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A Natural Approach to the Year

A Year of Lesson Plans for the First-Year Proficiency-Based Classroom

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Make this school year your simplest, most productive ever. Have a coach on your desk, holding your hand and giving you the next steps day by day. Pep talks, encouragement, and helping you to see around the bends ahead in your school year.

Ideal for a self-study, with cycles of self-reflection and self-administered professional development for the teacher. Use it alone or work with a colleague or Professional Learning Community to turn your day job into a yearlong workshop.

Make this year a time of tremendous professional growth for you, using this book day-by-day to propel you into a higher velocity as a proficiency-based teacher. Whether you are just starting out or a longtime teacher looking to simplify your preparation and hone your skills, this book will guide you day by day, week by week, and cycle by cycle through the year.

You can stop looking for the next activity to engage your students, stop the hours of digging through strategies, and rest yourself for a time with us, working alongside us through a year of simplifying your professional life. We think this is quite simply the finest proficiency-based professional development material yet produced.



"Ben and Tina have developed a program of language learning that has completely transformed my teaching in the best way possible. This book explains that method in a very clear, succinct manner. If you are a World Language teacher, you need to read this book and give the method a try. You will never want to go back to the textbook again after you see the change it makes in your students' language skills."

-Jennifer Cornell, Michigan

"Ben and Tina's book A Natural Approach to Stories was the reason I was able to completely transform my Spanish classes from teacher crested, awkward targeted structure-centered stories to student-centered and student-created stories that kids are truly interested in. I have read and reread their book and I can't wait for their new book! The appendices alone are going to help me be a better teacher!"

-Lisa Altic Wilson, Greenville, SC

" A new way to teach language and communication. These methods engage all learners in creative, full brain, immersion style teaching while still remaining comprehensible. My students enjoy my class now and talk about it at home. They are understanding and producing the language at a much higher rate and I am more engaged in class as well!"

-Laura Peterson Matthieu


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Ben and Tina
Ben and Tina

Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden are on a mission - to make your life in the classroom as simple and joyful as we possibly can.


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Sample:


Chapter 8
The Sequence of 30 Instructional Sessions

Teachers, welcome to Year One! In sharp contrast to more traditional world language programs, which often vary little from month to month, the program we share in the upcoming pages of this book grows and evolves, following the natural shape of the school year so that there is always an organic tone to our instruction. This allows the students to sense that we are teaching the right thing at the right time, that everything we are presenting to them has a time and a purpose behind it that make sense.

Our instruction thusly organized feels more balanced than it has in the past.Now we are able to respond to the changing affective needs of the classroom community as our students begin the year by getting to know each other and then come together as a productive learning team that supports each student’s individual creativity and imagination. Then, to end the year, we work together to create artifacts that motivate, celebrate and preserve our students’ creativity for the future and their desire to continue studying the language.

The First Six Weeks - A Special Time

The first six weeks are an especially exciting time in the classroom.You will be norming the group, igniting your students’ creativity, and cultivating group bonds.You will be building a platform for your teaching this year to get real lift off. You will be working on your delivery skills, one activity at the time, with this book open on your desk, guiding you step by step, on a recognizable trajectory to becoming your best teaching self.

This is the part of the year that will demonstrate the power of comprehensible input to your students, that will teach them how it works, that will build their confidence while establishing a positive and focused classroom culture, and send their brand-new language proficiency zooming up the chart.The activities are sequenced to make students feel successful, engaged, and part of a community.By learning these skills and strategies, you will be able to start speaking to your classes comprehensibly, in full sentences, about topics that are of interest to them, right from day one of class.

Even if you are working in a building with strict expectations around your teaching grammar, and you are not able to teach exclusively with proficiency-based strategies all year long, we encourage you to at begin the year with 100% language use, just communicating in the language in a comprehensible and engaging way, if at all possible.Grammar lessons are best put off until later in the year.Any discrete grammar instruction is always easier grasped when the students have first been given a rich bed of comprehensible input on which to base their conscious language study.

