Level I Beginning of the Year, #1

Here is a beginning of the year activity for level one classes.  It is my adaptation of your Circling with Balls activity.
In the first few weeks of class we are getting to know one another.  I ask a few simple questions to each student.  I speak in Spanish and the students listen and respond with one word answers.
I wanted to see if they were getting as much as it seemed like they were getting, so I gave a recognition check to the students in my Spanish I classes the other day.  It was a sample of 100 questions and answers that we have been using in these get-to-know-you interviews.  This activity has been great fun and very enlightening – it is a good way to deliver compelling comprehensible input because we are focusing on something that will keep their attention – each other.  Students enjoy the individualized attention and they also enjoy learning about one another.  We are learning some fascinating things about who the students in each class are and what they like to do.  It is also affirming for them to realize that they do almost EVERYTHING better than Señor Hedstrom.
There are two main questions I ask:
1. What is your name?
2. What do you like to do?
I occasionally follow up with:
– What grade are you in?
– Where do you live?
– Where do you play basketball?
– Which position do you play?
– Which do you like to play more, basketball or soccer?
– For how many years have you been playing basketball, soccer, etc.?
I will almost always end each “interview” with:
– Class, who plays basketball better, student X or señor Hedstrom?
Almost every day we review the students that we have previously interviewed.  It is usually very short.  Something like:
– Class, what is this girl’s name?
– What does she like to do?
If there is something extremely cute or noteworthy, I may ask some follow up questions as we review.  One girl likes bunnies, and sadly does not have any bunnies, but luckily she actually sits by a kid that raises rabbits.  How lucky!  (A great spot for kids to pipe in with spontaneous rejoinders)  Another kid lived in Vanuatu for nine years.  Another girl has cows in Oregon and Wyoming, but not here in Colorado.   With odd and interesting stuff like that a student usually adds the color commentary unprompted – often in Spanish (already!).
The majority of students said they understood 100% of the 100 questions.  I am noting those that did not to rearrange the seating chart and put them in a spot where I can help them a bit more.
100 questions is a lot, but they can learn at this rate because it is:
1) Interesting
2) Predictable
3) Repeated
4) Recognition-based, NOT production-based (No production is expected yet, although some students are spontaneously producing full sentences already)
Go ahead and use this idea or adapt it as you wish.
Works for me,



32 thoughts on “Level I Beginning of the Year, #1”

  1. By the way, it seems like students are enjoying this a lot. In two classes they asked if they could do this get-to-know-you thing INSTEAD of playing a game for their minutes of P.A.T. on Friday (?!) –and my PAT activities are fun and rowdy.

  2. I didn’t teach level 1 last year, but now I have one section and I forgot how it feels the first few days starting at 0. I already told a story today. I was trying to just do PQA and TPR, but I went into a simple story based on the PQA. I couldn’t help it.
    Is there a reason not to do stories right away?

  3. As long as it is comprehensible and interesting, you can do whatever works.
    I know what you mean, though, it is hard to hold yourself back, but this get-to-know-you thing has really been working for my level I classes. It is setting up the understanding for future stories, but more than that, this is establishing the TONE of the class so that we can really do something. The goal is for kids to feel comfortable–low affective filter, everyone is noticed and valued. Everyone is included and everyone understands.

    1. …this is establishing the TONE of the class so that we can really do something….

      It’s like what all this personalization does is break down the fake teacher/student thing and lets us all be like a team that trusts each other. But, Bryce, you are an expert at this – your tone with your students, as I have seen, couldn’t be any more relaxed and yet more rigorous at the same time. The question du jour asked by Melanie above is can this be achieved while doing stories and the PQA cards and all of that at the same time. I think yes and I will say why in a blog post here tomorrow.

  4. So far (in 2 days) I have only talked with 4 students about their specific interests in my level 1 class.
    How long does it take to get to everybody for you with your interviews?
    I told my class we will be using the name tags and talking about their interests for at least the first 6 to 8 weeks. I do try to involve everybody sometimes, such as ask them to raise their hand if they also like that activity, too.

