Monday, May 13, 2019

Dragging Myself over the Finish Line

Yep, it is the end of the school year - I have roughly one more week with students. I absolutely hate it. I hate how I feel like I cannot get much done any more. I hate how disruptive the daily schedule has become due to standardized testing - state tests, AP exams, and district assessments - and how every year, that testing period seems to grow in length - this year it is now four weeks! I hate how my lesson plans have now become suggestions due to not knowing on a daily basis just how many students will be absent due to testing. I hate on days when I do see all students that I feel like I am fighting against students who have already mentally and emotionally checked out for the school year. I hate how physically tired I feel with trying to finish up everything in the next week. I hate how there was so much which I wanted to do this school year but did not. Mostly of all, I hate how that I am feeling all of this - this has been the norm for this time of the year over my past twenty years of teaching, so I do not know why I am always so shocked when it happens. One would have thought that I would have learned my lesson by now.

I am so ready for a break away from the classroom and from students.

But here's the kicker: I also know that after a two-month break, I will be ready to return to the classroom. I know that I will feel refreshed after having a summer break. I know that being a part of a conference like IFLT will get me excited to being back with students again and will reignite my fire as something like IFLT or NTPRS always has. I know that the beginning of a new school year will wash away whatever failures I feel about myself now at the end of the school year. I know that I need to do anything NOT school-related. I know that I need time away from being "Mr. Toda" and time to be just "Keith". I know that I need a huge distance away from the classroom, but I also know that distance is healing. 

How do I know all this? Because this is exactly how it goes every school year. I drag myself over the finish line, battered and bruised, but come August, I am refreshed and ready to teach again. Teaching is not a sprint but a marathon. All that matters is that I finish the race, not necessarily win it. Although I absolutely hate and loathe the end of the school year, the thought of starting again in August fully rejuvenated is already exciting to me. 

This is how i know that I have been called to be a teacher.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Random Helpful CI Tips

This week, I was previewing some vocabulary with a few of my classes, and some things came to mind as I was doing it. Here are some random but hopefully helpful CI tips about vocabulary:
  1. If you are trying to pre-teach a number of vocabulary words via storytelling, circling, pre-reading activities, etc., use a lot of proper nouns in English to aid in narrowing and focusing the target words for learners. This is especially helpful at the lower levels.
      Let's say that your target phrase is "goes to" 
  • Example: The girl is going to the store
  • Better example: Cardi B is going to Burger King
     While I am sure that example #1 is comprehensible in the target language, example #2         allows learners to focus only on the phrase "goes to" in the target language, since Cardi  
     B. and Burger King are proper nouns in English.

   2. When defining an unknown word to students in the target language, be aware that      
       some students will take the definition literally and not make the connection which we 
       are intending. Therefore, do everything you can to establish meaning. This is why I 
       always establish meaning in English, even if I define the word in Latin. I need to ensure 
       that everyone in the room is on the same page with the definition.

       Example: Years ago, I attempted to define the word tristis = non laetus. Now to me and 
       a number of students, the "obvious" meaning was sad, yet other students thought that 
       the word literally meant not happy, while others thought it could mean angry or scared. 
       Afterwards, I had students ask me, "So what word means sad in Latin, if tristis means 
       not happy?" A better way for me to have done this would have been to also put an 
       obvious picture, like a sad emoji, to give double input to establish meaning.

       Example #2: Years ago in Latin 1, when I was doing a TPR lesson, I was 
      demonstrating the command porta (carry). I did not formally define the word, because I 
      thought that the meaning was obvious, so I was telling students "Porta (this) ad ianuam, 
      "Porta (that) ad me," etc. At the end, I asked students what they thought that porta 
       meant. While most students said carry, one student replied, "To walk with something 
       while holding it." If I had established meaning from the beginning, this student would 
       have been on board with the definition from the start.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Using CI without Knowing It

This past weekend was Georgia's Junior Classical League convention. As tiring as the weekend is (I usually subsist on 6 hours of sleep the entire weekend), I look forward to attending due to the professional camaraderie, and it gives me a chance to see and to interact with other Latin teachers in the state. This weekend, I had a number of Latin teachers say to me, "I really enjoy your blog. Even though I do not agree with Comprehensible Input at all, I use a lot of your activities. My students really enjoy them!" My response (with a smile) was always, "Although you may disagree with Comprehensible Input, the reason why these activities work for your students is because of Comprehensible Input."