During the first weeks of school, all classrooms - science, math, band, and PE - are all working on norming the classroom, building community, and inculcating in their students a love of the subject matter.An observer who pops into a proficiency-based lesson at the beginning of the school year may even start to shift their mindset about what is possible in language teaching, once they observe first-year students happily participating in a L2 discussion or activity.We recommend fully immersing your classes in comprehensible language interactions, for at least the first six-week unit, if at all possible.If you do this, you will see something.

Students need to understand why listening is the focus of the first six weeks.So it is recommended that we take one day to provide them with a basic understanding of Second Language Acquisition (SLA).This metacognitive orientation is suggested on the last day of the first week of school, or about three to four days into the year, after a few days of acquisition-focused communication activities.

CI is unparalleled in building community, trust, and love of the language during the first month of the school year.So in that sense, the activities in the first cycle below deeply support our instruction for the rest of the year. This cycle builds a foundation of goodwill and feelings of success that support students’ growth for the remaining 30 weeks and five subsequent cycles.In doing so, it develops the students’ ear for the language, while building listening and reading confidence to prepare students for later independent reading.

A Note on How to Schedule the First Four Sessions

The first four sessions of this book were written to guide you day by day through the first days of class.It is recommended that you move through them at the rate of approximately one session per class meeting.We wrote these first five sessions in day-by-day detail in order to help you get your year off to the strongest possible start.Of course, you are the best judge of whether or not the suggested pacing is appropriate for your students.You might, even in these first sessions, proceed through them at a faster or slower pace than we have envisioned, taking multiple days for one of these first four sessions.

The fourth session is special.It is an introduction to second language acquisition and an overview of how things go in this class.It is conducted in L1 and is scheduled for approximately the fourth day of school, after the students have had a chance to experience a few days of acquisition-focused instruction.After completing the first four sessions,you might feel the need to move on, or you might just continue working with the activities in the first three sessions for a while longer, before moving on to the fifth instructional session.

Once the fifth session starts, the rest of the sessions are not laid out day by day.You will most likely spend three to six days (or even more) in each session, moving on when you sense that you and your class are ready.After that point, the more time you spend on each session, the stronger you will get with the strategies presented therein.You might not make it through all the sessions this year.That is fine.You will be strong with the ones you do use, and you can try different ones next year, to continually increase your repertoire of skills.

Instructional Session 1
Small Talk, Making Name Cards, Card Talk, Write and Discuss

Calendar and Weather (“Small Talk”)

On the first day of class, having greeted the students in English, checked to make sure everyone is in the right room, introduced yourself, explained where to put their things, etc., explain to them briefly that in this class we will be communicating a good deal in the language and that this is the best way for them to learn! Tell them that the first activity you will be doing is the calendar and weather, and then get right to it in that first class, even if it is only twenty minutes long. While all their other teachers lecture them on the first day, you will instruct them as quickly into the period as possible.

Tell the students that they simply need to sit back, understand the general messages in class, not every word, and that your job is to make sure they do not get lost.Tell them that you will not call on them to speak in class, so all they need to do right now is sit back and listen. Remind the students that they will spend most of their time in class hearing the language and using it, and that you are about to begin a portion of the lesson in which everyone will work together to keep the class speaking in L2.

Teach the students a “Transition to L2” signal. You can use any signal you want, but we have found that it is best for it to be both visual and aural, and this transition technique accomplishes that goal.For instance, raising your hand and counting 5-4-3-2-1-0. Some teachers like a call and response such assaying “Que pasa, calabasa” and then having the class respond “Nada, nada limonada.” Teach them the signal that you want to use, practice a few times, then off you go into their first L2 listening experience, - discussing the date and the weather, a very low key activity that the authors like to call “Small Talk”.

(Many teachers like to have a student take on the job of Class Starter, who gives the signal when the teacher points at them.If you do have a student take this job, it will be your first hire of the school year. Please see Appendix D, the Human Resources Manual, for more information on how to get your jobs program working in your classroom. This is a very important part of classroom management and student engagement, so please do go ahead and read the section in Appendix D on “How to Assign Jobs” right now, as you are planning your first day of class. Getting students assigned into jobs as soon as possible will serve you more than well this year.)

Once you have established the Transition to L2 Signal, and perhaps hired and trained your first student, you will begin with a discussion of the calendar and weather, also known as Small Talk.

