Monday, March 26, 2012

SCOLT2012: The Art of Asking a Story Demystified

Friday I gave a presentation at the Southern Conference of Language Teachers titled "Fabulas Mirabiles Rogare: The Art of Asking a Story Demystified".  I promised attendees that I would do a write-up of my presentation's topic.

My Introduction to TPRS

Before I first started teaching, but after I knew for certain that I would be a teacher, specifically a Latin teacher, I attended a class over language pedagogy.

I already knew that I didn't plan to teach Latin the way I was taught.  Charts and graphs are great for learners like me--I also can learn math from a textbook and love logic and grammar and rules.  I was, however, under no illusion that other students liked learning and applying rules like I do.  So I was looking at modern languages for inspiration, something that could help me take my own Latin knowledge (which was decidedly based in charts and puzzle-like analysis) to a place that included speaking, listening, and producing Latin.

Enter Jason Fritz and TPRS.  One day, in my pedagogy class, Jason was invited to take over the class and teach our entire 3 hour session to let us experience "Teaching Proficiency with Reading and Storytelling" (TPRS).  My previous language experience had included three semesters of college Spanish, but I couldn't even really respond intelligently to "Como estas?" (I still got A's--because of grammar!).  After Jason's lesson that night, I went home and spoke to my husband--who can understand some limited Spanish--for around 20 minutes purely in Spanish, repeating a story that we told together in the class.  I was sold, hooked, convinced, whatever word you'd like to apply there, I was it.  And I started working on ways to bring the method into Latin and into my future classroom.

I won't go step-by-step through my whole journey in the method.  There are still too few Latin teachers using communicative approaches, and at the time (nine years ago--a surprisingly long time in terms of Latin pedagogy) there were not many people around to help me figure things out.

Asking a Story--What and Why?

The aspect of TPRS that was most difficult for me to master--or to even wrap my head around--was the concept of "Asking a Story". How can I give students control over what we talk about and still make sure we cover the curriculum?  How can I, who had never been taught and only barely encouraged to speak in Latin, tell stories to my students that have not been planned out ahead of time?  And why should I try, when my pre-written stories seemed to make my students happy?

There are several really great reasons to ask stories instead of telling them.  The number one argument I'd make for asking stories is that they become compelling input--practice in the language that is so interesting that students, even reluctant students, forget that they're learning.  I had a lot of students laughing and enjoying my stories when I wrote them myself.  When I finally took the plunge and began to ask stories, the interest level and student involvement amplified hugely.  Students told each other about the stories they helped tell in my class and different classes began to compare stories and compete to tell the most creative and interesting stories.  And this is why the practice is compelling.  It's their story.  It gives them ownership.  Students choose characters, describe characters, choose actions, and ultimately create a story--in the target language--that is their own.

It's also personal.  The story is not only composed of information that the students provide, but often they put themselves into the story as well.  And, well, it's human to want to talk about yourself.  Even as adults, we generally like to talk about ourselves--how our day went, what happened at work, what we're interested in, what's our favorite food, author, vacation spot.  Students are generally in a very self-absorbed time of life: the time when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do.  So it makes sense that a personalized approach would be much more compelling and absorbing for them.


One of the most important aspects of TPRS and asking stories is to master the skill of "Circling"--the TPRS term for asking different questions repeatedly over one part of a sentence to cause meaningful repetition.

For example, if the image below were my focus for the class:

I do draw most of my own images I use in class; that said, don't be afraid to use images you find on
the internet; having a visual can really help learners focus their attention while you question them.
Then I might start the class by circling the images before we do anything else.  For example:

(While pointing to the image of the frog) Est rana.  Estne rana?  Ita vero, est rana.  Estne rana an elephantus? Ita vero, non est elephantus.  Est rana!  Estne elephans?  Minime, non est elephans, est rana!  Estne rana?  Ita vero, est rana!  Quid est?  Est rana!  Estne rana magna an parva?  (assume they choose parva) Parva?  Ita vero, rana est parva.  Estne rana parva?  Ita vero, rana est parva!  Estne rana magna an parva?  Ita vero.  Rana non est magna, rana est parva!  Estne rana magna?  Minime!  Rana non est magna, rana est parva!  Estne rana parva?  Ita vero, rana est parva!  Qualis est rana?  Ita vero, rana est parva!

