All You Need Is One: Text, Sentence, Word

I agree with Justin Slocum Bailey that something great can come from nothing. Most teachers fall into the habit of planning waaaay too much. Even if all that planning is enjoyable, somehow, it often results in insignificant gains in student happiness and/or proficiency. In the spirit of “no fail no burnout,” then, plan whatever you have to in order to sleep well at night, but begin class ready for any compelling diversion to take you away from those plans! Sometimes a sentence is all you need, and depending on the content, a single word (e.g. One Word Image, or One Word Drawing).

I’ve had a lot of success beginning class with a short text (paragraph to page) based on something that happened/we learned in the previous class. Although you could use your favorite reading activity, the simplest is projecting the text and reading aloud to the students. Here’s an example of how one sentence could sustain a decent amount of class time with next to no preparation. The transcript follows how I naturally move from question to question while genuinely communicating. My goal, here, is to extend discourse by using vertical (i.e. new info, same topic) or horizontal (i.e. new info, new topic) questioning techniques. This might end up becoming a story, or it might not and we’ll move onto something else, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all CI.

Student A used her shawl like wings. She was a bird for the rest of class. The next class began with a projected text, “in class, on Thursday, Student A was a bird.” (that was my only planning for class).

  • Class, Student A wanted to be a bird. Didn’t Student A want to be a bird? <some students nod, some say “yes”>
  • Class, who likes birds? <hands raise> Some students like birds. Some students don’t like birds. **possible future reading topic if popular**
  • Student B, what kind of birds do you like? Do you like large birds or small birds? Small. Oh, you like small birds. Do you have a small bird? No. OK, you like small birds, but you don’t have a small bird. Do you want to have a small bird? Yes. Class, Student B wants to have a small bird. **instant story**
  • Student C, why don’t you like birds? Are birds scary? No. You don’t think that birds are scary. Still, you don’t like birds. Are birds annoying? No. You don’t think that birds are scary. You don’t think that birds are annoying. **interesting to revisit**
  • Student B, why do you like birds? Do you like when birds sing? Yes. OK, you like when birds sing. Do you like to sing? No. You don’t like to sing. Do you like to play video games, or sports? **completely new discussion possibility from here**
  • Class, who likes to sing? <a few hands raise> Not many students like to sing.
  • Student D, you like to sing. Do you sing well? No. Class, who has heard Student D sing? <no hands raise> Student D, other students haven’t heard you sing. Do you want to sing right now in class? <student shakes head**insight into personality**
  • Class, who likes to sing poorly? <1 hand raises> Student E, you like to sing poorly? Yes. Why do you like to sing poorly? Do you laugh when you sing poorly? Yes. Do you like when people laugh? Yes.

Here’s what that looks like in Latin, with what amounts to 37 unique words in red, and 185 total words in length. All this, just from “diē Iovis, Student A avis erat.”

  • classis, nōnne Student A volēbat esse avis, diē Iovis?
  • classis, cui placent avēs? aliīs discipulīs avēs placent. aliīs discipulīs avēs nōn placent.
  • Student B, quālēs avēs tibi placent? placentne tibi avēs magnae an parvae? Oh, avēs parvae tibi placent. habēsne avem parvam? bene, tibi placent avēs parvae, sed hōn habēs avem parvam. vīsne habēre parvam avem? classis, Student B vult habēre avem parvam.
  • Student C, cūr avēs tibi nōn placent? suntne avēs horrificae? nōn putās avēs esse horrificās. iam, avēs tibi nōn placent. suntne avēs molestae? nōn putās avēs esse horrificās. nōn putās avēs esse molestās.
  • Student B, cūr avēs tibi placent? placentnt tibi avēs canentēs? bene, avēs canentēs tibi placent. placetne tibi canere? tibi canere nōn placet. placetne tibi lūdere videōlūdīs? placetne tibi lūdere athlēticīs?
  • classis, cui placet canere? multī discipulī nōn placet canere.
  • Student D, tibi placet canere. canisne bene? classis, quis Student D canentem audivit? Student D, aliī discipulī canentem nōn audīvit? vīsne canere iam, in classe?
  • classis, cui placet male canere? Student E, placetne tibi male canere?! Cūr male canere tibi placet? rīdēsne cum male canās? placentne tibi hominēs canentēs?

The bad news? You can’t really prepare for a conversation. The good news? You can certainly become more comfortable with questioning that occurs during class. While I do not encourage PPP (Present, Practice, Produce), and other dying skill-building practices for language acquisition, I do consider teacher training in the form of professional development and honing of teaching practices to be very much necessary. Therefore, I invite you to…

…leave a comment (English or your TL) following the format about with questions you’d ask about the following prompt, along with a brief student response <in arrow heads>, just to walk through the processes and see how you could get something from nothing. Here’s the prompt:

Yesterday, Student A was sad because there wasn’t a game.

9 thoughts on “All You Need Is One: Text, Sentence, Word

  1. Class, STUDENT was sad because there wasn’t a game Yes, the STUDENT was so sad. The STUDENT wanted a game, but there was no game. Did STUDENT want to play a game or to watch a game? Yes, everyone likes to play games. STUDENT wanted to play a game. What game did STUDENT want to play? Well I know that everyone wants to play Verba because it is awesome, but STUDENT didn’t want to play Verba. He actually wanted to play a different game. Yes, obviously, STUDENT wanted to play Twister. So many colors. So many hands and feet. Twitters is an excellent game!….with whom….when….what happened…

    So thankful for your blog, Lance! I appreciate that you always remind us how simple this way of teaching really is. Of course I like to plan it fancy so I can sleep at night 😉 but I love simple too.

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  7. Class, Student A was sad because there wasn’t a game. Student A, was it a football game? No, was it a real football game? Yes, it was a real football game. Student A, was it a Portland Timbers game? Student B, do you like real football? Yes, you do like real football. Student B, do you like the Portland Timbers? Class, who likes the Portland Timbers? Student C, (didn’t raise hand) you don’t like the Portland Timbers, right? Which team do you like? (Doesn’t like “soccer”) Student C, do you like another sport? Fabulous! You like baseball. I LOVE baseball! Student C, did you see a baseball game this weekend? (Yes) Who was playing in the game? Class, who likes baseball?

    Thanks so much for blogging about this! Super timely for me as we have two more weeks to “fill” before their final project begins (creating a new story to publish using a unique OWI they create in a group). This will be perfect!

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