Unexpected Vocabulary Lesson

I was just reading through some old blog posts, and I couldn’t believe I left this anecdote out of the Controversy piece.

I was teaching Beginning way back in my library learning center days, and we were making a list of vegetables. I was writing quickly, leading, listening, and encouraging more answers… and in my distraction, I didn’t write pea. I wrote pee.

Great, Emily.

I quick erased the error and fixed it, but not fast enough. Someone noticed. If I remember right, I think whoever it was knew what pee meant and thought it was a funny mistake. I agreed both then and now. But not everyone knew what it meant, and they asked, and I had the sort of uncomfortable task of explaining it.

Then a student asked, “What’s the other one?”

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I asked her what she meant. Even years later as I write this, I recall feeling embarrassed and desperately hoping against all hope that my vegetable lesson wasn’t devolving into fecal matter.

She explained that she was at the store one time, and she went to the bathroom and there wasn’t pee on the floor, but the other one. She needed to report this but she didn’t know the word.

And I thought that was a really good reason to spend a few minutes of class talking about excrement. It was a legitimate vocabulary question that clearly related to surviving and thriving in an English-speaking country. Why would I cajole the class into naming vegetables they may or may not use, but refuse to name something with universal relevancy and serious health implications?

My embarrassment evaporated, and that was the night I wrote poop on the board.

 

Photo CreditRusty Clark ~ 100K Photos on Flickr

You’re reading Unexpected Vocabulary Lesson, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Humbling Moment: Healthy Breakfast

About eight years ago, in the learning center in Minnesota, one of my volunteers and I had a humbling moment.

This particular volunteer was not only extremely well-qualified, but a joy to work with for me and the students alike. And because wherever she went she was always one of the few volunteers with years of experience and an MA TESOL, she was always asked to teach Advanced. After years of this in various programs, she asked me if she could switch to beginning.

With some schedule wrangling, I made it happen, and my fabulous volunteer happily went in to teach beginning English for the first time in ages, excited to be working on basic meal and nutrition vocabulary instead of the intricacies of modals and such for once.

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When we all reconvened after classes, she bashfully handed me the sign-in sheet she had passed around the class.

It said, in the handwriting of eight different students:

Attendance (Monday)

Maria
Ahmed
Fatuma
Ayaan
Luis
Healthy Breakfast
Pa
Hyun Mee

It’s humbling to realize that one of your students is (and thus likely has been) so lost that she doesn’t recognize an attendance sheet and probably also doesn’t understand what the words are that she’s copying off the board with great intensity.

As the library was shutting down around us, we wrote notes for the next day’s teacher and brainstormed a plan for supporting this student more effectively during class.

Inadvertent formative assessment, and a reminder that great teaching begins again every day not with the content of our lessons, the brightness of our enthusiasm, or the years of our experience, but where our particular learners are.

 

Photo Credit: jules on Flickr

You’re reading Humbling Moment: Healthy Breakfast, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Exit Tickets

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

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Did your students learn what you think they learned today? Ask them a brief question at the end of class, and have them hand it in on a post-it on their way out the door.

Checking for Understanding

You can use exit tickets to check for understanding. For example, if one of the session’s main objectives was working on thesis statements, exit ticket questions might be,

What is a thesis statement?

Write one example of a thesis statement.

If you’re working on the grammatical form of Present Continuous, you might say,

Write a sentence in Present Continuous.

 

Supporting Metacognition

Alternatively, the exit questions can be metacognitive:

What was the point of today’s lesson? might elicit interesting and/or sassy responses.

What was the most difficult part of today’s lesson? might also be illuminating.

Another useful one might be, Do you need to improve any technology skills to be more comfortable in this class? Which ones?

After handing back a major assignment, something like this might help a few people find time to head to the tutoring center: Are you satisfied with your essay grade? If not, what is your plan to get additional help to improve your results?

 

Some teachers use this activity at the end of every class session, and others just sometimes. Give it a try and see what you find out!

 

Photo Credit: Dean Hochman on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Exit Tickets, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Scaffolding Editing

2750551146_1d22ab2e84Last week, I described several factors that make editing a particularly difficult task for ESL students.

