Thursday, March 8, 2018

Draw, Discuss, and Read

"This is my best timed write ever!"

"Can we have five more minutes to write, please?"


I think these are examples of my dream feedback from kids. At the very least, they go right along side things like, "I dreamt in Latin last night", and "I think I want to be a Latin teacher".

I heard these things yesterday in class after three days of the lesson plan I am sharing today. I have done this style once before and knew that it was a fan favourite, but only at the lower level. Doing it at a higher level is more of the same, and yet completely different.

The Plan

I used this plan to introduce a new unit and, particularly, a certain set of "themed" (if you will) vocabulary. In Latin I, we did this with natural elements and pictures of scenes from nature and sci-fi. In Latin III, we did this with medical/body vocabulary and urban legends. 
  1. First, I went over new words. Theses words stayed projected for #2.
  2. Secondly, we did a picture description. I read the passage three times. 
    1. I read, they listen
    2. I read, they draw
    3. I read, they draw
  3. Thirdly, I displayed the picture and we discussed. We discussed a variety of things.
    1. What they put in their own images  1&3
    2. What colour things are 1&3
    3. How many of things are 1&3
    4. What they think things are (if they don't know the name) 1&3
    5. What qualities they think things show 3
    6. Where they think things are 1&3
  4. Fourthly, I displayed a story I wrote. In Latin I they were based solely on the picture. In Latin III they were based on the mythology and legend I researched. We discussed
    1. Areas of misunderstanding (what does it mean) 1&3
    2. Content of the story 1&3
    3. Where they think things are going 3
    4. Comparisons to previous stories 3
  5. Lastly, after the three days, we did a timed write. 
    1. Latin I (after 5 days) - I showed a new picture and asked them to do a timed write and create a story around the image. Latin I was given, if I recall ~8 minutes
    2. Latin III (after 3 days) - I gave them copies of the picture descriptions and the stories and asked them to write about a monster and give a description and write a story. Latin III was given 12-15 minutes because we spent more time discussing than I anticipated. They could:
      1. Choose a monster from a favourite book, movie, game, etc. 
      2. Choose a monster from their own or a favourite culture/heritage
      3. Create a monster from scratch

The Differences

I've noted a few differences between Latin I and III. Latin III is fresh on my mind, so, if you'll allow me, I'll focus on those interactions. 
  • Today, a student interrupted me repeatedly, in the target language, to ask if what we were doing was similar to some other monster from some other culture. Another proceeded to "quiz" me on what mythology it may be from. This is something my ones (and most of my twos) NEVER did. They took what I said as fact. This debate totally got me off track, but was worth every minute. 
  • Along the same vein, kids argued with me, in Latin. If they didn't think I'd described something correctly or that it was a different monster than I said, they spoke up. They used the language to express their opinions. In Latin I, that rarely, if ever, happened. 
  • By today, students had started to identify with these legends. We did a "Would you rather" brain break. I asked them which ones they'd rather face and which ones they'd rather be. You'd have thought the monsters were in the room the way the kids got into it and moved. 
  • In both years, by the end, students knew I was going to ask what was in the image and started shouting them out to the point that I was play catch up. In Latin III, however, they were whole thoughts and ideas. They were complex. In Latin I, they were single words or simple phrases. 
  • In Latin I, kids wrote, but were done when they were done. In Latin III, kids asked for extra time and were excited for a timed write... A TIMED WRITE. 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of discussion about targeted CI and untargeted CI. Personally, I am of the mind that we can use both. This CI was targeted, in my plans, but the discussions that came out of it were untargeted. The freedom that the kids took to talk about what they wanted (their fears, interests, opinions, disagreements, excitement) was amazing. The freedom kids had in their timed writes (and the freedoms they took) were amazing. 

I plan to do this again and it is now firmly planted in my box of goodies. I really like that it is a linked set of lessons that use vocabulary in a variety of ways to help kids become comfortable and acquire the language. Sometimes I feel like some of the things we do are so unrelated... I didn't feel this way this time. So, for me... this was a win. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

March "Madness": 30 Day Challenge

Hi all!

