Gender Game

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29 thoughts on “Gender Game”

  1. The game is even more fun in German because we have masculine, feminine and neuter! I usually start with eating utensils because it is der Löffel (spoon – masculine), das Messer (knife – neuter), and die Gabel (fork – feminine).

    This generally comes when a couple of students ask why German has so many words for “the”. Also, I don’t use the grammar terminology of m, f, n; they are “der words”, “die words”, and “das words”.

    Fortunately I can reassure students that
    1. It’s easier to simply hear a word enough times in enough contexts to get it (in the first-year class I don’t have the heart to tell them about the case system) and
    2. Native speakers don’t always get it right.

  2. Dear Ben,

    I have been learning about TPRS for the last four months. I have watched videos online, read different texts, and have also attended one of Blaine Ray’s workshops. I have been implementing a lot of your strategies in my Spanish I classes and I have to say it has been wonderful seeing positive results. The question I have is related to my classes where my students are already Spanish speakers. In these classes, the students have a pretty good command of spoken Spanish/Spanglish, but their writing ability is nonexistent. My question is, how do I apply TPRS in these classes? I am having a difficult time following what my department wants me to teach, which is essentially a lot of irrelevant readings and boring grammar worksheets. I feel that my Spanish speakers that are misplaced/enrolled in my regular Spanish I classes learn more than the students that are in the Spanish speaker classes. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach my Spanish Speaking classes?

    Elena Turner

    1. Hi Elena, and welcome!

      I teach all levels of German, 1 through AP. While this does not speak directly to your question about Spanish speakers, I think there are parallels.

      The most recent understanding of foreign/second language instruction distinguishes between Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI) and TPRS. The important thing is the Comprehensible Input, and TPRS provides one – the best, at least at lower levels – way to stay in the target language and make it comprehensible. What I have found with my third- and fourth-year classes is that the way I present CI can have greater variety with good results. For example, one class a couple of years ago really liked Harry Potter. Rather than making up stories about Harry Potter, we carried on conversations in German about the books and movies. It was still CI, but it wasn’t TPRS. I also do more that would be considered Content-Based Instruction in which we explore a theme or topic through a variety of activities that can include reading, watching a video, looking at a picture and discussing it, listening to music, and creating a story.

      When it comes to story creation – i.e. TPRS – a lot of the difference is in the complexity of the structures, the amount of detail and number of details in the story, the speed at which students process the language, and the amount of output students want and can do. I recently did a story in my 3-4-AP course that included “forgot”, “packed in the suitcase”, “went for a walk”, and “I should have done it myself”. Whereas a German 1 or German 2 class would have spent several days on this, the class had a good handle on the language after one class period. (Admittedly, a lot of this was review.) I am following up by having students write their own story using the vocabulary we learned/reviewed for the story.

      Note that “I should have done it myself” is both a longer structure and incorporates what is often considered “advanced grammar” (subjunctive). I can do pop-up grammar with students to talk about how the German expresses contrary to fact conditions. I also start bringing in more explicit grammar instruction (but based on meaning) to help students develop the Monitor function for writing and presentational speaking.

      Your Spanish speakers are farther along in acquisition than my 3-4-AP students, but some form of these activities should be interesting and engaging. You might simply ask your students what they would like to learn about and then pursue it. The language they need will be included in almost anything they choose. Carol Gaab teaches baseball players so emphasizes game vocabulary, but her students still have to know how to talk to team mates, tell stories and jokes, etc.

      One question: Are these pretty proficient Spanish speakers or “Heritage speakers” who understand spoken language fairly well but have difficulty speaking, reading, and writing? That can make a difference in what you do. The best way to develop their writing ability is to have them read anything that uses good language – even comic books. Try to formulate an aggressive reading program; you can discuss grammar while talking about the reading, and students can practice writing after they have done extensive reading.

      Just some late evening thoughts.