The point of asking all of these questions is the great amount of repetition and reinforcement they provide.  After a conversation (during which, generally, my students are under very little pressure--they just have to answer "yes" or "no" or either/or questions most of the time) students have heard the focus word or grammar structure many, many times (23 times in the example above), have spoken it themselves a few times, and have had all of this happen with context and meaning.  They will, forever, know that "rana" means "frog" (as will all of my session attendees).

The basic approach to circling is to follow this pattern for all information you would like repeated:

  • Make a statement
  • Ask a question with the answer "yes"
  • Ask an either/or question
  • Ask a question with the answer "no"
  • Ask a question with the answer "yes"
  • Ask an open question (who, which, why, where, etc.)

Circling is, in my opinion, the first and most important art of TPRS.  Once you can circle without thinking about it, you have the ability to make anything comprehensible to your students, because you can, by changing the pattern of your questions and choosing probing questions when needed, keep them on their toes and force them to pay attention.  By repeating the concept in a way that sometimes, to you, will feel, well, repetitive, you offer students a safe entry into the concepts you need them to learn.

Scripted Stories

For a beginner, who is unsure about his or her ability in the language (like I was in Latin) or just not sure about asking stories in general, the best starting point is probably to script your stories.

When I started using TPRS in my class, my stories were extremely scripted.  I wrote the story, line by line, with circling questions included.  My students didn't mind that I would hold a piece of paper in front of me and read off it while we engaged in a story together.  I gave them just enough control that they got to name the characters and no more.  The rest of the story was mine.  It was still fun, and still much more engaging than reading out of a textbook (my stories tend to include death and destruction--I'm a Latin teacher), so they were willing to allow me mistakes while I worked on my language skills and on using a technique I had experienced once in the Spanish language.

That said, now that I have much more experience, I can offer suggestions to help you script a story that still leaves itself open to being "asked":

Give students choices by asking "either ___ or ___".  When you give students choices over any part of the story, they begin to own it, and limiting the choices lets you make sure that they fall within your curriculum and the needs of your story.  For example, if I need to make sure we practice Latin words for size (parva is "small" and magna is "large"), I can choose an object in the story and ask students "Is the frog large or small?"  I have then made sure we will be practicing at least one of those words, and more likely, both of those words in the story I've written.

Ask for details, not main story features.  Often, details add spice to the story, but they don't change the overall plot.  One of the easiest things to let go of in terms of control is location.  Where are these events taking place?  Only rarely does that part really matter, so let the students figure that part out.  I've had many, many stories occur in Antartica.  Other details, such as descriptions of characters, character names, adverbs, modes of transportation, etc., are easy to allow students to choose while still maintaining control over the story.

Ask questions that feature the grammar focus.  If your questioning is over the grammar focus, then students will really pay attention to that grammar, in context, without any explicit instruction to do so.  And, if you can get comfortable doing this, if you ask questions that allow students to substitute one correct grammatical word for the other, students get a chance to practice using that new grammar feature.  For example, if I want to feature the accusative case (the direct object in Latin has a special form), I can ask a question like, "Who punched Justin Bieber?  Oh, that's right, Billy punched Justin Bieber.  Whom else did Billy punch?"  which lets students create their own line of assaults on Billy's behalf that will lead to many, many accusatives.  They might not use the accusative right when they suggest the word, but when I repeat it in context, I will use the correct form, and they'll get used to it.

Unscripted Stories

The step from scripted to unscripted stories can feel really huge.  It feels like you're giving up all control, and I'll admit that I can be a bit of a control freak, especially in a classroom, because it's mine, my class, my lesson, my precious.

