Parallel Characters: Not just in stories

Earlier this week, the following slide during DISCIPVLVS ILLVSTRIS was a huge hit:

DISCIPVLVS ILLVSTRIS Screenshot

The 3 dots on the lower left link to a slide with a bunch of numbers, but my students already understood the interviewed student’s response of quīndecim as 15, so I began using the images and phrases to ask different questions to verify the detail. I almost got stuck when I asked “is he older than…” while pointing to the senex (old man). Instead, I kept my finger where it was, and asked the class “what is HIS name? What is HE called?” One student quickly said “Frank.” Now I was free to use “is he (our interviewed student) older than Frank?” Then I looked over at the Roman boy on the other side of the slide and asked “what is HIS name? What is HE called?” The class looked at the same student who answered before, who said “Phil,” which was great, so I said “Ohhhhhh, how old is Phil?” The same student thought a minute, and said “8.” So, we continued using the four phrases on the board (all using “habet”) and got quite a bit of mileage out of that one.

Why was this so successful?

Using parallel characters is a 2-for-1 deal for Input. Since you have a couple of people to talk to and about, this strategy immediately exposes students to more language structure in a natural way with 1st, 2nd, 3rd singular and plural forms ready to be used. Of course, you could target any one of these forms, but non-targeted input casts the widest net for language acquisition, so just let go. Those of us using an interview activity (La Persona Especial, Star of the Week, etc.) have also found how great it is to compare the student of the day with ones we’ve already interviewed, just like creating a second character in a story. A recent suggestion from Eric Herman has been to interview students role-playing as characters from a class story, and Ben Slavic has had great success with talking about imaginary students who lurk in interesting places in the classroom.

The point?

As much as kids love to talk about themselves, they pick up fast on similar questioning patterns. Of course, we’re trying to shelter vocabulary, but the really hard part is doing it in interesting combinations. Adding or inventing a Parallel Character is boss. Shia Labouf has something to tell you about that.

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