Starting the Year Out with Postcards

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24 thoughts on “Starting the Year Out with Postcards”

  1. I like this idea for my 7 and 8th graders, because I’ve already done circling with balls, and this would be a great way to start the year-thanks for this comment!

  2. The truth is that I picked this postcard idea up from somebody else on this blog about two and a half years ago when they were talking about booting back up from the Christmas break. So, whoever that was, thanks!

  3. Nathan, I love this idea! The last few years I have been doing a “summer prop” activity with my level 2s. It has been up and down, mostly due to the willingness of my students to actually bring in a prop. But this idea, of having them draw it, takes some pressure off of them I think, and assures that (if I have them do it in class) I will get something from each of them. Thank you very much Nathan (and Ben for posting this).

    1. Elissa (and anyone else who’s interested),
      Send me your email address and I will send you a picture of the stand I made. It took my violin-making partner to fine-tune my idea, but I’m pretty psyched about it! And our tech coordinator loves it!
      Email me with your address and I’ll pass along the photo.

    1. Carmen Ordonez

      Hi Ben,

      This will be my first year teaching Spanish in a small private school. I will be teaching Preschool to 8 grade.

      I will be using TPRS/CI aproach. I will build my own curriculum and I have been thinking about lesson plans and I do not know where to start.. .

      Would you like to e-mail me samples of your lesson plans. I have some ideas but I would like to see a sample.

      I will appreciate your help.

      Muchas gracias,
      Carmen ordonez

      1. Hello Carmen!

        I hope that some of our elementary teachers reply, but if no one does in a day or two, I’ll try to get back to you!! I teach 9-12 now, but have taught elementary in the past!1

        with love,

      2. Carmen I would send you some lesson plans but I don’t use them . I will send to your email address some ideas in the form of an attachment that will allow you to do comprehensible input with your students, however. They are for high school, however, so they may not work and you will have to think of ways to modify them to your smaller kids. We need to hear from some elementary teachers on this.

        One thing, however, is the Word Zoo idea from Charlotte Dincher in Germany. It is a keeper for smaller kids:

  4. Hey Ben- How do you start the year off with your students who have already done the card circling with you? I was thinking of using the post cards with my 7th/8th grade (I’ve had them since 4th/5th grade) but I agree that it will probably introduce too many words…

    Has anyone else done the postcards yet with non-advanced students? Curious.

  5. Dude I am starting the year (I have no level ones this year) with stories. The three steps in their pure form – PQA, then a story, then a reading. We really can’t get too far from those three steps, which is the formula for Coca Cola in what we do. There has been a lot of crowing that there are other forms of comprehensible input, and I agree. But most of my ideas that all into that category are for level ones. I just don’t know if we have great stuff besides the three steps besides stories for classes at or above level 2. Do we? And don’t forget that one of main themes here this year is upper levels. I put up the category for Upper Levels and there is already some good stuff there. Just my own opinions here, though.

  6. Hi everyone
    First time posting. Circling works great for 1st year but what about 2 and3 year. I was wondering if the post card idea would work with some parameters like what (games) did you play and what movies did you see? I work in a socio economically challenged school and I am not sure about a general What did you do this summer question.

  7. That’s my concern Anu and thanks for posting! I just don’t feel that I personally could keep everything well in bounds if I just did a general what did you do this weekend of what did you do this summer kind of class. And yet, others like Bryce and Nathan and I think Jim Tripp and many others don’t have this problem. I think that for me the postcards are a level four type of activity and then only with level four kids who have been trained with comprehensible input. I’m just saying that I feel safe and happy with the three steps with my level two classes. Getting a silly story going in the first few days is just plain fun and sets a tone. And I should add that today I was noticing how much easier it is to do that when I am at 99.9% use of TL instead of, say, 90%. I am getting to see that that is a HUGE gap in terms of classroom control. Any other thoughts on Anu’s question?

  8. What I am doing this year to limit the extraneous vocabulary is (after the first day) to look through the postcards and see what key words could tie several of them together.

    For example if I see a picture of somebody tubing behind a boat and another one of somebody fishing, I might choose to focus on the words TRIED and WANTED TO and spend the time circling those verbs rather than “tubing” or “fishing.” I can talk of how I TRIED to go tubing, but always fell in the water, and how I WANTED TO tube, but it didn’t work. After spinning that for awhile of comparing myself (the complete klutz) to my successful students, I could see who else in the class TRIED to boat, swim, whatever. Actually for my German II class this year TRIED is already a review term, so this”glue word” that ties together other activities provides a nice review and sense of familiarity.

    I the terms “tubing”, “swim”, “boating” might not be well known, but a) I have a high-interest picture to reinforce them and b) I can act those out enough in the discussion (physically acting out my incompetence) that people can hang with it. The trick here is not to do too many postcards per day, but compare and contrast–have you TRIED fishing while tubing?–and look for the background details of the story that need filling in (a la Blaine). Then I can write up a reading for these stories with my illustrations already provided from the postcards (which I just scan).

