Word Chunk Game–Revisited and Revised

What follows are the instructions for playing the Word Chunk Game, still one of the most favored things that we do in our now very large Latin CI program.  I have made some changes to the description based on several years of playing it now.  One aspect of the original  version that remained problematic is that the teacher has the burden of seeing who raises their hands first (which team) for answering the question.  Because this turns the game into something like a Certamen Contest (who has the fastest finger on the buzzer), the language comprehension aspect of the game suffered.  This revision removes hand raising as an aspect of answering questions and replaces it with names drawn out of a container.  How very Roman!  The Fates get to decide which person in which group gets the next question.  By design, everyone in the room will be called on and every group’s discussion of the question or word or phrase is essential.  So far, as we play the game, the language comprehension aspect has been returned to front and center (okay, maybe just behind the enticement of throwing balls into a basket)!  If you have never heard of this game, just read below as if this is the only way to play!  I have marked revisions below with bolded type.

This game is both low stress on the teacher (unless students having lots of fun in your classroom stresses you out!) AND while having fun an intense vehicle of language acquisition.  It is used with material, a story for example that you have already been working on with students, so I think of this as a Friday kind of activity to review a story, especially with structures or vocabulary that has been challenging.  First the set up; then the procedures:

  • Pass out to students small pieces of card stock (2 x 3 inches or smaller) and have them write their full names on one side of the paper, and then fold once.  Collect the names into some sort of container.  Have a separate container for each class and mark it so that you will know next time which container has their names.
  • Students are divided into small groups (3-6 per group, depending on class size.  3 is better but in huge classes you may have to go with larger groups.
  • groups are in small circles around the edges of the room so that there is a long ally down the middle of the room.
  • At one end of the room, a box is set up on a stool (or some other arrangement) that approximates a basket. You can also find in various stores small wastebaskets that look like a basketball goal, if you like but not necessary.
  • 3-6 whiffle balls or tennnis balls or rubberized balls that fit nicely in one hand are lined up at a “free throw line” some 15 fee or so away from “the basket”.  (how many balls depends on the size of your groups)
  • Teacher preps a list of sentences from the story that has already been read and which highlights structures or words new to the group.  (e.g. if relative clauses are new, most sentences should have relative clauses).  You can pull sentences directly from the story, but you can also edit them to focus on what you want to focus on.  Separate items can be single words, phrases, clauses or sentences.  Single words in context are always better.
  • Each group  must come up with a name for itself, in Latin, and a gesture that they do with the name.  Any time that a person from their group is called on, they must shout their name in unison while doing the gesture.  If they don’t, or even if one member doesn’t, they don’t get to answer the question and it goes to the next person chosen.  This seems silly.  Don’t skip it.  It helps build camaraderie in the group which is necessary for how they have to work together.
  • The game proceeds like this.  Teacher reads the first sentence slowly, aloud, and continues to do so, over and over again.  Group members huddle together and decide, together, what the sentence means. After reading the item at least three times, shake the container of names and draw a name out.  Call on that person.  The group says their name and does their gesture.
  • ONLY that person whose name was called can answer, and if the group feeds the answer, they are disqualified.  HOWEVER, if the person makes a mistake, group members may correct it.  The teacher must distinguish between FEEDING the answer and offering CORRECTIONS.  Corrections are allowed.  Feeding the answer is not.  Because no one knows whose name will be chosen, they learn very quickly that everyone must know what the item means before they raise their hands.
  • If the person called on gives the correct English meaning of the sentence, the entire group goes to the free-throw line and shoots for points.  Teacher keeps score.
  • An easy way to work on Latin numbers is to announce the score after every score earned.  Something like (group name) duo, (group name) quinque, (group name) septem, (group name) nulla), (group name) tria puncta habent!
  • If the person does not give the correct English and the group cannot correct mistakes, the teacher calls on the group whose hands went up second, and so forth.
  • At the end of the period, the group with the most points (or groups if there is a tie) have earned bonus points that they can use on a quiz or test grade (teacher’s discretion).

