Welcome to 2020! This year I have decided that I won’t make a list of resolutions for the New Year, only because I find myself writing the same list over and over again each year and not being able to follow through. I also generally add things that should be a habit in my life such as eating healthy, exercising more, reading more books instead of spending so much time on social media and so on! I did decide that I want to learn how to play ukelele and will tell you more about it at the end of 2020. Are you setting any goals for this year?
This holiday season I got to spend a few weeks in Colombia with my parents, and I am now feeling recharged with new ideas to bring to my classroom (even though I miss my parents).
I wrote my lesson plans my last day before going on break because I knew I was going to forget a lot of what I was doing in my classes.
Many children hit a kind of reset button during the break so as a general rule, I find it very helpful to treat the first few days after the holidays as I’d done on the first days of school in August. I think it is a good idea to review your classroom rules and procedures as well as continue building relationships with students and creating community before diving into teaching Spanish. This means that I will spend my first days revising our classroom rules and routines: discussing, modeling, and practicing rules. We practice how to walk in a line, enter the classroom, and find a place on the rug to get ready for class. We model it, talk about it, and keep reinforcing it for the rest of the school year. For me this also means that part of my class will take place in English the first few days back after the break. It will pay off nicely during the rest of the school year!
I use this opportunity to revisit the use of the chime with my students. We review that the chime sound means to stop, look, and listen. I also revisit some of our call & response chants, hand signals, and brain & breathing breaks.
Download these cards to introduce your students to “para, mira y escucha.”
It’s not like no one has ever counted the days until a break! Right? Every time a break is getting close, my mind tricks me and everything seems so slow. Well, I also take it as a reminder that if I am tired and ready for a break, my students probably are too! We all know that the days leading up to a school break are no time to start anything new. Our students are all over the place, with too much energy, and it is hard for them to concentrate. What’s the best we can do? In my opinion, the best approach is to take it easy and go with the flow. Time to look for activities to review some of the content taught before, spiral curriculum style. And one more thing. No administrator should decide to visit your class days ahead the break! Not because you are not doing your job right, but because we are all kind of out of routine.
I always love going on a break with my lesson plans ready or just leaving a few notes that will remind me where to pick up where I left off. Once we are back after the break, it is a a good time to go over your rules and classroom routines again. Believe it or not, one or two weeks are enough for some of those things to be forgotten. The great news is that you don’t have to spend time on activities to get to know your students. Instead, you can just reinforce and keep working on a safe classroom environment for you to continue teaching and for your students to continue growing. Teamwork!
Here are some visuals that might help you go over important and simple rules to make your class a safe space for every learner. It’s important to talk about them, model them, and practice them a lot! If interested in reading more about classroom management, I have one more post where I share what I do and what I include in my classroom to support rules and procedures. Click here to read it all!
Brain break or calm down activities? This is the question I have been asking myself this year after teaching my sweet first graders. I am lucky that we have a mindfulness teacher in the school where I teach. I asked him for some help, and he graciously offered to come sit and observe my students in my class. After observing my class he noticed that I have been using a lot of brain breaks that will leave my students with high energy, which doesn’t really help this group of active first graders maintain focus during the rest of the class period.
This is what he suggested I do:
Calming Scents: He mentioned to me that this age group is highly affected by their environment. He suggested that having calming scents such as lavender, lemon or peppermint might help.
Sounds: Playing relaxing music or natural sounds such as rainforest or waterfalls as they enter my classroom might help lower their energy levels.
Slow movement activities: Play slow music in the room and have them pretend to be different things in nature. Visuals will be handy for this. For example, a cloud, a slow elephant, a bird and so on (and this also gives a fun opportunity to reinforce some vocabulary or teach new words).
Breathing movements: Encourage movement activities that require students to inhale and exhale while sitting down or walking around the room.
Here are some visuals that might be helpful to have in your room.
Classroom management is definitely a skill that you build with practice. And it’s something that is constantly changing and evolving according to the different personalities of your students and classroom chemistry. What works with one class might not work with another, or what worked one school year might not work the next. I find myself continuously changing and adapting my classroom management strategies.
Writing this post is a reflection exercise for me. In the past, I had assumed that because the homeroom teachers I worked with had been investing time (not spending, or as we might say in a literal translation of Spanish, “wasting”) in going over classroom rules, creating beautiful agreements, their students would automatically come to me ready to engage and learn! How wrong I was! If the homeroom teacher has been investing time in making it a safe learning environment for everyone, I also have to do my part. Children need to see that teachers are all working together, and that we all have the same high expectations for them. Quite often we “special teachers” don’t start teaching on the very first day. What a great opportunity to go into the classrooms and learn the language and procedures homeroom teachers are using with their students.