    1. …how long does it take to get to everybody for you with your interviews?…
      In my opinion that totally depends on the class. One class may go through all the cards and all of that stuff (Anne uses the questionnaires, Bryce does it like he wrote above, we all have our various ways of personalizing and norming the classroom at this time of year), in a short few weeks, another (Jim Tripp has done this because he is a PQA machine) may go until Christmas. But why not – and this is a brand new idea thanks to Melanie – MIX the two things of PQA personalization activities and stories. I am actually doing that right now, spending part of the class on the cards and part on PQA to set up our first story in a few days. The beauty is that there is no set way and this keeps evolving as is evident in this discussion.

    2. Melanie,
      It sounds like you are on the right track. We are all just feeling our way through here, being guided by CI and kids interests. I “interview” about one kid a day. They almost always ask if we can do another, but I know enough about show biz to keep them wanting more.
      6 to 8 weeks sounds like a good goal to me. I hope to keep the mojo going that long too. I like the “raise their hand if they also like that activity” too.

  5. I am in love with the Circling with Balls activity! I am learning so much more about my students and they love having all of the attention. So far, I have been sticking to “his/her name is” “he/she likes” “he/she is” (location) and he or she has. We have gotten some great mini-stories and situations through this PQA: in 1 class, we started with Alex likes clarinets and through circling/PQA, ended up with Alex playing the clarinet at Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob, but the clarinet got stuck in a bubble! It was all in Spanish, and the kids were really understanding, and wow, there is no way I could go back to being a traditional textbook teacher. TPRS is great 🙂

    1. …[it] ended up with Alex playing the clarinet at Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob, but the clarinet got stuck in a bubble!…
      This shows the power of “where” as a question – we have known that secret for awhile – but also shows the power of “with” as a question – with whom does he play the clarinet? Why, with Sponge Bob, of course! This is a breakthrough for me since just today I used “with” to the same unexpected effect. It’ll have to be added to the One Word Images as well. With is a simple word for them to learn anyway!

  6. We have been going at the rate of about one student per regular day of school in the level one classes, so we have around 10-12 kids “interviewed” in each class now.
    In the level 3 classes we are going a bit slower. We have 5 done in each of my level 3’s. They talk more.

    1. So in the level 3 where they are talking more, what does this look like? Could you maybe just give 1-2 examples so I can see how blending input and output looks?
      Thanks so much! I love this interview idea. Hope to try it next week 🙂

      1. I have seen Bryce do this kind of interviewing with kids at upper levels. It’s ultra slow, big pauses, he waits really well, smiling, not acting like he is in a hurry, and just waits the kid out for answers. He makes it clear that they don’t get off the hook with the question. He’ll just wait it out like he has no care in the world but to find out the answer to the question. He doesn’t do a lot of rescuing the kid with English or too much help or too much Spanish to explain. That causes kids to not lose touch with him. He encourages rejoinders a lot. When he gets an answer, which doesn’t have to be fancy – even upper level kids are still very pre-verbal – he really seems to appreciate hearing it, and he kind of reflects on it for awhile which leads him to compare/contrast with another kid or go deeper into the line of questioning he is on. He demonstrates genuine appreciation for what he is learning. Just really polished PQA. That’s what I have seen in his classroom, anyway.