In the spirit of getting through this long and "holiday-less" month (AKA longest day without a break), I thought I'd challenge us all to a 30 day "share" challenge (which means you get 1 "flub" day). I'm going to participate as well and share my own challenge on the PBP Facebook page and Twitter. :) Reply with your own photos and experiences!

I hope we build community, have some fun, and really see how similar we all are :)

  1. Find and snap a picture of one item in your classroom you think not many people have. 
  2. Find and share a blog post about your favourite activity. 
  3. Find and share a favourite reading (class created or "authentic" - however you define it-)
  4. Find and share a favourite podcast episode. 
  5. Try a new activity and share 3-5 sentences about the experience. 
  6. Share a recipe for a favourite snack/mid week meal. 
  7. Snap a picture of your favourite stuffed animal to use in class.
  8. Snap a picture of a stuffed animal you use that you doubt anyone else has. 
  9. Share you favourite morning beverage details that get you going each day
  10. Share a brief story of how your particular language reaches into the depth of your personal life. :)
  11. Share 10 facts about your target language.
  12. Give a shoutout to a colleague who has helped you, lifted your spirits, gifted you a lesson, etc.
  13. Share a favourite teaching app or website. 
  14. Share a favourite image from your: textbook, classroom, reading, etc. 
  15. Share your ideal classroom layout.
  16. Share a teaching dream you have.
  17. Share a joy from your classroom. 
  18. Share something you do to reset/unwind. 
  19. Snap a picture of your desk --- NO MATTER ITS CONDITION :)
  20. Snap a picture of your lunch
  21. Snap a picture of your classroom at the end of the day -- even if you haven't cleaned it :)
  22. Share a reading/novella that you love and want to recommend to others (especially if it isn't part of the accepted canon)!
  23. Give a shoutout to a favourite teacher/professor/program/school that you had/attended.
  24. School Pride! Give a shoutout to your team! (ANY team counts :) )
  25. Share something you'd like more information on/would like to see more resources on.
  26. Share your teaching "elevator speech".
  27. Share your favourite non-language related movie/show that EVERYONE should see. 
  28. Share a tip/trick that you swear by. 
  29. Share your to do list for the day. 
  30. Share your favourite/the worst "mess up" you see in regards to your language/history and popular media. 

Now, let's have some fun!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Quick Report - Style Wars

Today we are playing a game and I thought I'd share it very quickly. I take no credit for this as this is a game/activity I took from Diane Neubauer.

Style Wars


This is a great activity for when you are nearing an assessment and are sure your students understand a reading. This is great for just before a timed write, an assessment, or as a brain break following a heavy reading activity


This is a competition between the class. I've done it in halves, which seems to work really well. The halves compete in reading part of the passage back and forth in different styles. The winner is the group with the most points. 


Set Up

  1. Divide the class into halves. 
  2. Give the class a story. Today, they received a copy of all the poems we've read this semester. 
  3. Put a list of "styles" on the board (see below). 
  4. Give students 8-15 minutes to practice and strategise different styles. 
  5. Play the game!


  1. Groups read in turns. They get to choose the style the opposite team reads in. e.g. if team A is reading aloud, team B chooses their style. 
  2. Teams can earn up to three points: 1 for reading in unison, 1 for reading each word in the selection, 1 for style
    1. The teacher is the judge! 
  3. Do this for as long as time allows or as long as planned. 
  4. Tie Breaker 
    1. Each team volunteers their "best" reader. 
    2. The teacher chooses a style.
    3. Both read at the same time, in the style. The teacher chooses the winner. 


