This summer has been crazy wonderful and crazy exhausting. I have been home from all of my conference adventures for about a week and a half now, and in that time, I have managed to buy a tiny used car and move into our first home (we are still renting but it is a SERIOUS upgrade from the little roach infested place we were in!).
Hands down, the most common question I get at these conferences is “how do you start the year?” or “what does your first day look like?”
This blog is the longest I’ve ever written but I have organized it into CHUNKS for you. Read what applies to you! 🙂 Remember, I have taught all ages (2- 88 years old) and have taught students in many different schools: public, private, independent, and homeschooled. I have also taught in high-poverty/ low- income schools, and schools where the student’s are growing up with more money in their bedroom than I will ever make in a year. 🙂 I have changed, tweaked, experimented and revised the way I start the year EVERY YEAR. However, it has been pretty consistent the last three. Regardless of WHERE or WHO I am teaching, I start out the first week(s) of school the same. It only varies based on the age of the students that I am teaching. So, in this blog, you will find how I plan start out the year with 4-9 year olds, then 10-13 year olds, then high school students. I made some tweaks to these plans after reflecting on last year and the year before.
As with all my blogs, remember that this is what I choose to do in MY classroom. Nobody knows YOUR kids, YOUR school, YOUR admin, and YOUR teaching style better than YOU. Take what you like, leave what you don’t, in the end, do what YOU think is best for YOU and YOUR students. ❤
FINAL DISCLAIMER! WHATEVER YOU DO FOR THE FIRST WEEK(s) IT SHOULD BE FOCUSED ON BUILDING COMMUNITY IN YOUR ROOM, CREATING A SAFE SPACE, AND SETTING UP YOUR HIGH EXPECTATIONS!!!!
It is most important to remember that TONE is everything. For many elementary students, taking a foreign language is terrifying. The thought of having to go into a classroom and not understand what is going on is scary. Especially if they have previously heard about your CI classes and hear that you only speak in the target language! “What if I don’t understand?” “What if the teacher doesn’t understand me!?” It is really important to greet every single student as they walk in the door and get down on their level. Doesn’t matter if they are 4 years old and you are sitting on the floor, or fifth grade and bent at the hip! It is essential that you are smiling, open, friendly, and making eye-contact with each student as they step into your room.
I was deskless in elementary and I used to have everyone come in and sit on the rug. Pre-K and K had little x’s on the rug with blue tape so they learned to sit on the x’s. This helped spread them out. Start by sitting in a chair in front of them with a giant smile and do basic TPR in the TL. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up quickly, sit down slowly, stand up, touch your head, sit down, stand up, jump three times, sit down. Every time you do say something, you should be DOING it with them, and you should be delivering the message in a positive, happy, excited TONE. Do this for about 2 minutes. PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE them for being awesome!
Next, explain to students (yes, in English) that you are going to introduce them to your super secret signal. (This is your transition) Explain to them that it is something that is very special because only the Spanish students and the teacher know what it does and that it is a secret from all of the other teachers in the school. Explain that it is really important and has to be learned and practiced. Then teach them your transition. I like to use a call response because my voice is one of my most powerful tools in my classroom management repertoire. So I start off with, “¡hola hola!” and they say “coca cola!” or as my colleague Sara Broussard did this year “caracola”. Some teachers like to clap in musical rhythms or patters. Others like to use noise makers. Whatever it is, choose what you are more comfortable with and teach them. MODEL what you want to see. So I teach them what to say after I say hola hola, then I quick sit down perfectly like I want them to, I dramatically shut my mouth and I have my eyes WIDE open, to show them that I want them to be WATCHING me. Then we practice. I have students talk (yes, in English) and I yell my “super secret signal” and I look eagerly around the room for how well students did. I choose a few students (especially the more squirrelly ones) to praise (if they did an awesome job), and then we do it again, and again, and again. Then I get students to stand and move around while making noises or talking. Then I do the call, they respond, and have to get back to their sitting spots and shut their mouths and put their eyes on me and we do that several times.
