I call the Monday after a break Snarky Monday. The kids just seem to get basted with an extra layer of snark over the break – who knows why?
Since trying the same stuff that our classes were doing before a vacation doesn’t always work for those first few days after the vacation, I wait a few days before getting back to my NTCI schedule that some of us are using in ANATTY.
What I do is a variation on Sabrina’s and Nina’s version of Two Truths and a Lie (Denver Public Schools, 2014):
The reasons I have them write four truths and not two are:
1. I have smaller classes and so need more student offerings.
2. More offerings bring more potential silliness.
3. Sometimes what the kids offer are just too boring. With four choices I have much more leeway in choosing good stuff for class discussion.
4. More offerings bring more verbs into play, as this is a major verb teaching activity.
Here are the steps:
1. The students write out on a sheet of paper in English four things that they did and one that they didn’t do over the break. I give them all yellow sheets from a legal pad for uniformity.
2. Then they get out their notebooks and get ready to take notes on what they learn during the discussion about what their classmates did over the break.
3. They give me their papers, a tremendous wealth of potential CI. The difference here, however, is that, unlike stories, the kids in this activity are taking notes in the TL and speaking much more in the TL than they do in stories.
4. I open a new Word file for the class and connect to the screen.
5. Looking over in random fashion what they have written, I pick out a sentence from someone’s paper and write it down in the TL. That is the part in red below:
Then I ask, about each statement in red:
Who do you think did this?
I then do something very important. I don’t lead the discussion, the class does. I throw in things but I don’t lead it. I explain to the kids that once they read the sentence in red they must then begin amongst themselves to NEGOTIATE MEANING with their classmates by asking questions about who may be the person who did or didn’t do what is written in red.
Student 1: “Kaila did you travel to Goa during the vacation?”
Me: “OK class, Kaila didn’t go to Goa, so who did?”
All students should be actively interrogating each other at this point in the TL. If they can’t do it, I help them by writing down the various forms of the question, and their possible answers (y/n) on the board. Only one person speaks and the others listen, as per Rule #2 of the Classroom Rules.
It is not allowed for someone to just ask the general question “Qui” to the entire class to find out who it was. The questioning must be student to student, one person speaking at a time as per Classroom Rule #2. It’s not so hard for them if the question is on the screen in front of the class.
This negotiation of meaning is the key to all CI instruction, and this way of doing it is particularly valuable, because the kids, in this interlocutive process, are forced to use the first and second singular forms of the verbs while hearing me throw in some third person forms into the mix.
[Ed. note: I know that this is kind of like what Blaine starting talking about at conferences in recent years: getting kids to output and focus on form, and that I have never promoted getting kids to focus on speech, but hey there are no rules. After a vacation the kids are going to want to talk with each other so if you’re going to have them practice output, this is a good day for it….]
It is important to explain to the kids that you will be actually USING IN SPEECH the three singular forms of many verbs. They need to know that merely recognizing the verbs on paper can’t help them in this activity. They need to understand and speak the forms. To that end, I do a 15 minute review grammar lesson every few days on how to construct present and past forms of various verbs in the present and past tenses. Big deal, right? Who cares?
Notice that in the example above we get lots of meaningful reps from lots of people. They’ve memorized enough verbs in previous years, as stated, and now it’s time to apply them to actual speech. (This activity dramatically proves to them that conjugating verbs does not equal speaking the language.)
6. Once we have figured out who did it (or once I have written that nobody did it), I ask this in the TL:
Is it true or false?
Once we have figured out who said it and if it is true or false, that is the time to start milking in details (Where? Are red kangaroos big or small in Australia? Your car hit a kangaroo? Did the kangaroo get hurt? No? Thank goodness! Why? Because the car was going slowly? Good! Was the car dented? No? Good!). Just build the CI and go as far as you can with it. Add the facts as you get them in green.
7. When we get to a lie, when a student is asked whether they did something or not, all they have to do is say “I lied”. I like this feature of this activity because it keeps the students in negotiating-meaning mode, which is the key to the entire thing in this strategy. Rather than speak English to clarify, negotiate meaning, unless of course they might burst otherwise, which is when English is allowed.
The factor that generates interesting and at times compelling input here is the fact that the kids were making up true and false things to share with the class. See the shift up from what stories offer in this activity? First, this is more personalized. Second, this discussion is not limited to third person forms. Third, the kids in this activity are speaking a lot more.
An interesting point to add here is that since during class I am sitting at my computer writing, I don’t have to get up and “be the dynamic CI teacher”. I like just sitting and writing and directing the discussion during class.
