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What to do when they miss class?

August 26, 2015

Because we know that students acquire language through comprehensible input, finding make-up work for students that miss class that actually helps them to make up what was missed is a HUGE challenge. I'm going to share some things that I have done, and I ask that you would add what you've done in the comments!!

The most important thing to remember is that anything that you assign to replace input from class needs to be about INPUT, not output. Although you might assign an input-replacement activity that requires output, that output should only exist to give the students a reason to get more input. For example, if you want students to re-write a story from a new perspective, that main purpose of that assignment is to get students to re-read the text thoughtfully (input). The by-product of the input is writing (output), but your purpose for assigning it was the input received by a second repetition of the reading.


If a student knows that s/he will be missing a day or a few days of class ahead of time and tells you about it (wow, give the kid an 'A'!!), you have lots of options. Some classes are easy to task for absent students: the lesson plan involves reading and so you can just pass on the reading and any corresponding activities to the student. Creativity is needed when there is no pre-made content for the class.

Example #1: This was given during Unit 3 of my Spanish 1 curriculum. All I did was take my story script skeleton and add a task for each of its segments (I always introduce new vocab with practice sentences and personalized questions before jumping into the story, and they are planned out in my story scripts.) Knowing that a student was going to miss vocab intro day and story asking day, I gave them this assignment to complete at home. (It could also be given after the fact as make-up work.)

Example #2: Translate a class story from a previous year. This assignment was given to a student that was going to miss story asking day. Since I had used the same story in a previous year and saved the the class's final product, I was able to print it out and give it to the student. In this instance, I had the student translate it, but it would be very easy to assign a non-translation reading activity for the story as well. (read about Textivities under "planned long-term absences" for ideas).

Example #3: Translate and respond to personalized questions. Again, this was taken directly from a story script that I was going to use in class the next day. The student was going to miss vocab intro day, in which I establish meaning, give practice sentences, and we discuss planned personalized questions that include the target structures. This could also be given upon the student's return to class.

Example #4: I used this when students were going to miss the day after story asking, in which we do story activities like the ones archived here. They were present for the class story asking session, but they were going to miss the opportunity to play with/think critically about the story. In this activity, I just printed out the story script skeleton (I use Matava scripts for all of my stories, so I already have a typed version of the story on which the class story is based). I wrote up a few tasks, and voila! Easy peasy absent work.

Well those examples are helpful if you use story scripts in your classes, but what about "free-form" TCI teachers--teachers whose lesson plans consist entirely of PQA and its spinoffs? If you are one of those teachers, please share what you do to provide an input replacement in the comments after this post. My inclination would be to have a set of ready-to go story scripts collected from blogs around the Internet that you could flip through until you find one that matches what you have covered thus far in class. Ben Slavic carries several volumes of story scripts from Anne Matava on his website, and purchasing those would give you an instant collection to work from. Click here to see Volume 1, and click here to see Volume 2.


When a student returns from an unplanned (or at least unknown to you, the teacher) absence, you can do many of the same things that you could have done for a planned absence. The biggest difference is that if you use class jobs and have a story writer or class secretary (which I strongly recommend), you can photocopy whatever it was that the writer recorded from the previous day's class and give it to the absent student upon his/her return along with a task assignment (see the Textivities and reading activities links below). Basically, the story writer/class secretary records any new information that is shared in class in the target language. So if entire class period is spent discussing the question "What did you do this weekend?", the class secretary records all new information in the target language that is shared in the discussion.

(For more on classroom jobs--Bryce Hedstrom, who is the best person I know to learn from about classroom management, has an awesome list of classroom jobs here.)


If a student will be gone from class for a long time and has at least some language under his/her belt, I send them with a copy of a novel from Wayside Publishing or Mira Canion or somewhere else (Bryce Hedstrom has an excellent list of novels sorted by level). If I own the Teacher's Guide for the novel, I print out copies of any worksheets, activities, and additional readings that they can complete individually and without my support, and I send them on their way. I have done this with students that went on multiple-week family trips or that were homebound for one reason or another.

If you don't have the Teacher's Guide for any given novel, an easy way to get the students to read and interact with a text is to use a "Textivities" chart like the one that I created originally for use in Multi-Level classes. For each chapter that you assign to students, have them choose three activities (one from each column) to complete. My Textivities activity set is available here in French, Spanish, and English. Alternatively, you could scan through my reading activities category archive and assign one or more of them per chapter.

If you are dealing with a student that is planning to be absent for a long time at the beginning of Level 1 and has effectively no target language ability, you're going to need an extra dose of creativity. I don't have any tried-and-true solutions for this problem, so perhaps someone that does can weigh in with comments :) A teacher asked today in the iFLT / TPRS / CI Teaching group on Facebook (which I'd highly recommend joining!) if anyone had compiled a list of stories that target Terry Waltz's "Super 7" or Mike Peto's "Sweet 16". No one responded with a "yes", and it would be really great if that happened. Then, we could send students that are planning to be absent early on in Level 1 with a set of stories that target the Super 7, theoretically with super limited vocabulary. If students have had at least a few weeks of language, they might have success with Brandon Brown quiere un perro (or its French, Mandarin, or German counterpart), but even that could be a stretch for a student to complete independently in the first weeks of class.


If you notice that a student has missed class for several days and, upon checking in to find out what is going on, you discover that the student will be absent for a long time and unable to complete work during the absence, you've got a real problem on your hands. I have had many students that left class for long-term treatment or that moved and then came back, and when they come back to class they might have missed 10 weeks of class or even more!! Often, these are NOT students that are able or willing to complete extensive make-up work outside of class. Keep in mind that they will be doing make-up work for all of their classes, so it is not realistic for us to expect them to complete 45 minutes of World Language work each day after school in addition to that which is assigned for their other classes. What to do??  At this point, your class essentially becomes a multi-level class. That student cannot make up for time lost. I keep them moving forward with the class whenever we are learning new structures (teaching to their eyes and making sure that I give them the extra support needed to understand the words that are out-of-bounds for them but not their classmates). When we are "going deeper" with a story or topic, I give them print-outs and copies of the class stories that they missed and have them read and interact with them independently so that they get more repetitions of vocabulary that the class has already learned. Quizlet is also a great tool to allow students to work on memorizing (yuck!) previous target structures. A little time spent memorizing ("learning") missed structures can give students enough scaffolding to be able to listen or read and understand ("acquire") the structures when they are used in class.

So there you have it. Some ideas, but I know that there are many more out there...what have you used and found to be successful in your classes?? Please share!

[And--side note--you have three days left to download my Merengue unit for free or enter to win a class set of novels! Click here for info.]

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