Having been a grammar-translation teacher (and a good one at that!), I can understand the reluctance which many have to CI. However, if I can get grammar-translation teachers to implement CI unknowingly and through a back-door method such as the list of CI activities on this blog, then maybe these teachers will be more open to a discussion on CI since they have seen it in action in their classroom (without knowing it). 

A few years ago, i wrote a post called "The Power of Sharing Ideas" which touches on this subject - it is good to see that this post still holds up!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Card Game

In my B.C.I (Before Comprehensible Input) days, there were lots of vocabulary activities which I loved playing with students, because they enjoyed them so much. Now that I am a CI teacher, I realize that many of them really do not lead to true language acquisition, but at the same time, does that mean I should throw them out? However, with a slight twist here or there, they can be adapted and be used easily for CI purposes. The Card Game is one of these activities.

I learned the Card Game years ago from my district's world language coordinator. It sounds like a very basic activity, and quite honestly, when I first explain it to students, it sounds the stupidest game ever. However, the Card Game was one of my students' favorite activities, because it was so competitive. NOTE - because my class is deskless, it is almost impossible for me to play this game, but if I were to have desks, I would definitely play it.

  1. 5-6 different colored stacks of 3x5 index cards, with each stack being 20-25 cards. Depending on the number of students, you may need more or less.
  2. A list of 20-25 vocabulary words which students already know. Again, depending on the number of students, you may need more or less. You can also use short phrases if you want. I would not use sentences because they are too long.
  1. In each stack of colored index cards, write one vocabulary word VERY BIG in the target language per card. By the end, you will have 5-6 different colored stacks, with each stack having the same vocabulary words.
  1. As the teacher, take one of the colored stacks of cards.
  2. Divide the class into 4-5 different teams (depending on how many stacks of colored cards which you have left).
  3. Give a different stack of colored index cards to each team.
  4. Have each team distribute its cards to its team member. Each team member may not necessarily have the same amount of cards. Usually 5-6 words is a good amount of cards for each student.
  5. On the board, write the names of the colors of the cards in the target language on the board. Each color represents a team.
  6. Have students lay their cards out on their desks FACE UP so that they can read what is written on the cards. Each student should have between 4-6 cards. 
  7. Now ask students if there are any words which they do not know and to ask you for the meaning. This is really important in order to establish meaning. 
  8. Explain to the students, "I am going to call out the English definition of a word. If you have that word, then hold up the card as high as you can as quickly as you can. HOWEVER, there are 4-5 other teams who have that same word. The first correct card which I see gets a point. Also, just because I call a word once does not mean that I cannot call it again."
  9. As the teacher, pick a card from your stack, and call out the English definition.
  10. If students have that word, they are to hold up that card. Whatever team's correct card you see first will get a point.
  11. As the teacher, put the card back in your stack, and pull out another card. Repeat the directions - the first team which gets 10 points wins.
  12. At the end of the round (when a team gets 10 points), have teams switch cards within themselves, e.g., students with green cards will switch stacks between each other. Now students have a new set of vocabulary words. If students do not know the words, they are to ask the student who just had them.
  13. Play another round.
  14. After 2-3 rounds, tell students that they are to either:
    1.  do a writing in the target language which involves the words which they have in their stack OR
    2. draw a picture which uses the words in their stack 
  1. This became my students' favorite game (when I had desks). I played it as an adult when I learned it, and WOW, it is a very competitive game.
  2. This game is FAST, so this can frustrate the slower processors.
  3. What I like about this game is when students switch stacks and I call out a definition, students, who just had the card but switched with someone, can get very frustrated, because they no longer have that word. This shows me that those students know that word now.
  4. Although you can have students do a writing afterwards, I have found that drawing a picture was easier for students and did not require as much thought as preparing to write something. 
  5. Because this can be a fast game and students will argue which card was held up first, I will also pick a student who will help me judge which team held up its card first.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lucky Reading Game

This is a great post-reading activity which I learned about this semester. When I first explained it to students, they thought that it seemed rather basic and pedestrian, but once we started playing it, it really got competitive! This activity is from Senora Chase's blog, so I will link the directions from her blog below.

