What Are Your Favorite CI Activities?

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30 thoughts on “What Are Your Favorite CI Activities?”

  1. Here’s a more complete answer to how to work poetry in, Leigh Anne – another possibility (from the Big CI Book):

    Strategy #23: The Class Poem

    Before I heard about CI/TPRS, some of my students would memorize a poem and love it. I would record it for them and then after school or even in class coach them along using some standard declamation guidelines. It was really fun to hear them and see what they could do with a poem.

    Many entered and won big in poetry declamation contests at local universities. The level of involvement by some of the kids was off the chart, which is the best reason to do it. Poetry declamation as part of my curriculum has always been received well by parents, especially.

    Unfortunately, when I started stories I stopped the poetry. It may have been that there was just too much else to do, or perhaps I stopped the poems because, as output, I knew that students in their first few years of a language weren’t ready to do it.

    I have reconsidered that position. I think we should try to work some poetry into our comprehensible input programs in the form of a “class poem”. Students I taught twenty years ago tell me how important the poem was to them, how they still remember it. It is a wonderful thing to recite a poem in another language, as long as it’s not a course requirement and remains optional.

    I find time during each class period – block classes are best for this – to share whatever poem we are working on as a class.

    Here is one suggested process to use when working with the Class Poem:

    1. Make sure that the poem is below the level of your students’ ability.
    2. Take one line and PQA it for as long as you can.
    3. PQA just that one line, or maybe two, in each class period.
    4. Then do another line the next day, and so on.

    I reserve about five minutes for this process in each class period. After a number of repetitions, the structures of the poem will have worked their way into the students’ deeper minds so that after a few weeks of doing this for a few minutes each day they would know the line practically by heart. We would therefore do only a handful of poems per semester or even over the course of the entire year.

    Of course, we would read the entire poem each time after doing this line by line activity. Working with poetry provides another good example of how we go narrow and deep instead of shallow and wide with lots of in-bounds repetitions in our fluency programs. Less is more in poetry.

    A guide to how to coach kids in declamation can be found easily on the internet. We work with the kids on things like physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic tone, accuracy, accent, etc. I sometimes even take a few minutes of class time working with individuals so that the other students can be a part of and see what it means to truly gain ownership over a poem, instead of, say, a video game.

    Students who want to take it further and memorize it for a grade are encouraged to do so. I record my own voice reciting the poem for them to work with at home.

    This activity might best be used as a final project, if you are in a school where you must do projects. There comes a point in the year, as we all know, when stories, reading, and just about everything we have been doing all year somehow lose their spark. Late spring is project time and this is a good project to do.

    1. We do this same sort of activity with songs/choruses of songs that can be quoted. Something I add to make it fun is to start wiping out words and inserting blank spaces instead on the board, so the first line might look like this after kids know it:

      ___ ___________ _______ ___!

      Then I can ask circling questions while pointing at one blank or another. I especially like to do it when I have an admin in the room. It confuses them, but the kids are so enthusiastic that they assume I’m doing something right. Sometimes I do a pop-up grammar with endings, writing just the ending down and asking about it or explaining what it means.

      Love this list!

      1. The steps are listed on that post. Martina has kids write a story using words from the cloud one sentence at a time. They write for 1min, then all pass, read what their partner wrote, then add on.

        Honestly, the writing isn’t great, if I use it I must spend a lot of time making edits, and in my own variation there’s no target language on the paper so kids are doing some translation into target language just to make a story. Lately, I skip the writing altogether and just make a big word cloud. I should write about that.

  2. High school:
    Listen & Draw with individual drawings (plus reading follow-up with those sketches)
    Listen & Draw with a whiteboard mural
    Read & Draw a whiteboard mural (class story)
    Reading a chapter, picking key summary sentences, and staging & photographing those scenes. (Then using the sentences & photos again later.)

    Middle school:
    Special Chair
    Adding images to a PowerPoint slideshow from captions provided, then seeing their slideshows.
    Listen & Draw with individual sketches & follow up.

