Conjuguno

My new teaching position has introduced me to a lot of new challenges in finding harmony between CI-based methodology and a textbook-based pacing guide. Our French 2 textbook is especially heavy on irregular verbs, and although my students are working their hardest — engaging actively in CI practice during class and completing a wide variety of practices at home — we’re still struggling to the meet the goal of mastering all these verbs forms. As usual, the textbook considers a set of verbs like dormir, partir and sortir to be one “rule” because all the verbs have similar irregularities. The reality is that acquiring all the present- and past-tense forms of these three verbs solidly enough for confident production is far beyond the scope of one week’s learning, and that doesn’t even take into account the twenty or more additional lexical items to be covered in the week. It’s also far more than can be sensibly addressed totally through CI activities.

Enter Conjuguno. I developed this activity to give students some kind of purpose for using all these verb forms that’s hopefully enjoyable enough to at least trigger a few good neurochemicals and boost their retention.Read More »

Tapout!

Tapout is a quick and easy way to keep extended TPR commands from getting too tedious. I’ve been there plenty of times: you get caught up in the process of challenging students with extended commands like Walk to the table, pick up the book, and hit the door three times with the book — and suddenly you realize it’s a snooze fest. Even the goofiest commands can lose their appeal if you’re trying to work with a large group of students.

I like Tapout because it contains two important elements: it keeps students watching, and it encourages novelty in vocabulary. Here’s the way it works. First, you give a set of extended or chain commands to Student A, who then goes through all the actions and freezes at the last moment. Then you’ll call on Student B and give him or her a new set of commands that begin where Student A left off. Touching your head might become scratching your head. Hitting the door with your foot might become touching the door with your hand. The game requires students to pay attention because they need to jump right into place when you call on them. It encourages novelty in vocabulary because the tapout moment will require a variation on the same command.

For an extra challenge, let students take over the commands. When Student A taps out, he or she sits down and gives commands to Student B, who has taken his or her place. I like this variation because it downplays the speaking role since students are focused on the process of tapping out and do the actions.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Living Latin

It’s almost time for the Summer Language Institute, so I thought I’d do a little throwback to my first TPR- and TPRS-based Latin class. I was very lucky to have such a motivated and creative group of students, but I also have to give credit to the TPR and TPRS themselves. Can you imagine, a whole group of high school students voluntarily studying Latin, not for the credit but just for fun, and mainly because they knew what the methodology would be like? What a great testament to brain-based teaching! The students made the class outstanding, and the methodology empowered them to do so.

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Pop-Up Power

One of the first things I liked about TPR was the potential for immersion. And for the first few years, using TPR to build an immersive classroom worked well for me. But that was when students only took my class because they wanted to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were spending a lot of time at home clarifying meaning on their own.

Things are different now. Every student takes a foreign language, but not all of them are self-motivated to do anything at home. For some, if it doesn’t happen in class, it simply doesn’t happen. Add in the fact that these same students have a low tolerance for ambiguity — they want exact, straightforward meaning — and issue start to develop.

What I’ve learned to accept is the idea that a non-immersive class can be even better than an immersive one. I want my students to get all the input they can get, but it only matters if it’s comprehensible. A lot of my students made great turnarounds as soon as I stopped worrying about the French-to-English ratio and started focusing on 100% comprehension.

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Is there room for tradition in TPR?

A lot of what we do in a TPR classroom is non-traditional. I’ve seen and taught numerous TPR lessons that spent little or no time on activities that are now considered the “great traditions” of a foreign language curriculum, such as InfoGaps and situational conversations. And I’ve seen students achieve more than in courses where those textbook-perfect activities are commonplace.

The question that I hear is, “But what if I want to use these activities in my class? What if I’m required to use them as part of my curriculum or assessments?” Well, the good news is that you can incorporate all kinds of traditional activities as part of a TPR lesson. The better news is that the results are often impressive.Read More »

Lessons from the Weight Room

I remember my first trip to Paris. As I stepped off the plane and passed through security, one of the officers suddenly said to me, “Sit down quickly and put this book on your head! A mean boy has stolen a cat from a young blonde girl, and we need to ask you some questions.”

Obviously, that never happens. Why, then, do we spend so much time doing goofy actions and telling bizarre stories in class? Why can’t I just tell my students that a chair is une chaise and move on?Read More »