Disecting… the prompt, that is

I have been grading like a banshee this past week, trying to get all of my 2H interpersonal speaking exams graded before my level 3 students take theirs tomorrow.  What became abundantly clear through norming and my hours of grading is that these students do not understand how to disect a prompt.  They completely ignored multiple aspects that to the teacher appeared to be explicitly laid out in bullet form.  Out of 87 honors students, only 8 completed the entire task requirements. 8!!!!

Recognizing a problem and an accidental teacher failure, today I decided to experiment with my level 3 students.  We began class by doing a partner speaking practice.  I put the prompt on the screen, gave them 2 minutes to think, and then off they went.  I recorded them on the lab for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes I stopped them and handed out a sheet with a checklist version of the same prompt.  I then had them listen to their recording in order to check off the components they completed.  Guess what.  The majority admitted to not completing all aspects of the task–many barely completed half of what the prompt required.  Guess what else.  Only 4 students said a teacher had ever taught them how to disect a prompt.

Can you guess what we did next?  That’s right, I put another practice prompt up and had them take it apart and reword it into a checklist.  Then we did the practice.  The students were much more successful the second time around.

So why hasn’t this been an issue before?  Sure, I’ve had students not complete all aspects of a task, but never to such an overwhelming degree.  Why is that?  Well, the answer is simple, our students are requiring more rigor, and we are delivering, but we unintentionally have not properly helped them figure out what tools they need to use to be successful.  We’ve given them tools, they just didn’t realize which ones were necessary.

This is fascinating to watch.  I have watched our performance-based curriculum evolve so much over the last 8 years.  This evolution has been based on research and on the evolution of the students we have in the classroom.  What a great time to be a teacher in a world language classroom–or as we call it in Plano, a LOTE classroom. 🙂


Credit: I did learn how to break down an English prompt at the AVID Summer Institute and intended to create a lesson before our first assessment.  Oops!  Wish I hadn’t forgotten until now!


Peer Editing for Success!


Please ignore the horrible grammar, but enjoy the joke 🙂

Peer editing can easily become a waste of time, but I’ve tried several different ways and have hit on something engaging and beneficial to the students.  The idea I’m going to discuss tonight is a modification to Expert Groups which I learned about this summer at the AVID Summer Institute (are you tired of hearing that yet?).  Basically, I have 6 different tasks for the students to complete as they read.  Rather than have them read 1 paper and complete all 6 , I have them each read 6 different papers, doing something different with each paper.

For example, while reading the first paper, they must circle the first word in each sentence.  Why?  If every sentence begins with, “I,” perhaps they have forgotten to incorporate transition, sequencing and flavoring words.

With paper 2, they underline every verb.  It’s harder to write in L2 than L1.  Students tend to have a few favorite verbs, and this encourages them to consider more variety.

On paper 3, students draw a box (not rounded) around every transition, sequencing, flavoring word they find.  ACTFL doesn’t list that as something novice writers and speakers can do.  Come to Plano ISD, we’ve proven they can!

After reading paper 4, students write a specific positive comment about it.  I give good and bad examples.  I don’t want, “That was good.”  I do want, “I like how you transitioned from one idea to the next by using the transition, on the other hand.”

After reading paper 5, students write a specific suggestion for how the paper can be improved.  Again, I give good and bad examples.

Finally, I repost the original prompt/task, performance expectation, and requirements.  Peers note what the author included and what is missing, along with counting the words.

By breaking it down this way, the students do not get overwhelmed or feel inadequate to complete the peer edit.  Notice, I do not have them check for grammatical errors–though I always tell them that if they see something questionable to mark it with a “?.”  Editing in the LOTE/World Language classroom can easily and effectively be done with a little guidance from us.

Break some ice: Impromptu Speeches

I love icebreaker activities and have plans to throw them into the middle of class periods as espresso shots here and there.  This activity was first introduced to me this year at the AVID Summer Institute.

Teacher Prep:

  1. Create several questions or topics.
  2. Write them on notecards (or type them and save them).
  3. Make enough copies for each group to have a set.



  1. Put the students into groups.
  2. Handout the baggies.
  3. Go!


Student instructions:

  1. Your teacher will put you into a group.
  2. Decide who will be the timer.
  3. You will receive a bag of questions.
  4. When it is your turn, draw a random question out of the bag.
  5. You must respond to the question by talking for 60 seconds.  Other group members may not interrupt you, comment, and/or ask questions.  You must fill the entire 60 seconds.  When it’s the timer’s turn, someone else must act as the timer.
  6. When all group members have gone, return the questions to the bag and give it to your teacher.

I plan to explore a modification in which after each speech, two people must ask follow-up questions.  While thus far I’ve only used this as a get to know you activity done in English as a part of my setting the tone week, I cannot wait to use it in the target language.  It will provide a fun way to possible combine presentational speaking practice with interpersonal speaking practice.

Philosophical Chair Friday!


I recently became a member of my campus’s AVID Site Team.  This summer, I had the honor of attending the AVID Summer Institute and attended an amazing session–developed by an elementary school friend’s husband!

One of my big goals this year is to incorporate as much AVID in my classroom as possible.  Why?  Well, first of all, I believe in it.  Second of all, so many activities and strategies fit right into the performance-based curriculum that I teach.  As a member of my school’s site team, I have the duty to encourage teachers to incorporate AVID in their classrooms, and what better way can I but by sharing what I have tried successfully?

Right now, my level 3 students are discussing their strengths and weaknesses.  It has become very apparent that the majority believe you should work on your weaknesses in order to make them strengths.  Interestingly, research does not support this.  Before watching a video about the topic, I saw an amazing opportunity to try the AVID activity Philosophical Chairs.

Basically, I posed a statement (in the target language, Spanish) and students had 10 minutes to think about it, plan out argument points for either or both sides.  I encouraged them to argue both sides during their planning time in case they changed their mind upon hearing others’ points.

After 10 minutes, we went into one of my school’s collaboration spaces.  Those in agreement with the statement stood on one side of the room, those opposed, stood on the other side.  The wall that ran perpendicular to the two sides was for undecided.  I acted as mediator, and began by calling on someone from the “defense.”  Next, a student from the opposing side posed a statement, responding to the previous comment.  This went back and forth for the duration of the activity.  As students heard a good argument, they could switch sides and speak on behalf of their new opinion.  Each student had to speak 2 times to get full credit for the activity.  If they spoke once, they got partial credit.  If they did not speak but completed the written activities, they received minimal credit.

At the end of the activity, we returned to class and did some reflecting about how their opinions changed/didn’t change, how openminded they were, what was frustrating and what was successful.  I found that in my smaller classes, the activity went more smoothly (imagine that!!!), but even my larger classes had a lot of fun.  After reflecting, we watched the video and the students were overwhelmingly surprised that research supports focusing on strengths more than on weaknesses.  We will continue with our video activities and reflections next week.

I had so much fun yesterday!  Throughout the day, I heard kids commented to each other as they left how much fun Spanish was and how fast the class went (something that seems to be vitally important to high schoolers).

I can’t wait to try more AVID activities!

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