      2. Jen,
        In the upper levels I am asking them to draw something that makes them special and something that they are afraid of. The other day one girl gave the offbeat answer that she was special because she really likes to eat fresh peaches. Here is a sample of that conversation:
        Me: You like to eat fresh peaches? Me too! But do you eat them often?
        Her: No, just now. Just this time of the year.
        Me: Like in August and September?
        Her: Yes. I always buy them from people beside the road. How do you say “farmer’s market’?
        Me: How do you think it is said? Does anyone have an idea?
        Her: A man. A farmer that sells peaches and fruit beside the road.
        Me: That sounds good to me. What do you think, class?
        Me: Why do you like the fresh peaches so much?
        Her: I don’t know. They are sweet. They are juicy. The juice goes down my chin. I don’t know. They are just special to me. I always eat peaches.
        Me: And those special peaches make you special? I can understand that. It IS a bit different. I suppose that IS special. I like that.
        Me: What is something that you are afraid of?
        Her: Spiders!
        Me: Spiders? Me too, a little bit.
        Her: No. You don’t understand. I am really afraid of spiders.
        Me: Oh, that is a shame. Do you see a lot of spiders where you live?
        Her: Yes. They are all over the place.
        Me: How terrible! why? why are there spiders all over the place?
        Her: I live in the basement.
        Me: Your room is in the basement? Class, how many other students have a bedroom in the basement? Wow! that is a lot of kids that live in the basement. do you all have spiders down there too? Wow. Too bad. That stinks.
        Me: What do you do when you see a spider?
        Her: I scream.
        Her friend: She does scream!
        Me: Really? You have heard her scream? In her basement when she sees a spider?
        Her friend: Yes, she goes crazy.
        Me: Do your parents come and help you when you scream?
        Her: No. They just sit there and watch the television.
        Me: When you are screaming like a crazy person? That is so funny! Sad, but funny.
        Her: I know!
        Her friend: It is because she is always screaming every night.
        Me: That is too bad. You must have a lot of spiders down there in your basement.
        Her: Yes, there are a lot of spiders. Big spiders. But sometimes I call my brother and he helps me. He comes and kills the spiders for me.
        Me: That is so nice! What a good brother! How old is you brother?
        Her: Three.
        Me: Excuse me, did you say thirteen or three?
        Her friend: He is only three years old!
        Me: Three years old?!! What!? And he comes and helps YOU?
        Her: Yes! He smashes them with his fingers. He doesn’t care. He just smashes them. He kills all of the spiders for me. He likes it.
        Me: Wow! What a brave little brother! I can’t believe it! what is his name?
        Anyway, you get the idea. The “interview” with this girl took just about the whole class period. It is just an excuse to talk to kids on a personal level and to lavish attention on them. I am just trying to do what Susie Gross always has said to do: Just talk to your kids!
        Does this make sense?

        1. Bryce, this is absolutely spectacular. I was laughing out loud because I can just see you having this conversation. The asides to the rest of the class are so appropriate and seem so well-timed. What a funny conversation! And so genuine! I love it! I wish someone would have talked to me this way in Spanish 3,4,5 instead of asking me to fill in a verb conjugation notebook or watch videos about Jose and Gabriela from Toledo!

          1. Thanks for that, Grant. I think when we are teaching we need to think more of Oprah than of our old Spanish teachers: listening intently, reflecting on what they say and helping the others in the audience with helpful side comments. That’s what I try to do and sometimes, like in the example above, it works.

          2. Apparently this is from a long time ago, but I somehow arrived here on a little trip through the PLC looking for something*. But then I happened upon this gem that gives me some much-needed motivation to finish the week:
            “I wish someone would have talked to me this way in Spanish 3,4,5 instead of asking me to fill in a verb conjugation notebook or watch videos about Jose and Gabriela from Toledo!”
            Yes! The authentic conversations my high school French teacher initiated with me were VERY limited -like maybe one or two 10 second conversations a week in French, if that. But I always loved those little exchanges. I remember the feeling of wanting those mini conversations to continue becuase it was fun to try talk to my teacher in French. MyFrench 1 class was pretty much terrible today discipline-wise (about to post a question on that elsewhere), but thanks, Grant -this took me back for the first time really to that feeling I had in high school. I’m going to take more time to just talk to my kids in the TL and use it to get to know them in a genuine way.
            The point isn’t to teach them some point about the language or even to have their acquisition as a hidden agenda in our minds. The only “point” we should be teaching them is that we are interested in them. The fact that this is happening in the TL and that they won’t be able to help acquiring it is incidental.
            *The thing I was searching for is the administrator checklist for classroom visitors (admins, etc.) that people have commented about on here. I believe it was written by Bryce? Can anyone point me toward that?

        2. Yes! Thank you! I think what I’m seeing, according to Ben’s observation of you and according to this dialogue, is that you are having a pretty “normal” conversation with one student. You keep the pace slow, getting responses from the “special guest” and also from the “audience.”
          From the previous responses to the post, you add to a word list in the corner; these are words that come up in the course of the conversation, and because your focus is on the information about each student, the kids acquire these words with more ease because of the compelling personal context?
          I am having a hard time figuring out what to do about word lists. I haven’t posted any yet. I have only had one class, though! But I don’t know if I should be posting lists of high frequency words or review words that they know from previous years or just wait until stuff emerges? I think Ben posts the HF words and then teaches 5 per day (is that accurate? is this different from the lists where you give a monthly vocab quiz?). Sorry to branch off into this topic but its kinda related.