Lucky Reading Game directions

  1. When I first tried it out, I had teams of 3-4 students, but since my classes are usually 30 students in a somewhat small contained space, there were WAY too many chairs up front, which made it rather uncomfortable and difficult to manage. Plus, it did not give enough time for "resting" team members to review the story. Rachel Ash made a change of having teams of 7-8 students, which made now 4 teams. This was MUCH easier to manage up front.
  2. Keep the game moving quickly - this will keep students engaged and create a fast-paced environment. As soon as students pick a card, call up the next set of contestants.
  3. Once students began to realize how this activity worked, they really began to do lots of close reading of the passage.
  4. Show the scoring equivalences AFTER all questions have been asked.
  5. Every game, change up which cards receive 30 points to preserve the novelty. The scoring charts shows Red 3's as receiving 30 points, but the next time, make it Black 5's or something else.
  6. I will throw in a Double Card bonus every once in awhile to keep the game novel. Because students are still choosing a card at random, the bonus may not be as much as wanted.
  7. I have a couple UNO decks which I am considering using the next time I implement this activity - again, solely to preserve the novelty.
Thanks, Senora Chase, for this activity!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Invisibles Listening Activity

I learned this activity from Miriam Patrick, and this is her take on Ben Slavic's Invisibles activity. This is something which I do as a warmup, and it is a really good listening comprehension activity.

  1. Create a document with categories, such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, places, etc. and fill those categories with learned target vocabulary. 4-6 words per category are good.
Directions - Day 1
  1. Project “Invisibles Choices” on screen.
  2. Tell students to pick 1-2 words from each category to create a picture. I suggest that students draw in pen (not marker), because pencil does not always show up well when scanned or when a picture is taken of it
  3. Have students turn in pictures to you.
Directions - Days 2 and 3
  1. Take pictures of 3-4 pictures with your camera phone or scan them. and transfer pics to a ppt slide. 
  2. Have students grab a whiteboard, marker, and rag.
  3. Pick a picture and read description of picture in the target language.
  4. Have students draw what they think they are hearing.
  5. Ask students to show you their pictures. Pick a few to show the class and describe in Latin.
  6. Project actual picture on screen. 
  7. Begin again with a new picture.
  1. Because there was choice in what words students could draw, there are lots of different combinations.
  2. It is always fun to see students begin to realize that you are describing their pictures - a sense of pride comes over them!
  3. It is a great warmup or brain break activity done over 2-3 days, and it is a very easy listening comprehension activity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Teaching the Way You were Taught

As I investigate possible topics for my eventual dissertation (right now, I am thinking of either the efficacy of the implementation of long-term professional development in a blended-learning environment OR how generational factors among teachers affect their self-efficacy in their classroom technology implementation, or lack thereof), one noteworthy detail which I am constantly coming across in research articles is that when we current teachers were students in school, most likely we ourselves never experienced learning using technology. Since we teachers tend to teach they way in which we ourselves were taught, for most teachers, implementing technology in a classroom is a nuisance and inconvenience, because we do not know how to use it effectively or even see what its purpose is.

I cannot help but see how a correlation exists among world language teachers. We primarily tend to teach the way in which we ourselves were taught. In and of itself, this is not bad or wrong, because how we ourselves were taught is what we know, as we learn by example. Because of the manner in which we were taught, that is probably why we were successful as language students, and in many ways, this led to our desire to become language teachers. The problem, however, lies in in that in replicating these methods in the classroom as teachers, only students who are like us will be successful.

