I’ve received several emails lately from teachers that long to use TPRS, but feel trapped because their department requires them to teach textbook units and give textbook assessments. Most of these teachers have heard that thematic units go against everything that CI stands for, and that the two are diametrically opposed. While it is true that most CI teachers (that are able) do not use textbooks and avoid thematic units, the two are not as incompatible as they may seem. Be encouraged!
Here is an excerpt from a recent email response that I wrote to one teacher that finds herself in the textbook battle:
With storytelling (and discussion of a topic, for that matter), the development of miniature vocabulary lists are almost inevitable. They are certainly not as lengthy or…useless…as many of the lists found in textbooks, but you will find that many of the words are common to both. When we did the story “La Universidad“, for example, my students learned the Spanish words for several languages/nationalities (alemán, japonés, ruso, etc.) and classes (ciencias, matemáticas, inglés, etc.), and professions (ingeniero, secretaria, médico, etc.). When we did the story “Ladrones“, we learned different clothing vocabulary. When you discuss where kids go on the weekends, they will learn and retain places vocabulary because–hello–they want to be able to talk about their lives.
Find (or write) stories and discussion questions that allow students to practice some of the words on your required vocabulary lists, and students will learn them well because they will have a higher retention rate since they are learned in context and through many repetitions. If you have to assign an additional 10 related words for them to memorize, that’s what you have to do. But at least they will have learned several of them well, and those will most likely be the ones that are most useful and meaningful to them because they chose for them to be used in the story: when kids have the chance to choose a language that someone speaks in a story, they’re going to choose one that they want to talk about. You end up with student-generated “high importance vocabulary lists” that are a sub-set of the textbook lists. You’ll never get (most) kids to memorize and retain words like “barbershop”, “globe”, or “peas” because most kids don’t ever use those words in their every day lives! Focus on the high-frequency and high-relevance words, and let the chips fall where they may with the rest of the list. Do your job and provide students opportunities to practice all of the words that they will be required to learn on the tests, but don’t stress if kids don’t remember those outliers in six months (or one month, for that matter!). If your kids can talk about things that they would normally talk about in their first language, you are doing great 🙂
I’d love to hear what teachers that are in this situation are doing to balance the two (textbook and TPRS)! Your comments will surely be helpful to other readers!!