In my last post, I shared a video of introducing some rejoinders. Today I want to break down some of the steps, skills and strategies I use. These are by no means exhaustive.

Let’s remember that rejoinders exist to keep the flow of language going. In a communicative environment, students who don’t have a lot of active vocabulary can interpret complex language and demonstrate their comprehension, express agreement, opinions, emotions, etc through these memorized chunks of social language.

I’ve intentionally chosen phrases that I’ve heard native speakers use. They’re phrases that I’ve learned throughout my own time learning Spanish. Many of the phrases I’ve included here include phrases I didn’t understand or use as a novice, but rather incorporated into my vocabulary after living and working with native Spanish speakers – in other words, these phrases will make your students sound more authentic – they will sound and feel more like a speaker of Spanish at an earlier time in their language learning journey. This is a critical advantage to incorporating rejoinders. When students feel part of the group, they are more likely to continue learning their language.

Scaffold up to production

I say the rejoinder and ask if they understand it – “Clase, ¿comprenden “no vale la pena”?” They show me their nonverbal gesture for “You’re confusing me!” I write next to it, “It ain’t worth it!” When they don’t understand, I write it on the board.

Change your voice when you say it in English. Lower your voice to just above a whisper. Change the tone to a tone other than your general teaching tone. This reinforces your teaching tone and the target language as the language and tone of communication. The silliness lets students know that you aren’t up tight – that sounds are important – that tone, pitch and volume are important – that we can play with these but that they must be noticed.

Grease the wheels!

Rejoinders don’t aid communication if they aren’t used. A one-sided conversation is boring. We have to get kids using the rejoinders and fast. That’s why I take the two minutes when presenting them to have the class, as a group, “try it on”. I know that once my most extroverted kids are comfortable making the sound of the new rejoinder, they’re going to look for chances to use them. I think of this as greasing the wheel of communication. When we do two minutes of this, it pays huge dividends.

But this is not your traditional ‘listen and repeat’. Traditional listen and repeat, at least as I knew it as a student and used it as a teacher (back in the day), was 1 part to kill time, 1 part to “practice” pronouncing a long list of vocabulary and 1,000,000 parts from the belief that this would help their proficiency. No, no. This is not that. This is short, quick and intended to get kids to a place of comfort making the sounds.

Ear, open hand: I tell kids that when I point to my ear, they listen to the sound. When I give them my open hand, they give it back. This ensures attention and a choral reply. That’s important, as we know.

Rhythm: If your language and the phrase lend themselves to it, give a snapping beat to help internalize the rhythm of the language and to tie the phrase to rhythm. Rhythm and repetition are two of 5 teaching patterns that Augusta Mann identifies as effective for African American and other students in her Touching the Spirit teaching modality.

Play with the rhythm. Speed it up. Slow it down. When I had desks, I would allow students who really felt the rhythm to snap or tap a rhythm along with me, sometimes even assigning that as a classroom job: The Beat Master. Great way to honor talented students whose incessant tapping can, if not done at the right time, distract or disrupt.

Tee it up!

It’s not always easy, and the examples in the video I posted yesterday aren’t the best, but when you can, try to find ways to tee up the rejoinders you’ve taught. In the video I posted in my last post, I playfully told a student to drop and give me 20 push ups. Students replied screaming. ¡No vale la pena! I playfully told one of the most diligent students in the class to TAB (take a break). ¡No vale la pena!

If students don’t catch the trigger, don’t quite get that they can speak out of turn, or are slow to respond, you may need to prompt them more directly. Let’s say that you’ve just taught the rejoinder ¡Qué asco! – how gross! It’s pretty easy to think up ways to trigger that phrase. But I can remember one time earlier this year when we were doing a weekend check in and learned that one of our classmates had eaten an entire pizza at a sleep over. I asked him what type of pizza. Pepperoni. Typical. But then I told the class that he had eaten pizza with pepperoni and chocolate. I walked over and touched the ¡Qué asco! poster. Some kids said it, some didn’t. I nodded and smiled. Then, with my fingers, counted 1, 2, 3 and held out my open hand inviting them all to say it. More did. Some didn’t. Then I said, “Great! Now let’s all give an appropriate emotional response!” Again with 1, 2, 3 and at that point, all students said it.

That’s a great way to scaffold up to all students participating. But it’s not enough. If you stop there, you don’t have the routine internalized. So I found another student who likes pizza. I asked if she liked pizza with pepperoni. She did. What about pizza with ketchup? She recoiled. I again walked over to the ¡qué asco sign. Looking at it, I touched it. I turned to the class and slowly gave my open hand. ¡Qué asco! they all said.

They were beginning to get it. I asked a third kid if she liked pizza with broccoli? Surprisingly, she did. But a few kids didn’t and uttered, ¡qué asco! I immediately responded to and acknowledged their contribution to our conversation by making eye contact with them, agreeing with them, saying I also thought it was gross and returning to the student and verifying that she in fact liked it.

That was magic moment. That moment when a few kids blurted out ¡qué asco! was a magic moment. My rules state “no blurting in English”. That’s hard for them. It’s a magic moment when they blurt something out and, instead of being redirected, their contribution is acknowledged and recognized as contributing to our class. At this point, you have now established a few things:

  • A student may not derail our class in English
  • A student may use Spanish without permission if it’s situationally appropriate
  • A student’s opinion matters and will be acknowledged
  • A student can direct the flow of class with their contributions in Spanish
  • This class is being run collaboratively and is more fun when students contribute

Use rejoinders to tap into youth culture

It’s not necessary, in my opinion, at this stage of learning to express each rejoinder in literal terms. It’s a memorized chunk of meaning used to express a concrete response to a specific message. No need to break it down right now. When I teach students to use “¡No entiendo ni jota!” I do not tell students that it means “I don’t understand even the letter J”. Rather, we equate this phrase with how they would say it in their youth language. We might say “I got nuthin” or “I don’t even know what you’re saying” or “man, I am completely and utterly lost right now”. Feel free to embellish as well! Perhaps you write the meaning like this: “I’m woefully and despairingly drowning in the beautiful sounds of Spanish!” They will realize of course that these four little words in Spanish can’t possibly literally mean all that in English, but they’ll go with it and use it at the right time. And that’s what matters at this point.

Some other examples of this:

¡Qué lástima! – literally: what a pity. But try: What a bummer! Oh, Too bad!

¡Apúrate! – literally: hurry up! But try: Get a load on! Get goin! Scoot! Chop chop!

Fue sin querer – literally: It was without wanting. But try: It was an accident! I didn’t mean it! or even just Ooooops!

¡No me lo creo! – Literally: I don’t believe it! But try: “I simply find it impossible to assimilate into my thinking the feasibility of this situation”

Kids will get a kick out of these types of “definitions” and will have fun saying back the entire phrase when you ask, “How do you say -no me lo creo- in English?” I owe this idea to a training from Sharroky Hollie from the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. The idea came to me when Sharroky was suggesting to content teachers that when a student uses a word that is inappropriate for the school setting, that they essentially jiu jitsu the situation by saying something like, “I know it might be OK for you to say -fuck that shit- in some times and places, but here we can’t. so here are some alternatives that are school appropriate” The same concept applies- we want kids to respond in a personalized way. We want them to own the language. At the novice level, they don’t need to know that me is the indirect object pronoun or that lo is the direct object pronoun. A short pop-up that tells them lo means it and creo means I believe may be sufficient for the moment.

That’s all for now. More later. Have fun and comment below about your experiences using rejoinders in class!

Rejoinders: Some Skills and Strategies for Greasing the Wheel

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