I’ve been struggling hardcore with my one of my classes recently.  They’re an upper-level class, and I feel like we’re doing the same style of thing every day, or most days at least.  Their interest in conversation and authentic resources and real-life issues is not really that high, and I’m at the point where I don’t want to try because the class has a weird vibe and it’s stressful.  It’s a course where I have a ton of freedom, and the students and I have picked the topics and themes we were learning about based on our interests, and up until recently, that had gone pretty well.  In the few weeks before Thanksgiving, it started floundering, and I was stressing myself out and making myself really sick.

I spent Thanksgiving hanging out with my family from different places, and the more my cousins and I talked about what it was like when we were kids, the more this idea began to creep into the back of my brain.  I was going to take that class I was struggling with and do a mini-unit about their childhoods and their family traditions.  I was betting on the fact that they’d actually have fun comparing their childhoods and toys and shows and what their families used to do, eat, etc. and it might bring back the bonding and fun.  It also gives them work narrating in the past time frame, and that has merit as well.

Setting up the Scenario

So, where to start?  I needed to come up with a way for everyone to share about themselves, create some camaraderie, and create a good vocabulary baseline to work from.  There’s no need for me to teach vocab they already know, and as they tell their stories, I can get a good sense of what patterns of error they’re clinging to.  Anyway, I divided childhood into 4 categories: Toys & Games, Family, Friends, & Teachers, Favorite Animals & Pets, Fun Places.  I wrote those on the top of big bulletin board paper, numbered each poster, and stuck them around the room.  Each paper had the title and then was divided into 4 sections: Vocabulary, Phrases, Personal Stories, Words I Needed.

Brainstorming Language Chunks

I divided the class into 4 groups (1-2-3-4 count off style) and each went to their paper.  I gave them a 4-minute timer (lots of 4s today…weird) and told them in their groups to come up with as many words and phrases as they could about their own childhoods and write them on the paper.  We rotated at the 4-minute bell, but when they went to the next category, they couldn’t repeat any of the words or phrases that were already on there.  After everyone had contributed to every poster, they all sat down.  I walked around the whole time, but more out of curiosity about their memories than actual monitoring.

Timed Quick Write Storytelling

The inevitable “How do you say ____?” happened, and I said “You can look on any poster you want, if it’s there…” and they got up to look and didn’t find what they needed, so I said “find a workaround for now” and they finished writing.  I had each person stick their post-its on the poster when the timer went off, and then I said: “Now, in the ‘words I needed’ section, write the English for any words you got hung up on, and maybe someone will know them.” They did that, took a lap around the room to see if they knew anyone else’s “needed” words, and then sat again.  We did 3 rounds of storytelling, and then class was over.

While I haven’t read the stories yet, so I don’t know what or how well they wrote or anything, I really feel like I did accomplish some of my goals on the first day.  I watched them write a ton of words and phrases that they knew and were comfortable with, so I got my baseline vocab.  When I read the actual stories, I’ll be able to see what they are comfortable with in the past narration.  My main goal was the re-forming of the cohesion of the class, and today they interacted with each other in random groups, not cliques, and worked collaboratively as a whole class giving and sharing words and phrases that other people needed. Honestly, I’m really happy with that.  

Right before they left, I told them that their homework was to bring in an item or a picture that was an important part of their childhood (I had to add “nothing that is now or ever was ALIVE”), so that tomorrow we will work a whole day of interpersonal conversation asking questions about each other’s objects and why they’re special etc.  I am hopeful that this unit will help us build back some of the fun that slipped away over the last few weeks.  Hope this helps!  Have fun!


Rosalyn Rhodes is currently a Spanish teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. She holds a Bachelors in Spanish from…