Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Partner Crossword Puzzle

This activity is one which I have not done in a very long time, but someone on Twitter recently used it in her classroom and thanked me for the idea (I had presented this idea years ago, so I am glad to see that people are using it). I learned this years ago from David Jahner, my district's world language coordinator at the time. I was not a CI-teacher then but used it with the textbook. It is a basic partner activity involving crossword puzzles, but there is a twist. 

This listening comprehension activity involves crossword puzzles between two students,
where Student A has the target language clues for student B, and vice versa. This will require
making two different crossword puzzles and cutting/pasting the clues onto the other puzzle.
There are many crossword puzzle makers online.

  1. Student A will ask Student B for a particular clue, e.g. “5 down”
  2. Student B will read the clue in target language to Student A
  3. Student A will fill in the target language answer on his/her crossword puzzle
  4. Student B will ask Student A for a particular clue. The above pattern will continue until both crossword puzzles are completed.

Like I stated earlier, I have not used this activity in quite awhile and never in a CI classroom setting. I was a bit hesitant about posting this activity, because I can see both benefits and drawbacks. As a result, I will discuss both here:

  1. This is a great language lab activity, where partner pairs are scattered. Since partners are not seated directly next to each other, they must solely rely on listening.
  2. This is another post-reading activity to review a passage/story. You can take actual sentences from the reading or ask questions about the reading for students to answer.
  3. In using known sentences from a passage/story, students are continuing to receive understandable messages in the target language.
  4. It is a novel way to get students to interact with both the language and each other.
  1. Because students are working with crossword puzzles, it relies on them knowing the correct spelling of the words. As most students are at the novice/intermediate levels of language proficiency, their target language spelling skills are still developing. In doing a crossword puzzle, correct spelling is absolute key. In my opinion, adding a word bank does not really solve the problem and actually works against the concept of a crossword puzzle. 
  2. If one is using this to review a story, students need to know the story well by the time you introduce this. 
So CI teachers out there, try out this activity, and let me know how it goes, any changes which you made to it to make it more comprehensible, etc. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Making Conference Presentations Accessible

Allow me an excursus here from my usual CI-related posts to address something instructional technology-related (hey, I do have my Ed.S degree in the field) having do with conference presentations. 

We all have attended presentations at conferences where we would have liked to have had more time to digest what was presented or were not able to catch all of the links and resources which the presenter referenced. If we do ask for a copy of the presentation, either we have to get the presentation emailed to us, or the presenter sends a long Google URL link. If we are lucky, sometimes the conference allows for presenters to upload their presentations and handouts to a common sharing site.

Consider creating a website which will house everything related to your presentation! I leaned about this during my recent graduate studies, and I absolutely love this idea. I can upload everything in digital form which allows for my presentation to be paper-free. To see examples of my presentation websites, visit my Presentation page on this blog.

I use Weebly to create my presentation websites, because it is free and incredibly user-friendly. I divide my website into the following sections:
  1. Slide presentation
  2. Handouts
  3. Resources
  4. Contact information
  5. Evaluation (optional)
  6. Video of the presentation (optional)
Prior to the presentation, I will create the site and will upload everything to it. Because I use both Google Docs and Sheets, it is very easy to embed the presentation and handouts to the Weebly. I will usually also create a QR code which links to the presentation and place the QR code on the first slide of the presentation for participants to scan at the beginning if they wish.

  1. Creating a website allows for a presentation to be accessible to anyone at any time (or as long as you keep it up). Your presentation audience has expanded beyond the four walls of your presentation room to now the world.
  2. When someone requests to see my presentation, it is so much easier to give them a web address than a long URL code or to email the presentation. 
  3. Housing my presentations on my blog has allowed for people to view other presentations which I have given in the past.
  4. For my first couple presentation websites, it took me awhile to get the hang of it, but now I have found it quite easy to create a website due to the user-friendliness of Weebly.
If you are giving a presentation some time soon, consider creating a website for your presentation. Let me know how it goes!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dabbling in CI