The FIRST time ALL the students do EXCELLENTLY, and the room is silent and ALL eyes are on you, YOU MUST PRAISE THEM! I praise them so much and then I run over to the board and I give them points, which is the management system I choose to use. The first time someone (or several someones) decide to test you and push boundaries, and maybe instead of coca cola they yell SPRITE, and they do it 3 seconds after everyone else, JUST to be a butthead…. rather than criticizing that student(s), simply change your body language and facial expression to look sad and disappointed and walk over to your board or management system and give yourself points (that is another reason I choose to do it this way, I am not really being “punitive” and taking AWAY their points, but rather just giving myself some… it is a competition). Soon enough a child will ask “what the points are for?” and you can explain how AWESOME they are and that it is a competition and after they get ______ points, they can have a fiesta for the whole class period!!! AMP it UP!
That should probably take up ALL of day one.
Since in elementary you don’t see them every day, (if you do you are VERY lucky) the next time you should plan on STARTING with your call response and REALLY reward them with praise if they all remember the expectation.
Next, review your class rules (yes, in English). Mine are simple, and straight-forward but all encompassing. As I review each rule I talk about what each one LOOKS like in the classroom. With older students (7-9) I have THEM tell me what they think each one looks like. In between each “rule discussion” we get up quick and do some TPR in the TL then sit back down to keep talking.
When I talk about the “Spanish” rule, I explain that this will be especially important when we start our regular classes and that the first classes are for really setting up HOW I want class to run so we have the most fun! Throw in a few of the “super secret signals” as you are doing this activity and make sure you are praising praising praising (you can always praise in the TL from the very beginning! If your tone is happy and excited and they can visually see you doing something with a management system, they will know that you’re praising). You may not realize it now but you are making your life SO much easier with all this positivity. When you start into CI and start speaking 95% of the time in Spanish, they will already feel happy, safe, and supported in your room and their affective filters will be low, they won’t be worried about NOT understanding because they’ll trust that you’ll make it a safe, comprehensible environment for them. When you talk about the final rule, pick a student who has been VERY good at watching you the entire time you’ve been speaking and whisper in their ear that you want them to follow you with their EYES everywhere you go. Do silly stuff and jump around the room and tell students to watch THAT student, not you. There you go! They have modeled what it means for students to actively LISTEN with their eyes! Every time you speak about the rules in the future, do it in the TL! 🙂
If there is still time, introduce more TPR in the TL by having everyone get up and walk/run/jump like different animals. Don’t forget to interject lots of your transitions in there so they remember your expectation that everyone get quiet and focused at a seconds notice.
Ask students if anyone can remember any of the classroom rules (yes, in English). PRAISE them when they do (in the TL) while high fiving them! Next, do some TPR in the TL bringing it back to the “walks” and “runs”. Have them do it like different animals. Then introduce a Movie Talk. It can be ANY Movie Talk. I used this one a couple of years ago.
After showing a few seconds, I would get students up and we would “walk” like the animal for a few seconds and then sit down so I could talk about it in the TL. I would use the Super Secret Signal to silence everyone before talking. I never want to talk over them. At the end of class (in English) point out to everyone that you were able to stay IN THE TL for the majority of class (while pointing at the rule) and ask kids to close their eyes and indicate with their thumbs up or down if they had fun!