We have found great success in having two calendars posted. One is a grid drawn on a piece of chart paper. There are no words, not even the name of the month on it, just a grid.We fill in all the lines, words, and numbers as we speak to the class. We can spell the words, and teach numbers through 31 in an authentic way, as we move through the month from date to date.

The second calendar is a pocket chart (these are commercially available for a modest price, a piece of heavy-duty fabric with clear plastic pockets for inserting words to display to the class) on which you can assemble sentences such as “Today it is __ the __ of __.”“The weather is ___ and __ and ___.” or “In my opinion the weather is__ (good/bad).” Into the pocket chart, we insert laminated cards with words like “hot” or “cold”. These words are written in such a way as to make the meaning visible. For example, the word “cold” is light blue and has a scarf on it and “hot” is red and orange and has a thermometer with flames coming out of it.

Tell the class in English that you will begin the year by talking about the calendar. This helps them to activate schema that are important to support their understanding. Never feel hesitant to preview an activity or story in English for your class. Tell them that you will begin speaking to them in the language now. Direct them in the language to look at the blank calendar.You will need to teach them “look” and “calendar”. Tell them: “Look at the calendar.” in L2. Then, in L1, say, “Regardez means ‘look’ so please show me ‘look’” and show them a gesture to represent "look". See that everyone is showing you their comprehension (repeat if needed, as today in these first moments of class it is of supreme importance that the entire class comply with your first request) and tell them to look at the calendar. It is often helpful for them if you continue to make the gesture as you speak, but we do not recommend having the class gesture along with you.

When we speak about the calendar and weather, we do so in a slow, animated voice, with lots of pointing and pausing. We write the needed words into the blank calendar, such as “August” and “Monday” and the numeral that denotes the date, and perhaps the word “hot” and/or “sunny”. We then move to the sentence pocket chart and insert the facts into the sentences, perhaps asking the class to vote on the weather and if it is good or bad. Then we read the sentence to the class. Students might want to join in, but it is not recommended that you make it a requirement, and never an individual activity at this point in the year. You can watch a video modeling Small Talk at www.naturalapproachtotheyear.com (NOTE: Website is not finalized yet.)

You will notice in the video that you are not expected to teach certain words, just to communicate with them about the current state of the time of year and of the weather. The focus is on communicating, not on teaching. The conversation might go something like this (with long pauses of two or more seconds between words in these early stages of them listening to you as you first speak the language):


The month ... is … August. (Write August and spell it) A-U-G-U-S-T.August (point to August) … is … the month. (Write “month” and draw a line to August)
Class, “month” in English?
[Some kids call out the word “month”]
Yes, class, the month (point to month) … is … August (point to August).

You have arrived at a good time, having established with perfect clarity to all the students in the classroom what month it is in the TL, to take a nice deep breath and to smile approvingly at your students. In those moments, much information is conveyed, that: 1) the class will be conducted in the target language, (2)the mood of the class will be positive, (3) the students will not need to “think” as much as “feel” the language in order to get what is going on, and (4) the students will therefore be able to understand without effort and that you, not them, will be responsible for those things happening in that way. More on what is happening in these first critical moments of class - what the authors call the “norming” of the class - is addressed below.

Returning to the calendar activity, say to the class:

“It’s 2018!”(Write 2018 or whatever year it is)“2018!”) (point to 2018 on the second calendar.)
“Today … is …. Wednesday.”(Write Wednesday and spell it).“Today ... is … Wednesday.” (point to Wednesday).

“The date … is … the 27th” (Write 27)“Today … is …. the 27th of … August.” (point to August) ..., “2018.” (point to 2018).“Wednesday” (point to Wednesday) ..., “August” (point to August) … “27.” (point to 27) .., “2018.” (point to 2018).

“Tomorrow ... is … Thursday.”(Write Thursday and spell it).“Thursday (point to Thursday) ...is … tomorrow.”

