Ton of Tips for Beginning Foreign Language Teachers
What you didn't learn in student teaching . . .
Tips for beginning Foreign Language Teachers
I taught Spanish for 31 years. Here are some things that maybe you didn’t learn from your student-teaching experience:
Lesson planning is manageable when you know where you’re starting and where you’re ending. For example you may have guidelines in your district that say how far you should get in Spanish 1, Spanish 2, etc. Find out how many chapters you have to do and divide that into 170. Yes, the school year is longer than that, but you'll be absent once in a while. Also, there will be snow days, assemblies and various screw-ups to work in. If you end up with extra time you can have special projects, food, piñatas, dancing, treasure hunts, or whatever to fill in. So say you have to cover 12 chapters, that means about 14 days per chapter. One of those days is the test, a couple of days are in the language lab, a cultural day and you’re left with 10 teaching lessons. I like to have a project or some activity the day after the test so that there can be make-up tests for kids who were absent without having them miss the first day of a new lesson (which is always the most important day).
When making lesson plans allow 5 – 10 minutes per activity which means you will have 5 – 10 different things per class (figuring a 50 minute class period). Here is a generic lesson plan on a 3x5 or 4x6 card. I put the name of the book in the left hand corner, then the chapter number and then in the right hand corner is the lesson (or day) number. If there needs to be more than 1 card for a day (perhaps I have a bunch of my own questions to ask or verbs to drill or scripted TPR commands) then extra cards would be labeled with the lesson number and a letter (3a, 3b, 3c). Example:
Buen viaje 1 Capítulo 4, day 3
Vocab. Quiz 2
BRR 4-2 Check off workbook p. 29 then go over workbook and BRR (BRR is bell ringer review)
Review vocab. p.98-99 (TPR and transparency)
Pair / palabras 1
Transp. 4.2 A & B to practice vocab.
Do Práctica A, B, C p. 104 textbook, Do A p. 105
If time: discuss Picasso (Teacher’s edition note p. 105 & my stuff)
I write out my lesson plans on paper first and make sure I have everything covered. I like to cover every transparency, book exercise, listening exercise, reading, video, or whatever 2 or 3 times during the three weeks or so of each chapter. Repetition and review is the key to learning a language. After I think I’ve got everything the way I want it, I type it out and print the cards and also print a small version that I can paste into my lesson plan book. If a lesson doesn’t work to my satisfaction, I can add, subtract or change it and it’s ready for next year. Time wise, I figure about 5 minutes each for a vocabulary quiz, going over workbook homework, a single pair drill or a transparency exercise, 10 minutes for a set of textbook exercises, TPR activities, a video clip or a reading section. After a while you’ll get a feel for how long it takes you to conduct different activities and you’ll be able to plan out a class period that moves along at the right speed without rushing or dragging. Big tip : I keep the seating chart on a clipboard with the lesson plan 3x5 card attached and a stick-on clock at the top. This keeps me on task and on time without having to glance at my watch or the clock on the wall. Also, if you keep the learning going from bell to bell there will be fewer discipline problems and better classroom management.
Grading is a personal thing among teachers. Everyone seems to do it a little bit different. I’ve changed my methods a few times. At first I used A+ through E with A+ equaling 13 points, A 12 and so on with E being 1 and a missed assignment being 0. It actually took me a couple of years to realize that rarely did anyone end up with a marking period grade of D or E. There was a big flaw in this method so I tried different ways until I settled on what I think is a fair solution. I use a computer program that allows me to input the grades in categories. The categories are Oral Participation (25%), Workbook (20%), Homework/Projects (25%), Tests/quizzes (30%).
Oral Participation is charted on that seating chart which is always on the clipboard in my hand. Every Spanish response (right or wrong) gets a student a point. Having that chart in front of me helps me to not favor anyone (hopefully), call on boys as much as girls and quickly give credit when someone answers in Spanish. I total their points 2 or 3 times per marking period. I divide the total number of points in the whole class by the number of students and get an average. Anyone that hits the average gets an A, above average gets an A+, below average scales down to a C or C-. I don’t go below a C- because even a kid with no points (that shy girl or self-conscious boy) has done several pair drills with a partner and thus has participated orally in a less public way.
Workbook is checked off at the beginning of the hour as either an X (they did it) or a zero (they didn’t). If they do it late I put an X inside the O. In a marking period there may be 15 workbook assignments. An X counts as 2 points, an X in the O as 1 point. So optimistically a kid would get 30 out of 30 points. An easy A+ for 20% of his/her grade. Mistakes don’t count against them in their workbook answers but being late does because I’m more concerned with getting them in the habit of doing homework and I want them to learn from their mistakes. I recycle exact workbook material into tests.
Homework/projects is a category for anything that I collect and grade. I grade on a point value so if there are 37 answers and they miss 6 then they get a 31 out of 37 and that’s what I put in the computer. I put the letter grade on their paper, too, which would be a B- in this case (about 80%), but another assignment might be worth 85 points so it will automatically weight itself just on the point value.
