Thursday, October 28, 2021

Breathing Space/ Resting Space

Image: desert sunset. Text reads: The Exhaustion is REAL.  How do I provide input and give myself a break?

The Exhaustion is REAL

Over the last few months, I have been getting a lot of requests from teachers for activities that give them a break- activities that are still input-focused but let students work independently or in small groups. I hear you!

The feeling of being on all the time, of being the one who has to guide the conversation, to monitor every kid's comprehension, and the sheer emotional weight of taking care of every person in the room is exhausting.  The thousands of decisions we make each hour are overwhelming. Deciding which word to use, when to walk over to that student to check in on them, when to ask a question, when to stop and give students a break, all the while that we are managing the actual humans in the room, while speaking in a different language and navigating between's really, really hard.

Image: Desert sunset. Text reads: Breathing Space, Resting Space

Breathing Space/ Resting Space

So what do we do to make it feel like we aren't on all the time in a comprehension-based classroom? How can we give students input, that they understand, and not feel like we have to be captivating their attention 100% of the time? 

Luckily, there are a lot things we can do! Some things require some up-front work- either in finding or creating texts that are 100% comprehensible to your students. Here is an article that addresses that: How to write texts that your students understand (The Comprehensible Classroom)- but if you are working with a curriculum or novel that has texts that you are confident that your students understand, or you work to co-create a text (through strategies such as Asking a Story, Card Talk, Write & Discuss, etc.) you have a TON of options.

I decided to dissect a lesson, filmed when I was recovering from a major knee surgery, and share exactly what I was doing to give students input, allow for super low energy on my part, and get through a really rough time in my life.  (You can read more about some of the lessons I learned during this season of being on crutches here: Mindset Reminder)

Image: polaroid photo with colored pencils. Text reads: Listen and Draw.  Teacher reads a familiar text. Students draw events from the story. Activity Credit:  Laurie Clarcq, Hearts for Teaching

Strategy 1: Listen and Draw

I had students draw while I read. I asked a handful- a very small handful- of comprehension questions to make sure that they were really understanding, but what I was reading was the typed out text of a story that we had co-created, so it was familiar and easily understood by students. In this activity, I had students use whiteboards and markers, but any kind of paper/writing utensil combination would work.  I also had them draw 4 pictures, dividing the whiteboard in 4 boxes.   Read more about that here: Secret Input

Activity Credit: Laurie Clarcq, Hearts for Teaching  Honestly, I don't know where I learned about this, but it seems *likely* that I learned it from Laurie. It is one of several strategies that fall into what I call "secret input" strategies, that I have presented on a few times.  If I learned it from you, please let me know so I can credit you! 

See this strategy in the video below at 0:22. 

Image: Polaroid with an image of a stamp that reads Top Secret. Text reads: Secret Input. Students: find the text that matches the picture. Underline it in your copy of the text.

Strategy 2: Secret Input

 Find the text that matches the picture (Secret input variation)

Once we had pictures, I had students prop their whiteboards on their chairs, find someone else's whiteboard, pick a picture, and, using a written copy of the text, find the best sentence to describe the picture. Then they had to underline the sentence in the text that matches the picture. They had to do this five times. 

See this strategy, including how I give directions in the target language, in the video at 9:24. 

Image: Polaroid with students of color at a table looking at pictures. Text reads: Picture Share. Students highlight their own or another's picture and read the accompanying text

Strategy 3: Picture Share

Students highlight their own or each other's art.

After students glued their copy of the story in their interactive-ish notebook, they were invited to share their own or someone else's art. My role was calling on the kid, clarifying which picture, and listening. The kids did all the work AND celebrated each other! 

In video: 15:46

Brain break!

Brain break: Pikachu (From La Maestra Loca) 

Bonus! Practicing when students did not meet my expectation of going back to their seats silently. 

In video: 18:50

Image: Polaroid of chrysalis becoming a butterfly. Text reads: Before or After? The teacher reads an event from the story, and asks students to write what happened before or after. Activity credit: The Comprehensible Classroom

Strategy 4: Before or After

This is a low-to-moderate energy activity. While it is teacher led, it feels very low energy to me because all I am doing is asking students to re-read the text and find the answer to one of two questions (which required no prep on my part), then copy the answer on their white board.  I think that it feels low energy to me because while students are writing, I am drinking coffee, futzing with the music, reading over their shoulders, providing hints or support, etc. You can read a detailed description of this activity here: Before and After. I learned it from Martina Bex. 

In video: 20:20

Another Brain Break

Brain Break: Toe Tapping Brain Break

I have NO idea where I learned this from, sorry! If I learned it from you, please let me know and I will credit you! 

In video: 29:18

Strategy 5: Draw and Write a prediction

This strategy only works for some teaching contexts- specifically, when one is teaching a novel. In this class, we had read chapters 1-5 of Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro, then diverted a bit from the novel to  ask a story.  To bring us back to the world of the novel, I asked students to draw and write what they thought would happen next in the novel. This activity was adapted from the Teacher's Guide. 

Note: That day, before I went home, I picked 7 or 8 of the best predictions, corrected any language errors, and put them in a slide show to print out.  When we next met as a class, I put the printed slides around the room and had kids walk around, read the predictions, and then vote for funniest, most probable, most improbable, and most creative. This was another way for me to get them to interact with input without me leading the class- but it did require prep on my part.   

In the video: 30:15

High Energy Strategy: Weekend chat

For the last few minutes of class, I asked students what they did over the weekend. So you can see what it looks like! Read more about weekend chat here: Weekend Chat

In the video: 34:28

The Video

Here is a *very* long, unedited, un-captioned, imperfect video in Spanish that shows most of the  this lesson. I am sharing this so if you want to see what some of these strategies look like, you can! This video is unique in that I was about 4 months post-knee surgery, and I was on and off my crutches throughout the video. I was a real mess during this time period (because of the surgery and accompanying massive pain levels and stress of not being able to do anything that I wanted to do, e.g. ride my bike), and I think the video really shows how you *can* provide tons of input without being captivating or high-energy.  

About this video: Students are in a Spanish 1B class in April of their 8th grade year. For most, this is their 2nd year of Spanish in a comprehension-based program.  All students have permission to be used in this video. 

Minute by minute guide 


Directions for Secret Input: Read and Draw


Directions for Secret Input: Find the Text 


Secret input: Picture Share


Brain Break: Pikachu

Practice returning to seats quietly!


Before or After reading activity


Toe Tapping Brain Break


Make a prediction: Draw and write


Weekend Chat (brief!) 


  1. Elicia, Am I overlooking the video link? I am not seeing an actual link to the video?

  2. Never mind...I just refreshed and IT IS THERE NOW! Sorry!