Want to try a Movie Talk? Get to know Fritz!

Hey guys, I know that I have talked about Movie Talks before. I LOVE Movie Talks, and so do my students. Recently I came across a FANTASTIC clip suitable for a first-year class that you can use if you have never done a Movie Talk before and want to try one. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Fritz (Note: Thee image below is just a screenshot. If you want to play the video, click here.)!


Fritz is a Golden Retriever with a BIG problem. He can’t catch. In this video, his owner throws different foods at Fritz. Fritz tries to catch the food being thrown at him, but he fails miserably, getting hit in the head, chest, or nose with food such as tacos, hot dogs, steak, and pizza. Here is a rough outline of the lesson that I use with this video.

  1. I turn on the video and pause it when I have a good picture of Fritz (3 seconds in). Then I tell the students in the target language (TL) the dog’s name, describe the dog as being a big, blond, Golden Retriever (I don’t translate the breed name. It’s too complicated), say that he is wearing a scarf and what color it is, and describe what Fritz’s problem is (I translate any words my students need for comprehension on the board with the TL in one color and English in a different color).
  2. I play the video until students see the steak that Fritz’s owner is holding up. The I pause and tell the class in the TL that Fritz wants the steak, likes to eat steak, and that the boy will throw the steak. Then I play until Fritz’s failed attempt at catching the steak. After that I pause the video and I ask the class in the TL, “Did Fritz catch the steak?” The class says no. I agree and tell kids in the TL that the steak hit Fritz’s head. Then we move onto the next food item that Fritz tries but fails to catch, which is a doughnut. Then I go through the same sequence again with the doughnut (which hits Fritz’s chest, not head).
  3. The next item that Fritz tries to catch is a meatball. Fritz has on a different scarf, so I stop the video to point out that Fritz has a different scarf on and we talk about it a bit. Then I go through the same sequence of watching the boy throw the meatball and Fritz not catching it. I continue this pattern, talking about the different colored scarves, different food items, and different parts of Fritz’s body that gets hit by the food being thrown.
  4. The last food item that Fritz tries to catch is a french fry (French teachers, he’s where you can inject a little bit of culture and tell your students that french fries are Belgian, not French). I make a REALLY big deal about Fritz’s success catching the french fry. Then I play the video again from the beginning straight through for our enjoyment.
  5. During the next class, we watch the second Fritz video. It is more of the same, but Fritz is much better at catching this time. We go through the same process that we went through for the first video. I find that the second video goes more quickly than the first one because students are more familiar with the vocabulary.
  6. When the we are done Movie Talking the second video, I give students a quick True/False quiz about both videos (usually about food Fritz did or did not catch and the colors of the scarves he wore in the two videos).

Here is why this video is so great to use if you are doing a Movie Talk for the first time:

  1. Everyone who has watched this video, whether a student or an adult, has LOVED it. Fritz is an adorable dog, and it is hilarious to watch him get hit with food. My students got SO invested in the plight of poor Fritz. By the time we got to the end of the first video, where Fritz finally catches the french fry, my students were cheering!
  2. Many of the food items in other languages are cognates, which means those words should be easier for your students to process.
  3. It is very repetitive, since the boy and dog are doing the same actions multiple times, which should help students acquire structures like “wants,” “can,” “catch,” more successfully (repetition of structures should help students successfully acquire those structures, and should also help teachers follow the script).

Any other simple, repetitive videos out there that are suitable for Movie Talks? Let me know!

Turning Output into Input

Friends, have I convinced you yet that input is more important that output? If you aren’t convinced, I urge you to read what Stephen Krashen has to say about it. Or if you have time to read a book, check out BVP’s latest. If you are convinced that language students needs more input than output, then you have to figure out how to provide that input. But you may have a problem doing that if you have been trained to force students to speak in your language class. Here is a list of ways that I have turned output activities into input activities.

1. Provide supports. In my first year classes, I always start by talking about the day, date, time, and weather. Before I switched to CI I would ask students the question and wait for a response. The problem was that it was always the same teacher’s pets who would volunteer to answer questions such as, “What day is it?” “How’s the weather?” and so on. These days I still ask questions like that, but when I am asking those questions I project a PowerPoint with possible answers. My students are not really producing output but are reading possible answers, thus providing themselves and their classmates with additional input. The main goal is that eventually the students will be able to produce answers to my questions without the supports (but I am not planning on removing them down any time soon for the benefit of my slow processors).

2. Turn open-ended questions into yes-no or either-or. Many textbooks I have used have one activity per chapter where students are asked to answer open-ended questions. In French books that activity is often called “Questions Personelles,” or “Preguntas Personales” in Spanish textbooks. I have gotten really good at turning those questions into either-or or yes-no questions. For example:

The original question is, A quelle heure est-ce que tu te couches? (What time do you go to bed?)

I ask: Tu te couches à 9 heures? à 10 heures? à 11 heures? (Do you go to bed at 9:00? At 10:00? at 11:00?)? Sometimes I ask these questions on a Google Form or just a plain piece of paper with places for students to put a (potential) check mark.

I have found that most students are not able or or willing to answer the open-ended question. Turning it into a less threatening yes-no or either-or means that more students will be willing to speak in class.