This is a listening and comprehension game.  They are “re-reading” old material, which is always good.  They are helping each other understand.  Because you can focus on certain structures or words, and because you are reading slowly, clearly, over and over again, they are getting multiple repetitions of Latin that they otherwise would not have done on their own.  Students swear by how helpful this game is.  My problem is not overusing it.

Timed Writes, Free Writes and that Whole Grammar Thing

If you know how we do timed and free writes using portfolios and portfolio analysis you may be interested in these ongoing reflections and evolving ideas about students writing in the target language and what we as language teachers do with grammar–teaching and assessing.

I’ve just finished reading my seniors’ portfolio analyses in Latin 4.  They have been in our program for four years and had three of us for teachers (including myself, Caroline Miklosovic and Rachel Ash).  The version of the portfolio analysis is a little different for the senior year (one of the evolutions of the process), and it can be found here.  I found the consistency of the comments made to be fascinating and instructive to me as I continue to teach in a CI Latin program.  I share them here for what they are worth.  What is increasingly clear is that teaching with CI is never a fixed process.  It always involves evolving as we learn and listen to the experience of students acquiring language.

Students wrote the following things in their end of year analysis, with my reflections.  Used here with their permissions.

“I am surprised by the difficulty of concentrating when trying to focus on grammar and ideas rather than content. . . I was so focused on grammar that I disregarded time management.”

In the fourth year, I have done more regular direct grammar instruction which I invite them to take note of in these notebooks.  I promise two things:  I will  never test you on grammar, and you may use these grammar notes whenever you write in Latin.  Why would a Latin teacher ever say such things?  Teaching with CI and its guiding principles has convinced me that direct grammar instruction does not help a learner make any advances in language acquisition, and that the value of grammar itself is in the editing process.  In order to use grammar well for editing our own writing, we must know the rules and have the opportunity and time to apply them to our writing.  This is exactly now what my work with grammar has become.  I show them the structures.  Give them examples from literature.  They take notes, and they reference them while writing and editing their own work.  In short, they are creating their own in-notebook grammar to reference when needed.  They had other comments about this process.

“When we took two days to do a writing and were able to write, read and revise, that was really helpful.”

“Taking two days for a rough draft and then to work out a final draft allowed for thought and reflection on grammar–particularly verbs, and to include information about the story/writing that was left out in the rough draft.”

This was echoed again and again by students.  I gave free write assignments which came at the end of a reading and which allowed for one full class time to write extensively and without concern for editing the first day–that is, a rough draft.  On the second day, they were asked to read that draft and re-write it using their grammar notes and thoughtful reflection to make it their best.  Almost to a student, they identified those as their “best writings.” Krashen notes in his research what I have come to see for myself.  Writing more does not make writing better.  But there is value in writing.  Writing is communication with others and with the self.  My students seem to really value the communications they were seeing from themselves to themselves about all that we had read this year in Latin through their own words.

“I used to think that how many words I wrote was a sign of how good my writing was, but now at the end of four years, I realize that it’s the quality of the writing and not the quantity that really matters.”

“I’ve realized that we have begun caring less about writing sentences and counting words and more about our responses to the questions presented to us.”

The fact is that early on–in Latin 1 and 2 and probably most of 3–the only measure of writing in our program is the number of words they write.  Teachers do read some of the writes, but we don’t grade for errors.  We look to see if they are re-telling the story, adding a detail, reflecting on a part of the story–in Latin.  And, we look to see if their word counts are increasing.  Errors?  Of course there are, just as one would expect from baby language learners.  We also know that time taken to correct errors is wasted both by the teacher and on the student.  There is no evidence at all that for normal learners error correction makes any difference at all in language acquisition unless it’s this:  error correction by the teacher tends to make students less willing to take risks with language.  They keep their writing safe, simple and undeveloped out of fear of the error corrections (and lower grades!).  In these comments, students are recognizing for themselves–after four years of Latin–that it’s about the ability to begin communicating about what they have read to others but mostly to themselves that matters.  Quality is more important than quantity, and many students found that when they allowed themselves to write for quality, their word counts did go down a bit.

