If someone were to look at my Google image search history, they may question my sanity. (Well, that probably happens on a regular basis, anyway!) But I am a staunch believer in "a picture is worth 1000 words" in the language classroom. I love to spend Sunday mornings with some chill music, coffee, and my computer to root around the Internet for the wackiest, craziest photos I can find.
I have been presenting a lot on Movie Talk recently. (Haven't seen my MT session? You can see the presentation from VFLA this year here!) One of the things I discuss in the presentation is how I teach vocabulary and all of a sudden I realized that my approach may be worthy of a blog post! So, here you go!
The specific example of my standard in-class vocab introduction that came to mind was when I was doing the Movie Talk of the Monty the Penguin commercial. (If you haven't seen it, grab some tissues and check it out, and download my supplemental materials.) I was teaching the word "present." Sure, I could (and did) show simple photos like this:
I ask a lot of questions about the presents here. How many? What colors? How big? What do you think are in the presents? What colors are the ribbon? Is the present on the right open or closed?
You can certainly get a lot of mileage out of basic pictures like this. But....wouldn't it be more fun and interesting to show crazy photos? Like these?!?!
My Google image searches are extremely deliberate (and can be pretty darn specific!). Again, when working with the Monty the Penguin MT, I wanted to teach two basic word: "hides" and "plays." I chose pictures that contained vocabulary that the students already knew, or had simple cognates, so I could ask more circling questions around the images.
My students knew the words tree, boy, hat, cat, girl, little. So, my questioning went something like this. "Who is hiding behind the tree? Who is hiding under the hat?" (If I had a class that had already worked with prepositions, I could ask questions with longer answers: Where is the boy hiding? And if you want a good MT for prepositions of location, check out the Simon's Cat "The Box" video with ALL OF MY ANCILLARY MATERIALS HERE!)
For the "play" photo, I would ask about the number of people in the photo, little or big kids, etc.
Another one of my favorite examples of fun photos comes from my slideshow for the "Lily and the Snowman" MT. (Don't know it? Read all about my snowman unit, and steal my stuff that goes with it!) The word was "melted," but I also wanted to teach "to melt." What better way to show that than with...fondue! (And when the kids made the connection between the French and the English, well, the looks on their faces was priceless.)
We started with the photo on the left, talking about what had melted, under what circumstances things melt, at what temperature, etc. Then, before showing them the photos on the right (which I did one at a time), I asked them about what they would put in melted cheese. Then we talked about the first photo. I then asked them if there was anything else they would eat that was melted, and we brainstormed more possibilities for dippers for chocolate fondue. (Of course, I threw in some gross combos just to keep them on their toes and engaged.)
Perhaps some of these ideas got the wheels turning in your brain to explore some new ways of bringing new words/structures into your classes. What are some of YOUR favorite ways to introduce vocabulary?
When I post things, I often assume if what I put out there, especially with respect to brain breaks, already exists. So I am not taking credit for either of these ideas, because I'm sure someone else has thought of them before! Nonetheless, maybe with one more avenue of delivery or little reminder, they will move closer to the frontal lobe of teachers' brains and they'll implement them soon!
(Another post on Brain Breaks here.)
Aller-Retour/Chocolate - eyes closed
This is a classic language Brain Break. (I was so happy when I figured out a decent French modification for the Spanish Chocolate, and you can see this in action in my classes in the videos in this post.)
Annabelle (née Allen) Williamson's also has a blog post on this Brain Break.
The other day, when I had to be a student's partner because we had an odd number of kids in the class, I thought mid-play, "HEY! What if we were to try this with our eyes closed?!?!?!" Boom: added challenge.
Papier, caillou, ciseaux - teacher vs. class
Again, another staple Brain Break in many language classes. (And again, Annabelle has more variations here.) It's a fun one, but sometimes we just need a change. (And again, I'm 99% sure this is floating out there on multiple blogs. But again, even if it's a reminder for some, this post is worth it!) Soooo...the other day, when I wanted something super SUPER quick, we did it with a modification: me vs. the class! Students stand up where they are, and we do a giant game. I count (like a normal round-un, deux, trois, voilà!) and put out my rock, paper, or scissors on voilà. Students do the same, and whoever "loses" against me (i.e. puts out paper if I put out scissors) has to sit down. We can often get it so kids are eliminated and I end up playing against one student for a final round. But I never "get out." I explain to the kids that because I'm the teacher, I'm invincible!
LIFE HACK: I have found through personal experience that LOTS of kids start with scissors. If I happen to play when we do the "snake" version of this, I usually win the whole thing because of this little trick.
Do you have any other minor changes to other brain breaks that we can add to our toolbox?
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public PreK-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twenty-third year teaching, and twentieth at Marion Cross.