“The date ... is … the … 28th.”(Write 28).“Tomorrow … will be … Thursday” (point to Thursday)..., “August (point to August) … 28 (point to 28) ..., 2018” (point to 2018)


Note: Resist the temptation to interrupt yourself with “Class, did you notice that I said “will be” for tomorrow, and “is” for today. Now, “will be” is the future tense...blah blah blah. What a mistake! This is the Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of all foreign language teachers, this strong desire to pull the students’ focus away from the message and onto the vehicle being used to convey it. Just keep your instruction going. You can easily discuss grammar during the later Reading Options. Right now it is important to get the. students to focus on the message, and to almost forget that the messages are being conveyed in another language.

Not only do such pop up explanations ruin the flow, they can also work to erode confidence:students who didn’t notice the slight change in “is” versus “will be” (this represents most of them unless you are teaching at the Magnet School for the Linguistically Nerdy) might feel momentarily stupid for not remarking on what is at this point very unimportant instruction.

“Class, (point at the square on the calendar for today) … is today .... Wednesday (point at Wednesday) … or … Thursday.” (point at Thursday)?

“Is tomorrow (point at the square on the calendar for tomorrow) ... Wednesday (point at Wednesday even though you just pointed at it ten seconds ago) … or Thursday?”

[In English] “Class, “chaud” means “hot” (assign a gesture). Show me “chaud”.”

“(L2 word) means “cold” (assign a gesture). Show me (L2 word).”

“Show me “chaud”, show me ”froid” show me “regardez [note:”looks”]”, show me “chaud”, show me “froid”.

[Back to language] “Class, is … today (touch today’s square on the calendar) … hot (teacher gesture) … or … cold (teacher gesture)?”

“Yes, class, … it is … hot (write hot in the language on today’s square).”

“Is it hot? Yes .. or … no?”

“Yes, it is … hot!”

“Clap for yourselves!” (gesture clapping)

“You are smart!”(write smart on the board maybe with English if it is not a cognate)

“Smart in English?”

[Some kids call out “smart”]

“Yes! Smart.”

“Is it … cold (teacher gesture)?”

“Smart! (touch the word smart) It is … not (shake head or make a “no” gesture) … cold (teacher gesture)!”

Your Highest Priority

During this critical first lesson of the year, your most important objective is NOT to teach any language. Rather, you are establishing expectations of how the class will go, and starting the process of establishing and reinforcing behavior expectations. This means going to your big classroom management guns on the first day of class: the Classroom Rules.

The Classroom Rules are posted on your walls close behind and in clear view by everyone in the class. These rules have been identified and refined through many years of teaching:

1. Listen with the intent to understand.
2. One person speaks and the others listen.
3. Support the flow of conversation.
4. Do your 50%.
5. Actors and artists – synchronize your actions with my words.
6. Nothing on desks unless told otherwise.

Of supreme importance is that anytime even a single student is not following these rules, you MUST make it your highest priority to stop instruction immediately, walk over to the rules, silently point to the rule being violated, and smile at the whole class in a general way, with a special little follow-up “knowing smile” to the violator. You must train yourself to NEVER get too swept up in your message and thus “overlook” or “not notice” the infraction. You must consistently, and with absolute fairness, like clockwork, stop instruction and walk to the rules every single time anyone violates the rules even for a fraction of a second.How can you create the mental space to notice that a student is violating the rules for just a tiny second?

It is suggested that the reader go back and re-read the above paragraph. Ten times.

Other related points about these most important minutes of the year:

(1) You go slowly.Going slowly is your second most important objective. You want to speak slowly enough so that you have the time, in the spaces between the words, to take a nice deep relaxing breath, sweep the room with your eyes, and notice if anyone looks like they are lost or like they are getting ready to talk to their neighbor or slouch down in their seat.

(2) Consistency and fairness are KEY here. You must not let any infraction slip by, no matter how minor. Students must know as a certain, inevitable fact, that you will enforce the rules each and every single time.

(3) You must enforce the rules calmly and predictably, without even a hint of anger or annoyance. Students must gain the feeling that you almost expected the infractions, that they are not “bad kids” or disappointing you, but that you simply will insist on silence and calm for the language acquisition to work. So, take a calming deep breath, walk slowly and deliberately to the rules, point and take another deep breath, and smile at the class.