As tired as you may be of the Super Secret Signal (from now on I will call this SSS), it is important you are STILL using it and practicing it with them. Review the classroom rules again, quicker this time, and jump into some PQA. My PQA is really a way to see what structures will emerge for us to use and recycle so we can acquire them. I no longer have an order of the frequently used structures I want students to acquire, I just know what they are, and whatever structures come up naturally first I go with. ALMOST ALWAYS the first is “has”. Especially with kids. They want to talk about what they have. This will be the first REAL test of your management and rules. Elementary students want to tell you about EVERY animal they have and what their name is, what color they are and what their favorite food is, AND the student’s instinct will be to blurt this all out IN ENGLISH, and probably EVERY student ALL at the same time. AHHHHH!!!! Take this as a compliment. They obviously feel safe enough now, and like you (their teacher) well enough that they want to share their life story with you! If this happens and it is chaotic and loud, USE your SSS to draw them back to quiet, and point to your rules, reminding them that they HAVE to stay in the TL, and give yourself a couple of points (not too many). Hopefully, with your guidance, GO SLOW, they will be able to let you guide them through talking about a few of the kids in the class and what they “have” (or whatever structure you chose). If you are a good artist, you may want to draw as you talk to them, if you are like me (and your stick figures look like marshmallows on roasting sticks) then you can look up pictures online and display them as you talk. Get students up FREQUENTLY! Use Brain Bursts. PRAISE them if they can remain with you in the TL. If they are really struggling award yourself more points and remind them HOW the class will be MOST fun. (if they are following the rules….)
Jump into the past tense! Start with movement! Lots of movement! Use your SSS and then jump into the past tense by talking about WHATEVER it was you did LAST class but you are retelling it all in the past tense. The first time you do it, use your gesture you assigned to whatever structure emerged that you used, and then point your thumb over your shoulder. Tell the students (in English) that you are talking about the past so that’s why you’re doing that. (THEY WILL NOT CARE THOUGH… YOU ARE TEACHING BABIES…..) Introduce a fun/different Brain Break than the TPR stuff you’ve been doing. Maybe teach the base of RPS, and use that as your “Brain Breaks” or Brain bursts throughout class. ANYTIME you teach a new Brain Break, it is IMPORTANT to tell kiddos that they aren’t games, they are just quick fun things to get them moving and to give their brains a rest from listening to Spanish. Brain Breaks should be NO longer than 20-30 seconds at this age and you should jump straight back into input after your SSS. Don’t forget to continue praising and continue using your classroom management system in a POSITIVE way! 🙂
Many people who visited me this year were very impressed with student’s willingness and EAGERNESS to speak to me IN Spanish, and not just in the classroom, but in the halls, at recess, at lunch, and after school! That is because after the first week of school, I speak VERY LITTLE ENGLISH (almost none at all) for the rest of the year. Even outside of my classroom. I do not, however, start off 100% in the TL. I use English in a variety of intentional, meaningful ways the first week of school. The way I start off the year sets it up so I can easily stay in the TL the rest of the year. So much so, in fact, that students who join class throughout the year, don’t actually know I speak English!
This is my favorite age group to work with. They are still willing to be silly and goofy. They are crazy silly hormonal. They aren’t TOO concerned with trying to be “cool” all the time, and they still think it is OK to think your teacher is awesome. Week one is about establishing the fact that YOUR class is different than all of their others, and that they are going to have TONS of fun, IF they follow all of your rules and expectations. BUILD your routines. BUILD your community!
Again, I don’t have any desks. Students come into the room and I instruct them to put ALL of their materials (including the binders that they have always had to bring for my class) against the wall and sit in a seat. They inevitably sit in a seat next to their best friend which is fine for the time being but they soon learn that I don’t have a seating chart and they will be moving a LOT during class. I then tell them that the most important thing I have to teach them is my transition. I quickly explain what a transition is and I teach them my call response. So I start off with, “¡hola hola!” and they say “coca cola!”. Some teachers like to clap in musical rhythms or patterns. Others like to use noise makers. Whatever it is, choose what you are more comfortable with and teach them. Explain that when you say the phrase and they respond, or when you ring a bell, IMMEDIATELY after, they should get to their seat, shut their mouths and put their eyes on you. Then practice it. Get students up and moving and do your transition. SOME students will test you and purposefully not do it correctly. My management style is to ignore them and praise and high five the ones rocking it. The first time the whole class does exactly what you want (keep practicing until that happens) praise praise praise and award them points. Next, talk about your classroom rules. I use the same ones I do for elementary. During each rule, talk to the kids about what they think it means. I take a good 15 minutes the first time I have to talk about my rules.
