Easy Peasy

Tomorrow I’m giving my 25 word vocabulary test for the quarter that we do every month, and was fishing around for ways to get some additional reps in on some words that hadn’t been as deeply covered.  Five minutes before class started, a thought came to me, I bagged my earlier plan and we rolled.

I started the day by going through our words, defining them, and basically riffing on ways to combine them into a story.  In one class we found a student laying on the floor unconsious and had to go get the back story on it using the words.  In another class I decided I really coveted one student’s blaze orange shoes and we were off.  Just basically riffing with the difference that they could see where I was going; the good classes tried to cut me off at the pass by using the upcoming words on the list before I could get to them.

The really simple part of the class, though, came after I put everybody into groups of two, gave each group a mini-whiteboard.  I wrote one word from our list that we hadn’t gotten to on the board and told each group to write a sentence using the word and a picture to go along with it.   As they finished, I oohed and ahhed appropriately (and got an idea about which ones I should skip) and then collected the whiteboards.  Then I just stacked them below my document camera, turned it and went down the pile.   I talked up each picture to get some additional reps, compared and contrasted pictures, and just basically worked with what they gave me.  When I was done, I left the pictures in a stack for them to pick up and wrote another word on the board.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The truth is, they couldn’t get enough of it.  I’ll have to put that in my belt for a Friday activity in the future (probably in reviewing the key words for the week) because it really couldn’t be simpler but we still get a wide range of discussion and reps.


5 responses to “Easy Peasy

  1. Nathan,

    What does “one vocabulary test each month over that quarter’s words” mean? Does that mean you do two a quarter? And is it into English or into TL? Do you chunk phrases?

    I’ve been re-examining these quizzes.


  2. As each quarter is roughly two months, it works out generally to have two vocab tests a quarter. Things get thrown off around the Christmas break, but as long as I only give two that quarter I come off looking like the good guy.

    I print out my list of words, laminate the sucker with the title “Important words III” (or II or I; in German this comes out as “Wichtige Wörter” which looks nice) and have it hanging up on my wall. Throughout the quarter this functions as my de-facto curriculum guide, as I keep finding ways to work those words into everything I do.

    It’s interesting I find this year the general pattern my students settle into over the course of the quarter. Before the first test, I’ll wave at the words, put them up on the board, PQA them, review them, etc. and for the most part they humor me. I’ll be motoring along, realize that the word I need to supplement our discussion is on our chart, point it out with great fanfare and still get pretty blank stares from several.

    After the first test though, for which they have to take some ownership of the words by studying them (or not studying them as the case may be), those words become REAL after the test. As we do miscellaneous exercises like the picture/sentence “telephone game” that require spontaneous word generation, at least a third of the words they want happen to be off of that list and they go “wow, you’re right.” Because those words were chosen because of their high-frequency-ness, they happen to keep cropping up and the students start answering each other’s questions on the inevitable “how do you say.” Yesterday a student walked into the class as one of the first people after lunch and said (in English) “Nobody’s here!” and I was able to respond (in German) “So I’m a nobody?” because “nobody happens to be on our list. Big smile, and she claimed that word a little more.

    For me, doing that word list twice a quarter really helps be do a better job of recycling words and making sure that the most important ones get multiple treatments throughout the quarter. In the logic of high schoolers, something isn’t always “real” until it’s on a test. Even if students don’t do great on the first test, their concentration and ownership factor goes way up going into the second test. Why is it that we always focus better on something that we struggle with first? The second half of the quarter for me is always the best, then, because here I have a bunch of words to keep recombining and draw on that my students then also claim as their own. It’s like finding money on the sidewalk each time one of those words crops up, because it’s a freebie that keeps things moving along.


  3. Nathan,
    This is such an interesting thread. I know both you and Michele have shared some of your lists before and it would be awesome if we all compiled a master list for our many languages. I don’t feel that I have a definite list that covers all of the most important words/structures we want kids to acquire. I feel most challenged with second year curriculum and vocabulary. I think that I spend time focused on different forms and then different tenses (I have to respect some of the wishes of my non CI colleagues concerning when to teach past tense, etc.) I hope I am understanding you correctly in saying you have a list of 25 words/structures (?) for each quarter of the year? This is an area I want to improve in my classes and I appreciate the voices and ideas of my colleagues!