Tests / quizzes – my favorite part. A lot of kids are afraid of tests but here’s my philosophy: make the quizzes short and frequent and make the tests cumulative. A test on chapter 3 has stuff on it from chapters 1 and 2, a test on chapter 6 has maybe 70 % on chapter 6, 20% on chapters 4 and 5 and 10% on chapters 1 and 2. By the time we get to the final exam they are so used to reviewing everything that they breeze through the final. A word about vocabulary quizzes: at the start of each chapter I hand out a list of the vocabulary words grouped in sets of 5. The next day there will be a quiz on the first 5 words, the day after that 10 words, then 15 and so on. Kids that are absent get yesterday’s quiz then are expected to catch up (I put absent kids’ names on the quizzes right away so they’re ready for the next day). Correcting the quizzes may seem like a lot of work but that’s my job. I actually can grade them pretty quickly because students tend to leave blank any they don’t know. I line up 2 or 3 quizzes and scan across and down. It’s very rewarding to me to see how well they learn the words and it’s a great grade booster for them.
Pair drills are something I started using many years ago after learning about them in an in-service. I like to think that I developed several new types. So far I have 13 types of pair drills: 1) sí o no 2) short answer 3) long answer 4) dialogue 5) lógico o ridículo 6) answer based on picture (deduction) 7) answer based on story (reading practice) 8) multiple choice 9) repetitive drill 10) interviewing 11) fill-in first 12) short story and 13) finger TPR. The concept is that instead of the teacher asking 10 questions and having 10 students give answers I turn each student into a mini-teacher by having them ask their partner the questions (they have the correct answers in parenthesis on their half sheet of the pair drill). In a class of 30 students you now have 30 kids talking 10 times instead of 10 kids talking once (300 Spanish utterances vs. 10). There is a trick to making pair drills work well. The first few times I have to demonstrate clearly what is expected. I think most kids like the idea of getting to be teacher for a few minutes and all pair drills are designed to switch that role halfway through. I have over 300 pair drills for the last textbook series I used. (I gave them to a rep. from the textbook company and later found out that they put 7 of them into the updated edition without my permission. I asked for and received $1000, but if you're reading this and want some free samples just email me.)
Cheating is best dealt with before it even happens. I warn kids that I will not tolerate cheating. I will contact their parents if it happens and I will make a big deal of it in class and humiliate them. In reality what I do is take their paper away, quietly say how disappointed I am and then have a private talk with them later. I do let the parents know and I record the grade as a “ch” (for cheating) which is worth zero. Since it’s easy with a computer to make 2 or more variations of tests and quizzes, that’s my best defense against cheating. One row gets quiz A and the next row gets quiz B. (I use a test maker program that’s great for scrambling and rearranging.)
Spelling correctly in Spanish is an issue that some teachers are really strict on. I’ve found that with the daily vocabulary quizzes students aren’t as bad as they used to be. In general I accept the word if the spelling doesn’t change the meaning: quaderno instead of cuaderno would be okay (though I would correct it), but esquela instead of escuela would not since it means something else.
Pronunciation varies from teacher to teacher. You probably had professors from different countries and picked up on the different accents. In general it’s best to use a Mexican pronunciation as they are more likely to travel there. I do, of course, point out and practice the Castilian accent with them a little and it comes up on some of the videos. There are no penalties or points off for mispronunciation until Spanish 3 and 4.
Picture flashcards are invaluable as learning tools. You may have had to start a collection for one of your college classes, if so, great. Most textbooks now have a companion CD from which you can copy the pictures used in the vocabulary sections.
TPR (total physical response) is my main teaching tool in Spanish 1. Read everything you can on the subject and sign up for in-services or workshops on it. I’ve given workshops on TPR and TPR storytelling in several different school districts, but I still go to other teacher’s workshops to pick up new tricks.
Finger TPR is great for nouns and verbs and is really fun. A TPR sheet is a sheet that the kids cannot write on and has anywhere from 6 to 21 squares or boxes, numbered, with a picture in each box. I hand out one sheet per two students and I instruct them to use only their pointing finger. I cover three new words at a time and cover three types of questions in a specific order. For example, if 1 is el traje, 2 is la corbata and 3 is la blusa I would tell them those numbers and words a couple of times having them point as I say the Spanish. Then I say the words out of order and have them point and say the number (in Spanish after they learn numbers): I say la corbata and they say 2. I continue and go faster, then I ask questions. First lots of sí or no questions like – ¿Es número 2 la blusa? (¡no!) ¿Es número 2 el traje? (¡no!) ¿Es número 1 el traje? (¡sí!) Then several choice questions like - ¿Es número 3 la corbata o la blusa? (See, they’re starting to say the word with confidence because they’ve heard me say it dozens of times by now. I make the right choice be the last thing they heard then later it can be first.) Then the third type of question is plain old ¿Qué es número 1? ¿Qué es número 2? They’re pointing and saying (or shouting) the Spanish, so then I add the next three, repeat the questioning on numbers 4 through 6, then I question them on all six. It takes a bit of practice on the teacher’s part to make this type of activity successful, but I’ve seen real long term memory results with it and the competition and/or accountability with a partner works.