    1. For those who don’t know (Diane’s invention of) Listen and Draw, this is from the Big CI Book, as taken from vaarious posts by her on this site a few years ago:

      Strategy #16 – Listen and Draw:

      Diane Neubauer has developed an activity that we should all use in our CI classrooms, both as a strategy but as a bail out move.

      Diane reports:

      “This is my favorite comprehensible input activity. I have to keep from doing it too often so that my students don’t get tired of it. You ask a story that the kids draw as you go, which means that you tend to go slowly enough (they’ll complain because they are drawing the details). Then afterwards you can grade the drawings and use them for a lot more. Later, type up the details everyone drew (with a few twists) and you are ready for Read & Discuss.

      “I developed Listen and Draw once while trying to engage a lethargic, sleepy group of eighth graders in Personalized Question and Answers. We had introduced three or four new words, made some gestures to help recall them, and then I began to ask questions. Silence. Students sinking in their chairs.

      “In a moment of inspiration, rather than try to drag interpersonal communication out of them, I asked myself, “What can I do that will still cause these chatty kids to listen to these words in meaningful context?” And I gave each of them a blank piece of paper. I left our new words on the board and began, slowly, to describe a scene. The students sketched what they heard, somehow visually including every detail.”

      Diane’s target structures were:

      cross the street
      waiter/service worker
      chocolate milkshake

      Slowly Diane described a scene using no other new words:

      There is a person. He’s a man. He’s a waiter. He can speak Mandarin. He likes milkshakes. He’d like to have a chocolate milkshake. He’s beside a street. The street is pretty: there are a lot of flowers. Across from the waiter, there is a small restaurant. The restaurant sells milkshakes. The waiter is about to cross the street to buy a chocolate milkshake. I rephrased things after they’d heard it all, such as: There’s a Mandarin-speaking man who is a waiter. He’s beside a pretty street… etc.

      Diane continues:

      “Describing and sketching such a detailed scene took about 20-25 minutes. As a follow-up, I asked the students to show a classmate and describe it in Chinese for one minute. Then, I took volunteers who re-told their sketch to the whole class, pointing out features in their drawing. I collected the drawings and graded them out of 5 points for including all details. Grading the drawings makes them take this seriously, but they enjoyed it, and wow, what an improved level of engagement. They were asking me to repeat and the focus level was very high.

      “The next day I had scanned in several drawings and showed them on screen. I asked the students questions about each. They loved looking at (and laughing at) their classmates’ drawings. Even students not yet ready to speak can be highlighted with Listen and Draw, and using their sketches both encourages them and gives them status with more vocal classmates.

      “Since then, I’ve found it helpful to shorten the description and include two sketches of about 4-6 sentences, and maybe 5-8 minutes needed to complete each sketch. With classes that know how to play, story-asking for the specific details is great. My current 7th grade class is excellent at that. One scene recently created with them ended up with a student from the class at (recurring character) Apple Juice Man’s house watching SpongeBob on TV on Sunday (targets: watch TV, weekend, with). The kids added who and what and really owned it. There was passion when they saw each other’s versions of Apple Juice Man!”

      I say congratulations to Diane. What she describes above is real comprehension based teaching. It’s “monitor and adjust” with style points thrown in. This drawing idea is indeed a gem of a CI strategy and also it is a gem of a bail out move. It slows the kids down and focuses them. David Talone said, after trying it, that it “eliminated the need for me to be so interesting. And it does what all comprehensible input should do; it focuses the kids on the language.”

      Diane continues:

      “With my distracted, bouncing-off-the-walls class I think this might become a permanent part of the PQA process in my classroom. I almost always try to review some of the drawings the next day as a class warm up before the story.”

      James Hosler has added an excellent suggestion to Diane’s idea: “Use student pictures as the basis for a quick quiz, e.g., in L2, “In this picture, class, does Albert want to eat vegetables?”” (Such questions can be made up on the spot, as long as the questions have one word answers and as long as the quiz writer records the correct answer for grading as each question happens.)

