“Whatever” Works: Non-Targeted CI Lesson 3, “Not Today”

Three of the following four things happened on this day (November 3) in history. Can you guess which one did not?

November 3 in history 1

“Not Today,” or “Not This Day In History,” is an easy-to-plan game of Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input, presented here as part of the Whatever Works series.  Simply check a Today In History list on Wikipedia or elsewhere, pick three things from the list, and make up a fourth.

I like to turn the info into a Keynote or Powerpoint presentation using a few pictures. Depending on students’ comfort level in the target language, I have students discuss the choices amongst themselves before voting for an answer. I write down the number of votes for each answer, then gradually eliminate the items that really did happen on this day in history.

November 3 in history 2

There are lots of handy variations or add-ons:

1. Project and discuss one or more of the pictures before projecting the sentences. Either let students show what they already know about the subject of a picture, or simply let them describe what they see (“He’s wearing an orange shirt,” “He looks perturbed,” “He’s got number 18,” etc.).

2. Allow re-votes after each eliminated item.

3. Have students share why they picked what they did.

4. Project just one thing that actually happened and three made-up things. This is a good solution if you feel like doing this activity and can’t find three interesting-enough things that really happened. If you’re wondering why not to do this in the first place, I’ve found that (a) “Not Today” is a little more intriguing to students, (b) it’s sometimes hard to make up stuff, and (c) it’s nice both for the teacher and the students to learn multiple things that actually happened on a certain day.

5. Write the events in the present tense instead of the past tense.

6. Use Not Today, like Quirky Feature, either on days when you’re not excited about whatever else you have planned or when you think it might work well as a setup for whatever you have planned.

7. Use Not Today when a real historical event from the day does tie into your course or unit. Use Not Today to springboard other conversations or activities related to the event.


November 3 in history 3

After the final reveal, I often project a larger image of one of the items to discuss at greater length. You’ll be amazed how often you can use this to segue into another element of the day’s lesson. This is one of the many beautiful things about non-targeted CI: you can focus on nothing in particular, or you can direct focus toward something particular, e.g., a topic or a linguistic structure students will encounter in a reading.

To become a Master Questioner equipped with even more ways to form and use questions to sustain compelling interactions, check out my recorded webinar It’s All about the Questions!

Creating the presentation is not much work, especially once you have a template. Just replace the text and pictures with those for the new edition. I’ve made it even easier by including the presentation used in this post for download below.

November 3 in history 4

Be sure to celebrate the students who guessed right!

You may be surprised by how popular this activity is and how much students reference the day-in-history’s events throughout the day.  Be warned: some will start looking up Today In History themselves before class!

By the way, the item that did not actually happen on this day in history is often inspired by something that did: today is 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s birthday. (Peyton Manning’s is March 24.) The reality-inspired red herring is especially handy if students are likely to know something about a particular event or if it is believable because of the time of year. For instance, I considered inventing an election-related red herring for today’s edition.

If you want to review some principles of Whatever Works/Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input, check out this original post.

Have fun!

Download the slides used in this post to use as a template:  "Not Today" - November 3

See this article I wrote for IJFLT, “Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input: How it works for my students and me,” for lots more ideas about how to use and (yes) plan for non-targeted CI.

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