En el fondo del caño hay un negrito

A story to read and act out with native speakers, adapting TPRS techniques to heritage speakers classes

The research literature clearly shows that reading fiction is the best way to develop a larger vocabulary, and that compelling reading is far better than dry, academic reading. This classic story by José Luis González is compelling because it is easy to dramatize in class, but will also challenge readers with rich vocabulary. The story is a wonderful launching point to discuss regionalisms and low-value dialects while also exposing students to high-brow literature.

Drawing by Valeria C.
Drawing by Valeria C.

I always start my non-native classes with a presentation of key vocabulary but only recently started doing that in my heritage speakers class. For whatever reason, it took me a long time to recognize that my native-speaking students find the explicit presentation of vocabulary as valuable as my non-native learners. It directs their attention and allows them to perceive some structure in a course that can seem pretty free-flowing at times.

The way I present the vocabulary is a little different, however. Below is the vocabulary list with an example of how I presented the first word (an actual conversation that happened in my class last week as I presented the new vocabulary). The key is that the new phrase is embedded into a meaningful conversation, ideally an interactive conversation but not necessarily one that requires a lot of student output. In fact, one student responded to me in English, one did not respond and the third used short utterances. Nobody used the new vocabulary in their responses, and there was absolutely no effort on my part to obligate them to say the phrases. Not all words lead to laughter, of course, but student interest will be higher if you have thought out your PQA beforehand so that an interesting scene can be built out of thin air using the new word.

se asomó por la ventana: (acting it out) no creo que hay una sola palabra en inglés para describir la idea de asomarse por una ventana. No es solo mirar, se puede mirar por la ventana sin sacar la mitad del cuerpo afuera. Cuando uno se asoma por la ventana, o por una puerta, se queda adentro pero… sacas una parte del cuerpo para que te puedan ver… así (acting again). [Student says] you mean lean out? [I say] Bueno, lean out lleva la idea de que… de que… sí, lean out. (laughter among students, one student smiling feeling really proud of himself). Yo me asomo por la ventana cuando mi esposa sale pero se olvida de algo, el almuerzo por ejemplo, abro la ventana, asomo la cabeza y grito su nombre para que vuelva. Quiero que tenga algo de comer. Otro ejemplo: imaginen ustedes que es de noche… (making eye contact with a student) ¿Por qué te asomarías por la ventana? (she doesn´t answer but after an awkward moment someone else does)[Female student says] Escucho un ruido. [I say] sí, oyes un ruido afuera y quieres saber quién es. Abres la cortina, te asomas por la ventana y allá, debajo… hay un grupo de mariachis. ¡Qué bueno! [Student says] Depende… (students laugh)

el fondo del caño
llegó gateando
la superficie del agua
se incorporó sobre los codos
ella despertó sobresaltada
una mueca
un guarapillo
una zona pantanosa
el arrabal
la popa del bote
una soga larga
no pudo reprimir la risa
el fango
palpando las monedas en el bolsillo

This conversation actually took about 25 minutes. I cannot imagine presenting 15 new words at once to a group of non-heritage speakers, but keep in mind that for most of my students many of these are words that they may have heard before, somewhere, but are not part of their active vocabulary. Also, this is only a first pass; we will be working with these words all week.

After the presentation of new vocabulary we read for fifteen minutes from our independent reading (free reading that has nothing to do with the class reading) and spent the last fifteen minutes of class watching the latest part of El Internado.

drawing by Valeria C.
drawing by Valeria C.

The next day I started with a quick warm-up related to the vocabulary and then passed out a copy of the story (click here to download it) to each student so they could follow along while I read. I have exactly one pupitre in my room which I dragged out to pretend I was the baby looking down at my reflection so that they had a mental image of what was happening in the story. After reading the first four paragraphs I had the students illustrate the first box. Circling around the room while they did it I verified that everyone was understanding the basic set-up of the story. We read the story in one period, including my comments about register and regionalisms while reading the story, and they finished illustrating the story for homework.

On Wednesday (day three of the lesson) we returned to the story through the vocabulary. I still had the vocabulary posted on the board and asked how each word was used in the story, essentially retelling the story. Then, so there is individual accountability, I gave them this cloze activity to complete on their own. There is a space in the middle because I print them double-sided to save paper (so that there are two copies per piece of paper). Wednesdays are an early dismissal day at my school (for staff development), so after finishing we had about 15 minutes left to watch El Internado.

On Thursday we started with 20 minutes of independent reading (pleasure reading from the class library). During the second 20 minutes we completed this activity , first alone, then in pairs and finally going over the hardest parts together as a whole class. The last 15 minutes were once again dedicated to our favorite telenovela.

Finally on Friday we started the class with pleasure reading and, afterwards, I gave a short vocabulary quiz (I said the word orally in Spanish and they had to write a logical sentence using that word; I graded the quiz based mostly on whether they could use the word and took minor points off for spelling). You could, of course, fit a lot more into this unit, but I am happy with our relaxed pace that tries to strike a balance between enjoyable reading and academics.

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One comment

  1. Mr. Peto, As always, I enjoy your blog post. En el fondo del caño hay un negrito by Puertorrican José Luis González is a favorite of mine, and although I have no Heritage Speakers, I intend to do these activities with my AP students. Muchísimas Gracias.

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