    What is the picture/sentence telephone game? I must have missed that if it was shared in the past. Would love to know more about this!

    I was surprised by your comment about the tests on your lists and about student responsibility for studying or not studying. I have not required my students to memorize anything and thought that was not what we do in CI/TPRS? I worry that I do not require enough from my students? The way it has been going in my class is that we test only on what we have done in class (PQA, stories, readings based on structures used in stories). Almost everyone does well, with varying degrees of expertise. I currently have only a couple of kids failing and I think that is due to either not listening/focusing or absence. I hope this does not sound like I am criticizing what you wrote. I’m trying to understand what you and others do, to discuss the issue and to learn and continue to improve what I do.

    Thanks much for sharing your thoughts!


    • This is Michele, not Nathan, but I thought you might want to look at my list, which is here.

      I keep slipping in new words that I think are pretty critical, but it’s somewhat close to a complete list by now of the first 200. I ended up adding the question words, so feel that I can add a few others. I want to take this list and make it into a bunch of phrases the way Laurie does, so that I’m never teaching just one word at a time.

      What I have decided is that I’m going to use the first 100 as my first-year vocabulary, and I’ll rotate through the next 100 by quarters every year. Since Russian is pretty complex, that will really give us about 200 from then on.


  4. Hi Ruth,

    The telephone game is pretty basic. Take a piece of paper and fold it in half lengthwise (hot dog). Then fold it over once widthwise (hamburger) and then again (hamburger). Unfold the hamburgers so you have 4 squares on each side. Number the squares 1-8 and then you’re ready to roll. I also tell my students to write their names inside the paper (unfolding the hot-dog fold) but to then fold it up so that nobody knows whose paper it is.

    With everybody on square one, you ask students to write a sentence from your word list in the target language. Once they have done that, everybody hands their papers to the right (or left if you prefer) and then draws a picture in box #2 about what they read in box #1. When the pictures have been drawn, people then fold over box #1 (so that it can’t be seen) and pass it off to the right again. This time they need to come up with a sentence in box #3 that describes the picture they see in #2. You keep this up, alternating odd boxes for sentences and even boxes for pictures. When all eight boxes are filled, they open them up to see the progression. Then I have them hand the papers back to the original owner for them to see what became of their sentence. Great fun, and I usually put a few up on the document camera to share with the class.

    Regarding the vocab tests and the inherent memorization, I feel that they have a place in my classroom mostly as a function of increasing my student’s ability to monitor the vocab they are learning. My experience with both TPRS and high school students is that many students just don’t care about some things unless there is a test on them. I spend days PQAing some words and working them carefully into stories, but unless there is some mechanism built in that will automatically review those words (my word list) and make a light go on for my students that “Hey, you really need to track this word” (the test) I find myself teaching and reteaching the same words. I hate playing vocab whack-a-mole.

    So do my students really learn a bunch from the lists they memorize through a drill and kill flashcard set right before the test? They seem to think so, but not so much. They learn the words that we spend time meaningfully on in class, and my learning I mean having words parked deeply on their hard-drives so that they can be used and understood almost spontaneously.

    But many high school students won’t bestir themselves enough to engage their language monitor unless there is some accountability related to them. Especially later in the year, I find that all my super-confident TPRS students are often overconfident and as a result apathetic about bringing their A-game to the table in the classroom. But when I point and pause on a word from the vocab list (having the students give me the English translation when I point at my list of German words) that list of “special” words kicks up the attention level. For me those tests are not about the memorization but rather about the increased status (and therefore attention draw) the words get on a daily basis in class.

    Is there a better way to do it? Probably so. But the occasional tests serve seem to work for me because they a) remind me to focus my target phrases on to what will be really useful in comprehending and producing language (thus relevant for me) and b) increase student attention because my students see a consequence for paying attention in class (thus relevant for them).


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