Monthly Archives: August 2009

The handshake at the beginning

I don’t know why, but I really avoided giving each student a handshake at the beginning of class for a little while. I guess I felt that it was not completely necessary as long as I was positive in class. However, there was always something in me that said I needed to shake their hand and I couldn’t get rid of the picture of Harry Wong in his book The First Days of School with his little vest and his hand extended out with gusto.

Well, for the last week I really made an effort to shake the students hands as they enter. Some days I decided not to do it to see what would happen. The results? I really noticed a difference when I shook their hand. The class seemed to respond so much better. Also, I felt closer to class and that helped to make the environment more relaxed, but still have a focused feeling.

I never knew that it would make such a difference, but I guess when you think about it does make sense. I need to keep doing this! I think that connecting with each of my students on a personal level just before class can more of a difference than I thought. Who knows, perhaps that is the only connection they will have all day.



Filed under Teaching Discoveries

Backward Planning, a missing element that was needed

This year I have been doing a lot more backward planning from the novels and it has really boosted my stories. I have basically been picking out some of the important phrases from the novel and putting it into the story. This has freed me from using a script all the time and has really made the class a lot more focused. I used to [and sometimes still] put so much pressure on myself to think of a story or to come up with something interesting. Now I can sit back and just ask questions.

One thing that Krashen has mentioned is the need to acquire a language because of a need. The brain will acquire language a lot more easily when the L2 comes at a necessary time. Backward planning has really jump stared this for me. As I am going along in the story I have my backward plan template in front of me and I can insert words when a need arises and it is acquired a lot quicker because it makes sense in the story, rather than me trying to get something in that doesn’t fit into the story. The thing is, we have so little time in class that we need to be careful how we spend our time. We must make every part of the period as meaningful as possible. The backward plan helps to do that. It keeps the story moving with interesting details which the students can choose from.

The stories so far have been interesting and keep the pace moving. There is also more to the plot and it helps me to have more of a structure on the fly. Also I can still tell stories in the past with reading in the present because the novels will provide me with the reading that I need, as well as the extended dictation on the days following the story. I am curious to see where it will go this semester, but I have a good feeling about it.


Filed under Reading, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

PAT game of the week

Today, I took another page out of the Bryce Hedstrom handbook and used el bebé malo for my PAT game. I still gave them a choice between different games, but all the classes chose el bebé malo, except one. I didn’t actually have a baby, so I had the classes choose a prop. They kept choosing this little monkey that a student brought in as a prop for class and it stuck. The name of the game was changed to el mono loco.

How did it go? What can I say, it was a total hit. It is hard to describe the amount of energy coming from 20 screaming middle schoolers/high schoolers. Wow. The best part is that they were learning their numbers because they were all counting in Spanish

I added a few elements to make it more competitive. Instead of one person looking for el mono loco, it was two teams competing against each other. That gave the game an even greater competition edge. I also added that the team with the fastest time would earn an additional three points which gave even more urgency.

I think a lot of teachers know that numbers are something that students do not learn easily in L2. It is not that numbers are hard to learn, I just think that there is not enough repetition. This game really helps that, but the best part is that the kids love it and since they love it they will want it again. Which means they will want to earn PAT points to get it. Which means they will do anything to get those PAT points.

At this point, I can honestly say that I look forward to teaching and I love it… not very common for a second year teacher. I have a lot to be thankful for.


Filed under Classroom Management, Teaching Discoveries

Tighter leash with PAT

This week my kids earned a ridiculous amount of PAT points. They were really good and it is so interesting to see how the English has pretty much vanished. I am glad that I can tighten the leash a little to make it more challenging for next week.

The thing that I have noticed the most is that the students have risen to every demand that is placed on them. They all have their materials. They all are in their seat when the bell rings and are working. They monitor who is talking during the Repasito and now I can hear a pin drop. I really hope that this continues because it is making my life way easier and my classes continue to have a positive vibe.

I am going to tighten the leash next week by increasing my expectations. I will expect more participation from the students and see if they will rise to the new challenge. It’s nice to have the problem of trying to challenge students rather than feeling like they aren’t meeting my expectations.

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Filed under Classroom Management, Teaching Discoveries

Wisdom from Robert Harrell

This was part of a wonderful comment that Robert Harrell made on Ben Slavic’s blog. It is a good thing to remember!

We need to remember that most of our students still have limited vocabularies in English and are not used to critical evaluation of what they are experiencing. As a result they often misinterpret the lack of sensory over-stimulation in the classroom as “boredom” when they are actually experiencing withdrawal. Our society seldom supports deep, reflective thinking.

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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Teaching Discoveries

Keep your professional distance

I have a few small classes this year and one really small class of 5. I was reminded that you have to be careful with the smaller classes to keep the professional distance. It can be easy to let it get really informal and not follow the procedures, but these students need the procedures, too.

I felt it slip a little today, but I really need to get it back where it should be.

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Filed under Classroom Management, Teaching Discoveries

Take care of yourself

For the last few days I have been yelling a lot in class. The great thing is that it was not at the kids, it was that we were learning the word grita, which means yell or scream. We were screaming in Spanish and other languages as well as gato and rana. It was quite fun and I know the students acquired it.

Unfortunately, I was really abusing my voice and thought that I was going to loose it. So today I kind of took it easy and regained my voice back. As I was thinking about this I was remembering how important it is that we take care of ourselves. Most of the time we are in control of what happens in class and we can’t burn out.

I know that some times I get a little too intense about things and I need to tell myself that it is okay to take it easy every now and then. We have all year to learn Spanish, right? Now, I’m not saying that we should show a movie every other day and forget the CI. Just remember that we are more useful to the kids refreshed rather than run-down.


Filed under Encouragement for hard days