Sì, banana, no, banana

A classroom activity for kids
28 May 2019

Sì, banana, No, banana.

When my parents-in-law were visiting from Italy, they often found themselves dissuading my son from eating yet another banana (No, banana!) or encouraging him to get in his potassium for the day (Sì, banana!). You might be asking yourselves: how old is your son, is he a monkey, and why are you using such rudimentary structures with him? Well, he’s two, no he isn’t (though his behaviour doesn’t always suggest so), and he’s learning two languages at once, with a bit of a third peppered in for good measure. So we are sticking to basics for now. But this “Sì, banana, no banana” business was a great springboard for a fun classroom activity that will work well with kids aged 6 – 10 (so, grades 1 – 5). I tried it out on my mixed-level group at École Augustin Roscelli, and it was a real crowd pleaser. It also helped consolidate demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, those in English; questo/quello and all their gendered and numbered iterations in Italian), opposites, numbers and sequencing, use and position of definite and indefinite articles, and, of course, the proper matching in gender and number of all elements in a sentence (article, noun, adjective). What follows is a closer look at the activity and how to employ it in your classrooms.

Communicative objective: Describing pairs of opposites
Vocabulary objective: Basic adjectives, numbers, animals, food, family members, positions, rooms of the house, etc.
Grammar objective: Demonstrative pronouns, definite and indefinite articles, agreement between noun and adjective, numbers and sequencing, possessive adjectives

  1. I always start with some “input” — or the element that is going to illustrate the lessons I want to explore with the students. In this case, the input came in the form of a short storybook I wrote entitled simply “Sì, banana, no banana” in which every page showed two contrary or compatible concepts (either nouns or adjectives) in relation to my object of choice: the banana. For example: banana alta (tall banana), banana bassa (short banana), banana magra (thin banana), banana grassa (fat banana). La banana della mamma (Mom’s banana), la banana del papà (Dad’s banana), la banana del bimbo (the baby’s banana), la banana della gatta (the cat’s banana). I invited students to reflect on the opposing qualities (tall and short, thin and fat), owners (Mom’s banana, Dad’s banana), or, in other instances, physical positions (banana su, banana giù, questa banana, quella banana). Once they understood the relationships and the words on the page, which were reinforced by very bare-bones illustrations (I am no artist!), we moved onto our grammar objective: what is going on from a linguistic point of view in each page? Why is the banana alta, but not alto? Why is the banana “mia” when it is mine, even if “I” am a boy? When should I use “questa” and when “quella”?
  2. Guided output — This is the part where teachers metaphorically hold their students’ hands as they navigate the new concepts learned as a class. I brought with me some props for this section of my lesson: a lemon, an apple, and a tomato and had my students identify the gender of each one. I put those three words up on the board alongside banana. Under banana, I wrote down a series of the adjectives used in the storybook: alta, bassa, magra, grassa, questa, quella, mia, tua. Next, I asked the students to apply these same adjectives to the other items we’d just looked at: the lemon, apple, and tomato. When I was convinced that they’d gotten the hang of the agreement between noun and adjective and the use and position, when necessary, of definite and indefinite articles, I had them move onto the real work/ fun part.
  3. Free output — I divided the class into four groups of three and asked each group to choose a fruit, vegetable or animal they’d have fun describing. Once they did that, I invited them to write their own version of “Sì, banana, no banana” using the food item or animal of their choice and making sure their stories were both grammatically correct and effective illustrations of opposites, compatible pairs (like Mom and Dad) or sequences (like number or colour sequences). The preparation of their final “mini-manuscripts” involved four steps:
    a. STORYBOARD — The first step was to get them to think in broad strokes about their story. Which pairs of opposites, sequences, or owners did they want to include? What would their matching illustrations look like? Students naturally paired opposites off, and lumped together number sequences and colour sequences.
    b. EDIT — Next, I sat down with the students and, taking into consideration rhyme, rhythm, and overall flow, we determined the order of their stories and sequences.
    c. DIGITALIZE — Once back in my home office, I scanned their stories and accompanying illustrations, put them in their correct order in a word document (using the Grab function and cut and paste), and formatted the document so it would print like a book (mirror-image, recto-verso and facing pages) being careful to leave a space for the front and back covers.
    d. PRINT — The last step was to print their storybooks and run off enough copies for each student to be able to take one home.

We presented their stories at the end of year ceremony to the students’ great satisfaction. It was wonderful to see them share on stage a project entirely of their own making and built on a creative collaboration I had not expected to see among such a mixed group of learners. The banana book was easily one of my most successful in-class activities this semester, and very easily replicable. To order a digital copy of Sì, banana. No, banana for your own classroom or at-home use, send an e-mail to tripleetravel@gmail.com.