Today, I’m going to offer some ideas for scaffolding editing in an academic writing setting. They’re based on my own experiences (including some from this semester in my lead teacher’s classroom), advice that’s been given to me, and my own ideas.

This is sort of a mini Activity Corner of its own, all about editing!

Strategies for Scaffolding Editing

Ongoing

Strategies to incorporate into your writing class routine

  • Practice writing the same information in several ways. Juggle clauses, use synonyms, use short sentences and long ones, etc.
  • Hand out example work that needs editing side by side with how you would change it. You’ll need to emphasize that this is not The Answer Key – just a pretty good answer. This could be a good information gap activity for small groups.
  • Practice editing a sentence or two together as a class each day as a warm-up. You could focus on grammar, word choice, style, hook/thesis/topic sentence effectiveness, etc.

Teacher Edits

Strategies for marking written assignments at home

  • Don’t fix things that you want your students to learn when you edit their writing. Identify errors for them, but let the fixing be the students’ job.
  • With minor errors, either let them go or quick write in that missing “the.”
  • Use codes (i.e. WW = wrong word) and/or color codes (i.e. yellow = I don’t understand, pink = This is great!!) in-line to help them identify specific errors and give them a clue as to what’s wrong. Be consistent with your code all semester.

Peer Review

Strategies for students to help edit each other’s writing

  • Prep the class for peer review and support their skills as reviewers with this Peer Review Scaffolding activity. You can do this to review each other’s homework, example thesis statements, etc.
  • Set students up to give and receive both positive and negative feedback. Make it the expectation and build it into the task itself.
  • If you use a code when you edit student work, consider having the student use that code (or part of it) to mark each other’s work.
  • Consider using a short checklist or yes/no questions to keep students focused.

Student Corrections

Strategies for having students correct their own writing, after teacher edits and/or peer review

  • Offer bonus points or a few “points back” if students choose to submit corrections. Set an upper limit on how many points they can earn.
  • Identify each student’s most common (or serious) error types and assign corrections on these. Corrections should be on separate paper and include a short explanation of why the change is correct. Note: this is really difficult and time-consuming for students. From what I hear though, it really pays off.

In The Moment

Strategies for when you’re circulating in class and a student is stuck on an editing task: 

  • Ask the student to read it out loud. This can be especially helpful with punctuation. Note: this will probably help auditory learners and Global English speakers more than it will help your book learners and hesitant speakers.
  • Target the basic organization: paragraph level, then sentence order. Ask the student if the organization is strong and every sentence is where it needs to be.
  • Target the shortest sentences. They’re the easiest to get right.
  • Target the longest sentences. They’re the easiest to garble. There is likely a problem.
  • When targeting long sentences, have the student break it into multiple short sentences on scratch paper. This can help them see the structure and fix the errors in the longer sentence.

What do you have to add?

Would it be useful if I spelled out details and examples of any of these strategies? Let me know in the comments!

 

Photo Credit: julian on Flickr

You’re reading Scaffolding Editing, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Useful Tech: Quizlet.com

I’m one of those teachers who’s a bit in-between on using technology in the classroom.

On one hand, I’m happy to learn new tech and I think that it’s important to not try to divide students of any age from the technology of the era. In fact, part of our job may indeed be to actively connect students with modern tech, even when that is not an item on the syllabus.

On the other hand, I’ve found that tech can be unreliable and underfunded. Also, my students’ experience with it and access to it are inconsistent. As a result, using it in class can quickly turn into an implementation nightmare.

So when I mention that quizlet.com is super useful, I also mean that it’s pretty usable.

It’s a free vocabulary drilling website/app. It works well on computers and smartphones.

Students don’t have to have an account to use it. They can still find and use your vocabulary sets.

You can type in the information, or your students can, or you can make use of other peoples’ sets. When students click on a vocabulary word, the computer’s voice pronounces it.

Here’s a desktop screenshot of a set I used in a Listening and Speaking EAP course a couple years ago.

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As you can see, the program has different ways to test yourself (Flashcards, Learn, Spell, Test), including a couple of simple games (Match and Gravity).

