Sunday, August 24, 2014

CI Teachers & the Parent Question "What should my child study?"

How often has a parent asked you "What should my son/daughter study?" or "Can you give my child a study guide for the quiz or test?" If you are a teacher that uses Comprehensible Input and has discarded the long vocabulary list and grammar worksheets, this question can stop you in your tracks.  If you are teaching for true acquisition, "studying" for a quiz, is not what you want your students to do.  In fact, the majority of the quizzes students take in my class are unannounced, in part, to prevent the last minute cramming and memorization practice before a quiz that students have been conditioned to do. 

A few days ago I was at a Tri-State TCI gathering of world language teachers in Pennsylvania and one teacher asked how we respond to those parent questions.  When a parent asks me this question, I respond with "read the class stories and transcripts in his/her Class Stories folder". 

What is a Class Stories folder? It is a pocket folder with 3 prongs that I distribute to the students at the beginning of the semester in which the students put typed copies of the class stories we create in class.

What are class stories and how are they created? Approximately two times per week, I introduce 3 new vocabulary and grammar structures (I call them focus words) through storytelling. Before class, I type a story that includes those focus words.
To begin class, I list the Spanish words and English translations on the board, ask personalized questions using the words (PQA), and then weave those words and structures into a story.  (There are other methods I use to introduce the words such as powerpoints and songs.) The students help to create the story by giving details such as names, places, items, etc.  The students hear many repetitions of the focus words in the form of yes/no, either/or, and short answer questions. In addition, we may sketch the story, order the events, create a parallel story with a class member or various other methods to focus on meaning while receiving multiple repetitions of the structures.  

When do students read the stories? If time allows at the end of the class, I project my pre-written typed story that uses the same focus words and we read the story, accompanied with more questions and comprehension checks.

After class, I type the class version of the story and add it on the same paper as my original story and print copies for the students. 

Note: During class, a student is assigned the job to write what happens in the story (it's their choice to write in English or Spanish).  I use the student's notes to refresh my memory when I type the story.

The following day, I distribute the paper with the class story, my original story, and any other story from other classes at the same level. I read the story in Spanish as written and students respond by reading it in English as a class, in small groups, or with partners.  Students also read my original story and the other class's story. 

What are the uses for the class stories?  
1. STUDY GUIDE: At the top of the paper for each story I type:
     Español 2 - (date) - (period) - Bold type for the Spanish focus words followed by the English translations. This serves as their "study guides" because it has the vocabulary/grammar structures at the top, the meanings, and the focus words used in context in the stories.

Students also have the option to make their own digital flash cards, such as Quizlet, if they still feel they need to "study" vocabulary.

2. STUDENT REVIEW & SELF-ASSESSMENT: The student can "study" by reading the stories in English.  If they find a word they do not immediately recognize, and do not know the meaning even when it is used in context, their job is to circle or highlight it and ask me the following day.

3. HOMEWORK: Many times the students' homework is to read the class or original story to their parent in English and then the parent must sign to verify that the student read to them.

4. QUIZZES: On occasion I use a story exactly as it is written in the Class Stories folder as an unannounced quiz.  I remove the top section with the focus words, and chose 10-15 words in the class story, put a (#) in front of the word and put it in bold print, and students write the English meaning on the answer sheet.  Students consistently do well on this type of quiz, even when I write yet another story with the same focus words in a totally different story.

5. WARM-UP: As students receive typed copies of the class and original stories, they put them in their folders. I use different colors for the stories to make them easier to find in their folders.  The students sit in groups of 2 or 3 and for 3 minutes, one person chooses a story to read and reads it in English as the others in their group follow along.  After 3 minutes, the second person reads, and so forth.

The Stories Folder grows quickly.  If I introduce new structures for stories at least 2 times a week, in 5 weeks they will have 30 stories to read: 10 original stories by me, 10 stories from their class, and 10 stories from the other (Spanish 2) class.  

Additional stories: 
- I add and copy some really creative stories from previous years for even more stories for their collection.  
- Each time I do MovieTalk with the class, I follow it up with a transcript of the movie story and that paper also goes into their Class Stories folder.


  1. Salve, I am a Latin teacher, and I also write a blog ( and I was wondering if I could include a link to your post in my next post which is on curriculum night/parent night?

    Thank you!

    1. Yes. Feel free to link to this post. Best wishes on a great school year!

  2. This post is wonderful - so practical and something which I will share with parents. On my class webpage, I am definitely now going to set up a section dedicated to housing stories which we have been doing in class (including the embedded versions) so students can review them on their own. After attending my first NTPRS a month ago, I am now limiting vocabulary big time and am just introducing 3-4 high frequency verbs at a time with my Latin 1 students, and it is making such a HUGE difference!

  3. Thanks for the wonderful explanation on how you do the stories! Just for clarification, when you say that they read the story in English, are they actually reading it in Spanish, translating it and then saying it out loud in English?

    1. Yes. The story is written in Spanish and they read it to their partner or group in English.

  4. Wow, I do the same thing with stories given to the classes, but I'm loving the fact that you tell 2 stories a week instead of one! Love it! I have 85 min classes and I've been sort of reaching for activities to do that are still in TL that work with the structures. And if I start doing this, I'll really increase the number of structures! Wow, really, LOVE IT! I guess I thought it was 1 story a week, but this really frees me while increases the amt of reading they do, which I really think is the best thing. Then I can do structures, practice, stories, Mi vida loca and our book reading and that's it! THANK YOU!!!

  5. I like this idea, especially the quizzes. I wonder if students reading in Spanish would be more helpful than students reading in English.

  6. I like this idea, especially the quizzes. I wonder if students reading in Spanish would be more helpful than reading in English.