Monday, August 5, 2013

Learning Languages the Charlotte Mason Way - Designing a Course of Study for Italian (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of studying foreign languages in a Charlotte Mason homeschool.

In Part 1, I discussed Francois Gouin, whose Series approach Miss Mason recommended in Home Education.

In Part 2, I highlighted some of the learning activities suggested by Parents' Review articles, the PNEU programmes, and Miss Mason herself in Volumes 1 and 6.

This time, I want to share how we'll be putting those suggestions into action this year with my second graders.  


As I have mentioned before, since we're learning a less-common language (Italian), the open-and-go resources for children's learning are few.  I'm trying to see that as a benefit--I have the opportunity to design my own course of study that both (1) meets what I see as some essentials of a Charlotte Mason-style program for young children and (2) works for our family.

As for the first point, we have talked about those in length over the last couple posts.  On the second point, I want to add a note or two.  When I say "works for our family," I have in mind a few things:
:: The size of our family.  I have lots of little ones, which means we keep home quite a bit.  It's not feasible for me to corral the younger four while my two "big kids" take class after class, so I prioritize our extracurriculars schedule.  If I only had the two older children, I would likely enroll them in a course taught by an Italian teacher, as this is a subject I wouldn't mind outsourcing. ;)  But right now, I have piano lessons and nature study on our "fall outings" schedule, and that's about all I can manage at this stage in life.
:: Our location.  Speaking of an Italian teacher: if we lived a half hour or so north, there's a good chance I could actually find an Italian tutor to come to the house.  Where we live, that's not possible right now.  
:: Our preferences.  We don't "do screens" for our children, so I need something that isn't DVD- or computer-based.  Later on, I plan to utilize these kinds of learning tools, but not with in the early-elementary years.
:: My own limitations.  For one, I'm not fluent in Italian.  I have taken some Italian classes and I'm trying to refresh those language skills, but obviously, my plans would be different if I were a native speaker.  I also have a limited amount of time, so our schedule has us doing our language lessons during mealtimes.  Which means that whatever I choose has to be doable over the din of toddlers. ;)
And so on.  What I want to point out is that all of us have particular needs when we're assessing what will work.  The plan I have listed here isn't my ideal.  It's what I think will work at this stage in our home.

So what would my ideal look like?  Probably something like Miss Mason suggested in Volume 1: an Italian tutor coming to my home for a few hours a week to work with the children (and me!), using picture lessons, Gouin series, and lots of conversation.  She could drop off prepared assignments and discussion starters for me to use with the kids through the rest of the week on my own.  And maybe she could cook me some lasagna and bring a nice bottle of red wine along?  You know, learning about the culture and all.  And didn't Clara Daniell's article mention something about international travel...  

Yes, so ideals are sometimes less than helpful. ;)  So I have tried to discern here what I think will actually work in our home rather than what I wish would work.

Our Plans for Italian - Second Grade
Last year we took a couple resources (Pimsleur for listening/speaking and Teach Me Everyday Italian CDs for songs) and worked through them in order.  This year, I organized our studies into thematic units.  My goal is to cover one unit every 3-4 weeks, but we will slow down if necessary.  

To plan the units, I chose a "spine" of sorts--a book that would give me a progression of topics to cover and some vocabulary/grammatical ideas for each topic.  This spine is for me--the children will never see it.  This year, I'm using Italian in Ten Minutes a Day.  I picked it because it was at my local library; if it hadn't been, I would have picked another one.  I want to emphasize that this book does not use a CM-ish study method.  I'm simply using it as a organizing tool.  Any user-friendly textbook that isn't too grammar-heavy would do.  I'm using the units in roughly the same order, with a few adjustments for age-appropriateness (we're not using the Italian currency chapter, for example) or length (I'm stretching a few units into two).

