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,

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