First Writing Samples of the Year (YAY) by Brett

aeDon’t worry, I have parent permission to post student work on my blog!

First of all, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m just hoping to help others learn more about CI in practice. If you want to see what really awesome level 1 proficiency looks like, go check out this video from Grant Boulanger (a true CI master):

I mean, OMG! Every time I’m down in the dumps, I just go watch that video, and it fills me with hope and joy and commitment to this style of teaching. Every time I think I know it all, I go watch that and get reminded of how much more I have to improve!! Thanks Grant for sharing!


Last Friday, I gave my two sections of Spanish 1 their first 10 minute freewrite assignment, and I’m really encouraged by the results. It’s the first time they’ve written in Spanish at all. There has been literally zero written output and only sporadic spoken output during a review activity here and there. This is high school Spanish 1–freshmen and sophomores. At this point, I’d seen them 5 days a week for 55 minutes for 7 weeks. So, I estimate that’s perhaps about 20-25 hours of input or so.

1st writing samples00011st writing samples00021st writing samples00031st writing samples00041st writing samples0005

Here’s a more comprehensive scan of broader ability levels from class all the way to the worst one or two samples. It’s just quite a few didn’t scan well so you’ll have to skip some: writing sample 1st block sp 1 week 7

They’re in Spanish, but I’ve typed up the English for the top one for the non-Spanish speakers. I’ve corrected grammatical errors while translating obviously, but I’ve left the vocab errors.

“There is a taco. Taco name is Tommy. Tommy doesn’t live in Brandermill. Tommy lives in Bon Air. Tommy is a very big. Tommy is very fat. Tommy is very interesting. Tommy has a friend. Friend name is Charlie. Charlie is a cookie. Charlie isn’t stupid. Charlie is very, very stupid. Tommy goes Charlie’s house. Look! Charlie has cat. Charlie’s cat is enormous. Charlie’s cat is black and red. Charlie’s cat eats Tommy. Bye bye, Tommy!

“My name is Sam. Sam is girl. She’s not boy. How ridiculous! Sam is wearing red and white shirt. Sam is wearing blue pants. Pants of jeans. Sam’s shoes is Birks. Birkenstocks of brown and black. Sam has long hair. Sam likes Chipotle. Sam likes pizza.”



  • There’s obviously language control errors. I mean it’s week 7! And their first writing assignment! However, this level of proficiency is a big improvement for me upon previous years at the end of week 7, both last year when I first started CI teaching and from when I taught more traditionally. To be honest, I think this is at least equivalent to if not already better than my level 1 students’ proficiency at the end of level 1 last year. And if I’m being really honest, it’s better than many of my students’ proficiency at the end of level 2 last year…
  • I need to always remember that students need first person singular input. If I’m not careful, most input tends to be third person singular and plural, with second person for questioning. But I neglect the first person, which is terrible when it comes time for students to write about themselves. So, I’ve got to be more cognizant during Write and Discuss and just put half of the Write and Discuss texts into the first person.
  • Freewrite set-up: I took a good 30 minutes to explain and scaffold in English this first freewrite. High school kids seem to freak out the first time that they have to write in length in Spanish despite my telling them that they’re not graded (I don’t grade them, but they still tried hard).Guidelines: To help set them up for success, I gave them a few of Tina Hargaden’s freewrite guidelines with some of my own thrown in:
    • complete sentences only
    • no English
    • no blanks
    • say the whole sentence to yourself in Spanish before starting it
    • write your first sentence with a partner before the 10 minutes begin
    • use descriptive words
    • use brand names or proper nouns to get around unknown vocab (Takis if you don’ know how to say chips. iPhone if you don’t know how to say cell phone)
    • envision our hand gestures for key actions (have, like, want, need, etc.)
    • if you run out of things to say, move onto a new topic

Brainstorming: I also spent some time in English writing up the topics they knew in Spanish. It coalesced into three different possibilities

  • Describe a person’s physical appearances and clothing and colors (because we’d played Guess Who a bunch)
  • Describe a person’s or your own physical appearance, personality, preferences, activities, family, etc…
  • Make up your own object character, like a taco or a dog (because we’d done 1 OWI and 1 Invisibles-style story) and do the above description of that characterAfter writing all this down, I had them shout out the vocab they knew for each sub-category above as a way to tie in their prior knowledge. So, I just said stuff like, “Yell out all at once all the colors you know how to say in Spanish. 3, 2, 1, GO!” And then clothing, and sports, and physical attributes, and then emotions, and then personality attributes, etc…


What have I done to get my students to this proficiency level?