      1. Thank you for your answer. It makes a lot of sense. Reading is the key. To answer your question, my students have difficulty speaking, reading, and specially writing. We have to start from the beginning when it comes to writing. Do you think it would make sense to do some story telling with them?

    2. We’re going to need group input here and a lot of it. We have discussed this problem for years here.

      First thing is what Robert said: Have them read. Separate them out from the group and get them reading. They should NEVER have been placed in your Spanish 1 class in the first place. Who are these people who put those kids in a Spanish 1 class? For what? They don’t put people with PhDs in Physics into beginning science classes.

      Your goal in CI at Spanish 1 for kids who have never had Spanish is of course to teach these things first:

      1. Listening
      2. Reading

      and then comes:

      1. Writing
      2. Speaking

      So look at how confusing it is for you. Those native students listen and speak. They have skills that are totally skewed with what you are trying to do with your true beginners (1 and 2 above). How to react? How to keep both the new learners and these kids occupied?

      Well, you can’t teach them anything with your slow auditory CI. It would bore them and be almost mean to try to do that. And they speak just fine. So can you make them write? Absolutely not. Why? Because practicing writing does not improve writing (Krashen). Rather, reading improves the writing.

      That is why I say separate them out to read. Give them this reading log and have them fill it out at the end of every class:

      If you do a Word Chunk Team Game you can get them involved with the rest of the class at that point as described in the description of that awesome game. Occasionally like with WCTG they can mix with the class. Otherwise, they ruin your real class. Their hearts are in the right place, but they become a factor for chaos in such mixed classes. Give them what they need. They need reading. If not separated out and reading, you are in for a rough ride.

      Just my opinion and I would love to hear what others say on this thorny topic.

      1. Thank you so much for your answer. I am having difficulty understanding what would be the best approach for teaching my Spanish Speakers. There is such a big gap between their speaking and writing abilities that it is hard for me to clearly see how to start. I do not like the approach my department is taking. They recommend a lot of readings and grammar work sheets, which really does not interest me or my students. Where do I start with these types of students and TPRS? So far I am getting to know the kids through personalized questions. I use what I find out to create stories and then have the students write about them, which they seem to enjoy. The question is: Is it worth the time telling them the story before reading it since they understand the spoken language?

        1. …Is it worth the time telling them the story before reading it since they understand the spoken language?…

          Yes. If you can get them to participate silently (just so they don’t get ahead of the class) during the creation of the story, then you have the critical element that is missing in ESL, for example – ownership of the text. If you could just get them to be quiet and enjoy the story creation (perhaps they could together be the artists and make the drawing of the story together on a big piece of paper while the story is being created) then you will end up presenting them with a reading that is something they want to read. When you have that, maybe do some extra embedding of new vocabulary and then once they have read the new version you can take off in different writing directions. This may be a good answer to the problem of native speakers who are illiterate in a Spanish class. I don’t think separating them to do grammar, etc. will really work, but I couldn’t think of another answer. But here is an option. If they help create the story, you’ve got them. Then they will read and write about it. That is essentially my position on ESL as well.

          1. When thinking of those native speakers in your class, just remember that TPRS/CI is all about personalized, bizarre, meaningful, exaggerated content that is interesting. Work from that premise as you try to integrate them into the classroom process. I have seven nearly fluent or fluent students. I separated them out in the first week but after a few weeks they came back and I forget they were different. They may have not even noticed. Why? Because the stories were interested and they wanted to be where the action is. All seven of them did that. Shows how powerful a good story can be.

    3. I contacted Joe Neilson this year. Their program is TPRS for the first two years and drops to half-TPRS in the third year of Spanish. Native speakers start with 3rd year L2 students. This may not help your situation currently, but it does give us some perspective from one of the pioneers in TPRS.

  3. “We are here to have fun and enjoy each other’s company, not be the best.”– when I saw Pasi Sahlberg speak on education in Finland, the thing he stressed, again and again, is that Finland, with its outstanding international test scores… was never trying to be the best. They *are* the best, because they set their sights on equity, gave teachers a ton of autonomy, and gave kids a ton of play time, but they didn’t set out to be the best. I think there’s something to that.

