Wednesday, April 29, 2015

VERBA + more!

Have you heard of VERBA?  It is a fun card game created by Kevin Ballestrini, (@kballestrini on Twitter) originally in Latin, but now he is branching out to other languages. By some stroke of luck, Katherine Matheson, (@Katchiringa on Twitter), a Spanish teacher that worked with Kevin to create a Spanish set of VERBA cards, asked if I would be interested in Beta testing the cards with my Spanish classes. Of course I said YES! (Click HERE to read Katherine's blog post on using VERBA in her Spanish class.

In a few days the VERBA cards arrived and I adjusted my lesson plans for the next day.  For the first trial, I used the cards with my smallest class of 10 students.  After I explained the game, the students took over and there was very little for me to do other than enjoy watching the students play the game.  

The rules suggest that when the deck of cards is gone, the game is over and the person with the most cards is the winner.  Not in my class! The students took it upon themselves to shuffle the deck and turn it over so they could continue playing.  The odd sentence combinations that they made at times kept their attention and purposefully engaged in the game.  

If I understand Kevin correctly, he is planning on putting the cards on the market very soon (or maybe they are already available to order).  If you want a deck, connect with him on Twitter or go to the VERBA website for additional information.

In addition to playing VERBA, the colorful cards have a lot of potential for the second language classroom, such as "3 Rounds" described below.

3 Rounds game (Update: I later discovered that this game is known as Salad Bowl.)
The cards make the 3 Rounds game a no prep, fun activity.  3 Rounds is a game my family plays at holiday get-togethers in English, but I modified it for use in the MFL classroom as described below.

1. Players sit in a circle. Teams members are every other person in the circle.
2. Give each player 2 cards (if it is a large group of 15 or more, I suggest giving each player only one card)
I told players to look at their card. If they didn't recognize the Spanish word listed on the card, I allowed them to trade it in for another card.
3. Collect the cards and put them in a basket.

4. The first player (team A) pulls a card from the basket (and only that person should be able to see the card). The first player describes the word in Spanish.  His team members guess the word. As soon as they guess the word, he pulls another card and proceeds to describe that word. The player has 20 seconds to continue describing words.  
5.  When the 20 seconds are over, the 1st player passes the basket and the card in his hand if his team members did not guess it in time, to the person to his left.  The 2nd person then describes the words for 20 seconds and team B guess the answers.
6. This continues until all cards have been guessed.  Each card guessed is a point. Keep the score on the board.

7. Put all the guessed cards into the basket again.  Players have now heard all the words mentioned in the previous round so in this round, the person describing the words in the basket can only say 1 word to describe the word. 
8. Play continues as in Round 1 with teams taking turns describing. At the end of the round, tally the points for each team and add them to Round 1 points. 

Round 3 - Acting, no sound effects and no pointing allowed.
9. Put all the guessed cards into the basket again. Players have now heard all the words mentioned two times from Round 1 and Round 2.  For Round 3, players have to ACT out the word. I included the rule in ALL the rounds that players could not point to the object if it was in the room. If they did, the card turned into MY point.  :-)

This game was also a BIG hit! 
I played it with a level 4 class and they had no problem describing the words. Several days later I played it with a level 2 class and it worked well with this group too.

3 Rounds could easily be played based on vocabulary from a novel or a cultural unit.  

The VERBA cards could also be used to play Bolsa FEA.

I want to ask my students to do some brainstorming to find additional uses for the VERBA cards.  If you have any ideas. please list them below or Tweet them to me @sonrisadelcampo.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lesson Plans for when you lose your voice

I almost made it through the 2014-15 school year without losing my voice...but when I awoke this morning and started to talk, I knew my luck had run out.  

I, like many of my colleagues, think it's easier to go to school when I'm a little under the weather than to write lesson plans for a substitute.  Instead of calling in sick, I altered my plans in an effort to preserve what little voice I had left through my four classes.  

In Spanish 2, my original plans included reviewing the class story from yesterday using the structures, oyeron un ruido, se durmieron, & se despertaron.  I wasn't satisfied with the number of repetitions of the focus words from yesterday and I wanted to add some additional circling of the structures.

So...if I couldn't circle the different parts of the sentences, why not give that job to the kids? 

The first thing I told my Sp2 students was their instructions if I held up a large index card that had a frownie face on it.  If I held it up and then looked directly at a student, that meant the student was too chatty and the class' job was to say "shhhh" to the student.  I demonstrated the card and was sure I would be using it several times for each class, but I didn't need to use it once!