Last semester, Dr. Matthew Panciera, an associate professor in Classics at Gustavus Adolphus College, visited the Latin department at my school (Bob Patrick, Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, John Foulk, and me). He had seen many CI presentations at last summer's ACL Summer Institute (in fact, Matt presided at my session), and he wanted to see actual CI implementation in the Latin classroom. For two days, Matt observed all levels of our Latin classes from Latin 1 to AP among five different teachers and saw many different, compelling ways of delivering CI in Latin (everything from Circling with Balls to Movie Talks to the Word Chunk game). When he came to observe my Latin 2 classroom, we were doing 4-Word Picture Stories - not exactly the most dynamic CI activity to see in my opinion. Afterwards, when I showed Matt what students had written, he was amazed at what they were able to produce just after one year of Latin. Yes, there were grammar errors all over the place, but students were communicating! On his last day, during a conversation with me during my planning period, Matt asked me "So how does one begin dabbling in CI? How can begin using CI as a newbie?"

This is such a great, honest question, and at the same time, a HUGE question to answer. I know that there are SO many teachers out there who have heard of CI through various means (social media, blogs, Facebook groups, word of mouth) or have attended presentations on various strategies; perhaps, they have even attended a NTPRS or IFLT Conference. As a result, these teachers wish to implement some CI into their curriculum but are unsure about it or even where to begin with it all, because it all feels so new. I completely understand this, because I was once there, and in many ways, still am.

With the second semester now underway and with many teachers asking the same question as Matt, let me respond here:
  • Pick the low hanging fruit first. As I have stated many times before here in this blog, if you are a first-timer/newbie to CI/wanting to see what CI is all about, begin by taking 1-2 CI strategies into your traditional curriculum and running with them. Pick the fruit which you are able to obtain easily from the tree before attempting to pick the fruit at the top! I would never recommend jumping all-in without having a strong foundation, because after the honeymoon period wears off, most likely, you will have no idea where to go with it all (I can tell you all about that from firsthand experience). As a result, you will blame the method as faulty instead of realizing that you bit off more than you could chew. I know that there are CI-implementers out there who will completely disagree with me on this and argue that one needs to go all-in when using a CI approach or needs to adhere fully to CI tenets before beginning. My suggestion has always been to start off slow in order to build up your CI muscles. 
  • Attempt to understand the "why" behind a particular CI strategy - It is easy to get caught up in activities without really understanding and reflecting on its efficacy. When implementing those 1-2 strategies, pay close attention to how it delivered comprehensible input - essentially, why did this activity/strategy "work"? How did this strategy/reflect comprehensible input? See here for more about this. 
  • Remember that immersion is not necessarily CI. Just because one decides to go full target language immersion in the classroom does not mean that the messages are understandable. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive though - see here for my feelings on the matter.
  • Focus on a reading in your textbook. Pick a reading in your textbook which you wish to cover and "CI it up" through various ways.
I know that there are many teachers who view CI strategies as just another tool to add to their toolbox of traditional pedagogy, since according to them, "there is no one single way/method to teach." Essentially, they are dabblers. I know that this deeply angers many CI-practitioners, because it almost sounds like blasphemy - in their minds, "How dare you implement CI with that kind of thinking? It is so contradictory."

Guess what? I completely understand dabblers, because I was once one. Ten years ago, I was teaching straight from the textbook but also was implementing (not exclusively though) TPRS, circling, and PQAs as part of my teaching arsenal. My methodology was very traditional, but these CI strategies were great tools to implement every once in awhile and to add novelty to the curriculum. By no means, however, did I embrace CI - far from it! Over time (we are talking MANY years), though, I began to see how these strategies were truly helping my students acquire the language in a way which my traditional teaching was not. As a result, I wanted to pursue it. The point is that I had to arrive to that conclusion myself on my own time. Pointing out my flawed argument and telling me that I was wrong for embracing traditional teaching only put up walls. Instead of arguing, we should be rejoicing that that some type of CI is being implemented with these teachers!

