Thursday, December 21, 2017

Immediate Feedback with Clap, Wave, & Hands Up gestures

Say goodbye to dull methods to check answers on formative or summative multiple choice questions, and so hello to a fun, interactive method of whole class participation. In the Clap, Wave, Hands Up response gesture method, everyone participates at the same time, giving the teacher immediate feedback on the class' pre-knowledge of a subject or their comprehension of a text or cultural lesson.

The Clap, Wave, Hands Up gesture response method was one of those on the spot inspirations that affirms that some of my best teaching ideas are made in the moment. 

I have a powerpoint with 11 multiple questions about Navidad in Spain that I wanted to add to my lessons on this last week of school before Christmas vacation. Each of the questions has three answers from which students can choose their answer. My original plan was to project the powerpoint and for students to work with a partner to write the answers. In a class earlier in the day, I had students pair up with one mini-marker board between them, number 1-11 on the mini white board, and write the answers as I projected the questions on the PowerPoint. However, in the last class of the day, our Story Listening activity and subsequent write and discuss took longer than in the morning class. We finished the Story Listening with only 5 minutes remaining in class. It was obvious that there wasn't time to get the white boards out and follow my original plans. That's when a thought flashed through my mind to forgo writing the answers and to have everyone participate, at the same time, with motions.

I instructed students to do the following actions to indicate which answer they thought was correct, and to continue the action until I said the answer:

- If they thought A was the correct answer, they clapped their hands
- If they thought B was the correct answer, they put their palms up in front of them and moved them to the right and to the left (imagine the dance moves with Shirley Temple and the song, The Good Ship Lollipop; at least they are the moves I've seen as others have sung that song)
- If they thought C was the answer, they lifted their hands up and held them out to the side (it looks like the motion you make when you tell someone, "I don't know".)

After I read the question, the students silently read the 3 multiple answers and they indicated the answer they chose with one of the above motions/gestures. It turned out to be the best way, and most fun and interactive, to visually see what the students' answers were. Judging by the students' reactions and participation in the motions, they enjoyed this way also.

We zipped through the 11 questions in no time! 

This can also be used as a Brain Break with questions on anything that will interest the students. It gets them moving and smiling!

This method saves time, is interactive, is fun, and immediately visually shows the teacher which students have the correct answer. (No more boring, "if you think it is A, raise your hand; if you think it is B, raise your hand, etc - Zzz Zzz.) It can be used to introduce information about a country, a cultural topic, and to review chapters of a novel.  

I may have to do the activity again to videotape it, to give you a clear picture of my explanation, plus the students they looked so cute doing the motions. Several times I saw all three motions showing that many students were not being swayed by the motions of their classmates. The questions were about celebrating Christmas in Spain, some obvious and some that they have never learned about in previous levels.  

To mix it up, I'll change the motions after doing this several times. Keeping it novel is always a good idea!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Brain Breaks in the MFL class with Momo

Are you in need of a easy and fun brain break to do in the target language? By "easy" I mean little or no prep work on the teacher's part; by "fun" I mean the students like it and are actively engaged in the brain break.  

How about prepositions? Are you looking for a novel way to provide compelling and comprehensible input of prepositions in context in the target languag? If you said yes, then let me introduce you to Momo.

Andrew Kapp's photography book, starring MOMO!
Who is Momo? He is an adorable and obviously well-trained dog. His owner, Andrew Knapp, is an accomplished photographer that has photographed Momo in hundreds of locations in the US and beyond. Go to the website and you'll find more than 120 photos in which Momo is hidden. Sometimes Momo is behind objects, inside objects, on the left, on the right, under objects, above objects, and more. It's an interactive website so when you click on the photo where Momo is located, it will circle the area if you are correct.

I'm sure I wouldn't have to go into further explanation on how these photos are a fun brain break to the savvy teachers reading this post, because they already know what I am going to suggest. But in case you're off your game today, here's an idea for you: have your students find Momo and then you, or the students, describe where in the photo Momo is hiding. Or you can ask either/or or true/false questions about his location so the students are receiving input on Momo's location.

There are plenty of photos available for free online at and other google searches, but if you can't get enough of this cute compact canine, then there are several Momo books available online at Andrew's website or at your favorite bookstore. I found the following books on Amazon: Find MomoFind Momo Coast to Coast, and Let's Find Momo. (Click on the titles to find the links for the books on Amazon.)

Andrew Knapp has an Instagram account with more photos with Momo hiding plus endearing close-up photos of Momo and Momo chillin' with his master, Andrew.

