Saturday, May 24, 2014

The End of the School Year Reflections

School ended for students this past Thursday, with the graduation ceremony taking place that evening. Yesterday was my one day of post-planning. The gradebooks have all been finalized. Textbooks have all been stored. My classroom is all packed up for the summer, awaiting my eventual return the last week of July. I am officially now on summer vacation.

So with the school year still fresh in my mind, I wanted to devote this post to my thoughts on my first true year of creating a Comprehensible Input based classroom. 

On the one hand, I see my drastic failures: 
  1. still treating Latin as if it were simply re-translated English and not as a communicative language
  2. days where students did not hear a word of spoken Latin from me because I was focusing on culture, grammar, etc or just did not feel like speaking Latin
  3. rushing through material in order to catch up on lost time due to missing seven days on account of snow
  4. not getting enough student interaction with Latin through comprehensible repetitions, circling types of questions, PQAs, etc
  5. times where I could have done a TPRS story with students but chose not to because I was tired or burned out
  6. times where I ended up doing grammar-translation lessons because they seemed easier for me than doing a CI lesson
  7. at times not really having a true goal of where I was going with CI
  8. times where I could have better engaged students and drawn them in through comprehensible, compelling material
  9. still sheltering grammar but not vocabulary
  10. focusing on intensive readings which had way too much vocabulary and language
But at the same time, I made it through an entire school year of trying to incorporate Comprehensible Input into my Latin classroom! For me, that is a tremendous victory. And quite honestly, this was no small task.

I see so many small victories throughout the year. This past year was quite an interesting one. I was in a situation where the majority of my students had never had me as their Latin teacher (there are 2 other teachers at my school who do not use CI), so these students had little to no experience with oral Latin/CI. I was also not teaching Latin 1 this year, where teaching Latin using CI would not have been a big deal for them since they would not known anything different, but how was this going to fly with students who already had 1-2 years of non-CI Latin under their belts? My major concern was my Latin 3s, because as they did not know me, I knew that I would be viewed as the “evil stepparent.” I was concerned about how to implement anything related to CI with them – these students were great Latin translators, could parse the heck out of words, knew their forms and charts, but in their minds, that was what Latin was. Therefore, my plan for them was simply this: to love them exactly where they were at. This meant making them feel successful with what they already know (even if meant parsing!) and introducing CI to them gradually, lest they rebel against me. And quite honestly, it worked, because many of them began to warm up BIG TIME to CI. I remember once while doing a TPRS story with them, they kept coming up with idea after idea for where the story should go. When playing the Word Chunk game and using vocabulary and language structures which I had used in a dicatio and TPRS a few days prior, I recall being absolutely floored that they had no problem translating “heard-Latin” into English. I recall a number of students saying to me, “Hearing Latin is really not that hard. I thought it was going to be really difficult.” I responded to them, “Well, good then, that means that I am doing my job of making Latin understandable to you.” When I was observed in one of these Latin 3 classes where I was telling a TPRS story, the observer said to me afterwards, “Wow, your students really like you.” All of these small victories translate into one great one for me.

I am reminded of something which I wrote in my second post "Getting Started with CI" about celebrity environmentalist Ed Begley Jr., who, whenever he is asked about ways in which folks can be more "green," always responds, "Pick the low hanging fruit first...Once you master those activities (which are easy to do) and they become part of your daily habit, then move onto bigger things." I realize how true that statement is, because "picking the low hanging fruit" is exactly what I did this year. Through making a concerted effort of incorporating dictationes, embedded readings, TPRS, timed writes, One Word Pictures, free writes, limiting vocabulary, Read/Draw, word chunk game and so many other CI techniques into my curriculum, they actually do seem like habit to me now. In other words, as I now have a year's worth of CI foundation on which to build and as those activities have now become engrained in my teaching routine, next year I can better address my "failures" listed above and add so many more new techniques to my arsenal in addition to what I was already doing. Also, my mindset has changed, as I am really starting to view my teaching from a CI perspective. 

So I am grateful for these next two months away from the classroom as I regroup and recoup, but at the same time, I am excited for where I will go with CI next year. 

I will continue to post here throughout the summer. After only 6 months of this blog, I already have 7300 page views. Who the heck is reading this? I am grateful to all of you who read this and hope that we can support each other in our journey into a Comprehensible Input based classroom.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

