Monday, February 20, 2017

4-Word Picture Stories

This is an activity which I got from Bob Patrick (and I don't know from whom - if anyone - he got this idea). Bob and I both teach all nine sections of Latin 1 at our school. I am the one in charge of creating lesson plans, and as we were starting a new chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult, I was wanting to pre-teach some new vocabulary. My idea was for students to give students four new vocabulary words and for them to draw a visual representation of three of the four new vocabulary words. Bob took it one step further and had students draw a 4-frame cartoon involving the 4 new words and to create a very short "story" in Latin as captions for the cartoon - students could only use known words in their story. I really liked this idea and put my spin on the activity. 

For this activity, I gave students seven words, of which they had to choose at least four to use (four of the seven words were completely new, and three were words which I wanted to recycle from the past, because I did not feel like many had truly acquired them). Like Bob, I then had them illustrate a 4-frame cartoon which incorporated those four words and to write a short 4-sentence minimum "story" in Latin which used those 4 words. Again, they could only use words which they knew and learned in class, i.e., no Google Translate! There had to be a minimum of one sentence per frame, but students could write more if they wanted.

I then took a number of their cartoons/stories and edited them for grammar errors. After this, I scanned their pictures and created a Google Slides presentation to show them over the next few days as warmups (3-4/day). The scanning and creating Google Slides presentations did take some time and effort to complete. 

The seven words, from which students had to select at least four, were: 
  1. castellum - castle/fort
  2. prandet - eats lunch
  3. custodit - is guarding
  4. fingit se - pretends that he/she
  5. catulus - puppy
  6. petit - heads for
  7. dux - leader

  1. Because these stories were written by students (and edited for grammar by me), the stories were completely comprehensible to them, because they were level-appropriate.
  2. Students really enjoyed seeing each other's stories. Many liked that their story had been picked to show!
  3. Many students enjoyed the freedom of choice in choosing which words to use, because it allowed them to be creative.
  4. Because students had to incorporate at least four of the seven words into their stories, this allowed for LOTS of repetitions of words, since every story had some degree of commonality of vocabulary. 
  5. Even though students had to use four of the seven words in their stories, no student had the same exact story, so it allowed for LOTS of creativity.
  6. Because the stories were short (usually 4-6 sentences), it allowed for novelty and kept students engaged.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Focusing on the Basics of CI

A few weeks ago, Bob Patrick, Lauren Watson, and I presented a full-day CI in-service for the world language teachers at Lauren's school. During the lunch break, a teacher approached me about how I assessed students using Comprehensible Input. In some ways, I hate this question, not because it deals with assessments, but because the way in which I assess now is so different from the traditional methods. My formative/summative assessments are:
  • completely unannounced but only given when I feel that at least 80% of students will score 80% or higher. In most instances, I will wait until I feel that 90% will score 90% or higher.
  • based on standards-based grading.
  • never longer than 10-minutes in length, because I am only addressing particular standards at a time. I do not need pages of an assessment for students to demonstrate proficiency in a standard.
  • given with the idea that students can do a re-assessment if they (or I) are not pleased with their scores.
In explaining how I assessed students, I could feel this teacher starting to become overwhelmed and to back off a bit from CI, because it sounded like one had to adopt this method in becoming a CI teacher and that this style of assessment was a non-negotiable for a CI classroom.

With someone who is curious about CI or new to the topic, I think that we who are experienced with CI need to be very careful how we present the topic. Many times we start to talk about topics and practices which we ourselves implement in our classrooms that enhance CI but big picture are not exclusive to CI.
  • Yes, I have gone deskless, and it has greatly enhanced my classroom environment, BUT a deskless classroom is not necessary at all for establishing community and lowering the affective filter. For a number of years, my CI classroom had desks, and there are times now where I do miss students having desks.
  • Yes, I have "untextbooked" and am no longer using a textbook, BUT going off the textbook is not a requirement of a CI curriculum. One can deliver understandable messages and apply CI principles to the teaching of a textbook, doing a hybrid approach. It is not easy to facilitate, but many have done it.
  • Yes, I now implement standards-based grading (as opposed to traditional grading), and I am seeing its benefits in my students, BUT you will not find mention of standards based-grading specifically among Krashen's Five Hypotheses of CI (although standards-based grading does cause a teacher to look at teaching differently). One can use standards-based grading in a non-CI classroom.
  • Yes, I allow students to do unlimited retakes (with remediation though) in order for them to demonstrate proficiency in a particular standard, BUT this is not considered a non-negotiable in a CI classroom. To me, student-retakes are an individual teacher decision, but I will say that having a safety net of retakes does lower the affective filter in students when assessing.
I will say that those things which I have stated above do help contribute to and greatly enhance a Comprehensible Input learning environment, but a Comprehensible Input learning environment can exist WITHOUT those things.

When beginning to implement CI into one's classroom, I always suggest baby steps, taking things one step at a time. Begin to major on the majors first, and leave minoring on the minors for later. I have been using CI for four years now, and it is only this year where I have gone deskless, untextbooked, and implemented standards-based grading. I will also say that I felt like I was finally ready to facilitate these changes to my curriculum. 

Let us be sure to focus on the basics of CI when presenting the subject to those who are curious. So many times we can get sidetracked and add irrelevant topics to the message! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

QR Code Running Dictatio

Here is a great variation of a dictation which combines a running dictation on a much larger scale with QR codes. Bob Patrick and I did this activity last week with our Latin 1 with students with great success! I can absolutely take no credit for this activity, as I learned this from my colleagues Miriam Patrick and Rachel Ash, who discuss this on their blog - they in turn learned this from Meredith White, a wonderful CI Spanish teacher in our district last week.

