The first days and weeks of school play an important role in how the school year might go. In this post I have shared a series of practices and strategies I use in my classes.
Find a Signal To Get Your Student’s Attention
I’m a fan of having chimes in different places in my room. I also have them in my bag when I travel from classroom to classroom. Watch the video to see how I use a three-tone chime in my classes. I would love to say that I came up with this idea, but I learned it from an awesome colleague and translated it into Spanish.
Use Call and Response Chants
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. Find some that you like and work for your class!
Use Songs As Quiet Reminders and Transitions
Songs are great a way to remind your students what they need to be doing at the moment, especially younger students. You can use songs to remind students to line up, clean up, and so on!
Set Classroom Norms and Expectations
Some teachers like to set their norms prior to the first class, other teachers create them with their students and others piggyback on the norms students created with their homeroom teachers.No matter what you decide, make them simple, talk about your norms and expectation, model them, practice them and also make them part of your everyday routine. If possible place posters in the front of the class to keep them as reminders!
Greet Every Student
If you have a classroom, waiting for your students and greeting them at the door is one of the best ways to set the tone for your class. If you don’t have a classroom, you can still make sure to greet every student in your class. Remember that saying their names when you greet them is important for your students, and also a way for you to remember all their names.
What else would you add to this list? Write them in the comments!
Stories are a great tool to introduce and/or review vocabulary and expose learners to the language in context. When using stories with second language learners in the setting of a world language program, where students only have the language once or twice a week, you have to take into account that you can’t bring any story written for native or heritage speakers. Most of the time these stories are packed with too much language and not enough repetition which can lead your students to frustration. These stories might not be comprehensible enough for them. It’s important to take into account that most students who participate into this type of programs follow under the Novice Proficiency Guidelines by ACTFL.- (Visit link for more info).
When I bring stories to my classes I like to:
1.Keep them simple, engaging and repetitive.
2. Use games to support them.
3. Keep the arts and crafts simple.
4. Provide mini-books for students to take home.
5. Use real pictures when possible.
What else would you add to this list? Let me know int the comments!
There are different times during our classes when we need to regain our students’ attention. Either because our students are transitioning from different classes or from activities we are doing in our own language classes, or because some of them are being too social, or we simply need to regroup. In any situation, it is always handy to have different strategies to capture our students’ attention. I definitely have a few that I keep in my teacher toolbox in case one doesn’t work. Here are some of the ones I use:
1. Three-Tone Chime: This one is by far my favorite because the soothing sound brings some calm to my classes, and also because it gives me the opportunity to verbally accompany this signal. When students hear the first chime, it gives them the heads up to stop what they are doing, with the second chime they are ready to look at me, and with the third chime they are ready for what comes next.
2.Chants or Verbal Attention Getters: The teacher says a phrase and the students respond to it (call and response). I like using visuals that go along with them. I usually print them out and add magnets on the back and place them on the magnetic whiteboard. I also like adding some culture. For example, when I say “Wepa, wepa, wepa”, students respond by “Wepa, wepa, je”. This gives us the opportunity to talk about the word wepa which is used in the Caribbean and some parts of Colombia to express joy and excitement. You can also hear it in some vallenato songs.
3.Quick hand game: I particularly love this one because it gives students the opportunity to start joining in and also gives them time to see that we are getting ready to transition or that I need their attention. The quick hand game in the reel is accompanied by lowering our voices.
Just like any other part of your class routine, attention getters require practice and consistency to make the routines and rituals stick. It’s also important to add some fun elements to them and have more than one at hand!
If you feel like every break is like a mini back-to-school period, here are some tips that you might find helpful. What other tips would you add to this list? More than happy to read all your tips and learn from you!
Check On Your Students
Although the break was meant to rest, we never know what our students could have experienced or gone through during the break. Greet them at the door or at the beginning of class with a simple “how are you today?” or drawing how you yourself are feeling using an emoji might help.
Keep It Simple
Give some time for your students to adjust. We know the first days after the break are tiring not only for us but also for our students. There is no need to rush into the class content right away. Use the first class as a warm up class, playing some of your favorite games. Doing your favorite brain breaks and mental pauses might be ideal!
Año Nuevo, Vida Nueva
This doesn’t necessarily translate into our classroom community. We are getting ready for the continuation of the school year.
Although the break gives you an opportunity to introduce new routines, it’s also a time to reinforce what has been working great in your classes already.
Continue Working On Building Relationships With Your Students
Especially for World Language teachers who don’t get to see their students often, looking for opportunities to connect and get to know your students is an ongoing process.
Review Your Classroom Norms, Rules, Routines, And Procedures
It doesn’t matter what you call them or what system you have in place in your classes,just be sure to reinforce and keep working on a safe classroom environment for every student in your class.It’s important to talk about them, model them, and practice them a lot! This is also an opportunity to rethink and get rid of what hasn’t been working in your classes.
You might have already been doing this in your classes. If you haven’t done it yet, this is a great time to start adding times in your class for you and your students to pause. This might look different in every class, but taking the time to breathe, making time for quiet moments or listening to relaxing music, and allowing space for everyone to rest.
It’s official! 2021 is about to end. Do you make a list of resolutions for the New Year?
I confess that for many years I dedicated myself to making lists with resolutions but since I never achieved them, I stopped doing it. I have decided that if there is something I want to change, any time is a good time to do so. Obviously there is nothing wrong with having a list of resolutions or goals, because for some people with more discipline than I have (!), they sure can work. Having a visual with the resolutions list may help.