“The point of the class is to be able to understand what is being said, and my writings show that I am actually doing that and not just copying down words that I memorized.”  (This student notes that earlier he was doing that–memorizing and copying, but that he has shifted to a lower word count but a greater level of understanding.  Increasingly challenging reading (via Harrius Potter) is what he credits to this shift.)  He goes on to observe about his own writing:

“Some writings show an increase in grammar (Itinera Petri) and others an increase in vocabulary (Harrius Potter).”

Several students noted the huge leap in new and strange vocabulary in Harrius Potter.  That’s why we spent the better part of the semester reading just one chapter (along with other kinds of readings).  It is interesting to me that they felt they gained more in grammar use and understanding from reading Itinera Petri which sheltered vocabulary but not grammar, but when it came to HP all they could do was think about the new vocab, which exploded.

After I had read all of their analyses, I had a discussion with them.  I wanted to know what they thought about the “grammar days” and taking notes.  Without an exception, the high flyers liked the grammar days and note taking and the more normal learners  largely still found grammar confusing or irrelevant.

So, I asked them: without exception you all say that you are clear that your grammar has improved–how do you know and how did that happen?  They gave this evidence of improved grammar:

“When I’m writing, I don’t have to reference my grammar notes as much.”

“My sentences have become more complex.”

” My number of words may drop but the quality of the writing and things expressed goes up.”

“I feel freer to write around words I don’t know using other words.”

“I know that when I can write about Roman virtues in Harry Potter or in a fable of Aesop and express an opinion or an argument all in Latin–and that when I re-read it weeks later I can understand it–I know that my grammar has improved.”

I can attest that all of these things are true about their writing, and it does indicate more control over the grammar and vocabulary (the monitor for Latin is strengthening in them), and they still make mistakes.  The mistakes are normal and appropriate for just four years of study (more like 360 hours of instruction).

What caused their grammar improve?  When I asked that question they almost answered with one unified voice:

“Reading and speaking Latin!”  

One added: “When you speak and we speak back to you, it helps hearing you repeat it correctly.”  This was held in contrast to calling students out, pointing out their mistake and embarrassing them.  “You just say it again correctly, and we can hear that.”  In my opinion, they have become better at hearing that.  In their first and second year, there is less evidence that they are hearing that which only argues for more time with them.

Another:  “After a while–reading and speaking, some things just begin to sound right and wrong.”

At this point, I thought I might just openly weep for joy.  Without knowing, per se, my CI agenda, they were telling me exactly how CI works for them.  

Even as I rejoice over how CI is working across 4 years for our students, I have to honest to say that I am also still left living with a traditional Latin teacher’s brain.  What does that mean?  It means that I continue to experience doubts about what I am doing.  Shouldn’t I be testing them on grammar?  Shouldn’t I be correcting their writing errors? Doesn’t misuse of grammar mean that they aren’t learning Latin?  

Likewise, when I am among a larger group of Latin teachers outside of my program, I find myself lost as teachers talk about a “dative worksheet” or mnemonics for remembering deponent verbs.  I once did all of those things, and I don’t anymore.  I can offer them while doing a “grammar day” but they are no longer standard fair in my classroom. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, and sometimes I feel cognitive dissonance when I hear Latin teachers talking about that.

This CI work works, and it’s changing me.  The change is slow.  As I look back, I have interfered with what I know to work because that traditional Latin teacher brain objects.  I think that’s happening less now, but it’s still a process.

No student makes progress in the language from writing or speaking.  Their writing and speaking are evidence of the interesting and understandable listening and reading they receive.  There is value, then, in writing for two things:

  1. It lets me know how effective my speaking in Latin and reading choices for them are.
  2. It allows them to communicate with themselves in this language about the things we read the conversations we have.

