Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Roll a Write - an alternative to the free write/bingo write

I readily admit, I stalk Pinterest and elementary school sites for fun ideas. Last week I was on Pinterest during lunch and came across this nifty idea that is used in elementary art classes to help kids draw and learn about landscapes. I decided it would make a great timed write activity. It requires little prep and takes the entire period.

Quick Info

  • What is it called? Roll a Write
  • What supplies are needed? the student document and as many dice as you have groups or students. 
  • How long does it take? 6 rounds of 3-5 minutes + remaining time in class for edits and adds
  • What levels could do this? I could see a level I class doing this in the late spring with much lexical help or in small groups. I did this with a level II class in late spring. 


I prepped this activity in about 15 minutes. I am linking to the version I created here. If you'd like to use my form, please make a copy of it, rather than edit this particular piece. I chose words that students knew or we were focusing on working with for our current unit. I also made sure to put in some words that the kids had expressed a love or passion for (unicorn, death, octopus, et.)

That's it. The prep was quick and if you use the form with the dice already put on it, it will be even quicker! 


The process requires a little explanation for the kids, but I found that they were quick to catch on. 
  1. pass out papers and dice. Read over the instructions with the kids. 
  2. Explain that students will roll and then write for 6 rounds. Each round will give them an element to their story. While the general element is dictated by the roll, they can interpret it any way they want. 
  3. Students roll the first die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes. 
  4. Students roll the second die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes. 
  5. Students roll the third die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Students roll the fourth die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  7. Students roll the fifth die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  8. Students roll the sixth die, circle their choice, and write for 3-5 minutes.
  10. Students get whatever time remains in class to make changes, add on to their story, and connect the pieces. Some students may focus on grammar corrections (if they are ready!), others may want to add more detail. Some may simply re-write in neater handwriting. Wherever they are in the process is fine.
  11. Have students put this in their timed write folders/notebooks. 

Tips and Tricks

A few things stood out to me as being helpful in this activity:
  • I have enough dice for each student. I bought a bag of 60 dice. Each student had his or her own dice. I prefer it this way. This could easily work if you only have enough for each group, just adjust the writing time. Similarly, if you have no dice, kids can google "roll the dice" and google will roll a die for them. Apple phones also have this feature I believe, or they have an app kids can get.
  • Keep the dice rolls quick. If students get caught up in the dice, they won't have time to write!
  • A brain break is NEEDED for this activity. Asking students to write for this long, even with dice rolling breaks, is hard work. Here is a list of brain breaks I like to refer to.
  • Keep the atmosphere light! While I won't answer any "how do you say" questions, I will answer "what does it mean" questions for kids who don't know the words on the paper. Even though they are writing, this kind of support helps lower the affective filter and keep it fun!
  • Edit the categories as you will. I like having multiple problems in a story because it gives it twists and turns and keeps it compelling for students.
  • When students get stuck: tell them to go back to the description: focus on the detail, who, what, where, why. What things are in a place? What body parts do a person/monster/animal have? What animals/objects are in a forest?
I'd love to hear what stories come of this if you do it, or what categories you add/change! It's a great activity for a day when you need a little quiet, or you want to give the kids a chance to be creative in their writing. I plan to do this again, but in groups. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dictation Follow Up - Quick Lesson Ideas

Rachel and I have posted quite a bit on dictations, and there are an almost infinite amount of ways to do them. My personal favourites are the QR code dictation and, believe it or not, a traditional dictation. I've always wondered about what to do as follow up for a dictation. Do you simply do it, collect it, and call it a day? What might some quick follow ups be to a dictation? Here are some ideas that I adapted from follow up reading activities to be quick checks for Dictations:

Student marks the image
being described
  1. Partner Read - Typically, one might do this with a story and images that the teacher used to help tell the story. One partner reads each dictation sentence while the other partner points to the image being described. They then switch roles. This is a quick exercise that takes just a few minutes. 
  2. Seek and Find A - Again, this is a follow up to a reading, and one can do any number of things with it. For our dictation, we did two activities. First, students cut out images that another student had drawn the previous day (they hadn't seen these particular images), then they matched each sentence to its image. 
  3. Seek and Find B - The second thing we did, after everyone had put the images in order, was to scramble the images up and while I read the sentences out of order, each partner found the picture and held it up for me to see. It was an easy and quick formative assessment 
  4. Latin II students put
    sentences in order.
  5. Story Listening - Another thing you might consider is doing a quick story listening session with the dictation. While you tell the story, you draw images on the board and label them. You can then save the image (I have a smart board, or you an take a picture of your work) and use it later for another story session, a timed write, or an assessment. 
Each of these activities was quite quick. The longest is story listening and that took 10-20 minutes, depending on what you wanted to do. Today, my Latin II classes did all four of these. 

How we did it today:

Set Up - What we did yesterday

  1. Students completed a scrambled egg dictation with numbered sentences so they could know the order
  2. Students drew images with each sentence

Follow Up - What we did today

  1. I chose one student's drawings that were fairly simple and clear and scanned it into my
    A student clarifies which image he
    has chosen by matching it to
    a dictation sentence
    computer. I removed any signs of which picture was which. 
  2. Students were put into pairs and given a set of these images. They cut each one out.
  3. Seek and Find A
  4. Partner Read
  5. Seek and Find B
  7. Story Listening

Final Thoughts:

This lesson was quick paced and met the needs of students. I could quickly see who knew what and who needed support. Students found it fun and engaging and most participated fully. All in all, I think it was a good way to review a dictation in new and quick ways. I did put a brain break into the lesson. I felt it was important for students to have this break and reset before doing the longer activity. 

What ways do you follow up with a dictation?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

R, R, R - No Failure Classroom - An update

One of the things that Rachel and I really believe in is the No Failure Classroom. We've posted on this a few times and, today, it made an appearance in another blog that Rachel and I participate in. If you are interested, you can find these posts here:
  1. Everyone Needs a little R, R, and R
  2. Growing a Latin Program Part 2
  3. No Failure Classroom at Work
One of the things, mentioned in two of these posts, is the R, R, and R day. Since its first implementation last year, we have changed the way we do this somewhat. In this post, I'd like to discuss these changes. 

Basic Premise

Not much has changed from our last post in regards to the reasoning behind offering this day. Ultimately what it boils down to is:


  1. We want our work to be comprehensible. Sometimes, students do poorly on an assessment because something was incomprehensible. This can be as simple as the instructions. It can also refer to the stress level, health, etc. of our students. A student who has a cold will often find things harder to understand. 
  2. We want our work to be compelling. Students may perform at a lower proficiency level because something isn't compelling. Having a day like this allows students to show their skills using something they feel is compelling. 
  3. We want our work to be caring. This speaks to both comprehensibility and compellingness and everything else under the sun. We want students to succeed. Having R, R, and R days allows our work to be caring in the ultimate way. Our classes aren't about a "gotcha" moment or "tricks". It is truly about acquisition and proficiency. 
* Credit to Rachel Ash for the three Cs

What We've Changed

Since last year, a few things have changed. Rachel and I are teaching upper level classes now, while our colleagues teacher the first years. Rachel's and my kids are now in their second year of R, R, and R. Our understanding of Comprehensible Input and the no fail classroom has improved and been updated. Knowing all that, a few things have changed. 

Latin I

In Latin I, much stays the same. Students are given particular activities to complete and meet about specific stories and activities. Latin I classes have R, R, and R days with less frequency than the upper levels, but we all reserve the right to have one whenever we feel we need one. 

Latin II+

In Latin II and above, we've decided that students should choose how they show their proficiency in the standards. This means they come up with their own way, rather than choosing from a list of assignments. I will be honest and say some kids have had a hard time struggling with this. When this comes up, I have a set of questions I start to walk through:
  • What does the standard say?
  • What do you think that means?
  • What ideas do you have that you think will show your proficiency level in this?
  • What have we done in class that has applied to this?
I also always allow them to redo or resubmit previous work. I will be honest and say most do not choose this option. Most students choose a different assignment that they want to do.

I did provide a FAQ for my students who were struggling with what to do on R, R, and R days*. What I have found, however, is that this kind of work requires students to rethink how they think of grades and class. This is good, but can be a process with ups and downs. Some days students seem to have a very good grasp of the process, and others they need a lot of guidance and sometimes get frustrated.

