literacy, Personalized Learning, writing

Beginning writing in a second language: the yes/no list poem

First of all, full disclosure: this is not my original idea. I saw the idea that sparked this blog post on a Facebook post from literacy specialist and teacher Adrienne Gear, linking to this blog post from author, poet and educator Sara Holbrooke.

The idea is relatively simple. Students start with a piece of paper divided into two columns – one for yes, and the other for no. The meanings of “yes” and “no” can be assigned in a variety of ways, depending on what level students are at, what content is being covered in class, etc. Students can then fill the columns with words of their choice that fit the categories or themes being used.

Here’s how my collaboration partner and I plan to adapt the idea for second language writing. We will be starting our French 8 classes with this exercise, and because these students have limited language knowledge, they will be filling these columns with nouns and practicing the concept of masculine and feminine nouns with definite articles (le = masculine, la = feminine, l’ = a word that begins with a vowel, and les = a plural noun). This is a deliberately simple task, because we want it to be something that is achievable for all students in the room, so that all of them can experience success in French class with the first task.

Here’s my sample poem:

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 10.05.57 AM

Pretty simple – nothing fancy, but there are some aspects of this list that are important in terms of how it can be used in the classroom. There are a variety of nouns here that are masculine, feminine, and plural. The illustrations support comprehension. I have included a basic stem that begins each section that is easily copied by students who can then go on and fill in their own information in the columns. It says something about me – who I am, what I like to do, what’s important to me. Personalizing content is important, and in order for students to see language learning as communication instead of memorization, it has to be personal.

Some ways that we can use or adapt this idea for the grade 8 level:

  • get students to create their poems using specific vocabulary lists (I make my grade 8 lists with pictures so there’s no English)
  • create my own poem using the same list
  • practice pronunciation of the objects
  • read my poem out loud to my class. Using little plastic counters (I have a large jar in my room) students will place a counter on the image corresponding to the objects they hear mentioned in my poem. (Checking these will give an opportunity for formative listening assessment.)
  • students can read their own poems out loud to a peer. The peer will use the same vocabulary sheet and plastic counters to indicate what they hear mentioned. (This gives an opportunity for formative listening and speaking assessments.)
  • illustrate their poems. The connection of the word with the visual is a powerful learning tool that will help them remember the words they chose.

Students can keep their poems after this exercise is over and treat them like a word bank. Once they learn more skills (for example – creating full sentences, using adjectives, etc.) they can come back and rewrite or adapt their poem to create something new with it.

This is a basic structure that can be adapted in many different ways and students can come back to this exercise over and over to see their improvement throughout the year. For example:

  • one side can be school, the other side vacation (students can revisit this for other vacations that happen during the school year)
  • one side can be activities I like to do on my own, the other side activities I like to do with friends or family
  • one side can be fall, the other side can be winter (or whatever seasons apply)
  • one side can be foods I like, the other side can be foods I dislike

For older students, the form can be adapted to incorporate longer phrases and verb tenses to add complexity:

  • one side can be things I have done, the other side things I will do.
  • one side can be things I would choose in a given situation, the other side things I would not choose.
  • one side can be characteristics I had as a child, the other can be characteristics of a friend or sibling.

In all cases, these poems can be treated as word banks once the assignment is completed, and students can return to them and mine them for ideas for future work.



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