This is an icebreaker activity that I plan on using in the upper levels starting next week:
Students will draw two pictures (templates below):
1) Something that makes them special, and
2) Something of which they are afraid.
I will use their drawings for all of us to begin to know one another and build trust in the classroom. We will talk with each student and get to know them as I model proper attitudes and decorum in the classroom.
This is Oprah-style interviewing with Stephen Krashen hovering in the background: everything they say about themselves is wonderful and I occasionally throw in my opinions about how great I think they are. The aim is to produce comprehensible in put in the target language that moves past interesting to compelling: talk that is so captivating that they cannot help but pay attention, conversation that engages them to the degree that they will forget we are speaking in Spanish because they are caught up in the content.
This activity responds to common district/building requests that we differentiate strategies to reach all kids. It hits on many of the Low Prep and High Prep Classroom Strategies. It is a tiered and flexible strategy where we will explore their interests with multiple levels of questioning. I will adjust the level of my speaking to match the comprehension level of each student and each class. As I “interview” each student I will do constant comprehension checks (mainly by looking into their eyes as we speak) and adjust the complexity of my language as we chat. If it seems like a student response is a bit tough for the average class member, I will “report back” to the class using speech that is at a slightly lower level until all understand.
No one will be forced to speak or share here, but all will be given an opportunity. This activity will last as long as the energy and interest hold out—I imagine for two to three weeks, or even much longer if I am skilled enough to keep the mojo going. We will do other activities along the way, but in my mind this will be the emotional core of every class at the beginning of the year.
This activity could also work with the lower level classes with modifications. See Ben Slavic’s “Circling with Balls” activity at benslavic.com/resources for more ideas on how this might work in level I or II.
Feel free to steal this idea and/or modify it for your assignment.Here are the two templates:
Dibuja algo que te hace especial:
¡No has terminado todavía! Ve el otro lado, por favor.
Dibuja algo que te da mie:
20 thoughts on “Upper Level Icebreaker/Bryce Hedstrom”
Yay! Thank you Bryce! You read my mind…I was thinking about posting something to request ideas for ice-breaker / team building activities that folks have found successful. ”
So this is pretty similar to the circling with cards, right? Each kid has drawn an image or two and you do circling questions to get details and to allow each student to shine?
Will you add a reading component to this? Like write up all the info you get from each student and then use it for a reading class or is that overkill/ a flow disruptor for this type of activity? Just wondering, since you said it might last for 2-3 weeks.
Thanks so much!
I’ve never done a reading component with the cards, Jen, because my principle goal now (we start tomorrow) has always been to first personalize and teach the kids the norms/rules (posters page of this site). So I’ve kind of overlooked the idea of reading, thinking it not possible this early.
But, like the 3 PQA counters in stories as we discussed in St. Louis (Monday PQA to set up the Tuesday story), why not have someone counting each structure that emerges from the cards? It may be that if I get as many reps as I think I’ll get, they will be able to read easily since reading is based in sound.
Thank you for the suggestion. I’m gonna try it. Counters will count frequency of each card’s structure. It is nothing but extended PQA. I bet it works. My big goal this year is more reading anyway. Once I waited until November to start reading. Way too late, as I see it now.
Thank you for this idea. Could you comment on what would change, if anything, if you would be going into an upper level class already knowing the students really well because you have had them for 1-3 years? That is my case actually and I am just curious…. It is also a class of 5.
Thanks so much
I will not know all of these kids in my level 3 classes, but if I did know all of them well there is still a lot that I do not know and that they do not know about one another, so we could explore that–there are so many layers of knowing. Sounds like you have a real intimate setting. What topics are you thinking of exploring with them?
I had not thought of writing up the students’ stories, mainly because I am too disorganized, but that IS a good idea. Maybe I will jot down some of the more interesting ones and exaggerate them a bit to create some recognizable fodder for a story.
Oh wow. I wasn’t exactly suggesting the reading component. I was just wondering about it since I don’t have a clear picture of starting the year and when to introduce reading.
I am also “organizationally challenged” haha…understatement. So realistically for me maybe I would type something up after a few kids shared, maybe 1x week or so ??? I could see many possibilites with this from a competitive game after everyone shares (like the word chunk game or other types of trivia games or pictionary) to an entry in the class “yearbook” (a la Jim Tripp)…or even individual “biographies” of kids???