Here are the other resources we're using for this year:
:: Teach Me Everyday Italian, volumes 1 and 2 - These are great.  We used them last year with success and are happy to continue with them.
:: Filastrocche Italiane - A bare-bones book that I already had on my shelves.  It doesn't have that many rhymes, but it's sufficient for a year of lessons.
:: Italian for Children - I picked this program from the library.  It is a compilation of worksheets and pretty twaddly activities, and though it has an accompanying CD, I'm not even using it because I was very unimpressed.  All that said, I pulled a couple of the little board games from here rather than drawing them from scratch, and I adapted some of the conversation ideas to do on my own.
:: Italian Picture Word Book and Let's Learn Italian Picture Dictionary - I'm using these children's dictionaries from my shelves to pull my vocabulary from.
:: Kids Stuff Italian.  More on this later. :)
(Just as with our spine book, my children aren't actually seeing any of these resources since we're doing it all orally.  So we're using these as teacher's helps rather than as an actual curriculum.)

From these various resources, I compiled the materials for each unit that I would actually use with the children.  So for each unit, we have:
:: The theme (such as Animals)
:: Songs (using the Teach Me Everyday Italian series)
:: Rhymes (using Filastrocche Italiane)
:: Games or activities (pulled from Italian for Children and my own brain ;))
:: Conversation prompts
:: A Gouin series or a set of picture lessons
:: Vocabulary for me to introduce (mostly through conversation or games)

Here's an example of our current unit's outline:

UnitItalian in Ten Minutes a DayTeach Me Everyday Italianvolumes 1 and 2Filastrocche ItalianeOther Activities
2- ANIMALSUnit 3 - Odds and Ends
Forming plurals
Noun endings
Andiamo allo zoo (2. 9)
conversation (2. 8)
Casimiro (2. 17)
All fattoria del nonno (2. 20)
Nella vecchia fattoria (2. 21)
Agnellino bianco (2. 21)
C'e un topolino (1. 25)
Fillastrocca della lana:: Picture Lesson - A Day at the Farm
:: Game: Che animale sono io?
:: Game: animal charades
:: Game: Quanti animali hai? (with animal cards)
:: Game: Go Fish (with animal cards)
:: Practice: counting animals (plural endings)
:: Conversation: Ch'e il tuo animale preferito?
:: Songs: continue Nella Vecchia Fattoria with other animals
:: Songs: continue Andiamo allo zoo with other animals
:: Game: I Spy with zoo/farm scene
:: Game: Chi dice?  (using Italian sounds for animals)

(A note: This unit is actually a little different from most of the others because Italian in Ten Minutes a Day doesn't have an animal unit, but I knew I wanted to include one.  I used this chapter, which is basically an extended grammar lesson dealing with plurals, and made animals the content.  Coincidentally, describing barnyard and zoo scenes provides a good opportunity to practice how to change a singular noun to a plural.  Not that my children are ever hearing those grammatical terms or getting any sort of grammar lesson!  They're absorbing the rule through songs and through conversation with me.)

In addition to these notes, I also have a (currently handwritten) sheet with a list of vocabulary to cover, question-and-answer prompts, and other little conversations we can have using the material from this unit.  As usual, I prefer to plan weekly rather than daily, so I like working off a master sheet like this rather than trying to handle daily lesson plans.  Our aim is 10-15 minutes of Italian, four days a week.  We usually do it over dinner so that the little ones can listen in too.

In addition to that dedicated time, we're also incorporating Italian in other ways:
:: Daily calendar work.  We have been doing our calendar in Italian since my oldest two were little.
:: Memory work.  I have moved the songs, poems, and series we have learned into our Memory Work binder so that they'll be practiced without cutting into our daily Italian-learning session.
:: Non-"school" conversation.  I'm taking a note from Gouin's discussion of "subjective language" and adding in conversational idioms through, well, conversation.  That means that I'm memorizing phrases to use with the children and expecting that they'll eventually pick up on them without having to add them to our formal curriculum.  For this, I'm using a (strangely-titled) gem of a book: Kids Stuff Italian.  It's a thorough compilation of the kinds of things one might say to or talk about with children.  There are sections for different ages and scenarios (bedtime for babies, cooking with older children, bathtime with toddlers, etc.), and in the back, there are lists of vocabulary words by theme (animals, in the kitchen, clothing) that make it a great reference.

