Choosing Structures

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9 thoughts on “Choosing Structures”

  1. I googled Denver public schools curriculum docs and found lots of interesting information. They Denver folks have done a ton of work here. Highly recommend.

  2. A key fact to mention to administrators is that most textbooks do not introduce vocabulary with consideration for frequency of use. Grammar especially is not presented by frequency of use. TPRS materials tend to focus on high frequency vocabulary and tenses.
    A resource for those of you who teach Spanish is a “A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish Core Vocabulary for Learners” by Mark Davies. I spent a couple of semesters putting hours of research into this project as a grad student and it was quite the adventure. Here is a link with the top 100 words.
    Also on this link are links for other top lists. I also am including the Amazon link to the book, because when you choose “look inside book” it gives you lists of frequent, animals, family words, verbs, etc. Could not say how accurate it would be for other languages.
    I have the book (had to check to see that I was thanked in the preface ja, ja, ja) so if anyone is interested in specific lists, I would be glad to share that info with you.
    Dr. Davies mentions that textbook language often distorts frequencies of features in a language, quoting Ljung (1990). So, just another selling point for CI which focuses more on frequency of usage than the traditional textbook approach (that does not follow best practices according to research).

  3. It is important for administrators to know that most traditional textbooks do not present vocabulary or grammar by frequency. Mark Davies has published a Frequency Dictionary of Spanish and in the intro says, “textbooks…almost never indicate which of these words the student is most likely to encounter in actual conversation or texts. In fact, sometimes the words are so infrequent in actual texts that the students may never encounter them again in the “real world”outside of the test for that particular chapter.”
    Davies quotes Ljung (1990) as saying that textbooks actually often “distort the frequencies of features in a language.” This, combined with the fact that most texts do not follow Best Practices according to heaps and mounds of solid research, should have administrators asking teachers of traditional programs why they are using something so contrary to language acquisition.
    Most of the CI materials available on the market focus on high frequency vocabulary and tenses.

  4. Amen, Ardythe!
    Alfie Kohn said “The overwhelming number of teachers… are unable to name or describe a theory of learning that underlies what they do.”
    Something I like about the CI teaching community in general, and I like it in spades on this blog, is that people know about research and how it applies to what we are trying to do. The recent comments by Ardythe, Chill, Robert, and David Young reflect this.
    Thanks for steering us in this direction and giving us an opportunity to discuss things in depth, Ben.

  5. This past year during the second semester I did two things that really helped me a ton with choosing structures. Number 1, I bought a German frequency dictionary (the book that this list was derived from: and used that to inform the primary structures I focused on. There are a few words that I had always overlooked before–bleiben (to stay), gehört (to belong to), passiert (happens), niemand (nobody)–that I had always just quickly glossed. After a specific focus on them I saw them cropping up all the time.
    The second big change I made came through incorporating much more music into my curriculum; I leaned heavily on the site to help me with that. I would listen to the songs with an ear for “How many of these words do they know, and what should they know?” This sort of kept me honest in recognizing what is generally used, not just what I like to have fun with in my classroom.
    After these two big shifts and working with high frequency words, I found that our reading sessions–especially with my upper level classes–got much easier and everybody was much more confident. I even had a couple students accuse me of choosing a specific reading just because it worked the vocab we had been doing (and I hadn’t for once).
    So use the frequency lists. Listen what’s being said. Listen to what your students want to say but can’t (a standard question I have after every freewrite and other times). I’ve gotten in the habit of making a list of words in the corner of my blackboard of things that “Hey they could use that.” It’s really changed how I approach my job; I love the challenge of anticipating what they’ll need and am thrilled when I see them using what I prepared them with. Whenever we come across a word that we already know, it’s like finding money on the sidewalk. Whenever I hear them use one of those words, it’s like getting a good report card.

    1. Nathan, I love the “Hey they could use that” list!
      Yes, frequency dictionaries rock, and ARE a rock that any language program should be built upon. So Spanish has one, and now I learned that German has one, are there frequency dictionaries for other languages also?

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