Teacher, Presenter, Coach and CI Enthusiast!
Language Acquisition through
CI and OWL Methodologies
The following is a breakdown of SOME of the many “pieces” of Comprehensible Input (CI) and Organic World Languages (OWL) methodologies, tools, and strategies that I use in my classroom. These explanations are MY interpretations of the bigger picture, or explanations of how I personally implement each strategy in my own classroom. Every teacher can teach using this methodology, and every one of us is going to approach it differently with our own
style. I tend to have a LOT of energy and I am a little hyper when I teach, so the ways I implement these strategies are very different from how others may.
Curriculum and “Structures”
One of the most common hesitations for people who are interested in switching to Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI) for their classroom is that there is no set “curriculum” or text book to follow. Well, in recent years there is SO much out there for CI teachers! There are actually text books now, created for teachers who use CI. There are TONS of brilliant mini novels which can guide your class all year, and other teachers have created lesson plans and guides to help teachers new to the method, start to integrate it into their classes. My old co-worker and dear friend, Mary Overton and I, created a curriculum for Middle School, which is based off of the top 200 most frequently used words in Spanish. This curriculum can be found on the CI teachers website: www.citeachers.com The structures we use to guide curriculum in CI are usually verbs. In an elementary classroom where I see my students 3 times per week for 40 minutes per class, I can usually do 2 structures, over two weeks. What does “do” mean? It means I can teach two of these frequently used verbs, through CI and OWL strategies over those class periods and at the end of the two weeks most of the students should’ve acquired them. Sometimes I can accomplish more, sometimes less. In a CI classroom, TIME with students is the most valuable thing. Since we don’t teach grammar or memorization, and we teach through INPUT, it is essential that students are IN the class, listening and reading that input in order to acquire.
TPR- Total Physical Response
TPR is used in MANY classrooms, not just the language classroom. I have found that it doesn’t matter what age my students are, establishing the “structures” I am using with a gesture, is essential. The gesture is linked to that structure, and at least initially, if students can’t recall the word, as soon as they see or DO the gesture, it instantly ignites their memory and helps with the acquisition process. People often ask me if I use the gestures FOREVER in class. The answer is no. Once I have gauged that my students have acquired a structure, I don’t use the gesture anymore, especially for the really frequent words. However, if it is a recycled word that we don’t use as often in class, a review of the gesture helps students to recall what they’ve already acquired. TPR is also a great way to check for comprehension. I often ask students to close their eyes and “do the gesture” for a certain structure, to show me how/if they’ve acquired during the class. I find that in my advanced classes, I use TPR less, but it can still be effective. Younger students LOVE TPR because of the movement.
TPRS- Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling
There have been books and books and books written on what TPRS is. My introduction to CI was through TPRS. I walked into Joe Dziedzic’s classroom in George Washington High School, and he had a student standing on a desk, pretending to wash her hair (some sort of huge wig) in “jugo de basura” or trash juice. The background of the story was that this girl lived in the dumpster, and was getting ready for work. I thought it was the most bizarre thing EVER. The important piece of TPRS is the “story-ASKING” part of it. You aren’t just telling a story and having kids act it out for you, you are ASKING the students the details of the story AS they act it out.
Engagement is obviously high for stories. Anytime you can get a boy up in front of the class, in a tutu and a pink wig, and stick some wings on him, and ask him to prance around, students are going to love it, and listen to every Spanish word coming out of your mouth. In my classroom, as I have matured in the methodology, I use less stories but reserve them as a special “treat” in my classroom.
FVR – Free Voluntary Reading
Stephen Krashen is the mastermind behind the Input Hypothesis. We don’t only get input from listening, we also get it from READING. It is a very important piece of a TCI classroom. FVR in my classroom, is at the very beginning of class, and students have the opportunity to choose any book they want (all of the books are Spanish) and read. They can all acquire by listening to my input, but they can acquire on their own through reading. They use their good reading skills, like using pictures and context clues, to establish meaning. While I do have some children’s books, I also have a classroom library of stories that my students have written and illustrated. I find that these are the books that children gravitate to. This is because, 1. Their peers wrote them and 2. They are much more comprehensible than some of the children’s Spanish books with complex vocabulary.
Listening to me speak in Spanish 90-95% of the class is HARD work. Our brains need literal “breaks” from the Spanish to make sure we can stay focused and continue acquiring the language. I use brain breaks in my class for just this. They are usually quick movement games, dancing, tongue twisters, yoga, zumba, or ball tossing. They help refocus our brains and center us for more language acquisition. The amount of brain breaks I do in a class period varies depending on the age of my students. For example, with my 3 rd grade students I tend to do a brain break every 15 minutes or so, but for my adult students, I do one every 25-30 minutes. With my bitty babies in pre-K I vary my activities so much and they all last about 5-6 minutes, so brain breaks are usually my transitions in between those activities. Regardless of age, brain breaks are ESSENTIAL!
PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers)
As I have “grown up” in using the CI methodology in my classroom, I have noticed I have moved further away from “storytelling/asking” and more towards PQA. Any time you involve your students, their personal lives outside of the classroom, their likes and dislikes, and their opinions in the lesson, THAT is PQA. I love it. It is my favorite form of giving input. It is the easiest way, in my opinion, to get immediate and lasting engagement. When you talk about your students, and their peers, it is automatically engaging. Since it is in their second language, they are forced to listen closely and intently in order to understand what is being discussed. It is magic. Some teachers are phenomenal at just coming into the classroom and having a “discussion” with their kids, and that is what guides their whole class period. Just lots of PQA! I
am not that skilled yet. I have pictures help guide my PQA. If my target structure is “come- s/he eats” for example, I will have that on the board in the front of my room, accompanied by LOTS of photos of food, some delicious and some disgusting. Then, I will use that as a guide to prompt my students into volunteering information about what THEY eat and don’t eat. I love PQA, and so do my kids.
If I were to credit my knowledge of Reader’s Theatre to someone it would be to the genius Mark Mallaney! UGH! He is incredible! Reader’s Theatre is one of the awesome teaching tools that people use to help teach the “mini novelas”. Many use the novels as their curriculum for the year. I don’t because I don’t have enough time with my students, but they do supplement my curriculum. The first time I saw Reader’s Theatre was in Mark’s classroom. Every student had a book in their hand, and they were following along as Mark read, and in the center of the classroom students were frozen in various awkward positions as they were waiting for the next direction. He had a student BE the curves in the road that the students were “driving” on. It was awesome. Reader’s Theatre is hard to learn to teach but it is SO fun. I have a background in theatre so I love it.
This is my kids favorite and least favorite thing we do in class. We take any youtube or vimeo video that we can find and we play it in class. HOWEVER, we only play it 1-2 seconds at a time. Then we talk about it for a few minutes…. So essentially a movie that is 60 seconds long can EASILY stretch out for a whole class period. Nina Barber was the first to introduce me to Movie Talk. She has a myriad of great videos for all of the structures we teach and is one of the most willing to share teachers I have ever met. The reward for doing a movie talk in my class, is getting to watch the whole thing, the whole way through, WITHOUT interruptions at the end of class. It is an awesome tool.
In a successful CI/OWL classroom, there is little management to be done at all. When students are engaged you don’t have to worry about managing them. Another key is having a “positive” community feeling in your classroom. There are many different point and reward systems that I use in my classroom to keep engagement high and to help with classroom management. Carol Gaab taught a workshop once and my biggest takeaway was “keep it novel”. It is a mantra for me. Students crave novelty and so do we as teachers, I think! I change up my management system every couple of months and it keeps the students on their toes. I learned SO many great management systems from two of my genius teacher friends that I taught with in China. Casey Assman Salado, and Linzeen Ruan, are my greatest influences in games and points to keep a classroom engaged.
So often, in language classrooms, culture is a “day for English”. This is something that personally, I really try to stay away from. If my goal is for my students to acquire and USE language, then it is my job to make culture accessible to them with language they do know. Sometimes, I will supplement it with an English reading for them to take home. Mary Overton is the expert at teaching culture in a CI classroom. She taught me to think of cultural celebrations, customs, and traditions in other countries that I could teach based on the structures I am using any given week. So if I am teaching the word come-s/he eats, maybe I teach about the food and drink of Argentina, and I show pictures, or even bring in Mate and Alfajores for the students to try. The more class time we can spend IN the TL the more the students will acquire.
They also so appreciate being able to talk about REAL WORLD things with language that they know and understand. It feels like a huge accomplishment.
This is my favorite word in the whole entire world and every single one of my students knows what it means. It is the ability to communicate about whatever, using language that you know. I always tell my kids that I will not be in their pockets to help them communicate when they travel the world. My students who have had me for two years or more become EXPERT circumlocuters. If they don’t know a word, they find a way to explain what they are trying to say using words that they DO know. OWL is a phenomenal methodology for teaching circumlocution. OWL focuses much more on output, and students don’t use “¿como se dice?” (how do you say?) in most OWL classrooms. Instead, they use circumlocution sentence stems, to help them make their way around the complex language they don’t know. It is incredible to see how creative students become. I once had a student desperate to explain the verb “taste” to me, tell me that it is like “smelling with your tongue”. SO great! Yay for communication!
laMaestraLoca | Annabelle Allen