But all the control is not lost--it's just refocused and much more subtle.  Students feel like they're directing the story--it's theirs--but really, once you get good at asking stories, you are the director.  They do get to make many decisions, but think of it as more of an ad-lib exercise: you give them a setting and a challenge, and they work within those confines to make the story amazing.

Some steps to help you ask stories in your own classroom:

Keep vocabulary and grammar focuses visible.  This is something I brought into my classes mostly because I myself am a visual learner and if I can't see something, I can't remember it as easily.  I like to draw, so I draw most of my own visuals (it feels more personal both to myself and to my students), but if you don't, or you're afraid your stick figures end up looking more like trees or ocean views, you can find representative art on the internet pretty easily.  Even just a list of words and meanings can help--the goal here is that you have something to use as a quick reference when you are trying to remember what you should be incorporating into the story next.  Students often automatically use the list as well, and, since they are quick to pick up on the game, incorporate the words and phrases you need them to use themselves.

Stay in the moment.  There are two points here.  One is that you need to stay consistent--if you have already established as a class that the frog is small, you can't let another student change the frog and make it big.  If you allow students to change the story once things have been established, it becomes very confusing for your students.  Don't forget, they are all doing this in a language that they don't yet know, and changing the story around just means that they have heard two different and conflicting sentences--and that they don't know which one to agree with.  The second point is that staying in the moment allows some amazing storytelling to happen in your class.  If your class has a concept going and they're excited about it, try to keep that concept going as long as you can.  I once had a class that really loved to feature one student in particular in its stories.  This student appeared in almost every story, and eventually the class strung all the stories together into one semester-long epic story.  We then illustrated it as a class, and I made a copy of our novella for every student.  This sort of thing really sticks with students--only a couple of months ago, one of my students from that class (five years ago) told me that he had found it again.  He kept it for the same reason I've kept it--the story itself is fun, but the memory of making the story is even better.

Ask leading questions.  This is much like asking either/or questions to control the story.  If you aren't sure you like the way the story is going, or you need to make sure you include a certain word and the students just aren't gravitating toward it, this is a good way to get things rolling in the right direction.  For example, if we've been talking about a frog for a long time in a story, but I really need to use the word ox as well, I could do something like, "Yes, the frog is in the kitchen.  Is the ox also in the kitchen?"  Usually, students will say yes.  If not, then simply follow with, "Oh, he's not in the kitchen.  Where is the ox?"  Then the ox is part of the story, and students will work to connect him to the previous portion of the story that centered on the frog.

Wait for "cute" answers.  This is advice I got from Ben Slavic's book TPRS in a Year.  It's great advice.  No matter how hilarious you think you are, your students can make better stories than you can.  They are creative and there are usually around 30 of them in my classroom, so that's definitely a greater resource than just one person's ideas.  And, of course, then they have created the story, and it gives them ownership over it.  The kids who get to contribute ideas get to feel clever and special, and I try to make sure everyone gets to contribute ideas once in a while, though I can't claim perfection in that area.

The three basic storylines.  There are three storylines that I have used to help me visualize where to go with my stories when I get stuck.

  1. The Wild Goose Chase: The storyline suggested by Blaine Ray at his workshops, this storyline simply moves the story between locations.  There is a problem (someone wants something, someone needs something, something happens), and the solution is somewhere else.  So the story moves there, but it turns out the solution isn't there either!  So the story moves to a third place, and, euge!, the solution is there.  Or isn't, when I'm feeling mean.
  2. The Love Triangle: It's not just good for soap operas.  This was the first type of story I ever wrote for TPRS because it's just fun to use love to create miserable characters.  It can be useful as a motivator to have characters take different actions.
  3. Whodunit: Set this up with a murder, robbery, death, or something exciting, then let students decide what the back story is.
That's great, but how do I actually do this?

In my session, I had attendees circulate between sentences I had posted on the wall and practice both circling information on them and using the sentences as jumping off points to ask stories in small groups.

