My Spanish IV class has been zipping through the novel Bianca Nieves y los Siete Toritos by Carrie Toth. It’s a little below their reading level, but it is rich in the uses of subjunctive as well as Spanish bullfighting culture. (Tangent: I am a huge believer in reading below level as long as the content is rich.)
After reading chapter 5, in which the villainous stepmother threatens Bianca with an impossible choice, I made up a slideshow inspired by Martina Bex’s ¿Es Posible? boardgame. I didn’t have enough time to create an actual game in class, nor did I have the classtime to devote to such an activity. I simply displayed each slide in order to generate discussion. This also allowed for a lot of authentic use of the subjunctive!
Yesterday I got a chance to present to our local comprehensible input group. This group is the fruit of last summer’s IFLT conference, and it has been so helpful to have like-minded professionals from all different kinds of schools and languages meet regularly to share ideas and ask questions.
I shared a presentation about how I go about teaching a whole-class novel, and I’m posting it here for anyone who might find it useful.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Blaine Ray’s Patricia va a California. It’s not the newest TPRS novel out there. The story is simple and a little clunky at times, the resolution comes too quickly, and the ending reads like an after-school special. There are no pictures, and the teacher’s guides that are out there lean heavily on comprehension questions and true/false quizzes. Yet I teach it every year. I value the contrast between American and Guatemalan cultures as well as the book’s sweet message of acceptance. For some of my students, this book has been the first time they had to confront their own preconceived notions about Latinos. Here are some of the activities I do with my students.
I created a digital breakout to pre-teach Guatemalan geography and culture. In the past, I have also used Martina Bex’s reading about Guatemalan geography as a hook for my students.
I have my students do graphic organizers to represent Patricia’s house, family, and mealtimes, and we do lots and lots of PQA comparing and contrasting in this section. There’s not a lot of story or plot going on here, but we just go slowly here and use it as a jumping-off point to talk about my students’ lives.
I also have incorporated Martina Bex’s chicken bus resources in this section of the book, when it talks about the dad taking the bus to work because they don’t have a car. It’s a fun break from the novel!
I have my students listen and draw a story map to represent the action in chapter 4, since there’s a lot of movement as Patricia travels from Panajachel to Los Angeles. In chapter 5, they did a similar family tree and house drawing for the American house, and we focused our conversation on comparing Patricia’s Guatemalan house to her American one. I make a pretty big deal about all the technology and appliances mentioned in the text (COLD WATER? From the FRIDGE?!) to further emphasize the disparity between a rich nation and a poorer one. This might also be a good time to show all or part of the English-language documentary Living On One in class. Even though Patricia’s family doesn’t seem to have a lot compared to us, the reality is that they are comparatively well-off.
The antagonist Debbie Martin also gets introduced in chapter 6, and she is so cartoonishly mean that I can’t help but pronounce her name dramatically every time it comes up in the text.
I have my students draw storyboards of chapters 6 and 7, and we have lots of rich discussion and PQA comparing Patricia’s school, the California school, and our own school, as well as the role sports play in Latin American schools.
Chapter 8 is THE PIVOTAL scene of the book, the one where Debbie Martin turns it around. We made sure to dramatically re-enact the car-jack scene using the Readers Theatre technique, and we discussed whether or not we would be so forgiving of a girl like Debbie. We then do a 5-Finger Retell of the chapter: students trace their hands and write a “Who, What, Where, When, and How” in each finger space. In the palm, they write their own reaction.
The book winds down with Patricia and Debbie becoming friends and Debbie visiting Guatemala. By this point, my students are really comfortable with the text and I relax the graphic organizers and illustrations. We just read, discuss, and enjoy!
To review the whole book, I have my students match chapter titles (there are no official ones, so I made some up!) and then illustrate or write the key events from each chapter.
I also have developed a Socratic seminar for this novel, in which we circle up and discuss the cultural differences between Guatemala and the United States, the similarities we share, and whether or not it is important to visit another country. It’s a great way to finish up the novel and help students think about their own travel goals in the future!
I teach at a Paideia school, which means that my school focuses on Mortimer Adler’s philosophy that “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” I find that CI methods dovetail nicely into this, because they support the widest variety of learners. Slow processors get the repetitions they need to make meaning from high-frequency structures, and fast processors can hone in on things like how different verb endings change the meaning.
There are three pillars of instruction in the Paideia classroom: Didactic, Coaching, and Seminar. In my classes, I spend the majority of time in the Coaching mode, modeling the use of target structures through Personlized Questions and Answers (PQA), Story Asking, and reading stories and novels. To an outside observer, this might look like I am just lecturing. After all, a CI teacher does a LOT of talking! However, what I am really doing is modeling correct language and administering constant comprehension checks, building up students’ auditory and reading comprehension so that it leads to producing correct language in their speech and writing. Also, by asking them to respond to input, I am giving them a chance in a low-pressure environment to practice their target structures.
