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Shelter Vocab Not Grammar Archived Post 10.20.10

One of the challenges we face as teachers is finding ways to help students use their language to express themselves fluently. The best thing that we can do for them is to show them how to communicate with fluency with the language that THEY have acquired…to model for them what it might look and sound like. Susie Gross has often said….Shelter vocabulary, not grammar.

But what does that mean? In the past few years I have really practiced this…and I wish that I had “gotten it” earlier because it is an incredibly powerful change in my teaching. But what is it that I have been practicing? Let me try to explain….

In the book that we are working on in, the phrases “brings him/brings her/brings them” show up repeatedly. What I would like to do is to create opportunities to use these phrases over and over and over and over and over again.

It will work because these are high-frequency. It will work if I keep them in front of me…cognitively and physically. It will work if, every time I use them with students, they are comprehensible AND contribute to some sort of interesting interaction. Some opportunities…

Daily Routines:

1. We start the class with a message on the Smartboard. Here are some ideas …..phrases I could put on the opening message:

The teacher is ready to accept your homework. Bring it to her.

The miners brought rocks home from the mine. Why should, or shouldn’t, they bring them?

The students from France are arriving tomorrow! Our students will be bringing them to school.

2. We use signals to integrate vocabulary and structures and to refocus students on activities. Here are some phrases we could use:

I’m bringing them….to the party!
Bring them…with you

3. Instead of collecting papers from the first person in each row I can ask them to “bring them to my desk.’

Personalized Conversations (aka PQA)/Writing Prompts

I frequently start a conversation with students (or ask them to write a paragraph) that uses a particular structure…with this one I might try…

1. I just received an email from The New York Yankees. They want to come to watch their biggest fan (Dan) play soccer this Thursday. They will need a ride from the train station in Syracuse…..who in class can (will, would, should) bring them to school?

2. Our French visitors have a free afternoon on Friday and we are taking them around the area. They can leave school at noon and must be back for the football game at 7pm. You get to decide where we go….where should we bring them?

3. Silly Bandz is sponsoring a local contest. You can win $500 if you can write a letter that convinces our principal to put on 500 Silly Bandz and wear them to school every day for a week. What would you write in your letter?

4. Start a campaign to convince parents that they should no longer bring their children with them to every family function. What is a function that teens do NOT want to attend and why shouldn’t parents bring them?

5. School policy says “no coffee, no soda” in classes. Should students be allowed to bring them to class? Why or why not?


1. Day of the Dead….a great opportunity to talk about the ofrendas, the people who are honored and what families bring to the ofrenda.

2. Three Kings’ Day…another great opportunity to talk about a Hispanic holiday, who the Kings were/are and what children hope that they bring …


1. Headlines…a quick “Google”ing of the phrase “brings (or brought or will bring etc) them” in
Spanish brought me these headlines:

· Alejandro les lleva al paraíso (Alejandro Sanz concert…)

· Ronald McDonald visita a niños cusqueños y les lleva alegría (RM visits kids in Cusco, Peru and brings them happiness)

· The Cranberries, reunión y gira mundial que los llevará a España (The Cranberries reunion and world tour that will bring them to Spain)

And my favorite….

· ¿Es necesario que los escolares lleven el celular al colegio? (Do students really have to bring cell phones to school? …..)

2. Matching…I like to create short matching activities to use in little contests, extra credit opportunities etc…they are always easy, interesting, structure-focused. Here’s a sample:

1. My cat threw up three times. ____A. Bring them to a recycling container!

2. My Mountain Dew cans are empty. ____B. Bring them to school!

3. My clothes are dirty. ____C. Don’t bring them to your mother!

4. My Mercedes Benz needs a new owner. ____D. Bring it to the vet!!

5. My cousins are the Jonas brothers. ____E. Bring it to me!

Listening Songs….Again….I googled lleva+letra (Spanish for lyrics) and found….

