In building acquired language competence, we really only need to do two things.
(1) Give them understandable messages.
(2) Make it interesting enough to pay attention to.
There are a lot of ways to give them these messages. It’s not one size fits all.
We can tell stories, or create stories with the class.
We can do Card Talk and have a discussion of the class’s likes and dislikes, or their favorite and least favorite school subjects, or whatever else we ask them to sketch on their cards.
We can create characters using the One Word Image process, conduct Special Person Interviews, find fun Movie Talks, or do daily Small Talk about the calendar and weather.
We can teach them content like history and geography through Input Charts, bring them a series of pictures and do Picture Walks, and we can “angle” any of these activities to talk about content or to target a certain function of the verb.
And of course we can read. We can do free-choice reading, shared reading, reading authentic resources, reading Scholastic magazines. So much to read.
The list of strategies we can use to deliver those messages goes on and on. It could very well be infinite.
So, there are lots of ways to create those messages. However, what they all tend to have in common is that the teacher is leading a class activity, and providing the language for the class to engage in the activity, while “pitching” the language at a level that is a tiny bit challenging to understand, but not too challenging.
This can be an exhausting job, day after day!
That’s why I don’t do it much.
That is not to say that I do not give lots of input to my kids, on a daily basis, as much as I can. I do. Giving those understandable, interesting messages to my students is my number-one goal in class. It means that I cannot be “on” all the time.
I am a 43-year-old woman. I get tired. I simply cannot spend all my time creating and leading class activities.
I rely on a daily lesson sequence that begins with creating, but moves on to different modalities of teaching and learning after about 8 to 12 minutes of creating in the language together.
I call it the “daily dose of language” because it gives students a good dose of listening, reading, shared writing, and opportunities for interpersonal speaking and communication.
I really, really rely on this comfortable daily routine. It makes class lot less energy-consuming.
The school day is long, the school year is longer, and our careers, well, we want them to be long, so that we can impact as many kids as we can.
This daily sequence is a strong, flexible daily sequence of instruction and formative assessment that we can re-use every day, all year.
This sequence helps us to relax because every day we only spend about 8 to 12 minutes co-creating new content with our students’ ideas and input. Sometimes the “create” phase is so fun that it goes longer, but this is average.
The amount of student input into the “create” phase varies, depending on the strategy we choose for that lesson, but the more student voice and personalization we can bring in as you create, the more engaging the lesson tends to be.
This sequence thus launches from a place of student voice and choice. When we ground our instruction in students’ interests, engagement is higher than lessons that come fully-formed from the teacher’s mind. But since the “create” phase is short, only 10 minutes or so, student voices do not overwhelm us.
We harness their ideas and creativity during this “create” phase and then lead them through a strong, reliable instructional sequence. We can relax more and rely on this sequence to support us.
Reading Sets the Tone
I like to begin my classes, before the “create” phase, with reading time. It helps us transition into class and usually has a calming effect on the students. For me, the gold standard is free-choice reading. I love seeing kids sprawled all over, with books they want to read. I love helping kids who hate reading to find texts they can tolerate. It feels like I am doing such powerful teaching during those first 10 minutes of class, but all I really have to do is sort of quietly and unobtrusively walk around and whisper to readers, perhaps bringing them different texts or reading with them if they are struggling with engagement.
Some of us prefer to do shared reading, either because we love sharing books with our students or we do not yet have a classroom library that supports free-choice reading. Shared reading or even just reading aloud from one text in front of the whole class can be quite enjoyable too.
Reading is most enjoyable for me and my students when I hold them “lightly accountable” which is to say that I do not quiz them on the content of their books, or require them to read a certain number of books. Instead, I grade them on their habits as readers during free-choice reading and their interpersonal communication skills during shared reading.
It’s now time to “create” something with the class, using whatever strategy appeals to us or meets our curricular goals, for 10-12 min.
Sometimes we need to work with certain language features, so we might “angle” the “create” activity to elicit certain words or language forms or functions. For example, to work with vocabulary about chores, and the verb devoir/deber/must, or the function of expressing necessity or obligation.
We might do Calendar Talk and ask students what chores they have to do, and write them on the calendar, and talk about who else has to do those chores, and what our feelings are about different household tasks. Any “create” activity can be “angled” in this way.
The beauty of using this sequence of instruction if we are working within a framework of a required curriculum is that we do not have to rely on the “create” portion to “fully teach” those things. This first part of class simply sets us up for more work with the language that was used to express the students’ ideas in this first phase of the lesson.
So, we can cool it on wanting to repeat and repeat and explain everything all at once, and get kids to output certain things correctly. We can relax, spend about 10 minutes creating some real-world communication that uses this vocabulary and language feature in context, as many times as feels natural to accomplish the task of communicating our feelings and obligations with chores or narrating a few stories from kids’ kindergarten days, or whatever we are communicating about that day.
Keeping my “create” to a shorter time frame made it more doable. I used to not do a lot of stories because I used to let them go on so long and they were exhausting ! But it is not too much to just get through 10-12 minutes of actively creating language with the kids. Then, we COAST through the rest of the lesson using familiar, powerful instructional strategies that basically manage themselves. Into these strategies, we can put new ideas and creativity each day, but we can rely on this sequence of instructional strategies to carry us through the bulk of every day’s lesson.
After we “Create” for 10-12 minutes, or maybe 15-20 if things are taking off and everyone is feeling good, we move on through Review, Write, Read, and Extend.
There is probably an infinite number of excellent activities that you could plug into each of these parts of the lesson, but I have found that for me there are just a few go-to strategies that really serve me well.
