Adventures in leveraging Passwords

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If you’ve been around for any amount of time, you know how strongly I feel about using Passwords for all 3 levels of Spanish that I teach. You also know that I feel strongly about doing my Passwords a bit differently than most language teachers. Typically a language teacher would choose a phrase or rejoiner expression for students to use for their entry or exit password. Others may choose a verb that they are focusing on in class. I tried both approaches and the results just weren’t working for me. So now I do Passwords with a question / answer sentence stem with answer choices that uses a verb / vocabulary theme that is relevant to my classes. I have been a great fan of the results. Results meaning seeing an increase in students demonstrating comprehension for 1st / 2nd person conversation, demonstration of acquisition of these structures by implementing them in their writing, and an increase in ease of operating in these structures with PQA in class.

But if you’ve been around for any amount of time, you also know that great is never good enough for me. When I find a great thing, I like to milk it for all it’s worth. And if I can get a good lesson plan cycle of it – EVEN BETTER. Best case scenario? I can use templates to create activities that work in all four modes of communication to milk it through these lesson plan cycles. And that’s what I did this week.

On Monday I introduced our Password for the week. For the sake of this blog, all examples will be in English, but in my classroom they are all in the target language (Spanish for me). Our password was “Where did you go last week?” with some answer choices like, “to the movies, to a restaurant, to the airport, to the beach, etc.” Students are never limited to the answer choices provided, but they do give a scaffolded support for students that have a more limited vocabulary and need differentiation and support. Students responded to this question when entering class on Monday. During class, I project the question / answer choices on the board and students copy the question and two complete sentence responses in their notebook. This practice is both for notes for the future AND because writing helps our brains. While the question was projected, I took volunteers to respond to the question verbally. When students started responding, I transitioned to more of a PQA style (personalized questions and answer) to get more information about their responses. I gave the class a note catcher sheet to record classmate responses. The note catcher had prompts like “Who went to the beach?” “Write about the beach” and other places.

At the end of class, I collected students papers and chose 5-6 “good” stories to write up. I wrote up the stories (correctly) and made sure to include the vocabulary that we are currently working with in class. I wrote up the stories to follow basically the same format “This person grabbed this thing and went to this place. They went to this place with these people for this reason. They saw this thing in that place. They got close to this thing. They took the thing with them.” I then used a template to create some listening prompts in a chart. On Tuesday I read the short stories out loud to students as they filled in the chart. I allowed students to check / compare answers with a partner for the first two, then I checked with thumbs up / thumbs down for the third answer, for the fourth I had students call out answers for each column. For the last one, students were on their own.

Wednesday students saw a list of the questions on the board and wrote a short paragraph about themselves and their break (they could choose 1st or 3rd person writing). After it was written on paper, I had student type their responses into a Google Slideshow (they type on the slide that is their chair number for ease). I then took the responses and corrected them to create a gallery walk. On Thursday, students completed a gallery walk by reading the short stories of classmates and filling out a note catcher. As a bonus, I put some questions about my break on there – some students took it for speaking practice and came and had conversations with me about my break while others just made it up. But a good “fast finisher” activity nonetheless!

Observations: I asked my students for feedback on these activities (8th graders) and they said: They love the chart format, it makes it easier to know what they’re listening for and to write it down without being overwhelmed. They liked having a column for “name of the person in the story” and “check off the words you hear” because they felt like they were “freebies” and built their confidence. They felt like it was a bit challenging to get ALL of the information down (and it should be!). They felt that having multiple look fors made it challenging, but doable because they had to keep listening the entire time. My principal happened to observe me during Day 2 and said this was the most engaged she had seen students in any class recently. She loved seeing them collaborate and support / help each other. I will 100% be repeating this cycle of activities because all it REALLY took of me what writing the original question and using two templates I already had to create two worksheets. And my students loved it. By the end of the week students were asking me if we could do these type of activities in each unit. So we’re going to see how we can work it in!

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