Defining A Key Term: *Vague Pair Elimination

A carpenter needs to be good at using a hammer. It’s one of her essential tools.

A teacher, who stays in the target language, needs to be good at *VAGUE PAIR ELIMINATION. It’s one of his essential tools.

What is *VAGUE PAIR ELIMINATION?

Answer: It’s saying, suggesting or showing what an L2 word/phrase DOESN’T mean so that it’s meaning can become precisely clear.

Here’s a simple example:

Suppose I’m trying to help students make sense of the L2 word for “blue” by holding up a blue crayon. Students might misinterpret the meaning and think,

“is he teaching us the word for, ‘crayon,’ or is he teaching us the word for, ‘blue,’ or is he telling us that we’re about to do a coloring activity?”

The *PAIR is vague. Anticipating the VAGUE PAIR, a teacher could do something similar to what you see below in order to ELIMINATE THE VAGUE PAIRS:

“Students, this isn’t blue.”

purple

“This isn’t blue.”

red

“This isn’t blue.”

yellow

“THIS IIIISSSSSSS BLUE!”

blue azul

VAGUE PAIR ELIMINATION is important because *PAIRING, in a #TL90plus foreign language classroom, can sometimes feel a bit like playing the 20 Questions Game. At the beginning of the game, when whoever’s ‘it’ says, “I’m thinking of a person, place or thing,” the participants feel like, “wow, that doesn’t help much! It could be anything!” It’s the same feeling a student gets when a teacher writes an incomprehensible piece (word or phrase) of L2 on the board. Students think, “It could mean anything!” One of the best/fastest ways to get a student to *PAIR the piece of L2 with something meaningful is by showing what it doesn’t mean. For now, for the purposes of this blog, I’m referring to this process as VAGUE PAIR ELIMINATION.

(Note: For the sake of defining the term, I’ve provided an example that is very overt. At times, this type of intentional explanation is needed in a foreign language classroom. However, it’s ideal if a teacher can eliminate vague pairs in ways that feel, to a student, less like formal instruction and more natural. For examples, feel free to click on any of the links below. Each contains scripted lesson plans demonstrating how L2 grammar does not need to be taught with overt metalinguistic explanations.

Teaching Grammar While Staying In The Target Language.


*Disclaimer: This term is my own and I’m using it for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that it’s the term found in formal, academic writing.

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Lionel Messi & A Quick Tip For Staying In The Target Language

A student came into my class wearing a Lionel Messi shirt today.

lionel messi shirt

It was a great chance for me to make incomprehensible L2 meaningful for my novice students. Here’s what I did:

I wrote the following sentences on the board in the target language. (Note: The words in bold were incomprehensible L2 words for my students.)

Lionel Messi…

  • is not from Philadelphia.
  • is not from Mexico.
  • is not from Puerto Rico.
  • IS from Argentina.

Lionel Messi…

  • does not play baseball.
  • does not play American Football.
  • DOES play football/soccer.

The students understood everything that I was communicating.

Why?

1- I leveraged **Constructed Situational Input – As soon as I said Lionel Messi (and wrote the sentences on the board) I constructed a situation in which everyone knew what I was talking about. (**See this post for an explanation of how this works.)

2- I paired comprehensible L2 with incomprehensible L2 to help make it meaningful. My students knew the L2 nouns but NOT the L2 verbs. I made the meaning of the L2 verbs very obvious by using *VAGUE PAIR ELIMINATION. (*See point #5 in this post for a definition.)

Simple, right?

Have fun staying in the target language! It helps to avoid duct-taping L2 fruit on the foreign language proficiency tree!

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

You Gotta See This Resource From Post-Primary Languages Initiative

I found a wonderful staying in the target language resource, thanks to @MrGWallCymraeg.

It’s SO well done and full of SUCH great tips that it deserves more than a retweet. So here’s a short blog post to tell you what I liked about it.

LI_logo

Post-Primary Languages Initiative (languagesinitiative.ie) recently put out an online tutorial for teachers who are interested in increasing their use of L2. (Click here to access the tutorial.)

  • It’s interactive. (You get to push buttons and see results of self-evaluations!)
  • It has great, short video clips of teachers modeling strategies in their own classrooms.
  • It’s thorough/comprehensive and has lots of implementable tips.
  • It has self-reflection exercises and let’s teachers to print out results for future reference.
  • It includes a wonderful quote from Dr. Helena Curtain, which provides a great rationale for staying in the target language.
  • and more!

Finally, if you don’t have time to complete the module at one time, you can access it at your own pace. It’s a wonderful, attractive, professionally-done resource that’s definitely worth using and sharing.

Thank you @languages_ie!

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Blindfolded – 5 Tips For Using A Blindfold In Your Foreign Language Classroom

Use a blindfold.

It makes activities a bit more fun!

learning activities with blindfolds

Try these ideas:

1- Describe the “mystery classmate.” While students are able to see, have them look carefully at what each classmate is wearing. To help students recall previously acquired L2 vocabulary, Teacher can choose to walk around the classroom using L2 phrases and sentences like these: “Boys and girls, notice that Jack is wearing a purple shirt and that his shoes are brown. And remember Jack’s hair color. His hair is brown but Josiah’s hair is black.” Etc.

Pick 3 volunteers. Student #1 will be blindfolded. Student #2 will be the “mystery classmate.” Student #3 will need to use L2 phrases/sentences to describe the mystery classmate to Student #1. Student #1 (the blindfolded volunteer) must guess who the “mystery classmate” is based on the description.