Whenever I see folks get into lengthy debates online or in person about Comprehensible Input, many times I just want to say to those who disagree with it, "Have you truly experienced learning a language which you do not know using Comprehensible Input?" To me, I feel that experiencing CI like a student in your classroom will make a huge world of difference. However, I also add some parameters to this:
  1. Do not learn a language which is related to one which you already know, e.g., if you know Spanish, do not learn French or another Romance language, because they are too similar. You will not experience CI to its fullest, because there are too many language connections of which you are already familiar. 
  2. Learn the language over an extended amount of time. Yes, you can experience learning another language in a conference presentation, but in my opinion, that is not enough time. Yes, you can get a taste of language learning, but it is too limited in scope.
In the summer of 2017, I had the experience of learning Mandarin from Linda Li in a 20-hour Fluency Fast course held prior to IFLT. That experience completely changed me as a teacher! I have written three blog posts about my time learning Mandarin.
  1. Fluency Fast with Linda Li
  2. Comprehensible Input is Real
  3. Immersion Can Turn into Submersion
Consider taking a Fluency Fast class, and learning language in a whole new way! Then you can say that you are teaching the way in which you were truly taught!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cartoon Olympics

Here is a great pre-reading activity which I just recently learned from my colleague Bob Patrick, who created this. I added some tweaks to it, so below are our collaborative directions for this activity:

  1. Create a list of new vocabulary words which you wish to pre-teach
  2. Create drawable sentences using these words - in many cases, the more random the sentence the better! I have found that 8 sentences are a good number. Be sure to get in repetitions!
  3. Create PowerPoint/Google slides of these sentences - 1 sentence per slide.
  1. Have the words above listed on the board, and call attention to them establishing the meaning of each.
  2. Students work in groups of 4.
  3. 4 students from the class are the identified judges.  Each has a whiteboard, marker and eraser rag, and are seated together at one end of the room. Have those four chairs marked “iudex”.
  4. In each group, every student has a whiteboard, marker, and rag
  5. Number every student in a group as 1, 2, 3 or 4. If there are groups of three, one student will be both numbers 1 and 4. If there is a group of 5, two students will be number 4.
  6. Using the vocab above, project the first sentence on the screen - every student draws the best picture possible. Give students 1-2 minutes to establish meaning among the group and then around 2 minutes for each to draw a picture.
  7. After this, in their groups, students have 1 minute to help each other out with their pictures by suggesting addition to the pictures for clarification or suggesting changes
  8. Roll a die, and whatever number rolled is the student numbers who will submit their pictures to be judged. If I rolled a 5 or 6, then re-reroll die.
  9. At the front of the class on the board ledge or on chairs, groups will place their pictures for the class to see.
  10. Teacher clarifies the meaning of the sentence with the whole class.
  11. The four judges score on a scale of 1-5. Teacher gives paper to the judges to write down their score. Teacher keeps up with totals.
  12. Have the judges declare a "best in show" for the sentence, and show the picture to the class.
  13. Have students erase their whiteboards, and begin again.
  14. When all sentences have been done and scored, team with highest, next highest and third highest are declared the gold, silver and bronze medal winners of Cartoon Olympics. Have gold, silver and orange (or three different colors) stars to award to each member of the winning teams.
  15. If all sentences are not finished, this may extend to a second day.

  1. I was surprised at how engaged students were in this activity. The fact that students do not know if they will be selected to represent their team keeps students accountable to the activity.
  2. I have found that this is usually a 2-day activity, since around four sentences is how many can be done in a 50-minute period.
  3. The random roll of the die keeps the activity novel.
  4. I like how the groups collaborate among themselves to establish meaning of the sentence.
  5. The group consultation after students draw their picture is very important, because nobody in the group knows whose picture will be selected. This way, students will ensure that all aspects of the sentence are represented in each other's pictures.
  6. Students really do enjoy seeing each other's pictures as they are displayed at the front before the judging.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Simple Kind of Guy

For one of my graduate school classes this semester, we had to introduce ourselves to the class using Flipgrid (this is a great web resource!). One of the questions which we had to answer was "If you were to write an autobiography, what would be the title?" Personally, I do not think that I am that interesting of a person for me to write an autobiography. If my life were a sitcom, I would not even be the main character - I would be the next door neighbor who comes over once in awhile to drop off mail or to borrow a rake. Quite honestly, I am just a simple kind of guy - that is what I would have as the title of my autobiography! However, that is not to say that I am ashamed of being a simple kind of guy, because actually I am quite proud that I am not a very complicated kind of person. 

