Sunday, November 10, 2013

90% in the Target Language? Help!

Last week I attended the Michigan World Language Association Conference. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from many talented teachers. Of all the sessions, one was an eye-opener. Part of the presentation was sharing the importance of keeping 90% of the class in the target language. I have heard this statistic before. I'll be honest, I already knew I was not reaching that number in my classroom. The presenter passed out a check list to give everyone an idea what percentage they were using the target language. I was embarrassed by my result, 40%! As soon as I saw that number, I set a goal for myself. Increase the target language use in my classroom. My goal is not to reach 90% by the end of the school year. I am trying to keep my goal realistic. I plan to add one new activity or routine to each unit so that the target language use will increase consistently and in a way that isn't overwhelming for my students or myself.

With my new goal in mind, I spent the second day of the conference trying to find activities or suggestions to use in my classroom. Most sessions were focusing on middle school and high school, but I was able to find activities that I can adapt to my young students.
Conversation Switchers: I learned about this activity from two teachers who work in L'Anse Creuse Public Schools. Students all receive a card. Some cards have a question, other cards have possible answers. Students walk around the room and have mini conversations. A student reads a question and the partner reads the answer on his card. Then, students trade cards and find other students to talk to. Question and answer cards are two different colors so students know who they can talk to.
Birthday Game: This activity is also from the LCPS teachers. There are two cards for each day of the year. For example, a card can say, "el 10 de octubre." There are two of each in case more than one student in a class has the same birthday. First, students find the card that matches their birthday. Once they find the correct cards, they hand them to the teacher. The teacher passes the cards out randomly. Students should not have their own birthday. When the game starts, students walk around telling other students their birthdays. If the person they are talking to has that date, they switch cards and the person who found his birthday is finished with the game.
Word Lists: This activity is from two teachers at a Country Day school in Michigan. Students receive a couple vocabulary words and they have to have a conversation and incorporate those words.
Dice and Pictures: This activaty is from the same two teachers. Questions are put into pocket dice. A picture is shown to the students. Students take turns rolling and they answer the question on the dice about the picture. Older students can create questions themselves.

These next suggestions are routines for the classroom. These are some suggestions on the checklist.
Celebrate: Use a variety of positive, celebratory phrases in the target language. Teach these phrases to the students and encourage them to praise each other.
Instructions in Target Language: Use written directions in English, but explain using the target language.
Language Sign: Display a sign in the room so students know which language is being used. Students cannot used the language that isn't displayed.

These are the activities I plan to add. I think they will work well with my third thru fifth graders. I'm still trying to think of how increase my language with kindergarten through second grade.I know TPRS would be one way to solve my problem. I have attended a workshop and still plan to use it, but I want to have some variety. Also, my students really enjoy playing games in class so I want to continue using a variety of activities which will eventually include TPRS.

How do you keep your elementary students 90% in the target language?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Look Inside

I want to share how I set up my classroom for this school year. I found many of these ideas on Pinterest. I have the students sitting in groups to encourage centers and small group activities. The pictures below show how I decorate my classroom. Enjoy!

Bulletin Boards

 This board shows the flags of the 21 Spanish speaking countries. Near each flag, I give the country's name, capital, population, a famous person from history, and a tourist attraction.

 On this bulletin board, I'll hang Spanish students find outside the classroom. Food labels, directions, etc.

These bulletin boards show the vocabulary for our first unit. I'm going to change these for every rotation.

 Classroom Management

I plan on using centers during most of my classes this year. Each student will know their group color and we will use this chart to keep track of the rotation. The name of the activity will be next to the group.

My elementary schools are adopting the Leader in Me philosophy. This is my leader board. I have nine jobs that I will rotate everyday.

The picture of the lemonade and the pumpkin is what I use as an attention grabber.

The star boarder underneath is where I will keep track of the classes' points. I'm using a bingo classroom management. I'll give points for good choices. At the end of class, a student will color in the matching number on a bingo board. When the class has a bingo, they choose a reward coupon. They can receive extra recess, a movie day, a piece of candy, or to sit by a friend.

Part of my class schedule is also in this location. The students always ask right away what we are doing that day so now they know where to look.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Making Changes

This summer, I'm spending a lot of time on Pinterest and Twitter looking for ideas to use in my classroom. I have found some amazing ideas that I can't wait to use. It has been a real motivator to get back into school mode. Here are some ideas that I have. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures at the moment but hopefully my explanations will be enough. I just want to add a little note...many of these ideas are not mine. I found most of them on Pinterest. I don't want to take credit for anyone else's hard work and creativity.

   Lesson Ideas

                     Pulling sticks for TPRS: I came up with this idea as I was attempting to put stories together for some TPRS lessons. Since I teach elementary school, I'm worried that my students may struggle to think of names or places for the characters. I plan on using student names but young kids enjoy pretending and I want to give them that chance. I have two cups of sticks: one with names and one with places. Many of the places are Spanish speaking countries. I am hoping to tie in some pop-up geography/culture along with the pop-up grammar. I'm not sure how this will work, but I'm hoping it keeps the stories a little more interesting.

