How American are you?

After a wonderful conference with Bill Van Patten, I’ve been trying to think of ways to follow his technique for CI. He says that we flood students with input, then give them a short output task that is realistic in the classroom context. Having kids pretend to be bankers or shoppers is not realistic, because they know they aren’t really in a Russian store, for example. Giving them new ways to learn about their classmates is always appropriate within the classroom.

Because I’m trying to stress infinitive use, I slightly re-wrote the questions from the “Are you an American” test.

  • Do you like to get acquainted with your neighbor on the plane?
  • Do you like to dress comfortably when on vacation?
  • Will you smoke in the future?
  • Do you like to do sports

…and so on. I asked a more advanced student the questions in front of the class, giving students the structure and questions in print, and glossing some of the phrases they might still not know. We’ve been talking about this for days, in terms of Danes, Finns, Russians and Americans. What are the stereotypes, what are typical answers, what do kids in the class say, what would their parents say, how would the principal, or President Obama answer.

Students interviewed each other in pairs yesterday as a closing exercise. Today we reviewed multiples of ten from ten to 100 (since I have the wide variety of students in the room), and then gave students the structure “Gavin is 70% American.” In groups of four, they introduced their partners. The others were to ask why 70, or 40, percent. The interviewer had to back up the answer by explaining some of the things their partner loved or would do in a situation.

I’m pretty happy with this exercise. We stayed in Russian for most of it, the kids got lots of input on infinitive phrases, and they learned some interesting things about one another. Then they got to report on their neighbors in a realistic conversation. The paired conversations came only at the end of a lot of teacher-led talk, so they were ready to spend a limited amount of time using the vocabulary.

At the end of the hour, I asked them to predict their personal “American percentage,” and offered a prize (10 class rubles) if they can prove their score on the test is within 20% of that guess. One student asked what’s to prevent their going home and taking the test multiple times in order to get that score. Others shushed him. I guess they don’t realize that would be my goal…reading the same test over and over in Russian…

In another class today, after our “Star” interview, I handed out the text of a video we were going to watch. (This class explanation is my regular form of CI, rather than following BVP.) Students sat in double lines to do popcorn reading a la Blaine. I threw in a new twist though: before starting the popcorn reading with each new partner, the students had to either tell their partners what they knew about them from having done the Our Star interview (and get the statements approved), or they had to ask questions to learn about the person. From now on, when we do a first “Our Star” interview, I’ll ask the class questions about the person first, or let them volunteer what they know, and check the information with the interviewee.

Back to the video text. After about 15 minutes of conversation and video text practice, I showed the video. It took kids a while to realize that what the actors were saying was what they’d read aloud. That was somewhat surprising! I forget how different it is to read and to hear.

Then I started to MovieTalk the story, now that they knew what was happening. For the next class, I’ll go back to that video and retell it. I might have them repeat the reading, now that they know what it is about. It’s very short, very simple, but has high frequency vocabulary and some easily-understood but colloquial phrases that are useful for the kids to hear.


2 responses to “How American are you?

  1. What was the movie talk video?


    • I used the Eralash video “Is it clear to everyone?” about the little boy whose teacher sends him home because his face is not clean. “Is it clear why I’m sending him home?” The next day, all the kids show up with dirty faces and hands. Love it.


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