Then, jump into a little sample of CI. I tend to want to talk about the kids. First day, I use what I can observe about them, maybe their hair or what they’re wearing as a jumping off point to find what high frequency structure we will start with. Usually it is “likes” or “has”. I go really slow and keep it VERY comprehensible. I get them up for a couple of Brain Bursts as I am talking and I make sure I am throwing in my transition to refocus them (and to practice it more!!!). I give them points if they are participating like I want them to. If they aren’t I redirect them by pointing to the rule, and awarding myself points. The second a student asks about the points I take that opportunity to stop the Input and explain how AWESOME they are. I explain the competition (teacher vs. students) and I literally SELL my classroom management system to them. I have to get their buy-in. This age usually cares about the competition more than the fiestas at the end. I still take time to explain them though!
At the end of class I make a big deal about counting the points (in the TL) and comparing them to mine. If the class wins (THE CLASS SHOULD WIN) they get to “bank” the points. They leave feeling empowered, excited, and PUMPED that they “understood” me even when I was speaking only in Spanish.
Review the class rules as soon as students come in. Have them remind you of what the rules are and how they are “visible” in class. Get them up for a Brain Break of your choice and then explain the theory behind Brain Breaks. Tell them that you know they are fun but explain that they are NOT games but rather “breaths” for your Brain that is working rigorously to understand. At the end of the Brain Break use your transition. If the students all do it well the first time, PRAISE and award them points. If they don’t, give yourself points and try again. KEEP it positive! Joke and say that you can’t believe they don’t remember what they are supposed to do when you practiced it 50 times the other day! 😉 Remember, you have the power in the classroom. If you believe your students will “play along” and behave and you set that expectation, they will. If you think they will act up, and cause trouble, they will. Be positive, praise praise praise!
Next, I like to do a chalk talk of the character traits of a language learner. I tell students to use their short experience with CI from the day before if they need a reference point. Here is an explanation of what that is.
We finish class with gallery walk to see what students said.
Days 3 and 4:
The next two days, I give students an exam. THIS IS NOT GRADED AND THAT SHOULD BE THE FIRST WORDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH TO THEM! (I actually tell kids it is graded on effort, which makes them try, but in the end everyone gets a 100%) It is proficiency based, and it is so that I can get an idea of where they are, and what previous exposure to Spanish they’ve had. I give this exact same exam at the END of the year, to show parents, admin, and most importantly my students, just how much they grow after one year of CI. I do this the first week after only a short amount (10-15 minutes) of CI because I want to really see what they know and can do with language before moving on. After they finish the exam, they fill out this survey for me or something similar. It is so that I can get to know them and see what commonalities students have.
If you don’t have time to create a huge assessment AT LEAST do a small free-write assessment or writing based off of a cartoon. (Some kids may only be able to LIST a couple of words that they see and know in Spanish (uno, hola, taco, baño). Then you will have SOMETHING to know what they know and to be able to compare to at the end of the year! That is what is powerful. Also, I think it is really important to ask the questions:
- How many years have you taken Spanish?
- Does anyone in your family speak Spanish? If so who?
- If you answered YES to the question above, is it their first language?
- What is YOUR first language?
This helps you find the hidden heritage kiddos! 😉 Find them early so you can find a better class for them! For their sake AND yours!
At the end of the second day of testing (I have never had a child use ALL class on BOTH days) I explain my syllabus to the class. I will share my syllabus and interpretive mode rubric next week after I have them finalized for school. 🙂 During this “discussion” I have students observe different sections of the syllabus (VERY visual) and tell me what they notice and how it compares to other classes’ syllabi. They all immediately point out that 60% of their grade is made up of “participation” or interpretive mode. This is where I get to be a little nerdy and explain the theory behind CI and WHY I teach them the way I do. Depending on the class, and how interested they are, I may go into depth, but most of the time I don’t and I just ask them to trust me as the expert in OUR classroom to lead them on their language acquisition journey! 🙂 #socheesy #sotrue #soawesome They already recognize on their own that participation is VITAL for understanding and succeeding in my room.