8. Here is a photo of my classroom set up now for the second semester; it is set up to allow more writing and to pin the kids down more. The deskless classroom I had going on in the first semester let in too much antsy movement with my (middle school) kids. Last semester one kid kept trying to make a fort out of chairs and hide underneath. The armchairs in the photo are for the story writer and the Professeur 2 when we do stories. [Ed. note: I moved these two chairs to be together over by the door and within a month they had become Hub C as the Invisibles were born just after this pic was taken] The whiteboard panel on the left is where I project all the information:
(Note very importantly in the above photo that up to 15 kids can be seated side by side facing you in a big kind of flank formation, or wing. Those who may be having trouble with kids talking to each other during class – hello everybody! – may find in this seating arrangement a strong response to that problem. When you think about it, having a student in traditional rows puts some kids in a situation where they have as many as eight possible gabbing partners available to mess up your teaching, one behind, one in front, four on the corners and two next to them on either side. I call that crazy and just dumb on the part of a teacher. In the above schema, each student has only two students available for gabbing. On top of that, I require the students to periodically – every few months – stand up and find a student of the opposite sex whom they don’t know very well, to introduce themselves, and sit next to. So I have boy/girl/boy/girl etc. which gets rid of the dreaded four girls combination that some of us can relate to as the equivalent of the end of the world for our CI instruction. Then I make the seating chart and remember to enforce it each day. A class of 28 or 30 could be set up with two of these “wings” one in front of the other, with a bit of distance between each wing, to effectuate the above scheme. What this seating chart does is reduce by as much as can be mathematically done the amount of interaction that kids have with each other in class – a key to good teaching.)
9. Note that I have to preface each sentence with He/She to keep them from knowing if it is a girl or boy to start.
10. Note also that in this activity I do allow kids to call time outs to clarify things in English. They would burst otherwise and it’s fun to hear what really happened. Their English explanations just have to be short and succinct to keep a big L1 discussion from happening. I know that this isn’t something I normally allow, esp. during stories (!) but it fits into this particular activity well. I make the kids hold up the T sign with their hands if they want a time out to clarify what they are saying or if they need a grammar explanation.
11. At the beginning of each class the kids are reminded that their jobs in this class are to:
a. strictly obey the classroom rules.
b. stay in French unless they request a time out.
c. discuss in L2 with the intent to negotiate meaning with me and with their classmates.
d. take notes for the big yes/no test on all this which will happen in a few days. (Not really necessary because I post this same information on my class blog, but it is an amazing tool when we tell kids to take notes. They do it like lemmings. And it keeps some of them quiet. So I do it.
12. Every three sentences I ask a student to recap what we have so far in the TL by simply saying, “Let’s recapitulate!” The superstars love this part. The French they come out with is pretty good! It’s because the French is so fresh in their minds and because of all the reps.
13. Notice the orange glossary that I keep adding onto the bottom of the developing text to highlight important recurring words, or add new instruction.
14. Since there are so many accents in French, it really helps that my MacBook Air has the accent feature below and to the right, which allows me to paste an accent into the developing text with great ease:
15. There are no rights to pass if I ask a student a question. This activity really forces kids to pay attention. If they try to say that they pass, usually it is because they don’t know what is going on and I make them negotiate meaning with me until they are back on track with the discussion. No one is safe, no one can hide – the freewheeling nature of the activity puts me in great control of the discussion, and, as stated above, I don’t even have to do that walk-around-the-room-being-a-dynamic-teacher-thing since I am happily running class from my computer. Which really saves my physical energy. I have never liked being the one to walk around and be dynamic. I just want the little shits to pay attention. I’m not dynamic, I’m just me, an often scared teacher just trying to make my class work.
16. Assessment takes the form of:
a. periodic tests (yes/no)
b. free writes that they do in their notebooks using vocabulary generated during the discussion that they can pull from their notes.
c. a dictée at any time during this process if I need to hit the brakes/bail out for any reason.
d. the jGR based formative assessment of their in-class performance during the process, which they know well is by far the most important grade. They know that the grades for the gradebook are for administrators and parents and that the grade that they will actually get from me, the grade I will bend to reflect the real work of the kid, is how focused they are in class.
17. Obviously this could take months and months to do. If our mental health is our key focus, and it should be, then this is a good problem to have, as the name of the game is eating up minutes.
18. Of course, as usual with CI instruction, we are always on the lookout for a good story. So if a Four Truths discussion turns into a story we go with that. Once a girl saw the lamb she was going to have for dinner slaughtered that morning. We needed a farmer, a lamb, and the girl got to act out her part. Very good stuff! Highly compelling! So it became a story. Did a lot of English slip in? Yup. Again, I ask, who cares?