The styles can be anything you'd like them to be. I always listen to suggestions, but I decide the ones we choose. I also decide which ones I will not put up on the board for various reasons (too much, inappropriate, disrespectful towards a group of people). Here are some of my favourites:
  • canibus - like dogs
  • felebus - like cats
  • avibus - like birds
  • vaccis - like cows
  • matribus - like mothers
  • magistris - like teachers
  • infantibus - like babies
  • celeriter - quickly
  • lentissime - very slowly
  • tacite - quietly
  • "valley" - in a valley/"California" accent
  • "Southern" - in a "Southern" accent
  • "British" - in a "British" accent
  • somniosis - sleepily
  • tristissime - very sadly
  • irate - angrily

Monday, February 19, 2018

What's on my desk? Miriam Edition

Ah, the desk! The center of our working universe (during planning at least), the hub of procedure, the choice hiding spot. I am always fascinated by what teachers choose to have on/in their desks and how it affects what they do in the classroom. I go between have an overly neat desk and a cavern of never-ending stuffs that seems disorganised but, in reality, is a treasure trove of semi-orginisation. So, without further ado, here are the contents of my desk:

On My Desk

One of the desk owls
  1. A desk fan - I get super hot when I teach. I tend to keep my room absolutely as cold as possible and I have a variety of fans in my room should it get too warm. A must have on my desk is a small USB fan gifted by my school one year. I use this daily, even in winter. It is easy to use, easy to store, and quite effective. 
  2. A desk lamp - Sometimes when we watch things or the kids are playing a game, I'll still do some work at my desk. This small lamp is cute and projects enough light for me to easily do what I need to do without disturbing the scene. 
  3. A variety of stuffed animals - These vary, but the tend to be the ones kids love the most. They are the most grabbed, most loved animals. They sit here because, (a) they get left out the most often, and (b) they are easy to grab for a lesson. Right now, that list includes: a kangaroo, a frog, an elephant, a raccoon, two owls, and an octopus that, being quite honest, was a gift from a friend and is my animal. :)
  4. A coffee cup - This should be self explanatory. :) 
  5. My Traveler's journal - This is my planner this year. I LOVE my planners and this year embarked on the bullet journal journey. I have a (what some would describe as) unhealthy obsession with stationary items. This goes with me everywhere. I try to keep myself really focused and organised. At home I keep all my pens, markers, washi tape, etc. This keeps me very accountable and I love it. 
  6. My favourite grading pen - It is purple. It fits in my left hand quite nicely and I use it for "grading". I say "grading" because my opinion on grading has changed. I have moved away from marking what's "wrong" and proceeded to asking questions that might evoke a more detailed/more proficient response. 
  7. (next to my desk) My "Go" Bag - This is my bag of things I have, just in case. It has my ankle braces (2 different kinds), 2 pairs of socks, my emergency medicine, and extra shoes (depending on the ankle braces I wear). You'll find many students/teachers with issues have these. This greatly effects my teaching because it allows me to teach safely. 
    My Go Bag
    My Traveler's Journal

In My Desk

In addition to the normal, regular, madness  I have:
  1. chapstick, headache relief, and stain remover - just in case. 
  2. My "silent ball" ball - This is a go to brain break for me. I love silent ball and it is easy to pull out at any time. I can also use this ball for circling, or a trasketball/word chunk game.
  3. Grading Folders - I keep all documents needing to be graded in folders marked by period and this hangs in the back of my room. In my desk I have file folders, also marked by period, that are of graded papers so that I can quickly hand them back at any time I wish. 
  4. My Sub Folder - My sub folder is a purple binder that I've marked in blank marker. I keep it at my desk so that it is quick and easy to grab. In my sub binder are:
    * a map of the school with colour coded routes for severe weather, evacuation, and my morning duty.
    * current rosters
    * two copies of my lesson plans
    * the emergency evacuation paperwork (multiple copies)
    * notes on any students and how to handle any situations. 
  5. A box of various colour pens - I keep a box of pens for when we do take a quiz/written assessment. I don't do this often anymore, but on the rare occasion we do, having this box means I can quickly pass out pens, grade items as a class, and get them back. 
  6. A box of snacks - I keep a few healthy snacks in my desk. Right now I am kind of low, so it is just pistachio nuts, but usually I keep some apple sauce in there as well. Mostly these are for me, but sometimes I have students who haven't eaten. I am able to offer something to them quickly. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Creating Classroom Culture: Taking Time with Students

This year when we returned from Winter Break, I set my Latin I students on a task: think of every Latin word worked on last semester that you can and write it down. The goal was to remind them of how much they've grown and learned since they started at the beginning of the school year (called "Collective Memory," the brainchild of Bob Patrick; after they listed words, I'd ask them to group them into themes, then we'd write the themes and words on the board, then have them try to think up new words for the themes and ultimately we'd have more than one hundred Latin words gathered).