Then I made 9 additional index cards to represent 3 different types of questions:
3 cards w/ questions that circle the subject (yes/no, either/or, short answer)
3 cards for questions that circle the action (yes/no, either/or, short answer)
3 cards for questions that circle the rest of the sentence
                                                             (yes/no, either/or, short answer)

I wrote a sentence on the board and modeled how to ask questions (circle) for each part of the sentence. Of course I did the following in Spanish, but I'm writing it in English for those that don't teach Spanish:

EX:   Sally ate the hamburger.
(subject) Did Sally eat the hamburger? 
              Did Becky eat the hamburger or did Alice eat the hamburger?
              Who ate the hamburger?
(action/verb) Did Sally buy the hamburger?
                    Did Sally buy the hamburger or eat the hamburger?
                    What did Sally do with the hamburger?
(rest of sentence)  Did Sally eat the apple?
                           Did Sally eat the apple or eat the hamburger?
                           What did Sally eat?
Then I handed the cards out to 9 different students and wrote a sentence on the board that paralleled the beginning of our story from yesterday. After I said the sentence on the board, the students with the "Subject" cards asked the class questions, followed by the students with the "action" cards, and ending with questions from the students with the "rest of the sentence" cards. While I wrote the next statement on the board, students had to give their card to another student so others had to ask the questions for the next statement.

This isn't an activity for a long time because you will lose the interest of the students.  What I noticed helped to keep their interest was the storyline and creating l-o-n-g sentences.  These are the sentences that students asked questions about from one of my classes:

Dan y Omar fueron a la playa en Costa Rica.
Los chicos se durmieron en la playa a las once y veinte de la noche.
Dan y Omar se despartaron rápidamente porque oyeron un ruido.
Vieron un oso grande en el agua que tenía un sándwich en una mano y un
     bikini en la otra.  

Needless to say, this isn't the most compelling input w/ target structures, but it:1 - keep their attention (especially since there were 9 cards for each statement)
2 - gave them multiple repetitions of each structure
3 - gave them practice on forming questions
4 - gave my voice a break

Hopefully, by Monday, I will have my voice back and be ready to resume teaching again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reading La Guerra Sucia in Spanish Class

I have read La Guerra Sucia, a novel written by Nathaniel Kirby, several times with my students.  Thanks to several teachers blogging about their lessons with this book (see Kristy Placido's lessons HERE and Carrie Toth's lessons HERE), I am quickly increasing the culture and connections when reading the book.    
Last year, Kristy posted a photo of herself with a gray wig and a white bandana which were the props she used when teaching her students about Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.  When I realized that chapter 7 of the novel La Guerra Sucia was titled, "Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo", that photo came to mind and I was inspired. With my $5 off coupon in hand, I headed to the local fabric store in search of some white fabric. The only thing I needed was some basic sewing skills and, within an hour later, I had successfully cut and sewn 11 white bandanas for the total price of $1.04. 

The following day when students entered the classroom, I had this photo projected on my white board.  The previous day the students had researched information about Argentina's history, and one of the topics was Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo. We discussed what they had learned from their research and then I had them open their novels to chapter 7.  Then I pulled out the white bandanas and told them I created enough white bandanas for ALL the students to be able to wear one for the class - even the guys were included. 

I have great students, and even though there was a hint of hesitation at first, everyone took a white bandana and promptly tied it on.  I will share with you that after I finished tying on my white bandana, I looked up only to see the guys had tied their bandanas on "do-rag" style, but they obliged me and re-tied them the proper way.

They were so pleased with their white bandanas that immediately the cell phones came out and they were taking photos.  Before we could read they begged go down the hall to visit the Spanish 1 teacher and show off their new accessory.  I consented with the stipulation that they had to explain the significance of the white bandanas to her in Spanish and she then translated it to her Spanish 1 students. (A little promotion of upper level Spanish classes is always a good thing.) Then we returned to class and read the chapter.

Additional activities on this subject that we did or will very soon complete:
- Listen to a podcast - Notes In Spanish Advanced - Adopciones - start the Podcast at 5:00 for the discussion about Argentina 
- A Spanish article with questions that I had found last year
- Martina Bex's cultural activity 

Making the bandanas and wearing them for the reading was a minor change from previous years, but you can bet they are going to remember that part of Argentina's history better than they have in the past.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Picto-Frases - An Activity to use with Fiesta Fatal

I recently stumbled across a website named Pictotraductor. On the Pictotraductor website, you can type in a sentence in Spanish and it will generate the sentence using a mix of sketches and words for things that cannot easily be illustrated. (See below for link of paper shown on the left.) I can think of several uses for this, but since my students are currently reading Fiesta Fatal, a novel by Mira Canion, I created an activity to use after reading chapter 6 of Fiesta Fatal.  

I read Fiesta Fatal with my Spanish 2 students.  I am doing increasingly more grammar pop-ups on the ellos form of verbs, which means I point out the verbs that show the action of Vanesa and Julieta, and the two men that pursue them.  All of the sentences on the Picto-Frase activity include the ellos form of verbs.

I have two classes of Spanish 2, so after the first class, I changed a few things, and after the second class I changed a few more things to improve it. Below are the instructions on how I used it:

1. Read chapter 6 of Fiesta Fatal.
2. Showed examples Picto-Frases of other sentences from chapter 6 of Fiesta Fatal on a power point. Students said the sentences in Spanish.
3. Distributed the above Picto-Frases paper (find it HERE). Students looked for the sentences in chapter 6 and wrote the Spanish sentence below the pictures.
- Next time, I will ask the students to highlight or circle the word that shows the action that two or more people did.

