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Caption this to provide secret input blog post

Caption This activity to provide Secret Input

December 28, 2023

Every teacher needs a go-to activity sequence that can be used in a variety of contexts. The best reusable sequences are low-prep, allow students to work relatively independently, and use many different skills so that they appeal to students and administrative observers alike. For me, my perfect reusable activity is Caption This, which provides students with what I like to call Secret Input.

Caption This Secret Input Sequence

Blog post by Elicia Cárdenas

Caption This is a “Play with Input” activity that you can use after you have done a “Lead with Input” activity. (Learn more about our four steps in this blog post.) This means that it is an activity that is most effectively used as a follow-up activity to continue engaging with a piece of content, which could be a story or information. I’ve used it after co-creating a story with my students using TPRS, and I’ve used it after reading a text from a prepackaged curriculum or other resource. 

During this activity, students will be engaging with a copy of a text and a variety of student-created drawings. They will read and re-read the text and match the exact words from the text to the drawings. Best of all, it feels highly interactive and output-forward, but it’s not: secretly, the heart of the activity is all about communicative input.

Listen and Draw

Before digging into a Caption This activity, you’ll need some images. For me, this always means leading into it with a Listen and Draw activity! There is no big mystery to Listen and Draw. In this activity, students are listening to a story or informational text and drawing what they hear: Listen and Draw! This is my favorite low-prep way to generate images that has the added bonus of inherent engagement because student-generated artwork becomes the foundation of Caption This.

Choose a Text for Listen and Draw

For Listen and Draw, I recommend that you use a text that is familiar to your students--maybe something that they have already read once, or perhaps a story that you co-created with TPRS® in a previous class period, but they haven’t yet read. I don’t recommend having them Listen and Draw a text that is new to them unless you are confident that they will be able to understand it with ease.

Gather Supplies

Students will need a writing utensil (a pen, pencil, or marker--a single color!) and something to draw on. Students listen as the teacher reads a familiar text, and they draw what they visualize. It’s up to you, the teacher, to decide what drawing parameters to set: do you want them to draw 4 drawings? 6 drawings? On whiteboards or paper? Comic strip style (one picture in each frame) or mural style (pictures in any sequence, of any size)? 

If you want students to draw storyboard-style, you can print out storyboards in advance (4, 6, 8, or 9 frame) or you can have students quickly divide a blank piece of paper into rectangles.

This activity can also be done with a drawing application on student devices, but we recommend providing students with opportunities to be disconnected from devices and able to draw with pen to paper.

Manage expectations

One of our Mindsets is “Manage Expectations over Behaviors,” and setting expectations for every activity is an important way that we take action on this Mindset. Before beginning Listen and Draw, set these simple expectations:

  1. Teacher is talking, Students are listening.
  2. Draw one scene in each box (use stick figures!).
  3. You decide when to start drawing in a new box.
  4. Do not write any words.
  5. Finish when I finish. 

Here is a directions slide that you can share with your students:

Listen and Draw

It’s time to begin! Read aloud the text two or three times at a speed that your students will be able to process. While you read, students will quickly draw what they hear using stick figure style drawings. 

If they are drawing in a storyboard, leave it up to them to decide when to stop drawing in one frame and move on to the next. If they are drawing mural-style, give them total freedom to decide what they want to draw and where on the page they want to draw it! Remind them that they need to finish their drawing when you finish telling the story, so they need to draw quickly.

Monitor engagement

While you read the text aloud, circulate to monitor students and ensure that they are appropriately engaging with the task--especially the ones that are slow to get started and the ones that are so into drawing that they will spend all the time on one very detailed drawing, and not have time to draw the full story.

Finish when I finish!

After reading the story for the last time, count down from 10. Let students know that they have to put their pencils down and be done drawing when you are done with the count down. 

Prep for Caption This

Before moving into the Caption This activity, you will need to prepare some materials! You will need printed copies of the class story. This does not have to be fancy--simple text on a half-page or full-page sheet of paper will suffice. You may also need to take pictures of the Listen & Draw storyboards and prepare them for your activities, depending on which activity format you choose. 