Other Elementary-Age Ideas
I don't want to plan too far in advance because I want to see how this year goes first obviously!  But I have a general idea of some things I would like to incorporate in the next couple years:
:: More complicated picture lessons
:: Continued Gouin series
:: Reading and narration from familiar picture books, folk tales, fairy tales, and fables
:: Memorization of proper Italian poems (rather than nursery rhymes)
:: Plays (I'd love to arrange for the children to do a nativity play at Christmas or something similar)
:: Songs, including not just children's selections but also Italian folk songs

So that's that!  I hope to come back at the end of the year to share how things worked and what progress we made.  I can also share more specifics for others doing Italian in their homes--just let me know what you'd like to see!  

And do you have any great resources for learning Italian you think we might enjoy?  Please do share.

24 comments:

  1. Where do you find the nice watercolor pictures that you are using to narrate from? Any suggestions for nice quality cards to use for go fish for the various units you have planned - or printables somewhere? Thanks so much! You have helped me find a starting point.

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    1. Ha--would you believe that the cards pictured above are just cut out of an old Highlights magazine? :) I have been going through magazines looking for sweet pictures I can use for these kinds of activities and this one was perfect: a set of five little illustrations picturing a day on the farm. I then wrote up sentences to go along with each one on a separate index cards, and I have been narrating the scenes to the children for the last couple weeks. This week, they're attempting to narrate them to me. :) I'm still on the lookout for a set for our next unit: Around the House. I'm also planning to use spreads from some favorite picture books for our picture lessons.

      As for the "animal cards" I was referring to, I made those myself: I made a grid on a regular piece of paper, drew in a bunch of different animals (no labels or anything--just simple little line drawings), and then made five copies onto cardstock and cut them out along the gridlines. So we have twenty animals, five copies of each. Those are our "animal cards." We have been using them for memory and Go Fish.

      Hope that helps. Let me know if there's anything else I can clarify--I'm happy to do so!

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  2. Thank you, you have inspired me. I have held off purchasing Rosetta stone because that is not how I want to approach foreign language given I use CM. Do you think this is doable for a mom like myself who does not speak any Italian (although I am Italian). How would I confirm my pronunciation? Also are you using Italian in Ten Minutes to come up with conversation prompts and Gouin series (which I am still not clear on..could you give me an example). Or should I learn the language first, which could be an issue due to my dd's age, 13.

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    1. Hi there,

      You would definitely need to be able to confirm your pronunciation in some way, so I would really suggest this method for moms who at least have that level of skill. Miss Mason puts a strong emphasis on getting a good accent right from the start, though you don't need to be a native speaker (she says English teachers whose second language is French would often make the ideal teachers--which is different than how we're usually taught in most schools these days).

      My personal approach has been to learn the language myself, just enough to keep at least a couple steps ahead of my kids. I've done that through Pimsleur, Duolingo, and the Italian I remember from college. I would also love to outsource part of our language learning to a native speaker at some point--and I'd like to join in those "classes" as well. :) Right now, I am writing my own Gouin series and picture narrations and having them checked by my father or over at the Lang-8 forums. Luckily, I am fine with pronunciation and accent thanks to my experience with the language in college and at home, so once I have the materials prepared, I am able to present them without trouble. If I were not able to do so, I might choose a popular language-learning method and do it alongside my child instead.

      I would also say that for a 13yo, Rosetta Stone might not be a terrible choice for a mom without the language skills needed. It is at least better than some of the other programs out there. And according to the Parents' Review articles, the CM schools were using a pretty strictly oral approach for elemenary-aged students but loosened that considerably for older children; traditional grammars with accompanying written assignments are on the PNEU reading schedules for Form 2 and above (if I'm remembering right). Still, I think that an approach like this, which combines music, rhymes, conversation, narration, and whatnot is a good basis for *any* age--it's so much richer! If I were you, I would probably use a more traditional program (like Rosetta Stone) as *part* of a broader curriculum, adding in songs and rhymes, some books in the language, Gouin series, plays, and the other suggestions I listed from the Parents' Review articles (Part 2 of this blog series--the link is above).