      What Diane has come up with here illustrates and defends how what we do is not a method but rather an ongoing, ever changing process. Yes, we need the skills to make the process work, and the strategies and techniques mentioned in this book have proven helpful to many, but when we can adjust on our own, without relying on a book or computer program, in constantly different ways, we have made significant progress into this way of teaching. When we are faced with chatty kids, we would do well to remember Diane’s perfectly phrased question to herself right there in the middle of class: “What can I do that will still cause these chatty kids to listen to these words in meaningful context?”

      Listen and Draw Follow Up Activities

      Diane shares some of the follow-up activities that can be done after a Listen and Draw session:

      – teacher describes a detail and has students point out that feature in their sketch.
      – brief pair work: students describe their finished sketches to another student.
      – volunteers retell the description to the whole class while pointing out features of their sketches.
      – use particularly entertaining images the next day (asking questions about the picture and discussing – they love seeing these).
      – teacher types a description and the class reads it together.
      – teacher types a parallel storyline and compares and contrasts it to their pictures.
      – teacher or students write up true/false statements, read them together or silently, and have students write their answers.
      – students type or hand-write a description of another student’s picture the next day.

      Classic Six Panel Story Boards

      For over twenty years now, CI/TPRS teachers have had their students draw six panel drawings as a follow up activity to a reading, or as something the class artist draws during the creation of the story. Such a simple idea is certainly an oldie but a goodie, but one that is often forgotten in the sea of ideas we keep coming up with in comprehension based instruction.

      What is great about these is that after listening so intently during the story creation process in Step 2 of TPRS, and after reading the story, the kids are primed and ready to do some drawing, and they really enjoy it. Just put the reading up and let them start drawing! Then share their work with the class and you get even more reps on the story! Of course, keeping in alignment Listen and Draw, the story could be read to the kids while they draw. And yes, stick figures are fine.

  3. Early elementary:

    Listen and color
    Listen and point to a picture ( or jump on/ pick-up /place in order…)
    Tally/vote/graph/group/Venn diagram
    Retell using mini size props (action figures/ dollhouse furniture/lego/playmobile..)

    1. I LOVE your list, Catharina!!! Especially how comprehension-based it is! And in my more limited elementary teaching experience, those are the same big hitters in my classes!

      I’d add “create a character” in which we just do a OWI of a person as someone gets dressed up.

      I’ve long thought that if all my kids had little class sets of picture scenes and story pieces/characters (like felt material sets) that I could tell and they could demonstrate comprehension by moving the pieces. I know Asher sells such sets (Student Kits) for your traditional topics, but they’re way too expensive for me ($15 per set!)

    2. Check it out:

      Listen and Color


      Catharina with your permission and citing you I will add this little GEM to the Big CI Book next edition, which has been getting fattened up by discussion here since its original publication last August.

        1. Thanks for the clarification Catharina. Could you explain the slight variation so that I may cite things properly/contact Martina for the next edition of the Big CI Book? Listen and Color needs to be in it, and not just for elementary teachers, I would think. I can envisage high school seniors enjoying this one!

          1. Martina suggested to write up a short text including color adjectives, with a picture representing the text. The students are asked to read the text, and then color in the details according to the text.

            With preliterate students the kids “listen and color” instead of reading.

            Yesterday I had the students place a paper plate on their head, as we did “listen and draw”. Nice variation picked up from another superstar teacher. Don’t remember her name right now.

          2. The kids held the paper plate on their head with one hand, and drew on the plate with the other hand.

            The kids could not see each others drawings, and it was a great indicator of who understood what I was saying, and who did not. I thought I had gotten enough reps, but still kept hearing “what’s that mean?”.