While they started their lists, I took the opportunity to do something I really like to do, but often forget: I sat down by each group of students and asked each student how he or she was and what he or she did on break.

This seems like a small thing, but it tells my students I care. When I ask and they say, "Oh, nothing really," I push a little bit. "In a good way or a bad way? Because sometimes I like a vacation where I do nothing." And then I get a little bit more. And that means I'm not just paying lip service to checking in on them, I'm listening to their replies and I'm responding with a little information about myself.

And yes, in a class of 30 kids, this takes T-I-M-E with not just a capital "T" but every letter capitalized. I got through a good third of the class, then put students on the next step, and sometimes, I was in the middle of a conversation when it was time to transition, and I chose the conversation over the transition. But I don't regret that choice.

Because I got to know my kids better, and I am creating a culture in my classroom that values them.

They know I care. They know I love them most.

That means that when I chase them down, tackle them (metaphorically of course), and force them to do an assignment, it's because I want them to be successful. They know I'm on their side. So that time I gave up to talk to them at the beginning of the semester is time saved trying to convince them that I want their success now.

It seems like a little thing, but talk to your students. Get to know them. Ask them questions and really listen. Build a relationship with them so you have that to fall back on when you need them to trust you and your intentions later on.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Sometimes I fail.

I try to keep this secret. Not because I try to portray myself as a superhuman, able to juggle all my balls while balancing on a unicycle and reciting the first 100 numerals in pi. I just really hate failing. I don't like it. It's why I don't play chess.

Seriously. My dad always beat me when we played chess. So I stopped playing.

I've written before about the fact that what I do is hard, that it takes a lot of work to write my own lesson plans, a lot of energy to teach interactively and inventively, and a lot of research to stop using a textbook.

I rarely mention failing. But I do fail.

Sometimes a little.

Sometimes catastrophically.

And I fail in the classroom. Sometimes a little. Sometimes catastrophically.

Sometimes I get an idea and I think it's a really cool idea and I think my students are going to love it and it's going to revolutionize how they think about Latin and I explain it and I'm super energetic and my students are picking up on my energy and I want it to succeed and they want it to succeed because I want it to succeed and it. just. doesn't. It falls flat. In fact, I spend maybe thirty minutes untangling their Latin because instead of improving their understanding, I have instead tied their Latin knowledge into knots rivaling the Gordian knot that stumped all but Alexander the Great.

That is catastrophic failure, and I have known it.

And I usually keep it secret from you.

The wisest Jedi, Yoda is.
(You can get the poster here if you want.)
But here's the catch. When I fail like that, I generally apologize to my students. I explain my intent, and laugh at my result. I show them how to fail gracefully. And then I show them how to get back up and try again. I come up with a new approach, usually much more successful (after all, I definitely know how NOT to teach the subject now), and we try again, and we move on.

We celebrate my failures in class, we celebrate their failures in class, and we learn, and we move on.

I was at a presentation last February, and a woman sitting near the front used the phrase "fail forward." I think that is the perfect life philosophy, and definitely an important teaching philosophy. In developing a classroom culture, it is super important to teach students to value taking risks, and how will they value taking risks if they are afraid of failure?

And in sharing only my successes with all of you, how can I convince you to take risks in your own classes when I won't even trust you with my own risk-taking?

I fail. I fail all the time.