      By the way, I emailed with Cherrydale Press and they are planning to release an Italian version of their Gouin curriculum as early as next year! I believe it would have accompanying audio, so that might be a great option for you as well. If you want to know more about Gouin series, my first post on this topic links to his writings, and you can also see examples on the Cherrydale Press site: http://cherrydalepress.com/ . They also will email you examples if you want to see more.

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  3. Celeste,
    Thank you so very much for your detailed response! I will take you up on your suggestions and I believe Rosetta stone may have a sale right now. That is too funny I too emailed Cherrydale Press yesterday eve and I can't wait for their curriculum as well! But in the mean time I will read your other posts to get further Gouin explanation and combine Rosetta with your ideas, that way I will be learning as well!
    Blessings!

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  4. Celeste,
    I've only been homeschooling for 2.5 years now. I am a language person (meaning that I studied and like studying languages). My college background is in Spanish and French. I have no problem speaking or writing both those languages but it has been terribly hard how to figure out how to TEACH those to my children using Gouin's method or CM/Gouin Method. I want to start with French because my kids are more interested in that than Spanish right now. I also lead an adult French Club in our city. Any suggestions for Gouin/CM for French for a 5 and 7 year-old for French? And if you have time, what about adults who have never studied French but want to learn? Your articles are inspiring,but I feel terribly lost as to how to begin. We aren't a CM homeschool family though I do like the stuff that I have seen. Thank you very much.

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    1. Hi there! Well, I am no expert, am a new homeschooler myself, and would not eve consider myself a "language person," so take this for what it's worth! But I think you're uniquely suited to teach in a CM style. Most of us homeschooling mothers aren't fluent in the language that we are teaching our children, unlike teachers in a classroom are (and the teachers Miss Mason employed in her schools, for that matter). So we need to rely on good materials to get us through. In your position, knowing French fluently, you can take advantage of the simplicity of Miss Mason's approach, which is almost exclusively conversational at that age. With your 5yo and 7yo, here's what I would suggest:

      :: For Gouin series, Cherrydale Press is putting out a French version. Actually, I believe it was supposed to be ready by the end of 2013, so I would imagine it will be released shortly. I would definitely pick that up to work through.
      :: Read nursery rhymes and sing songs in French.
      :: If you have folk tales or simple fairy tales written in French, read those aloud.
      :: Do some picture narrations casually with them. (Get a picture and describe it in simple French. Ask questions to the children and have them respond in complete sentences.)
      :: Aim to introduce a few new vocabulary words a day.

      And that's it! We have been following basically this structure (grouped into themes, as I mentioned in this post) and I've seen quite a bit of progress. Hope that helps give you a place to start.

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  5. Celeste, this series of posts has been so helpful, but I was wondering if you would post a bit more about your themes. Do you have a list of all the themes you have done so far that you would be willing to share with us? Where do you get your game ideas? From the books and resources you listed? Would you want to share your little planning grids for each of your units? I know you are doing Italian and we would be doing French and Spanish, but I can easily translate/transfer your plans to our languages. It would actually be easier than starting from scratch. My problem is that I have so many resources at my fingertips (my parents live in Quebec and send us lots of French resources) that I just don't know where to start my planning. Are you and the kids still using Pimsleur at all? Thank you!

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    1. Well, I was just reread the post again and saw you get the game ideas from your head or from Italian for Children!

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    2. Yes, I do have a list of all the themes we have done and the ones we are planning to do next year, so I will try to post those here soon. I really need to do an Italian update anyway, as it has been a while, and our approach is working really well so far. :) I will share here one of the most helpful activities we have been doing, in case it's useful to you now before I have the chance to pull a whole post together:

      I put together Gouin series, writing a set of sentences based on our theme. (Since I'm not completely confident in my Italian, I use the native speakers at the free Lang-8.com website to check my work.) I try to write sentences that involve simple action words but quite a bit of vocabulary, prepositional phrases, etc. We recite the series with actions each day until the children know them all. Then I write the pieces of the sentence on small cards. So, for example, with one of the sentences in our beach series:
      I watch a sailboat in the waves.
      I would make three cards: I watch / a sail boat / in the waves.
      Then we play "mix up," and create new sentences with other sentences in the series, like:
      I watch / the seagulls / under the beach umbrella.
      I swim / in the waves.
      I look for / a sailboat / at the beach.
      and so on. These series-learning and sentence-building activities have been the useful activity we do. It gives them the tools to take the words they know and actually say things. ;)

      Hope that helps a bit! I will share more when I can. :)

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    3. Thank you! That helped tremendously. Do you think it would be beneficial for me to get the Cherrydale Press Speaking French resource, or should I just make my own so it can fit my themes better?