If you want to invest a bit of time into getting everyone set up with an account and added to one of your classes on Quizlet, it would probably be worth it. It’s not super difficult. Many of my students like the convenience of studying on their phone. It’s also handy if you want students to use it for a few minutes during class.

It has other features that come with paid accounts. I’m not going into those features here because none of my schools provides us with paid accounts.

And I’ll be honest, it irks me that Quizlet’s business model seems to be really focused on getting individual teachers to pay out of pocket for teacher-centric services (and refer their networks to do so too?). So I’m here to advocate using what they kindly offer for free, and challenging the widely accepted practice of teachers paying for so many of their own school supplies and materials.

What useful, usable tech would you recommend?

 

You’re reading Useful Tech: Quizlet.com, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Hidden Vocab Words

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

About six years ago (what?!) I wrote a Journal post called Ice Breakers Impress. I said, “…students kept telling me how smart I was.”

How is this not in my Activity Corner?!

In Hidden Vocab Words, the vocabulary words are written one each on note cards. Then the teacher (with permission) tapes one to each student’s back. Students need to give each other hints so that everyone can guess which word is on his/her own back.

The purpose of this activity is vocabulary review and verbal communication. It makes a nice warm-up to review the previous day’s or week’s work, and is a nice excuse to get everybody walking around and using their English skills to figure something out.

Process:

  • Write the key vocabulary words on note cards.
    OR
    Assign each student a word to write on a note card (might be valuable for Level 1)
  • Model the activity. Be sure to communicate that they should not read you your word.
  • Tape the prepared cards to the students’ backs.
  • Tell them they have 10 minutes to figure out their words and get out of their way!

Example (in Level 1):

In a Level 1 class, explaining and modeling the activity takes a bit of effort. We do so much reading practice at that level that students might not expect a game where they are not supposed to read the word they see out loud.

I don’t remember the details of how I modeled it back in 2010, but if I were approaching it now I would go in two phases:

  1. Hold up a note card with a gadget word (i.e. washing machine) and ask students to tell me what the word does. Write their answers on the board. Rest or tape the note card near their answer.
  2. Hold up a different gadget note card and ask someone to tape it to my back. Pretend I don’t know perfectly well what it says. Tell students, “We are playing a game. I don’t know what word is on my back! Don’t read it to me. Don’t tell me. It’s a secret. Please tell me: what does it do?” If met with a ringing silence, I would refer back to the first note card and the information about it on the board. Keep modeling, “What does it do?” and perhaps also write it on the board so they know to ask that question.

I am envisioning not bothering with the word “clue,” but of course it depends on the level of the students.

I thought it was clever of Past Emily to focus on “what does it do?” This made students use the unit’s nouns and verbs. They couldn’t just say “square, in the basement, white, big” to describe a washing machine. They needed to recall and use the specific vocabulary of what it does. It was also an opportunity to repeat and hopefully memorize a short and grammatically correct question – a nice bonus in Level 1.

Other Content Possibilities:

This activity is great for vocabulary review at all levels. Here are a few ways to expand that idea a bit farther:

  • grammar: at higher levels, this could be an interesting way to review our twelve verb tenses plus passive, “going to,” “used to…”). Write the name of each tense on a notecard, and then as a hint students have to use that verb tense in a sentence. Try it with no repeats allowed to make sure that students speak to several others over the course of the activity.
  • content: all subject areas have information to memorize. You can write historical events, geographical features, nations, cell organelles, auto repair terminology, famous people, methods of birth control, characters in a Dostoevsky novel, pharmaceuticals and their dosing, or just about anything else on the note cards to review that content.
  • general warm-up: I’ve seen this activity used as an ice-breaker among all native English speakers. They used a fun theme, I think “famous fictional characters.”

You’re reading Activity Corner: Hidden Vocab Words, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Conversation Jenga

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

One activity I’ve had enormous success with as a first-day ice-breaker was Conversation Jenga.

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(Photo credit: “The Jenga” by Ed Garcia on Flickr)

In Conversation Jenga, you write a different number on each block in a Jenga set. As students take out a block, they look at its number as they place it on top. Then they read and answer a corresponding question.