Bob Patrick

Writing Analysis–for level 4

This is a slightly different take on the portfolio analysis that we use in our CI Latin program.  Seniors in Latin 4 keep a composition notebook in which they do timed writes, free writes, take grammar notes and any other notes that they think will be helpful when they do writing in Latin.  They can use anything in the notebook when they write.  The composition notebooks stay in the room all year long.  Here’s what they do at the end of each semester.

  1. Take about 20 minutes to read through ALL of your entries in your composition notebook.
  2. Do all of your analysis on a fresh page in it.  Date it at the top with the title “Composition Analysis–(today’s date)
  3. After your read through, what are you noticing about your writing that surprises you?  Surprises should be both about progress and perhaps some shortcomings.  Explain with examples.
  4. Which of your writings is your best?  Identify it by title and date, and explain with examples why it is your best?
  5. Pretend that this composition notebook were the only evidence of your progress in Latin over the last 4 years.  Write a summary description of what that progress means and looks like.  Write it third person about yourself, and include examples from your writing this semester.
  6. Give yourself a numeric grade for your performance in Latin this semester based only on what is in this notebook.  Give an explanation for this grade.
  7. When finished, fold the pages of this analysis over in half, close your notebook, and return it to the front of the room.

DRAW 1-2-3

This is a reading, drawing, critical thinking and writing activity.  It begins with whatever reading you have students doing.  After using other CI activities to establish meaning, read and discuss the story, you may want to us DRAW 1-2-3 to deepen the activity.

Instructions to students:

After you completely understand the story, prepare the following on a clean sheet of paper.

  1. Draw ONE scene that represents what fascinates you the most about the story.
  2. Include TWO talking bubbles or thought bubbles.  The content of those bubbles MUST be copied directly from the story.  
  3. Write a THREE sentence caption under your drawing.  The THREE sentences must be taken directly from the story and combined in a way that they give some insight or cause some thought about your drawing.

Options for the teacher:

  1. Take the finished products and select the 2-3 that are the most intriguing and put them on the screen in the next class period of segment of your class.  Create a conversation around each picture, almost like a movie talk but with this still picture that includes two bubbles and a caption of three sentences.  How did the creator change or enhance the story by choosing this picture, these bubbles, these sentences.  Of course, you could do more than 2-3.  You could spend days doing these if they are compelling enough.
  2. Or, give every student in the room someone else’s DRAW 1-2-3.  Give them a few minutes to read and think about it, and then partner with another students where they each describe the picture they have been given.  This could also be done with each student describing his/her own to another student.
  3. Have each student holding her/his own and have students move through the room in pop-corn reading style only they are describing their own DRAW 1-2-3 to each other in L2.
  4. End any of these activities with a timed or free write in which they summarize the original story and write about a fascinating take on the story they encountered in a DRAW 1-2-3, their own or another’s.

When the “Test” is just more great CI–a best practice

As Department Chair, one of my duties is to observe the members of my department and add my observations to those of administrators who do the same.  (See my document on the Downloadables page on the GA Performance Standards and what they look like in a CI classroom).

I want to share what I just observed one of my Spanish colleagues, Mr. George Brennen, doing in his Spanish 3 class.  It is an extraordinarily good example of technically assessing students on “animals” but in such a way that the testing event itself becomes just the next good example of providing students with tons of comprehensible input that is both broad and deep.  I want to do what he did!

Here’s what he did.  He stood before the class holding three index cards of different colors.  Everything I saw him do was entirely in Spanish.  He asked the students to choose a color. They chose purple.  He then began calling the numbered item, and then describing in great detail the animal–it’s size, colors, where it is found geographically (with descriptions of those geographical regions), the countries it was found in, its relationship to human beings, and other animals, its habitat and behaviors.  Students were literally leaning forward, glued to every word.  I have a degree in Spanish.  My Spanish is very rusty, though I read it and often understand it fairly well.  I understood every word.  All the students had to do was write down the name of the animal.  He was on animal number 12 when I had to leave.

In one assessment (which, BTW, will be super easy to grade) students received tons of understandable messages about animals, colors, sizes, geography, climate, countries, behaviors, habitats and relationships.  This is brilliant!  Technically students took a test on animals.  I am without doubt that these students left with more acquired Spanish today then when they came in.

