After A Vacation

(Note: This was published after Thanksgiving but will work equally well after the Winter and Spring breaks as well. In my opinion there is no better way to start in with CI after a vacation than with some variation of Two Truths and a Lie as described below.)

We must make the re-entry process after a vacation for our students gentle. They are so spoiled, so self-centered, with so few actual strong adults around them to hold them accountable (no blame, it’s where our society is right now in these dark days), that they will surely be surly and sour – it’s almost guaranteed – after a vacation.

Here’s one idea to avoid what can sometimes be a very hellish re-entry:

Hand out some 3×5 cards the first day back and ask your students to write down three things they did over the vacation, two of them true that actually happened during their vacation and one that didn’t. The game is actually a variation on Two Truths and a Lie, which have articles linked here that can be used all year:

Processing the Cards

So, in this case in 2015 right after the mid-year vacation, my students in New Delhi wrote down (in English) stuff like this in their 3×5 cards:

  1. I went to the Taj Mahal.
  2. I went swimming on the Goa beaches.
  3. I saw a snake charmer.
  4. I sat on an elephant.
  5. I went to Calcutta.
  6. I went to Rajastan with my parents and took a ride on a camel.
  7. I got a haircut in Abu Dabi.
  8. I went to London. etc.

Each student wrote two things that were true about their vacation and one that was false, indicating after each sentence with a T or F whether what they wrote happened or not. They write in English or in the TL.

One way to process the information on the 3×5 cards is to then simply stand in front of the class and go through the cards and discuss each one in the TL. Remember, the goal is only to make it through the class after a vacation.

For example, on one card it has two truths and a lie from Emily, who wrote:

1. I went to South Africa with my family for xmas. (T)

2. I went to the Red Fort (F)

3. I met the Dali Lama (T) (She really met him since he was in New Delhi that week and addressed our school right before the vacation.)

Then do these two things with the cards:

(1) Have them guess who the kid is who wrote those things on the card. Since the class knows that Emily is from South Africa they say “Emily”.

(2) Once they know whose card you are reading out, say, “Emily went to South Africa”, then, “Emily went to the Red Fort” then “Emily met the Dali Lama”.

It’s all done in the target language and the class then guesses if it is true or not. When you do this, you can use WBYT to make things clear, of course.

It is best, once the class has guessed who they are, if you invite each kid to sit in the chair in front of the room and become the focus of attention. You play the Master of Ceremonies and walk around and ask Emily or whoever is in the chair if they did those three things (that you are saying from her card) and the class decides.

In this way, the kids forget that it’s the day after a vacation and they actually have a little fun because they are happiest whenever they are talking about themselves.

By the way, the output you get on this is EXCELLENT. And none of it is forced. That’s why it is excellent. One thing is certain is that in this activity, the kids have absolutely no awareness of the language they are using to communicate with each other. They are just communicating. It’s unbelievable to see this.

Another way to use the cards is write out everything in a Word file and project the questions. Below in bold print are some of the questions I first asked my kids in 2015:

1. Il/Elle est allé(e) à Goa. He/She went to Goa. This turned out to false and we had fun figuring out that nobody went to Goa.

2. Il/Elle est allé(e) à Hollywood. He/She went to Hollywood (I eventually found out in that class that Shiv went from Delhi to Hollywood with his family, for six days from Dec. 31st to Jan. 6th. All of it was done in the target language. I found out a lot about Shiv, who was a very reserved kid in our class, so we built community and the class had fun trying to guess whether one of their classmates actually flew that far for less than a week.)

3. Il/Elle a mangé 10 homards par accident en Chine. He/She ate 10 lobsters by accident in China. (It was true that my student Daniel, from England, had ordered ten lobsters on a visit to China with his parents over the break. The family mixed up the Chinese numbers 1 and 10 and had to pay for all ten of the lobsters.)

4. Il/Elle a frappé son frère. He/She hit her brother. (Turned out no one did.)

5. Il/Elle est allé(e) en Suisse pour faire du ski. He/She went to Switzerland to ski. (Turned out nobody did.)

6. Il/Elle a voyagé dans 3 pays. He/She traveled in 3 countries (Onélia, my student from Congo, did.)

To finish up, take it into the reading options by first writing up what you learned in a narrative using Phase 3 of the Star, and then use Phase 4 use the reading options to process the information on the cards using reading, not speaking.

