide show of 10 common pets in the US… and then talked about some common pets in other countries.  They will never look at guinea pigs the same way again!  I love this aspect of bringing in culture to this topic.
  4. Whiteboard drawing vocabulary review
  5. Fast Five activity:  After modeling the question/answer sequence of “do you have”/”Yes, I have…/No, I don’t have…”, each student interviewed five other students about whether or not they had several of the pets we had discussed.  They took notes on the answers (aka collected data!) they received.  After brief modeling of the words pero and también in sentences, students wrote a 3-5 sentence summary of the results of their surveys.
  6. We worked with Sie7e’s awesome song called Tengo tu amor with activities from the amazing Zachary Jones.  This song has 20+ repetitions of tengo/tiene and is a class favorite from last year.
  7.  Tomorrow we will start describing our pets’ coloring, place of residence, size, and name.  For students who don’t have a pet, I ask them to pick one that they had in the past, or they can temporarily “adopt” one from a friend or family member.  If they still can’t choose one, they can describe a stuffed animal that they have/had.  Students will write a brief description of their pet and submit it for editing and feedback.
  8. We will read an infographic about pet ownership & expenses.  I can’t find the original, but it was in the NY Times and I translated it to Spanish.  Later in the week we will read another brief passage about pet ownership in other countries for comparison.
  9. We will watch and enjoy 🙂  the Pollito Pío video.

 

The round up:

  • Language skills addressed:  listening, speaking, reading, writing
  • Modes addressed:  interpretive, interpersonal, presentational
  • Cultural aspects:  products and perspectives
  • Opportunities for feedback/formative assessment:  in class q&a, fast five summary, dictation, descriptions of pets

The take away:

  • This is a keeper!  Students are engaged, and are quickly absorbing some key skills that will be necessary for future units.  The cultural aspects are also very interesting to many students.

Want more ideas for using animals/pets in class?  Check out this collection from Zachary Jones.

 

El Mundo es un Pañuelo

Back in the mid-90’s, before I knew about things like “comprehensible input”, “authentic resources”, or really, much about language acquisition, I still had a sense that the textbook way of language learning wasn’t really working for me and my students.  This lingering, nagging feeling was the impetus for what has become an unending quest to hone this craft of language learning and teaching.  I just completed year 21 of teaching, and I continue to grow as a learner and a teacher nearly every day… and I’m not done yet.

In the late 1990’s, I had the opportunity to go to a workshop by Pam Kaatz that dealt with something that she called “Building Artificial Realities”.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, this workshop would introduce me to teaching with comprehensible input and a teaching style that promoted acquisition.  I still teach a version of the lesson over 15 years later, though it also has 15 years’ worth of refinements.  I was working on it again last week and solicited some help from my Twitter PLN to expand it even more.  In today’s post, I’ll attempt to explain this unit of study that has been so successful for me.

The premise of this unit is that students receive a new identity from a new country and then are asked questions based on that identity.  In the course of this unit (which I use early in level 1), students will be exposed to a healthy list of fundamental concepts, all in the target language:

  • several countries (Japan, Italy, Spain, England, US, Mexico, Chile, Russia, Germany, Canada, & Argentina)
  • their capitals
  • languages spoken
  • national sport
  • money used
  • typical food
  • continents
  • nationalities
  • pronunciation
  • subject pronouns
  • basic present tense conjugations of be, eat, play, live, use, visit, speak, have, want to go to
  • question words
  • basic connector words (and, but, also, neither…nor)
  • a landmark for each country
  • flag of each country
    • colors
    • numbers
    • design elements (star, stripe, symbol)

Clearly, this is a unit that takes a while!  To begin, I take my laminated flags for each of the countries and we practice pronouncing their names in Spanish. Though it might seem odd to use these countries as opposed to all Spanish-speaking countries, they are strategically chosen to introduce students to the sounds of Spanish:  ñ in España, j in Japón (and accents too!), rr in Inglaterra, x in México, g in Argentina, and all the vowels too.  We can build their language ears with sounds of Frahhhnciahhhh and Roooooosia instead of the short a’s and u’s that we use in American English.  As we go through the countries, we also talk about the flags:  what colors, what designs, quantities, and even which direction they go, all through modeling and spiraling questions.  We start with yes/no questions (“Is there white on this flag?”), followed by either/or questions (“Is this red or white on the flag?”), and then progressing into more complex questions that finally result in sentence-length answers.

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Our next step is to adopt temporary new identities by country groups.  I hang the large laminated flags around the room, and give students small flag cards like the ones above to assign them a new home country.  Each country group will have 3-4 students in it.  Once there, I model how to say “I am from…” and complete it with the country of the new groups.  So I say “Yo soy de los Estados Unidos…¿de dónde eres tú?”  And we move slowly through the groups calling on people semi-randomly, ensuring that everyone understands AND gets a chance to answer.  Once we have a good handle on where we are from, I add in the languages by modeling the names of the languages and then saying “Yo soy de los Estados Unidos y yo hablo inglés y español.  ¿Cuáles lenguas hablas tú?” and we repeat the process.