Sometimes there is a “classic” image that gets adopted from the wacky stick figures kids draw. Many years ago I had a kid draw this crazy cat, that was affectionately known as “Le Chat 2003.” He appeared on the chalkboard everyday before I got to class, and also on other random whiteboards around the school. He was updated the next year (Le Chat 2004) and became an ongoing “mascot.” I think we even made t-shirts?! Sometimes an image takes on a life of its own and becomes a “brand name label” for a certain group! Of course we cannot plan this stuff, but can be open to the possibilities!
Skip….I also have super small classes of kids that I know well. I think probably just pick a really specific or recent or wacky category of information that you might not have discussed? “Recent favorites…books / films / songs/ hiking trails / fishing holes…or whatever kids are into? I have sometimes had kids bring in an “artifact” that is important to them. This usually reveals new layers. Some kids are more open than others of course, but there is room for any way a kid wants to share. For my Sp 4 class I am toying with the idea of starting out with “famous” like in Michael Miller’s video of his German class. I think that would get lots of compelling reps on “is” “was” “wants to be” etc…and since we know the kids we can tailor the questions a bit? Please let me know any strategies you have for getting reps with such tiny classes!!! I haven’t yet connected with anyone who has such small groups like I do. It’s so hard to get the energy level up sometimes.
Thank you all for the specifics and the encouragement! I’ll be sending you all lots of energy as you begin! I still have a couple weeks until I start.
It was Laurie Clarq (I am pretty sure) who suggested that upper levels could draw/depict on their card what they HOPE to be doing in the future (5 years??)
I was also thinking that on the other side they might draw something that I (and the other students) do NOT know about them. I would participate as well of course.
I really need to go back and read Anne Matava’s strategy of scripting stories from Literature/readings she is planning to do with them…. I really want to have success with reading with them but really never have had any and am very nervous to turn them off from reading in the target language. I was thinking about doing Una Carta Dios, Un Día de Estos, and some poetry…I was also thinking about using Esperanza (even though it is a level 1 book) just because I think it would be VERY easy for them and really encourage them. It is also very rich culturally and will make them aware of a lot of cultural information (Guatemala) Then I was considering the other novels that Carol Gaab has for upper levels…
I am definitely going to use Bryce’s jokes right at the beginning and sprinkle jokes in throughout the year because I am sure that the students will LOVE it…
Upper levels make me nervous but I am committed to learning how to do them well and effectively…
Great ideas with the cards! I especially love the one about something most people don’t know about you.
Upper levels have been so tricky for me. I have struggled most years because of the great gulf in their actual comfort level with the language vs. the mandate about “covering” certain grammar topics or pieces of literature.
For readings, I think it is perfect to use easier books to encourage them. If you think about it, if the kids are not used to reading, why throw them into super deep water from the start? They can easily drown! I’m just saying this from instinct mostly, but I have found that most kids are proud when they have finished a whole book in Spanish. I have used “Mi Propio Auto” with upper level classes because it has lots of great teenage themes that kids are already caught up in. I love these books for their simplicity (the kids can actually understand them) and also because the kids always have a reaction or opinion about the characters. Even if they get going on how lame Mindy is or whatever…they are engaged! And because the stories are simple, there is so much room to expand into a discussion about materialism, poverty, development on a local/ global level, etc. and to dovetail these with current events.
While I love Pobre Ana and Pobre Ana Baila Tango, if I have a class with lots of boys, they don’t get into these as much, so I tend to use Mi Propio Auto with those classes. Last year I had an all-boy level 2 class so… 🙂
I had a 7-10 min. silent reading period every day where kids chose books or magazines to read. According to the student feedback they found this helpful. Some kids did more “browsing” type reading and others chose a book and read part of it each day. I think both are fine. My “library” includes children’s books, National Geographic in Spanish, a few random newspapers/ fashion magazines, various Blaine Ray / Carol Gaab novels. I also have the good fortune to have a local Spanish family in the community so I borrowed books from them including some “young adult” versions of classics (Quijote, el Cid, etc) and also Harry Potter, Manolito Gafotas and El Principito. Even though we may end up using any of these materials as a “whole class read” I still have all the books open for anyone to use, because I think it’s fine if a few students end up reading something twice.