Here are some ways in which I am just a simple kind of guy:
  • Favorite ice cream flavor: Vanilla. 
  • Favorite color: Blue. Do not ask me which shade - blue is blue to me.
  • Favorite snack: Rice-Krispie treats, because it is just three ingredients: butter, marshmallows, and Rice Krispies.
  • Favorite superhero: Superman, because in terms of powers, he's got them all. He is neither moody nor emotionally complex like Batman - with Batman, I feel like I would be walking on eggshells around him. Also, if you were stuck on a deserted island, Superman could rescue you (unless there was Kryptonite) - what can Spiderman do for you?
  • Favorite potato chips: Original Pringles. I hate any potato chips with flavor on them, e.g., Takis, Doritos, sour cream and onion, etc. 
  • I am more of a beer person, instead of wine, but if I had my choice, I would prefer drinking a Coke.
  • I prefer to wear Birkenstocks instead of shoes solely because they are more comfortable to wear.
  • When I go out to eat with friends, I will usually suggest the same three restaurants.
  • As much I as enjoy being social at gatherings and interacting with people, I am equally happy eating a cookie by myself in the corner of the room.
  • I love the Three Stooges - slapstick humor at its best. Being hit with pies is funny to me.
  • My friend who is an interior designer says that I am all "straight lines and edges," which apparently is an interior designer term for people who rarely re-arrange their furniture and like simple spaces. I did not realize that there was an actual official term for people like me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Camps, Part 2

(The following is part 2 in a post series called "Camps")

I am fascinated by the friendship of George W. Bush and Michelle Obama. Here are two people from completely polar-opposite political leanings, different generations, different races, and different genders, but yet they are friends. In every picture I have seen of them together, you can tell that they truly enjoy each other's company. Were you as tickled as I was when George W. Bush slyly passed Michelle Obama a cough drop during John McCain's funeral?  In a recent interview with Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of George W. Bush), Michelle Obama remarked:
I would love if we as a country could get back to the place where we didn't demonize people who disagreed with us. Because that is essentially the difference between Republicans and Democrats - we're all Americans, we all care about our families and our kids, and we're trying to get ahead. We have different ideas about the best way to get there. But that doesn't make me evil, and that doesn't make [Bush] stupid. It is just a disagreement.
As I think about the many "camps" which have been set up among language teachers regarding the best methodology for teaching students, I cannot help but think that despite our pedagogical differences, essentially, we all have the same goal for our students: we wish for our students to learn/acquire another language, and we wish for them to be successful. Where we disagree, though, is what we think is the best way to get students there. The problem lies in the villainization and demonization of those with whom we disagree. 

I do not think that any teacher ever sets out intentionally for students to fail. We are all professionals who essentially want what we think is best for students. At the ACTFL general assembly, I cannot help but feel a sense of camaraderie with the thousands of world language teachers who are there in the assembly hall, even though we probably all have our own ideas about pedagogy. I also know that there is a definite boundary where I "end" and you "begin". You are the one who is front of your students, not I, so I have to let you do what you feel is best in the classroom. There comes a point where I have to accept that there is a disagreement, but that does not mean that we have to be enemies.

I have said this before, but do grammar-translation teachers think that I as a CI teacher am both openly and secretly judging them, because there are those in the CI camp who openly do? As I have said before, do not lump me in that group at all, as I stay FAR AWAY from those people! While I may disagree with the grammar-translation method, that is all it is: a disagreement. Let's still go out, and grab a drink! Please don't ever think that I consider myself "enlightened" and that I think that you are "ignorant," because we have differing views on language pedagogy.