    3. This by Catharina (largely taken from the Forum about a year ago) now safely trapped in the Big CI Book is a longish text, but may be of considerable interest to elementary teachers:

      (ok it won’t let me post it here – that dumb ass security rule – so I will post this text as an article)

  4. Middle school:

    -PQA of 1 question (often writing info in a chart on the board)
    -MovieTalk, especially Blaine-style assigning students to simultaneously act
    -Story-Completion Tasks (step 2 of TPRS)
    -Story Card Magic
    -Reader’s Theater with class novel (5th-7th grades)
    – Book Clubs for 8th grade

  5. Another nice listening comp activity supported by a visual that kids love is a learn-to-draw Youtube clip. They can even help teach dreaded (low-freq) sets, like geometric shapes & body parts, while giving instructions that employ lots of prepositions. Turn off the English audio and Movie Talk it.
    I usually search Youtube for “How to draw a rabbit’ (or whatever’s in your story):
    Here an example from Art for Kids Hub, which has a lot of simple drawing projects! Extra reps on this site as the dad demonstrates, and his son copies:


    Draw a butterfly:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIAiglTFgLk (Youtube search Young Rembrandts )

    You can incorporate a a learn-to-draw into any story on dry erase boards.

  6. Indonesian teachers in Adelaide note that we have Catharina and Alisa talking to each other, with Eric Herman in on it no less, on elementary strategies. That is no small event. If we can get an elementary thread going on here, or find a place on the Forum or somehow find some place online where elementary TPRS teachers could talk to each other, we could speed this thing up. Hearing from Catharina is also a wonderful thing, because much of the elementary discussion in the Big CI book is based on things she and Alisa have said here in recent years. Bring in Adelaide and we have global forward moving energy at the elementary level!

  7. My biggies are:
    1. Stories…they are just plain fun and I probably allow more “interesting” stuff than I should at the high school level but that is what keeps them interested 🙂
    2. Movie Talk…I usually time stamp on a sheet of paper where I want to stop to keep myself organized a bit (I am not good at whinging it quite yet) and I much prefer using the actual video to doing a slide show. At the high school level this seems to be working much better for me. I also love doing some PQA if it naturally occurs during the MT…i.e….if you were the boy/girl, would you enter the room…great opportunity to do a little subjunctive and conditional…not that the students would know that!
    3. Free writes
    4. Novels – usually 2 per year. In level one we do more reading together in order to teach them how to read, and I mix in some partner reading and individual reading, but by level 2 I just let them enjoy the novel and have them read it on their own in class for 15 minutes per day. They REALLY enjoyed that this year and it was so relaxing
    5. Notecard Game – Each side of the room has the same set of notecards with 1 targeted word/phrase written on each. I usually do 15-20 cards with each student having 1-2 notecards on their desk. I say the English and the first side to raise the correct card and say the word/phrase gets a point. If you wanted them hearing the TL you could say the word/phrase in the TL and give them the English on the notecards. Whichever way works, but the high school kids love it. I know it’s not really CI at all, but it does review some previously taught phrases and it’s a nice break. I usually do this after a MT or novel with the vocab that we targeted including stuff that they already know. All you have to do is make the two sets of notecards and have a list of the words/phrases and you’re good to go. A nice break on a day that you’re just not feeling it.
    6. Muévete si…Move yourself if…I stole this from someone but I don’t know who. Great bail out game. Basically you just read phrases in the TL saying…Move yourself if you have more than 3 pets, Move yourself if you watched tv last night, move yourself if you can eat 4 Big Macs. The kids move if the phrase is true for them. You can also do follow up questions if you so desire. The students LOVE this (even in high school) and it also gives you a chance to get to know your students. I will often do it on a Monday asking about their weekend activities. One thing though…I DO NOT allow talking in between phrases as the students like to get chatty in English and then it starts to take too long in between phrases.

  8. my list:

    *CWB (cards)
    *”el círculo de amor” not CI but everyone in a circle asking “como estas” with the list of greetings and responses up. this evolved for me into kids spontaneously asking “why?” or “do you need a hug?” if someone said they were sad. so sweet!
    *dictado and variations (“fictado” and “pictado”)
    *essential sentences
    *movie talk
    *singing (not CI but good for the joy level)
    *any type of call and response / rejoinders, etc (again, not CI but increases fun / play)
    *guided breathing / relaxation in TL

  9. I love the “special chair.” It’s fun to just talk to children and show them they are special. I use it even with my most advanced language learners. Their classmates share important ideas, dictating them as a shared writing on poster paper.

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