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?


  1. Hi! I just found your blog! I'm also in my second year of teaching Elementary Spanish. I definitely understand the struggle to get to 90%. I have a blog post written but not yet posted on just this topic. It's been one of my number one goals this year and I do get there sometimes. A lot of it has to do with routines. The days I don't it's because I'm introducing a new game or activity that needs explaining in English or I have a class that is particularly unruly. I use whole brain teaching and the students and I took the first full month of school practicing the signals and expectations. Once they had it down I transitioned more and more into Spanish. I have a language sign that I use and Ss argue over who gets to switch it back and forth. And I post our schedule of activities and I can statements in English so Ss know exactly what we're doing so there are no surprises. I also use a lot of gestures, pictures, and I ask Ss who do understand in Spanish to explain to the ones who don't in English. I see the 90% as being for me and it will come later for them. I usually explain an activity in English the first time and then in Spanish the next time. I don't manage it every day but I think it's important to forgive yourself when you don't and keep working on increasing it when and where you can. I'll be honest I have a few classes where I'd be happy with 50% and some where we get to 90% nearly every class. It's hard when you have so many classes. Best of luck!

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. Do you have a blog post about whole brain teaching? I've heard of it, but don't know much about it. Also, how often do you see your students?

  2. No I don't but I just started my blog so I will definitely add that to the list of posts to write.

    I see my students (all 670+ of them) twice every six days. We get about 25 minutes together. I used to do 55 minutes once every six days last year and I will say that moving to shorter times more often has also helped with the 90%. A fourth grade teacher mentioned the other day that she noticed I was speaking a lot more Spanish. They are less overwhelmed with a shorter time and more often helps with retention. How often do you see your students?

    1. I rotate every month and move between three schools. When I'm at a school, I see the students every other day for 35 minutes. The students are without Spanish two months at a time. Not ideal, but they retain more than I thought they would