Student Actors: When you just can’t come up with compelling; lean on your students.

Circling on it’s own becomes monotonous over time.  Even so, I’ve learned that I am bored with circling much more quickly than students are bored with it.  This was apparent to me in a TPRS books workshop this summer.  We mostly worked on circling over a 13 hour period and I wasn’t bored with it because I was a novice learner.  Don’t be scared to approach circling boredom for yourself with novice level students because chances are what you might perceive as boredom is novice level language processing.  Having said that, it is important to create novelty, even if that novelty is only a slight change.

Student acting is a fantastic way to create novelty.  It also allows us as the instructors a natural way to circle verbs and pronouns in the 2nd person.  Recently from my Latin 1 class I used student actors to keep us focused on target words.  The sequence was as follows:

Teacher: (While holding a toy sword):  Ego armum habeo.  (I have a weapon)  Ego gladium habeo.  (I have a sword)  Vosne gladium videtis?  (Do you see the sword)

To Student #1:  Tune gladium habere vis?  (Do you want to have the sword?)  Student said yes.  Sta et ad me ambula.  (Stand and walk to me.)  Cap ex me gladium.  (Take the sword from me)  Classis, discipulus aut magister gladium habet?  (Class, does the student or teacher have the sword?)  Discipulus, tune gladium habes?  (Student, do you have a sword?)  

This sequence can continue as long as it is novel for the class.  One can easily instruct a student to complete some commands in a Total Physical Response sequence.  Circling while students are acting becomes a natural comprehension check for the class, instead of the activity itself.  Also, sometimes students surprise you and give you a natural way to extend the conversation to a place you didn’t expect.  These moments are gold for language acquisition as the students who are listening tend to pay more attention to a classmate.  Here is an example from my sequence above.

I had a second student take the sword from me just like the first.  With this student I asked, “Quid tu cum gladio facere vis?”  (What do you want to do with the sword?)  I asked this after instructing him to move the sword slowly and cautiously 😉  His answer, “Pugna me!”  (Fight me!)  It just happened that nullus (no, none) is a word we have been working on.  We preceded to have a mock battle with toy swords which I narrated in Latin.  At the end of the battle, I allowed him to “wound my arms” and I dropped my weapons.  I then proceeded to narrate that “Ego arma nulla habeo.”  (I have no weapons.)

Classis, ego arma nulla habeo.  Discipulus aut magister arma nulla habet?   Classis:  Discipulus (I confirmed with a complete sentence.)

Quot arma discipulus habet?  Classis:  armum unum  (I confirmed with a complete sentence.)

Quot arma magister habet?  Classis:  arma nulla ((I confirmed with a complete sentence.)  

Magisterne pugnatum vicit?  Classis:  Minime (I confirmed with a complete sentence.)  

Cur?  Classis:  Magister arma nulla habet.  (I confirmed with a complete sentence.)

I didn’t plan to have a mock duel with a student during this sequence, but it created a situation that allowed the class to completely engage in the circling.  It also allowed me to focus on nullus, vicit and pugnare even though I had planed to focus on habeo/habes/habet, arma/gladium, vis/vult.

Student actors allow us to continue the input with extra repetitions in a novel way that is student focused.  It is important to understand which students are comfortable taking directions like this from you in front of the class as their response creates that magic moment for acquisition.  Don’t forget, it constantly tell yourself “Go Slow!”  I find with student actors I get excited and I try to push to create more action.  Let one action do the work for you and Circle it passed the point of your own boredom, then move on to a second action.  We have to take advantage of these acquisitions moments.  They are so powerful that it doesn’t matter if we stay there for the whole class period.  Students will acquire the words we repeat in those natural sequences.  Stay there and let the acquisition do the work for you.

Student acting can also happen in a way that has more preparation.  Reader’s theater is a fantastic way to process a recent story.  Stories or texts should have a lot of action to facilitate reader’s theater.  There are many ways to incorporate reader’s theater to review a text but it can also be used to extend repetitions of language with compelling input as well.  Here are some ways I like to extend input with reader’s theater.

  • Stop the actors after a scene and ask the class about the scene in comparison to the story.  This can be a great way to offer more exposures to ideas like; correct versus incorrect, what did you think, what was missing, etc.
  • Stop the actors after a scene and ask them questions.  This allows for input that changes the verb ending.  Instead of staying in the 3rd person perspective make the student actor the character.  Why did you do…., What will you do next…, Where did you go…. are some simple ways to extend input that switches to the 2nd person.
  • Prepare a simple table and ask the class to write down the things the actors missed, the things I added to the scene when I stopped and talked to them, something surprising or an extension to a scene or the whole story.

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