The idea is essentially a scavenger hunt throughout the school. Students will scan QR codes, which will give them a sentence to write down as a dictation and will then give them a clue to the location of the next QR code. 

I will tell you up front that this activity takes much preparation on the front end, but once it is set into motion, you as the teacher simply facilitate or more specifically, observe!

  1. Write a series of sentences in the target language like in any dictation. The sentences should form a story; 10-12 sentences are a good amount. NOTE - for this activity, I created sentences using already-known vocabulary which had been targeted, so these sentences served as another way to get in repetitions of these targeted words. One can still use this activity to introduce new vocabulary but there will be an additional step.
  2. Make a list of locations where you can place QR codes, e.g., drinking fountains, vending machines, pictures, backs of books, under chairs/desks, etc. It is up to you to determine the scope/magnitude of the area of this activity. Bob and I chose to keep it to just our building but with many varied locations.
  3. Write up these locations in the target language.
  4. Create an order in which students will go to each location.
  5. Assign each dictation sentence to a location AND with the next clue. It is up to you whether you wish to have students write down each sentence in order or for the sentence order to be scattered is up to you. Because my dictation sentences were using known vocabulary, I scattered the order for novelty.
  6. Write up a list of the order of clues (with each sentence, location of sentence, and location of next clue), because it will come in handy during the activity. My example.
  7. Using a QR Code Generator, type up the sentence and location of next clue. It is important that you use a QR Code Generator which will save text. Save that QR Code - be sure to remember where that QR Code falls in the order!
Example of QR Code - scan with QR Code reader to see embedded information

    8. Repeat step #7 for all remaining sentences and clues.
    9. Create a table to cut/paste the QR codes. Be sure to put the QR codes in order. My     
        example of QR table.
  10. Print QR Code table.
  11. Create dictatio handouts. Students will record their dictation on this handout. On the 
        dictatio handout, paste a QR Code. At the very beginning, students will scan the QR 
        code to receive the first sentence and to find the location of their next sentence. You 
        will need to create handouts with DIFFERENT QR codes so that students are not all 
        starting at the same location. My example.
 12. Cut the QR codes from the QR code table and tape them in the various locations.
 13. Print the dictatio handouts - do not collate! 
 14. Send an email to your faculty, notifying them of the activity, that students will be 
       running around the school, and to notify you of any student problems.

  1. Explain that students will be doing a dictatio but with QR codes.
  2. Tell students to divide into groups of 2-3. No groups of four! You may also create the groups if needed. It is important that at least one team member has a smartphone with a QR code reader. If students have the Snapchat app, then that has a QR Code reader.
  3. Hand each group their “team dictatio sheets” - every team member will get a dictatio sheet. For me, There were nine different dictatio sheets, each with a Roman numeral at top. For example, Team 1 had two members, so each member received a “Dictatio I” sheet, Team 2 has three members so each member will get a “Dictatio II” sheet.
  4. Students will scan QR code on their student document. It will send them to one of 8 places.
    • Each QR code will have a dictatio sentence AND a clue to the next sentence on it.
    • Students are to write the dicatio sentence IN LATIN which matches the number on their sheet, i.e. the sentences are not in order when they scan the QR code
    • The QR code will also tell students where to go for the next sentence.
5. If you are using this dictation activity to introduce new vocabulary, you will want to add
in a step where students come to you for the meaning of new words BEFORE they
head to their next clue.
6. When they get ALL dictatio sentences, students will return to the class to turn it in.
7. Explain that they are to be respectful of other classes and to be quiet in the hallways.
8. Begin the activity, and watch the fun!

  1. The search for QR codes made the activity very engaging for students. The activity became more about finding the QR codes than about the actual writing down of the dictation sentence. In other words, the dictation sentences became incidental, although they were receiving subconscious repetitions of comprehensible language in writing them down. The search kept the activity novel. As one of my students who tends to be "less engaged" in my class said: "This was SO much fun! Let's do this EVERY week." 
  2. Bob Patrick said it best: "This activity was a true communicative activity, because students were actually using the language to complete a task."
  3. To make the activity last longer, you can add a translation component where students have to translate the sentences prior to turning them in. Per Miriam Patrick, you can also have students write down the location clues on their dictation handouts.
  4. Bob and I limited our QR code locations to a certain area in our building (as it was the first time doing something like this). Students requested that they wanted to go to various parts of the school for the next time. 
  5. Students said that they really liked being able to copy down the sentences from their phones instead of having to write them down by listening to me repeat the sentence aloud three times - lol!
  6. The list of sentences, locations, and next clues will come in handy if students get out of order. You can redirect them if they get "lost."
As I said earlier, this activity takes a lot of preparation the first time you do it, because you will be learning how to put it together. Now that I have created one, the next time I do this, it will be much quicker to prepare.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


I have added a new page to my blog which houses my conference presentations (beginning from June 2016). Each presentation has its own separate webpage, on which has handouts, the actual presentation, evaluation, and contact information. This page will be updated regularly as I present.

Creating a webpage for each presentation is something which I learned in my Instructional Technology classes. Quite honestly, it makes 100% sense to do something like this, because participants can now go to one place to find all of the necessary information from that presentation - no more asking if I can email them a copy of the handouts, PowerPoint, etc. Prior to a presentation, I can project the link to the website so that everyone is prepared before I begin. In addition, those who are unable to attend these presentations in person can view them.

Presentations page