I remind students once more of our classroom rules and I warn them that from here on out I will only be speaking in the TL. Then, I jump in! I have TWO different ways I might go. Option one is for classes that seem more “bought in” or for classes that have had me before, and option two is for kids who seem more hesitant or confused or nervous about the method and format of the class.
Option 1: I like to start with whatever structures emerged the first day, and I recycle those. I talk in the past tense about whatever we had talked about the first day (indicating the past tense by throwing my hand behind my shoulder and explaining that only once in English for 3 seconds) and then we continue to learn about other people in our classroom using the same structures. Hopefully I learned some great things from their surveys from the previous two days.
Option 2: I have students draw ANYTHING they want to on a card but I limit them. I tell them they only have 2 minutes. Then that picture goes in front of them. I set them to a quick Brain Break (standing up, closing their eyes and breathing deeply 5 times) which gives me time to walk around quietly observing the various pictures. Then I choose a structure that would work well or be humorous based on the photos. It may be “likes” “has” “eats” or “wants” and I go with it! I write up that structure and I choose a child and their drawing (I like to choose the child that seems like they MAY be the trouble maker, I want them to get the attention they want in a POSITIVE way and I also want to get their BUY IN because so often, if I have their’s, the others will follow). I talk about them using the target structure and then I use another child’s drawing and talk about them and compare the two and then compare ME to those kids and find CONNECTIONS with them! 😉 Relating to them is SO important!
In EITHER of these examples it is REALLY important that I am staying IN the TL the whole time and doing FREQUENT comprehension checks and going SO SLOW! I want to build the FUN, while building the COMMUNITY, and setting that expectation that we are STAYING IN THE TL!
Toward the end of class (the last 15 minutes) I have kids set up their binders/notebooks. This year I am no longer allowed to use a binder for my kids. So I will use a composition notebook. I like to have different sections in my binders or notebooks. I haven’t figured out how this will work with composition books but I am going to have to figure it out soon enough!
- Al entrar – A do now section
- Chuleta – a section for their cheat sheets/ picture dictionaries/ or readings
- Cultura- A section for cultural readings we do
- Escritura- Writing section
- Trabajo devuelto- returned work section
I would run days 1-5 for high school VERY similar to days 1-5 in Middle School. There are just a few tweaks….
GET RID OF THOSE CELL PHONES… Put up a clear plastic sleeve thingy and have EVERY kid dump their phone in a pocket (that you have numbered) and then have them write their # next to their name on your attendance list. That will be their number ALLLLLLL semester. When a kid DOESN’T put his phone in you will know they are absent or the butthead has it in his/her pocket.
I run day one very similarly to the above Day 1 except for I immediately jump into seat changing using various strategies I talk about in my deskless blog. Within minutes of them entering into my deskless classroom I have them stand up and I tell them they have 30 seconds to get in order from shortest to tallest as quickly as they possibly can WITHOUT talking. I jump around getting excited and praising them as they do this and ENCOURAGING the kids who aren’t wanting to, and then as soon as they do that I run down the line of kids giving everyone a high-five and telling them to sit in the order they are standing. Sometimes if there is confusion I have to start the seating process by pointing to a kid and then to a seat. Rather than speak too much English here, I make noises while I point.
THEN I go into my transition.
After the transition explanation and a little practice I get them up and I tell them to HURRY UP and STAND IN A LINE ORGANIZED BY THE COLOR OF YOUR SHIRT! GO GO GO!!!! Some are by this time giggling a little at my outrageousness but they are doing it. Once they are all grouped and lined up sit them in THAT order.
When they sit back down, go into explaining the rules. For high school, when I talk about Rule #2 (TL TL TL) I take a minute or 5 to talk about theory with them. I let them know that this will be different from ANY of their other classes. I explain WHO Stephen Krashen is and I pull up his picture on Google and then a selfie or two of me with him (Yes, I do geek out for a second….) and I ask them about HOW they became such GOOD communicators in English…I explain I will be doing the SAME thing to make them good communicators in SPANISH! Then I will get them up and tell them to high five someone wearing similar shoes to them and sit down ANYwhere in the room next as long as it is next to that person. (During all of these they should be moving quickly and silently and you should be giving them major praise for doing so and being silly/humorously strict or disappointed with the kids who aren’t… keep it positive!)