The purpose is to get students who don’t know each other comfortable talking to each other. In this activity they have somewhere to look, something to do, a shared experience, and lots to talk about. Many thanks to my mentor for pointing me toward this activity!

Process:

  • Have one Jenga set per 8ish students.
  • Write or tape a different number 1-54 onto each block in each Jenga set.
  • Write numbered questions 1-54 (or use my examples below) you’d like your students to discuss.
  • Model how to play Jenga. Then model how and when to answer which question.
  • I had each student read the question and answer it. I did not ask everyone to answer each question – it would have taken too long. Spontaneous conversation did arise around some of the questions, which was great!
  • Give the students the list of conversation questions.
  • Have students separate into groups of no more than about eight.
  • Let them know how much time there is, and encourage them to play again if time allows!
  • Note: I did not model how to re-set or put away a Jenga tower, which was an oversight on my part. However, I thought that the resulting group problem solving and authentic conversation turned out to be super valuable.

Example Questions:

Here are the questions I handed out to my Conversation Partners class. It was the first day so I had never met them yet, but I knew that my ESL students and my native English speaker volunteers would be playing together so clarification would be readily available. I also knew that generally speaking, the ESL students would be international students and community college students of typical college age.

If you have a different group (and you probably do), definitely switch up the questions! Consider English level, age, presumed disposable income level, and presumed openness to being silly.

I would change a lot of the questions if I had a different group, but this is a starting point!

  1. List all the cities/countries you’ve ever lived in.
  2. What did you have for breakfast today?
  3. What’s your favorite time of day? Why?
  4. What’s your favorite time of year? Why?
  5. What classes are you taking this semester?
  6. Tell us about one of your good friends.
  7. Tell us about someone in your family.
  8. What are two of your hobbies?
  9. Name your 3 favorite phone game apps.
  10. Name your 3 favorite phone apps for staying organized.
  11. What do you like to do on weekends?
  12. What do you enjoy reading?
  13. What do you enjoy watching?
  14. What do you enjoy listening to?
  15. What do you enjoy writing?
  16. What do you enjoy chatting about?
  17. What are your favorite ways to exercise?
  18. Where are your favorite places to visit here in Maryland?
  19. Where do you hang out on campus?
  20. What are 3 cool things you know how to do?
  21. What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you in school?
  22. What’s your favorite snack?
  23. Do you prefer houses or apartments? Explain.
  24. Do you prefer big cars or small cars? Explain.
  25. Is picking out clothes in the morning fun, horrible, or not an issue? Explain.
  26. Do you prefer to eat in or eat out? Explain.
  27. Do you do homework right away or at the last minute? Explain.
  28. Do you prefer sandwiches or wraps? Explain.
  29. Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla? Explain.
  30. Would you rather visit Hawaii or Alaska? Explain.
  31. Would you rather canoe or water ski? Explain.
  32. Would you rather go to a comedy club or a dance club? Explain.
  33. When it comes to money, are you more of a saver or a spender? Explain.
  34. Do you prefer to have just a few friends, or as many as possible? Explain.
  35. Are you messy or neat? Explain.
  36. What’s your favorite book?
  37. What’s your favorite song?
  38. Would you rather visit a museum or a garden? Explain.
  39. Do you think children at restaurants are adorable or annoying? Explain.
  40. Do you prefer hot tea or iced tea? Explain.
  41. What’s your favorite animal? Why?
  42. Do you prefer winter or summer? Explain.
  43. Do you prefer spring or fall? Explain.
  44. Do you love hand sanitizer or hate it? Explain.
  45. Do you enjoy exercising? Explain.
  46. What do you think of baseball? Explain.
  47. What do you think of soccer? Explain.
  48. Do you enjoy going to big cities, or do you avoid them? Explain.
  49. Do you think earthworms are cute or disgusting? Explain.
  50. Do you think snakes are great or scary? Explain.
  51. How do you feel about hunting? Is it a traditional skill or a cruel hobby? Explain.
  52. Which type of skiing is better: downhill or cross country? Explain.
  53. Do you love roller coasters or hate them? Explain.
  54. How do you feel about math? Explain.

