One Word Images

I  want to begin setting the table for next year for those newer people who are not completely confident about how to start the year. It is not too early to start really taking a close look at what we do in the first four to eight weeks of teaching using comprehensible input.
One of the things that I do is very useful, One Word Images. It’s guaranteed fun. It is a perfect way to start the year, along with Circling with Balls. Both are described on this site on the resources page at workshop handouts/benslavic workshop handouts.
We all want to achieve high levels of comprehensible input in our classrooms. We know that CI is the high road that best aligns our teaching with the ACTFL proficiency guidelines. The creation of a One Word Image in the following video footage allows for a very natural emergence, as opposed to a forced emergence, of L2 in my classroom. I call this the One Word Images (OWI) Activity.
When I work with OWI with my students, the sense of forcing things that I feel in stories and PQA is just not present. I feel perfectly safe. The sense of me directing things is absent. When I do this activity, I am able to just ask simple questions connected to a single image which expands at a slow and natural place. I usually work from a list (below) when asking questions in this activity.
I highly recommend cutting and pasting this list and increasing the font and printing a copy so that when you are doing the activity you have in your hand an actual check list that you go down during class, adding details one by one. This is so important to me at the beginning of the year that I actually have it on colored paper and laminated so that I can find it easily in the mess on my desk when class starts:

  • its quantity
  • its size
  • its color
  • its intelligence level
  • rich or poor
  • mean or kind
  • hair color
  • eye color
  • other physical characteristics – see
    TPRS in a Year!, Portrait Physique
  • its mood
  • where it is – usually the image launches into a scene or story when you ask where; all you have to do at that point is bring in another character and/or event. When that happens it often launches itself into a full blown story. It is a wonderful process to see it grow organically. It makes you believe in CI. See
  • when this occurred (time, day of the
    week, etc.)

Perhaps the sense of effortless and naturalness that one feels in doing this activity is based on the lack of an agenda. It is sometimes best in comprehensible input to work  in a completely spontaneous way with our students, and this is as spontaneous an activity as I know.
Clearly, when there is absolutely no direction planned for a class, no agenda, no three structures to return to, no story script, nothing except the freedom of just asking kids questions, it would be intimidating for people new to the idea of narrative instruction. All the same, I do believe that this is the easiest CI activity that one can do with students, with very high levels of engagement, possibly due to the slow pace that is so easy to achieve when doing OWI, and the feeling in the kids that they are totally directing the show.
Also, doing stories during the year is great, but when I want a break from thinking and planning, I do OWI. These images also help personalize the class, because we can remember certain images all through the year, perhaps bringing them into stories unexpectedly, always with a little nod to the student who has the greatest ownership of the image.
This is a totally agenda-less classroom atmosphere of just asking questions to see what happens next. We started with the word fish. Note the sense of play and freedom. Note also how slowly things unfold, and yet, how the interest stays high.
At one point I asked if the fish was stupid and the class said yes. I allowed it because of the extremely high level of trust I had with this actor, a student in my gifted class in the same academic term whose trust I had earned. He jumped right into the game. What would the mage become? We didn’t know, so we set out asking questions.
Assessement of OWI? The same. Just have a kid take notes and do the quick quiz as usual.



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