          1. Jen the key on this is that we all do what best works for us. There is no right way to do any of this. Over the eleven years I have been doing this, I have finally decided to just put up a list of about 150 words and leave it up all year. Before, I would put up lists of 65 new words every month and expect to teach them all. That was crazy. I finally figured out that doing about five from the list of 150 every day, would take all year (!) because I would forget to do them on some days, etc . It is a number – 150 – that works for me. That list has nothing to do with TPRS and the three steps, by the way, just to make that clear. It is not even that I care if the students learn those words – that is not my purpose with that list because I truly believe that we cannot learn a language from lists of words. Rather, the words function in my classroom as a kind of “cloud” of words which are right there, ready to “rain” down into the CI at any given moment. The kids get real confident with those words. They are like starter words, if you will, to help out. That’s their only purpose, to rain down on the CI if we need them, if the kid wants to suggest something into the CI, etc. All of this, for me, is all about process and not about memorizing anything. Hope I made that kind of clear, anyway.

          2. Yeah, I totally get that there is no “right way.” Thank you for the reminder! I was thinking of the lists in a similar way to what you describe, and also to make things a little more comfortable for the note-taker types. Just visually having lists might make them more at ease (just a hunch, I don’t really know if this is true). To me a list would serve the purpose of maybe getting the brainstorming going for some classes. I think that is pretty much how you use it. I guess I was also wondering if the upper level kids would benefit from lists of “juicier” words that they have already “learned” (ie, memorized, remember I am working with brand spankin’new to CI kids!) …for the same purpose, to be able to choose something to add into the CI. But as I am writing this, I’m realizing, these words will emerge on their own when it’s the right time, because someone will just throw it out there! Ok, never mind! 😉

          3. And Jen I am pretty sold on Krashen’s natural emergence hypothesis which – I hope I have this right – suggests that there is a natural sequence in the way children pick up language. Their minds make the decision about what language structures to mash down into the hard drive for permanence, so whether we teach a certain word or not, put it on a list or whatever, that doesn’t mean it will be acquired. That is the way I understand it. So it really is crazy to try to teach certain words at a certain time. Just deliver the CI and the big net does its thing.

  7. Bryce, your questions present a lot of new vocab. Are you pre-planning any of these and presenting them as structures for the class or are you letting them come up naturally, writing them on the board and doing point and pause? I’m thinking a lot this year about how I present, practice and later spiral back through previously used structures to make sure they sink in a bit further… I can see a lot of frustration if there are too many new words in any given period, but also boredom if the predictability reaches the point that the questions are always the same. ¿me explico?

  8. Grant,
    The vocabulary is unfolding naturally. Originally I had imagined that we would be mostly talking about sports with cognates, but it turns out that kids have a life beyond school and they want to talk about it, so suddenly we have cows, horses, bunnies, dancing, boxing, hunting. Today cycling came up in two different classes.
    I write the words on a poster in the corner of the room and do a lot of pointing and pausing, which helps to slow me down a bit. But I am needing to do it less and less because they are getting it. I can tell by their reactions and because I do a lot of comprehension checks.
    I think the vocabulary is sticking with fewer reps than I had anticipated because it is connected to actual kids that they see in the class. The word “conejos” (bunnies) is connected with a cute, shy girl named Lexie because that is what she said she liked and it just figures that she would like something like that. The words luchar (to wrestle) and guapo (handsome) is connected to a brash, talented wrestler named Logan. The stuff they are revealing about themselves just fits so well that the vocabulary just gloms onto them and they rest of the kids.
    When there is an uninvolved, slow, or shy kid, I make a big deal out of SOMETHING, be it how he likes to watch movies or play video games. I ask what are his favorites, and then I ask the class on days when we review what we have learned about one another. Somebody always remembers that Angel likes “Dumb and Dumber” and that Kyle likes to play Black Ops.
    Some kid claims to have absolutely nothing going on except just hanging out with friends, so I make a deal out of that tiny morsel–that he is a good friend and that we all need good friends like Jose. Thank God for Jose. We need more Jose’s. thank you, Jose, for being such a good friend. Class, who is a good friend? My goodness, who ELSE could it possibly be but Jose?
    The structures, though are basic: Likes… (noun) and Likes to…(verb). They are getting those structures and how they change, but the meaning is the thing. Several kids are spontaneously saying nadar (to swim), dibujar (to draw) and luchar (to wrestle) along with le gusta (likes to…). A Spanish teacher came to observe today and she said it could have passed for a Spanish 2 or even 3 class because of the level of involvement and understanding–I would have liked to take the credit for being Joe Jock Teacher, but it is the CI mindset and the focus on the kids that is doing it.
    It is not getting old yet, but I am mixing in some classic TPR every day and that may be helping to keep things rolling. We will begin a story (La Mano de Meghan) tomorrow.

