When we study comparisons in Spanish class, I create these tournament presentations and make my students predict and comment. Here’s the first one I made, a while ago. The most important part in creating lively conversation is a little bit of injustice. I made this one back in April and forgot about it. Click here or the image above to see it!
People love tournaments. They love making predictions, they love explaining their comparisons, and regardless of how successful they are, they love to follow along and react.
You’re thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you… that tournament brackets are perfect for a language class. So I made one; it’s animated. Click here for all the thrills, including the final solution.
The bracket shown above is not the basketball tournament; it’s a tournament for who is my favorite singer. I could have chosen vocabulary words, but I chose celebrities instead.
There will be predictions; description, comparisons of inequality, maybe even narrations in the present past. Students will have to reconcile their own opinions with what they know of my opinions. There will be conjecture and hypotheticals, so they will have to use all kinds of future, conditional, and subjunctive tenses.
There will be reactions; expressions of victory and loss, disgust and incredulity at upsets and defeats. Also at stake: the wisdom/stupidity of whoever seeded the brackets. Subjunctive, subjunctive, subjunctive.
This motif can be repeated ad infinitum; favorite foods, favorite restaurants, favorite colors, who cares. We can use historical figures or members of the faculty and set them up as a death match… or just as easily, a niceness match; who wouldn’t want to win a niceness championship based on a Spanish class conversation topic?
Who would win the condiment tournament? Would Mayo finally face off against Miracle Whip? If there was a cute baby animal tournament, people would learn animal names in a snap.
You could even do numbers; which items, are more expensive on Amazon? Which cities in Western Washington have the highest murder rate? Who in this class has the most Twitter followers? Possibilities are endless.
Today in class I was going over answers to an assignment, and when I called on a kid, he did a seven-second “ummmm.” Seriously, I counted. He was the fifth person I called on, and it hadn’t occurred to him to prepare an answer. Nobody was listening.
I walked over and switched on the English light. “Children, here’s a life skill. When we’re going over answers, and you see me calling on people, you should be preparing your answer mentally, just in case I call on you. Then, when I call on you, the rest of the class doesn’t have to wait for you to think. Because it is * EXCRUCIATING* to wait for you to come of with an answer from zero every. single. time.
I turned the English light off and continued with the answers, and the result was… AMAZING. Students were listening to each other, I could riff off their answers and make conversation in the target language. People actually heard each other make mistakes and correct them… and then AVOIDED making those mistakes when it came to them.
Ladies and gentlemen, this phenomenon is something that adults call “following along.” And what you may not know about teenagers is that they don’t follow along in Spanish class unless they are told specifically HOW to follow along.
I had been assuming for my entire career that teenagers knew how to follow along. When they didn’t follow along, I assumed it was because they were immature or uncooperative. Today I realize I have been wrong all this time. They had absolutely no idea how to follow along in Spanish class, until I explicitly told them how to… with their brains.
After school I ran into a student and said, “hey, remember that breakthrough we had today?” Yes, said my student, that was amazing! After that, I asked another student, and she had the same reaction…. “We could actually… have a conversation.” That’s what she said!
It used to be, I’d call on somebody to do number 10, and they when they heard their name, they said, “um…. what? …. um…. uuuuuummmmmmmm.” and I just wanted rip my own face off. Trying to lead a discussion with kids not following along feels like bleeding to death. And then when the kid is halfway through number 10, another kid busts in, interrupting, demanding to ask a question about number 3, which we had gone over 10 minutes ago. Because they hadn’t been listening.
“Come on, children, keep up! I’m giving away free answers,” I would say. And the students would look at me like i was bludgeoning them with the boredom stick.
Big breakthrough today. I don’t usually blog about students or what happens in the classroom, but today was a big day.