David, a successful veteran teacher relatively new to teaching with C.I. writes:

I am frustrated by the fact that I enter every semester with the good intentions of doing CI.  I start, and then I get frustrated as I don’t see the results and don’t feel skilled enough to keep up the energy and engagement. Students lose interest fast and I struggle to keep them engaged. The Ask a Story seems to be the best. Today I read a story to them and tried to ask comprehension questions along the way. They understand very little and are unable to respond. This is like the 3rd or 4th year in a row I have tried to do CI and feel like I am failing. 
Just venting a little, sorry. 


This is a common problem. Here are some ways to fix it:

Hi David,

What you’re feeling is not unusual. Storytelling is a difficult skill to master. It is hard to be “on” all the time, both physically and mentally. Stories can be a wonderful teaching tool, but please do not put that kind of pressure on yourself. Some teachers can do it, but I’ve never been able to tell stories all day every day either. I estimate that less than 10% of teachers can pull off telling stories as the mainstay of their teaching. The rest of us mortals need additional C.I. strategies.

That’s why I encourage teachers to do these activities to make your teaching easier and more sustainable:

Special Person interviewsKids like to talk about themselves, so this is a natural way to engage them. Keep the focus on revealing how marvelous and interesting the kid is instead of your agenda and it goes much better. A twist I would also add, that not all have caught on to, is that you also need to assess them on it, which raises their level of concern a bit. When they are writing sentences for a grade they tend to pay more attention.

Reading   Techniques to make the following work are found in my book Hi-Impact Reading Strategies.

• In Class Reading  Independent reading in class every day gives you a mental and physical break. At least 10 minutes has worked well for me. Any less and it is hard to actually get to the point of really focusing and deep thinking. Maybe negotiate more minutes of reading time fewer days a week for upper level students. That almost always wound up happening in my Spanish 3, 4, and 5 classes. I let students bring it up so they have more ownership. For lower level students that are resistant to reading I use this form a couple of days a week to help keep them on track: https://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/Independent-Reading-Rubric-2.pdf 

It seems to me that Independent Reading / SSR / FVR is the Pareto Principle in a world language classroom. This is the 80/20 rule which applies to so many human endeavors – that 80% of the results often spring from 20% of the effort.

• Whole Class Reading. This can help to frame the last 2-3 weeks of every semester. It gives you a goal and can be a big part of the final assessment for the course. I let student use their books on the assessment, which can be a combination of information question and essay questions.

• Reading Aloud to Students. This has always been my students’ favorite way of reading.

• Embedded Reading. This is a great way to get the gist of stories into students.

Games. I like to add an element of play. Using P.A.T. points (from Fred Jones book Tools for Teaching) that become minutes earned for game time every week or every other week can help to motivate positive behavior. When trained, students can run the games while you talk with individual students or grade papers.

Classroom Jobs Ask students to help run the class. When you’re setting it up, ask them first, then later ask for volunteers. Assign as jobs for students the myriad of tasks that take up your time, focus and energy. these are the minimum wage-type tasks that need to be done in a classroom and that teachers often do when they should be focusing on how to make lessons comprehensible and engaging for students. Students can do many, if not most of the common tasks in a classroom. Let them.

I feel like I’ve succeeded with classroom jobs when I hear a student say something like, “You know what, Señor?  You are the laziest teacher in this school!  You don’t do anything!  You don’t pass out papers, you don’t open or close the door, you don’t even turn on the projector or lower the screen!”   Yep, I just mainly focus on making my lessons better.  Lazy indeed.

These are the big ideas that have helped me to survive and thrive.  Please let me know what you think.

C.I. teachers: What works for you?