Fun Prep for UNANNOUNCED Quiz

I was just reading something that Carol Gaab wrote about “mixing things up” in your classroom–always trying to provide Comprehensible Input for your students. It gave me an idea. When you want to find out whether kids are really ready for one of your “unannounced quizzes”, this might be a fun, informative way to prep them:

  1. Give the kids small pieces of scrap paper or post its. How many you give them depends on how many questions you have on your quiz. Jody suggests 5 or 6.
  2. Project a question on the board about the reading, or section of reading,  you just worked on or the story you just did in class making sure to focus on target/important structures you are working on or want to review.
  3. Kids each answer the question on their little piece of paper. They do NOT write a number on the paper, but do write their name on the back of the paper. When finished, they turn the little paper over and put it to the side of their desk.
  4. Project the second question and have the kids do the same as with the first question. Etc., etc.
  5. When you have finished projecting all the questions and the kids have finished writing all the answers, walk around, collecting the little papers and throw them in a grocery bag. Mix them up good. Kids put away all writing paraphernalia during the collection process. Desks are now clear.
  6. Project the first question on the board again. Ceremoniously, fish around in the bag and choose an answer. Read it aloud.
  7. Students give two thumbs up if it is correct or two thumbs down if it is not. If the answer is wrong, it may sound really silly. Encourage appropriate laughter. ūüėÄ (If you can engineer your questions to go together in a way that mixed-up answers might be funny, even better.)
  8. If the answer is correct, read the name of the brilliant student and have the class applaud. If it is not correct, shake your head sadly,  and throw the answer back in the bag. Shake bag even more.
  9. Continue with the questions until all are correctly answered.
  10. Start with Question #1 again; have someone in the class say the answer aloud; write it on the overhead and read it again yourself aloud. Do this with all questions. Turn off the overhead. You’re done.

At the start of the next class, put the questions on the overhead again and ANNOUNCE that they are having a quiz. Have the kids answer all the questions. They turn their papers in for a quiz grade.

Some might ask:

  • Isn’t this prepping them too much? Prepping them is giving them tons of¬† Comprehensible Input.
  • Won’t everyone get 100%? Interestingly enough, not everyone will get 100%, but everyone will do well.

On a quiz like this, I will not find out whether they remember everything about the reading or story that we did. What I will find out is whether they are able to use the important target structures or not. This is more important to me as a language teacher and will inform the content of my future lessons.

A higher-level way you might do this activity would be to do the opposite. Instead of projecting the questions for them to answer, project the ANSWERS and have the students write the QUESTIONS that go with the answers from your story or reading. There would likely be many different questions one might ask, so this activity could definitely hit some higher-order thinking skills. On the quiz, I would have them answer MY questions. It’ll be a breeze by then.

More thoughts:

1)  When reading the questions aloud the first time, make sure the students comprehend them by:

  • having target structures w/translation on the board and do pause and point as you read the question
  • ask a student translate the question into English aloud

2)¬† What if a student says they can’t write the answer in the target language because they don’t have enough language?¬†

  • Have them write the answer in English (although if this is the case, this activity may be at an inappropriately high level for your class and you should wait).
  • If you should choose that student’s little paper out of the bag, just write down and say the answer in the target language (more CI for that student)

Cap√≠tulo 3 – It’s called La Invasi√≥n, but it’s much more than that!

Henry Morgan y sus bucaneros saquean el mercado. Capturan y torturan a la gente para forzarles a hablar.

Cruelty, chaos, intrigue, love and betrayal! This chapter’s got ’em all and begs to be acted out. So, I did not pass out the books.

Instead, I chose two names from the box. I told them that one was Henry and one was Carlos. They came to the front of the class. (Before we began, I reminded them–in English–that this chapter required skilled, active, acting with lots of vocal and physical expression–and to gracefully bow out before we began if they thought they weren’t up to the job. Works every time. Everyone wanted in.)

In the first scene, Felipe gets away, the pirates capture Carlos, and Henry tortures him until he tells who has the map. The scene has just the right tone of threat and humor. It never gets too dark. I won’t tell you what happens to Carlos, but it’s not good.

As I narrate the text, the two students act. I often repeat sentences, ask for brief translation from the class, include the class in extra dialogue. I don’t want to lose them.

I love the dialogue parts. At this point in the year, their tongues are loose and willing to mimic my speech. They are quite familiar with the structures and much of the vocabulary. I say part of a line. They say part of line, mimicking the volume, intonation, emotion, etc. Sometimes we do it again, repeating it together. If it’s a really good line, the whole class gets in on it. One of my Henry’s took on a Marlon Brando Godfather voice during the speaking parts. Big fun. If my students were not so facile of tongue, I would do the Gaab Dialogue Trick:¬† I stand behind the student and speak the dialogue while they just move their lips. It is always hilarious and relieves them of producing before it is really time.

