I hope this blogpost finds you well and off to a great start in your comprehensible Hebrew classrooms. Here’s to a year filled with health, love, joy, meaning and Hebrew language acquisition!
If you are new to teaching with comprehensible input (T/CI), the strategies outlined and referred to in many of my other blog posts represent a real shift in teacher-student interactions and classroom practices, and may take a while to sink in. Go easy on yourself, knowing that whatever procedures you employ that align with Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and interesting, understandable messages, provided by a ‘language parent’ and for language learner/s, are probably better than anything you served up with a textbook, verb chart or thematic vocabulary list!
Many a Comprehensible Input teacher has concluded, “A bad day teaching with CI is still better [more fun and effective] than the Old Way!”
When I first migrated to T/CI strategies, I used a puppet to ask a basic Quest Story* in my 1st grade Spanish class. [I was so excited by the kids’ reaction that I repeated it up through grade 4 – and they all LOVED it!] I chose the puppet carefully – he’s a gold-skinned red-mouthed T-Rex with pointy teeth – years ago my brother gave him to one of my own sons as a birthday present. I considered good ole’ Rex a sentimental amulet who would protect me from flopping – and he did not disappoint. I decided to ask the simplest and most concrete story for my little ones, so I planned my props beforehand.
With my pretend mini-grocery cart loaded with plastic cognate foods beside me, I introduced the dinosaur to my group. (Dinosaur, as it happens, is a cognate in both Spanish and Hebrew, as are the foods I’m using in this example.) Here’s an English translation of the story I built, entirely in the Target Language (TL – in this case Spanish):
ME: Class! What is it? Is it a flamingo? [No.] No, class! It’s not a flamingo! That’s crazy! It’s obviously not a flamingo! [negate/confirm]
Hmmm, class is it a toucan? [No!]
I begin to walk around the circle, allowing the students a closer look. Some pet the dinosaur. They are entering my magical story-world… I roar playfully at some of the kids… peck others on the cheek with the dino’s snout.
ME: Class, it’s not a flamingo and it’s not a toucan. It’s a gorilla!
‘NO!!’ they shout. ‘It’s a dinosaur!’
ME: Ahh, it’s a dinosaur? [Yes!!] Ahh. It IS a dinosaur. [confirm] Hmmm…
I have the puppet whisper in my ear, shushing the class to hear better. You can hear a pin drop!
ME: Class! The dinosaur has a problem! (I place my open hands on either side of my chin. They know/I’ve trained them to answer this gesture with the rejoinder, “Oh, no! Oh, no!” See rejoinders on the Hebrew Corpus.)
ME: Yes, class. The dinosaur is hungry!
I rub my own stomach – then I rub the puppet’s – then I ask a comprehension check question: I ask, ‘What is “Tiene hambre?”‘ “He’s hungry!” they answer chorally. I ask the dino, directly, ‘Are you hungry?’ He whispers in my ear and I confirm back to the group: “Yes, class! The dinosaur is hungry!” (Mental checklist: So far I’ve used ‘It’s a…’ as well as ‘is hungry’ and their negations.)
Note: All this classroom banter, aside from the comprehension check/answer is in the Target Language (TL).
ME: Class, am I hungry, or is the dinosaur hungry? [The dinosaur!] Oh, I’m not hungry! The dino is hungry!
Next I have the dino taste a selection of foods.
Here comes the last new targeted chunk for the time being. I take out a piece of plastic steak from the grocery cart. The kids shift and anticipate the puppet devouring the meat!
ME: Class, does the dinosaur like steak? (I gesture with a thumbs up, and do a comprehension check). [YES!!]
I place the ‘meat’ in the dinosaur’s bright mouth. He ‘chews’ on it for a couple of seconds…and then spits it onto the floor with great fanfare, exclaiming, “¡Guácala!” “Yuk!!” “!!איכס”
The kids find this ill-mannered and unpredictable creature…funny! They begin to chuckle and whisper!
KIDS: She has other stuff to feed it in her cart!
ME: Class, does the dinosaur like the steak? [No]. No, he doesn’t like steak! (The word ‘carnivore’ is a cognate in Spanish AND Hebrew, so I throw it in for kicks…) Is the dinosaur a carnivore?
I ask the puppet directly, ‘Do you like steak?’ He spits it out again and this time some of the kids are saying, “¡Guácala!” for him. Now that’s a high-interest rapidly acquired word!
ME: Hmmm, class, does the dinosaur like…(pasta/spaghetti/yogurt/melon/chocolate/banana/hamburger)?
You can take your pick of the cognate foods – there’s a list here on my Hebrew Corpus.
I have him try each new food in turn, allowing my hungry friend to chew, munch or bite before dramatically spitting it out on the floor, with an emphatic, “¡Guácala!” (“Yuk!!” “!!איכס”) The kids find it hysterical!
I lay the rejected foods, one by one, in a neat line before me, for later revisiting.
(I highly recommend you follow the energy in the room – if the students are patient and willing to continue feeding different foods to dino, then keep it going! These are opportunities to keep continuous contextualized and compelling chunks of language pouring into their ears and brains, with plenty of repetition! Set aside your own reaction to the repetition, and respond to their interest….)
As the end of class nears, I insure closure. Either I decide before-hand, or in the moment determine the fussy T-Rex’s favored meal. Best case scenario – as in the dino story- the idea comes from a student suggestion.
So far I have used most of my 30 minutes to provide compelling & comprehensible input at my students’ level, and they are eating out of my hand!! Everyone who wants a chance to touch or feed the hungry dino gets one, and I wrap language around each interaction, making sure to use my students’ names. Everyone likes to hear his/her name!
I hear a kid suggest a funny idea…so I rummage around for my set of rubber sushi at the bottom of my grocery cart.
ME: Class, does the dinosaur like…sushi???
There are whispers all around. “I love/hate sushi!” “Sushi is my favorite/is disgusting!”
Rex tears into a California Roll and chomps thoughtfully. Anticipation hangs in the air…
ME/REX: “Mmmmm, !Sí! Me gusta el sushi!” [Yes! I like sushi!]
He roars to the group! I give volunteers the opportunity to feed him sushi. He gobbles noisily. I narrate (in Spanish) each interaction in the TL.
ME/REX: Dino likes sushi! Mmm, thank you, José! It’s my favorite, thanks, Marina!
He eats and eats and eats and eats…because he is very, very, very, very hungry, and he really, really, really, really likes sushi!
As the group files out of class, a student gleefully offers, “¡Señora Shapiro! We should name the dinosaur, ‘¡Guácala!’ because he says it so much!”
Meet Guácala, the main character of my first ever T/CI story. Here he is, contemplating the steak:
In my next post, I’ll talk about ways to extend this simple Quest Story and keep the excitement going, even for older students!
*From thewritersworkshop.net: “…The goal for the Quest [Story is to] encourage a sense of seeking, questioning and curiosity, propelling readers forward into the narrative. It gives a structure and suspense to a piece that might otherwise be flat and static.”