Category Archives: Personalization

Class books

Reading, Preschool, Kindergarten, School

I am loving teaching Spanish classes. We are not moving very fast through the curriculum. In fact, we are kind of stuck on the first lesson in every class. But we are speaking Spanish, and we are having fun.

That said, one of the things I love doing is making books for classes. When I find out something new about kids, it’s hard not to rush out and use the story right away.


Luckily for my kids, who might be inundated, I make mistakes even in simple Spanish, and have to get the books corrected. (As you might guess, though, sometimes three different Spanish speakers have three different opinions. That’s the case in Russian, too.)

So – here is a kindergarten book about our animals.

Here is a book that will grow as we learn about families.

Here’s a book about what the children think a missing student might be doing.

We made up a story about my whale. I wanted them to learn my name: Señora Ballena. It didn’t work, but we had a story.

As you can see, they’re not high-quality, but the families can read them (they’re posted on a public blog site), and I print them out and bind them for the various classrooms.

We’re going to have a series of books about families as we do an interview for La Persona Especial every day in most classes.



Picture credit:


Creating my own readers

I’ve been going back and forth on what I should request for my budget for next year.  What I really need is more reading materials, but I don’t necesarily think that means more readers.  I already have some pretty good TPRS-centered readers for my German I and II classes in addition to novels for my III/IV classes, but I that wasn’t the core of what I did.  I mean I have the readers, but my students so much prefered reading THEIR stories to what was already published, that we didn’t use them a huge amount. But how do you store a bunch of printouts and papers?  I’ve got bookshelves for traditional books, but not for self-published ones; they just flop out and fall on the floor after a week or two.

So after kicking this around for a month or so, I finally figured out what I need: magazine racks.  We do enough writing in my classes–stories, choose your own adventure stories, vocab picture books, etc.–that what I really need is a better way to organize the stuff that we’re already turning out so that it gets recycled and read better.

Of the various racks on the market, my favorite is right here: It has 20 slots that will fit 8.5 X 11 printouts quite easily, and I just got approved to order two of them.

Now the trick comes in looking how to fill these racks.  The core of my collection will be the class stories that we generate over the course of the year.  We generate a few of these every week, but every so often I want to take a break to let my students illustrate the stories as well.  Every month or so I will go ahead and “publish” the collection from the past month (between 5-10 copies depending on interest), bind them together, and put them out there.  Because I teach levels I-IV, this will also create reading material for my advanced lower level students so that they can see what we’re doing in the upper levels, keeping them with a challenge. 

With a vibrantly renewing reading collection, I can budget more time for FVR because they’ll always have something new to read.  The beauty of this is that I can recycle basic story scripts year in and year out and still get entirely different readings because PQA and student participation makes each story their own. 

By having this reading collection officially “published”, then, I’m not only validating my students on a personal level for sharing their creativity, but I will also do a better job of reviewing and recycling structures as they come up throughout the year.

Do what’s right

At a gathering last night, the three teachers in attendance ended up together. High-school foreign language, kindergarten language immersion, and middle school ESL teachers don’t regularly get the chance to talk, and if they do, the subject isn’t usually storytelling, so I was amazed to hear that we were all on the same page–as were they. We discussed reading and language acquisition research we’d read lately, and the kindergarten teacher said that it all comes back to compelling information in a personalized context. She also commented that while today’s storybooks have gorgeous artwork, often they’re missing aspects of storytelling construction, so kids can’t retell the stories. Even in the ever more rare cases that her students come from families where reading is key, they are not coming with stories in their heads. She and her partner teacher have returned to teaching children’s rhymes that tell stories (like Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock) and fairy tales, because they give children a structure on which to build their own narratives. I realized I could use nursery rhymes (from either the target language or the ones my students may know from childhood) as a basis for occasional stories. “There was a ___. He fell off a ___ because he was very ___.”

