My topic today is not a new one, more like an oldie, but goodie: the Interpersonal Blitz. I am revisiting this topic because I have recently been using it as a coaching tool for my students as we work on their acquisition of the Imperfect tense.
I have to say that I just love this tool because although it is a simple one, its benefits are great. I started using the present tense IP blitz last year simply to train my level one students to fire lots of questions at each other to prepare for their interpersonal assessments, and at the time that was enough for me. So, this year when I started teaching level 2 again I created the imperfect blitz thinking I would use it in the same way. What surprised me was seeing the additional benefits this tool provides both my students and I. Here are some observations I made while using the Imperfect IP Blitz:
My students had to...
- review their use of question words and decide if they were using the right one for the question they intended to ask
- practice forming new questions when appropriate for the prompt
- listen and respond to questions appropriately
- work through the insecurities of using a new tense in relatively familiar contexts
- consider how to reuse old questions and answers using the new tense to learn new things about their partners
- attend to the tense of their verbs while conversing so that their messages were appropriate to the prompt
- trust that the new tense changed their message from present to past appropriately
- negotiate their use of the present or imperfect in the same conversation
- start considering the different purposes of imperfect and preterite without my having to teach a grammar lesson on that topic
While they were talking, I had the opportunity to listen in and coach them when I heard problems. Here are some of the things I noticed that required my coaching:
- My students are so trained to elaborate they often inadvertently slipped into present tense because they were more focused on content rather than form. I had to remind them that if the verb isn't right, the message isn't either. I had to encourage them NOT to elaborate during the activity so they could pay better attention to the verb tense they were using.
- I had to stop them all and remind them of familiar present tense questions they could reuse such as, "What are you like? or Where do you live?" and then I asked them what part of that would change to ask a new question. Of course they could then see that only the verb needed changing in order to ask something new.
- Some students wanted to insert extra words thinking that expressing "used to" required more words like it does in English. I had to ask them, "How does the verb change to form 'used to'?" and they could tell me right away. So then I asked, "If we've made that change, why are other words necessary?" and after thinking for a moment most realized that extra words weren't necessary at all because the conjugation of the tense is doing the work for them. This is a realization we as teachers have to help them discover because in English tense changes almost always mean adding additional words around the verb to communicate a new time frame.
Something to consider...
If you are a Spanish or French teacher, the imperfect and preterite tenses are familiar friends and you are always looking for ways to make teaching their use, especially together, more accessible to your students. For language teachers who have to teach students to use different tenses, the idea I am about to share is an important one that can help you do just that, make using different tenses more accessible to your kids. When introducing a new tense to your students, always frame the use of the new tense with the present tense and do this in the target language. Your students' knowledge of and comfort with the present tense helps them discover the meaning of the new tense and can activate deeper meaning-making that can lead them to discover the purpose and uses of that tense without your having to tell them directly. I cannot promise this is a completely clean process, rather it is more like planting seeds in their brains that begin to sprout into inquiry. Students will slowly begin to ask questions about the new tense and how it compares to others they know. When they start asking those questions our job is to answer them just enough to allow them to keep moving forward in their communications. We should not stop and teach a lesson on the preterite versus the imperfect. The more they can make sense of it on their own, the more deeply their understanding will be.
A final thought...
The more I teach language proficiency the more I realize that my job is not just to answer my students questions all the time. Really my job is to put them into situations that require their questions to bubble to the surface. This is becoming my new litmus test for my instructional day. If I walk out of a class day when my students haven't asked me questions about how language works, I probably haven't designed a great lesson. Usually those questions come more from THEIR DOING things in the language than from MY DOING things in the language, so I have to allot time for their communication every day. THAT is the beautifully simple essence of the Interpersonal Blitz. It is an activity that sets the our students on simmer, a temperature that is active, but just cool enough not to explode in our faces, while still hot enough to pressure them into those uncomfortable areas of their proficiency so that questions are necessary for their growth.
Happy Coaching, friends!