                     Centers: Towards the end of the year, I noticed my students worked better in small groups. My plans these year include more small group/center days than whole group lessons. I'm going to run one station so that I can see how students are progressing. Also, I'm going to introduce TPRS in small groups. When they are comfortable, I am going to begin using it in whole group lessons. I want to do more projects and I think this make work time more productive because the students will know they have a limited amount of time plus they'll already be in a group. ***I'm still looking for center ideas if anyone has any. ***


                     Hanging File Folders (found on Pinterest): At each school, I see 15-16 different classes. I always had piles on my desk and I would set down a class list or seating chart and it would instantly disappear. I'm hoping these folders will eliminate this problem. I found the directions for this online. I glued eight file folders together then duct-taped the edges (pretty tape of course (-:). I labeled each folder with a teacher's name. I made two sets of hanging file folders for each school. Hopefully I won't lose anymore important lists because they should all be in these folders, hanging from the board.

                     Copy Drawers (Pinterest): I know many teachers have folders labeled Monday-Friday to keep copies organized. I wanted to do that last year, but with so many classes, I didn't have the space. I found someone who uses plastic drawers to do this. I think they're pretty cheap at Sam's Club or Walmart. They have a lot more space and keeps everything looking much more organized. I'm definitely trying that this year.

                     Theme Bulletin Boards: Last year, I had a word wall in my room, but I didn't refer to it much and the kids never used it. This year, I'm going to create a bulletin board to go with each unit and I'll let the students use the vocabulary and pictures on the board for games and projects. I might have to change this plan when I start teaching more than two units and one time. I'm running out of wall space and that's a lot to take apart and put together every month.

   Classroom Management

                     Bingo (Pinterest): Last year, I tried a five point system. Every class could earn five points during Spanish if they did five things that I had posted on a bulletin board. I'm not happy with the results. I think part of the problem was if they lost a point in the beginning of class, most of them didn't try to earn the rest because they knew there was no reward. This bingo plan I found will hopefully work much better. The class earns a point for doing something positive. The bingo board has numbers 1-100 (I think I'm going to change this because that is a lot of points for 35 minutes). At the end of class, we count the points and fill in the number. Once the class has a bingo, they earn a reward. Hopefully this works better since it gives them more opportunities.

                     Jobs (Teachers Pay Teachers): I know most teachers give students classroom jobs. I tried this at the end of the year but I wasn't happy with how I organized it. I was giving cards to kids that had the job printed on it. It was too hard to keep track of who had which job. This year I'm actually making a board and assigning jobs based on student numbers. I noticed jobs did improve behavior. Students lost their jobs for the day if I had to talk to them too many times.

These are the main changes I'm working on for now. I would love to hear what you do or if you have tried any of these.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Inspired by TPRS

       Over the weekend, I attended a TPRS (Blaine Ray) conference. It was a very educational couple days. For anyone who doesn't know what TPRS is, it is a teaching method that uses story telling and question circling to teach language. It also incorporates reading and writing. Something I was struggling with last year was immersing my students in the target language. I wasn't sure of the best way to do it. I felt like they lost interest because I wasn't using it in a simple enough way for them to understand. TPRS showed me how to make the target language simple, engaging, and fun.
       The benefit of TPRS that I'm very excited to see is the comfort level the students build with listening to and speaking in the target language. In my opinion, those are the most important parts of acquiring a new language. I was always the student that was terrified to speak in Spanish class. I was too afraid to make mistakes and I never trusted myself. I'm beginning to see this in some of my students. That just breaks my heart! I try as hard as I can to create a classroom environment where making mistakes is encouraged. It is even on of the rules on my wall. I tell them over and over again that it is very important to try and make a mistakes because it helps them learn. I'm hoping TPRS will decrease the fear and increase the language use. I think this will help because for a majority of questions students respond as a whole class. It is the teachers job to look for students who are confused and not responding. Also, the teacher allows the students to control the lessons. Students do hand signals to tell the teacher that they are confused, need something repeated, or need the teacher to slow down. The story doesn't continue until all students understand. Basically, the teacher is teaching the content, but the students are teaching the teacher how to teach it. Also, The teacher shows no expectation that the students already know something. No matter what the students need translated or explained, the teacher does it even if it a grammar rule or vocabulary word they have been working on for weeks. Students never feel like they should know something already or like they can't ask for help.
       While I am very excited to teach using TPRS, I am a little nervous. This is a brand new method for me. I had never seen it before the conference. I was never taught that way. There is a lot to remember. I have to ask certain kinds of questions. I have to keep the story on track while taking suggestions from students. I have to speak at a pace that is easy for my students to follow. I have to monitor the room and make sure that each student is able to answer every question. The list goes on and on. That is a lot to do! A great example of multitasking. The part that worries me the most is teaching this way to kindergarten and first grade. They are still learning to read and part of TPRS is writing any unknown word on the board. I plan on using lots of pictures and visuals with them, but there isn't a picture for every single word. Eventually, I'll find a way that works with my students and I know that it will take some time to work all of the bugs out, even with my upper elementary students. I just have to take one step at a time.

I hope that I have inspired you to begin learning about TPRS and incorporating it into your classroom. If you use it already, I would LOVE to read about some of your experiences or suggestions.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


For this first post, I would like to tell a little about what I do and why I've created this blog. A few weeks ago I successfully completed my first year of teaching elementary Spanish. It was a crazy year. I rotate between three buildings and teach pre-K through fifth grade. I'm also in charge of writing my own curriculum. Needless to say, as a first year teacher I was overwhelmed. Now that I have some time to breath over the summer, I have decided to create this blog to share lesson ideas, resources and hopefully connect with some fellow elementary Spanish teachers.

I'll be attending some professional development days this summer for technology as well as foreign language. I'm looking forward to sharing what I learn and hearing some experiences that you've had. I'll also be planning next year's units: school, colors, animals, weather/seasons, and clothing. I'll post ideas as I find them.