  9. …the word “conejos” (bunnies) is connected with a cute, shy girl named Lexie because that is what she said she liked….
    This is a huge anchor. The visual association of the kid sitting there in class being talked about supports the language being used to talk about the kid. Just huge. So much anchoring going on. When I give the quick quizzes, I actually have the kid raise their hand to indicate that they are the kid being asked about. They get to know each other and the students have an easier time with the quiz questions because when they look at the physical presence/identity of the student who does that activity, it kicks off the sound of the associated language target, in the case above “conejos”, so that when they see Lexie there in class and they have the image of a bunnie from the discussion and they hear the sound “conejos” it bundles up in their deeper mind and they don’t even know why they understand it. Which is a good thing because it keeps the language down there out of conscious awareness and reflection and in the deeper mind where language lives. Win-win for the kids in the class. Effortless success because Bryce brought in the emotional piece (great description of Jose up there Bryce – thank you) and linked it to a kid sitting there in class and then linked both of those things with a sound and that sound instantly, we could say, was very close to being acquired, as opposed to having been studied for a test and forgotten.

  10. I no longer see anything here about the filling out of presonal-profile survey forms and the drawings of a favorite personal activity. With whatever call-&-response activity teachers start the year, it would still seem a good idea for them to continue to include the gathering up of an incipient personal archive on their students for ongoing reference. Teachers’ memories need help re the most important data of all: who/what their students are, do, feel, etc.?

  11. Frank,
    I can see how the personal inventory would be helpful. But since I am not that organized I plan on relying on the students’ memories to help guide our stories about their classmates. The “teacher is a dunce” gambit tends to work well for me. I just ask the kids and they help the woebegone teacher to remember.

  12. Frank I’m like Bryce. It’s too much information for me. Matava uses the questionnaires, keeps them, uses them all the time, and I did for awhile but in the interest of simplicity and honoring my own style, which is pretty free form, I use almost nothing except the moment I am in. We are going to see video of Drew Hiben – I think that posts here tonight or tomorrow, I am very excited about that – who also does a lot of hanging out in the moment. Just another example of how we can all be different and still get the comprehensible input game going.

  13. I love the description of Jose as a good friend. For the first time in 3 years, I have a student who didn’t draw anything on his name tag. I asked him if he had any favorites, any favorite music, any favorite food, any favorite movie, any sport, any book and he said, “no, nothing. ” He also said that he likes just speaking English. “I told him maybe after a couple of days, you will like German, too.” So, I let it go for now, but don’t really know what to do.
    Maybe I should ask him if there is something he doesn’t like and we could talk about that?

  14. This is simply huge. Your only job here Melanie is to continue each day in the small moments of class and in the hallways to let this kid know without any doubt that there is an adult in the building who cares what he thinks. Then, this is what I would do, I would wait. I would remind him of my question from time to time and know that I at some point expect an answer, even if it is ten years from now. Just let him know that. Once I had a thing going on where the only African American kid in my class, who had been moved to the suburbs because of violence downtown (this was before my move to DPS), waited until frickin’ MARCH or maybe it was APRIL to tell me that he wanted to be called “The Boy Who Goes First” in French and that would be his name for the rest of the year. So the kid with no name finally gave me a name, and it came from him and it came from him when HE said, and not when I said. What a cool way to send unconditional positive regard to someone. Let him know that you look forward to knowing what he comes up with. But you have to wait.

  15. Ben, you’ve said this over and over, perhaps the best way we learn TPRS skills is by osmosis, by watching other good teachers. Well, my skills are improving by just reading the transcript of Bryce’s conversations with student/class!
    Good stuff.

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