I will then jump into my sample of CI and for a Brain Break I will have them stand up and move to ANY seat they choose. They are going to quickly learn that they will be moving a LOT in my room and they will be sitting next to and working with EVERYONE in the room. I am not verbally saying that, but they are realizing it. As I am doing the CI or the movement or practicing the transition as in the “middle school” week 1, I am still using the exact same point management system. The difference is, when HS students ask me about it: I TALK IT UP EVEN MORE…. I AMP up the competition, I AMP up the fact that it is the WHOLE class vs. ME (again building building building that community) and then when they ask what they get in the end I HAVE TO SELL SELL SELL that “fiesta day!”. I also make it known that THEY get to choose that day and if THEY choose a whole day in English or a “free pass” on an assessment that is THEIR choice but if they would rather have a day of eating chips and salsa and watching a movie then they can do that! SELL it…. Remember, it also helps if YOU believe it is the best thing in the world. If YOU believe it, they are more likely to buy in, even if it is just to appease you and give it a shot. LOL!
Counting the points at the end of class is a MUST. Make it a big deal. Get excited. Be pumped that they did well today!
Just like Middle School Day 2 I start out with reviewing the rules and my expectations, then I jump straight into moving their seats some how again. I like to do it with a Brain Break if possible like Mannequin Challenge or the Selfie Brain Break, (VERY POPULAR WITH HIGH SCHOOL) that way at the end of it, I can just say sit in the seat closest to you. I then explain Brain Breaks. I may even point out my Brain Breaks poster to them. (indicating that I have A LOT of ideas….)
I explain the theory behind them. THE DIFFERENCE IS, with Middle School I have to explain that they aren’t games, in HIGH SCHOOL I have to explain that it is my expectation that everyone does them because it is important for their brains. Then I stand everyone up and sit them down for a quick Brain Burst and I use the 2-3 kids who were lazy buttheads and didn’t stand up as examples. I run dramatically over to my “No seas quejón” poster (don’t be a whiner) and I tell them in my most whiny, silly, dramatic teacher voice, that there will never be any whining of any sort in my class or I will get points and kick all of their butts in the competition. You have to believe that the kids WILL participate. They WILL do it if you explain WHY they are doing it and that you show that you CARE about them as people. If they are bought in to your class, they will do anything. BUILD THAT COMMUNITY!
Day 3 & 4:
They are identical to Middle School.
The difference is in Option 2 of the CI “jump in” activities. Rather than having them draw ANYTHING, I have them draw what they LIKE on one half of the paper and something they WANT on the other half and then I collect those (their name is on this paper). The reason for this is, unfortunately, that I don’t trust high schoolers to be school appropriate all the time. I don’t want them drawing whatever they want and then putting it on display at their feet. By collecting it I can be in charge of what pictures are seen and I can ALSO find out what these high schoolers already know about each other. I can start to suss out who is who in class. I feed THEM the clues with input by talking about the papers as I am holding onto them and NOBODY else sees them. The kids are guessing who I am talking about as I am giving them the input. Obviously, in this case, the structures are targeted rather than non-targeted “likes” and “wants”. However, these are the structures that would likely emerge week one anyways.
In EVERY CI classroom, relating EVERYTHING you do back to the STUDENTS and THEIR lives is essential. I have truly found though, that it is MOST essential in high school. They are the hardest students to build relationships with (in my opinion) and the easiest ways to build those relationships and that community is talking about what is most important in their worlds…. For almost all of them it is themselves and their friends. That is their reality. At least in school it is. So USE that!
WELL! There you have it! A VERY long post on what the first week of school looks like for me! 🙂
Good luck as we get back into the classroom! Keep your hair on and remember, each year is an opportunity to start fresh! Enjoy every minute of it! Remember to teach with PASSION, LOVE, and ENTHUSIASM!!!
Until next time!
La Maestra LOCA