(4) Even if you do this every three seconds, smile as if you have all the time in the world. You do, really, because if you do not norm the class’s behavior in this critical first part of the year, it will be very difficult indeed to provide any comprehensible language for the rest of the time you have with them. You won’t be able to! This is serious. Write it on your hand, put posters up around the room to remind you, do whatever it takes to shift your mindset from teaching to behavior management training until they get it and your teaching rocket can truly lift off within a week with a well-trained class that expects to be a part of a focused conversation in the language. There is nothing more important.

In these first class sessions, you might not “cover” much “material”. Even if you only “cover” the calendar and weather and ONE student’s card (the “Card Talk” activity, also used on the first day of class, is explained later), but you consistently enforce your rules, you are winning at teaching. There is no other way.There are no shortcuts.Some classes are going to resist your command longer than others - the ones with the oppositional “leaders” in them.

Some classes are going to blast right off and zoom through the suggested activities in this book at a fast clip. Others will be working on Small Talk and Card Talk for a full week before you will want to move on with them. It’s not a punishment; it is just reality. Some students will need to test you more than others. Some classes really make us earn that (none-too-large) paycheck! Those classes do not need a scolding. They are doing their best, believe it or not. They simply need a different experience from you to become the class you need them to be. They have more growing to do as people.

As language educators, we are called to not just fill not only our students’ brains, but also their ability to be present in community in a group. That is the nature of language. Communication requires community unlike, as in our students’ other classes, just showing up in an isolated way. Classroom management in language classes requires engaged students who, by the very fact that they are engaged, do not cause disruptions.

So, give to each class according to their needs. And progress through this suggested sequence of activities at each class’s different pace. There are no worries if one class has not “covered” the same activities or words or language structures by the end of a certain cycle of instruction. No worries at all! Our job as proficiency-oriented teachers is to deliver interesting comprehensible input in a calm, supportive, safe environment. That is all.

Thus, if one class needs to go very slowly and needs the activities to be kept very simple, and so by the end of the first six-week cycle they have only progressed through Small Talk, Card Talk, and perhaps some Write and Discuss and Mysterious Person activities (all discussed later in this book), then their assessments will be based on listening, reading, and writing that uses language that the class has been using in class only up to that point to do these activities.

The point cannot be reinforced enough - there is absolutely no need to force a class forward through any suggested activities if it creates a situation where it is difficult for you to do Job Number One - training them constantly in how to meet your expectations, in every instructional minute of those key first few weeks.Do you really think it possible to teach something as infinitely complex as a language to a class and have them all progress at the same rate? That is crazy!

These first days are Tough Love time. It is time now for you to be a firm, gentle, unflappable leader.Now you are laying down the foundation for your entire year. No curriculum, no words, no activity, is more important than laying that foundation. Without it, your house will crumble on its foundation of sand, when the tide comes in, after the honeymoon period is over (mid September to late October), when the students finally know that you did not really mean for them to listen with the intent to understand, but that they need to listen with focus only in certain classes but not all the time, only when you are well-rested, or when you remember that your job is to compel their attention so they can learn. No. They must be taught in those very first days that you will not allow them to be off task (their task in your classroom now is almost entirely going to be listening).

If, in these first lessons, you do not establish for the students as an unassailable fact that the atmosphere during class time is one of absolute focus on the conversation, you might as well just save yourself some anguish and pull out the worksheets and have them sit and chat as they do some word finds or holiday coloring. But if you are serious about providing high-quality, creative, student-driven, engaging language experiences that year, then make it your mission to tame the class as described in this chapter in the first days and weeks of school, whatever it takes.

If you spend 50% of your time in Period 4 standing by the rules, silently pointing and smiling, so be it. They may be your most hard-headed class. Fine. Do it. Stand by the chart and point.If, three weeks into the year, Period 3 is laughing it up with stories and Reader’s Theatre and art and actors, and Period 4 is still doing Card Talk and Small Talk and you are still working on their behavior, so be it. Every class is unique, and every class will need something different from you. Give it to them. Accept reality, accept your job to meet each class where it is at, roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath (lots of them, actually), and get in there and train your classes.