I am not completely interested in getting into long dialogues arguing about CI (I will defend my use of CI though). Quite honestly, the way I see is that all I can do is put information out there about CI and my usage of it, and to leave it there. I cannot change peoples' minds about CI, nor do I want to get caught up in that. Folks have to come to their own conclusion about CI on their own timeline, and guess what? They may NEVER to come to the same conclusion about CI as I have, and I have to accept that - see here for more about my feelings on the matter.

So for those of you out there who wish to dabble with CI, go for it. I hope that as a result you will come to the same conclusion which I have about CI. Here's to the journey!

Monday, January 29, 2018

5 Ways to Use One Set of Ilustrations

In preparing a CI unit involving a story, sometimes I like to incorporate my own illustrations of a story into my lessons. I think that it adds another level of comprehensible input for students, as well as aids in engaging students. At the same time, however, I also do not wish to create a series of illustrations if I am only going to use it just once for five minutes in a unit. I want to get maximum benefit from my time creating them. As the brain craves novelty, here is a way to use one set of illustrations in five different ways in a unit. This will require you drawing a set of pictures only once, in addition to using a photo scanner.

NOTE - if you do not feel like you are good enough of an "artist," then you can always have a student illustrate for you. By no means am I a skilled illustrator, but I can definitely draw stick figures, and as the great Sally Davis once told me, "Everyone can draw stick figures."
  1. First, create a series of illustrations for Find a Sentence. This set of pictures will serve as your basis which can be used for the other four activities. N.B. - I actually will try to illustrate each sentence in the story (which could be as many as 15), so there may be a 2nd page of pictures, but for Find a Sentence, I will only use one of the pages.
  2. Now scan each of those frames individually. Now that you have each picture scanned individually, create a slide presentation of your story with the text and corresponding picture. This can be used to project the story as a review.
  3. Duplicate that slide presentation but now use it as a Cloze Sentence activity.
  4. Now duplicate that slide presentation of the story but remove the text. Print that slide presentation (in color if possible) for a Picture Story Retell
  5. Using the original page(s) of pictures, now create a Sentence Picture Relay of the story.
For me, Telling a Story with Pictures and then Cloze Sentences would be early in a unit, Find the Sentence would be in the middle, and both a Sentence Picture Relay and Picture Story Retell would be at the end - all in combination with other activities.

  1. I have found that when using the same pictures of a story for different activities lends to their comprehensibility, since students become very familiar with them and what the illustrations are communicating.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

So You Want to Blog?

Over these past years, there have been three very important factors which have contributed to my development as a CI teacher: attending national CI conferences such as NTPRS (2014 and 2015) and IFLT (2016 and 2017), collaborating with other CI teachers, and reading blogs by fellow CI teachers. If you look at the right sidebar, you will see the blogs which I read on a regular basis (and I will be adding more soon). Each of these blogs has helped me tremendously in my journey as a CI teacher, and as far as I am concerned, these bloggers are rock stars in my book - I cannot tell you how starstruck I get when I see them in person!

If you are reading this and do not have a blog, consider starting a pedagogical blog of your own for one very simple reason: You have a voice. As much as you may not think that you have anything to say, you actually do. It does not have to be anything profound - it just needs to come from your heart. Maybe you have a particular activity/strategy which you found that worked well with your students. Maybe you have some particular insight or comment about an issue in education. Maybe you wish to write and to chronicle your time as a teacher.

Back in 2013, I never envisioned myself having a blog, and when I did begin blogging, my target audience was only Latin teachers (read here for my very first post). My goal was eventually to have 15 readers; I remember thinking, "Gosh, if I can get maybe 15 Latin teachers to read this, that would be cool!" Now four years later in 2018, my audience includes teachers from all languages, and my blog just passed 300,000 page views. 