When they speak, they don’t receive any CI (but, of course, they just got some the very moment before). What they get is an intense reason to listen and understand, so that they can sound “real” and get positive feedback from their peers–the most important thing in the universe. The dialogue in this book is cunningly repetitive. Hats off to the author one more time.

I chose two more actors and they came to the front. In this scene, we find Felipe with Antonio. Antonio realizes his life is in danger and that his girlfriend, Raquel, is in the market , trapped by the pirates, and doesn’t know where he is. Antonio comes up with a plan to use Felipe to find Raquel and get her to the arranged meeting place so that they can all flee Puerto del Pr√≠ncipe. In this scene, we see that Antonio indeed appears to care for Raquel. We see his intelligence and strategic thinking. Felipe doesn’t show a lot of leadership qualities, but seems dutiful and loyal.

OR IS HE? I can’t tell you what happens next, but in the last scene, both Antonio and Raquel (another ticket from the box) end up with shattered hearts. My students watched, rapt during this part. The actors had little to actually do. However, I can guarantee the student audience received 100% comprehensible input as they SAW the action and emotions while I read the text–compelling content, for sure. (You’ll have to get the book!)

Their minds were abuzzin’ after that! Class was over and they wanted to make PREDICTIONS about where this story was going. Had to shoo them out. I wonder if they realize that the entire thing was in Spanish.¬† ūüôā

Cap√≠tulo 2 – Quick Comprehension Quiz Results

Five minute/15 item quiz based on the information/CI from this chapter which we used to play Todos para uno. Short answer and fill-in.

What I noticed:

  • They understood the Spanish sentences they were reading.
  • They remembered what happened in the chapter.
  • They used new words/structures from the chapter or wrote other answers in Spanish which conveyed the correct information. The new vocabulary was nowhere on the quiz.
  • This was a complex task that they did easily even though they hadn’t seen the book for several days.
  • All kids used verbs that made sense. However, many of them didn’t write all the verbs in the correct tense/correct subject agreement all the time. Many are still focused on the root meaning–not the details. (More comprehensible input needed, not verb drills.) My top kids really notice the little details and have better accuracy. The number of hours these kids have heard/read Spanish matches the kinds of developmental errors they make.
  • There was only one answer of all the answers that just didn’t make sense. The student obviously did not understand some key words in the question.
  • They applied new structures/vocabulary appropriately. This wasn’t a Spanish to English translation exercise.
  • Class averages: 90%

Cool. We can move on. They are ready.

Character Collages from Quiz #1

Here they are (only 16 of the 44):  warts and all

I like them because I really get an inside look into my students’ other mind-the symbolic one, the artistic one, the free one.

Remember, these students are 11 and 12 years old.

I focus on whether the student communicated “meaning”.

What I notice:¬† Where English and Spanish align grammatically, there are few errors. Where English and Spanish grammar differ, there are more errors–which just means they need much MORE input (not correction).

Common beginner errors which eventually disappear:

  • Henry le gusta _______.
  • la mapa
  • misspelled cognates
  • quere, queire, quire, etc. ARGGHHH!
  • article usage
  • noun/adjective/article agreement (Oh, no! Oh, no! Back to Chapter One of the textbook to drill them and kill them–oh, yeah, it doesn’t work.)
  • Antonio’s barco (NONE of the kids did this. Yup. It has disappeared!)

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When I think about how well this quiz went for the kids, I now think it may have had a great deal to do with being able to get up, go outside and do the poster activity where they got to talk, and then, come back and do something like this which stimulated very different brain activity. They were so calm and settled as they were creating these.





Todos para uno y uno para todos

Sounds a little like a pirate slogan, yes? Three Muskateerish even. Todos para uno y uno para todos. It’s what I decided to name my new review/assessment game.

“Numbered Heads Together” has been around a long time. I always do Lettered Heads Together because I like to practice the alphabet that way. I use the game often to:

  • give all students one more chance to hear the new material from the chapter in context
  • give the slower processors a pretty safe space to work out their thinking and their tongues with peer support
  • give the faster processors an opportunity to show their maximum acquisition (a nice way to say “show off”)
  • encourage them to share information instead of covet it
  • let them move around the classroom
  • get them to key in and “laser listen” to the material
  • provide the comprehensible input in a format that makes them WANT to find interest
  • assess output to see how they’re doing

After hearing Alfie Kohn speak the other night, I decided to change the rules of the game a bit. I have always set up the game in a cooperative/competitive format:¬† Teams discuss and come up with an answer. I call a lettered head. The first one who pops up gets to answer–wins or loses the point for their team. There is a winning team and, of course, there are losing teams.

