Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What's new in my classroom #3: Unsheltering grammar and rugs

This week, I want to talk about unsheltering grammar and the use of rugs.  Yes. Rugs.

In TCI/TPRS/CI/CCLT,* we often use the phrase "Shelter vocabulary, not grammar." Well, this is a fine saying, but what the heck does it mean? How can I shelter vocabulary when there are different words to use if I want to un-shelter grammar?  How do I not overload them?  If my class seems like they can barely handle the most common, frequently used words in the present tense, but not much more, how can I unshelter grammar?

This is something I personally have been struggling with since I started this journey.  How do I find the balance?  I mean, it seems to me that walk and walked are the same (camina and caminĂ³) but some of those other words are just..well, different.  How do I know what to do?

Last summer, I learned a great definition of "Shelter vocabulary".  This comes from the talented Donna Tatum Johns: to protect my students from words they don't know.

Ok, that sounds great.  I focused on that for a few years.  It is a hard skill to learn: how to stay in-bounds, how to use familiar words and add words as needed that are high frequency, and how not to end up with a board full of new words at the end of a class period.  It's taken me a while to feel like I am confident with this skill.

So what's next?  How do I "unshelter" grammar?  I know that lots of teachers use past tense day one with their kids.  How do they do that?  I know that some teachers use the subjunctive from day one with their kids. Um, how?  But if they can, I can.  (Of course, being sure about how to use the subjunctive in Spanish is its own separate challenge, but thankfully all the reading I do during FVR has solved that one on its own with no concious help from me. Krashen for the win!)

After playing around with some ideas, and attending a fantastic workshop session at IFLT18 with Donna Tatum-Johns, here are some ideas that have stuck.


First and foremost, and the rule that I keep in mind when unsheltering grammar, is to use words that they have already acquired.  They know walk, so walked is not a big reach.  They know the phrases "It is important" and "She is nice."  It is not a huge stretch for me to combine these to say "It is important that she is nice."  Especially if I am doing lots of good comprehension checks.


Talking about the past
I *always* do two of the three following actions when I use past tense.
  • I move to the rug that says "pasado."  Slowly. Sometimes I move back to the middle of the room and slowly move back to the past tense rug, and repeat the sentence again.
  • Past tense rug
  • I gesture one hand over my shoulder to indicate past.  (I do this if the classroom is not set up for me to easily move to the past tense rug.
  • I do a comprehension check: "Did I just say she walked or she walks?"  "Am I talking about now or yesterday?" etc.  
I started doing more weekend talk and, along with the past tense rug, I use these great free resources from TPT (by a colleague).  I stopped being scared.





Using the subjunctive...not that scary
A couple of years ago, I noticed that my students were trying to form sentences that required the subjunctive, but how could they since I almost NEVER used it myself?  Uh oh!

The poster
Chris Stolz to the rescue.  This blog post changed my teaching- I started incorporating a ton more subjunctive casually in conversation, thus making myself more comfortable with it.  Then I realized that I should make it visible, so I made the poster, and every time I used it, I would point to the poster and we would sing the word "subjunctive" with some jazz hands.  (Yes, I know that is the noticing hypothesis and completely unproven.  But it's fun.  And my hope is that it makes them less scared of it when they get to Sra. Grammar Teacher in the future, with the long list of subjunctive clauses and stem changing verbs.)  


Finally, I realized that in moving to point to the poster, I was moving to the same spot on the rug on the other side of the room...thus, subjunctive rug.

I don't know what this will do long term, but it is forcing me to a) unshelter grammar more, and b) slow down and do more comprehension checks.




** TCI- Teaching with Comprehensible Input
TPRS- Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling ©
CI- Comprehensible Input
CCLT- Comprehension-based Communicative Language Teaching








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