A reader of this blog asks:

I’m curious to know, do you have a criterion or standard of what grammar should be included in level 1, level 2, level 3 and level 4 books?

Our general standards for grammar follow the levels in a traditional grammar syllabus with a C.I. twist.

Many teachers are forced to use traditional syllabi and even those that are C.I. adherents still follow a grammar syllabus subconsciously. It is most noticeable in Spanish in the verb forms. In my mind, the general verb form progression in legacy teaching is:

Level 1:                  present tense, with some past tense

Level 2:                 preterit and imperfect

Level 3:                 future, conditional, present subjunctive, imperative and present perfect

Level 4:                 past subjunctive, past perfect and conditional perfect.

The C.I. twist has three main components: 1) High Frequency Vocabulary, 2) Unique Word Count, and 3) Appropriate Grammar. The guiding phrase is the familiar: “Shelter vocabulary, but not grammar” that was used so often by Stephen Krashen and Susan Gross. When choosing books for students to read this is implemented by consciousness of the frequency level of words, especially the verbs, and it is manifested by the unique word count of the text.

1) High Frequency Vocabulary, Especially Verbs

Many TPRS-style authors get this and limit the verbs. Terry Waltz has her “Super 7 Verbs” and Mike Peto has his “Sweet 16”. Those are good starts, but do not limit level 1 and 2 only to those. Novice students can learn a larger quantity of verbs with classical TPR gestures, commands and micro-stories. I call these The Important Verbs. Level 1 students can begin to get the first 25 of these in the first two weeks of school. That way you can use high frequency verbs to begin to communicate simple stories and also to run the class. There is little need to resort to English once students know a few commonly used verbs for typical classroom tasks. The trick is keeping it simple. For example, in lower levels we would not use deletrear (to spell, not even in the top 5,000 most common words in Spanish) and instead use escribir (to write, #187, a high frequency word).

It is also important to be aware of using function words—the short, abstract, grammar-bearing words that form the skeleton of any language. Here is a list of the most-used function words that I call The Important Words. This list explains why students need to know them and presents them in a number of ways.

Vocabulary that is not high frequency for the level should be glossed with notes at the bottom of the page. Those glossed words are not part of the unique word count.

2) Unique Word Count

There is some overlap between levels, depending on grammar elements and estimated familiarity with the topic, but in general, these are our guidelines:

Level 1:                  50 to 300 unique word families

Level 2:                 200 to 500 unique word families

Level 3:                 350 to 800 unique word families

Level 4:                 500 and up. Unique word counts above 800 or so are hard for authors to calculate. Many level 4 students are often not quite ready for grade level native materials, so the vocabulary still needs a bit of sheltering and/or glossing.

These are our guidelines for Calculating the Unique Word Count  in novels.

3) Appropriate Grammar

We protect students from flooding them with too many unnecessary new words, but we should use appropriate, comprehensible grammar when it is needed.

Using the right grammar is important. We don’t want to shelter the grammar so much that students internalize an inter-language that does not recognize or use grammar correctly. So if a verb form will make sense to a student, it should be used. the sound/meaning pairing has to match up closely. So, in Spanish, fui would at first be incomprehensible to a level 1 student, but tenga would not. The word fui does not sound like voy to a novice, but tenga sounds a lot like tengoand has a similar meaning.

I like to see a variety of comprehensible verb forms used even in early level 1 materials. For example, the phrase El quiere que ella tenga…  would be comprehensible to early level 1 students because those are both high frequency verbs. Every early level 1 student would know quiere and tengoso the subjunctive phrase would not be a stretch. Most beginning students would easily understand such a phrase, used in context.

When students are expected to master certain forms, it makes sense to use those forms often.

Does this all make sense?  I’d like to know your thoughts and comments.