Other Content Possibilities:

I think this could be very flexible – the Jenga bit is just a fun way to randomize which student gets which little assignment.

  • Grammar: convert one of the listed sentences into today’s grammar point, or fix the intentional error in the listed sentence
  • Vocabulary: each listed sentence could be a clue pointing to one of the unit’s vocabulary words.
  • Academic writing: identify whether the sentence is a thesis, topic sentence, hook, conclusion, transition, etc.

Related Posts:

 

You’re reading Activity Corner: Conversation Jenga, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: One-Question Surveys

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

In a One-Question Survey, each student has one slip of paper with a single question on it.  These questions are generally related, often by content.  They’re generally yes/no questions.  Each student is to ask each other student their question and tally up the results.

This is similar to my beloved Grid Activity, but with a One-Question Survey there is little writing, no record of how an individual answered, and it’s a much faster process.

The purposes can be to have students practice asking the same question repeatedly to work on their pronunciation and/or fluency, to reinforce key points of a lesson (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, content, etc.), or to gather data to aid in a math, Excel, writing, or conversation lesson.

Process:

  • Decide on your purpose.
  • Based on that, write as many different questions as there are students.
  • Model the process of asking the same question to everyone and tallying the results.
  • Give each student a different question.
  • Tell them to ask everyone, answer only Yes or No, and keep a tally of the results.
  • Debrief as a class.  How depends on your purpose.  Leave plenty of time for this – it’s the real meat of the activity.

Example (from Level 3):

Yesterday, we used a One-Question Survey in my Level 3 class in the context of our unit on cars and driving.

First, I modeled.  I took a slip of paper out of the pile in my hand and told them, “This is my question.  I’m going to ask everybody, including myself.”  I wrote it on the board, asked each student, and kept my tally on the board.

Then, I told them it was their turn.  I handed out questions we had talked about during the unit, such as “Have you ever gotten a ticket?”, “Do you speed?”, and “Do you cut people off?”  You can see we used all sorts of grammar.  This was for two reasons: a) it’s Level 3, so they already know a lot of grammar, and b) our focus was not on a grammar point, but on the content and vocabulary.

I asked them to ask all students, including themselves, and also to ask me.  I said that the only answers should be “yes” or “no.”  And I asked them to keep a tally.

When they were finished, we went through the questions and put them into an Excel spreadsheet that automatically calculated percentages for us.  This was to reinforce some of our computer lessons from last month.  At this point, it was time to go home.

Next time, I’d be more careful to make sure that each student understood his/her question.  In a few cases, students thought they understood, but they were mistaken.  We easily cleared this up during the debriefing time, but it would’ve been more powerful if students could have accurately explained to each other during the survey time itself.

Next time, I’d also like the debriefing to be more than just an Excel demo.  It could be a full-out Excel lesson, or even better, fodder for a conversation and/or writing assignment.  So, I recommend leaving plenty of time to work with the survey results.

Other content possibilities:

  • Warm-up: have students ask innocuous personal questions.
  • Graphs: use the data to practice graph-making, either analog or with Excel.
  • Academic writing: using the survey results, students can summarize, compare and contrast, predict based on, and explain the data.
  • Grammar: all questions should use the same structure.
  • Content: cut up a practice test with multiple-choice questions and have each student tally up answers A, B, C, and D.  Look at the results as a class.  Go over right answers and identify weak spots together that the students should study.
  • Google Docs: send students to the same Google Spreadsheet and have them enter their data simultaneously.

Journal: Not in the Text!

We’re in a unit on travel with a unit test coming up on Thursday.  Today we were working within the framework of four new vocabulary words: exciting, interesting, relaxing, and unusual.

The students gave lots of examples to show their understanding of these words.  For relaxing, they talked about sleep, sitting, massages, and spas.  For exciting, they talked about roller coasters and action movies.  For interesting, they talked about visiting museums and the White House. 