After we read chapter 6 I realized I forgot to do the sentence Bingo game that reviews Chapters 1-5 of Fiesta Fatal.  Mira Canion talked about this idea at CSCTFL this spring and then Martina Bex created the game which you can find HERE and download for free.  I love this version of the game because it uses sentences rather than single words.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Response to: What do You Really Write About?

This morning I was reading tweets from #langchat and clicked on a link that took me to Señor Fernie's blog.  He is a kindergarten through 8th grade Spanish in Florida. His most recent post was titled, "What do you really write about?" In the post he explained how he copied the text of his blog and put it into Wordle to see what words were most common in his writings.  In the ending paragraph of the post, he encouraged other teachers to do likewise.

I followed the same method as Señor Fernie, but I only copied my blog posts from October 2014 through present, instead of the entire blog. There was a total of 10,360 words. (If I want to do that I should set up my blog with a RSS feed to make it easier.)  My resulting Wordle is shown above. 

The Wordle is similar to Señor Fernie's - the two biggest words:  Students & Story.  And for those that know me well, you won't be surprised to see "cookies" made it into the Wordle. :-)

An interesting experience. I, like, Señor Fernie, encourage others to do the same. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Retention Rates

Springtime is the time of the year when we receive the list of students' course selections. After receiving them I reach into my files and pull out the previous year's list and numbers and compare them to the new information.

Retention rates is a topic that is often discussed on language forums.  As World Language (WL) teachers, we want to see students that begin in level 1, continue through level 4 and higher.  But, at times, I wonder about the amount of pressure we put on ourselves and our departments when it isn't realistic to expect 100% retention rates.  A few things to consider:

1. Let's be honest: What percentage of students are mainly in the WL classes because (a) their high school requires a minimum of X years of language study, or (b) they want to meet college requirements of X years of language study.  
Question: Why do we automatically assume that students take a language class with an initial goal of becoming fluent or proficient in the language?

2. Of the students in WL classes that sincerely want to become fluent/proficient, do they realize the time commitment and the number of hours needed to reach that goal? (They learned their first language from infancy, but most likely have not considered the amount of input they received in their first five years of life. As a child they had to learn the language in order to communicate their needs and desires. They didn't have another language to use as a back-up if they weren't understood.) If they do realize that, how many are willing to make that commitment and work towards fluency? 
Question: As WL teachers, we were not deterred by the amount of time and commitment needed to become fluent in the language, but then we wanted to teach others the language so we had some mighty strong incentive to want to master the language. Will students not planning to teach the language in the future have the same dedication or time to continue their language study, especially when their major will demand a great deal of their time. 

3. In the junior and senior year of high school, many students take AP classes to give them a head start at college.  The schedule for those classes are often at the same time slots as the higher levels of Spanish. 
Question: If you were planning to go to college for a science degree, and the AP class was offered at the same time as the level 4 or higher Spanish class, wouldn't you also choose the class which parallels your planned future studies at the university level?

4. Knowing a second language, especially Spanish because the Latino population is increasing at a rapid rate, will certainly be beneficial to students in the future.  
Question: That's a long-term benefit and we live in a world of short-term goals and rewards.  Are students prepared to invest time in something that is not in the near future?
5. When a freshman enrolls in an art class, do the art teachers expect that student to continue to take art classes throughout his high school years?   
Questions: Do art teachers, or business teachers, or even core subject teachers, track retention rates like WL teachers do? What percentage of students that take the first level of high school math are sitting in Calculus classes as a junior or senior? If the percentage is less than 30%, or 20%, or 10%, is that viewed as a failure of the program or the teachers?
Likewise, if a high school requires 4 classes/credits of English in order to graduate, does the English department have expectations that the students will continue to select additional English classes after the requirement is met?

This year when I received the course selection information for next year, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our Spanish numbers were up by more than 100 requests, an overall 22% increase from the present year to next year.  Every single level, from Spanish 1 to Spanish 5, saw an increase from the previous year. The requests for Spanish 1 was up by
1 student, which means the other levels accounted for the 100+ increase. The biggest increase was incoming freshman that chose to double up on Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 in their freshman year, causing the Spanish 2 numbers to skyrocket. Rough numbers show that 31% of the students that started Spanish 1 had signed up for Spanish 4, and 18% of the students that started Spanish 1 had signed up for Spanish 5. (I'll update this with actual percents soon, which I believe will be 2-4% higher than the rough numbers.)

Those percentages have steadily increased over the last ten years.  I believe the increase is due, in part, to the method we use to teach language. (Other factors include a change in our Spanish program for 8th grade students and a 5x5 schedule at the high school.) But even with the steady increase, the percentages are not near 50% retention through level 4.
In addition, when August rolls around and I receive my class rosters, those percentages in the upper levels will decrease due to scheduling conflicts.
More than ever, instead of focusing on retention rates and percentages, my goal is to focus on the students in my current classes and set my sights on helping each one to have a successful experience in the language classroom.  Some will return to the next level of Spanish the following year and some will not, for various reasons as listed above, but ALL will be equipped with improved language skills and proficiency because of the time I, and others in my department, have shared with them.