Really, this is just the Star Sequence in action, a bit camouflaged, but still supremely effective. (The Star is not an activity but a template, a taxonomy, that once you learn will pave the way for an entire career of easy instruction – see the newest version below.)

Just make it through the class (said by one who has endured too many days back after a vacation and wondered what the hell I was doing trying to teach a language in the first place).


  1. If you haven’t been using CI with your level one classes since August, don’t attempt this activity. And if your level two and above students haven’t had CI, don’t use it. Just use it when you have classes with enough CI under their belts to handle it.)
  2. This point needs to be in italics and bold letters and in caps: Whenever you plan a class around the Star Sequence – and you always should – JUST DON’T FORGET TO USE WBYT TO MAKE YOURSELF UNDERSTOOD or it won’t work.
  3. Always keep in mind the time needed vs. the time you have, remembering that thousands of hours are needed and we only have a few hundred even in our four year programs. So take it easy on yourself and don’t teach like your hair is on fire, which is the stupidest expression I’ve ever heard when applied to education – what fool would want to teach like their hair was on fire?)



12 thoughts on “After A Vacation”

  1. This is a great activity-it rarely fails (if students are ready for it) and students like writing on index cards (and I like using the physical cards.)

    Another reminder that I’m trying too hard.

    I had to look up what WBYT meant…then I read that post. For someone that moves too fast all the time, I am reminded that my students need me to slow down more than I want to. When I first started teaching in a classroom 15 years ago, I felt that I couldn’t have any moments of quiet, that I had to fill every single minute. I realize that I still feel that need. It’s hard work for me to slow down to the pace my class needs.

    My Spanish 1 class this year especially needs me to go more slowly. They come in and they are so wound up that I’ve been starting class with a minute and a half of silence. Then I breathe deeply with my bouncy student so that he sees me do it and also breathes deeply. It’s like teaching middle school again.

  2. There is a lot of wealth disparity in my school. Some students go on amazing vacations and some are barely getting a holiday meal. Any advice for modifying the activity to make it better for students who really didn’t get to do anything fun over break? Maybe two lies and one truth?

    1. I have done that before, and it has worked marvelously. Usually I’ll notice a kid stuck on their card, having written only one thing, and when I ask them how I can help they say they don’t know what to write. Then I tell them to make up two things (or three!), and tell them that they’re my secret weapon and to make the lies ridiculous. Then, when interest starts to wane I can use their ridiculous card to close the activity and make it memorable because it was so tricky.

      I did this activity on Ben’s advice (literally scrapped all of the other plans I hadn’t planned because planning is a waste of my time), and it worked really well for all of my classes, keeping their interest for basically an entire 40-50 minute block. Bear in mind that these are elementary (3-5th) grade students not used to sustaining focus, but since it was about them they were willing to play them game.

    2. Sometimes I have students just make up one thing they did (and I read it), and everyone else has to guess who made it up, based on what they know about that student. I, too, work at a school with more than half students on free/reduced lunch, so most students work over break and/or watch Netflix/You Tube.

  3. FYI I did 3 lies and 1 truth to shake it up a bit. I have students who live in poor conditions and wanted to see if this gave different results from 2 truths and 1 lie. Most of what they wrote was pretty tame (“got a new cell phone”, “binge watched 5 shows”, “went shopping”, etc.). In most of my classes we had fun. It was great to laugh with them on the first days back.

  4. Yup. And I’ve know some teachers here in DPS who like to play 4 Truths and a Lie. Just more fodder for the CI. Use that activity all week if you want.

    And you can even use all the information you get, if you’ve got the story writer taking notes, on and around the Star. Any CI you get, as long as the Hub A folks are doing their jobs, fits right into your program.

    You can trust your CI Car to the Star. Hey I’m a poet and don’t know it.

    Just make sure to drive that car slowly. They always fake like they are getting more than they are, and it is your job to err on the side of the speed of sloths.

  5. I’m going to try to do it all week for sure. Tomorrow I was thinking of doing what you suggested in a previous post, typing up the students’ entries, projecting them, and then asking the class who did those things. Good idea getting my story writer involved and doing the Star. I’m thinking of how I can make this week as easy on me as possible and that sounds like the ticket. We have 90 minute blocks so I’m always trying to fill minutes.

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