If you are thinking of starting up a blog, here are a few things to consider:
  • Starting a blog is very easy, but maintaining one is not. It takes tremendous dedication and time. There are numerous blogs out there which start out strongly but fizzle out after a few entries. I am amazed that I have been able to maintain weekly entries for the most part. When writing a blog, you suddenly become aware of how important it is to "feed the beast" - if you get out of the habit of posting, then the harder it becomes to jump back into it. Whenever I have inspiration, I will write up a post but not necessarily publish it right away. I have about 30 unpublished blog posts from over the years which are in draft form, because at one time, I started them but never finished. These eventually do become posts (for the record, I have been sitting on this particular blog post for a year but never finished it until today). 
  • Finding an audience: Social media is a great way to publicize one's blog. Twitter is the only form of social media which I use, as my life is Facebook free. I do not take in part in any Facebook chats related to CI, nor do I use Instagram or Snapchat. Whenever I upload a new post on my blog, I always use the hashtags #latinteach #tprs #tci and #langchat. I am also very appreciative anytime someone likes my tweet or retweets it. Also, any time I give a presentation, I always list my blog on the opening slide. Quite honestly, my best publicity is from other teachers who will publicize a post in various Facebook teacher groups. I am also so thrilled when I attend a CI presentation and find that my blog is listed in the presentation as a resource!
  • Would you still continue your blog if only ten people were to read it? Many times, it is easy to think that your blog has no value because (in your mind) not many people are not reading it. Keep in mind though: there are people out there who will value what you have to say - write for them. Do not base your importance on the number of comments which you receive or do not receive. In this shallow digital social media world of likes/not likes, favorites, and mentions, it is very easy to get sucked into that type of thinking.
So consider blogging. Blogger (Google-based) and WordPress (Microsoft-based) are two great platforms for blogs. If you start one up as a result of reading this, let me know! I will add you to my sidebar of blogs to check out!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Screencasting PowerPoints for Input

Screencasts are a great use of instructional technology in the classroom, because they allow for users to record a digital narration of what is on their computer screens. Screencasts can be used in so many different ways: teachers can implement them as part of a flipped classroom or as tutorials, students can create screencast presentations for a digital audience instead of the traditional face-to-face classroom, lessons can be recorded and posted online. Like podcasts, screencasts allow for an audience to view the material wherever it wants, whenever it wants and as many times as it wants. Because of this, when used properly, screencasts rate high on the SAMR model of technology usage.

Screencasts can be used in a CI classroom to deliver input, as well as a way for students to deliver output in a presentational mode. Last semester, I had students create 30-second screencasts in Latin of a picture using their phones (I will post about that some time), which I found to be quite successful, considering it was my first time doing something like that with them. Although the end product was quite basic and rudimentary, I see that there is much which can be done with screencasts.

Just recently, my colleague Bob Patrick showed me how PowerPoint has a screencast function. One can record either a slide presentation or individual slides with narration. Why I like this is because before when I wanted to screencast a slide presentation, I would have to app-smash a PowerPoint/Google Slides with Screencastify or Screencast-O-Matic. Now, everything can be done with one program. I was completely unaware that PowerPoint even had this function.

Here are directions about how to screencast using PowerPoint.

My Latin 2 classes are beginning a unit on the hero Perseus, so I introduced the first part of the story with a very basic dictatio.

Perseus, Prima Pars Dictatio
1) Perseus in insulā cum matre habitavit.
2) Rex volēbat facere matrem Perseī coniugem, sed Perseus regem odit.
3) Rex Perseum odit, et volēbat occidere Perseum.
4) Rex Perseō dixit, “Fer mihi caput Medusae!”
5) Medusa erat monstrum, cuius obtutus mutavit hominēs in saxum.

Immediately following the dictatio, I projected the screencast of my PowerPoint, which had the dictatio sentences. I added 4-5 more sentences to the story using known vocabulary to expand the story.

I had students view/listen to it twice and then asked comprehension questions in English to establish meaning.

An extension of this screencast would be to show this video again and to pause it to ask questions in Latin or to create an EdPuzzle with this video.