But I try to #failforward every time.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Movie Talks, OWI, and Student Interviews

This post is completely in the hopes of continuing discussion here and over on the Facebook group I help moderate: North Atlanta TPRS/CI Teachers. This is a non language specific group for teachers in the Atlanta area who teach using the principles of CI or who are interested in learning more. If this applies to you, I'd encourage you to come join us!

My question for January was: What would you like to see a blog post about?

We've gotten some great responses and I want to use this format to respond to those questions. In this post, I'll discuss one topic myself and then provide resources for the other two. Please let me know of any resources I missed and any other topics you'd like to see this kind of round up for. :)

Movie Talks

A shout out to Greg for asking about this. Greg particularly commented on wanting to know more about how to "make them contextual with the 'unit'". He also commented on tiring of hearing his own voice (which I completely understand) giving input. I think this is a great place to take this discussion. 

First, if you would like resources on the basics of putting together a movie talk, here are a few resources:
Now, on to the topic at hand. I love Greg's question because it gets to the heart of why and how we use movie shorts in class. I know some teachers make the movie short the topic of the unit and turn these things into stories and discussions. I've done this some, particularly if I'm given a vocab list with no readings. I will be honest and say that I am not great at asking a story or creating class stories. I can write them, but I find discussion and debate much better for me and my classes. This may change as I make the rounds back to first year (I am teaching level 3 this year). We'll see. 

For many of us (whether you are using a textbook, novella, or a series of readings), fitting in a movie short can seem like a break from the content that can harm the process. But, often, that break is a good thing. It refreshes the mind and gives the kids a new context within which to use what they know. Here are a few ways I fit movie shorts into my units. 

As unrepetitive repetitions of vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short early on in the unit, before we even see a reading. This will be when we are establishing vocabulary, using things like TPR, word webs, PQA, circling with balls, and tasks. I will pick a movie short based (often) solely on the vocabulary I can best use in it. We will spend part of a day with it or maybe use it as a beginning activity over a few days. If I were building a week plan and intended to include a movie short in my lessons, it may go something like this:

Sample Plan 1

  1. TPR/PQA new words
  2. Review words, movie talk (I lead through movie talk)
  3. movie talk (I lead through movie talk), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  4. movie talk (I ask questions while they lead), PQA/TPRS/etc.
  5. continue with reading

Sample Plan 2

  1. TPR/PQA/etc new words
  2. movie talk (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. reading over movie talk
  4. follow up activity: seek and find, partner retell, etc. 
  5. timed write

As a break from a reading/novella chapter/etc. to reinforce vocabulary

Sometimes, I'll use a movie short in the middle of a reading. It breaks up the monotony and provides a welcome TL break from the story line. Again, I'll choose a movie short based on vocabulary and, sometimes, I'll try and choose one that goes along with the story we're reading. I won't spend much time on this in class, often only one day. 

Sample Plan 1

  1. reading
  2. quick reading activity (seek and find, T/F statements), movie short (I lead through, question and answer)
  3. reading activity and discussion

Sample Plan 2

  1. reading
  2. movie short (I lead through, question and answer, they lead through)
  3. movie short (they lead through), reading activity
  4. reading discussion

As a point for discussion/as a topic introduction

This is probably how I most use movie shorts in my upper level classes. I really like to use movie shorts to spark discussion or introduce a topic, rather than a specific set of vocabulary. So far this year, we've used movie shorts to:
  • introduce qualities like loyalty, bravery, etc. 
  • debate topics like: love, heroism etc. 
  • discuss what characters possess what qualities
Rather than providing a sample lesson plan, I'd like to take a moment and point to the way I use the movie short in class. Since the purpose of this is different, I don't repeat the movie short. This lesson takes 1 day. It can fit anywhere in a unit. You can use it at the beginning to introduce a topic, or in the middle to introduce a debate or things like qualities. You can also use it in the middle or end to hold the debate or provide another context to use words. When I do this, I do not show the movie short in its entirety prior to discussion, usually because I want this discussion to evolve over the course of the class. 