1-3-10 Timed Free Write

Here is another timed free write activity which I found on Martina Bex's website, and I absolutely love it. It is another way to get students to write in the target language as a timed write, and it truly lowers their affective filter.
  1. Give students a prompt about which they will write (either an actual written prompt or a picture for them to describe or to narrate the action). Doing 15-minutes of One-Word-Picture just prior to this can be very helpful, because since the class is the one who created the picture, the description of the picture should be fresh in their minds.
  2. Give them one minute to begin writing - if I have given them a prompt, writing the actual prompt is part of the timed write.
  3. After one minute, tell them to stop, to draw a line under what they have written and to count up the number of words which they have written. They are to put that number in a box off to the side of their one-minute timed write.
  4. Now tell them that they have three minutes to write but that they are to re-copy what they wrote down for one-minute as part of the three-minute write.
  5. After three minutes, tell them to stop, to draw a line under what they have written and to count up the number of words which they have written for three minutes. They are to put that number in a box off to the side of their three-minute write.
  6. Now tell them that they have ten minutes to write but that they are to re-copy what they wrote down for three minutes as part of the ten-minute write. NOTE - my students are not quite up to doing a full free-write for ten minutes, so I give them seven minutes. The goal is to build up to a full ten minutes.
  7. After ten minutes, tell them to stop and to count up the number of words which they have written for ten minutes. They are to put that number in a box off to the side of their ten-minute write.
  8. I have them title the timed write "1-3-10" for future reference. I collect it and put it in their timed write portfolio for their end-of-the-semester self-evaluation.
  • Instead of just jumping into an extended timed write, the one-minute write and then the three minute write served as a warmup for students. They had time to gather their thoughts and to transition to writing in Latin.
  • Rewriting what they had already written gave them subconscious repetitions.
  • The amount of words written in one-minute compared to three minutes was double for all students, and in some cases, was triple. The amount of words written in three minutes compared to seven minutes was double for all students, and in some cases, was triple and quadruple. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

BINGO Timed Free Write

If there is ever a game in which students become incredibly competitive, it is BINGO. They can play this for HOURS. I have always enjoyed playing a game of Vocabulary BINGO with students, but at the same time, I felt that it was incredibly limited. We were dealing with isolated forms and vocabulary with nothing really in terms of a context, but at the same time, if I tried to impose too much in trying to create a context for the words during the game, then it stopped being BINGO. The reason why BINGO is fun is its simplicity.

I found the following BINGO activity on Martina Bex’s website, and I absolutely love it. It combines the fun of playing BINGO with a timed free write. The Latin version is called VINCO.

  1. Create a 5x5 grid and over each column, put the letters V, I, N, C and O. I do not put a free space.
  2. Write a list of 35 vocabulary words/forms with which students are very familiar due to their usage. I try to keep nouns in the nominative form, but I put verbs usually in the perfect tense (e.g., cantavit, adeptus est, affectus est, circumventus est). Prepositional phrases (e.g., in fuga), idiomatic expressions (e.g., re vera, sine dubio, nisi fallor), impersonal verbs (e.g., necesse est, difficile est), high frequency forms (e.g., voluit, poterat) and even specific forms (e.g., lacrimatura, bibitura) are good too.
  3. Cut out strips of the 35 words and put them in a bag.
  4. Give each student a VINCO grid and a list of the words. They are to pick 25 words from the list of 35 and to fill in the grid however they choose.
  5. Play a normal game of BINGO by pulling out a vocabulary word and calling out the the English meaning. As I do not have beans for them to put on their square, student mark the spaces themselves. NOTE - you will not be calling out the letter of the column like you would in regular Bingo.

    VARIATION - create the 5x5 grid with specific words for each column. Students will have to pick 5 words from the V list to put in the V column, 5 words from the I list to put in the I column, etc. This way, then you call out the letter like you would in a regular BINGO game. For some reason, this is VERY important to students. In planning, you will now have to put the corresponding letter on the vocabulary strip so that you can call out both the letter and word.

  6. When a student gets 5 in a row, then he/she yells out (and yes, I make them yell) "VINCO!" They read back to me the Latin words, and I give out a piece of candy. I usually keep playing a round until there are 4-5 winners. After that, we begin a new round. 
  7. After playing 3-4 rounds of VINCO, now tell students to get out a sheet of paper and that they will be doing a timed free write
  8. Using their VINCO paper, students are to pick 5 words in a row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) and to write them at the top of their paper.
  9. Explain to students that they are to now write a story based on the prompt that will incorporate all 5 words.
  10. Show them the prompt, start the timer for however long you want them to write and then have them begin. 
  11. When the time is done, much like a regular timed write, have students count their number of written words and put it in a box at the top of their paper.
  12. Now in the free write itself, they are to put a box around their prescribed words which they had to incorporate in their story

Here is the prompt which I once used with my Latin 2's - it gave them a character, what she was doing, where she was and then a possible problem:

Rhonda erat in culina, cenam parans, cum subito magnum sonitum in cubiculo audivit. quid Rhonda egit?


  1. Playing BINGO before the timed write made the timed write not seem like a major task.
  2. Some students did not like having to incorporate the 5 words into their timed write, because they had to manipulate them into their story, and their words seemed random.
  3. Most students liked having to incorporate the 5 words into their timed write, because it gave them more structure with which to work. They actually liked having to find a way to incorporate these random words into the story and to manipulate the writing for this purpose.
  4. Some wished to have seen the prompt prior picking their 5 words. I will do that in the future.
  5. If students do not incorporate all 5 words, tell them it is okay. It could have been that the 5 words were just too random to fit into a story based on the prompt or it could signal that they need more time
I only play VINCO three times a semester so this another way in which I can get students to do a timed write