  1. Because students had just completed a dictatio which incorporated those sentences, the screencast was very comprehensible for them. Students were already familiar with the plot and many of the new words.
  2. Adding new sentences in the screencast with known vocabulary/structures to the already-familiar dictatio sentences gave an embedded reading feel to the video.
  3. Because students were able to read along with the text as it was narrated aloud, it gave them double input.
  4. Although this is a basic PowerPoint, this gives me a foundation for what can be done for future screencasts with animations and illustrations.
  5. Apparently, my voice sounds much lower on this video. My students were surprised to hear what I sounded like.
  6. My students want me to post this on YouTube. Outside of those who read this blog, however, I do not need the world to comment on what it finds wrong with this screencast (pronunciation issues, voice inflection choices, etc).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

4-Word Story/Snapchat 2.0

Here is a new twist on 4-Word Story which I implemented last week. It was the second day back from winter break, so I wanted to do some review with my Latin 2 students but not make it feel like it was review. I felt that doing 4-Word story would be a non-threatening way to get students back into Latin, but I wanted to change it up a bit to preserve the novelty. For this, instead of having students draw pictures to go with their sentences, I had them create Booksnaps/Snapchats, since we had already been using this tool in class. 

Students turned in their Snapchats and sentences online to our class Dropbox so that I could edit their sentences grammatically and then cut/paste them onto Google Slides so that I could show them in class. 

Student directions
  1. Create/illustrate an ORIGINAL 4-frame story which uses at least FOUR of the following words:
    • in silva
    • vis est
    • dat
    • occidit
    • cibus
    • avis
    • saxum
     2. Write a sentence or two IN LATIN which narrates your illustration for each frame.
NOTE - you may only use KNOWN words, i.e., you may only use words which we
have learned in class these past two semesters or from last year. Any words which we
have not done this past semester or from last year are OFF LIMITS.
     3. Create a BookSnap/Snapchat for each of your sentences. You must have a minimum 
     4. This is YOUR OWN original work!

Student examples:

  1. Because students were already familiar with both 4-Word Story and creating Booksnaps/Snapchat, melding the two activities did not seem to confuse them. 
  2. The new piece of the puzzle was that students had to submit their sentences separately (instead of writing them on their Booksnaps/Snapchats), because I wanted to edit them and to cut/paste them to create a slideshow. I implemented our class dropbox for this.
  3. As you can see, some students wrote at a novice level (basic sentences), while others were able to write at an intermediate level (compound sentences, using clauses). That is perfectly fine. All that matters to me is that students are making an attempt at  communicating in the language.
  4. Those students who did not have access to a phone or to Snapchat had to do a paper copy of the activity.
  5. Going over the stories in class is a great way to get in more repetitions of the language in a compelling way. 
  6. Because the stories are student-created/teacher-edited, they are written at a very comprehensible level for students.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Last year was quite a year for me in terms of conferences and presentations. In 2017, I attended SEVEN conferences (local, state, regional, and national) and delivered NINE different CI-related presentations, in addition to co-leading a full-day CI in-service for a school in my district. All I can say is that as a result of all that, I am completely conferenced-out at the moment.

On the one hand, this was a rather easy conclusion for me to arrive at, considering the conference schedule which I gave myself last year. On the other hand, however, I absolutely LOVE presenting. Whenever I present, I feel like I come alive. While I know that many people absolutely dread public speaking, communicating to an audience comes very natural to me. It is very easy for me to read an audience, so connecting with a crowd when speaking in public is very natural for me. When I took a "match-your-personality-to-a-job" battery test in high school, my three top job matches were 1) company spokesperson  2) politician and  3) religious leader (like as in a cult?), since all of those positions involve public speaking. I feel so incredibly comfortable when speaking to crowds. In fact, in many ways I am more at ease talking to a large audience (or communicating via this blog) than I do when talking one-on-one individually to someone. 

It is easy to see why attending conferences has its draw for me if I get the chance to present at them. However, I feel like I need to draw some boundaries for myself in order to take a break from it all for now. So this year, my goal is to take some time off from attending conferences and presenting. Outside of my CI-Italy tour with the Vergilian Society this summer, I am going to try to keep a low profile for the year when it comes to conferences and presentations in order to recharge my "conference batteries."

I am looking forward to this respite, but I cannot wait until 2019 to start back up again!