Four Corners, any way you like it!

So, I’ve promised myself that I’m really going to post more than two blog entries this year.  (Oops!)  I’ve been so excited about teaching this year with Comprehensible Input!  I went to some awesome conferences this summer and again this fall that really made me reexamine and solidify my philosophy around teaching with comprehensible input.  Based on what I learned, I’ll be writing about more concrete, specific activities that I’ve used, and that you can use, to increase comprehensible input in your foreign language classroom.

The goal of teaching a foreign language is communication, right?  When students first learn new language (vocab., structures, whatever you want to call it) it’s difficult to get them using the language in a personal way.  Furthermore, I don’t want to force my students to create output when they haven’t yet really acquired new terms.  But at the same time, I want them to interact with the language in an authentic, meaningful and personal way.  Queue the “Four Corners” activity.

In the corners of the room write 4 terms of measurement.  I typically use “always, a lot, a little, never” in the target language.  Then, I ask students personal questions using the new vocabulary/structures, incorporating as many cognates as I possibly can!  For example, I taught my students the other day “can hear” “can’t sleep” “how annoying” in Spanish.  I then asked them to stand up and move to the corner of the room that represented their answer.  Example statements/questions included:

  • I can hear the French class next door during our class.
  • At night, I can hear the TV in my house.  
  • I can hear the announcements in the morning (this varies for students, depending on how loud their advisory is!)
  • I can sleep with the TV on.  
  • I can sleep in Mr. M’s science class. 
  • When Miss G. makes me move around the classroom, I think “How annoying!” 😉

And I go on and on with as much comprehensible input as possible for as long as they seem engaged.  I also go around and ask them to explain a bit from time to time to check for comprehension.

 

Other examples of things you can put around the room in the 2 or 4 corners:

  • Love/Hate/Like/Don’t care
  • Always/Sometimes/Rarely/Never
  • Happy/Sad/Excited/Bored
  • Fruit/Vegetables/Meat/Other

 

This is a great first day of new vocabulary activity and it gets them moving if they’ve been sitting too long and have that glazed over look in their eyes.  You can even ask students to come up with some statements if you run out of ideas.  Then use them the next day!

 

What do you do for 2/4 corner activities?  I would love to hear your ideas.

The power of handing over the power to students- student jobs!

This is another meaty subject.  Yesterday, I wrote about student routines as a strategy for classroom management and the power that those routines can have. This could seem a strange juxtaposition to now talk about handing “power” over to students, when trying so hard to get a “grasp” on the class and classroom management.   Let’s get one thing straight- the “power” that we’re talking about is not a controlling power that we as teachers hold over our students to make them do what we want!  Nobody wants robot-studetns!

There are so many ways that teachers can empower students to become healthy, productive members of our community.  In this post, however, I’m going to just focus on one- student jobs.

My mother used to say “you can’t teach kids responsibility without giving them responsibility”.

This year, my student teacher and I have been assigning more and more “jobs” to students in our classroom, and we have been blown away at the results.

Some of these jobs address the nuts-n-bolts essentials that have to get done in the classroom everyday.  We have one student assigned to be the “lights-turner-outer” (silly names make the jobs more fun and engaging), another who is the keeper of time, the closer of curtains, etc. etc.  One student is the volume control guy.  It has been amazing to see this student take control of the noise level in the classroom without my student teacher or I even having to ask!

Other jobs are just too much fun!  We have “el rey de movimientos” or “the king of movements”.  This comes from Ben Slavic’s list of jobs for students (see http://www.benslavic.com/jobs-for-kids.html) .  This student gets to decide which movement he likes best to be associated with a particular vocabulary structure and leads the class in review of these terms each day, demonstrating the movement.

We also have the “bum, bum, bummmm” person.  Ok, so whenever we have a story in class, this person listens for a problem.  The story is entirely in Spanish, and so elements of the story get “lost in translation” so to speak.  This person clues in the rest of the class when this pivotal point in the story is reached.  Whenever he hears the words “hay un problema”, this student sings, “bum, bum bummmm!”.  Sometimes it’s a BIG problem; in this cast the “bum, bum, bummmm!” is exaggerated.  Sometimes, it’s just a little problem, and the “bum, bum, bumm!” is quieter and more reserved.  We also have people who repeat the conjunctions “and/or/but (y/o/pero)” when they are said in a story.  It’s hilarious when this happens and someone else is in the room watching, yet no one even reacts!

While observing another middle school teacher today, one student went around and initialed the students assignment books.  The students had to show her that they had their assignment book filled in with that night’s homework assignment before she initialed.  The class flowed so smoothly and these young children all stepped up to the jobs that they were given with pride.

It has been amazing to see the students take control of the classroom, accept the responsibility of their roles, and take responsibility for the slice of “power”  that has been given to them.  I have seen more leadership from more surprising sources by assigning students jobs than I thought was possible.

Above and beyond all of this, relinquishing these jobs to students allows you as the teacher to be more available to the class because , let’s not forget, your time is precious!  You are there to teach the kids, not waste time in turning out the lights, handing out papers and rearranging desks!

I hope that you consider delegating jobs to your students, no matter what age they are at.  Jobs may look very different in a high school language class than an elementary school class, but I truly believe that they have their place at all levels.

Soon, I’ll be talking about other ways to empower students in the classroom and in their own learning, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, how do you use student jobs?  What are your favorite ones?

Starting the year on the right foot- classroom routines

The subject of classroom management is a weighty one.  There is no way to sum up the keys to successfully manage a classroom, and I’m sure that classroom management looks different in different classrooms.  Having said that, here I will touch on just one aspect of classroom management- classroom routines.

Classroom management, sometimes thought of as classroom discipline (but that’s another post for another day), is in the small stuff; it’s in the routines and habits that you establish with your students from day one.  It’s in remembering what those habits are, writing them down, posting them for your students to see, and practicing, practicing, practicing!

Routines establish order, prevent chaos, avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings and therefor circumvent irritability in both the teachers and the students when little tasks end up taking up far more time then they should!

Even at the secondary level, students respond well to routines.  I believe it is just part of our human nature to find comfort in the known.  Establish a protocol for when problems arise- students don’t have their materials, it’s time to put materials away, a student is about to do a presentation, it’s time to transition to a new activity, etc.

Remember, very few people get it right the first time… and we can’t expect all of our students to remember the routines we impose on them the first few tries… it takes practice to turn things into habit!  Many times classroom procedures seem so obvious to us because we’ve been practicing them in our classes for YEARS!  I give my students scenarios, and allow them to practice the routines almost daily the first two weeks of class.

For example, I have a signal for silence in my classroom.  I explain to my students the signal, what it means and why it’s important for all of us.  Then I tell my students to talk.  They usually stare at me for a second in disbelief!  So then I say, ‘talk, talk, talk!  Talk about the weather, what you did last weekend, whatever!”  They usually get the idea, and then once the time seems right, I give them the signal (in Spanish) “three, two, one, attention.”  By the time I reach the last word, I expect silence.   It works like a charm!  But then, if we don’t practice it, they won’t remember after several days go by.  I practice this particular routine/expectation multiple times each day for the first two weeks.

(Allowing them to talk for a minute is also a great brain break after I’ve asked them to speak and comprehend nothing but Spanish for the last 15-20 minutes!)

What are some routines that you establish in your classrooms that are the most successful in classroom management?  Do you find that allowing them to practice them over and over again at the beginning is helpful?

I look forward to your feedback!