On Monday afternoon, I decided to switch to the advanced workshop sessions, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss Carol Gaab’s wonderful session! The phrase that Carol repeated often during this session was that “the brain craves novelty.” With each new idea that she brought up, she repeated this statement over and over again. Clearly it was important!
The first tip that Carol gave us was to organize and manage and display our vocabulary. Put 1-3 core structures on the board with translations and pictures if desired. Write the target language words in one colour and the English words in another colour. These words make up the core curriculum you want to teach. Then as the story progresses, you can write enrichment vocabulary on the board as well. These words can be planned words or spontaneous ones that arise during the story, and they are meant to provide supplementary vocabulary for the high achievers. They should also be written in two different colours and they should be the same colours as before, so as to remain consistent, however they should be in a separate area of the classroom or on a different area of the board so that they remain separate in the students’ minds.
You can also post other information, such as a dialogue of the day and/or a phrase of the week. When posting the dialogue of the day, a question and answer make a good pair. So you could use a combination such as “Have you seen _____?” and “No I haven’t.” The phrase of the week should be something common but also fun, like “Holy cow!” or “Whatever.” Carol also suggested posting the question words according to their context, rather than putting them all in the same place in the classroom. So the “where” question could go by a map, the “when” question could go by the clock, and so on.
A fun way to add novelty to your stories is by using props. even if you have quite an exciting collection of props, students will get bored of them by the end of the year. However, you can keep them “novel” by rotating them through your classroom. Instead of students having access to all the props, all the time, just bring in a few specific props every week or every couple of weeks. You can even tailor these props to the stories you plan on telling during that time. When the students get bored with those props, just rotate them out and bring some different props in! Carol had some great props, but my favourite ones were the faces of famous people that she had printed out and stuck to a popsicle stick. That way students can hold up the faces in front of their own when they are acting. Other great props such as hats, abnormal body parts, glasses, blow-up props, fake foods, and empty containers can be brought from home, found at a Dollar Store or MacFrugals, or purchased from websites such as OrientalTrading.com or Costumes.com
When you are circling, it is important to create novelty as well. One way to do this is by varying the types of questions you ask. We know that questions can be yes/no, either/or, and open-ended ones, but you can also try using fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice questions. Comprehension questions should be mixed in with these types of questions. Ask mostly group questions, but ask some individual questions as well. A good ratio would be 1 individual question for every 4 group questions. Remember that students must be able to answer these questions successfully, so ask differentiated questions based on students’ ability. Try starting with the easy questions for the slower processors and work your way up to difficult questions for the faster processors. If a student seems to be struggling with the answer to a question, make it into an either/or question or point at the answer on the board to make it easier for them. Remember that we are not trying to catch students, we are trying to make them feel successful and smart. Also be sure to say the student’s name, then pause before asking the question. This allows them time to refocus their attention if necessary before they have to answer.
You can also vary the type of response you want from students. To add further novelty to yes/no questions, students can respond with the phrase of the week, funny noises, or gestures instead of a simple yes or no. For example, students could bark if the answer is yes and meow if the answer is no, or do thumbs up/thumbs down. They could also hold up one of two cue cards, depending on the answer. When you ask a group question, instead of always having the students respond chorally as a class, you can have them tell the answer to a partner instead. Partner work is frowned upon somewhat in TPRS, because it is more of an output activity, but sometimes you can use moments like these as short brain breaks for both the students and the teacher.
A great technique that Carol showed us to use while students are up acting was the “Voice from Behind” technique. She uses this for beginners and when teaching dialogue that includes difficult-to-pronounce phrases. She hides behind her actor and uses her own voice to say the phrase, while the actor mouths what she is saying. To get the two to match up better she squeezes on the actor’s arms for each syllable and they open their mouth whenever they feel the squeeze. It makes for a pretty entertaining performance, and I can imagine students loving it. Along this line, you could also have them lip synch for singers and bands or famous speaking voices (ie. actors, politicians, etc.)
With TPRS, we are used to using stories to provide comprehensible input, however you can mix things up by using other sources. Carol suggested online tools such as:
- Jibjab: make funny flash movies using pictures of real peoples’ heads and cartoon bodies
- Blabberize: make a talking picture with a moving mouth
- MakeBeliefsComix: make your own comic strips
- Voicethread: add voices to photos as they tell a story
- Xtranormal: make your own 3D movies
Other sites such as Señor Wooly
are great for providing comprehensible input through music as well. Music can be used in different ways too, not just to provide input. Playing background music that is 60 beats per minute facilitates student work, while 90 beats per minute is better to prepare them for a high energy activity. It can also be used very effectively during stories as sound effects or as background music to set the tone. TV theme songs are great for this, or you can use different types of music depending on the situation, such as romantic music, upbeat music, or even orchestral music to portray a menacing situation.
A variety of visuals are also available for us to use, including Google Earth, maps, posters, photos, props, costumes, plants, and large boxes. This is in addition to the actors we already use, and they are important because human beings are visual creatures. Students like to see things when we talk about them.
One of the most important points that Carol made that was really helpful to me was to vary the sources for storylines so that students cannot predict what is coming next! We all know that PQA can often lead into a good story, but you can also create stories based on culture, current events, history, etc. You can also prepare a story skeleton and let the students provide the details, or you can even ask the students in advance what kind of story THEY want to do.
Basically this session made me realize that I need to keep working to make stories new and exciting to my students. This may seem like a lot of effort, but Carol made a good point throughout the session. She said that we don’t have to use these techniques every day, nor should we. We should use them sparingly, every few weeks, so that we can keep our classes interesting throughout the year.
Source: Carol Gaab, NTPRS 2011, Handout