Caption This

In this activity, students will view a series of illustrations, search a text for the sentence that best describes each one, and copy the sentence from the text. 

There are several ways that you can structure this activity. Read all of them and choose the one that makes the most sense for your context. All of these instructions are written assuming that your students have illustrated their stories in Storyboards, but you can adapt the instructions for Murals or other forms of illustration that you might have assigned.

Whiteboard Caption This

Teacher distributes printed copies of the class story to students: every student needs a copy of the story. Teacher also distributes a whiteboard, a dry erase marker, and an eraser to every student.

  1. Teacher shows the class a photo of a student illustration from the Listen and Draw activity.
  2. Students search their copy of the text to find the sentence that best describes the illustration.
  3. Students rewrite the sentence from the text exactly, in the target language, onto their whiteboards. 
  4. Teacher asks for one or two students to volunteer to read aloud the sentence that they chose and discusses the response with the class.

Optional gamification: The teacher asks for the original artist that drew that picture to identify themself. Then, the teacher confirms which sentence they illustrated with that image. Everyone who wrote that sentence gets a point. 

Partners Aloud Caption This

Distribute a printed copy of the class story to every student. 

  1. Pair up students.
  2. Student A shows Student B one of their illustrations from the Listen & Draw activity. This can be as simple as Student A pointing to one of the frames on their storyboard.
  3. Student B looks at the picture, then searches their copy of the text to find the sentence that best describes the illustration.
  4. Student B reads aloud the sentence or sentences that they think best describe the image.
  5. Student A confirms or corrects their interpretation. 
  6. Roles switch, and repeat Steps 3-6. 
  7. If the pair finishes quickly, switch back to original roles and repeat with a new illustration.
  8. Teacher tells everyone to find a new partner. Students repeat the activity with a new partner. Change partners two or three times, then end the activity. 

Talking to Myself Caption This

  1. Students prop up their Listen and Draw storyboards on chairs or on desks, or post them on the wall around the room using sticky tack.
  2. Distribute a printed copy of the class story to every student. 
  3. Play music while students walk around the room looking at illustrations, like they are in an art gallery.
  4. Stop the music. 
  5. When the music stops, every student must find one illustration to examine. They must look closely at one image in the storyboard that they have chosen.
  6. Students should search their copy of the text to find the sentence that best describes the storyboard frame that they are examining.
  7. Students read aloud the sentence they identified as the best description.
  8. Repeat Steps 4-7 several times so that students have an opportunity to examine multiple images and re-read the text several times.

Go Fish Caption This

  1. Put students in groups of 4 (approximately). Every group needs their Listen and Draw storyboards, scissors, and printed copies of the class story (1 per student).
  2. Sitting with their group, all students should cut apart the frames of their storyboards and put them in the middle of the group.
  3. One member of the group grabs a picture card from the pile and shows it to all groupmates. 
  4. The rest of the group members search their copy of the text to find the sentence that best describes the storyboard frame. 
  5. The other group members read aloud and vote on which sentence they think it describes.
  6. The student that drew the card from the pile copies the sentence from the text onto a group recording page and numbers it “1”. 
  7. A different group member draws a new card. Repeat Steps 3-7, with the group members recording all statements on the same page, in numerical order. 
  8. Continue until you wish to end the activity!

Caption This is Secret Input

What I love most about this Listen and Draw / Caption This activity sequence is that it is a way to provide what I like to call Secret Input. Secret Input activities are activities that feel like they are output-focused and/or interactive, but the core of the activity is input-focused. In the case of Caption This, students are reading and re-reading a text many times and attending to meaning as they match what they see to words in the text. They give the illusion of output- students copying from a text (which is a good novice-level writing task) or reading from the text, but the purpose is to get them to read and re-read! 

Caption This is a wonderful activity because it is so flexible. Students can do it alone, they can do it with partners or groups, or they can do it in a whole-group setting. It can be a reading and writing activity or a reading and speaking activity. It can even be a competition! 

As you give Caption This a try, we’d love to hear what variations you come up with!

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