With regards to the school year, in my opinion and experience, this year has not been easier than the previous one. In my case, I am teaching in person, and it is nice to be able to share the same physical space with my students, but it is difficult when some must be at home due to quarantine. Also, the mask can cause a little more fatigue and I also have to be on my toes, thinking about teaching the curriculum and staying safe with masks and distance, too.
My philosophy of life is to take one day at a time and sometimes go with the situation a bit. Take moments in the day to pause, unplug, and breathe. Something that has worked very well in some of my classes is having minutes of silence. To be honest I started using them because I needed a transition space between classes. I didn’t think my students were going to like it and was surprised when they started asking for it. It’s not complicated at all. I just use Google’s “timers” and schedule it for one or two minutes. The students decide what to do during those two minutes of total silence. Some close their eyes or practice breathing exercises, while others color or simply look and observe their surroundings. It feels totally peaceful and is a way to give ourselves a break as a group. I highly recommend it!
I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support, for reading my messages and my blog, for purchasing my resources, and for interacting with me and with the content that I share on different social networks. For that and much more, thanks a million!
Well, I don’t want this post to be any longer than it already is. I can only wish you the best for 2022. Have a year full of peace, health, and tranquility!
(From a previous post called “My Journey as a Spanish Teacher”)In the first program where I taught FLES, all Spanish teachers were required to stay 100% in the TL. I had success doing all I could to get my point across in my classes. I spent a lot of time looking for visuals, making posters, and using a lot of TPR and gestures! The program was successful, but my students thought that I couldn’t speak English. The children were trying harder to communicate with me in the TL, but there was more to it than that. I had a website, and I also sent newsletters home, but a lot of the parents apparently still thought that I didn’t know English.
One day, I was approached by a parent, and his comment was, “I thought you didn’t know English!” At that moment, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I wanted my students to use Spanish with me at all times, during class, recess time, in the hallway, and so on, but I was also sad because I was also there to “promote bilingualism,” and they thought I only knew Spanish. I was traveling from classroom to classroom, and the homeroom teachers stayed in the classroom during the 20 minutes of Spanish instruction. I recall that I rarely had to work hard on classroom management because the teachers were there to help. I also realized that I didn’t really know anything about my students.
Once I moved to a different school, the policies about teaching 100% in the TL were different. The school already had a Spanish and French teacher for grades 4 through 6, so I was hired to create the other part of the program with the help of my colleagues, and we used a backward mapping process to create our curriculum for grades pre-K to 3. Both the French and Spanish teachers used some English with their students. At first, I stuck with using only Spanish in class, mostly out of habit, and my desire to push students to use the TL. I started noticing that the other language teachers had really strong connections with their students, and their students would actually look for them during recess time. That was when it dawned on me that I had been missing an opportunity to connect with my students and get to know a little bit more about them. So by my second year in the school, I finally became more flexible and started to allow interactions with my students in their L1 during times out of my class.
Children would actually come and sit next to me by the bench on the playground, and we had great conversations, from talking about my family in Colombia to their plans after school! That’s when I realized that it was okay for them to use their L1 to communicate with me during recess time. I also feel that because I am a native speaker, they need to know that I am bilingual and that I have an interest in their language and culture. Now, keeping my class at 90 to 95 % TL in my classroom continues to be my goal.
As I mentioned above, keeping it simple is the best way, at least during your first year. In a regular pre-COVID setting, depending on the students’ level:
End the class by thanking each other, where I say: “Gracias, class”, and students reply: “Gracias, maestra” (ps: I will change to profe this year because maestra doesn’t sound natural to me. In my prior years in Boston, students called me by first name – this is a topic for another post!)
If I have time I do a quick “exit ticket” for the children to line up.
Parents also like to know what’s going on in your classes. Having a monthly newsletter or a website as a routine to communicate with your parents is also a great PR for your program!
Setting Up Your Classroom Norms
Simple is my motto! I think three to five norms accompanied with good visuals are great! I usually have them in Spanish, but I introduce them and discuss them in English with my students. Some teachers like to create their norms along with their students, but I usually go with generally simple rules that are phrased in a positive way. I keep them in front of the room to point at them if I need them as reference. I have experimented with different norms every year, and by far these have worked the best:
You can also piggyback on the norms the homeroom teachers have created for their classrooms.
Join a Language Organization
Stay up to date with professional development by joiningACTFL (The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), NNELL (The National Network for Early Language Learning), or yourstate language organization. They usually send newsletters to help you stay abreast of the newest research and methodologies in language teaching. If possible attend national and/or regional conferences. Sometimes it is important to be in the same space sharing with people who care about and to whom it matters what you do.
Be You and Make Time for YOU!
With so many teachers sharing on social media it is inevitable to see ideas and want to bring them to your classroom and expect to get the same results as that teacher who posted on Instagram. To be honest, I have been there too, but the reality is that we never know what’s behind the scenes, so if you see an idea, read it, watch the video and see how you can adapt it to the needs of your students and to the special qualities of your personality and style. Remember that you got hired to do that job because you were the best-qualified teacher for it. So start with trusting in yourself!
Last, but not least, make time for yourself! Start now when you are new, use the weekends to disconnect if you can. Make time to take walks, exercise, or watch your favorite show on your couch. I am telling you this because I have made the mistake to get into the routine of just working, even on the weekends – sometimes to the point that I even forget that I have two kids. These last years I have made it intentional to only bring work home if necessary, and it has made a difference in my classroom. A refreshed teacher gives everyone the best chance for truly engaged students!
Please feel free to contact me if there is anything I can do for you!
¡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.