For unusual, they had trouble thinking of examples.  This makes total sense – it’s much easier to think of things that are usual than things that aren’t.  Finally, one student said, completely non-judgmentally: “sometimes, a man dresses like a woman.” 

“Transgender” is a fantastic teaching point for so many reasons.  You can break the word apart to show “trans” + “gender” to construct the meaning.  You can bring in such fantastic movies as “The Birdcage” and “To Wong Fu.”  You can get into freedom, tolerance, and discrimination in the USA.

The thing is, these are all tangents within our travel unit.  I made sure they had the word “transgender” for the concept the student brought up, and then I felt we should get back to our travel context.

Come to think of it though, transgender is a tangent within all of our units.  I will basically never teach “transgender” (or “blossom,” or “poop,” or “Xbox,” or “accuracy vs. fluency“) without knowing that I’m straying far away from the bounds of the textbook’s scope and sequence.

I understand that texts must have a limited scope and a logical sequence in order to be usable.  I’ve said several times in this blog alone that I think our text does a lot of things really well.  And I’m lucky to not be tied to teaching the text and only the text. 

But isn’t it interesting how these shiny books with their grammar charts, canned dialogs and amusing illustrations are teaching me when I’m “straying” and when I’m teaching “real” material?  The material seems so natural when you’re flipping through the book, but everything they put in (and everything they leave out) is a value judgment.  I find the subtle power of their voice to tell me and my students what’s normal, what’s acceptable, and what’s worthy of talking about to be a little frightening.

And for all that power, are textbooks really more valid than the experiences and questions the students bring to the table?

Journal: Moving to Fluency Practice

Today I had a total of 23 students attend class, though we were a class of 20 as class ended at noon.

One interesting challenge that’s come up is that my enrollment cap is thirty, but there are only 21 computers in a computer lab.  So far I’ve never had more than 21 students at computer time…

Anyway, we were very grammar-heavy in yesterday’s class, focusing in on the structural similarities and differences in using “can” and “have to.”  I really wanted to get beyond the form, meaning, and even pronunciation fo  of the words and into usage.  To do this, I needed to design a fluency activity.  This means I had to set the stage, step aside, and let them use the language. 

To set the stage, they needed a quick vocabulary review of different activities.  I tend to struggle with vocabulary, but I was pleased with how this one turned out.  By the end of this activity, they had gotten up out of their seats, reviewed the vocabulary, demonstrated some level of understanding by putting it on a spectrum, and put a huge word bank on the wall to prepare for the upcoming writing activity.

Here’s what we did:

  1. At home, I wrote 22 activities on 22 notecards in dark ink.
  2. I wrote on the board, “Shh!  Do not read the cards out loud!”  I drew a picture of a card and wrote “secret” on it.  I explained verbally too.
  3. I asked a student in the front to tape a card to my back.  Naturally, someone read it out loud.  🙂  We repeated the directions and laughed.  I demonstrated that I could not see it, but everyone else could.
  4. I taped a card to each student’s back.
  5. First, students walked around silently, reading each other’s backs.  I demonstrated first, and gave them 5 minutes.
  6. Second, each student had to figure out what was on his/her back, still with no talking.  I demonstrated the charades game and told them they had to act.  I gave them about 7 minutes.
  7. After they’d figured out their cards, I had them tape them to the top of the blackboard, organized from great exercise through no exercise (for example, play basketball and talk on the phone were on opposite ends of the board). 

I was very happy that it was quick, interesting, and a nice transition piece.

The writing activity was to write three invitations using “can.”  For example, Can you play golf on Saturday morning? 

We then used these invitations to begin the part of lessons that tends to make me nervous: fluency practice.  For fluency practice, the teacher sets the stage and then backs away to let the students actually use their English.

Students paired off.  Using their written work either as a script or as inspiration, they invited each other to do things.  The invitee made up an excuse using “have to” (i.e.  Sorry, I have to teach class then.).  Then we changed the rules so that the invitee had to accept (i.e. yes, sure, good idea). 

Tomorrow, we’ll do a small amount of accuracy practice, probably sentence scrambles.  We’ll spend much more time making calendars and having some real conversations about them with even less of a script than we had today.  We’ll see what happens!