An Example

When using the movie short "Dragonboy", I don't want them to know that he ends up being the hero in the end. I want the discussion to naturally move along the movie short. Here is how I'd use this example. 
  1. When choosing the movie short, I will have written a script. This will have key words I want to focus on like qualities. I may also write some leading questions to help the discussion move along. I will have also written in some key questions to ensure understanding on the base level.
  2.  I will introduce any new words at the beginning of class. I will write the Latin and the English on the board. Students may take notes on these at the end of class OR I will send them out via Remind. 
  3. We will start the movie short. 
  4. As the moments I chose, we'll pause the movie short. The following will ensue:
    (a) I will either: make a statement and ask comprehension questions OR ask them to describe the scene for me.
    (b) If appropriate, I will ask the debate/discussion question. In this particular movie short, I might ask who loves who, whether they think the person loves them back, who demonstrates qualities (like bravery, loyalty, etc.), who is the hero, etc. 
  5. As the discussion continues, I will try and lead the conversation if necessary.
    (a) bring focus to the main character or a unique situation.
    (b) suggest key words that they may have missed or need more repetitions of.
    (c) ask leading questions that bring up future questions. In this short, I may ask if they think they'll fight or who will win the fight. I may ask how the girl will react, etc. 
  6. When it is time, we'll enjoy the end in silence. They'll get to focus on how things actually occur. Many times, it may not be what they thought and will inspire even more discussion. 
A few final thoughts on this example:
  • I would reserve this for when you are sure kids are ready to have this kind of discussion. We began using this some in Latin one (although mostly with images) and Latin two (with movie shorts). Now, in Latin three, they are ready. 
  • This is a great way to change up a movie short. In this example we are no longer the sole source of input and we are showing the caring aspect of CI by letting the kids lead the discussion. 
  • You can follow this up, easily, with a timed write. You can have them reflect on the story, the characters, or even discuss themselves. 

One Word Images

Thanks Greg for this suggestion! I will be honest and say that I am not very skilled in this area. I love images and using them, but I prefer to use complex images already made and use them to lead discussion. OWI is a great tool, however. Here are some resources on the OWI. 
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

Student Interviews

Thank you Christina for this suggestion! I am sure there are variations of this, everywhere :). What I am going to point to today, however, is Bryce Hedstrom's la personal especial and how I've used it in class. 


First, here are some basic resources on student interviews
Are there more resources out there? Share in the comments below!

General Process

Generally speaking, you can use this interview to get to know students better, provide task based discussion in class, and allow students to shine. It gets at all three C's: comprehensible, compelling, and caring. There are lots of variations on the process, but generally:
  • student comes up
  • teacher interview student, circling through each question
  • teacher reviews answers with students
  • students write down questions and answers
  • student check each other's work
  • teacher and students review again

Variations and Edits

I've now done this for a few years. I love this, but I do find that sometimes it can become repetitive in a way that takes away from the compelling piece. So, I've experimented with a few different variations of this:
  1. Blogging: I got this idea from Meredith White and it worked really well. Students created blogs and each week completed a prompt. They talked about themselves, a dear friend or pet, a celebrity, and a fictional character. They responded to each other as well. 
  2. Changing and Adding Questions: This year, I edited the questions to include some more things that fit alongside our units. We talked about qualities that people have and in the questions, students told me what qualities they had and showed. You could expand this to include qualities they want to have or don't want to have
  3. Persona Illustris: Towards the end of the semester, when most/all students had been interviewed, I changed how we did this. Students answered the questions about a fictional character or celebrity they loved. The more information they knew, the better. I chose one each week to "embody" and they interviewed me. Then, they took a guess at who I was. 

Final Thoughts

This is something I continue to play with. I have no idea how I will incorporate it in this semester... but:
  • My kids are really good at this now. They know these words and can easily use these words, phrases, and questions. 
  • The questions are EASILY adaptable. For example: rather than asking students where they were born (natus/a est) in Latin, I asked where they were native to (generare). 
  • This can be done as a quick warm up or lead into further discussion