Saturday, November 24, 2018

"Risky Business" - A Game for World Language Classrooms

I enjoy playing games in my Spanish class to provide additional comprehensible input, and so do my students, but did you ever play a game with your students and one team was so far ahead in points that the other teams wanted to give up? If so, considering trying a new game I created called:

Actually, it is the scoring that is new.

My students and I had read a chapter in Vidas Impactantes, written by Kristy Placido, on Azucena Villaflor. While reading it, I realized that the information could be subdivided into the following sections:

  A. Azucena Villafor. (6)
  B. El golpe de estado (6)
  C. Néstor (4)
  D. La búsqueda (3)
  E. La primera manifestación (7)
  F. Gustavo Niño (6)
  G. Arrestado (5)
  H. La desaparición de Azucena (4)
  I. Justicia (5)

After dividing the chapter into the above 9 categories, I wrote questions (the # of questions is in parenthesis above) from that section. When we played the game, I listed the categories on the board, but I did not write the # of questions in each category. The students did not know how many questions were in each category.

The class is a small class so I divided the students into three teams; I will call the team A, B, & C in this explanation. Students on a team were permitted to discuss the questions with their team members.  The goal of the game is to have the most points after all the questions are answered or after the allotted time the teacher set for the game has ended.

Answering questions in a category:
Team A chooses a category and they have to answer the first question from that category. If they answer correctly, they earn 10 points. EVERY TIME a team starts their turn, in each round, the answer is worth 10 points. If a team answers the first question of their turn incorrectly, they do not earn the 10 points, nor do they lose any points. Their turn is over after an incorrect answer.

After Team A answers the first question correctly, they can chose to end their turn or continue with the second question in the SAME category.  If they answer correctly, they DOUBLE their score, (in the example below, they answered the first question correctly and earned 10 points; they answered the second question correctly and doubled their score to 20 points). After each question they answer correctly, they can choose to continue with the next question in the SAME category, or they can choose to end their turn. If they answer the third question correctly, their score is doubled from 20 points to 40 points.

Ending a turn
A team will end their turn in one of the following three ways:
- the team answers incorrectly
- the team chooses to end their turn
- there are no remaining questions in the category they choose (This is why I DO NOT write how many questions are in each category. I don't want team members to choose a category based on how many questions and possible points they can earn. This add some unknowns to the game.)

Losing Points
When a team answers the first question incorrectly, there are no changes to any of the teams scores. However, a team will LOSE points if they incorrectly answer any question after their first question in each round.  

In the example on the left, ALL teams start with 0 points:

Team A earned the following points in a first round: 

 10 pts - answered 1st question of a category correctly

 20 pts - answered the 2nd question in the SAME category and doubled their score (10x2=20) 

40 pts - answered 3rd question correctly in the SAME category and doubled their score (20x2=40) 

80 pts - answered the 4th question correctly in the SAME category and doubled their score (40x2=80)

40 pts - The team INCORRECTLY answered the 5th question. They LOSE half of their current points, (80➗2=40) and the 40 points they lose are divided by the number of other teams playing and added to the scores of the other teams.  (40 pts divided by 2 teams = 20 pts for Team A & 20 pts for Team B.

Score: Team A - 40 points; Team B - 20 points; Team C - 20 points

Team A's turn ends because they answered incorrectly. Team B starts their turn in the first round and chooses a category. If Team B knows the answer to the question that Team A answered incorrectly, they can choose to stay in the same category and answer that question. But as a reminder, they do not know how many questions are in that category. It is possible that the category only has 5 questions and after Team B answers the question correctly that Team A missed, and earns 10 points because it is the first question they answer correctly in their turn for that round, it may be the last question of the category and their turn would end. Team B can choose a different category instead of continuing with a question in the category that Team A answered questions.

Points will accumulate quickly when teams answer correctly and when they earn points from teams that lose half of their points.


Team B starts their turn. They choose a new category:

20 pts - (their beginning score) points were added to their score when Team A answered incorrectly

30 pts - Team B answered the 1st question correctly (20 + 10 = 30). Remember, the first question that a team answers is ALWAYS worth 10 points; points double starting with the 2nd question they answer correctly.

60 pts - Team B answered the 2nd question correctly and doubled their score (30x2=60)

120 pts - Team B answered the 3rd question correctly and doubled their score (60x2=120)

240 pts - Team B answered the 4th question correctly and doubled their score (120x2=240)

Team B decides to end their turn (indicated by the small "x"). Their ending score is 240 pts.


Team C starts their turn. They choose a different category. 

20 pts - (their beginning score) points were added to their score when Team A answered incorrectly

30 pts Team C answered the 1st question correctly (20 + 10 = 30)

60 pts - Team C answered the 2nd question correctly and doubled their score (30x2=60

120 pts - Team C answered the 3rd question correctly and doubled their score (60x2=120)

240 pts - Team C answered the 4th question correctly and doubled their score (120x2=240)

480 pts - Team C answered the 5th question correctly and doubled their score (240x2=480)

240 pts - Team C incorrectly answered the 6th question. They lose half their points (480➗2=240)

The 240 points that Team C lost is divided by 2 (since there are 2 other teams playing) and Team A and Team B receive 120 points each.