* Please note that these are based on our standards and may need editing for your use.

What's changed in general

One of the things that's changed in general is what we allow kids to do when they don't have work. I still stress that this should be community building, and most kids take advantage of that. I keep a box of activities ready for my classes. But, we also allow kids to work on other work or put their heads down. Here are the things I keep in my box. 
  • Minotaurus and other board games 
  • decks of cards
  • puzzles of varying difficulties

I do spend money on these, but not as much as one might think. I only bring games that I have at home already, or ones that I made (I'm currently working on checkers sets using old fabric, paint, and bottle tops). I get everything else in bulk (cards) or from the dollar store (puzzles). I do spend some money on plastic bins to keep my puzzles in good condition. The box itself was a gift. 

Other Considerations

If this is something you decide to implement, I'd take a few things into consideration. There is no one answer to these, but I've attempted to provide my own thoughts on each issue. 
  1. How often should I have a regular R, R, and R day? I honestly base this on the class. I have been giving one every other week this semester, but, given a few factors, we won't be having one until next week. It really depends on where you and your class are. 
  2. What about special R, R, and R days, for example if everyone fails a test? We operate on the 80% rule. If 80% of a class doesn't make 80% or better, we take the burden on ourselves, rather than putting a retake or remediation on the shoulders of the kids, and work with the entire class. We had one such incident last year, which you can read about here. 
  3. Can kids turn in work anytime? Or just on R, R, and R days? Personally, I don't offer work unless on an R, R, and R day. If a parent emails, I talk about these days as well. If a student comes to me, however, and asks specifically, I always take the work. This happens rarely, as most kids get the work done on the R, R, and R day. 
  4. What about kids who take poor advantage of the system? We've always maintained the right to lessen these in frequency or to not have them should a student or a class take advantage. One of the reasons I am not having one this week is due to this very reason. We will have one later, but I am lessening their frequency since students do not feel like they need to take good advantage of the time that often.

Final Thoughts

Of course, however, I always bear in mind that kids are kids. One of the big reasons many teachers do not accept late work or offer retakes is because of the argument, "but this isn't how the real world works". And yet... it is exactly how the real world works. We receive and lose opportunities based on what we do and how we do it. We offer this day to our kids to allow them to show us what they couldn't do, be it on account of sickness, emotion, absence, or lack of understanding. These days take pressures off of kids who already feel overwhelmed at school - just like when adults take a "mental health" day (for example). When we miss a payment, or we fall on hard times, often we get a grace period, a fee (and a second chance), or, if we can work it out, forgiveness. That's what really stands behind these days: a chance for students to learn how to, and demonstrate, better skills, and get the help they need, just like we might in the "real world".

Monday, February 6, 2017

Comprehensible Input: Understandable Messages

This past weekend, Bob Patrick (@bobpatrick), Keith Toda (@silvius_toda), Rachel, and I all attended the Alabama World Language Association's 2017 conference in Auburn. We were all very thankful to have been invited to submit presentations and to have them accepted.

We decided to present a series on Comprehensible Input from a variety of considerations. Below are the titles, descriptions, and links to our presentations. If you have any questions, or if there are any issues with these links, please let me know in the comments below!

