Using self-selected vocabulary is a skill that is intuitive to students in higher levels of language study, but not so natural for novice learners in the first levels of the language, especially in level 1. Since I want my level 1 students to know they have permission to find vocabulary that is relevant to and interests them, I took them through a lesson recently to encourage them to stretch their horizons.
Here's how it went:
First, it just so happened to be Talk Like a Pirate Day (this was totally by accident) and I framed the lesson as a treasure hunt. I even had a treasure chest I searched the room for! The primary objective was to have the students learn how to use digital and print resources to search for self-selected vocabulary, but the secondary objective was to continue to acclimate my level 1 students to lessons in 90-100% Spanish as well as introduce critical vocabulary related to instruction (words like: look for, you know, like, familiar, new) which I glossed on the whiteboard to refer to during instruction.
1. Lesson Introduction - I introduced the lesson by saying it was a treasure hunt (in TL) until students started to say, "treasure hunt," to let me know they understood the title. I mentioned that new vocabulary is like treasure and we are looking for treasure today.
2. Modeling - The activity sheet is organized by categories of vocabulary they have previously learned (Greetings, Expressions of Courtesy, Emotional Reactions and Farewells) labeled in Spanish, but with two different columns to write in, What I Already Know and New Expressions I Found. In the "already know" section there is a familiar vocabulary word there to connect the section labels to the types of words I want them to search for. For example: Hello is in the Greetings section and Thank you is in the Expressions of Courtesy part.
3. Instructions - To keep the instructions organized, I used the TL to instruct them to label each section so even if they didn't understand what Saludos were they would understand Parte uno and be able to follow along. Once the sections were labeled I directed them back to part 1 and explained in the TL that "hola" is an example of a saludo. I had to do this several times and check for understanding before I asked the students the question, "What are other examples like hola that you know in Spanish?" It took a minute for the students to understand what I was asking for, but once they figured it out they began to volunteer other Spanish greetings as well. I then instructed them to write the expressions they know in the "What I Already Know" section of the table. We immediately continued to Part 2 while the Part 1 modeling was fresh. At this point the majority were on board and staying in the target language as well as helping the students who were less clear by showing them their papers and avoiding English themselves. Pretty soon everyone had the hang of what was going on in class. We did not deal with the "new expressions" part of the table until after the familiar words and phrases were recorded. This was deliberate because I wanted those sections to act as the counter example for looking for new, self-selected vocabulary on the same topics.
4. Completing the Activity - Once we made it through the "already know" part, I instructed them back to Part 1 - Saludos to look for new vocabulary and expressions working together in groups. I allowed them to use their cell phones as well as printed dictionaries. Very quickly they were off and running and the only things I had to do then was make sure they were clear on the types of words and expressions they were writing down and teaching students how to use a printed Spanish-English dictionary successfully. The most rewarding part was seeing them weigh the words they were selecting, making their own choices, and how interesting the lists were as they went along. What I didn't expect was that they activity also worked on building their confidence in their own efforts.
The entire lesson was in Spanish which is an amazing achievement for level 1 students because there were a lot of new instructions, but they are learning that they CAN survive if Sra. Lenord speaks only Spanish to them. Even if the paper comes back incomplete, the most important thing was pushing through the struggle beginners have with hearing that much Spanish and being persistent enough to finally understand. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it got easier each time and it was so worth the effort!
If you are still on the fence about 90% target language in your classroom please know that it really is worth it, and if you need ideas let me know. I would love to help and I know great people with great ideas who inspire me all the time. Also, your students will never step out on the water until you are willing to yourself. Their success with it is based on the scaffolding you provided them, so you must think it all through. Best of luck to you!