When my students were playing, there was one team that started to play cautiously because they had a large number of points and didn't want to RISK losing half of their points and having those points going to other teams. They chose to answer only 1 question per round. They were playing safe because the first question a team answers at the start of their turn in each round, is only valued at 10 points and if they answer incorrectly they don't lose points and the other teams do not receive any points for their incorrect answer.  

However, the one team was playing cautiously, but another team was answering several questions correctly each round before deciding to voluntarily end their turn, and the other team quickly caught up to the team playing cautiously.

Order of questions in each category
There are two ways you can order the questions in each category:

1. List them from easiest to most difficult. Teams will know that with each question, the difficulty increases so they can plan accordingly.

2. Order questions in each category in random order of difficulty. Teams will not know if the next question is easy-peasy or if it will be difficult and cause them to lose their points. If they proceed cautiously and end their turn, the next team may choose to continue in the category that the previous team answered one question correctly, and have several easy questions which will make the cautious team wish they had not ended their turn.

This game can be played with any written material/text or with text from a video or MovieTalk, as long as you are able to divide the information into many categories and there is enough material to write many questions.  I recommend a minimum of 6 categories and 20+ questions.  The advantage to having many categories is that if a team is on a roll, their turn will end as soon as they answer the last question in the category.

Whew! That was a long explanation. If there is something that is unclear, please ask me about it in the comments below and I will clarify it.  Thanks for reading!

Thanks to Carrie Toth - it wouldn't be Risky Business without you. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom - a teacher's guide to reading by Mike Peto

Calling all world language teachers: 
What are your thoughts and understanding on the power of reading for vocabulary growth and to boost language acquisition? Do you have a current SSR (sustained silent reading) or FVR (free voluntary reading) program or are you ready to implement one? Do you have the key elements in place to move your students from reading in the target language to becoming lifelong readers that enjoy reading? Are you curious how other world language teachers are supporting students in their reading language journeys?

If you answered yes, or even maybe, to any of the above questions, then I'd like to recommend a book that will answer your questions and challenge you to rethink your reading program.    

I recently finished reading Mike Peto's newest book, Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom. This book is a must read for teachers that want to build a successful reading program, for those that want to improve their current reading program, and for those that want to increase the amount of reading their students do in the target language in every class period, every day. Who doesn't want that for their students? So, in other words, Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom is a must read for ALL world language teachers!

Mike shares his insight and personal experiences on how to create a reading program in the world language classroom that encourages students to become lifelong readers and eventually bring students to the realization that they ENJOY reading! This book is packed full of research on pleasure reading, steps to prepare students to read independently, how to select and display reading materials for a classroom library, assisting students and heritage learners in selecting reading materials, and perspectives on accountability and assessment.

Mike's style of writing is clear, straight-forward, and unapologetic. Mike is not content to continue teaching "status quo" when the results do not meet the mark that Mike expects. You will need to read the book with an open mind and a willingness to look at reading, and teaching a language in general, from different perspectives. However similar or different your teaching may be to Mike's, it will be evident that he is sincerely searching for what is best for his students in their language journey and wants to share his successes in the classroom with others in this book.

Mike begins his book describing how teachers can prepare students for a successful reading program through the creation and discussion of class-created stories or by the teacher telling the class about a remarkable person or cultural tidbit in the target language, (such as Mike Peto's Maravillas texts). These discussions and presentations are followed by reading. In this manner, Mike demonstrates how teachers can lay a foundation for student success in reading at the earliest levels before students open their first novel, and through all levels of language instruction.

In relation to reading novels, Mike makes a clear distinction between reading a class novel and independent reading of novels and other texts, a.k.a. pleasure reading. The pillars of pleasure reading are "student choice, little or no assessment, and giving students the ability to abandon the text."  Mike writes that there is a place for reading novels as a class, but he strongly places more importance on pleasure reading, (independent reading) and providing time for students to chose and read their own texts. He reminds teachers that read class novels with students to choose a book that doesn't require an extreme amount of scaffolding and support from the teacher to understand the text. Likewise, he cautions teachers to not commit "readicide" by requiring students to complete activities for each chapter of the novels.

Tina Hargaden weighs in on pleasure reading in several sections of the book that she wrote in which she shares her experience in areas such as "Differentiation and Equity", "Keeping Cool when Students aren't Reading", and "Reading Partnerships and Book Clubs Provide Structure for Independent Reading".  

I predict that Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom is a book that teachers will read many times as they continue to glean information on reading from Mike's suggestions and experiences. I downloaded my copy of the book and it is now marked with highlighting and underlines and notes in the margin to make it easier for me to refer to and reread in the future.  

Personally, reading this book has challenged me to reflect on my current reading program, and to remain committed to providing the best possible reading experience for my students, even when it may require some tweaking to my current reading program. 

You can download the ebook directly from the author at: