We have talked about what to do on the first day, during the first week and the first month, but what do you do once the honeymoon period is over? What do you do to maintain the high-energy and awesomeness you experienced the first month? How do you keep all of that up through June?
Once you have gotten to know your students through the target language it’s time to transition to other aspects of comprehensible input. Here you have many choices and none are necessarily better than another. Pick an approach that works best for you and your students, or mix and match to keep it novel.
The Super Verbs.
Terry Waltz’ idea of Super Verbs has really transformed my instruction. By focusing initial instruction on these very high-frequency verbs and having students master them in common tenses, students are able to communicate a great deal beyond their limited vocabulary. The Super Verbs are “there is, is, goes, wants, has, and likes.”
Armed with these verbs, students can’t say everything, but they can talk around many of the common sentences they may need. They may not be able to say “needs,” but the can say “wants.” They may not be able to say “drive, walks, or runs,” but they can say “goes.”
These verbs are very versatile and allow for a maximum impact with little vocabulary.
Because of the high-frequency nature of these verbs, using them in class is extremely easy, but I like to focus my first 5 to 6 weeks after getting to know my students on co-creating stories with my students with these verbs as the targeted vocabulary.
I find that 5 to 6 weeks working with these verbs in various contexts allows my students to feel quite comfortable with them and we can build tenses and complexity from there.
Mike Peto has extended Terry’s Super Seven to the Sweet Sixteen which give an additional 9 high-frequency verbs for your students to work with:
- becomes (emotion)
- gives to him/her
- says to him/her
- knows (a fact)
- returns/goes back
Building Characters / One Word Images
Another excellent way to transition from getting to know your students is to build characters with them. This idea originates from Ben Slavic’s One Word Images and Invisibles.
Building characters is an excellent way to maximize engagement and buy-in by your students.
You start by determining as a class, an object you’d like to turn into a character. Inanimate objects seem to work best, but animals can also work. One rule that I use is that they can’t be copied off any already-known or real person or character. They need to be 100% original.
Once you have determined what your character is going to be, you can start to build that character. I start with physical description with just a few concrete items like size, color, and age. Just enough for the class artist to be able to draw him or her. I save naming the character until we put them in a story. A more authentic name usually arises out of the story than if we were to just give them a random name.
Once you have your character minimally created, the next step is to put them into a story. The best way that I have found to get the most engaging story is to have the class give the character some strong emotion and an explanation as to why they feel that way.
Another thing I always like the kids to create is some deep secret the character has that no one else knows. This allows for some creative story telling!
To read more about how I build characters in my classroom, click here.
Story asking is what I do most of the time. I generally start with a character or from targeted vocabulary and ask leading questions of my students in the target language to co-create a story with them.
It’s important to have actors as visual representations to your stories as well as ask as many scaffolded, differentiated questions about each sentence of the story. Although these questions are highly repetitive and follow a particular structure, they are not asked rotely or in any predictable pattern. The questions are artfully and skillfully woven within the story to make them less obvious.
It’s also extremely important to engage the actors in conversations as the story evolves. Doing so, exposes the class to first and second person in a natural way that allows for them to acquire these two forms.
Generally, the stories are asked in past tense, but the conversations with the actors are done in “real” time (present, past, or future as required). This allows for the simultaneous acquisition of past and present within the classroom.
When you ask a story, it is often helpful to start with a skeleton story. Although stories can come from a variety of skeletons, the one that I use most often is a simple 5-sentence framework:
1. There is a character.
2. They have a problem.
3. The character wants something they don’t have.
4. The character goes somewhere to get what they want, but fail.
5. The character goes somewhere else to get what they want and succeed.
I’ll talk more about asking stories in a future post.
Reading is another important aspect in a comprehensible-input classroom. What you read isn’t as important as the reading itself, but options include written versions of class stories, embedded readings, authentic readings, or novels.
I like to mix up my reading by sometimes reading children books or novel chapters to my students, read stories and novel chapters with my students as a class, have my students read in pairs or small groups, and also to have them read individually.
I love to read to my students as if they were in kindergarten. I generally choose a favorite children’s book, sit down in the front of my classroom, and have my students sit on the floor around me as I read the book. I dramatize the voices and show them the pictures, as well as ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about what I’m reading. My students really look forward to this.
Reading stories or novels with my students generally follows a predictable pattern. For lower level classes, I read a chunk of the story or novel in the target language, have the students chorally translate that chunk into English, and then ask comprehension questions about what we just read in the target language. Depending on the content and level, I may also ask discussion questions about different themes or motives that are evident in the story or novel. To change it up for upper levels, I generally don’t do the translation piece. If there is a word that I know they do not know or if a student asks, I’ll translate only that word. We would discuss as usual in the target language.
Once my students are comfortable with reading novels, I often will start a novel with them reading the first two or three chapters as a class, but then have them read the next chapter in pairs, and the following chapter after that individually and then I would repeat the pattern. After each chapter, we would come back together as a class and discuss the chapter to make sure everything was understood. I don’t do this in level 1, but would start this with the second novel in both levels 2 and 3.
I’ll write more about reading in a future article.
Targeted vs Non-Targeted Vocabulary.
There are two schools of thought on how to guide your students through the acquisition of your language. One is to target a specific set of vocabulary and structures and the other is to allow the vocabulary and structures to emerge naturally out of the discussion.
I’m not going to debate the merits of either in this article, but suffice it to say, both methods work. And to be honest, I use a combination of both in my classroom on a regular basis.
During my classroom conversations, all of the vocabulary and structures are emergent. I don’t know what is going to come up in the context of each class, but generally speaking, high-frequency vocabulary will rise to the surface simply for the fact that it is high-frequency.
Also, when building characters, I generally don’t have any specific vocabulary or structures in mind and anything that does come up will be emergent.
However, generally when asking a story, I do have specific vocabulary or structures in mind. Even if I started from a non-targeted conversation or a non-targeted character, I usually gently guide a story to include what I have targeted through leading questions.
However you decide to do it in your classroom, you will find success.
So here are just a few ideas of what to build your lessons on to keep students engaged and your class being awesome all year long.
If you have any other ideas, please let me know in the comments.