    1. That is certainly not a part of the picture we hear about when presenters bemoan the position 20+ (or whatever it is) for the United States. Equity, autonomy, play time… Thanks for the lead Amanda. I just watched an interview of Pasi Sahlberg by a lady from Ontario. Another point Pasi repeatedly underscored was that their system is based on equity and equality, which I believe is undermined by the grammatical syllabus.

    2. You got me interested, Amanda. Here is another source, an article from Scholastic:

      It is very interesting what they have not accepted into their system, avoiding trendiness: formal schooling for children below age 7, national curriculum, and technology in the classroom. And most students know three languages (this does not sound too different from us…most of our students know one language).

  4. Word.

    (Just to introduce Amanda to the group – she is the elementary school French teacher here at the American Embassy School in New Delhi and appropriate to the point she makes above has sent me kids to middle school who like to play and have fun in the language. We talk about that as being the biggest factor in learning a language. Happy to have her here in our group!)

  5. The older I get the more relaxed I get about most of life. I too am having the same epiphany you are Ben. Last year I found myself stressing if I didn’t feel like I was getting enough CI into one class period. However, now I take moments to just chill and laugh with my students. I truly feel like they are learning more as a result. Everyone appears so stressed out anymore and we are forgetting how to truly LIVE. We all just die in the end, so why put so much pressure on ourselves? Many of us are doing the best we can given the system that we work in.

    My overall message to my students is not to love or even like Spanish. It is to try to travel some in your life to appreciate other cultures as well as your own and to find what makes you “tick”. Find that passion and hopefully earn enough money to make you happy and fulfilled in life. Life is a marathon…not a sprint…

  6. I think there is a trend forming. I, too, used to stress over “bell-to-bell instruction”, making every minute count, and getting “enough” CI in. Now that I understand the timeframe of acquisition better, I understand that “losing” a few minutes of CI to rapport building can ultimately lead to far greater gains in important areas including language acquisition. (Though we have to guard against allowing this to crowd out CI.)

    I had to be out of class one day this week, so I had my German 1 students watch the first episode of “Extr@”. (They understood and enjoyed it and want to see more.) Students had a meaning-based worksheet to fill out. Today we finished talking through the worksheet. At the end, we had a few minutes left in class, and I was about to start something else. Then one of my students asked, “Is it true that you used to work at Medieval Times? I think I may have shaken hands with you when I was little.” So, we spent the last three minutes of class talking about Medieval Times instead of something else.

    1. I just discovered that video series extr@ and it seemed great to use for sub days, maybe with some extra (ha ha) work to do with it to make it more comprehensible. However, in the spirit of what you were just writing about, not feeling the constant-CI pressure, maybe just let them watch and enjoy. What do you do with it? Do you use the English subtitles or the German, or none? Do you give them anything to do while/after watching? I was out two days last week with a head cold and I am trying to get something planned head of time for my next surprise absence.

      1. For German 1 I use English subtitles. They wouldn’t comprehend otherwise. I also try to pre-load vocabulary. For the first episode, for example, I made certain that students were familiar with heisst, wohnt, kommt aus.

        If you have purchased the video series, the DVDs come with vocabulary, activities, and a transcript for each episode. I just printed the activity sheet for the episode and had students fill it out after the video. (They had the sheet during the video.) Then we discussed it. The activities are fill in the blank (vocabulary) and translate into English (comprehension), True/False and correct the false (comprehension), and higher-level thinking (why? put different parts together, etc.) and comprehension. You may be able to find the activities, etc. online as well.

        Hope this helps.

        1. It does! I didn’t know the DVDs were available to buy. For Spanish I can use Sr. Wooly but there’s nothing that awesome fir French. Yet. So I figure extr@ might fill the void. Thanks. I’m going to try to check out the DVDs and ancillary stuff.