I just read Esperanza and Vida Y Muerte en La Mara Salvatrucha. Heavy, heavy reading I would say (emotionally). I will probably use them later in the year. Esperanza would work really well with the film “El Norte” or “Bajo la Misma Luna.” I have also used “Una Carta a Dios” as you mentioned. I’ve had mixed results with that one depending on the group. I’ve not read it in awhile, and because we now have a school garden and local food is a big topic everywhere it might be perfect timing to read this! Thanks for the reminder 🙂
There is a really sweet little book by Julia Alvarez called “El Cuento del Cafecito.” It is a parable story of this guy who goes on vacation to the Dominican Republic, gets sick of being at a resort and goes up into the mountains where he meets and falls in love with the people of this rural mountain community. The version I have is a bilingual version with Spanish and English. I have had a great time with this book, and am happy to provide details what I’ve done with it if you want. It’s got so many possibilities for discussion, and also very beautiful language!
This past year I used “Los Ojos de Carmen” in my level 4 class. We used it as an in-class read. Since I was just barely getting started (in April) with CI-based teaching, I kind of used this book as our “grammar lesson.” (that is how I referred to it with one student who was craving “una hora completamenta aburrida estudiando verbos.”…this satisfied her craving bc she could focus on the verb forms and everyone else just focused on the meaning!)
This year I am going to try the Susie Gross method of 2 weeks straight reading of a novel at the end of each quarter. Since I have upper levels with no CI experience I think this will be perfect for them. I haven’t chosen the novels yet because I am in the middle of trying to read them all so I can decide, but likely I’ll pick some easier ones first and work my way to “Ojos de Carmen.”
Skip here is that scripting information from Anne’s Story Scripts Vol. 1:
Appendix C: How to Script a Story
I. Scripting a story to prepare for reading a novel or other text
1. Go to a chapter in the novel or short story, preferably the chapter you will be reading next with the class.
2. Read the first few pages carefully, watching for words/ structures that are:
• high frequency in real life
• high frequency in this chapter or the novel in general
• interesting enough to create an engaging script from
• not so specific as to be limiting (it’s okay to have one very specific word, like “vacuum cleaner” or “navigate”. The other two structures will need to be generic enough so that the story can go in a variety of directions.)
Jot down all words/ structures that fall into one or more of the above categories. The more categories they fall into, the more useful they will be to you and your students.
3. Look at the words you’ve jotted down. See if a story line appears to you. Don’t over think it, just start writing. Write the first sentence, then the second one. See if there is a pattern emerging that could become repetitive. In my experience, the structures/ vocabulary can become repetitive in one of two ways:
• you have the main character go to three locations and do more or less the same thing in each location. (Easier, but can come across as somewhat predictable.)
• you find ways to work the vocabulary into the script repeatedly. (More difficult, but the result is less contrived and more free-form.)
4. Assuming that you are developing a script that follows the pattern of three locations, script the first and then the second location. The third location should start out like the first two but you leave the end of it open, to see how the class will resolve it. (Examples to follow.)
5. If you are not going to do the three locations, write the script so that the target structures get used more than once. It’s harder than it sounds. I shoot for three times each, but am happy with twice each.
6. Write your script into a notebook. Write what level class it is for, and when you use it, write the date. Skip lines and leave spaces to write what the class comes up with. I usually do period 1 in red ink and period 5 in blue ink, so that I know which class came up with which detail.
Example: from Chapter 1 in The Trip of His Life, by Blaine Ray
slaps his hand*
(the last two are not from the text. They appeared repeatedly in my script. If my students already knew one of the first three structures, I might take one of these two in its place.)
Note: all underlined items are the variables. You will fill the blanks in with information supplied by your students.
Johnny is a thief. He takes/steals tacos from hairdressers. One day he goes to Toys R Us and sees 34.5 hairdressers. He tries to take/steal a taco from a hairdresser named Susie. Susie is a tall, bearded hairdresser with 24 arms. She slaps Johnny’s hand and says, “Stop thief!” Johnny runs away.