  1. Teaching with Comprehensible Input: Delivering Understandable Messages (Bob Patrick) As one of four in a series on Comprehensible Input, this session can be thought of as an introduction to or review of the basic principles of CI with examples of what they look like in a World Language Classroom. The presenter has been working with Comprehensible Input for the last 15 years. Over that time he has seen it move from an unheard of approach to a buzz-word that has entered common professional conversations among WL teachers. CI work is both difficult and dramatically effective. He will focus on helping teachers understand the principles of CI and how those principles can be turned into an almost limitless number of communicative workings in the classroom. Participants will know the working principles of CI with examples of what each in a WL classroom. Each will have continuing access to the presentation as a resource. Google presentation, discussion, brief demos, and Q and A. 
    Link to Presentation
  2. Comprehensible Input (Reading): Delivering Understandable Messages (Rachel Ash)
    Keeping readings understandable, yet still interesting and compelling to students, is a goal of Comprehensible Input. In this presentation, attendees will experience multiple reading activities that engage learners and reinforce readings, and leave with ready-to-use materials for their own classes. One of the most difficult aspects of teaching language with Comprehensible Input theory is creating meaningful repetition that is compelling and interesting to students. This presentation seeks to help teachers utilize activities that assess reading comprehension and create meaningful repetition without frustrating and boring students. Multiple reading activities will be demonstrated, and discussion of their purpose in class and within Comprehensible Input theory will help attendees gain better familiarity with CI and its application. Attendees will leave both with a better understanding of CI theory, and with multiple activities they will be able to use in their own classes immediately after the conference.
    Link to Presentation
  3. Comprehensible Input (Listening): Delivering Understandable Messages (Keith Toda) 
    As listening comprehension is an important skill for language learners, how can we as language teachers deliver understandable messages for the development of listening comprehension and of language acquisition? Come learn and experience Comprehensible Input listening activities which will both engage students and develop their listening skills. This presentation is designed to teach language teachers the importance of listening comprehension as part of Comprehensible Input second language acquisition. The presentation will begin with a short overview of Comprehensible Input theory and how listening comprehension plays a role in developing language skills. Following this, participants will take part in a number of listening comprehension activities which they can take back to their classrooms. Participants will gain knowledge of listening comprehension activities by taking part in them and experiencing them first hand like a student.

    Link to presentation
  4. Comprehensible Input (Assessments): What Understandable Messages Produce (Miriam Patrick)
    What comes after students receive understandable messages in the target language? This presentation will give examples and show what teachers can expect from students in a CI classroom at various levels and how output can be handled in various ways. Assessment is a large part of the classroom and teachers use it daily to assess what needs to be taught, retaught, or formally tested. Too often assessment has focused on getting specific data rather than using what students know to show what they can do and how classrooms should move forward. Participants will gain knowledge of ways to use assessment in a Comprehensible Input classroom and will walk away with ideas and examples for their classrooms. 
    Link to Presentation

Finally, a special thank you to AWLA for hosting a wonderful event and thank you Elizabeth Connor for the wonderful invitation! 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Task-based White Elephant

"Communicative Tasks" is one of those life-changing (or at least curriculum-changing) ideas: since listening to Tea with BVP and attending ACTFL a few months ago, I have been trying to figure out how to create comprehensible, compelling lessons with a purpose for my own classes. I've been working on the first two since I started teaching, but, aside from "to learn Latin," purpose has usually been missing from my curriculum.

But Miriam and I have been doing a book study lately using James F. Lee's Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms (hereafter TCLC), which is a textbook on using tasks to build your curriculum. And we read chapter 3. And went over our book study time limit by ten minutes--while trying to rush because we realized we had run out of time.

This chapter clarified the entire concept of tasks and purpose for me. I read it late the night before we recorded and got so excited about what I was reading that I scribbled notes all along the margin and then, after trying to go to sleep, wrote in the dark (after finding my handy-dandy pen and notepad by feel--everyone keeps those by their beds for midnight inspiration, right?) about the next day's assignment and about a much longer-term task-based and game-based unit that my students are almost exactly in the middle of right now (I'll write about it later). Then I still couldn't sleep, so I moved rooms and read about Alexander Hamilton for a couple of hours. And I still woke up functional and excited, because that's how I react to bringing something (relatively) new to my classes.

I have shifted paradigms. It feels like I was looking at a fuzzy picture and then suddenly it auto-focused (digital technology is cool) and everything made sense.

I have to change everything I do. I have to. It's the only way I can be sure I'm not wasting my students' time.

That sounds like a dramatic statement, but it's not as dramatic as it seems. I have spent almost fourteen years exploring the best ways to deliver comprehensible and compelling information to my students, supported in large by the research of Steven Krashen, and I firmly believe in the power of Comprehensible Input to make Latin enjoyable and accessible to my students--it's key to creating the kind of inclusive and low-stress environment I seek in my classroom. CI, at this point, is an assumed foundation of my approach to teaching language.

Tasks just add the blueprint. For example, the activity I had planned the next day was a take on "White Elephant" or "Dirty Santa" by Justin Slocum-Bailey. In short, students would choose stuffed animals, and other students could choose to claim a new stuffed animal or to steal another student's animal. Miriam and I thought this would be a nice way to ease back into using Latin the first couple of days after winter break.

