If conventional language teaching is grammar-translation, then we’re all somewhat a group of heretics! Still, there are so many sub groups of CI that it warrants a bit of elucidation. At some point, John Bracey and I were talking about if either of us just started discovering CI right now, we’d have NO IDEA what to do or where to begin. Here are descriptions of all the different CI groups I’ve observed over the past 5 years already in existence, or just emerging:
In its debut year, Comprehensible Online offered a different kind of PD, allowing participants to watch as many presentations over three weeks as they could from their computers and phones. #pdinpajamas was trending for many teachers sneaking in loads of PD from the comfort of their own home. In fact, I was able to watch most videos during my part-time job (shhh)!
Like other conference takeaways, I’ll consult this post over the years, and the info will be here to share with all. I have a code system to help me spot new things to try, and others to update. High-leverage strategies I consider “non-negotiable” for my own teaching are “NN.” Strategies to update or re-implement are “Update!,” and those I’d like to try for the first time are “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways from some of the presentations I got to, organized by presenter:
- Self(ies?) (NN) Harvard study showing humans talking about themselves 60% of the time in convos and 80% on social media. This activates parts of the brain associated with rewards. Thinking of skipping on student interest, Special Person, or PQA? Think again!
- Prefrontal vs. Mentalizing System (NN) When one of these brain systems is on, the other is switched off. Prefrontal Cortex is used for math, logic, etc. Mentalizing, however, is the default system. In a study, one group was able to remember more when using the default Mentalizing system whereas a group focused on passing a test, thus activating the Prefrontal Cortex, didn’t do as well. This is support for the learning-acquisition distinction right there!
- Mirror Neurons (NN) Watching someone do something triggers the same neurons as if you were experiencing it! This supports the 70s studies showing how language students who observed video tapes of other students interacting in the target language made the same gains as if they were interacting, themselves!
- Amygdala (NN) This is the “fight or flight” system. Physical pain & emotional pain trigger same system. Studies found that taking ibuprofen for heartache worked just as well for muscle ache! This is the affective filter, folks!
- Big Brother (NN) When people know others are watching, or just THINK others are watching, they tend to behave better. Got a tough class? Tell them you’ll be recording the day to share with other teachers.
- Sound Effect Reading Choice (Update!) Forget about discussing sounds, give groups a few minutes to come up with their own sound effects all throughout a short text. Then, assign each group a particular word/phrase.
- “Like a…” (Update!) Not just for TPR, but annnnnnny acting can instantly be given novelty. Just change the style of how the actors dramatize the story.
- Info Swap(New!) Students write 3 responses to questions (simple, can vary) you project/ask before a story. Students swap paper with partner, and try to get their partner’s responses into the story as details (1 point per detail). Highly competitive, and trains students for storyasking.
- Tell Me What’s Going On In Your Life (New!) Karen gives extra credit for students answering this question, in L1 if they want. The info is used for personalization & making a connection). I don’t give extra credit, but need to find a way to work this into class.
- Bringing Texts To Life (in general) (NN) Almost every word or phrase could bring texts to life. As you read, stop to engage students. Have students do the actions in place (i.e. TPR), provide atmosphere by singing music, or become a prop. Enlist actors, check for comprehension, etc. Do everything you might do while storyasking, just with a new text.
- Honor Cāseī (Cheese Award(s)) (New!) Awards given for overly dramatic performances as actors. This increase entertainment value, and builds community. Possible MGMT strategy by giving an unruly actor this award, then swapping out for a different actor.
- Secret Input Activity (New!) In groups, students determine a few details they then read/act. The input comes from a) reading the text in groups, and b) listening to each group perform their version. The least prep would be to take a short text (parallel?), remove some details to make it a Cloze, then create questions based on what you removed. Students put their responses into the script, then perform. Elicia adds tips in L1 (e.g. “Decide on a verb that you can act out. Make sure it is an infinitive!!!). Great for showing people that students are “speaking,” which helps meet certain expectations.
- Transitions (NN) Prerequisites for Brain Breaks! Call/response, sound-makers, etc. Else, Annabelle says “it’s not even worth doing a Brain Break.”
- Positivity (NN) “If nothing else, everything’s positive all the time.”
- Modelling (NN) Modelling is an excellent way to remain in the target language during Brain Breaks without stopping to establish meaning of every word. Most Brain Breaks use known high frequency vocabulary anyway, but you can easily model Rock, Paper, Scissors while narrating your actions in the target language. It’s comprehensible. For Brain Breaks, this is standard practice. For storytelling, I’d stick with establishing meaning on the board using English.
- Rock, Paper, Scissors (Update!) This is the foundation Brain Break. First do with numbers “ūnus, duo, trēs, ī!” before “saxum, charta, forfex, ī” vocab.
- Circle BB (New!) Turn to partner for a Brain Break. Turn again to switch. This is FAST.
- “The Next Step” for Fast Processors (New!) During any reading activity, give fast processors the next step, which is anything you make up on the spot (e.g. “now highlight what changed from the original story,” or “now circle all the verbs”)!
- Don’t Finish/Alternate (New!) Don’t even FINISH a MovieTalk (whoa!). Instead, have upper level students write their own endings, or write an alternate ending (instead of an entire parallel story). Collect, and discuss possibilities with class before finishing the video.
- Storyboard Dictation (New!) Can’t believe I didn’t think of this already. Major upgrade from standard dictation because students not only write what they hear, but then also illustrate. Students are shown the text afterwards and can change anything they heard differently (i.e. spelling).
- Color for HW (Update!) If you want to reuse student illustrations and storyboards, instead of spending class time coloring, assign it for HW! This is an awesome assignment if force to give HW.