Over the first few weeks we continue to spiral through the concepts, reviewing as needed, until we have worked through the topics outlined above.  The process is generally the same: picture supported modeling, followed by question and answers that spiral from yes/no up through complete sentences, and eventually to comparison and contrast.  They learn to say that they live in the capital city, they eat a typical food, visit a famous landmark, use their currency, have a passport, speak their language, what nationality they are (complete with adjective agreement), and play a particular sport.  In the course of the questioning, they also get a good foundation in several question words:  Where do you live?  What do you eat? Which do you prefer?  Who lives in Paris?

Students “adopt” a variety of countries over the unit, so they are exposed to a variety of countries; for some students, this is new material in any language. They pick up conjugation and sentence syntax through intense “real” practice.  Though we start with I/you question and answers, we quickly expand into 3rd person scenarios (he is from Spain, but they are from France) and then also wrap around to we v. they to round out the conjugations.  By the time we are done, students have a sense of enough content that we can use it as an anchor all year long.  We continue to return to these concepts over and over.  When we start working on new verbs, it’s a quick, but effective review to remind them of the patterns they learned in their country groups, and it sticks with them.  The tentacles of this lesson wind their way through most of the lessons that we do in one form or another. As a side benefit I also find that these country names, places, and content come up over and over in the non-textbook resources that we use, and this lesson pays off then too.  When we talk about vacationing in España, Alemania usually pops up again thanks to Spain’s popularity as a vacation spot.

All told, El Mundo es un Pañuelo unit takes us about 2-3 weeks to do well, but we usually do other things along with it to keep it fresh and to allow the content to sink in.  This fall I think I’ll pair it with some World Cup activities and music to kick things off with a bang! But then who knows? As I continue to read, explore, and grow this summer, the plan may well change by then, but all for the better.  Will you join me on the adventure?

…with liberty and justice for all

My intermediate level class begins each day with the whole school recitation of the US Pledge of Allegiance.  Over the last few weeks, the words “with liberty and justice for all” have been particularly poignant as we have been exploring some social justice issues linked to La Guerra Sucia in Argentina and Chile, as well as Guatemala.  To me, one of the most important things I can teach my students is to think critically and with empathy for others. Along the way we will learn a lot of Spanish, but I want my students to be better citizens as a result of our studies as well.

In the course of this unit we incorporated music, film, reading, tweeting with another class, and a live Skype conversation, and I have seen impressive growth in my students’ skills as a result.  Here’s how we did it:

  1. Pinterest:  It’s important to me that students see the beauty of the places that we study as well as the struggles.  We introduced the topic by having students look for information on Argentina and Chile and pin photos to their Pinterest accounts.  They shared them with each other in class, narrating what they were showing and why it interested them.
  2. I was greatly assisted by Kara Jacobs’ work here.
  3. Stations for exploring the theme:  We collaborated with Kristy Placido’s class, completing her stations activities.  More information is here.
  4. the movie Cautiva:  Again in conjunction with Kristy Placido, we watched the film Cautiva.  The 800 mile gap between our schools disappeared through the magic of technology and our students discussed the film at various stopping points.  The characters in Cautiva continued to weave through our studies as we talked about events being similar to what had happened to Sofia and her friends and family.
  5. TPRS Publishing’s La Guerra Sucia:  I love this book because it is compelling–I had to remind the kids who read ahead to not spoil it for the others–and is just enough of a challenge to help students grow in their language.  Like the film, it also gives us a framework around which we can base the study of other materials.
  6. Maria Hinojosa’s interviews of Robert Cox (as recommended by the TPRS teacher’s guide) and Mercedes Doretti.  Doretti’s organization is working world wide to identify remains of people who were victims of mass killings and genocide, including in Guatemala.  Though these interviews were in English, I believe that their worth lies in further connecting students to the story.
  7. What Happened at Dos Erres:  This story from This American Life has haunted me since the day I heard it, and I instantly knew that I wanted to find a way to use it in class.  There is a Spanish print edition of the story here, but we simply did not have enough time to work through this and do the other things that I wanted to include.  I also recognize that it is beyond these students’  i+1 reading level. Maybe next time?  The story is also available as an eBook in Spanish or English here.
  8. Music: Maná’s “Desapariciones“; Sting’s “Ellas Danzan Solas“; Bono’s “Homenaje a las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo“.  These songs ended up leading us on a lengthy conversation about music in the 80’s and 90’s, because my students didn’t know who Sting, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, or the Police were… so I had to teach them that too.  (Thank you YouTube!).  I’ve wanted to teach this unit since hearing Ellas Danzan Solas several years ago, so this was a dream come true moment.
  9. Google Earth:  We “visited” several of the places from the book via Google Earth on the projection screen, and discovered that from La Casa Rosada, the pictures were taken at night if you head in one direction and in the day in the other directions!
  10. Skype!:  We had the pleasure of a Skype conversation in Spanish with the amazing Brittany Peterson who told of her travels, study, and journalistic work in Argentina and Chile, including this story, this one,  and especially this one.  Brittany started her Spanish studies as a sophomore in another high school in our district, and I loved the aspect of students seeing someone “like them” using the language.  By the way, Brittany was in Chile and on the ground during the Chilean spring student uprising, and covered the topic extensively.  If you are teaching this topic, search out her coverage–it is excellent!  One of my favorite questions from the students was when they asked if she had watched El Internado–they were so nervous to talk throughout the Skype call, but forgot their nervousness when it came to this topic due to their passion for it.
  11. Assessment:  We used Amy Lenord’s Conversation Circle for assessing speaking skills. This is hands-down one of my favorite tools  for intermediate classes.  Our written assessment has some music interpretation with writing and a writing from TPRS Publishing’s teacher’s guide for the novel.
  12. Grammar:  Oh, yes, there was some grammar too.  We wove perfect tenses and subjunctive throughout the unit.

