Testing week is tough: the kids are both revved up and worn down at the same time and they are antsy to get outside (especially since we had really nice weather here in FL for most of the testing days). It’s also tough on so-called “specials” teachers. Our classes get cut or we have to go to herculean amounts of effort to reschedule classes for all the different grades and their changed schedules.
With shortened periods right after testing, I have found that normal class activities in which the majority of the students need to be seated and relatively quiet (storytelling, writing activities, etc) are not the best option. The students need something that gets them all out of their seats and moving around. They’ve been seated, almost silently, for two hours; their brains and bodies need a release.
Simon Says in a CI context
I LOVE playing Simon Says (or, as it’s known in my classroom, “Señor Fernandez dice”). It’s great for so many reasons:
- It can be a quick time-killer if there are any lessons that don’t last as long as expected,
- It can review new vocabulary,
- It can recycle old vocabulary,
- And it can be the kids’ main interaction with new material.
Allow me to elaborate on these points:
Point 1: The quick time-killer
Simon Says makes a great sponge activity (an activity that can “absorb” those extra minutes at the end of a period) and this is probably how most teachers use it. It is a last-minute activity that can be used in a pinch when there is nothing else to do. I used it in this way for a long time. Before I had a good handle on how to effectively plan for the full 45 – 50 minute periods at my school, Simon Says was my go-to activity when we finished early. At the time, I was ashamed that I spent so much time “Playing Games” instead of “Teaching,” but what I didn’t realize was that there was something going on under the surface of those time-killing moments; something that was positive and beneficial to students’ acquisition.
Point 2 and Point 3: Reviewing
I try to always have some kind of TPR movement to go along with new vocabulary. This is especially easy to do with verbs (just act out the verb), but it also works with adjectives and nouns (students act out visual representations of the words—the actions can be anything that is related to the words you’re trying to teach; as long as they know what the word means and what the action means, they’re good to go). Then, any time we have any leftover time during a unit of vocabulary, I play Sr. F dice with these words. It gets lots of comprehensible repetitions and it gets lots of association of the word with something other than its translation in English. This works for any vocabulary you’ve taught in the classroom with TPR actions, going back months or even years (if you teach the same students over several grade levels).
Point 4: Introducing and practicing new vocabulary
I have used Sr. F Dice to be the main source of input that the students get for some of my vocabulary content. I’ve read a lot of Chris Stolz’s posts about using TPRS and one of the things he comes back to again and again is the fact that if a subject is boring, then the kids won’t be as attentive. This seems like common sense and it comes up a lot in articles about TPRS. One of the big deviations of TPRS from the current mainstream of language teaching is that TPRS isn’t centered around traditional Thematic Units. If you look in a modern Spanish textbook, the chapters are almost always organized around 15 to 20 themes (body parts/doctor, family, home, greetings/goodbyes). This is not the optimum way to teach (according to TPRS-ers) because they would rather touch on all of those themes at the same time and/or combine them in stories. The idea is, “Life is not organized like a textbook, so why should our instruction of a language?”
When we think about it, things that can be fun to learn about (like body parts or greetings) can become overly exhausting (not to mention confusing and boring) if they are taught all together at the same time for an intensive amount of time. Instead, peppering these things throughout the year little by little can be a much more effective way of teaching for understanding and acquisition. This is where Sr. F Dice comes in: I haven’t taught a unit on body parts all year, but all of my students know where the following body parts are: cabeza (head), estómago (stomach), orejas (ears), ojos (eyes), nariz (nose), boca (mouth), mejillas (cheeks), brazos (arms), manos (hands), dedos (fingers), cuello (neck), piernas (legs), and pies (feet).
They don’t know these vocabulary terms because they learned a song (which is not necessarily a bad way to learn and I have used many great songs throughout the years) or because they received a diagram with all the body parts or because they memorized a list of words with their translations. They know them because we play Sr. F Dice. They know opposite adjectives (tall/short, fast/slow, nice/mean) because we play Sr. F Dice. They have heard all of these things in stories, but they know them and can recognize them because of all the practice they get after the stories when I recycle the words and actions into the game.
Freeing Up Instructional Time
The best part about introducing vocabulary like this is that it frees up my units of instruction to include these words without having to teach them. Body parts are only one of the things that a teacher can introduce and practice through Simon Says. A problem that I have encountered with using TPRS story books like Look, I Can Talk is that there are a lot of words that students might still need to know when they leave my class for a traditional language class. The kids all know quiere and tiene and hay among others from the stories, but their acquisition of specific verbs like comer (to eat), caminar (to walk), and escribir (to write) is not as deep. Using Simon Says is my way of getting the kids used to hearing these words and understanding what they mean before we see them in stories, which, as I said earlier, frees up instructional time to focus on the story and making sure students understand what’s going on in the story.
Why Not Try It?
Simon Says is one of the easiest games to play and doesn’t really get talked about much in the world of comprehensible instruction. It might be that it is seen as a silly game that is inconsequential, that it can’t count as instruction because it is so simple. I contend that it is a highly targeted and highly effective way to help kids recognize words and acquire them well enough to use them in their own speech and writing.
Next time you have a set of words that you want to teach, but you’re not sure how to incorporate them into a story, try using Simon Says with TPR actions and see how it goes. You might be surprised at how effective this simple game might be.
Leave a note in the comments about how you use Simon Says in the classroom. Do you find it an effective method to teach and practice old and new vocabulary?