2- Build a puzzle. Put a blindfold on yourself and pretend like you’re having a difficult time getting the pieces in the right spot. With older students, use a document camera so they can see from their seats. With younger students, have them sit in a circle so they can watch what you’re doing.

animals puzzle

numbers puzzle

As you struggle with the zoo animals puzzle, say L2 words/phrases like, “Okay…ummm…zebra? No, not a zebra. Elephant? An elephant? No. Not an elephant.” (Touch the long neck on the giraffe piece.) “Hmmm. Long neck. Oh…oh! Giraffe…a giraffe! Yes. Okay.” (Start feeling the empty spaces to figure out where the giraffe piece goes.) “Here. Yes, here. The giraffe goes here.” In order to get students talking, ask L2 questions like, “does the giraffe go here or does the giraffe go here?” or “Hmm. Where does the giraffe go? Here? No? Here? No? WHERE!? Where does it go!?”

3- Organize items. With your eyes uncovered, show students a set of items (i.e. a set of classroom objects, a set of food items, clothing, toiletries…etc). Show pictures of the same items. Put the set of items in a box and cover your eyes with the blindfold. Lay out the pictures of the corresponding items while saying things like, “Okay…this picture…hmmm…what’s in this picture? Is this a picture of a carrot or is this a picture of a banana?” (Students answer.) “Okay, thanks. The picture of the carrot goes here. And what’s in this picture?” (Students answer.) “Okay the picture of the banana goes here.” Finish laying out the pictures and say, “Okay…the picture of the carrot is here and the picture of the banana is here and the picture of the orange is here and the picture of the tomato is here. Great.” Now reach for the box of the corresponding items while still blindfolded. Take out an item and say L2 sentences like, “Okay…umm…this is NOT a banana, this is NOT a tomato…this is DEFINITELY an orange.” Place the orange on top of the picture of the orange. Have fun making intentional mistakes. Put the orange in the wrong place. Students will want to correct you using the L2 sentences you’ve just finished modeling. For students that need extra help, have the target sentences posted nearby for reference.

4- Order sequence words. (i.e. months of the year, days of the week, L2 numbers by 10s to 100 or by 100s to 1,000.) Blindfold yourself, mix up the target vocabulary flashcards, and post them in random order on the board. Use L2 sentences to ask the students what’s written on each flashcard. Elicit their verbal instructions to help you successfully sequence the target vocabulary.

5- What changed? (Hint: This won’t work so well with novice students.) Pick Student #1 to stand in front of the class. Pick Student #2 to be blindfolded. While Student #2 CAN’T see, Student #1 will have to change ONE THING. (i.e. put his wrist watch on the other hand, button the top button of his shirt, untie one of her shoes, take one earring out…etc) Once STUDENT #1 has changed one thing, Student #2 must take off the blindfold and use L2 phrases and sentences to guess what changed.


 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Bad Oatmeal & A Simple, Short Explanation Of How To Stay In The Target Language With Novice Students

My 3-year-old didn’t know how to say, “DIS-gusting,” so she said, “Daddy, this is EX-gusting!”

My recipe must have been a failure because, before she even took a bite, she was telling me the food was gross.

“C’mon!” I thought. “I stayed up late last night getting this apple-cinnamon-steel-cut-oat deliciousness ready for you! You should at least try it!”

Recently, I’ve been feeling bad that all we serve our daughters for breakfast is cold cereal with milk. So I decided to take it upon myself to wake up earlier and put more interesting food on the table every morning. But I HATE waking up early! So when I saw a recipe for overnight steel cut oats in the crock-pot, I felt like I hit the jackpot. Yes. Everything was going well until I realized that “overnight” meant a cook time of 6-7 hours. I got a little angry at the recipe. “Huh!?! You’re telling me that if I want to serve breakfast at 7am, I will have to stay up until midnight or 1am in order to NOT overcook the breakfast!?” I couldn’t believe it! What a rip-off!! It is SOOO not worth staying up that late just to get some breakfast on the table! “But,” I thought, “since I bought all the ingredients, I should just go through with my plan…just this once.” My wife went to bed (at a normal time) and I stayed up watching MinutePhysics videos to pass the time.

The whole experience was irksome to me. I was tired the whole next day and my daughters didn’t even like what I made. Perhaps the only good thing that came out of this ordeal was a quote I heard on one of the MinutePhysics videos:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -Rutherford via Einstein?

The quote made me want to explain, in a simple and succinct way, how I stay in the target language with novice learners. So here it is:

To effectively stay in the target language, some say to support L2 use with visual aids and gestures. With novice learners, I flip it around. I mostly communicate using visual aids, gestures and other forms of extralinguistic input. Then, at strategic times and in measured amounts, I sprinkle in L2 words, phrases and sentences. The pieces of incomprehensible L2 become increasingly meaningful, and eventually comprehensible, as I repeatedly *PAIR them with equivalent extralinguistic forms of input. As a student’s proficiency level increases, the need for extralinguistic support decreases. Incomprehensible pieces of L2 can now be made meaningful by *pairing them with comprehensible pieces of L2.

In case you’re a first time visitor to this blog, here are some links for further reading, practical tips and model lessons. (Readers should also know that this isn’t the best way (or the only way) that a language should be taught. (TEACHING IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE MYTHS) This blog is meant to offer springboard ideas to help foreign language teachers jump into more brilliant ideas of their own that work better within their specific academic contexts.)


*Disclaimer: This term is my own and I’m using it for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that it’s the term found in formal, academic writing.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).