We Write, Too

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When I talk about our Spanish program with others, I often emphasize the oral components because it’s what was so revolutionary to me as a teacher. I want you to know that writing and reading are also essential elements of second language acquisition!

I remember my first questions when I was starting out was, where do they write if they don’t have any desks?

We make it work. Composition notebooks are great (see picture) as well as having a class set of whiteboards or clipboards.

When I first started out, I found it difficult to incorporate writing with my Novice-Low students because it was hard to explain directions in the target language. I soon realized I was asking them to do too much. First year students should only list and label in those first few months, especially. Prompts should be simple and responses need to be modeled and well scaffolded. Let me share two writing prompts my students did last week. One was interactive and the other was independent. Neither are things you wouldn’t think of yourself. I’m sharing as a reminder that in our program, we include literacy and that Novice-Lows can begin to write if we keep it simple.

Color vocabulary was coming up in our circle as students pointed to clothing and things in the room. Someone wanted to express what her favorite color was, she made some actions to relay to me that she wanted the word “favorite”. Once we started talking about “color favorito”, I had them grab their notebooks.

When I do a writing prompt, I always write up a heading on the board to help us stay organized. With the Novice-Low class, it helps me demonstrate to students what I’m looking for. It includes the date, a # (whatever the next number in the series is for that class), and a title.

I wrote a title of “Color favorito” and then listed every student’s name (and “Profe”). I used actions to demonstrate to students that they needed to copy what was on the board. (It helps that copy is a cognate). I also grab a student’s notebook and mime writing down while pointing at the board.

Then I called up a student and modeled the activity with that student. I greeted her and then asked: What is your favorite color? (in Spanish) And she responded “rojo”. I found her name and pretended to write “rojo” next to it. Then I modeled with another student. Students followed along and showed that they understood what to do. I had them get up and mingle to ask everyone. This gave them a chance to write words and allowed for repetition. My secret objective is that it also sets the stage for more activities using this survey format (and will require less and less modeling each time). .

Even though this activity took a long time to complete, students stayed in the target language because they had a clear task to complete that was at their level. They were also moving from partner to partner quickly. If you ever hear English popping up, my first inclination is to think that the prompt or activity is above their level.

After,, we made a circle and I asked some questions about the survey data. I asked which color was the most popular? Is there a color that wasn’t said? Who has the same favorite color as you? And so on. Because we were looking at the same data, the students were able to comprehend my questions and were excited to share out their discoveries. (Blue was the most popular and no one said brown or yellow).

On a different day (pictured above), I had students draw a person and label as many body parts as they could. Through games like Simon Says and “Head to Elbow” as well as movements in the circle, students have acquired a lot of body vocabulary.

First we brainstormed vocabulary on the board and then students drew people to label in their notebooks. I was impressed by the amount of vocabulary and by the accuracy of their labels when I looked at all notebooks.

Neither of these activities were planned out beforehand. I knew I had wanted to do writing with them, but I didn’t decide what we’d be doing until class led us in that direction. Of course, you could have these planned out, but I wanted to mention that often these activities are as organic as the conversations we are leading in the circle. As long as the teacher knows which level to work at, the content doesn’t matter much. More on that later.

What writing activities have you done with Novice-Lows in this first month of school?