The area where I have struggled most to incorporate CI methods is Paideia Seminar. A seminar draws on Socratic-style questioning methods to guide students to a deeper understanding of an idea or a text. It is a formal discussion in which students sit in a circle and do not raise hands to speak, but rather wait for an appropriate opening. The teacher functions more a a facilitator, with the goal of keeping the discussion on-task, but not deliberately leading the students toward any one conclusion. In my school, all students participate in both weekly school-wide seminars on a particular text and in content-specific seminars. As a Comprehensible INPUT teacher, how could I expect my students to produce OUTPUT at the level that Paideia Seminar demands?
As a result, I tend to use Paideia Seminar very sparingly, deploying it only after students have already received ample input and have something highly discussible to talk about. My most successful Spanish seminar happened earlier this spring, in my 8th grade class. We had been reading Noches misteriosas en Granadaby Kristy Placido, and there was an activity in the Teachers’ Guide for chapter 7 (where the mystery really ramps up) in which students had to agree or disagree with certain statements about the text and support their opinion with text evidence. Well, in the world of Paideia, we are constantly hammering “text evidence” into their brains, so I decided to use that activity to prepare them for a formal seminar. Remember, we were seven chapters into the novel, and I had built up their vocabulary previously with stories containing key target structures that I knew would appear in the novel. My students engaged in a lively debate about the true nature of the mysterious Alfonso and Soraya, completely in Spanish. The words were just falling out of their mouths, with almost no effort, even from some of my students who struggle the most and have been the most resistant to my methods! I was truly amazed at what they were capable of. One of my strategies when conducting a seminar in a foreign language is to reserve a couple of deep-thinking questions in English to ask at the end of the discussion, but these students didn’t even need them. They were fully engaged in the target language, even asking questions of their own in Spanish. The very best Paideia Seminars are ones in which students take the lead in the discussion, and I never expected that to happen in a Spanish seminar.
Their success has inspired me to develop Paideia Seminars for other texts as well. When I teach Esperanza next year, I can see a having a debate about Alberto’s role in things. (My students this year had strong opinions about his seemingly cavalier attitude about leaving his family behind.) When I teach Robo en la Noche, I want my students to delve deeper into Cecilio’s role in the theft. Do his reasons absolve him from his crimes?
Paideia Seminar is such a great tool for exploring characters and themes, and with enough CI prep, students can do it all in the target language, too!
Whenever you start teaching at a new school, there always seems to be a treasure trove of resources to discover, leftover from the teacher before you. One of the books I found a few years ago at my new school is called Realidad y Fantasía by Suan H. Noguez and Emily Boyd. It has a wealth of stories written in simple, comprehensible Spanish, along with workbook-type activities for each. It doesn’t seem to be in print anymore, but if you find a copy, hold on to it! Some of the stories contain valuable cultural and historical information, and others are just fun to read, with an irreverent sense of humor that captures students’ interest.
One story from the book is called “El Robot.” It’s about a robot who works in a house, cleaning and cooking and doing the dishes, but all the while wanting to do something else. He decides to invent another robot to do the chores, but of course that doesn’t work out! I’ve used the story on its own and rewritten as an embedded reading, but this year I tried it just as a story script, reducing it to the bare bones and letting students flesh it out. Here it is, with the variables underlined.
tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres
limpia la casa
lava la ropa
saca la basura
Hay un robot que se llama Stanley. Stanley vive en una casa con una familia. Tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres. Tiene que cocinar y lavar los platos. Tiene que sacar la basura y limpiar todos los baños. Es un robot muy trabajador, pero no está contento. Quiere tocar el saxófono. Así que decide inventar otro robot para ayudar en casa. Va a su laboratorio e inventa un nuevo robot. Se llama Dora.
Ahora Dora tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres. Dora limpia la casa, lava la ropa, y saca la basura. Por fin, Stanley puede practicar su saxófono. Toca en una banda de jazz. Pero hay un problema: Dora no está contenta. Quiere nadar en los Olímpicos. Así que Dora decide darles dinero a los hijos de la casa para hacer los quehaceres. Dora no tiene dinero porque es un robot, así que decide robar el dinero de un banco. La policía arresta a Dora, y ahora Stanley tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres.
In order to pre-teach vocabulary for the upcoming Rio Movie-Talk video, I wrote a short script and did a regular story-asking session today. It worked out well, and I think the Movie-Talk will be much richer and more productive when students already know the core vocabulary.