          1. Tina. I keep hearing about senor wooly. What’s so special ? There’s songs right? What else does he offer? And why isn’t there anything good in French?

          2. I don’t think Senor Wooley is so special but I never could use it because my field is French. Is it good solid CI where the focus is on meaning over form? If so, great! Steven you have to remember that not all teachers share your vision. Many teachers using CI don’t really want to do CI that much, not like you anyway. You are in a class by yourself as a new teacher with real vision. Many teachers want CI games. And they don’t want to hear anything against their watered down work. They want TPRS/CI to be easy. Bless all our hearts.

          3. I’ve only used Sr. Wooley’s “Maestro, ¿puedo ir al baño?” video as a kind of movietalk. It’s funny. Kids find themselves singing the song at home and things.

  7. We stress prolly cuz the education world has established stressful parameters for us: Cornerstone testing, Student Oral Proficiency testing, admin observations and evals by non-SLA experts. I’m 23 years in, and I still sweat when I get observed. Still. What’s that about?
    I still have vague pangs of paranoia that I’ll be squeezed out by someone younger and cheaper even as my own children approach their college years; that the district will suddenly cut the Board-sponsored elementary WL program; that they’ll experiment with some kinda fancy flipped techno-Spanish program instead of human teachers…
    It’s the fear of the shoe dropping…it may seem irrational, but let’s face it: Teachers have been forced to the fear wall.
    The antidote? More relationship-building with our students, more humanity, more smiles and fist bumps…not more C/I – just a better overall relationship.

    1. …the antidote? More relationship-building with our students, more humanity, more smiles and fist bumps…not more C/I – just a better overall relationship….

      Congeniality in schools is rampant. Congenial teachers get to keep their jobs even in the face of historically clear signs over decades that the kids are learning next to nothing that is actually real in language acquisition. We come in and try to improve the quality of the teaching by aligning our instruction with the way research shows people actually learn languages. We know this works. That is not congenial. The congenial teachers rightly see what we do as a threat to what they do (e.g. John Bracey’s story which shows his mettle). Congeniality wins. Now we are waking up to that. Not bad, only 25 years into the CI movement. Alisa above has identified the antidote to job fear. Few among us have a Diana Noonan in our corner fighting for us as she daily meets with DPS principals about the changes.

    2. Thanks, Alisa, you nailed it. The fear thing, will I have a position, will i be replaced by a younger, cheaper, hire? Robert said that he no longer goes into the classroom with these fears and I must say that I am just totally resigned to the fact that what I am doing is correct – maybe not 100%; maybe not 90% of the time, but always trying to grow and improve. For the first time this year, I have turned to corner on feeling the need to defend myself. Even facing a new administration with all the bells and whistles of lesson plans, pre-observation forms, post observation forms, anticipatory sets, blah, blah, blah! I am striving for the less is better, slower, narrower, deeper thing this year. With a max instructional time of 80 hours per year, I had to get real about what I could do and not do. Sanity counts. For what it’s worth, I have found that a steady diet of stories can get old and games in English or time off task go along way to buy goodwill. Carol Gaab has always said that brains crave novelty. Good advice.

  8. I’m a little bit confused about how you play this gender game. Do you give them a word in English, like desk, and they try to guess if it is masculine or feminine? Or do you also say it in the TL? I didn’t read through all of the comments here, so perhaps I missed it. My apologies. This sounds like fun!

  9. Laura, it sounds like Ben just writes a French word on the board and waits for a student to guess whether it’s masculine or feminine. Of course, I’m sure that his students have had fun with it because Ben was having fun with them.

    1. Sorry I wasn’t clear. No I don’t even write the word on the board. I just say it. I just think of some noun, choosing many from the classroom because they are there in front of me, but any noun that pops into my mind. Then the kid guesses masc or fem, I say in dramatic fashion if they are right or not, and on and on it goes, gobbling up minutes. They fight for the right to be the next one to play.

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