Since I can't do that here, I have the following suggestions:
  1. Look at a story or a sentence that you will need to use in your class.  Practice asking questions about the sentence using the circling pattern above.  Practice using different parts of the sentence: the subject, the verb, the direct object, a prepositional phrase.
  2. Meet with other teachers in your area who are interested in TPRS or asking stories.  It doesn't matter if you teach the same languages--practice on each other!  Find a starting point and practice teaching each other using this method.  You could gain an additional language while you're at it!
  3. Write out a story that could be used to introduce new vocabulary or grammar.  Choose areas that could use details and insert questions so you know to ask them when you get to that point of the story.  Choose a couple of either/or options to offer students as well.
  4. Just be honest with your students--if they know what you're doing and why, they are usually really willing to be guinea pigs, and supportive of your mistakes as well as your successes.  They will also give great feedback that you can use to help you improve.
Advice From Teachers

I asked my friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ what advice they would offer other teachers who are beginning to use TPRS.  Several answered, and I thought I'd post their suggestions here:

"When beginning to ask stories, always give a choice.  Does John sing or chant?  When the students realize that it is a 'game' to respond to the questions, then you can just ask the question, What does John do?  And they will 'get' it.  But remember that you always have 'control' of the story." Jody Klopp

"It is okay for the stories to be completely and utterly absurd, or even to make very little sense as a cohesive whole.  In fact, the absurdity is part of the fun." Irena Greenman

"I think the set-up is what makes the difference between success and failure.  Making sure they know that just because you don't accept an answer, doesn't mean you don't like them.  Conversely, you need to be super conscious not to play favorites and choose certain students' answer too often.  Also, don't go more than 4 responses without choosing one.  Otherwise it becomes all about the details, and the kids make it into a competition.  For beginners, I would severely limit the 'blanks' in the story, so it's more like a mad-lib.  Then gradually, as everyone becomes more comfortable with the process, open it up a bit more.  At root, it really depends on the personality of the class, how much freedom and power they can handle.  You have to know your students.  I would also say to a beginner that they should not feel they have to ask a story until they have spent a LOT of time doing PQA and circling.  Some teachers don't start asking a story until November." John Piazza

Final thoughts

This is by no means an all-inclusive guide to using TPRS or even asking stories in your classroom.  But I hope that it's given a more friendly perspective to those of you who are very interested, but afraid to take the first step.  Trying is enough.  Asking a few questions in a class period is enough.  TPRS is not exclusive--you are allowed to only use it for a part of your class period.  Using the method at all will have rewards that you will be able to see within a very short period of time, and that you will continue to see over many years.  It's worth the fear you might feel when you start speaking, or the discomfort when you stumble over a word you weren't prepared for.  It's worth admitting to your students that you don't know every word in the Latin dictionary.  When I posted my session topic online, Alyssa, an ex-student whom I taught for three years (five years ago), responded, "I loved TPRS!  As a student it was one of my favorite and most helpful teaching techniques!" 

It's worth it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Diigo - A new way of sharing links

Today I spent my morning and early afternoon at a learning day for one of the schools I teach for. We got to choose workshops to go to and, to be honest, I was in no mood to look deeper than the workshop title and, being in such a mood, I resolved to take notes and look up information later. As I play with these new techniques and ideas, I intend to share them with you all. Today's is a site called Diigo.

When I first sat down to play with Diigo, it reminded me of Rachel's post on Pinterest. Diigo is a site that allows users to "pin" things to a list. The main difference, however, is that Diigo allows users to bookmark websites while Pinterest focuses on visuals and pictures.

I love sharing links. If I find something useful, I want others to see it and respond to me with their thoughts. It helps me process things and see what others think of the things I come across. My only problem is that I'll save a link somewhere: in an email, in a folder, in a list of bookmarks, in a word document... only to then forget where I saved it when I need it.  Sure, I can save it my browser's bookmarks, but then I can't access it from a library, or other school computer, or even my phone (which I use a lot for work).