Target Structures in this case are:
No sabía manejar She didn’t know how to drive
Chocó con She crashed into/ran into
There was a girl who didn’t know how to drive. One day, she wanted to go to her friend’s house. So, she got in her dad’s truck and tried to drive to her friend’s house. But there was a problem: She didn’t know how to drive. She crashed into a gas station, and the gas station exploded. The girl and the truck both died and went to heaven.
When she arrived in heaven, the girl was an angel. But there was a problem: She didn’t know how to fly. She was a very sad angel. Her dad’s truck was in heaven, too, but it was not an angel. It had turned into a Transformer. The Transformer knew how to fly. It taught the girl how to fly, and she was very happy.
Last week, I used an Anne Matava story script in my novice level Spanish class. I generally stick with stories reworked from either Blaine Ray’s “Look, I Can Talk” series or from the Realidades TPRS ancillary book, but I wanted to teach “lazy” and “hardworking,” and I didn’t like any of those options for that.
Anne Matava has quite the reputation in CI circles for her simple, easy-to-circle story scripts. After last week, I may have to buy her books!
Here is what the class came up with. (After telling the story with actors and retelling with pictures, I wrote the story in the first person to give them practice with yo-forms.)
el jefe le grita
El chico perezoso
Hola. Me llamo Enrique Iglesias. Soy alto y guapo. Yo tengo muchos amigos porque soy un chico simpático. Pero tengo un problema. Es un problema serio. Yo soy… ¡perezoso!
Yo trabajo en una escuela. No soy profesor ni director. Yo limpio el suelo. ¡No me gusta limpiar el suelo! ¡No me gusta trabajar! Soy perezoso, y me duermo en el suelo. La jefa, Sra. King, me ve, y no está contenta. Ella me grita, “¡Enrique! ¿Por qué duermes en el suelo? Tú eres muy perezoso. ¡Estás despedido!” Yo estoy muy triste porque Sra. King me despide.
Entonces, yo trabajo en un restaurante. Se llama Burger King. No soy el jefe. No limpio el suelo. Yo trabajo preparando hamburguesas. Yo preparo dos hamburguesas, y decido que no me gusta. ¡No me gusta trabajar! Voy al refrigerador y me duermo. Me duermo porque soy perezoso. Mi jefe me abre el refrigerador y me ve. Me agarra y me grita, “¡Enrique Iglesias! ¿Por qué duermes en el refrigerador? ¡Qué ridículo! ¡Estás despedido!” Ahora yo quiero llorar. Tengo mucho frío, y ahora estoy despedido de Burger King.
Por fin, yo trabajo en una gasolinera. Se llama Kwik-E-Mart. Yo decido trabajar mucho. Necesito trabajar. Necesito un trabajo. Necesito el dinero. Así que yo soy muy trabajador. Limpio los baños. Preparo el pollo frito. Limpio el suelo. Y no me duermo. Soy un chico muy trabajador.
Pero hay un problema. Un helicóptero se cae. ¡Se cae en mi gasolinera! El helicóptero y la gasolinera explotan. Yo exploto, también. Voy al cielo. Soy un ángel en el cielo. Toco el arpa y canto. Dios me escucha. Me escucha tocando el arpa y cantando. A Dios no le gusta. Dios me grita, “¡Enrique! Tú cantas muy mal. Tú tocas el arpa muy mal, también. No me gusta. ¡Estás despedido!”
A couple years ago, a fairly innocuous story script from the Realidades series developed into a story full of romance, action, and drama, in which a boy runs away from a movie theatre full of zombies only to find that his girlfriend has become… a zombie! I turned it into a story scramble activity the next day, and that worksheet languished in my Dropbox, until I came across it the other day and decided to expand it.
The story line naturally lent itself to an embedded reading. If you cut off at the right moments, you can build up quite a bit of suspense. This keeps students engaged in multiple layers of the same text, each adding more detail than before. One of my students almost fell out of her seat trying to keep from announcing the surprise ending!
Last fall I was doing a monster unit in a level 2 class, and I wanted to include Cienfue’s “El Cuco” song, which uses the high frequency word “viene” quite a bit. In researching the Cuco, I discovered that it was actually part of a traditional lullaby:
Duérmete niño, duérmete ya, que viene el Cuco y te llevará.
Duérmete niño, duérmete ya, que viene el Cuco y te comerá.
Inspiration struck, and a story immediately came to mind: a mother sings to her little boy who won’t go to sleep. In the middle of the night, the bad little boy hears a knock on the door. In the morning, the mother comes to find the room empty, her son nowhere to be seen.
This sort of twisted story is perfectly suited for an embedded reading à la Laurie Clarcq. With each version, the boy’s disappearance is a mystery until more and more of the lullaby is revealed and students reach the obvious conclusion: the Cuco came!
I just love embedded readings. They are a great way to trick students into reading the same text several times, thereby getting more repetitions and cementing key vocabulary.