So, CI teachers of any language:  how can we devise strategies of both teaching with understandable messages and assessments which integrate and pull together all kinds of language material/themes/vocabulary that requires the students largely to listen and comprehend while only writing down a word or two?

This is going to be my own personal challenge for the week.  I have a unit on Roman virtues that I am about to start.  I am now aiming for that day when I can have long, broad and deep discussion with students describing a virtue. They listen and then write down the one word.

Bob Patrick

Latin Version of Pancho Comancho

Publius Publicanus

This game or brain break originated as Pancho Comancho used in Spanish classrooms.  I have changed the name to something a little more Latiny–Publius Publicanus, Publius The Tax Collector.  

In the original game, five (more or less–I use five) stand across the front of the room holding large cards with nouns and adjectives on it.  The teacher begins by asking one of the students (who, for example is holding the word “puella”):

Teacher:  Johnny, est Publius Publicanus puella?

Johnny: Minime, Publius Publicanus non est puella.  Publius Publicanus est (looking at another player and his/her card) stultus.

Mary:  Minime, Publius Publicanus non est stultus, Publius Publicanus est (looking at another player) frater.

And so on.  The teacher has set a timer for 30 seconds or 1 minute or another period, randomly for each round.  When the timer goes off, the person who is talking must sit down.  This goes on until one is left standing.  If nothing else, it is an effective brain break from any other activity you are doing, but if you use recent new words in the game, it becomes an opportunity to get them repeated over and over, gives students a controlled setting for speaking Latin out loud with minimal stress because it’s fun.

The Virtues Versions

In fourth year Latin, I introduce 15 Roman virtues as part of our discussion of various pieces of literature throughout the year.  I introduce them slowly, but after they have 5 of them, you can begin to use this brain break with them in a few ways.

A.

Virtus ________ Publium Publicanum ennarat?

Minimie.  Virtus ______ Publium Publicanum non ennarat.  Virtus ______ Publium Publicanum ennarat.

(For this version, the virtues are all listed in the nominative singular on the cards).

B.

Estne Publius Publicanus vir virtutis ________?  

Minime.  Publius Publicanus non est vir virtutis _______.  Publius Publicanus est vir virtutis ________.

(for this version, the virtues are listed in the genitive singular on the cards)

C.

Publius Publicanus virtutem _________ demonstrat?

Minime.  Publius Publicanus virtutem _______ non demonstrat.Publius Publicanus virtutem ________ demonstrat.

(For this version, the virtues are listed in the accusative singular on the cards).

The point is not to turn this into a grammar lesson, but because this is upper level Latin, it occurred to me that we could do this more than one way.

Bob Patrick

OWAT P: One Word At a Time–Pictures

Jeff Brickler offers this evolution of OWATS:

I was thinking about this variation on OWATS (one word at a time stories).  In the lower levels (1-2), the OWATS might be too much output.  I thought that maybe we could do the same thing but have them draw pictures stories instead of written stories.  Then we could put them up on the screen with a document camera or take a picture of them and put them into a Presentation.  At this point, we could do a look and discuss with the class or we could work with the artist to ask questions to elicit his/her story.  This could prove to be compelling and comprehensible as it would have an image to help with comprehensibility.  During this session, we could have the scriba write down what we say and then give it back the next day as a warm up/review reading.

This could also serve as a review of vocabulary if we wanted a break from embedding readings and writing movie talks etc.  I could easily see this lasting a week if we choose 5-7 review structures.   With the drawing and discussing and reading of 5-7 stories from the class.  Then we could have a game where they match parts of stories to images.
Jeff Brickler

OWATS: One Word At a Time Stories

I work backwards from a story or reading that I want them to do. I identify the new words in it. Recently, this was a couple of fables linked Roman virtues. Based on a list of virtues, students searched through Laura Gibbs 1001 Fables and identified the stories they wanted to read.

