Tuesday, January 26, 2016


A reader asked me to post about teaching family. I like to use famous people and make a fictitious family because I do not know all the social relationships and I could easily offend someone making them part of the family or not. Also, being a TPRS/CI teacher, it has to be comprehensible and all in the target language. Those of you who are familiar with TPRS/CI, this is a variation of ask-a-story.

By the time I get to this part of the lesson, the students know a sufficient amount of descriptive vocabulary and some very basic family words. This makes the first part review and we slow it down when getting into more detailed family members. One of my goals for this lesson is to focus on the N de N method of possession: la hija de Michelle.

Start small and work towards more complex. As stated earlier, students already know these words so it is merely review and accessing their background knowledge. TPRS involves lots of questioning using comprehensible input. So, I will start off with...

[pointing to Barack] "Clase, ¿Es Barack un hombre o una mujer?" Sí, es un hombre. [We can then briefly describe Barack] "Clase, ¿Tiene Barack un esposo?" No, Barack no tiene esposo. Barack tiene una esposa. "¿Cómo se llama la esposa de Barack?" Sí, la esposa de Barack se llama Michelle. "¿Es Barack un esposo o una esposa de Michelle?" Sí, Barack es un esposo; es el esposo de Michelle. This line of questions will continue until I feel most of the class is comfortable with these words. Then we go to the next picture...

It's interesting that some students don't realize that Barack and Michelle are from the previous picture so I will make a few quick questions again about their relationship. Then I add in questions for "hijas":

"Clase, ¿Quién es la esposa de Barack, Malia o Michelle?" Sí, Michelle es la esposa de Barack. "¿Michelle y Barack tienen hijos o hijas?" Sí, tienen hijas. "¿Cómo se llaman las hijas de Michelle?" Sí, las hijas de Michelle se llaman Malia y Sasha. "¿Cómo se llaman las hijas de Barack?" Sí las hijas de Barack se llaman Malia y Sasha. "¿Es Malia un hijo o una hija de Barack?" Sí Malia es la hija de Barack. This questioning continues until I feel most of the class is comfortable with these words. I may ask them to turn to a partner and use the words "esposo, padre, hijo", or forms of the words, to describe the First Family.

This is the point where obviously it is no longer an accurate family tree for the Obamas. This is where TPRS becomes really fun! The above line of questions continues for this vocabulary. In this diagram, Beyonce is the sister to Barack and Bill is the brother to Michelle. Once they start to get comfortable with the vocabulary, you can add in any additional details or descriptions that you have been working on to start to create a storyline for the family. The crazier the better is what TPRS is all about. Be sure to return to earlier vocabulary to continue circling the information and get more aural repetitions. I like to pretend I'm getting confused and say things like Barack is married to Beyonce so that they have to correct me, or that Sasha is the sister of Bill.

A basic storyline has ensued and now we have additional family members. Whenever a new set of vocabulary is introduced, be sure to circle the relationships using the N de N possession as much as possible. In this diagram, Morgan and Diana are the parents of Barack and Beyonce. However, Michelle and Bill's parents have already passed. Yes, this makes for an interesting plot twist to the story. Reasons for their passing can become very comical, especially given that they are talking about the First Family. Sometimes I will include "in-laws" if I have a particularly advanced group of kids that need the challenge. Other times I feel accomplished to just get the basics done.

The final vocabulary has come. Gary is the son of Bill, the cousin of Malia and Sasha, and if you want, the nephew of Barack and Michelle. Gary, el primo, is the final family to be added so he is the one that resolves the problem presented in the story created.

Now that you have a quasi-complete family tree, you can easily review the vocabulary from today, including the N de N possession. Kids will remember the details of this diagram, including the vocabulary, because it is so bizarre and interesting to them.

For an assessment, simply giving them this family tree and having them explain it without the use of the vocabulary in view is a great way to have them show what they know. Asking them questions (orally or in writing) about the family tree is another way. Doing a quick write or a proficiency write looking just at the family tree will also provide you with a valid assessment.

Obviously any vocabulary you wanted to include could be substituted, along with other grammatical structures and people.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Café y conversación

When reflecting on our own personal language studies, what is the number one activity that helped us learn the most? Of course: speaking and living in the native environment. So, isn't it logical that we try to bring that to our students who can't or won't travel abroad? or at minimum simulate this environment?

I find random conversation one way to help hook students into learning. When we have authentic conversation about topics that students want to talk about, they ask better questions and learn at a higher level. This is why it is so important to put students in this situation. When they will need to use the skills we are teaching them, it will likely be speaking first. Culturally, Hispanics love to talk; they will sit around at lunch for a couple hours and just socialize, they will meet someone new and talk for an extended amount of time. This creates a perfect bonding time for the students to create their own culture and safe place in class.