We’ve all had the experience of spending time on activities that turn out to have no teaching purpose. In many cases, after we’ve given a new idea a road test, we find that it’s not leading anywhere (sometimes it’s the old ideas that we’re hanging onto because they’re what we’ve always done). We need to do what’s right in our classrooms: unapologetically concentrate on what gives kids the ability to communicate.

Re-telling stories

When I want my second/third-year kids to re-tell a story from a different perspective, I have taken to sharing the stories from first year with them and asking them to change that perspective. That way, it’s interesting for them to read a new story and change it. For some reason, while they like their own stories, they don’t necessarily want to change the perspective. They feel as though they’re “done” with those stories and that they’re perfect.

Personalizing is Everything

I went to that conference, and was certain that I could use the materials from my cooperative lesson-writing group in Russian 1. Yes I can, and no, I can’t. I can teach them those words. But guess what…I don’t teach thematically any more. It’s really hard to tell a story with five or six “summer activities.” The activities kids like to do will come up, but doing “activities” as a theme is boring. The next problem is that writing a text in committee does not yield a text my kids want to read. We can do the little activities on line that I have created, but they are actually a waste of time. If the kids know the vocabulary, they don’t need to practice it. If they don’t know the vocabulary, they are not going to learn it by practicing it. I can give them reading practice by putting the readings on line, but it is not really useful reading practice, I fear. It is suddenly even more clear to me that my pre-TPRS teaching did not work. I sure hope some teachers who come to our in-between-times coaching meeting tomorrow will be willing to turn this over in their heads with me.

Wonderful backfiring

Today I was trying to start the questionnaire thing that Jim Tripp suggested on Ben Slavic’s blog. We discussed one kid, who doesn’t want homework, then found another one, who said she does like having homework. We explored that a little bit, and one kid stood up to leave the room. The kid we were discussing suddenly burst out with a complete story about the guy who left the room, telling it long enough that he came back and was thoroughly confused about how a whole story about him had developed in only a few minutes. The storyteller missed second semester of year one last year, and she has been totally silent, until today. Her story was about two kids who fell in love until the boy left the room, at which time the girl decided she was in love with two others in the room. I couldn’t believe the flow of language and the excitement. It was great fun (even though it totally derailed what I had wanted to do).

I just had to tell y’all about that! (It has never happened before.)

DO something

From Nathan:

MJ has invited me to post occasionally, and today in my classes my students gave me some feedback that I need to remember better, so I’m processing that for myself here in blog form.

For the last couple of days I’ve been going over Oktoberfest with all my German students, as this just started up last saturday and we had a solid time.  I had a bunch of pictures which I used to introduce key Oktoberfest terms and practices, and we had a fun time “flying” to Oktoberfest using Google Earth, viewing Oktoberfest pictures on the Big Picture (a wonderful cultural picture blog through that I frequently rely on) and enjoying not being in America for awhile.

Today, however, was getting back into the normal flow of things day, and I was a bit worried because sometimes after an extended time away from a flow of actors and mini-stories, etc. I’m worried about how well my students are going to get back on the horse.  Although we were talking in German over 90% of the time, it’s a different dynamic for students to work their way into an interactive mode after having been in a presentational mode for awhile.

The feedback I got, however–particularly from my German 1s and 7th grade exploratory–was that the CI discussions is what they really wanted to be doing instead.  For those groups, I am slowly working my way through the Questionnaires posted on Ben’s site and we are learning more about each student as we review their answers.  After a brief review of the rules on the wall to set the tone, we launched into things that people are afraid of and the time just flew.  Granted the “What are you afraid of” question is a pretty home-run topic anyway, but today just really had a huge amount of student input.  It was as if I hadn’t given them a consistent output for their creativity for a couple days (which was true) and they were making up for lost time.

In my 7th grade class, several people begged me “Can we just keep doing these essays [their term for the profiles] for the rest of the week?”  Even when we only had five minutes left to the end of class, they were still pushing me to get more people in so they could hear about more profiles.

Lesson learned: students like to learn about things, but what they really want is to talk about themselves and DO things.