Whenever the training takes too much out of you, then by all means, take a break. Give your students written work (Some ideas for seatwork are found in the Bail-Out Moves in Appendix H) and take it easy for a day or so. You are in this for the long haul. Preserve your energy for the entire year. You are starting the game now and there is no relief pitcher. It’s all you, all year. Train them now, train them well, train them for as long as it takes. And don’t try to keep all your classes on the same activity. Each class will need different kinds of training. Some classes “play the game” and get with the program fast, and you can zoom into the activities and stay there for the rest of the year. Others need a slow and steady diet of consistent discipline, interspersed with seatwork so that you can maintain the energy needed to teach and train them.

Done slowly enough and with both eyes fully on the critical classroom management piece, the Small Talk activity provides the brand new students with a strong demonstration of the power of their brains to process the sounds of the language. Once the students understand the rules and trust that you will make your messages comprehensible, it is time to have them write/sketch on their information cards. Do not try to conduct the instructions for this activity in L2 and especially do not try to get the students to use the L2 during the time allotted for drawing.In our experience, on Day One, those are both exercises in frustration. In fact, we never force student speech output. Ever.

Card Talk

You will now transition back into L1 (English for us) to set up the students’ name cards for the next activity, Card Talk.The cards are simple cardstock or even just paper folded over (it is nice to have a different color for each class) on which the students write their name in big letters with a marker and draw something they like to do as well as a food they like.These cards will become a strong part of your curriculum for the next few weeks, but one lasting only about eight to twelve minutes on any given day.

Speaking in L1 (which, for the authors, is English) tell the class that they are to get a card, fold it in half so that it can stand up, write their name big enough for all to see it, and sketch one or two things that they like:foods they like, activities they like, books or movies they like, etc.Tell the, that you will give them just a few minutes, to complete this task, and so they should work quickly and make simple sketches.The most important thing for them to do is to make sure that their name and the sketch is bold so it can be seen by the entire class because you will be using these as visual aids in class.It is important that they know you will be using these in class, so they can sketch things they want the class to know about.

During those few minutes, watch the students’ behavior, and make a mental note of who seem to be the kids who are negative leaders (those kids who will enlist others in disrupting, usually active and popular funny kids) and those who seem withdrawn and sullen.For this reason, in order to allow you the opportunity to observe the students’ behavior, it is recommended that you put the cards and markers in a central location so that the students need to get out of their seats and move, so you can observe them during unstructured time.This small unstructured time is a good opportunity for you to begin identifying students who might be in need of behavior support this year.They will, of course, be speaking in English during this time.After about four or five minutes, we generally check in to see if they are ready to move on.

Once the students have filled out their cards, remind them of the L2 signal (e.g. counting down from five to zero).Then, with some dramatic fanfare, give the L2 signal and wait for perfect silence before you proceed.If they do not give perfect silence, simply tell them, in L1, that they need to try again.

Once students are ready, look around the room in admiration at the students’ cards.Choose a student’s card and look at it with an expression of real interest on your face.If you have a tough kid in class who looks like they might “need a little help” developing a positive relationship with you or others, or if you have identified a potential negative leader, you might find that picking their card first and making them “famous” to the class works wonders to improve their attitude and buy-in to the class.Look at the card as if it contains fascinating information.Announce to the class in a tone of wonder that the student, for example, plays basketball.You will most likely need to write “plays soccer” on the board. Do so in both languages, even if the words are cognates.You might want to use some Total Physical Response (TPR) inspired gesturing to reinforce the verbs that come up in the activity.

A note on TPR:When we introduce a new verb, such as “likes” or “plays” (two common words in these activities) we can quickly assign a small gesture such as tapping the heart for “likes” and pretending to throw a ball or play a piano for “plays”.We can tell the class “‘Le gusta’ means ‘likes’...show me ‘le gusta’.” and have them gesture with us a couple of times.Then when we introduce a new verb, for example, “plays,” we can say “‘Juega’ means ‘plays’...show me ‘juega’.Show me ‘le gusta’.‘Juega.’‘Le gusta.’‘Juega.’” and move on with the instruction.Before too long, you will have a nice little collection of verbs to cycle through, and can use the TPR breaks as a little interactive brain break here and there.It is recommended to always end with the word that prompted the cycle of TPR, to transition back into the flow of instruction.On the website www.naturalapproachtotheyear.com you can access a video that models TPR breaks.

