For those teachers who ask, “What can I do?”

This weekend I jotted down some activities I feel my students are ready to engage in. What made them ready?

The second and third year students thought that taking a fl meant translating into English; that and studying the grammar. I am not writing this particular post to my blog in order to criticize, so I will leave it to you, dear Reader, to decide if you want to teach a fl through translation.

Suffice it to say, I donít, so getting the students out of the habit of translating everything and thinking they were done was the first thing.

The second thing was getting them to realize we were going to talk the language. Amazing as that may seem to some of you, speaking L2 in class is not always assumed to be a good thing or expected thing.

Then, the constant interaction between me and the students and my obvious desire for them to talk set up some contradictions for them. Talking means to them talking about teen stuff and, most of all, speaking in English. So when I talk to them, either in English or in the TL, they felt like “the talking lamp is lit” and they chatter. Moreover, when I speak in the TL, they really feel they have no reason to pay attention.

Once we were over those hurdles, we got to the biggie – my judgment of them as expressed in a grade. That required the first report card (called a ’status report’ in my school, equivalent to a ’progress report’ – all nonsense b/c parents treat them all as report cards). Once they saw I was not a grade monger and they could participate in class without fear of “losing points” or any of the other nonsense teachers are wedded to, we could move forward.

Now, my activities are based on something you may not have just now but can get: a series of connected stories with characters and plot. In fact, I am using two textbooks that have such stories so the students have 2 sets of characters to learn about.

Here are the activities we are starting this week. Bear in mind that PF stands for picture file; these are pictures I have sorted by topic and I have a large enough variety that I can cover 90% of the concrete vocabulary with a PF, even emotions like disappointment, etc. However, while it took me many years to both collect and to catalogue these PFs, I am sure many of you can do something similar on the computer. I used pictures torn from, mainly, the NYT magazine. Note that most of these activities do not require PFs.

My first step Monday will be to have them fill in (homework assignment) the character grid I give them. Each character is listed in a column on the left. Across the top are about 12 traits like where they live, their family, etc. Under each heading of traits is a large cell or square for them to write that data in on each character. This is all in the TL.

Another activity, also using a grid, is to record vocabulary in semantic groups like persons, animals, things in nature, feelings, music, actions = verbs, objects e.g. keys, group processes e.g. crowd, special occasions e.g. wedding, children, clothing, food, geographic features, and so on and so on up to over 40 categories. I’ll clean it up for the students to make it more manageable, but putting new vocab into categories is one way of setting up a review process. Also, it permits rapid access to topical vocab e.g food.

So we will hear a story or read one and jot down words in one category e.g. people or places or actions in the past.

We can play games like me describing a person and they come up with the name e.g. “I work in the kitchen and am a cook and I cussed out the dog”. As a contest, they could run to the board to write the answer. As an extension, they can make up their own descriptive list to quiz other students with.

How different? How the same? A common game but now in the TL.

Use specially designed and culturally authentic pictures or the PFs for ’talk arounds’, where students in a group talk about what they see. This relieves pressure on any one student; it’s all a babble and if they are weak, their comparative silence isn’t so noticeable.

Be a reporter interviewing a character from the stories. I can take either role or students take both, preparing their roles as homework.

Similarly, a “Who Am I” for characters, also for animals type quiz. Or they can have the character/animal written on a post-it on their back and the class gives them clues and hints so they come up with the right ID. (Low level classes could give the hints in English and the ’mark’ has to answer with the one word in the TL., e.g ’the cook’, ’a bear’.

Put English translations of various verb forms on the wall and students write verb forms from the story on a large card which they then stick onto the wall under the appropriate Eng translation. Organizing this requires some real knowledge of equivalent verbs forms in both languages.

Verb forms tricky to match to English can be put into a specific context e.g. if indirect questions require a form like the subjunctive in the TL but not in Eng, the sentences can have a formula like, “He wants/ed to know where I go/went/etc.

Give PFs to a group of students which (PFs) have been selected to illustrate a story familiar to the students. They then have to line up according to the story sequence as illustrated by the PFs. Then each student speaks his part of the story correlated with his PF (more creatively, students can make up a story reasonably appropriate to the PFs)

I’ll tell them about myself eg. where I’m from, who my parents were, my family of origin and my current family, where I live, pets, cars, other jobs, etc. Lots of stuff there and models their eventual ability to tell about themselves in “projects” using posters or little books, etc.

Draw simple pictures of vocab items e.g. from my autobiographical talk and put the TL word next to it. Then fold the paper so the pictures are on one side and the corresponding vocab item on the other side for self-quizzing.

Do poster ’reports’ on self and story characters.

Do mini books on same

Write a message in the TL, ball up the paper and toss it to the person you want to send it to. Rules about kindness and appropriateness need to be reinforced as well as precise instructions as to how hard they throw the wadded up paper.

Acrostics using the PFs or do it orally and see who can figure out the word spelled out by the initial letters or syllables of the words. Some languages’ syllabic structure makes doing it ’syllabatim’ easy.

Reconstruct the text – just copy the text then cut the sentences into strips and mix them up for students to reassemble. Can be done with sentences, too.

Poetry salads – pick every Nth word in the story and write them out as a ’found’ poem.

Put a transparency up with the OHP light off, then switch it on for a brief moment and have students write what they saw.

Use the PFs as flashcards for students to quiz each other.

Any questions or extensions or additions or corrections would be welcome.

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