Diigo has provided an easy way for me to save links, share them, mark them up with my notes, and save them to a place that is universally accessible, even from my phone. Diigo is a quick and easy way to access information that you've marked without having to search through an infinite amount of space and is easily customisable.

The Diigolet menu
The Diigolet -- I love this! It attaches to your bookmark section on your web browser. When you find a page you like, you click on the icon and the Diigo menu pops up. You can do almost anything from that menu. From the Diigolet menu, you can  use the highlighter to highlight a word or passage, bookmark it in your Diigo file, add a sticky note to the page, share the link on Facebook, Twitter, email, or to get an annotated link.

If you choose to add it to your library, it will show up on your library page and you can then file it away in a neat little list. Your lists can be public or private, allowing you to share certain things with students, friends, and colleagues, but not everything. Similarly, any highlighted portions show up publicly, if in a shared list, but sticky notes are your own private notations. I suspect that it is possible to share them publicly if you upgrade, but don't quote me on that :).

How a bookmarked page with highlights and sticky notes appears on the Diigo homepage
Diigo site -- The site is extremely user friendly. There are tutorial videos and you can follow Diigo on Twitter (@Diigo) to receive live updates and help. From your library page, you can see a neatly organised list of your bookmarked sites as well as any highlights or notations you've made. You can see your lists and whether they are private or public. You can also, if you choose to, tag your sites to make them easily searchable. You can edit links, delete them, add sticky notes to them from the library page, and organise them.

The Diigo community -- This is a feature I am just beginning to play with. Diigo provides a way to follow other users, join and create groups, and look at popular links from other Diigo users. It is a great way to connect with other Diigo users and, quite possibly, stumble upon links that you didn't know existed.

Ultimately, I see great potential for this site. At the moment, I am organising links into general categories, but as I add more, I will probably make more specific lists. You can share lists using a permalink, email, or a social media website. I love that Diigo is so easily integrated into the other websites that I use. Instead of having to open six different things to save something, I can do it all on Diigo. I can see assigning students a project where they create a list of links based on a topic for other students to look at, read, and evaluate. I can also see this as a great tool for the student who wants a little more: a quick way to provide updated links without having to update your website all the time.

As I play a little more and see what the community features have to offer I will update everyone on Diigo and how I am using it. As always, I'd love to hear your feedback and any ideas you see for Diigo that I haven't yet :)


Sunday, March 11, 2012

WAYK - branching out and reaching out Part 3

First things first, a quick recap:
In my first post I talked about training with Evan and some of the basics of Where Are Your Keys.
In my second post I talked about how my students reacted and what Evan's visit did to the physical aspect of my classroom
In my third (this one!) post I plan to talk about things I've noticed in using Where Are Your Keys that work in the classroom setting and things that might need to be altered.

My + Δ  of WAYK
A caveat here: You will find that many things that appear on the plus side also appear on the delta side. They are two sides of one coin. They are things to notice and watch for. Also, remember that Deltas are not things that simply don't work, they are things to notice and consider how you might change them to work in your classroom.

I have listed all the technique in italics. At the bottom of the post I have listed each one alphabetically with a brief definition.

+ - Pluses -- That is: things that work

1. Constant Comprehensible Input - This is a great method for keeping things in the target language. Students are given easy ways to ask questions to pull information from you and each other. If they are unsure of something, they can go back to the most basic question, pull some information, and apply it to the situation.

2. Repetition - This method is an easy way to get repetition in. With technique 3 times, all new input is repeated three times. When you combine techniques like make me say yes, make me say no, and mine and yours, kids get even more repetition. By keeping the order the same, there is more repetition. The flow is natural, simple, and not high pressure.

3. It is not high pressure - With the addition of the meadow, the amount of repetition, and techniques like 3 times, pull me through, change it up, and slower, kids have many options of showing that they are ready to move on or need to have something done again.