    My experience is that the visual elements–the postcard itself plus acting out–keeps Level 2 and up students from getting overwhelmed from new vocab, while the “glue words” just rack up repetitions and get acquired while we personalize our way along.

  9. Since my upper levels are facing all of the decisions they have to make, I have decided to riff on the what scares you question to what worries you? May open some interesting conversations!

  10. As I’m thinking about what the heck to do this coming week, I came across this post. I’m hoping some of you can help me out.

    For those who don’t know, I accepted a position in a different school district over the summer. I’m going from teaching middle school to teaching high school. I will be teaching levels 1 and 4.

    I already know what I’m going to do in level 1 basically for the entire year.

    But what should I do this first week in my level 4 class? Circling with Balls? Some type of pre-assessment? Jump into some level 3/4 story? I have absolutely no clue where to start, what to do, NADA! I’m new in this district, but it is my alma mater. I’ve never taught level 4 before and I don’t know where they’re at with the language. I don’t know what to do the first day of class, second day, nothing. I have ideas of what to do after about a month or so of school is in session but I just do not know where to start in this class. Any help would be greatly, greatly appreciated. I’m technically supposed to already have my week’s lesson plans turned in but I have no clue what I’m going to do in this class.

    1. I am going to post the upper level CWB prompts that I am going to let Spanish 3/4 choose from again. I also really like Chill’s prompts about life decisions…

      After I have them answer the prompt “what is important to you? (can be literally anything) and, Why does it matter? I will give them their cardstock, have them choose a prompt and start talking about what they drew…

      I will then try to make the students my curriculum by sprinkling in compelling topics that come up as a result of my student information sheets, my listening hard for cues of things that are important to them etc…and center the CI around those… (For example, I came across this article about the biggest baby in the history of Spain… I wondered if this could lead to some really neat CI (If I frame it carefully, of course) about us (in the class) as babies…. (who was the biggest baby, smallest baby, tallest, numbers for those etc. It may even result in a moral “the biggest baby is now one of our smallest students, the smallest baby one of the biggest students …. something about change, etc? (really just brainstorming with myself here 🙂
      (Here is the link for the article

      I honestly think that this twitter idea I have been working on this year will encourage students to read …..

      Good luck Chris

  11. The level 4 class is going to resist the nature of what you are doing, comprehensible input. The level of resistance will surprise you. We have some posts on that if anybody knows where they are. Just sayin’.

  12. Since you are new to them and they to you, the first thing you need to do is get to know them. You need to get to know them both as people and as students, so in the name of getting to know them, I would suggest some sort of activity like Circling with Balls or What I did this summer.

    As Ben points out, you are likely to have a resistant class. Just how resistant will probably determine what you do with them. You may wind up focusing on the level 1 with CI and giving the level 4 students some form of what they have known to this point. Give them as much CI as they can handle, but they may not be able to handle very much, and you may have to be creative in how you present it. Reading might be the way to go because you can give them reading “worksheets” – just be sure to emphasize comprehension questions rather than linguistic questions.

    Also, as Ben note, there are posts with ideas, but I don’t know where they are either. Who is the master at finding things on the blog?

    1. ooops – forgot to post the revised prompts:
      If I were a famous person I would be (I will have them put the face of the person on the card)
      If I could go anywhere where would I go,
      If I were an animal I would be…..)
      If I could have anything I wanted i would have…..
      What I wish I had done over the summer
      (we will talk about “and why” as well….

  13. This is a somewhat off-topic comment, but related to the original post. When I do this “Postcard” deal that Nathan clued us into, I use one student’s card per week, approximately. Then I find a way to link the postcard theme (a trip to Florida, a visit to the State Fair with their prize cow, a job they worked all summer, etc) to a story script that I already have. Sometimes I end up writing a new script to go with the postcard, or I don’t even go to the story because a. the postcard just doesn’t lend itself to it or b. the student doesn’t “let me” go to a story with it. These are rare exceptions though, usually I can work the postcard theme and the student into a script pretty easily.

    It usually goes like this. I PQA the card for a bit with the student, establishing meaning for a key structure or two. Sometimes this lasts the whole first class period. Then I will look at the class and my tone changes, and we’re all of a sudden on the first sentence of the script. They know then that we’re in fiction story land, and the details are theirs to help establish.

    I do this Postcards activity in level two, and it sometimes lasts the entire semester (block schedule so a whole year class). Of course we will read a novel together and watch a movie or two, and get sidetracked purposefully for a week here and there, but the theme usually remains. I didn’t do it last year because I started my level 2 semester in the Spring (I rotate semesters every year). I do plan to pick it back up this year however.

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