Ask the class questions, writing down the “big” words on the board.“Big words”are the “meaning-bearing” words, not the little language parts that tie them together.For instance, if a student’s card indicates that they like sushi, and you will say in French “Bill aime le sushi” you would write the “big words” - “aime/likes” and “sushi” - and not “le” or “Bill”.The big words are not always the verbs. In the sentence, “Bill is tall” you would focus more on conveying tall over the verb is.The verb is understood automatically.When will the students learn how it is spelled?Later, when they read.

Then, slowly and carefully pointing to - putting your hand on the words on the board for clarity as per the “Walk Before You Talk” strategy mentioned earlier in this book, talk about Bill’s love of sushi in an admiring tone of voice.If Bill is eager and appears to be a student of good will, you might ask him a few yes/no questions, for example if he has eaten sushi in Japan.In that case, you would probably write “mangé/eaten” and “Japon” on the board.Take your time. Only ask questions that you actually want to know the answers to. Don’t fake it with your students. They see.

You may want to ask the class questions about Bill.For instance - does Bill like sushi or does Kendra like it?By the way, Kendra, do you like sushi too?Has Bill eaten sushi in Japan?Has Bill eaten sushi in Portland?What is Bill’s favorite restaurant?Would Bill prefer McDonald’s or Fish Train Restaurant?There is no set number of questions to ask, not is there a particular order to them.It is a question of developing your intuition about whether or not the class is still interested in the topic or if the energy indicates that you should move on.After a while, move on to another student.Keep your speech slow but the pace of class snappy.At www.naturalapproachtotheyear.com you can access a link to a video modeling Card Talk.

Important note: If a student, Eric, is not of good will, you can still talk about him, and in fact it is critical to involve the marginalized students ASAP, but we recommend that in the case of a non-eager, unsmiling student you not ask them individual questions, but rather whole-class questions.Examples of whole-class questions are: “Does Eric like sushi?Raise your hand if you like sushi.One, two, three, four, five, six.Six people like sushi.Eric, look, there are six people who like sushi.Sushi is popular (write popular on the board) Who likes Fish Train sushi?One, two.What kind (write kind on the board) of sushi do you like, Samson?Oh, class, Samson likes Japanville Sushi!”In this way, you involve Eric but do not allow him to respond individually and potentially pull down the positive emotional tone in the room. If another one of the students is eager to play along, you can ask them individual questions.

One trick to edge closer to Eric’s wanting to be involved is to ask a third party (a fellow sushi lover) what kind of sushi Eric likes.The student will not know or offer an answer.In both cases, you can verify with Eric.Generally, Eric will tend to be more eager to respond to a peer’s genuine interest in him than a teacher’s question.Many an “Eric” has thus been tamed by his peers in this way.

Card Talk can begin to weave connections between students based on mutual interests.If Lakeisha likes soccer, for example, we can ask the class, “Does anyone else like soccer?”And we can tell Lakeisha to look around the class, mirthfully pointing out to her that Mei Mei and Charlotte and Ainsley and Demarkus and Demetri (and as many as 20 other students if you teach middle school) also like soccer.This helps students to make connections, and could perhaps spark some new friendships.

We can also ask the fellow soccer players follow-up questions on their feelings about soccer.With sports, it is always fun to learn who likes playing, who likes watching, and who likes both.Favorite teams or the name of their team are also interesting topics.It is often fun to ask if anyone in the class or at the school is on their team.Note the key word here - “fun”.As stated, if you don’t really care to know the answersto the questions you are asking, the students will see right through that.

With cards reporting artistic endeavors, it can be fun to ask the original student and any other fellow actors or singers or artists or musicians if they take theatre or art or whatever at school, who is in their class, etc.It can be fun to ask about their favorite films or media or type of music, or if they rent or own their instrument, and if they like listening to recordings of others playing the instrument or just playing it.