Not only will it be fun for you and your students to find Momo, but the photography and the landscapes are spectacular, which could spark some interesting discussions in your MFL classroom. Thank you Andrew Knapp for these great photos and for sharing Momo with the world!!!

fyi: if you're looking for Andrew Knapp on Twitter his twitter handle is: @andrewomerknapp

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Marker Partner PLUS (a fun variation of Marker Partner)

In May of 2014, I wrote a blog post explaining The Marker Partner game. It is a fun way for the teacher to check student comprehension after listening to a story or after reading a text and to provide additional input through listening. Earlier this fall, I created a variation of the game that goes one level deeper into checking student comprehension and holds the students more accountable in earning points for their team. I'll refer to it as the Marker Partner PLUS game.

The set-up for the game is identical as for the Marker Partner game. Divide the students into two teams. If you have desks, the students move their desks so they are facing each other with a marker placed where the two desks meet. The students can place the paired desks in a circle formation or in a long row, if your room allows for this. If you do NOT have desks, you can do the activity in the cafeteria and the students sit at the long tables across from their opponents.

Marker Partner PLUS in a classroom w/o desks

Another option, one that I use when I have class during lunch periods and the cafeteria is not available, is to have the students place their chairs in two long rows so they are facing their partners, with an extra chair between them and the marker placed on the chair as shown in the photo on the right.

The students listen as the teacher reads a script of the story they have recently heard or a script of a story that they have read. (Or you can use this with any text, not limited to a story.) The students are actively listening for a changed detail as the teacher reads. When they hear an inaccurate detail, they grab the marker before their partner does. The students on each team hold their marker up and the teacher counts which side has more markers. The team with the most markers earns 1 point. 

Now for the twist. The teacher then chooses ANY student from the winning side that is holding up a marker and that student needs to say WHAT the error was and then must CORRECT the error by restating the sentence, or part of the sentence, with the correct information. The student cannot receive any help from his teammates. If the student can correctly identify the error and make the correction, he earns another point for his team, for a total of 2 points for that round.

However, if the student that the teacher choose to identify the error and correct it is unable to do so, the opposing team can earn 2 points if the student that the teacher calls on from the side that didn't earn 1 point is successful in stating the error and correcting it.

When I call on a student from the team that has the most markers, I always call on a student that is holding a marker. My reasoning is, if the student grabbed the marker, then she knows there was false information. When I call on a student on the opposing team when the first team member was unable to make the correction, I call on anyone on that team, whether they were first to grab the marker or they didn't beat their opponent.

I like this version BETTER! Why? Because the teacher is able to read more than one sentence at a time. I have played this version and read 4 or 5 sentences before I insert an incorrect detail. The students are intently listening for a longer period of time in anticipation for the incorrect detail. The next time I may chose to read only one sentence until I mention an incorrect detail. This keeps the students on their toes because they don't know how long they will need to listen before they grab the marker.

If you and your students like playing Marker Partner, then I predict you will also like Marker Partner PLUS

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Power of Stories in SLA

Recently, I have become more aware of the Power of Stories. Storytelling is a tool that ALL of us have available, at any given time, to help our students acquire a second language. One reason that makes Storytelling so accessible to all is that it requires absolutely no technology. In fact, in my experience, a story told using technology tends to lesson both the student interest and the impact of the story. To improve the storytelling experience, ditch the PowerPoint! Try it and watch the change in your students' listening behaviors and engagement. 

If you are hesitant to part with your your pre-made PowerPoints when telling stories and using Story Listening, then maybe an email I received from Marta Yedinak will make you reconsider. Marta asked her students to write suggestions on how to improve the story listening experience for the students. The quote in the box was written by one of her students. He clearly states that listening to the teacher tell a story, aided with a PowerPoint, is not as interesting as having the teacher draw during the story. 

Although pre-made PowerPoints may be easier for the teacher to use, it is NOT what engages the students and it's not personalized to their class. If you are serious about keeping students engaged during a story, don't take the easy way out with a PowerPoint because it will most likely lower student engagement.

Three recent experiences have made my appreciation grow for the positive impact that Storytelling (*or Story Listening) has on second language acquisition.

1. Last month, Marta Yedinak, a Spanish teacher and my good friend from Wisconsin, and I did a presentation at ACTFL entitled, "Listen UP! Engaging Students in the Story Listening Experience". The evening before our presentation, Marta shared with me in detail, how she told a particular story to her class, along with photos of the sketches she drew on her whiteboard during the story. 

The following day she did a mini-demonstration of the story in the ACTFL presentation and, WOW! I was using Story Listening with my students with newspaper articles, personal stories, Cuentos de Ensalada with felt characters, and other stories. By watching Marta give her mini demonstration, I saw areas in which I could improve.  One way that Marta engaged the students was to have them do motions with her at different parts of the story (with se lo llevó). How cool is that? I'm presenting and learning at the SAME TIME from my co-presenter - love it!