He runs to the laundromat and sees 2 hairdressers.. He tries to take a taco from a hairdresser named Jenny. Jenny is short and beautiful and has no nose. She slaps Johnny’s hand and says, “Stop thief!” Johnny runs away.
Johnny runs to school and sees 4.7 hairdressers. He tries to take a taco from a hairdresser named Mr. Lynch. He takes the taco from Mr. Lynch! While he is eating the taco, Mr. Lynch takes one of Johnny’s gold teeth.
This is what the script looks like in my notebook:
_________is a thief. He takes/ steals____________ from___________. One day he goes to ___________ and sees________ __________. He tries to take/ steal a_________ from a __________named___________. _________ is a _________________with___ _______. She slaps__________’s hand and says, “Stop thief!” _____________ runs away.
He runs to _______________and sees ___ ____________. He tries to take a______ from a __________ named _______. _______ is___________________. She slaps__________’s hand and says, “Stop thief!” ____________ runs away.
Johnny runs to ___________ and sees ____ __________. He tries to take a _______from a _____________named ________________. (Ending is up to the students.)
II. Scripting a story that is not associated with a particular text
There are a number of instances in which it is not preferable to script a story to prepare students for reading. If you are expected to reach certain benchmarks or cover certain topics, you can script your stories from those. Often, the students will ask me how to say a phrase, and because I recognize it as an important, high-frequency structure, I script a story around it. It is also fun to hear an anecdote or read a funny article in the paper and script a story that echoes the action of the anecdote or article. Anything funny that happens in the stream of life can become a story. We just remember to make all humor at the expense of no one.
The method for scripting stories that are not associated with a particular text is the same as the one described above: I jot down at least 5 or 6 phrases and look at them, playing with them in my mind, until a story line emerges. If it is hard or time-consuming at first, don’t give up. It gets immeasurably easier with practice.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I start reading very early, by the first or second week. I pick one student, one structure, and try to focus on that for AT LEAST one class period, not even counting the next (partial) day of reading. And I teach block classes, so you can imagine the amount of attention that one kid gets. (I break it up every 10 minutes or so early on with TPR, 3 Ring Circus, some counting, days of the week songs, etc.)
Bryce, this is one more great way to get to know the kids, thanks for sharing the idea!
Something I do with upper level groups that I’ve mentioned here in the past is have them bring in a prop/artifact of their summer with a note to clue me in on what it represents. This may be a ticket from a baseball game they attended, a shirt from a city they visited, a toy cow because they milked cows all summer, whatever. They bring them in during the first week, I put them in a drawer, and for the next month or more I take one out a day and we do extended PQA around it. I pick 1 structure to keep me in bounds and we start talking, often going from the PQA into a story on the fly. It requires little planning, no prop prep on my part, and has a very compelling nature to it.
I don’t know why I mentioned that bit about me starting reading from the get-go with beginner students, maybe simply to raise my hand as someone who tries to make readings out of as much as possible, including extended PQA if possible.
One of the most compelling and memorable readings last year came from a PQA class. I don’t even remember how the topic arose, but I had a kid who is a real live rocket scientist and somehow I asked my way into this bizarre but true story of an MIT scientist who invented (and got paid…grant $$$) a self-contained gaming “pod” called the WOW pod. It had everything you could need in terms of food, water, toilet, etc. so you could literally continue playing World of Warcraft for days on end! It was one of those classes where we were laughing so hard and yet were still in bounds with language…one of those amazing classes where the kids think they’re “getting away with something” or “getting Jen to go off on a tangent.” Since we were working a lot with past tenses I just wrote the whole thing up in the past: “Ayer Andrew nos dijo…” and described all the features of the WOW pod. Naturally occurring complex structures were in the reading, but none of the kids even asked “what does___ mean?” because they read the piece in such an effortless flow (with much laughter that this was even the reading lesson!). I think the next day I had them draw the wow-pod and then asked for volunteers to share/explain their drawing…everyone volunteered! It was magical!
As I’m replying here it is really sinking in about the power and magic in focusing the “content” on the kids. So many of the personal stories or wacky scenarios provided close group identities. This made it so easy to write up a “fun” final exam because the kids were engaged in the message/ story, almost “forgetting” they were communicating in another language. Yay for Krashen-izing!