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    4. I would buy the Cherrydale Press book if it were offered in Italian simply because having the work done for me, at least to start, would be SO helpful. That said, you can definitely create series without it. So it depends how open-and-go you want your foreign language to be. The benefit of doing my own is that I'm been able to tailor the curriculum to our family's interests. But if I had a choice, I'd love something that didn't require so much prep work. ;)

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  6. This series of posts is so helpful, Celeste. Thank you so very much for sharing. You have an exceptional gift for planning.

    We're learning Serbian in our home, and I realized I will essentially have to design curriculum myself, which scares me some. My kids are still too little for school, but I'd love an update on how Italian has gone for your family over the past few years since you wrote this!

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    1. Hi Jenna! Wow, Serbian! So you are definitely making your own curriculum then. :) Just to encourage you: even though there is quite a bit of extra work in making my own foreign language study materials, I definitely don't regret going with Italian. I chose it partly because it's what *I* wanted to learn better, and that is happening, and we're all enjoying it! I wouldn't feel the same excitement over it if we were doing Spanish (which I took four years of in high school but was never all that enthusiastic about).

      Writing an Italian update is on my short list because it is something I get asked about ALL the time. I promise that I will eventually get to it, though it may be later this spring. :) The short answer is that it's still going really well! My oldest two have been learning Italian for four years now using this strategy and they're able to say quite a lot on their own (not just parroted back but expressing their ideas in complete sentences) and are starting to gain confidence. And we haven't been as dutiful about it as we could be, so I think that's good progress.

      Now that my older kids are in Y4, they're doing more written work, and I have to say that it's a lot easier to teach a language at the Form II stage--you can assign grammar exercises, ask them to translate sentence, etc. There can be an independent component, which is really nice. But we still do most of it orally because I have a Y1 and a kinder learning too, and obviously they're not doing any written work.

      We still organize our learning based on themes--right now we're doing verbs and hobbies. I have a series that they memorize along with actions, and then we play "mix up" daily, which is definitely one of the most useful exercises we do. I write the series broken up onto cards, with each element of the sentence on a separate card. (For example: "I see" "the bug" "on the branch" would be three separate cards.) I do that for all the sentences in the series. Then we mix up the cards so that they are building new sentences with verbs and words they have memorized. Then we combine those cards with cards from previous sentences. Lots and lots of potential combinations! This term, since we're doing present-tense conjugation, I have my older kids conjugate the sentences based on different people. Next year, my goal is to cover past tense.

      Anyway, I hope that helps a little! If you have specific questions about things we do, please let me know and I will do my best to answer. :)

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    2. Thanks! I'll be looking forward to your update :)

      The mix up idea is intriguing. Serbian uses cases but I think it could still be done. I'll have to think about it.

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  7. Your insight and resources are fantastic! Do you have a list of the thematic units and the order in which you do them? I'm looking to put together something similar for Latin, Spanish, and French for our family...

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    1. Hi April! Here's the list I have been working off of for the past few years:

      Questions and Answers
      Animals
      Around the House
      At the Beach
      Numbers
      Colors and Shapes
      The Body and Clothing
      Days and Months
      Prepositions
      Weather and Seasons
      The Outdoors
      Family and Descriptions
      Food
      At a Restaurant
      Verbs and Adverbs << Where we are now
      Telling Time
      Around the House (Part 2)
      Travel and Around Town
      Buying and Selling
      At the Store
      Likes and Dislikes

      There is no special way of ordering these other than the fact that I waited to go heavy on verb conjugation until they were in Year 4 and doing some written Italian work. Like I mentioned, we're actually doing that theme right now, and we will move on this summer to telling time. Next year, I'll start up with Around the House Part 2 and continue from there, and my other goal is to hit past tense. My motto is slow and steady. :)

      Hope that helps!