I’ve practiced exclusively non-targeted CI from day 1 using a variety of input formats:

  • Write and Discuss. (This is a daily practice, usually around 10 minutes) It’s where I just type up whatever conversation we’ve had in class and ask leading questions that review material. Sometimes I sit down at my computer to type the conversation at the end of class, and sometimes I sit down two or three times sprinkled in throughout class. Ideally, I think spreading out the typing is better for interest and probably has greater acquisition games since it’s fresher in the students’ minds.Here’s the link to this class’s Write and Discuss document. has all the text I’ve typed for the whole year in reverse chronological order. I’m actually shocked at how little text there is. I’d like to be providing much more on a daily basis. I’m going to try to improve! I’m really surprised at how good the writing samples were in language control considering how little text we’ve actually processed.
  • Reading options: Ben Slavic has a million reading options. Google it. In level 1, I predominately do choral translation, volunteer translation, or individualized written translation for a grade (Gotta fill that gradebook up somehow!).However, I have a new favorite for character-creation content. I think we should call it Read and Act.  I like to call actors up, read a paragraph in Spanish, get the translation from the class and then re-read it in Spanish sentence-by-sentence turning to the actors to have them demonstrate each sentence. It holds their attention so much better for long texts than anything I’ve done previously. As they get better, I’ve found myself skipping the translation and just asking for clarifying questions about vocab or grammar as needed, and then turning the actors loose.
  • Card Talk to learn about students’ interests and activities. This constituted the majority of class time the first two weeks.
  • Calendar Talk to learn about weather, school events like sports, games, club activities, Homecoming, dances, etc.  This constitutes about 5-10 minutes or so at the beginning of each class, depending on how interesting the spin-out conversation ends up being. If it’s a conversation about birthdays, I can keep it interesting for like 30 minutes!
  • Guess Who is a game where I describe somebody in class based on physical descriptions or clothing, and they have to figure out who I’m describing. Sometimes we play it standing up and then sitting down when you’re eliminated. Sometimes we do it with everyone sitting down so it doesn’t reveal the person. It’s really fun. They’d let me do it every day all period if I’d let them. It’s just a super CI-friendly way to teach descriptions, clothing, and colors.
  • One Word Images (but this class has only done 1). Some people think that all non-targeted CI is just character creation and stories with those characters. But there’s just as many input conversation formats as with targeted CI. I’ve only just gotten to character creation by the end of October.
  • Invisibles stories (but this class has only done 1)
  • Book Talks. (One or two each week at beginning of class for 2-5 minutes, although occasionally I’ve spun a Book Talk into a storytelling activity of like 30 minutes or so) Mike Peto is the man when it comes to reading. So go check him out. I based my Book Talk practice on his advice. Basically, I just preview reading material that will be available for them later on in the year when they’re ready to start independent reading (Hopefully November). For level 1, the book talks consist of my classes’ Invisibles style stories from last year, and the easiest Fluency Fast novels (Pablito, Capibara, the Brandon Brown series, Agentes Secretos, etc–the easiest ones. Pablito is by FAR the most popular.)The book talks started out in English, obviously, but as soon as I felt the ability, I started saying parts of the book talk that were more comprehensible based on imagery and acting in Spanish. And starting about 4 weeks in, I’ve been able to give the whole book talk in Spanish.
  • Storytelling (only done once or twice so far) is where you just tell the class a story for between 5 minutes to the whole class–however long it’s interesting. One or two of the Book Talks were going so well I just kept on telling the story for like 30 minutes.



Why are these writing samples so much better than my previous students?