Can I just say, as an aside, that I have been completely spoiled by my current teaching team? I teach with some of the best Latin teachers in the country and we get to meet and plan on a daily basis. I am super grateful.

After reading Chapter 3 of TCLC, I created this worksheet to go along with the White Elephant activity and designed a purpose for the stuffed animals--groups would be claiming an animal that they would then use the next day in a motivational poster. With this in mind, I asked students in groups to classify animals according to which adjectives they felt could describe them. This was followed by a whole-class discussion, and then, in groups, the students were asked to decide which animals they wanted most and why.

Only after all of that did I start the White Elephant game and, with the next day's project in mind, groups were extremely engaged. The important thing was getting and keeping the stuffed animal they had chosen, not just practicing and playing with the language. Latin became a means instead of an end.

The next day they created motivational posters (the instructions are here; we brainstormed about the two new vocabulary words first and then they created posters).

I am excited. I feel empowered. And very motivated :)

Our Latin-inspired senses of humor tend to be morbid.

Monday, January 2, 2017

There's More than One Way to Skin a Dictatio

"Dictatio" is one of the few words my students dread in my class. I'm going to admit that it's a nice break for me--requiring only voice and repetition and pretty much no creativity--and it sometimes finds its way into my plans simply because I need a day that does not require all of my energy. Dictationes fall within my Comprehensible Input toolbox because as long as I keep the vocabulary limited, the dictated sentences provide valuable repetition.

But students rarely enjoy it. Writing down a dictation is not a compelling activity.

I have tried to spice it up by making the dictatio its own story, or even a lead in to the main story I'm working toward but missing crucial information. That has its place, and it helps. But it does not keep students from moaning "eheu!" the next time they see "Dictatio" listed on the day's schedule.

This year I have only done a traditional dictatio twice so far, and I am working to slowly replace the practice completely for myself with equally low-stress but much more compelling versions of sentence listening and writing. There is something useful for acquisition in writing something down, and auditory repetition of understandable messages is universally good for acquisition. So I don't want to give up those strengths. I just want less "eheu" and more "euge" while students acquire Latin.

Keith Toda often cites Carol Gaab's statement, "The mind craves novelty." If I simply replace dictatio with just one activity and do it every other week or so, students will grow as bored of that activity as they are of dictatio. Instead, I've been gathering dictatio options.

With the new semester coming up, I thought I'd share the dictatio options I keep on hand. I hope to continue to add new twists and ideas to this list.

  1. Dictatio. This is the basic format of a dictatio, though I have seen it with a few variations (one of which is here).
  2. Running dictation. This is a paired form of dictatio, with a lot more activity and can be made into a race to add some drive. The short description is that students run to sentences posted around the room (or hall), memorize them, and repeat them to their partners, who then write them down. Find a full description here, here, and an extension here.
  3. Scrambled eggs. This is kind of a variation on the running dictation above; instead of posting sentences around the room they are folded in plastic easter eggs along with some duds. Find a full description here. Miriam and I have changed the dud eggs into stuffed animal interaction eggs (commands are things like: get your favorite animal, give the best animal to your teacher, etc.) and that seems to remove student frustration with the duds.
  4. Micrologue. This is an image-driven dictation activity in which you tell one student a story while other students write the story down, then review the story with the student, then let the students correct their writing, and finally ask the student who didn't write to retell the story to the class. You can find a description here, a demonstration here, and the micrologue I recently used with my students here.
  5. QR codes, pictures, and sub day dictations. Miriam recently posted a collection of three variants of dictation she uses in her classes here. All of them are great, but I used the QR code dictation in my class (called a "monster hunt" and linked on Miriam's post) and my students adored it. It had a purpose: gathering clues to guess the monster. More on that in a moment. That said, I think even had there been no purpose, most students were completely compelled just by the delivery. I'm doing this again next semester...once. This is a treat that I want my students to continue to be excited about.
  6. Pictura an Statua? This guest post by K.C. Kless has definitely been added to my rotation of dictatio substitutions and I can't wait to try it out. Students in teams either draw or pose to represent the sentences posted, allowing both movement and creative thought.
  7. Write or Wait. K.C. posted this activity on his brand new blog and I'm adding it here because it's a perfect alternative approach to dictation. Quick description: students get a certain number of sentences that they must write ahead and a certain number that they can wait and write with the teacher. Read the post here, it's really good.
I am continually looking for ways to bring variety to my classes, and I am working to make sure that every thing we do is as compelling as possible. The key to language acquisition is for students to forget that they are learning a language--that requires compelling activities and texts, ideally with a purpose. My recent summary of my ACTFL takeaways describes the importance of purpose and task-driven language teaching to student language acquisition.