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  8. Thanks, Celeste. Very encouraging. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to share your work with us. I'm a South African homeschooling mom (about 3 years) of seven kids (ages 4-14) and am doing terribly at the languages, I think. If you think there are few language resources for Italian, you should try Zulu! ;)
    So... like you (and by you) I am inspired to create my own. Unfortunately, I think my Zulu level is about ten or twelve years behind your Italian level!
    I have a cheeky request, which might be impossible, but I was wondering if you had the English version of the Gouin series questions you asked for some or all of your units, so I would just have the work of having them translated and not the brain strain of trying to think them up... I am not expecting you to write them out if you only have them in Italian... In fact I guess you don't have them all in one document anyway so it would still be too much work for you... Oh well, just asking, and if you have any resources you were willing to send me that would be super helpful!
    Thanks for all your sharing already. And kudos to you! I am impressed with your attitude and grace to handle your family. Well done!

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    1. Hi Jaci! I have them in Evernote and can cut-and-paste them into an email if you'd like. They are very particular to our family and our routines (Gouin suggests making them familiar to kids, with actions/activities they *actually* do on a regular basis and things they *actually* see), but you are welcome to have a look. Email me (link on the left sidebar just under my intro photo + blurb) and I'll send what I have your way. :)

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    2. Hi Celeste, I SO appreciated the help you gave me on the AO Facebook page a little while back. I have been inspired by these posts and have come back to them a few times as I am now creating my own Gouin series for Japanese! I am trying to read Gouin's book on my own, but time to read is hard to come by, and so I wondered if I could ask you a few questions. First, can I piggy back on Jaci's request above and ask for your series in English as well?

      Second, I've attempted a couple of simple series, but I'm running into a couple of challenges and wondered if you had any advice: 1)how an idea is conceived or expressed in English can be quite different in another language. For example, I started to write a series for the verb "open," but the verb in Japanese is different for "open a window" vs the verb for "open a book." How do you approach these nuances? Would you create separate series for the different verbs, or include them in the same series and explain the difference? 2) Having taught sentences in only the present tense in these early series, if asking the student "What are you doing?" to elicit a response (eg "open a book"), would you expect an answer simply in the present tense as they learned, or would you teach them to respond with the present progressive (I am "opening" a book.)? I looked at a sample of the Cherrydale Press Spanish curriculum and saw that they have these questions asked by the teacher, but I wondered how students were expected to answer if all they've been taught so far is present tense. I hope this question makes sense!

      Thank you ever so much! -Jenny in Japan

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    3. Hi Jenny! I'll try to hit your questions one by one:

      1) There are a few examples in Italian like that as well. For example, suonare means to play an instrument, while giocare means to play a game. My approach has been to teach both within different series. In this case, I put both versions into a series about the activities they do over the course of the week. So they learned both and how to know which to use. My kids weren't really tripped up by this -- they have always been surprisingly fine with the elements of the foreign language that I find to be really odd or strange as a native English speaker. So I think if you throw in both and just tell them which is which, your kids will likely just roll with it! :)

      2) I do stick to present tense. I'm not sure what Cherrydale Press does, but I imagine they do the same. Unless you're teaching in an immersion way (which we're not, since we're using a curriculum!), you're going to have to only ask them to answer in tenses they have learned. Also, I'm not sure how it is in Japanese, but Italian has a bit more fluid present tense -- it doesn't sound quite so stilted to answer "I open the book" in response than it does in English. I'm sure that varies language to language. But I also think it's a stepping stone. Obviously, my goal isn't for to be stuck using present tense, but that's where they are for now, and they can only learn so many tenses at a time. :)

      Hope that answers your questions! And I did get your email and will be sharing my series with you soon -- I have had a list of things that have taken precendence, but I haven't forgotten you! :)

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    4. This is an incredibly helpful post, thank you so much. I too would love that English Gouin series if you're willing to share it, thank you!

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    5. Bethany, email me via the link on the sidebar and I can send them to you. :)

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