Llevan por Raphael http://www.letras.com/r/raphael/hacia_el_exito/llevan.html

Mil Calles Llevan Hacia Ti por La Guardia http://www.quedeletras.com/letra-cancion-mil-calles-llevan-hacia-ti-bajar-89218/disco-vamonos/la-guardia-mil-calles-llevan-hacia-ti.html

Me Llevaras en Ti por Alejandro Fernandez http://www.quedeletras.com/letra-cancion-me-llevaras-en-ti-bajar-44250/disco-muy-dentro-de-mi-corazon/alejandro-fernandez-me-llevaras-en-ti.html

Imagine how powerful this kind of repetition could be with idiomatic expressions that just don’t “click” easily? It takes some practice to start “thinking” this way, but I promise you…once you get started it is a little like playing around with puns…you start to see them everywhere!!!

With love,

All content of this website ©Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Planning “Backwards” Archived Post… 3.23.10

(Originally posted 3/23/10)

For years language teachers have organized instruction by topic.  Sometimes the topic was a grammatical concept, other times a thematic vocabulary focus.    Many CI-based classrooms have moved away from that organizational structure.  For many teachers, however, the organizing question now is, where do we go?

New York State has identified four main communicative functions:   Socializing, Providing/Obtaining Information, Expressing Feelings and Getting Others To Adopt A Course Of Action.  It wouldn’t be too difficult to start a list of phrases under each category.

But when I tried to place my phrases from last week into those  categories it was a rough go.

To be honest, I’ve tried to organize phrases by at least a dozen different methods over the last ten years….and each attempt was a no go.

The CI seems to be like a slippery little creature, sliding out of my grasp and going right where it wants to go….not the way I would like it to go.

So for the last two years rather than forcing the flow of language, I’ve been tracking it.

The key to this is, without a doubt, “backward planning.”   I find a story with a great message or plot, a movie of great interest, a song with great appeal AND clear, comprehensible language AT  my students’ level.     I go over the piece phrase by phrase looking for:

  1. Repetitive phrases
  2. Idiomatic phrases
  3. High-frequency phrases
  4. Interjections
  5. Cognates
  6. Already –familiar or acquired phrases

Phrases A-D become my focus phrases.   I use those for PQA, Story-asking, Games, Embedded Readings, Powerpoint activities…..whatever my little teacher’s heart desires.

I wasn’t altogether sure that this sort of planning would work.  So I tracked the language we were addressing and the language that my students were acquiring.


Because the “curriculum” is drawn from real language the patterns that emerge are natural and high frequency.   Because the teacher the students had last year is incredibly intuitive, hard-working and student-connected, I start from a very good base.  Because I teach in a small department I have this luxury.   Because I have a number of years of successful students behind me I have this freedom.  I realize that not everyone does.

I still have to ask myself:  What is missing?  What else do they need to be able to understand and express?  How can I incorporate those?

But for the most part, things just fall into place.  When we talk about Finding Nemo, we  talk about fish and animals,nature and families, relationships and struggles.  We talk about meeting people, making friends, having dreams and making plans.  We talk about the order in which things occur and predict what comes next.

When we talk about the video “We Are The World” we talk about what different artists look like and sound like.  We talk about favorite singers, groups, songs and concerts.  We compare and contrast. We talk about international languages such as music and sports.   We speak in metaphors. We are the World.  We are the children.  We are Love.

When we sing Eres Tu, we are singing in similes.  When we read Casi Se Muere we imagine and describe characters and emotions.   We compare our travels to Ana’s and Ana’s last trip to this one.  We talk about making new friends, being left out, being scared, being nervous and how hard it is to do the right thing sometimes.  We talk about having crushes.   We explore Chile and volcanoes.  We talk about the lake district and the wine region and how much it is like the region where we live (minus the volcano!)

We were surprised and horrified by earthquakes and felt for earthquake victims.  We compared the nations of Haiti and Chile.  We talked about the challenges facing Chile’s new president…and ours.   We talked about what kind of clothing and furniture they might need…..and what we could donate.

And all of it will come around again when we watch Selena and learn her music.  In between we create original and personalized stories.   We told some, we wrote some and we read the ones that others told and wrote.   We extended skeleton stories and created artwork for our favorite parts.

Then, just to fill in spaces and have fun, we played games, read books on kindergarten day and sang somewhat silly songs.

The biggest problem?  Not enough time to do it all…………….

With love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.