One way Miriam and I were able to bring purpose to our dictation type activities last quarter was to either 
  • leave out key information and ask students to use the information provided to make educated guesses about the missing information OR
  • offer the description in its entirety and ask students to use the information to made educated guesses about the monster described.
Bill VanPatten encourages teachers to think in terms of purpose and tasks; Miriam and I are working on shifting our vision and ideas that direction. Another change and big idea to bring to my classroom--another reason to keep improving and making my Latin classes as effective and inclusive as possible!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Using Stranger Things' Demogorgon: Connecting Pop Culture to Ancient Authors

This group really did a great job finding themes to compare.
The end of the semester is tough; not only are students exhausted and stressed by testing (both standardized and local), but it can be equally difficult to time the end of new material so that it's familiar enough to be worth testing.

This year I found I needed a filler day--so I created a short, light lesson based on the recent popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I wanted students to recognize and think about the echoes of the Greeks and Romans that we still see today, and though it's easy to point at architecture and art, I like the chance to focus on some popular culture and an unexpected (i.e., not military or mythology-based) reference.

So I researched the Demogorgon.

Quick background clarification: I am a geek and I love most things geeky, including table top role play games. Especially Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (hereafter AD&D), my introduction to RPGs and the reason I got to know my eventual husband.

When we were watching Stranger Things and the Demogorgon became a central concept and reference, I was inspired to research the Demogorgon in Latin to find out its declension (not to use in class, but just because I wanted to know--I am super cool). Because I knew there would be a Latin version.

Something you may not know, if you are not my special blend of Pliny the Elder and AD&D fan, is that many or most of the AD&D monsters were ultimately derived from Pliny the Elder, after taking a quick detour through medieval bestiaries. My favorite example of this, partly because the connection between the AD&D Monster Manual to Pliny's work is so unmistakable, is the catoblepas, an animal described by Pliny as a slow-moving land creature with a head so heavy it can't lift it, which is fortunate, since whoever it looks at dies immediately (Naturalis Historia 8.77). Pliny's catoblepas definitely inspired medieval imagination, and finally Gary Gygax, the author of AD&D's Monster Manual, found its description in a bestiary and brought it into the game he co-created.

The point of this sidetrack is that only a very few of the creatures featured in AD&D materials are original; most of them come from Classical and medieval sources.

I liked the connections between depictions this group found
and the summary of Boccaccio's description.
So I knew that the word "Demogorgon" existed somewhere in Latin. And I wanted my students to feel that connection that I am constantly making between my every day experiences and Classical resources. I wanted them to see how ideas are transmitted throughout the centuries and to trace their paths.

And I really, really enjoyed Stranger Things. So this was an excuse to bring it up.

What I ended up cobbling together (this could be done much better, but I did not have time, so it's a shallow, mediocre version of what this activity could be) was a description of Plato's Demiurge, Boccaccio's description of the Demogorgon, a 16th century block print illustrating the Demogorgon, the AD&D description of the Demogorgon, and images of Stranger Things' "Demogorgon." Then I put students in groups and asked them to find connections between the depictions, either one common thread, or a separate connection between each depiction.
This group chose to condense the
depictions into one concise image.

I heard really great conversations as I roamed between the groups--the kinds of conversations I was hoping for--and got some great results that I've posted here and hung in the hall.

This is a good, almost no-prep, lesson that could be used to change class routine or just because you and/or your students are great fans of Stranger Things. The handout is here (Demogorgon Handouts), and the only other thing you need is butcher paper for each group. I let them use markers, crayons, scissors and glue to help them organize and present their thoughts on the connections between all of these varied representations.