An extension of this is the activity Four Corners. I put up four possible answers in the four corners of my room (Usually “Yes, a lot” “Yes, a little”, “No,” and “I don’t know” in the target language). Then I ask a question. Students have to move to the corner of their room based on their response to the question. I did this activity recently with activities students like to do. I asked questions like, ¿Te gusta bailar? (Do you like to dance?), and students would have to move to the appropriate corner based on their personal preference.

Does that mean that I don’t ever do open-ended questions in my classes? No, I still do. I just make sure that I ask them after I have made many opportunities for my students to answer with yes-no or either-or. I have to provide input before they can produce output!

3. Card Talk, aka Circling with Balls (I credit Ben Slavic with this activity). This is an activity where students are given a piece of paper and are asked to draw something representing themselves. Then the teacher can look at the drawing and create sentences in the TL about the student based on what they have on their papers. When I do this activity I have the tendency to say a sentence or two about what my students have drawn and then ask questions as a comprehension check. I have done this activity four times so far: things students like to do, brothers/sisters my students have, pets my students have, and where/when my students were born.

If you are chained to a textbook, you could use this activity at times with new vocabulary that you must present. If the chapter is about leisure activities, have students draw pictures of activities that they like/dislike and ask questions about those activities (You might have questions like this: Classe, Guy n’aime pas nager. Vous aimez nager? Qui aime nager? [Class, Guy doesn’t like to swim. Do you like to swim? Who likes to swim?]) You can also  do this activity with other vocabulary themes, such as family (Classe, Paul a deux soeurs. Vous avez des soeurs? [Class, Paul has two sisters. Do you have sisters? How many?]), jobs (With questions like, Classe, Julien veut être médecin. Vous voulez être médecin? [Class, Julien wants to be a doctor. Do you want to be a doctor?]) and favorite foods (With questions like, Classe, Neha aime la glace. Vous aimez la glace? Qui aime la glace? [Class, Neha likes ice cream. Do you like ice cream? Who likes ice cream?]). Keep in mind, however, that some subjects might not lend themselves to natural, compelling questions. If the questions don’t feel natural, don’t ask them, because otherwise the activity will probably not be very successful.

4. Total Physical Response (TPR). Total Physical Response is a method where students respond to commands in the target language (TL). For the longest time I did TPR with only classroom commands and body parts, but lately I have started branching out and doing this activity with more topics. I have also started adding adverbs to my commands and have begun to tell students the number of times they need to do something, thus giving them a chance to review numbers and add more adverbs to their vocabulary. With visuals of words and expressions, TPR can work with almost any vocabulary list (BTW, I am not big on long, vocabulary lists in textbooks. I aim for depth over breadth, so if you are chained to a textbook I recommend that you pick the most useful words in the vocabulary list to present to your students).

The goal for most CI teachers should be to abandon the traditional textbooks and their curriculum, but in some situations teachers aren’t able to do that. In those cases, the best thing for those people to do is to make those textbook activities output instead of input driven. If anyone has examples of input activities they have created for use with their textbook, let me know!


Input, not Output

This past week has been crazy here in Southern New England, where we are recovering from a brutal storm that left many roads unpassable due to fallen trees and many homes, mine included, without power. School was canceled for two days, which gave me some time to respond to some emails.

Two emails I received were from former colleagues writing to tell me about their journey as they go about transitioning from teaching traditionally to teaching with comprehensible input (CI) approaches. Both of these individuals have been teaching for quite some time, and as excited as they are to start using more CI methods in their classrooms, they can’t wrap their heads around the idea that students don’t have to produce language in class in order to acquire it.

I know that these two lovely ladies are not alone. This is a common idea that many traditional teachers have. It’s the whole idea of “practice makes perfect.” But in this case guys, it just doesn’t. If that were true, we would have a lot more people fluent in a second language in the US thanks to their language study in school. But instead, I end up talking to person after person who wants to tell me how long they studied their second language (usually in a class where the teacher tried to get the kids to produce output) and how little they can actually say today in spite of all those years of language study.

So take a deep breath my friends and repeat after me: Acquisition primarily comes from input, not output. Acquisition comes from understanding the spoken and/or written language that we receive, which helps us form our own internal language systems. Once our internal language system starts to take shape, we can then begin to produce output when ready to do so.

It has taken me a LONG time to come to the realization that it is input that my students need in my classroom to acquire language. When I was a language student, every one of my teachers believed that students had to practice language in order to acquire it. So my classmates and I did substitution drills, repeated after the teacher, and were put on the spot and forced to answer questions that we didn’t always have the language skills to answer. I was also told during my student teaching year by my cooperating teacher that I needed to get students to talk. So I marched into my practice classroom with lessons full of speaking activities. And I put the students on the spot by forcing them to answer questions. Some students were able to answer me, but many students froze and mumbled “I don’t know” in the target language (TL). Even worse, I required students to do paired speaking activities, where 99.9% of the time students would end up speaking in English instead of in the TL after about a minute or two. After doing many activities of this nature, none of my students had furthered their acquisition of the concepts being targeted by the speaking activities I was giving them to do. It was so frustrating, but was absolutely not the students’ fault. It was the fault of bad methodology!

If you have similar occurrences in your classroom, here is my challenge – lay off the output (a bit of output here and there is okay, because according to Bill Van Patten, output can be beneficial if it leads to more input), especially the forced output. At the very least, take one output activity that you might do in your class and turn it into an input activity. Then adapt another and another until you have practically no forced output in your class. You might be surprised how much progress your students make!