We teachers are a passionate group, who are primarily composed of 4%ers who are very zealous about what we believe to be the "best/correct" methods for everything - fill in the blank with whatever the problem/cause is. Yes, I consider myself to be a CI-implementing teacher, because I feel like from my own past experiences as both a grammar-translation and a reading methodology teacher, CI is the method where I have seen all students of varying abilities acquire language the most quickly and the most deeply. In addition, there are inner motivations regarding CI which line up with my personal beliefs. There are TONS of teachers out there who disagree with my stand on CI, and I am perfectly fine with that, as long as they disagree with CI and not with me as a person - those are TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS! If someone disagrees with me on CI, let the disagreement be over that and not an ad hominem attack. As I have said before, teaching CI is WHAT I DO, but it is NOT WHO I AM. 

So when it comes to our teaching pedagogy, I have my story why I have arrived at the place where I am, and I am sure that you do too. Each of our stories have shaped us and our views. Let's share those with each other and understand each other first, before we start painting and labeling each other as the "enemy."

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Brain Break - Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

Here is a brain break which I learned from my colleague John Foulk. It is one now which my students request ALL the time - it is called "Do Nothing for Two Minutes." Like the title implies, students do NOTHING for two minutes. It is an actual website, which count downs from two minutes, and the point is simply to do nothing during that time. 

I have been doing this particular brain break once a week for the past couple weeks, and it is not as easy as it sounds. Doing nothing for two minutes can be very difficult, because:
  1. students are unaware of how long two minutes can be.
  2. students are not accustomed to doing nothing for a certain amount of time.
When we do this brain break, I will project the Do Nothing for 2 Minutes website on the screen and tell students that they are to do nothing for two minutes. This means no phones, no doing other work, no moving, no talking, no laughing, no listening to music, no non-verbal communication with anyone in the classroom, i.e., doing nothing. I have a deskless classroom, so students can lie down on the floor if they wish. They can sit in their chairs and close their eyes. However, if during those two minutes, a student does "something," then the time is up, and we go back to work.

  1. I am not one into mindful, focused brain breaks, since I am more of an active "brain breaker". However, I can see the benefits of doing them.
  2. The website plays wave sounds during the two minutes - very calming and soothing.
  3. In the beginning, it does take some "training" for students to realize that doing nothing means doing nothing. The first couple times, students will last around 30-45 seconds, because they will start looking around the room, make eye contact with someone, and start laughing or communicating non-verbally. Once I call out students for that and announce that time is up and time to get back to work, they learn quickly.
  4. Students really do like this one, because it gives them a chance to "rest up" during class. I always get students asking "Can we do nothing for TEN minutes?"
Give this one a try, and do nothing for two minutes!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Earlier this week, a number of Spanish teachers at my school shared with my department about Storyjumper, a digital storytelling web application. Essentially, Storyjumper allows for users to create digital storybooks with texts, illustrations, voice recordings, music, and sound effects. Below is a digital storybook which I created for a reading using Storyjumper. The story began as a dictatio of 8 sentences, but I was able to create a Tier 2 embedded reading of the story using Storyjumper:

  1. I like that having text, illustrations, and narration at the same time gives learners double, even triple input.
  2. I like this SO MUCH better than screencasting a PowerPoint, because it has more of a storytelling feel to it, since it is a digital book.
  3. It is a FREE web resource. However, if you wish to publish what you create, you can sell it on Storyjumper.
  4. Being able to add music and sound effects does make your book more compelling and interesting to listen to.
  5. I wish that StoryboardThat had a narration and sound function, since it already has a digital comic book feel to it.
  6. Drawbacks
    1. Compared to StoryboardThat, Storyjumper does have limitations with the amount of provided illustration choices and their capabilities. One can import pictures into Storyjumper. With StoryboardThat, there are a lot more illustration choices and what one can do with them (cropping, changing angles, poses, etc.)
    2. Although Storyjumper does provide music and sound effect choices, they are limited.
Here is a video tutorial of Storyjumper:

Although Storyjumper does have its drawbacks, this is a web resource which I will be using more in the future.