Over the last two years of exploring CI, I initially noticed a lack of student ability in the first person singular–their ability to talk about themselves. That’s because a lot of CI is story-based, either traditional TPRS or non-targeted strategies like One Word Images, the Invisibles, or Storylistening. Stories are usually told in the third person. Add to this all of the PQA in class that is almost always in the third person and the lack of student output practice like in a traditional (read grammar practice) classroom, and if you’re not careful, you can wind up with students who can’t conjugate to talk about themselves.
Talking about yourself accurately is really important at the beginning of a language career. I just spent 2 days learning about the Modified Oral Proficiency Interview and was struck by how much of the students’ interviews revolved around the first person singular. In fact, up until the really, really strong high school students we interviewed–young men and women who had participated in an immersion program and were pushing intermediate high–all other conversations were exclusively about the students’ self. The ACTFL performance descriptors echo this observation in that at the beginning, students are to discuss themselves and topics that are intimate to their personal, immediate, and daily lives.
The old adage, “What you put in is what you get out,” really applies here as with much of teaching with Comprehensible Input. What students hear and read in a CI classroom is what they ultimately write and say. So, I’ve been very cognizant this fall of getting my students’ eyes on the first person singular. And it’s working! They have no problem writing about themselves. Now I just have to watch for an over-correction. Based on their first few writing samples, they’re now over-applying the first person. But I anticipate that getting into FVR with the books in January will more than compensate with lots of exposure to the third person.
In application, it’s a simple pivot. When my classes and I do the daily write and discuss, I’ve simply written the summary text using the first person, adopting the protagonist’s perspective.
Check out this One Word Image text as an example. In the past, I would have written this whole thing in the third person as we had discussed it in class.
The same holds with our thematic unit conversations with my students as protagonists. Here’s an example about myself from a recent class about family. Notice that even in the second paragraph that transitions to my sister, I maintain the first person by switching to my sister talking.
I’m not claiming that this is rocket science. In fact, it’s a super small adjustment, but a powerful way to make sure students get sufficient exposure to under-represented grammatical contexts. The same holds true with the past tense vs the present. Students will reflect a deficit in the past time frame as long as we expose them to the past less than the present.