- Screenshot Retells (New!) Post screenshots around room for students to use while writing a caption on a piece of paper. Perhaps best as a precursor to first Retell Timed Writes.
- Current Events/Culture Talk (NN) Annabelle describes how there’s a powerful moment when kids see that “all the crazy/fun stuff done in class” has an application to things outside of the classroom.
- Structured OWI Stories (Update!) Meeting in L1, then expand details of Who, What, With whom?, Problem, Resolution (new character, new place, or both)
- OWI Problem IN ENGLISH (New!) Tina has experienced improved conflicts to resolve by taking a few minutes to discuss “meaty” issues that students must find a solution for (i.e depth of character vs. possible superficial needs/wants).
- Choral Translation w/ Pop Up Grammar (Update!) Ask questions about the language to elicit some pop up grammar. This breaks up the monotony of a choral translation that’s more than a few sentences.
- MGMT – Don’t Name Behavior (NN) During hall conversations (i.e. level 2, 3 strategy for diffusion, after pointing to rules poster (level 1)), don’t name the behavior because students will argue with ANYTHING. Instead, ask “so, what are you out here for?” so they put it in their own words.
- Pause to Catch Up (NN) Circling allows slow processors to catch up!
- Mechanical Drill (NN) It is OUR responsibility that circling doesn’t turn into mechanical drill!
- PQA to Shadows (NN) Asking Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) could get you shadow options. This reduces being creative with being aware (i.e. CI Ninja).
- “Short & Tall” (NN) Students give a short answer, restate with a longer, more beautifully complete sentence.
- Non-verbal Responses (NN) Don’t force speech. At one point, Terry asked a question, a participant nodded, then Terry said “honest to God, if a Chinese person asked me that question I would probably just nod, myself.”
- Park on “No!” (Update!) Rapid and relatively predictable “no” questions primarily used to vary pace of speaking (i.e. you can use native-speed speech when the cognitive demand is lower!).
- TPRS (Update!) With the quest for keeping things compelling and novel, this tried-and-true storyasking method offers more CI than most methods and strategies out there. Don’t forget the power of a simple story!
- Let Fast Processors Guess Meaning (New!) In the effort to provided comprehended input, allow fast processors from time to time to guess meaning, and then confirm that meaning with the class.
- Model Reading by Reading (NN) Don’t use FVR time to catch up on emails. Read.
- Leave After School (NN) Seriously, go home at the end of the day. Don’t burn out! Super Teachers might not be leading the most fulfilling life outside of school!
- Make it Easy to Comply (NN) Establish simple class rules.
- Picture Culture Pop-Up(New!) Variation on PictureTalk designed with 2 factoids, and 1 bizarre feature about a target culture product or practice.
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).
This is probably the most effective no-prep activity you should become familiar with:
1) Say or ask for one(1) word.
2) Draw it on the board (or have the Class Artist draw it).
3) Ask about it, and add details to the image.
I’m never at a loss for what to add because I rely on my Question Word Posters as reference to drive the image. Looking at the posters around my board, I usually just ask questions in order and get corresponding supporting details without planning a single thing. Here’s an example that began with a single word, fūr (thief)…
Where? = The thief is in Starbucks
From Where? = Lived in Spain
To Where? = Wants to go to Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley, not Cambridge
What? = Has a gladius (Roman sword)
Who? = The thief’s name is Tom
Whose? = The gladius is actually the Starbucks barista’s gladius
When? = It’s night time
Whom? = The thief sees someone with a better, bigger gladius
With Whom? = Donald Trump (obviously!)
To Whom? = The Starbucks barista gives a coffee to Donald Trump
How? = The thief has the gladius because he stole it from the Starbucks barista
How many? = Actually, the Tom the Thief has 7 gladiī—one from each Starbucks in Starbucksville
What sort of? = Tom is actually a bad thief…the Starbucks barista saw him steal the gladius
Why? = Donald Trump is there because he wants to buy all the Starbucks’
Note how some of the details don’t connect (e.g. there is another person with a sword but doesn’t get mentioned again), but realize that they don’t have to. We’re just creating an image, not any kind of plot. Also note, however, how easily this COULD turn into a prompt for a Timed Write, or a Storyasking session, especially given the image we’ve established as a class.
A major reason to ditch what you’ve been doing (or what others expect language learning to look like), and teach with CI is for the flexibility in planning. In fact, the longer I teach with CI, the less I plan, and the better the results. This is probably the least intuitive concept as an educator, especially for anyone still green from their teacher training that included an obsession over Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, the push for posted objectives, a need for required lesson plans tied to Bloom’s, etc.
I’ve written 13 blog posts and a summary about what should be considered and/or put in place in your classroom in order to continue teaching with CI. Here’s a perspective on a full year of teaching that might help you see the big picture of how simple it is to actually make this happen:
The Day **Added 12.9.17**
– Telling/Asking stories, then reading them
– Learning details about students
– 1-3 unannounced “open-book” Quick Quizzes
– 1-2 unannounced, no notes, 5-10min Fluency Writes
The Grading Term
– Students self-assess Rubric (but check these to see if they’re being too hard on themselves)
The bulk of “planning” then becomes varying how you tell/ask stories (e.g. One Word Image, TPRS, MovieTalk, Magic Tricks, etc.), what you do with them (e.g. Choral Translation, Airplane Translation, Read and Discuss, Running Dictation, Draw-Write-Pass, OWATS, etc.), and how you’ll learn more about each other (e.g. ask students for a new batch of questions to use during La Persona Especial/Discipulus Illustris, etc.).