I LOVE Bryce Hedstrom. To be more specific, I love the activities that he has created and written about on his blog. If you want to teach successfully with comprehensible input, (CI), check out his amazing resources! Here are two activities that I stole from him that I suggest you try, if you can, and my thoughts about them.
1. Password. This is an activity where students cannot enter the classroom until they have said a password, which is a chosen expression in the target language (TL). I post the password outside my classroom for students to see and they say that expression before I allow them into the room.
This activity helps students acquire some practical expressions in the target language that I might not have the time to teach them otherwise. It is really easy to implement if you have your own classroom or have trained your students not to enter the classroom until you arrive.
In my French class, some of my passwords this year so far have been: Je n’ai pas de crayon (I don’t have a pencil), Je ne comprends pas (I don’t understand), and C’est dingue ! (That’s crazy!).
Having a class password is a sneaky way to provide input to your students without having to do much planning. It is SO EASY!!! But I do recommend that, while you are using a certain password, you work it into something else you are doing in class, otherwise you run the risk that students will just parrot the expression back to you without connecting any meaning to the expression.
2. Special Person Interviews. This is an activity in class where a student is interviewed in the TL in front of the class. Special Person interviews are great because they provide a tremendous amount of input and give your students a chance to be the center of attention. Bryce may conduct his Special Person interviews a little differently than I do. I suggest that you visit his website for his take on it. For what it’s worth, I’ve described what I do in my classes here. I have described what I do below.
a. Questionnaire. I have students fill out a questionnaire about themselves in the TL. It is important to note that I translate all my questions into English, as my goal is for all students to fill out the questionnaire with as little frustration as possible. Below is a questionnaire that I used for my Spanish 3 class last year.
b. PowerPoint. I created a PowerPoint with one of the questions from my questionnaire on each slide, along with the language needed to answer that question in the first and third person. I project this PowerPoint during each student interview. Below is the PowerPoint I used for Spanish 3 last year.
c. Student Interview. I interview each student in front of the class. To keep the rest of the class engaged, I have one student draw a picture based on what the interviewed student says. I usually ask another student to be the computer operator who advances the PowerPoint slides. This gives me freedom to walk around the room and helps engage the students.
Once I have done a few interviews, I can then compare them all as I interview. So if one of my students says that her birthday is in December, I can then ask the class if anyone else has a birthday in December. This helps keep students engaged and provides more CI.
At lower levels, students may have trouble expressing themselves in the TL. When I first started doing Special Person interviews, I had many students in lower level classes who wrote one or two words in the TL on their questionnaires but them felt the need to elaborate during their interviews in English. I recommend that you don’t let this happen by declaring ahead of time that blurting out in extended English during the interview is NOT acceptable. If you have time, you could avoid this by reviewing the questionnaires and conferencing with students about any of their responses that you don’t understand or for which you need an explanation. It might be a good chance to provide some personalized CI, but I have never had time to do this.
d. Assessment. After 3 or 4 interviews, I type up a worksheet reviewing information that we have learned about our interviewed students. I describe an interviewed student anonymously and then students have to say which interviewed student I am describing. This review worksheet is yet another opportunity for me to provide CI. Here is an example of some of the sentences on my French 1 review sheet (If you don’t speak French, the sentences below are asking students to name which student said s/he had a dog, who said his/her favorite show was Riverdale, and similar questions).
Once we have reviewed the worksheet, I give a quiz. On the quiz, the students have to write five sentences describing each interviewed student. For the first few times I give them a quiz like this, I include a word bank. I grade my students on the quality of sentences they write (very liberally, since I am more about input than output) and about accuracy of information (Did they say Paul has a brother when he really has a sister?). Some of my students have known each other for quite a few years, and these interviews are very high interest, so almost all of my students have no problem at all recalling five bits of information about our interviewed students.
I am sure that other teachers who do personal interviews don’t assess students on information they learned about their classmates, but I feel that I need to hold my students accountable for at least some of the information they learn about their classmates so that I can be sure that they will pay attention during the interviews. Since my students have known each other for many years, writing five sentences about another student is really not that hard for them.
These are two awesome activities that I suggest you try in your class. Incidentally, just the other day I asked my first-year students to write a paragraph about themselves as a free write activity. Besides Special Person assessments, my students have done very little writing in class. But after listening to so many classmates talk about themselves during Special Person interviews, almost all my students had no problem writing at least a half page about themselves with no supports in a span of only ten minutes!
Thank you, Bryce Hedstrom, for these wonderful activities! I am forever in your debt!