After listening to Alfie talk about the dangers of “academic competition” in school, I really rethought this game. Now, it’s “all for one and one for all”. The whole class is working for points for the class–and there still get to be teams. It worked great and was a huge hit with the kids and with me. Big time fun, engagement, focus on meaning, focus on success, fight the fear. All good. No “team” is smarter or better than any other team. No “team” is lesser, dumber, etc. than any other team. I thought they might think it was lame since they are very competitive, sporty kids. I was wrong. Doing it this way took off a layer of worry for them.

Read on:

  1. I choose four names out of the box for each team.
  2. The teams gather in different areas of the room. I say: “Equipo 1 aqu√≠, por favor. Equipo 2, aqu√≠, etc.” When they get really good at organizing themselves, after a few times of playing the game, I let them come up with an “appropriate” Spanish name for their team. For instance, this time we had Los Fatales (silly name based on one kid who ALWAYS answers the question, ¬ŅC√≥mo est√°s?, with “Fatal”, Los C√°llates, Los Azules, Los Habladores Cabezones, etc. Dumb stuff, fun stuff. I help them out or this takes forever.
  3. I assign each team member a letter: a, b, c, d “Fulano, eres A. Sutano, eres B., etc. Todos los A’s, levanten la mano, por favor. Los B’s, etc.”
  4. I ask the question*. I speak SLOWLY (can’t impress upon you enough the necessity to speak slowly in all activities).
  5. Each team physically huddles together to discuss the answer. I say: “J√ļntense. Arr√≠mense. (with motions)”
  6. I give the groups time to discuss the question, come up with the answer. Each group member must feel confident that they have an answer (they will need it for the next step). Then I repeat the question to the class.
  7. I choose a letter. For instance:  B
  8. All the B’s run to the center of the room away from their teams, huddle up with the new group, and tell each other what their original team believes is the correct answer. Each one weighs in. Then, they either agree because they all have the same answer or they negotiate a better answer among themselves. I love watching that part.
  9. When they are ready, I choose one of their tickets. That person answers the question.
  10. If they answer correctly, their team gets the point which goes immediately goes toward the class score. If they get it wrong, no point.
  11. If anyone speaks English (smart alec remarks, criticisms, whatever) during the “answering part”, profe gets a point (that happened a couple of times in one class).
  12. Before we began, we did one practice round with a silly question in English (since I had changed the rules). The question was: ¬ŅQui√©n es Joe Biden? I just walked them through the format slowly. It was easy.

At the end I asked them:

  1. how well they had understood me?
  2. how well they had remembered the new vocabulary?
  3. how well they had remembered the details of the plot?
  4. how well they thought they had contributed to the activity?

They give me 0-5 fingers to answer the above questions:  0 Рlowest to 5 Рhighest

Lots of fives on all questions. The cheers at the end of the game were loud and enthusiastic. Many yelled out, “¬°Todos para uno y uno para todos!” Alfie was right.

*I used the Comprehension Questions (reworded) and Discussion Questions in the Treasure Chest which accompany Piratas.

Cap√≠tulo 2 – Una Pistola especial

Una Pistola especial

Chapter Two is a bit long for beginners. Slogging through the reading and “meaning making” (translating) is sometimes onerous for me, the teacher, too. I get nervous that I may bore them, go too long, lose their attention, etc. So, I broke the chapter up into three chunks and did it on three separate days.

It worked pretty well. After we finished, I played the book on cd that comes with the Treasure Chest. It is very fast (normal speech speed), but the kids all say that it is much easier to understand because they have gone through the first reading and translating. I notice that there are very few kids who are taking their eyes off the text in this class. It may just be that they are better readers, in general, than students I’ve had in the past. When I asked for the comprehension check (five fingers), I got three to five. All reported that they easily understood the gist. Many reported understanding in a more detailed way.

After, we finished the second reading, I put the “event order” activity from the Treasure Chest up on Elmo. There are fifteen events on it. Instead of having the kids order the events, I put three different color dots on the page.

  • Azul – al principio
  • Rojo – en medio
  • Verde – al final

As a class, we read each item on the list, starting at the top (which is out of order).¬† We decided, more or less, in which part of the chapter the event occurred, and marked the item with a colored dot instead of a number. Because we had read the chapter in three parts, this was perhaps somewhat easier than if we’d read it all at one time.