4. It is great for a variety of things: Right now I use WAYK to introduce, practice, and review. I introduce vocabulary, then grammar. We practice in groups and use that as an opportunity to review vocabulary and then we review grammar again. Finally, I finish with technique: prove it and have the kids write their own scripts to show understanding. WAYK provides an easy format within which you can do a variety of things. By test time, the kids don't feel bombarded with material that they barely know and, if they do, it is easy to provide more practice without spending hours creating activities.

Δ -- That is: things that I could change for next time

1. It can get monotonous - I have found that in a classroom with students the repetition can get monotonous. They are learning the material, but unless you teach it, move on, and then return for a no pressure refresher, students get bored easily. I try to change it up by adding a new technique (like mine and yours) or using technique Change it up to get more quiet kids involved. Recently I did a mini project to do the chapter's vocabulary with WAYK where the students researched the word, sign, and visual and taught it to students. It really spiced things up!

2. Students can impede their own learning - Especially when doing small groups, kids will stick to their packs and stop focusing. This is where technique: ten feet comes in really handy. This technique keeps students focused and not concerned with how fast their neighbor is going. Change the groups as many times as necessary, change leaders, and keep groups at least 10 feet apart. I would change this slightly next time and change up groups to keep a flow going and allow mini breaks.

3. You have got to get creative -- This could kind of go into the monotony category, but I wanted to address it separately. I hate to hear groans in my class and so when I heard the first groan for class-wide WAYK review, I knew this was a delta. Inspired by Rachel Ash's post on learning centers, I assigned the previously mentioned vocabulary assignment. When presenting, the kids were put into "WAYK learning stations". Throughout the period kids rotated through, learning new materials, and reviewing material they didn't quite get yet. It was eye opening for me. I could clearly see which students mastered which skills. The fix for this delta is quite simple: keep it moving, flowing, and creative.

4. A clear visual is not always so clear -- Technique set up is so important, and then some. As I've played with this and worked with it I've discovered that finding the right visual is not always so easy, especially when playing with 30 other people. What signals "silentium" to me, does not signal it to student A and while most of us are pretty clear about the "curat" visual, there are a few students who cannot relate to the image being used. This can be good and bad. You can use it as an opportunity to check for understanding by providing a quick definition in the target language, by drawing another picture, or by acting it out. Sometimes, however, students will just shut down if others insist that the visual is clear. Be prepared to justify your visuals without impeding someone's learning process. Take into account that what might be one thing to you, might not to another. Adapt. Adjust.

I will continue to use WAYK. I will work towards a balance of this along with TPRS (teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling), TPR (total physical response), and others. I plan on more posts about specific ways I am implementing WAYK so that you can see how I am adapting and adjusting. I continue to look for feedback, suggestions, and criticisms so that I can improve and help my students achieve fluency faster. Keep your eyes open for  the next post!

3 times -- repeat all new information three times. If students signal, do it again.
Change it up -- This is one Evan shared with my in my classroom. When things get easy with myself or a student leading, change leaders. See how well another student does. Give him/her the opportunity to shine!
make me say no -- using the previous picture/object ask "is this a _________". It will elicit the response "No. This isn't a ___________ it is a ___________."
make me say yes -- using the same picture/object ask "is this a ____________." it will elicit the response "Yes, this is a _____________."
mine and yours -- Use this technique to ask "Is this __________ mine/yours?" You can pair this with make me say yes/no -- "Is this my _____________?" it will elecit (depending on the technique) "Yes, this is your ___________" OR "No. This isn't your _____________ this is my ______________."
No Pressure Refresher -- A great way to start a class or bring a class back from a break. It rarely increases the full level and reminds kids of just how much they remember and know.
Prove it -- A technique to let learners show they understand something. Allow them to create their own set-up and script.
Pull me through -- When a student uses this technique they are saying that they don't remember the next sign/word and are asking for help.
Set up -- this technique requires that you set up a simple and clear game space. Avoid distractions. If your word is "cup", get a cup... not a cup next to a coffee maker... not a cup with milk in it... just a cup. Simplify!
slower -- A student is asking the leader to slow down
ten feet -- To keep students focused on their own progress and less concerned with others' progress, keep groups at least ten feet apart.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Drawing" Connections

I am a huge fan of art.  I have drawn all my life--I can't remember a time when I didn't draw.  And I have always used art and drawing to help me connect to the world and to understand feelings and concepts that may not have been as clear otherwise.