Let Your Students Know A Little Bit About You
I started day one in my classes with a “Get to know the teacher” activity. I have done it different ways in the past. I have created a picture book about me, PowerPoint presentations, and these last two years I have made videos using PowToon. This is a short version I created to share here. In the presentation I use with my students, I add pictures of my family too. They love it! After watching the short video, we played a simple “cierto” and “falso” game. I also use this as an opportunity to connect with other students by asking simple questions such as ¿quién tiene perros?, ¿a quién le gusta el brócoli? or ¿a quién no le gusta el brócoli?, ¿qué te gusta comer?, and the conversation gets long! Some of my classes have asked to watch it a few times!
By first sharing a little bit about me with my students, I find that it is easier to start working on creating a class with a safe learning environment. I also invest a lot of time in talking about these rules in English, although the signs are in Spanish. I have noticed that starting with English and making sure my students understand and practice the rules will save me from having to use a lot of English later. With elementary students it takes a lot of practice. You kind of have to use the pattern of modeling, talking, and practicing. It is a lot of time at the beginning of the school year, but having the routines and rules well established will allow me to stay in the target language for more time. So far my grades 1-2 students (I haven’t met kinder yet) enter the classroom by greeting me in Spanish, and the grades 3-5 students enter the classroom using “La frase de la semana.”
Keep Your Rules Simple
These are the rules that I have been using for the last couple of years. I wish I could say I came up with them, but they were shared by my two colleagues who have used them in the past. They are simple, concrete, and easy to TPR. We talk about how each of them looks, and we model, practice, and talk again!
Once in the room, we talk about how they transition to their places in class. I started by not assigning spots or chairs in the classroom, but quickly noticed some of my students were having a hard time finding a place, so I decided to assign places in class. I have seen my students about 7 times this school year, and so far we have started every class by pointing at the posters, practicing and reinforcing them. These are the rules that I currently use with my students.
Introduce Other Routines
I also introduce the children to respond to the sound of the chime and teach some of the call and response chants that we will be using through the school year. During the first week, students also get to know our classroom, and the different procedures to use the materials we have in it. My school has a strong Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program and uses a lot of Responsive Classroom techniques, so many classrooms have a “Take a break” space. I call it “El espacio de la reflexión.” Responsive Classroom has a great explanation of this strategy.
I’m a brain break lover, so I definitely make sure to start using them with my students from day one! Elementary students need to move a lot, so this is a “must do” in all my lessons. It’s extremely important to introduce all your routines during the first weeks. Depending on the level, I either end the class with a song, exit ticket, or a simple “chócala” to send my students to line up quietly.
So far everything has been going great! Fingers crossed that it will continue that way. How do you do classroom management in your Spanish class? Please feel free to share in the comments!
Yes, sometimes using our chime or clapping our hands doesn’t work! I have found that call-and-responses work magic to get my students’ attention while using the language. I am sharing some that I have learned from other colleagues, at conferences as well as some that have simply occurred to me. I like keeping a variety of them and start introducing them one by one so I can have a big repertoire. I use the short ones with my K-1 students and the longer ones with my 3-5 students. I put them on posters and am sharing them with you in this post. Click here to download them all. And if you have more call-and-response chants, please share them with me in the comments below. I would love to keep adding more to my repertoire!
Nothing like being in the middle of a fun and engaging lesson when suddenly you have a student interrupting because he or she needs to go to the bathroom, or even worse, you have a student who you thought was raising his/her hand quietly for a while when you realized it was a request to go to the bathroom and the student had been holding it for a long time. Then the feelings of guilt flood in. Time is precious for teachers, but no one wants to cause a student pain!
I taught in a Responsive Classroom school, and using signs was part of the classroom management model. So I borrowed some ideas from the Responsible Classroom framework and have added more to fit the needs of my classroom. I also teach my students useful sentences to ask for permission to go to the bathroom or drink water in Spanish. There are times when I see the hand signal for bathroom but still ask them what they need to give them an opportunity to practice the language or I also say you need to go to the bathroom or drink water. Once I started using hand signals with my students, I felt that I was able to teach a class with less interruptions, and it was also helpful for the students who were not yet ready to use the target language. I now introduce hand signals during the first class, and we practice them to make sure that they are clear for everyone.
Recently I found a set of images that go perfectly with the hand signals I use, and I will be updating my classroom signs this fall. I am sharing them with you. I hope you find this helpful!
¡Hola! I am Carolina, a Colombian elementary Spanish teacher based in Boston, MA. Fun for Spanish Teachers is the result of my passion for teaching Spanish to children and my desire to inspire collaboration and creativity in a vibrant teaching and learning community. It’s the perfect stop if you are looking for songs, games, teaching tips, stories, and fun for your classes.