  1. I’m just better. This is my second full year doing nothing but CI from day 1, and I just know what I’m doing more than I did last year when every day was an experiment.
  2. Non-targeted CI- When I say non-targeted, I’m not trying to be radical. I’m just referencing open-ended input activities like above (Card Talk, Calendar Talk, Book Talks, Persona Especial how I do it, free voluntary reading, character creation, story creation, storytelling, etc..). It works better for me than my targeted CI practice last year because it has led to my practice being more interesting to the students. It also provides more conversation topics or formats than targets did for me. The language has sunk deeper because they are more engrossed in the conversation. Given the above input activities or conversation formats, the students’ interest is really front-and-center. The class is all about them–learning about their preferences, their school lives, their personal lives, their families, their activities, describing them, and letting them create characters and stories. Last year, either because it was my first year doing CI or because of targets (or a little of both) students weren’t as engrossed in the language as this year and their proficiency didn’t advance as quickly.
  3. Rich language usage– One of the other ways that I’ve really changed this year is in the breadth or richness or expansiveness of the language that I use on a regular basis in all levels including level 1.One of the mantras of targeted CI is to try to restrict your language exposure to prior experience + the daily targets. The idea behind avoiding new words is to focus on the new targets and not overwhelm students. The fear is that too many new words will cause anxiety or at the very least distract from the learning goal, which is the new targets.Non-targeted CI differs vastly in its idea of appropriate language exposure. There aren’t any dedicated structures for any given day to try to stick to. Nor is there a fear in overloading the students with too many new words. The only restriction on language richness is what can be understood in the moment by the students. And not even comprehension of each and every sound or word, but understanding the overall message. I’ve found this year that students can understand a vast breadth of language relatively quickly if I use as much scaffolding and support as possible and talk slowly. Of course, context is probably the most important scaffold. And just like all CI teachers, I use voice intonation, gestures and movements, acting, student actors, pictures, quick drawings, pointing, etc. As long as I feel myself being comprehensible, I let the language flow. Consequently, the breadth of their language exposure is magnitudes greater than my practice last year. It won’t translate into production breadth immediately, but I hope it will in the long term. It certainly has contributes to their listening and reading comprehension in the short term, though!
  4. Behavior Management: Behavior management establishes any class’s fulfillment of potential. My behavior management this year has been significantly better for a few reasons. First, I’ve started using Ben Slavic’s classroom expectations (specifically the second rule about one person speaks and the others listen). It’s really working for me! I stay cool, calm, and collected as the class quiets back down. It’s just help me not try to talk over their noise and stress myself out. I just stop, imply that this is not how class goes, walk over, and point to rule 2. Of course, I back it up with the interpersonal communication rubric grading, or else it would have little effect.Second, I’ve gone deskless. Surprisingly, it’s had a big positive effect on my management. First of all, proximity is so much easier to achieve because even with a class of 26 students, everyone is in the front half of the class. And I can walk around everyone so much easier without the desks. And there’s no way to lay your head down on anything. There’s something deeper, though. Not having any physical barriers between me and the students has a gravitational pull on them for some reason. It sounds weird, but I can feel it happening.



Well, hopefully that’s helped in some way. I can’t wait to report back around Christmas break with another writing sample analysis!

All the Best,



  1. Thanks for sharing–this is great to hear. I am new to CI so am feasting upon all the anecdotes teachers are providing. Are the writes shown average for the class or outstanding?


    • I just updated the blog to include another scanned document that shows a broader range.

      My class is of 22 students. There was a pretty consistent bell curve from about 130 at the best to 40 words at the worst, and most students falling between 60 and 100 words. Proficiency also varied quite a bit along those lines. All the images embedded in the blog were from the top of the class, but please check out the pdf I’ve now included to get a better sense of the class as a whole.


      • Thanks for the reply. I did my first free write today with about as much prep as you mention above. After all that prep, I forgot to give them a little story to get their minds going! Ugh!! They were getting antsy and I forgot. Anyway– they were SO pleased when I mentioned to them the 35 word average which THargaden quoted when setting up her first years. That’s why I wondered where yours curved at. I REALLY appreciate all the teachers that take time to blog about their CI experiences. I have learned so much from you all and my students directly benefit every day from what I have learned via the sharing. Also, I totally agree on your theory of deskless gravity. I love the connection fosters and I know the kids feel it, too. Best wishes.


  2. Thank you so much! This is incredibly helpful! I’m a CI newbie, and your detailed explanations are really helping me get a better understanding of best practices. I really appreciate all the support! 🙂


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