To review orally, you can simply display student artwork and use it as a visual aid to review. I try to have our student artists capture the “create” part in artwork each day. You can simply have the artist draw in a class notebook and put it under your projector and point and talk about it. Sometimes I like to have my artists work on a big piece of chart paper, as is often the case with One Word Images.
For more information on student artists and One Word Images, see the Bite-Size Book of Student Artists and the Bite-Size Book of One Word Images.
You can also simply ask the class review questions. You could also have them listen to a retelling of what the class created and sketch to demonstrate their understanding. You can give them a Quick Quiz and have them write the answers to turn in at the end of class, or have them listen and retell in L1 (English for most of my students) for a quick formative assessment. You can add on more quiz questions at the end of class as a closure activity, or you can retell additional information at the end of class and ask them to sketch or write more in L1.
My go-to for shared writing is Write and Discuss. Write and Discuss can be free-flowing or it can be used as a tool to model ever-increasing complexity of the texts we produce together during this activity.
For example, we can first write simple sentences, then compound sentences, then connected sentences, then paragraphs, then paragraphs with topic sentences, then paragraphs with conclusion sentences.
During the Shared Writing part of our lessons, in later years of language study, we can begin asking students to write more independently, first with partners or in groups, and on their own with scaffolds such as graphic organizers or mentor texts, or even decks of word cards that help them to remember useful words (e.g. connector words like “Therefore” or “Because of that”) that the class has used in Write and Discuss.
Through lots and lots of guided shared writing and scaffolded partner work, students finally internalize a strong sense of the way more complex discourse tends to go, and they will gradually begin to produce it on their own, with less and less scaffolding, until one day they can stand on their own as academic writers in their new language. Maybe this does not happen in the time they spend with us, for it is a long process.
Especially for students whose L1 literacy is weak, building literacy in L2 will take a long time. It takes a lot of modeling, and a lot of input, and at first the input needs to be simple, and highly-comprehensible, and far from the academic discourse that is the long-term goal. Furthermore, it is painful to rush students to produce academic writing, and involves force and memorization and stress and, sometimes, tears. But just because it is a long journey, there is no reason to not get started. And shared writing with Write and Discuss is, in my experience, one of the most powerful ways to launch students on that trajectory towards being able to produce rich, complex academic discourse.
During this shared writing time, we can also have students work with us to write pages for the class yearbook or fill in Process Grids or Cooperative Paragraphs or Sentence Patterning Charts (Strategies from Project GLAD) or partner writing, or any other written processing of the day’s content.
Write and Discuss is my bread and butter during this phase, though. It is where the magic happens, because YOU, the teacher, are their proficient guide, modeling how to compose in the language, in an interactive, student-centered way.
When we finish the text, having written about three to six sentences together, I first read what we have written aloud to them in L2, with intonation, expression, and phrasing, so that they can hear it as a whole. Then we switch into English and Conscious Learning Mode. I have them do Choral Translation and Discussion of the Grammar, then I ask them to share their noticings and questions. Doing this daily creates a sense of comfort for those students who feel like they will explode with curiosity if they do not get to talk about what their conscious minds are noticing about their new language. It also builds confidence in their ability to notice features of the language. This confidence will help them tackle any future formal language study we might do, or with more traditional teachers later down the road.
After this, we usually move back into Language Acquisition Mode, unless we are doing some conscious Language Study using the PACE model. If we are moving into a Language Study Day, we sort of bail here, and work with a prepared text that provides an input flood using the feature of the language that I set up the “create” portion to elicit. We add our explanations of how the language “works” to our Class Editing Checklist, which students can use when they write and peer edit.
Most days, I switch back into L2 and do some quick Reading from the Back of the Room and maybe some very basic Readers Theatre with no props, the actors seated on stools, and heavy on having the actors repeat the inner thinking (which is thought aloud) and dialogue that I feed to them. Because I have permanent class jobs, and actors I can rely on, and because I make the job of actor fun and rewarding as I can, I usually find Readers Theatre to be quite relaxing and fun. There are tons of other reading options, but these four are my workhorses. To learn more, you can download a comic I made of some go-to reading options, several of which I learned from Ben Slavic.
Student Application and Assessment
The very basic option here is a Quick Quiz, oral or written. You can have them do a retell in English as they hear the day’s language again, either from the text you wrote during Write and Discuss or from your oral retelling of the day’s information, perhaps using the visual aid that the student artists created to scaffold comprehension. Written dictation is also a good option here. You can read a post that contains information on Dictées here.
Quick Quizzes, English retells, and Dictées are easy to collect and grade. It is nice to end with some closure and get some grades to enter, if that is something you have to do. And these three activities are simple, authentic uses of the language, and true formative performance assessments of listening and reading comprehension.
You can also play games or do something more fun like Running Dictation. There are so many options for extension activities. Martina Bex is the queen of creative ideas to re-use language to give students more interaction with the day’s content and the language used to create it. Just looking at her “Games” category, you will find 50 posts on language games to play!
If your admin wants to see a gradual release of responsibility, or an “I Do, We Do, You Do” model, you can have the students freewrite and use their Editing Checklist, which means that they would apply the day’s learning to their own independent work. They can also play the Question and Answer Game,, which means that they would be using some of the day’s language when speaking to their partner to answer your whole-class questions.
Thank you for reading my blog!
I truly appreciate your time and your commitment to the profession. I love reading your comments, so if you have thoughts or questions, please post them below. I hope that if you try this lesson sequence, and have feedback, that you will leave it here for me. Thank you and please take good care of yourself so you can take good care of the kids.