Of course, you will not ask all these questions on the first day of class!You might put them on a list and keep them handy to use after a couple of days of more basic Card Talk.On the first day, it is suggested that you ask the kids to vote and have the original kid look at their peers and point out that “Demarkus likes soccer too!Clap for Demarkus five times!”and “Charlotte also likes soccer!Clap for Charlotte four times!”


The option of clapping a certain number of times is universally-loved.It’s so easy to do.We never even need to write the words “clap” and “times” and such on the board.We simply gesture “clap” and show the times on our fingers.We count the claps and thus the seeds of knowing the numbers are planted.If you are feeling it, you can ask the class to clap three and a half or five and a half times.This is usually good for some laughs since it is so ridiculous and also because there are always a couple of kids who accidentally clap that last time, which is pretty funny too.

We also ask our classes to simply applaud their peers, or even to applaud themselves for being so smart or awesome.It is a good idea to tell them to clap, then as they clap, say, “No, no, no!Clap a LOT!” and then, “No, no, no, class, clap with ENTHUSIASM!” or “No, no, no, class, a BIG round of applause!”Not only is this fun, but if you routinely exhort your students to clap more enthusiastically, then it is not embarrassing when, as sometimes happens to the more socially-isolated kids, they receive an initially-tepid round of applause and you have to make the class do a re-do to give the recipient of the applause a good feeling of recognition and approval.Asking the class to applaud with more enthusiasm on a regular basis normalizes the practice for when you need to deploy it for real to make an isolated student feel appreciated.

Speaking very slowly and taking deep breaths, and allowing silence to drop like a gift in between each word, will mean that you do not just zoom through conversations about students’ cards.Be resigned to that fact. Embrace it. Some teachers don’t finish the Card Talk activity until May each year. Doing that is recommended! It can help you to develop the skill of recycling previously-established information.Simply think back to the previous cards, perhaps looking through a stack of them in your hands, and review for the class what they have already learned.Students generally enjoy this review, since listening to a new language is hard - rigorous - work. The United States Department of State defines rigor not in terms of quantity of work but in terms of “sustained focus” and other qualities that fall exactly into line with what we ask our students to do in our comprehensible input classes.

Because communicating in a new language is such rigorous work, you will want to give your students processing time in their L1.Simply say, when you sense that the class in general needs an attention reset, “Turn and tell someone what we have learned about the calendar” or “about Darius” or “about Bea and Izzy.”

Write and Discuss

If the energy wanes, or when you notice there are twelve minutes or so remaining in class, simply pull out the document camera and write or type out some sentences to describe the date, the weather, and the facts that emerged about the students in class.How simple!Show the kids that what they can understand with their ears, they can also understand with their eyes!How cool is that?

Write and Discuss is a literacy strategy wherein the instructor writes in L2 with the input of the class.In Write and Discuss, the teacher guides the students to co-create a text, using a series of questions.By asking questions and filling in the class’s answers, you re-create the day’s experience together in writing.

For example:

Write:The Tale of Spanish Class - Friday, August 29

Say:“Class, is it hot or cold?”

Class:“Hot”!

Write:“Today it is hot.”Say the punctuation as

Say:“Class, is it cloudy or sunny?”

Class:“Cloudy!”

Write:“It is cloudy.It is not sunny.”

Say:“Class, does Andre like football or karate?”

Class:“Karate!”

Write:“Andre likes karate.”

As you write, from time to time, it is suggested to read to the students from the beginning, to recycle and repeat and reinforce the previously-written language.

After the text has been created, it becomes an instructional tool with many uses.We will explain in much greater detail the reading options as the year unfolds.For now, you might have time to read the entire page to the students.You might have the students translate words or phrases from the text, speaking chorally as you point to them on-screen.You might conduct a short class discussion, asking yes/no or either/or questions in L2 about the text and having students answer with one word.(You can even point to the answer in the text as you ask the question, to scaffold their success here in the beginning days of the year.)

Write and Discuss is a powerful way to end class with a double dose of reading and listening, and to provide a wrap-up of the day’s information.It also helps to demonstrate to the students how much they are comprehending.It makes the day’s discussion or story concrete.On the website www.naturalapproachtotheyear.com you can access a video that models of Write and Discuss using students’ cards.