…it is really sinking in about the power and magic in focusing the “content” on the kids….
And it is so opposite from everything we have ever been told, that since we are teachers we must focus on content, focus on content. We have to release ourselves from that thought. It is a very important thing to remember as most of us start the year with PQA now. Many kids see something develop and silently wish we would develop it, like how Johnny plays football. They want us to just STAY with Johnny, but we foolishly go to the next card and then the next, thinking we are doing PQA. By extending the PQA to find out more and more details about Johnny, we create little scenarios. We can even combine the oddball information we get from Johnny and the class with One Word Images (this site/resources/workshop handouts), if we have that cheatsheet in our hands. That is what the kids want. They don’t want the content. The language IS the content, as per:
I never even thought, until the past year or so, of how important it is to begin reading earlier in the year and I am really glad you said that, Jim. Years ago, the word on the street was that we wait a few months to introduce reading, but it occurs to me why not write up stuff that comes up in class about kids and have the kids read it the next day, just like we do in stories but now in August in the PQA settings like Jim describes above and even Circling with Balls and anything we happen to be doing right now! It’s great personalization, the kids love the personal attention, they’re reading – why not do it? I will try it next week. I will probably need a “story writer” – in this case a kid who just takes notes in English about the zany PQA stuff we come up with, and then I can write that up and present it and spin off of it the next day. (I think I like Jen’s word “riff” to describe what we do when breaking into more CI during a reading – it’s jazz, right? – instead of “spin”.) Anyway, doing these “readings” on the day after a good PQA session here in August would, in the reading, also break up the constant PQA as we strive to get to know every kid in the class from their cards, props they bring in (Jim), asking them what they are good at, afraid of (Bryce), etc.
[I reread that last sentence and I really like it. If you stop and think about it, we are pretty fortunate to be teachers if we get to do stuff like that, just talking to kids. reminding them how smart they are, hearing their cute answers, playing the game of CI. I, for one, anyway, am feeling real blessed tonight, especially because I get to to teach French at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver tomorrow with the most kick ass CI teachers in our district, with all due respect to GWHS and their group of league leading Arizona Diamondback fans, of course.]
Regarding to increase the impact for a small class size, I teach at an independent school and my largest class size is 12 and the smallest one I had was 3. One thing I did and found that was helpful was we created a class shadow as well as personal shadow for the class together. Actually, that was my starting unit for my Chinese IIIs & IVs. I created a bingo sheet as an ice-breaker game, we use the same bingo sheet for their shadows, so the shadows have unique personality and come to life. My Chinese IV created all the stories related their shadows in series. We even had a play for the entire upper school. Otherwise, a small class can get awkward if you only have real students to draw on.
This is what Blaine has suggested we do in stories – create a parallel story. So creating parallel shadow people is brilliant!
Thank you Haiyun! This sounds like a great way to get more “personalities” involved. Can you elaborate a bit on what the bingo sheet is?
I did little search in my files, I guess I had lost the file when we switched from PC to Mac this year. Anyway, it’s a bingo sheet which combines factual statement and something just being crazy and funny. Such as: _____ speaks more than three languages. _______ loves to eat spicy frog meat. _____ has more than 5 siblings. _____ likes to sing toward moon. _____ doesn’t like to shower. ______ likes group shower, so on and so forth. I remember one time, I googled about the funniest FB posts and had few things in there. One I could remember was “_____ received a coupon which says ‘if you buy one sock, you will get another one for free.”
This thread is amazing. Really fabulous. It breaks my heart that it is not in TPRS Talk where all the other teachers who are worrying about how to start with upper levels cannot read it.
Bryce, would you mind re-posting your original post on the TPRS Talk bulletin board? This whole conversation would be so valuable to the entire TPRS community.
I am embarrassed to say that i do not even know what TPRS talk is. Tell me the address and I will try to post something.
I am still doing this get-to-know-you thing with my 3’s after two weeks of school. We are only getting about one kid done every two days. They stand up in the front and show their drawings and I shower them with attention. They like it so much that today several kids asked if they could do the drawings instead of a P.A.T. time game!