Verbs and grammar- two words that strike fear in the hearts of language teachers and students alike.
Having to teach or learn verb conjugation and grammar is about as much fun as going to the dentist for a series of root canals. I should know, I started as a Basic French or French as a Second Language teacher and am now in French Immersion. That’s why I created VERBATHON®, a teaching tool that comes in a kit and which also doubles as a game. Available in French, Spanish and German, VERBATHON® is used in schools across Canada, the United States and overseas. There are even tournaments held that are supported and organized by CPF (Canadian Parents for French).
VERBATHON® addresses the following tough questions every language educator or in fact any teacher asks,
- How do I make the job of preparing and organizing materials easier for myself? How can I empower my students to be responsible for their own learning?
- How can I change the attitude of my students towards learning concepts that are tedious and boring? How do I effectively evaluate the students?
- How can I integrate several subject areas in an activity to maximize teaching time? How do I have fun?
It’s time to get rid of those useless, static verb charts that have remained unnoticed on the wall for years!
VERBATHON® is an expandable, user friendly system that includes a specially designed wallchart, a set of cards that teachers can use for various language activities and a comprehensive teacher’s guide with tested and proven strategies. Instructions are given on how the materials can be prepared, organized and maintained by the students. VERBATHON® recognizes students who have different learning styles. Teachers will find activities and instructional techniques that address the needs of both kinesthetic and visual learners as well as linear and abstract thinkers. The task of learning verbs and grammar become a manipulative experience as students compose sentences using the wallchart and cards. At the same time, parts of sentences are presented in a formulaic or “mathematical” way.
One of the key elements that make VERBATHON® successful is its ability to empower students to be responsible for their own learning.
The activities encourage movement and active participation rather than endless passive seatwork of “filling in the blank” exercises. The teacher models the activities with the intent of being replaced by students who in turn teach other students. A sense of ownership is created through student-led warm-up activities; cooperative games and student generated data. The activities and games enable students to analyze sentence structure in a cooperative manner and through lively discussions. Students learn from analyzing mistakes and making corrections.
Who doesn’t like to play games? Creating a paradigm shift or attitude change among students is another key element that makes VERBATHON® successful. Studying verbs and grammar become a fun, exciting and fast-paced activity through different cooperative as well as individual games that the students can play with the wallchart and cards. In addition to games, verbs are taught in an effective and fun way through chanting conjugations with movement and rap and rock rhythms.
Verbs and grammar should not be taught as an isolated activity. They should also be applied properly and in context. Verb conjugation is a skill akin to understanding how a math operation works. The student may be able to add, subtract, multiply or divide, but being able to solve a word problem involves higher thinking skills. The brief, daily warm-up activities are designed so that a student can get drilled on the basics of conjugating and then opportunities are given to apply them. It’s amazing what two minutes a day can do to help improve a language student’s ability to communicate once they’ve mastered and internalized verb conjugation! VERBATHON® also provides activity sheets that encourage writing. My students have shown an improvement their writing when it comes to proper verb and grammar usage. Another strategy to evaluate students is by having one on one “interviews”. By using the cards, the student forms sentences that a teacher dictates. The teacher may then question the student on different grammatical points.
The elements of positive competition and integration of other subject areas like Math and Social Studies are introduced via the VERBATHON® tournament in which students are timed on how fast they can race to correctly place cards with the verb conjugation to the corresponding pronoun on the wallchart. The students are timed individually and then as teams. This is a strategy to create balanced teams. The inclusion and participation of every student regardless of academic ability is the goal. What makes learning relevant is that students are challenged to improve their personal and team time. Math can then be integrated by graphing or plotting the results. By generating their own data, students take ownership and pride in the improvements they show. Once the students are grouped into balanced teams, they can choose a team name based on a country that speaks the target language. Then a Social Studies project can be integrated by doing research on the country they’ve chosen. This does not limit the choices and research project to countries. Why not a Canadian province, city or even a hockey team? The possibilities are endless!
Since 1999, I’ve organized a biennial VERBATHON® tournament. The tournament attracts over 1,000 students from schools across Canada and sponsors from the business community. CPF (Canadian Parents for French) chapters have organized district-wide VERBATHON® tournaments. It’s an unbelievable sight to behold five hundred students gathered in a gym cheering for their school teams that are, of all things, conjugating verbs! Radio Canada, the French counterpart of the CBC, featured the tournament in a news report. Several articles in newspapers and professional journals including radio interviews have been devoted to VERBATHON®. A province-wide competition is on the horizon. It’s a snowball that’s gaining momentum every year!
How do I have fun?
I love being able to hand over control to the students so I can concentrate or work on other areas. Best of all, I find great satisfaction in seeing my students becoming motivated, excited and successful learners.
by Emmanuel Escueta (Creator of VERBATHON, President of ESCUTECH Educational Products,
French Immersion Teacher in the Coquitlam School District) copyright 2003