Low-Prep Doesn’t Always Mean EZ

Like usual, it took me a matter of minutes the other day to create the next day’s class agenda. Oh, you wanna know the trick to that? There are lots of them, but it all starts with a good grading system and ends with the basic Talk & Read format. Then, I try not to plan too far out knowing that something ALWAYS changes last-minute, and about 20% of our weeks aren’t even the typical schedule to begin with. I have a rough idea what’s coming up in following weeks, but never anything set in stone. Printing much ahead of time? Forget it. I’ve recycled WAY too many reams of no-longer-relevant activity sheets to know better. Anyway, I felt good about the time spent during my planning period, and had a solid idea of how class would go. The plans were simple and straightforward.

Yet, why was I exhausted by the end classes today?!

It turns out that low-prep isn’t always as easy as it seems to carry out. The good news is that it doesn’t take much more effort to avoid a draining class. In this post, you’ll find a list of the best low-prep AND low-energy-demanding activities generated from my input-based strategies & activities and how to get texts lists. Those lists have also been updated with the “EZ” code showing low-energy-demand typically required to carry them out.

The lowest-energy-demanding activities you’ll find involve some kind of independent work that’s unquestionably within students’ ability. If the task is too high, students will ask for help every minute or so, which could be just as draining as leading an old school lecture. Independent reading is the best option, hands down. I’ve also been getting awesome results from Flex Time. The caveats to those are that class tends to get boring if there’s no interaction, so you’ll run into management problems if too much time is given to independent work. What’s too much time? Depends on your students. Flex Time is an amazing addition to independent reading, but 30-40 minutes is the limit for mine. Also, since we know that teacher plans fall victim to “too much of a good thing,” daily and weekly routines are almost guaranteed to get old fast. We can’t just rely on independent reading and Flex Time. We need more options. But first, which ones to avoid?

Energy-demanding Activities
In general, avoid planning two or more activities that require a lot of your energy. When you plan just one of the following, limit it to something like half, or a third of the class time. Facilitating activities in the target language for more than half the class, risks burning out fast and hard. Therefore, avoid the following:

  • Transitions
    If your class agenda includes a list of more than a handful of items planned out to 5-minute activities and transitions, chances are pretty good it’s gonna feel bananas to carry out. If you’ve got 40 minute classes, dividing it into two larger sections is more than enough structure to plan within. Something always takes longer, right? Better to look at the remaining half of class than scramble to see what short 5-minute chunks you’ll have to ditch. Planning like that gets crazy.
  • Setup/Multiple Steps/Explanations
    If you’ve got activities that pull you from one direction to the next every few minutes, those that require 10 different tabs open, or ones involving handing out multiple texts/papers stacked in a very specific order as you take 5 minutes too explain the task, consider a) splitting that class agenda into two, b) finding another mix of activities, and/or c) replacing with something far less energy-demanding.
  • Pointless Whole-Class Activities
    There are very few reasons humans reread something. It’s certainly beneficial for the beginning language learner to do during independent reading time, but that’s usually the case when they pick up a text or book they read months ago. When it’s been days, or even just a matter of minutes, you need a solid reason to bring the whole class together to read. It doesn’t have to be complex. It could be like the quick competition. Otherwise, most whole-class rereading activities are tough to manage because students see very little point to it, which means a high energy demand. Got another whole-class activity? Make sure there’s a purpose students actually care about.
  • Collaborative Storytelling
    Collaborative Storytelling can be a major drain if you spend too long doing it, or have some combination of no-script + open-ended questions that demand your attention to a) manage student suggestions, b) edit them (when given in English, or rough target language), c) keep an eye on comprehension, and d) the plot moving. This gets to be quite a lot to handle, so be sure not to mix Collaborative Storytelling with any other energy-demanding activity.

The List: Low-prep & Low-energy-demanding Activities (EZ)
One tricky thing that occurred to me while generating this list was how speaking or translating Latin doesn’t necessarily drain energy, per se. For example, 15 minutes of Write & Discuss (Type & Talk), or holding a Discipulus Illustris interview often takes less energy than a whole-class Read & Discuss. WHY?! With the latter, you read aloud in Latin, ask a ton of questions (Latin, English, or both), then go back to reading aloud. If you’re lucky, a student takes over the reading part, but it’s often clunky, and you keep interrupting when you decide to ask questions. Even if the questions are already created and printed out, there’s a LOT more to facilitate here than it seems. With something like Write & Discuss (Type & Talk), however, students share what happened in class while you type it up in Latin, perhaps asking students to suggest wording, perhaps pointing out language features, etc. Since students take time to copy, and all the content is generated by them, there’s space for you to rest between whatever you say. That’s what I think is key: space & decision-making. The more space you have to make decisions while teaching, the less-demanding the class. So, here’s the list with a few surprises based on that space, such as Choral Translation. Yeah buddy! Translating Latin is EZ as a teacher, and even easier knowing you gotta go slow. Add in the fill-in-the-blank version and it goes by quick.