All in all, this was a long unit, but a good one.  Students are reporting that they feel more confident in their skills, and it shows when they write and speak.  They loved the Conversation Circle and Skype, and have asked for specific topics to be addressed that they recognize as weaknesses/breakdown points.  They are clearly making connections with other classes–one of the threads in a recent conversation was comparing themes in Orwell’s 1984 with politics and society in our studied countries.  They were also shocked to hear that while I had read it, it was still futuristic when I did.  They brought up comparisons to the Holocaust and visits to the Holocaust Memorial when they saw the slogan “Nunca más” on Madres de la Plaza de Mayo materials.

…con libertad y justicia para todos.  I have no doubt that this phrase has taken on new meaning for this group of students, and I’m honored to have been on this journey with them.

Roll Out the Red Carpet! (part 2)

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In the previous post, I described some of the activities that I used with my students to work through describing our favorite movies. To me, though the proof was in the pudding when we got to the end of the unit as evidenced by their assessments.  Our goals in the form of “I can” statements for this unit were:

  • I can describe the activities that I do in my spare time.
  • I can describe movies and shows that I’ve seen.
  • I can ask and understand about movies and shows that others have seen.
  • I can make plans to go out with friends.

The assessments for this unit took on four forms: informal listening assessment with feedback provided, reading assessment based on authentic resources, and presentational assessment about an impressive film, and an interpersonal assessment in the form of a guided, but improvised conversation.  More details follow…

presentational assessment

Students were asked to select a film that was meaningful to them, and to present about it.  I borrowed a template from Crystal Barragán, and developed questions that walked students through the basic skeleton of a movie review.   You can download it here.  Students started a first draft in class, were asked to finish it overnight if it needed more work, and then submitted it for feedback. I handed it back and we spent some time revising and answering their questions.

Next they received the assignment of presenting their film in class a couple of days later, but I still had one more trick up my sleeve.  They would only be able to use a symbolic notecard for their presentations; that is, a notecard with no words other than names. Instead, they can draw symbols, stick figures, etc. to represent what they want to say, but cannot read directly from the card.  I have found this technique to be very helpful in providing notes for students as they create increasingly complex presentations but yet requiring them to know their content instead of just reading the card to us.  Here’s a sample of a card from a student–can you guess which film he was describing?

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Finally came presentation day, and we tried a new technique that was a real winner!  Martina Bex had written about simultaneous presentations, and I decided to try it out.  Overall, students loved it. Their comments after the assessment indicated that it reduced their anxiety about presenting and that it gave them additional practice, and this was evident in their body language.  They were relaxed and chatting, not stressed and fretting.  This process also resulted in the first time all year that all students met the proficiency target on the first attempt.  It has been a long journey getting to this point and we’ve had many obstacles to overcome.  Now it’s time to build on our progress!

interpretive assessment/interpersonal assessment

1.  Students completed a brief reading assessment based on reading information about a theater in Madrid as well as movie offerings.   2.   One of the other major objectives of this unit was to work on asking original questions of others. Amy Lenord’s questions workshop was very helpful in developing an approach to doing this successfully. After completing the reading assessment, students wrote out some questions they might ask in order to invite another person to see one of those films.These questions were not graded, but served as a security blanket for students who wanted it on their oral interpersonal assessment.  I called students back in pairs and asked one of them to invite the other to a movie on the reading assessment page and another activity (like going to eat), including other arrangements like time, place, and my favorite original contribution:  who’s driving.

Next up: we complete our free time unit with the topic of tv–especially the concept of binge watching a series at a time.  We’ll pull some things that still need work from the movie unit into some targeted practice in this unit to see if maybe we can’t clean ’em up a little.

Until then: happy adventuring! Only 9 school Mondays left!