Translate, Tell, Ask

First of all, this was not my idea. A colleague of mine, Chloe Scales, learned it from a mutual professor, Dr. Andrew Becker, as a student, then applied it to her own classes as a Latin teacher, and then shared it with me.

This reading strategy can be used in two different ways, with a third way implied for use during a speaking activity.

Basics of Setup

  1. Each student is given three Popsicle sticks.
  2. They can decorate the sticks if they so chose. Regardless, they will need to put their name on all three sticks. Additionally, and it works better this way, they will need to write “Translate” on one stick, “Tell” on another stick, and “Ask” on the third stick.
  3. Sticks are returned to the teacher and kept safe.

Reading Strategy #1

Display a sentence. The teacher will put a random stick from the pile. Let’s say it says, “Mary C. Translate.” So, Mary C. is now required to translate the sentence displayed. Move onto the next sentence. The new stick says, “Harry T. Ask.” So, Harry T. is now required to ask a question about this sentence which either another student can answer or the teacher can answer. Since the sentence is still un-translated, another stick is pulled. It says, “Gary L. Tell.” So, Gary L. tells the class something he knows about the sentence. The teacher continues to pull sticks until this sentence is translated. And so on…

Likewise, the sticks can be pre-sorted into “Translate” “Tell” and “Ask” piles and the teacher will pull a stick from each pile as necessary to move along in class, with random students given each task for each sentence.

Reading Strategy #2 

The students pick-up their three sticks at the start of the activity. Display a sentence. Students raise hands and offer one of their sticks and a task. Students continue to offer tasks until the sentence is translated by a student who wishes to use their “Translate” stick.

Students are limited to assigned tasks – “Translate” “Tell” or “Ask” – and to a limited number of each. Students who love to translate all the sentences before other students have a chance to fully process the sentence have to learn how to take turns. It also encourages the shy students to engage in class since they need to use their sticks.

Speaking Strategy

In an activity where you would like students to communicate or share in the target language, the sticks can be used as a tool to either prevent students from using English (take a stick away each time English is heard and thus penalizing students for straying from the target language) or as a tool to encourage students to speak (allowing students to turn in a stick for credit each time they speak in the target language). In these strategies, the sticks are used as physical/tangent reminders of requirements and not used in their tasked sense.


The students either love or hate the sticks, there is no middle ground. The students who love the sticks the most are those who frequently know what’s going on, but are either too shy to speak up or are too soft-spoken to speak up. They enjoy being called on and given the floor, with the time allowed for them to think and answer without being talked over. The students who hate the sticks are those who generally don’t know what’s going on. They’ve been lost somewhere along the way. They don’t want to be called out and for other students to know they don’t know. The other students who hate the sticks are the know-it-alls who dislike having to wait for others. In my opinion, they need to practice patience, so their dislike is ignored.

To mediate between the soft-spoken/shy students and the lost-in-the-midst students, I have found it best to utilize a combination of strategy #1 and #2. I pre-sort the sticks into “Translate” and “Tell” piles. I hand out the “Ask” sticks. When students are called on, if they don’t know what’s going on, any part of the current content, or can’t piece together what little they might comprehend into something reasonable, they can use their backup “Ask” stick to ask a question instead. Their “Translate” or “Tell” stick is then added back into the pile. They don’t get out of having to “Tell” or “Translate” eventually, but they do have an alternate to save face while they continue to process the language.

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