The next day, today, I gave them the sheet with the events on it to number in correct order. They also did the character comparison Venn diagram which included comparing “a friend” with Carlos and Felipe. I asked them to finish the “event ordering” first and then move to¬† the Venn activity.

When I saw that everyone had finished, I chose groups of two or three to get together and compare answers. If they found differences, they were to circle them. Then, they had to go back and find proof in the book to defend their choices.

Things I noticed:

  • One girl said to me: “This is really hard. When you go back to find the proof, you have to figure out where to look in the chapter or you’re going to have to read the whole chapter again!” Me: “How might you make that easier for yourself?” Other student in the group: “We know if it happened at the beginning, middle, or end, so we don’t have to read the whole thing. We just have to think about where it might be and read before and after.” (Hmmm. I love being useless.)
  • They were seriously enjoying “proving” each other wrong.

After they had finished (those who finished early went on to work on the Venn diagram), I read each item individually with the answer from the kid’s paper who was nearest to me. Each time I read an item, the students were to give a thumb up in agreement or a thumb down in disagreement. I waited to see that each person had made the signal and we looked around. When there was disagreement, I chose someone to give the proof from the book. It worked great!

Why I liked it:

  • No one was “checked out” during correction time. Thumbs up, thumbs down keeps them physically involved.
  • When they read the brief passages that held the “proof”, they read beautifully in Spanish–gorgeous accents and intonation (proud Spanish teacher am I).
  • The plot action of Cap√≠tulo Dos got solidified in their brains.
  • New vocabulary was repeated over and over in logical context–it’s getting in their brains!!!

They worked a bit more on the Venn and class ended. We’ll find out how their friends match up with Carlos and Felipe tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we will also play a “numbered-heads together” question game about things that happened in Chapter Two. (Basically, it is “intermediate circling of new vocabulary” in a game context–one more attempt at making the content and structures compelling enough for them to pay attention to–we’ll see how it goes.)

Se bajan del barco y llegan a la costa en canoas. Después, caminan 50 kilómetros a Puerto del Príncipe.


Cap√≠tulo Dos – Kids Get Hooked In

Carta n√°utica del Caribe

In Chapter Two, the action really gets going. Antonio, a couple of important shipmates (Felipe and Carlos), and Raquel get together to make “the secret plan”. The plan involves lying, breaking the law, and getting rich. Sounds good, huh? We’ll see. I won’t tell you the plan because you really need to buy this book so you can enjoy every plot twist and turn!

In Chapter Two, we find out more and more about the characters–why they do what they do, how they treat people, what’s important to them, etc. This kind of stuff may be the best part of the book for me. The characters are complex and imperfect. Mira doesn’t explicitly state these things. They come out in the characters’ actions. Students begin to identify with the characters, be disgusted by them, find them useless, etc. Now, students have AUTHENTIC reasons to use adjectives to describe the characters. Descriptors start to really matter as students defend the acts or gasp in horror at the things the characters do or say. Way better than “describing myself and the members of my family” on workbook pages. Way better.

ASIDE:¬† This part makes me cry. My last year’s kids are in seventh grade–one of the “most hooked-into Spanish” groups of kids I’ve ever had. The teacher, who has them now, told me they don’t know anything. When I asked her what she meant, she said, “They don’t know things like adjective agreement.” I disagreed and said that, of course, they do. She agreed, adding, “Well, yes, but they don’t do it correctly in speech.” Restraining my urge to scream very loudly, I reminded her in a neutral voice (she may not actually know this), that “adjective agreement” is very late acquired in Spanish and that no reasonable teacher of beginning students would expect them to be able to do that. She agreed again and said, “Well, I’m just following what other schools are doing. I have to prepare them for the tests they’ll take to go to high school.” I asked whether she’d noticed how well they understood, spoke, read, and wrote Spanish. She said that she had, but that she had to start at the beginning of the textbook because they have to learn that stuff. I truly felt sick. I did some deep breathing, prayed a little, and will stand firm in my knowledge that I am doing the right thing. I no longer feel defensive, just very sad.

In Chapter Two, the quartet (see above) visit the big mercado, dividing up along gender lines to look for things they want:

  • Antonio – una pistola
  • Felipe (the first mate) – un telescopio
  • Raquel – zapatos

Oh, me, oh, my! Wonder of wonders! Antonio finds the pistol he desires (and more). It’s not for sale. However, Antonio is not deterred. Being of an arrogant and superior-feeling nature, he piles enough money on the table to change the seller’s mind. (Motivation/Character lead to logical action). I won’t give away what happens next. I will say that at the end of the chapter one of my students commented, “Wow! Is every chapter going to end with a cliff hanger?” Hmm. Maybe. They’re hooked. More on what we did later.