Invisibles – 8 (pp. 13-14)

Questioning Level 2 – Who

As stated earlier, when you use the star curriculum, everything is based on creating images. In this first sample (Category A) journey around the star, your image will come from one of the students’ cards that you see in front of you. How does this process, called Card Talk, work?

Each student has a half sheet of colored card stock, folded lengthwise so that it can stand up on the desk in front of the student. I use a different colored card stock for each class.

The students write their names in large letters on the left-hand side of the half sheet, and to the right of their name they draw a picture of a sport or musical instrument they play or want to play, or some hobby they have. They can draw anything to identify themselves to their peers as human beings with interests outside of school. Then they place their cards on their desks facing me. This begins my year, just as it has for the past 18 years.

I just walk around the room, expressing interest in what I see while engaging the class in very simple conversation in the target language about what they have drawn. By asking the kids to do this on the first day of class, I catch their attention. The students see that their interests, and

not a textbook, are going to be the subject of the class.

As I walk around, I may notice that my student Al has drawn an image of a car next to his name. But Al’s energy, even though I don’t know him because this is the first day of classes, seems withdrawn and shy and somewhat closed and defensive.

I choose to avoid Al. He is not a good choice for the Card Talk activity on this first day. Al will at some point during the years learn how to be in a group in a participatory way later, once he learns how to trust me and the way I teach my students, and with the star curriculum he will not be confused about what he is to do in class at any given moment, so I will wait for him. God bless Al.

On the other hand, my outgoing and smiling student Henry has drawn a violin to the right of his name. Henry is clearly more open to what I am trying to do, so I decide to talk about his card and not Al’s in the following way, using a questioning technique called Walk Before You Talk that is described in Supplement 5.

First, I point to Henry and without saying a word I walk to the board and write:

joue du violon – plays the violin

Then, pointing to Henry with approval, I say:

Classe, Henry joue du violin – Class, Henry plays the violin

Then, pointing to and pausing at each single word I say, speaking so slowly that it is mentally painful for me, I begin a series of questions based on the original statement.

Don’t stress about what questions to ask. Repeating facts in a certain order is overrated and makes teachers nervous.

There aren’t many questions you can ask at this point as you get ready now in Questioning Level 2 (who) to move on to Questioning Level 3 (where), but you can ask (in the target language of course):

Class, does Henry play violin?

Who plays violin?

Does Henry play soccer? (If he does play soccer, go there – write it down and talk about it – celebrate it.)

This is the first comprehensible input of the year, on the first day of the year, so remember to make yourself clear when presenting new sounds to your students in a way that they can turn those sounds into meaning.

What am I doing here with this way of asking questions? I’m “turning-sound-into-meaning-so-that-my-students-know-what’s-happening.” This process has nothing to do with thinking about the language itself; it has everything to do with communicating a message to my students while they focus only on the message and not on the vehicle being used to deliver it.

The question word poster that I use is written only in English. There are two reasons for this:

(1) If you point to the word and say it in the target language, with its English translation next to it, the students tend to tune out the word in the new language. Why should they process it in a language they don’t know when they can just do so in a language they do know?

(2) Pronunciation problems can arise later when you use dual language question word posters. If the students see “quand” (when), they may tend to say it phonetically as “qwand” and so mispronounce it.

Find the question words poster in English in the printable downloads section at the end of this book.

All you have to do with Card Talk is walk around the room, looking for interesting cards and open-minded students, and in the above way announcing to the class what is on the cards. These are important moments. You are introducing each student to her peers right now, building community in the first moments of class of the year.

The key point to make with this first day activity is that you are training your students in two ways:

  1. You are teaching them that the class will be about listening.
  2. You are stopping at every single blurt or use of English and doing what is explained in the Supplements about how to use the Classroom Rules.

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