Input-based Strategies & Activities

  • Read & Translate
    In pairs, students translate text. **Do NOT use if students are unable to understand the text in Latin.**
  • Read & Draw
    Students read, then draw a scene (favorite?), or mashup of events from the text.
  • DEBATE!
    Get a topic and hold an informal debate. See this post for more details.
  • Game of Quotes
    Team-based follow up to independent reading, and/or longer text. Read about it, and get the Slides here.
  • Choral Translation
    Teacher points to words/phrases as class translates into English. Change this up by translating aloud yourself, pausing and gesturing for students to fill-in a word/phrase. They often pay more attention because they don’t know what word you’ll ask them to fill-in.
  • mendāx!
    A student volunteer (job?) points to words as teacher translates. When the teacher intentionally makes mistakes, students yell “mendāx!
  • Independent K-F-D
    Students sort words they Know, Forget (or will probably forget), and Don’t know into their respective column.
  • Most Points Wins!
    Students read a text, and write down as many X as they can, in English. When the time is up, review text, and students get a point for each detail the teacher calls out. X is any detail the teacher identifies from the text on the spot. Most points wins!
  • Lucky Reading Game
    – Project this for scoring
    Students Read & Translate in groups for X minutes. All members should understand the whole text. If they finish early, predict questions teacher will ask. Each group sends a representative to the front of room (with the text). Teacher asks a question, in English or the target language, then counts down from 5 as students write their response. Correct responses allow students to draw a card, and bring back to show their group, and keep secret. Since the point values are projected on the board, but cards are kept secret until end of the game, groups don’t know who’s in the lead! A new representative is sent up, then play continues. Group members can highlight parts of the text that have been questioned, predicting what might come next.
  • The septem game!
    In groups of 3-4, students get a text, as well as a 10-sided die and 1 pencil. The goal is to be the first to translate the text (or be furthest along). This can be individual against the group, or group against other groups. Take turns rolling until someone gets a 7, yells out that number in the target language (TL), and begins translating sentences from the text. They continue to do so while other team members keep rolling. Once someone else gets a 7, they grab the pencil from whoever was writing, and play continues. Stop after a round (of however many minutes) and reread the text. Students stand. They sit down when you read the end of their translation. Continue until last standing (furthest translated) is the winner.
  • Silent Volleyball Reading
    In pairs, students read a text sentence-by-sentence. Student A translates aloud while Student B reads silently. Student B translates the next sentence aloud while Student A reads silently.
  • Silent True/False Reading
    In pairs, students read silently for X minutes, then each draw 2 pics about the text (1 true, 1 FALSE). Students swap papers, and partner points to the True pic. Pairs now trade papers with another pair, and determine the new True pics with partner.
  • Flyswatter PictureTalk
    Place two drawings side-by-side under a document camera (or use silent T/F Reading drawings all ready to go). Two competing students head to board. Students indicate the picture you’re describing by calling out “left/right” in the target language. It’s best when you can describe things that are in both, reserving any difference for after some input.
  • Word Race
    – Printed Word Cloud with phrases from a text
    Call out English meanings as pairs race to highlight the TL. Or for more input, put all phrases in English as you read text in the TL.
  • Individual Word Race
    Solo variation of the Word Race. Each students gets their own Word Cloud. Set a timer (e.g. 3 seconds) and students race against the clock!
  • English Quadrant Word Race
    Variation where the teacher reads aloud sections of the text as pairs race to highlight the English when they hear the TL.

How To Get Texts

  • Summary & Write
    Students have 10 minutes to write an English summary of what was read the day before, then *in the target language* continue, or write a new ending. Select 1 or 2 of these, type/edit, then read later.
  • Write & Discuss
    Towards the end of class, the teacher discusses & writes/types out what happened that day as students copy into notebooks. This is crucial, and can replace ANY writing/typing you would otherwise do during planning period.
  • Timed Writes (Retell & Free)
    Any written output is just one step away from becoming input. Edit, type student story retells/free writing, then use in an input-based activity.
  • Card Talk Stories
    Instead of typing up statements of students, use Card Talk details to ask a story in which the student is always awesome, is better than famous people, and always wins. Type these up for more input!
  • Special Person/Discipulus Illustris
    Interview a student in front of the class using pre-determined questions, then type up their answers.
  • Discipulī et Magistrī Illustrēs
    Teacher colleagues and students choose and answer questions put into Google Slides to play “guess the teacher/student” with classes.
  • One Word At a Time Stories (OWATS)
    In groups, students write a story after getting 1 new word at a time to use in sentence(s) while the teacher goes around checking stories, and asking PQA). Collect student products, interpret, the edit/type up.

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