Art is an effective tool.  Too often, art is pushed aside as unnecessary, a distraction from what is "really" important.  In the educational climate today, with a focus on "core curriculum"--a term that marginalizes other valid topics of instruction--many schools are shutting down art programs as well as other "electives".

But art is actually a great window into another aspect of brain function.  All too often in school we focus on using recall, memorization of facts, and don't tap into the creative side of the brain; whether or not you agree with Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, approaching information from multiple pathways builds more connections between neurons and simply makes it easier to remember.  When those pathways cross brain hemispheres, the connections are more varied and become stronger.

My students are tested with explicitly grammar-based questions.  I have been struggling with the best way to help them understand the grammar and still stay true to my wish that Latin instruction be about communication and using the language.  It's a difficult balance.  My upper levels especially have to deal with topics they never think about: the subjunctive mood, the passive voice, participles, etc., and they have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concepts in English--in Latin it becomes nearly impossible.

When I most recently lived in Oklahoma I taught in a small private school, and that school had adopted a program called A+ Schools.  This program champions the use of higher-order thinking and the arts, not only as separate subjects, but incorporated into the classroom as a means of deeper learning.  I experimented a small amount with art in my classes then, but really only started using it this year.

I was frustrated because my students had overall failed the previous test.  I was even losing sleep--which turned out to be the perfect situation to remember A+ and the idea of art infusion.  The next morning, I swept into the room carrying sheets of bulletin-board paper and gave the class their instructions: in groups of four, they had to "draw the subjunctive."  

Whenever a teacher asks anything that, well, weird, there are always protests and questions.  "How do we do that?" is the most common and obvious question.  And, since I really wanted them to internalize and think about the information and the ways in which it could be represented visually, I refused to answer that question.  In truth, there was no right answer.  If they wrote sentences and illustrated them, that would be fine.  If they created a flow chart, that would be fine.  Whatever path to visualization they found would please me, so I simply told them, "You get to figure that out--all I want is that it represent both the imperfect and the pluperfect subjunctive."  I knew that the completely new approach was uncomfortable for them--so I went around, reinforcing that I'm not looking at the quality of the artwork here (I love stick figures!), just the quality of the connection.

Unfortunately (perhaps tragically) I don't have any pictures of that first--and best, in my opinion--round of drawing grammar.  Since that first try, students are much more willing to draw abstract concepts, and several have approached me to let me know that it really helped them understand what we were learning.  It forces them to process information--even if, as in the most recent version of the activity, they were creating and drawing sentences more than interpreting grammatical concepts.

The success that my students expressed to me was reflected in their work.  After they had created their posters, students had no difficulties creating sentences using the subjunctive correctly.    

In addition, a couple of weeks ago, I created a "scavenger hunt" based on the posters my students had created.  The scavenger hunt really brought closure to the activity that I hadn't realized it was missing--so I will definitely be doing that again.  Since all of the posters are student-conceptualized and student-created, the scavenger hunt remained personalized and caused students to read each others' posters and interact more deeply with that information than they had beforehand.  As a bonus, students enjoyed the chance to have their work viewed by their friends.

Are there other activities that use art in this way?  I know I have taken this sort of large activity (that takes up almost an entire class period!) and minimized it into students writing and illustrating a sample sentence for a grammar topic (I did this last week as part of a learning station).  I have used other art forms (such as haiku--which is such a versatile poetic format!) that students must still use with the grammar, and asked them to create songs to reflect new grammar topics (which inspired me to create one myself).  What ways have you asked students to "draw" connections?