Based on two fables, there were 21 words or phrases that they either didn’t know or were not very familiar with. I put the words into a table using a large font, and cut out miniature flash cards. The Latin was in large block with English in small underneath it. Remember, these were new words/phrases. (Don’t panic. I don’t use flash cards).

I had students sit in groups of 3 or 4, and explained the process to them:

  1. I would give each group a word.
  2. Working together on one sheet of paper with a pencil, they had to write one good sentence using that word.
  3. When done, they had to call me over to approve the sentence. If there were a problem, I gave a pop up grammar kind of fix for it, and then gave them another word.
  4. Their next sentence had to begin to make a story based on the first one.
  5. The process continued: they write a sentence, call me over, get any pop up grammar help, and then a new word, a new sentence that furthers the story.
  6. When I run out of words to hand out, they get their next word from another group and give them one of theirs.
  7. With 5 minutes left I tell them that with their next sentence or two, they should bring their story to a surprising end.
  8. I collect the stories and type them up into a power point and the next day, we read the stories together.

OBSERVATIONS

  1. Students were very excited about this work. It was like asking a story but in a much smaller group, and each student had more control over the story. This work was COMPELLING.
  2. Because I did this with more advanced students, the stress over language production was rather low.
  3. They got individual attention from me for anything they were not clear about.
  4. Grammar happened only in pop up fashion.
  5. They naturally begin to repeat the use of new words in subsequent sentences. So, there was even in the activity, much repetition. On the next day, reading and discussing the stories provided more comprehension. They remained compelling because they not only got to see their story on the “big screen” but others’ as well.
  6. I had fun! (that counts, especially this time of the semester)
  7. I shared this with a colleague who teaches Spanish 2 and one “trailer” course of Spanish 2 students who all failed last year. He tried this same activity today with them but only with words they had already been introduced to. He said it went over extremely well and that his most struggling students managed to put together a nice story.
  8. This strikes me as the kind of activity that could be done with new words for more advanced students and as review, repetition with any level.

The process, establishing meaning of each word, keeps things SLOW, is compelling, provides repetitions, can create embedded readings from the bottom up, and involves backward design.

Bob Patrick

Two Truths and a Lie

Hi all,

With permission, Sabrina, a French teacher and very skilled CI teacher agreed to let me post her back to school activity here that helps us get students right back into the language in a way that is comprehensible and compelling.  Just change the French to Latin, of course!

I want to share what I’ve been doing on the second day of class with all my kids and it’s worked out quite well to get them back into the swing of language and give them multiple reps.

Yesterday I asked them:

1) to write (in English for my beginners and French or English for my higher levels, please note I give them the choice) 2 truths and a lie about what they did during break.
2) I collected all papers and one by one asked them to come and sit in the King/Queen chair (I no longer have desks in my class, just chairs).
3) to read aloud their 3 statements in French (I modified it slightly if needed).
4. I read each of their sentences out loud in French. If a word seemed unfamiliar I used Point and Pause to clarify. Sometimes I wrote their entire sentence to make sure we all agreed on what was being said.
5) I asked the kids to decide which one was the lie showing me with their fingers. Was it sentence #1, 2 or 3?
5) I turned back to my King/Queen and asked them: Did you really go to Las Vegas during break, did you really do bungee jumping etc….?

On the board I had prewritten vocabulary (including my high frequency verbs as I predicted they would come up). Prewritten vocabulary was mensonge (lie), vérité (truth), est allé(e) went, a fait (did), a vu (saw), a joué ( played), a mangé (ate), a reçu (received, got). Then if something came up on their papers that was interesting I just added it onto the board with translation. An example of that would be a student who wrote that he drove a 67 Dodge Challenger so I went and wrote “a conduit” (drove). I also asked the kids on the chair details about what they got, or saw or did to get more reps.

Today we continued with the activity for 35 minutes, then I took their papers and gave them a quiz and 95 % got 9 out of 9.

They were engaged because it was about them (personalization piece) and it was compelling and understood because they had all the support they needed (visual, gestures and repetitions).”