A little more than a week ago, I was frustrated by the lackadaisical attitude of my students toward engagement in my class. It was clear that they subscribed to the erroneous belief that one may shut down one’s brain prior to the official last day of school. I felt it my responsibility to enlighten them. Only, what to do??? I didn’t want it to be blatantly obvious, and yet, I wanted them to catch wind of my “Ah, ah, ah…not so fast” message.
Fortunately, I had been re-reading some of the Ben Slavic books. While casually skimming the Q & A portion of TPRS in a Year!, something caught my eye. In one of the questions, there was a request for examples of “real verbal output” toward the end of the year. Even though Ben admits that the activities lean toward “fake verbal output”, he justifies them by saying that the students feel like they are learning, and that is more the goal than them demonstrating real acquisition, at least for this activity. I will describe what I did below.
On Day One, I wrote two words on the board in blue marker (the color I use for any Spanish). The words were “tío” and “Timoteo”. First I told the class that “tío” meant “uncle”. We practiced with pronunciation briefly and then I asked, “What do you think “tía” means? And of course, they answered “aunt”. If I had it to do over again, I would have spent a few minutes personalizing. I would ask: Who has an uncle? Who does not have an uncle? How many uncles do you have? Who is your favorite uncle? Why is he your favorite, etc. Unfortunately, I felt the need for speed since my classes are only 40 minutes and we were also trying to include time for SSR in class.
After establishing the meaning of “tío”, we turned to “Timoteo”. I asked if anyone had any guesses about the meaning of this word and a few guessed that it meant “Timothy”. We practiced with pronunciation of the word a bit. Whenever I am introducing them to a word with many syllables, we say, “See the vowel, say the vowel”, which I believe I learned from Grant Boulanger. So we slowly said the word, camping out briefly on each vowel. Then, I began snapping to the beat of the word and the students repeated what I said while I continued to snap out the beat. I learned this also from Grant. I love this because I believe it helps the students “feel” the words.
Next, I asked the students to put the two words together to get the rhythm of how it would sound together. I directed them to turn to the person next to them and gave them 15 seconds to practice saying “Tío Timoteo” as slowly or as quickly as they wanted. One partner would go first, then I had them switch after the 15-second time limit was up.
Then we got down to the nitty gritty. I asked them who “Tío Timoteo” was. In one class, a girl suggested that another student be “Uncle Timothy”, thinking that we were about to embark on some storytelling!! I LOVE that! She was disappointed when I told her that this was not a story.
I turned my “No English” sign over, (their signal that we may speak English), and explained who Uncle Timothy was. In a nutshell, here is what I said, “Uncle Timothy represents that annoying relative or family friend who, when he finds out that you have had one whole year of Spanish, comes up to you and says, ‘ Oh….you had Spanish??? Say something for me in Spanish.’ And you are put on the spot to produce something impressive. Unfortunately, Uncle Timothy is not aware that it takes several years for the language to move from the part of your brain that understands Spanish to the part of your brain that speaks it. Unfortunately, Uncle Timothy is not well informed about second language acquisition and he will likely stand there until you speak!”
According to Ben, “this activity (he calls it Uncle Jack) is designed to give the illusion of speaking gains in a world that does not fully understand how we acquire languages and judges quickly if they don’t hear fluency even in first year students.”
The next day, I gave my students a handout with ten questions on it. You can take a peek here. Tío Timoteo I asked my students to quietly answer the questions in complete sentences. I told them that I would not accept incomplete answers. So, for example, if the question was “When is your birthday?” I did not accept “June 6th.” I told them it should be “My birthday is June 6th.” I gave them the period to work on the worksheets while I went around to help with personal questions. I told them that anything they did not complete in class would be due at the beginning of the next class. More in a day or so. 🙂