The Day Before Break

This time of the year can be a little bit difficult. Some teachers have given midterms and then will still have contact time with their students. Others will not be giving midterms but rather will be the class between 2 other midterms. Still others will be figuring out what to do when classes get cancelled or shortened for holiday parties or other holiday events…such is the life of a special area teacher.

But despite the hectic feelings this time of year, there are also opportunities to do fun, one-off activities that aren’t related to anything else we are doing throughout the year. There are lots of opportunities like this: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. These times are an opportunity to let loose a little bit and use language in a new and compelling context.

For example, over the last week, I have been doing an activity based on a Simon’s Cat video on Youtube. It was inspired by an activity on Dustin Williamson’s blog. Instead of using the same video and lesson as he provides on his site (which I have used to great success in the past), I made my own activity based on a different video: Fowl Play.

I made screenshots of the video and wrote what was going on in a narrative form. I added a little bit about mischievous pets and then talked with the students about their pets. Then, we read the story together. With some classes I read it aloud to the students. In others (most of them, actually), the students volunteered to read the sentences aloud. We discussed all the vocabulary and cognates and I made sure all the students understood what was going on and then at the end, we watched the video. In some of the older grades, I had them translate the story into English to show comprehension.

This was a blast and the Simon’s Cat videos are always a hit with elementary and middle schoolers. But the story and the video were not the most important part: The most important part of the activity came before we even started reading. I began by talking about calm and naughty cats (tranquilo and travieso) and used my own cats as examples. I showed pictures of my own cats at home and then asked the kids about their pets. As it turns out, not a lot of kids have cats in my classes, so I opened it up to talk about any pets they may have.

It was fun and engaging and the students were eager to share. As I talked about in a previous post, I didn’t force the students to talk and I didn’t chastise them when their grammar wasn’t perfect. Instead, I encouraged them to share by sharing first myself. Then, when they were talking, I made sure to engage them with language and not just ask the same questions to each kid in the same way. I asked follow up questions and reacted to their answers individually. This is extremely important because it showed them that I care about what they are trying to say, not how “well” they say it. It is classic negotiation of meaning and communication (exchanging information in a certain context for a specific purpose-in this case, sharing about our cute pets).

It is true that none of my classes are in a “unit” about pets or animals right now and it is true that we won’t really talk about this topic again for a while (if at all), but the engagement that activities like this can engender can be empowering for both the teacher and the students. So go out, find some videos, and talk to your students!

And while you shouldn’t expect perfect language…you can definitely expect excited engagement and deeper connections with your students!

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