Marta's white board after telling Martina Bex's story about a squirrel

2. The first Friday in December, Krista Kovalchick (the person that has helped me improve as an educator more than any other person I know, a result of our daily conversations about teaching methods, second language acquisition, classroom management, and the list goes on forever...) and I drove to Downingtown, PA, to attend a Tri-State TCI meeting. The topic for the meeting was Story Listening. 

Krista telling a Latin legend 

Krista gave a 20-minute demonstration in Latin on Story Listening, followed by Q&A. I do not know Latin, but days later I remembered a LOT of the words she used in her story.  The power of Story Listening for language acquisition was undeniable. Krista spoke entirely in Latin, kept the pace slow for those listening to the story, wrote keywords in both languages on the whiteboard, drew sketches to clarify meaning, and used gestures and facial expressions which not only helped us to understand, but was engaging (and entertaining). After several minutes of telling the story, she paused and instructed us to tell the story to our partner in English.

3. This week I told a Guatemalan legend, Quetzal no muere nunca, to my two upper level classes. When I started teaching at PHS, I found a dozen of well-worn books, dated 1987 with the school stamp (shown to the right). The length of the stories are perfect for Story Listening.  I read and reread and reread again, the legend "Quetzal no muere nunca" beforehand to become familiar with it. 

When I told it to my classes, I put extra emphasis on slowing the pace and writing words on the board for visual support during the story. Throughout the story I provided time for students to retell the events in English to their classmate(s), as Krista had demonstrated with her latin story. As often happens, I did not set aside enough time to complete the story, so in both classes I was unable to finish the story.   

The following day, since there had been at least one student absent in both classes, I did what I usually do when someone has been absent for a story; the students that were present the previous day had to tell the story in Spanish to the student or students that were absent. The students that were absent and I are the only ones that can talk in English. It is the job of the rest of the students to tell the story in such a way that the listener(s) understands the story and can tell it to me in English. 

The students took random turns retelling parts of the story. As I listened to their retell, I  was amazed at the vocabulary and grammar structures that they were able to use in the retell after only listening to the story 1 time! In one class, when I moved away from the front of the room and sat among the students, several of the students went to the board to sketch while retelling the story. (I was so impressed with their retell and their engagement that I was hoping the principal would walk in to witness the positive effects that Story Listening has, but that didn't happen.) It was the same type of growth I felt when listening to Krista's story. The best part about both stories was it required little effort on the part of the listener, other than staying focused on the person telling the story and it was FUN for the teacher. 

The need for Story Listening Demos
The first two experiences helped me realize that maybe the best way to demonstrate the power of stories in SLA is for teachers to experience it themselves - listening to a story in a language they do not know, told by a teacher experienced in Story Listening! 

I repeat, because this is key: to experience the power of Story Listening, teachers need to experience it themselves, listening to a story in a language they do NOT know, told by a teacher experienced in Story Listening! 

I wish there were Story Listening demonstrations at the national conferences. (Hey Keith Toda or Krista Kovalchick, I think you should submit a proposal to demonstrate Story Listening in Latin at one of the national conferences!) 

Give it a try!
If you haven't tried Story Listening (or Storytelling) why not give it a try? Since we are close to Christmas, you could find a story that happens at this time of the year. As I continue to grow in my Story Listening/Storytelling skills, I found that legends have a special pull for students.

If you experiment with Story Listening, things to keep in mind are:

1. Select a legend or story that you believe will be interesting to your audience/students.

2. Become very familiar with the story. Read it several times. Practice retelling the story so as not to miss any important details

3. Write notes for yourself on an index card that you can use when telling the story. 

4. Preplan what sketches you will need. If your'e not sure how you will sketch something, google it to give you an idea. Keep it simple!

5. Use cognates when possible but remember, some students won't be able to hear the cognates so be prepared to write the words on the board.

6. RELAX when telling the story. This will help your students to relax and set the stage for acquisition of the language.

7. If you decide to ask questions during the story, keep them SIMPLE. The students' main job is to LISTEN.

8. Do not ask your students to take notes on the words used in the story. Instruct students to listen with the intent to understand.

9. After several details of the story, instruct the students to tell their partner, in English, what they have understood about the story. It gives the students a mini brain break, allows the teacher to listen to what they understood, and students feel like they have received a little treat because they can speak in English.

10. Decide if you want students to read a script of the story when finished or if you want to write a short version of the story together.

11. Ask your students to retell the story the following day, but NOT for a grade. The students will be surprised with the new words they hear themselves saying during the retell.

*Story Listening - When I mention Story Listening in this post, I am referring to the teacher telling a story while the students listen to the story. I am NOT referring to the method which requires ONLY story listening as the entire curriculum.