Living in the midwest, we see days that Mother Nature wreaks havoc on our roads so school is delayed or cancelled. These are obviously not planned so all of a sudden our schedule is interrupted and lesson plans need to be changed. This is when I call a "Día de Chocolate".

My room is always supplied with cocoa (complete with marshmallows), cappuccino, tea, and cider. There is also a coffee pot that has only ever seen water. I
replenish the supplies as needed and on our Días de Chocolate, I will bring in cookies, cinnamon rolls, bars, or some other treat as well. Often times students will bring in treats. Due to many schools having treat policies, the students usually bring in prepackaged treats, but I accept any treats anyone wants to make. This year I do have a couple students who are on a gluten-free diet so I prepare an alternative. The students choose to eat/drink; I never force or require anything.

I am also an avid weather watcher so I know days ahead if there is weather coming. I will warn students if it's obvious that there may be a late start. "Yeah, guys I hear tomorrow there is bad weather coming. Remember if we have a late start, it's a Hot Chocolate Day! This means you have to bring a mug and be willing to chat." When the call is made from the superintendent and/or we see it on TV, I send out a message to the students that it is officially a "Día de Chocolate".

Hot Cocoa Day
Most students do indeed bring their mug, but I do have a small selection of mugs for students to use as long as they wash it and return it before the end of class. Upon entering, I remind them that it's Hot Cocoa Day so they go to the counter, sanitize their hands, and prepare their beverage and snack. The desks are arranged in a circle to be more conducive to conversation. I will start the conversation off with small talk about what they did this morning with their extra two hours, how the drive in was, what they saw (cars in the ditch, etc), and other particular details of their morning. Once you get them talking, they will bring up other topics and the conversation continues throughout the class period. Some groups are more chatty than others, but I have never had a group that would just sit there and say nothing. The culture is created on day one that the expectation is 100% Spanish. They know that in order to improve their skills, they need to speak the language.

Students really do improve and they really do start asking good questions.
In the end, this is a favorite activity of nearly all students.

Student comments
In an end-of-the-course evaluation, these were a handful of the comments I received from students about what they enjoyed the most about the class.

"Keep the same open environment. I was never embarrassed to say an announcement or talk out loud in class because I knew that she would help me if I needed it."
"She should keep having hot chocolate days and bringing in treats!"
"To apply food into the class it makes learning delicious."
"I liked that your teaching style was less serious but still made us get the work done that we needed to so that mind set was nice."
"When we got in a circle and just talked in Spanish for the whole day."
"I can't think of a favorite because I liked almost everything we did in this class. I enjoyed listening to the songs, reading the books, learning tons of new vocab and eating chocolate and having fun."
"The locked box game or having hot chocolate days and talking."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Slap Jack

Remember the good ole days of playing slap jack with your best friend? This led to a game to distinguish the present and past tenses, something they have been struggling with in class.

1) Students receive a pack of cards that have different forms of present and past-tense verbs. One student flips the top card.
2) If it reveals a past tense form, they slap it.
3) Before earning the card, the recipient would have to translate it using the correct form and tense of the word shown. If the partner agrees with the translation, he takes all cards.

For example, here are the cards revealed:
1) estaba slapped, translated, and won
2) es nothing done
3) van nothing done
4) fui  slapped, translated, and won last 3 cards (es, va, fui)

The student with the most cards at the end, wins!

This activity could be expanded to a writing activity or even a speaking activity.

Writing: Students choose 5 of the verbs that they "won" and create an original story using them, similar to a quickwrite or a proficiency write.

Speaking: Using their cards, create a progressive story. One student begins by using their card to create the first sentence. The partner creates the second sentence. The story continues as they use their cards. Once out of cards, the student creates their own sentences to continue the story until both partners finish using their cards.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Peer Editing

This past week, the end of a grading period and the end of the course, students have been preparing a movie version of a novel we have been reading in class. One thing that I wanted them to be able to do is become more aware of errors that they are making. One way to do this is to be able to recognize and correct errors in their writing.

Since this is a multiday project that they are working on, they need to be able to self-pace. I developed a form for them to complete each day. This helps them identify their successes for the day and also their plan for tomorrow.

Once the script was written, each student had to choose two peers to help them edit their script. This is not the traditional way that I have done peer edits, but I really like this. It makes them focus on the type of errors they are making, not the individual errors. They focus on tenses, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

What I really liked about this is what is shown in the photo to the left. Students really started analyzing the scripts. They started to ask great questions of the person who wrote it. They started to ask great questions of the person who analyzed their script. They started to really look at their writing and how to improve it.

I can't wait to see the final edits at the end of this week!