Seat TPR is similar but involves each student doing the action (pretty much an activity for learning verbs). Again I present the vocabulary in sets of three and instead of asking questions I add tags so if they’re learning “spit”, “scold” and “snore” (obviously upper level Spanish) my commands might be: Escupan dos veces. Escupan a la derecha. Escupan en sus pupitres. Ronquen rápido. Ronquen despacio. Ronquen en voz de bebe. Spanish 1 might learn listen, look and pay attention (a really great one to learn early) and I tell them that for “escuchen” I want them to cup their hand at their ear and tilt their heads to listen. For “busquen” I want them to knit their eyebrows together and put their hand at their forehead and look like they’re really searching for something. And the best one is for “presten atención” - I want them to put their feet flat on the floor, fold their hands on their desks and look straight forward at me (the rest of the year every time I say “presten atención” I get quick compliance, it’s great!) Some tags for these might be anything we’ve already learned like “busquen sus lápices”, “busquen sus libros”, “busquen su tarea”. Other verbs use tags like two times, fast, slow, to the right, up, down and so on. Figure out appropriate ones before each lesson.
TPR storytelling usually takes an entire class period and comes at the end of a chapter after they have learned all the vocabulary and grammar. The story reinforces both. The best stories are 4 frames long though I have some that are 5 and 6. You have to know the story really, really well, but not sound memorized. First you explain to the kids what you’re going to do and assign each person a partner. You’ll have a copy of the story in front of you to refer to plus the pictures (on posters, overhead transparency or construction paper). Sometimes I present the story using student actors to whom I have given advanced warning. Using students means that everyone will pay attention. I tell the story a second time with the transparency pictures (instead of students) and I have a set of prepared questions to ask after each frame to see if they understand. I might even ask for a translation from English to Spanish. With just the first frame of the story showing on the overhead I give a minute for each partner to tell the other whatever they can. (I walk around and listen and tell the good ones that I will call on them.) Then I give oral participation points to individuals who are willing to speak (yes, the good ones raise their hands and that encourages others to try). Three or four people can say the exact same sentences and that’s okay, but there is usually some variation. We do all four frames that way and then I give them a few minutes to try to tell their partner the entire story. It’s really amazing what even a first year kid can say. There are lots of follow-up activities to the TPR stories such as 1) here are the pictures, you write the story (as homework and/or it could show up on a test), 2) fill in the blank – the story is typed up with key grammar items missing, 3) set of similar pictures – write your own story, 4) read the story, answer questions, or 5) oral part of test or final exam – tell the story (this is like the AP test component).
Manipulatives can be used two ways. I make large cardboard manipulatives to present grammar like object pronouns, subject / verb inversion for questions, attaching object pronouns to commands, superlatives, verb conjugation and more. I use students to come up to the front of the class to hold the words because now the rest of the class will pay attention (attention = retention). One of my favorite presentations is teaching superlatives. I ask for three male volunteers and one female. I hand the girl a small poster that says “es guapo” and tell her to give it to one of the guys who then holds it in front of himself. Next I give her the one that says “es más guapo” and she hands it to another guy, but what often happens is she makes them switch. Then the third card says “es el más guapo” and you can guess what happens. I have other cards for “alto” and “inteligente” and also for the irregulars and we might do those the same day or following days (remember: repetition is key). The other way I use manipulatives is at their desks, individually or in pairs. I make several sets up and store them in envelopes labeled with level and chapter number. There is a TPR aspect to these, of course. Some of the manipulatives I have are for conjugation, object pronouns, questions (subject/verb inversion as well as the question words themselves), adjective/noun agreement, colors, rooms/furniture, body parts, and clothing. For example, the conjugating manipulatives are sets of –ar verbs and the endings o, as, a, amos, and an. They fold back the –ar and add the correct ending as I give them the English: he listens, they talk, etc. The questions manipulatives are envelopes full of 5 individually cut up questions. They can be arranged to form more than 5 questions, though. I give the English, they scramble to find the words and arrange them on their desks, then I give oral participation points to several of them and then create another question. You generally need about 10 minutes for these activities.
Cultural fun stuff fills the gaps and is probably what students remember most even though you’ll only do each thing once a year. Making/ breaking a piñata, making churros, empanadas, quesadillas or paella, dancing a regional folk dance, having a treasure hunt are a few of the things I do.
Music is a great learning tool. I always taught the alphabet song, la cucaracha, las mañanitas (always sung at birthdays), cielito lindo and other folk songs. I try to find current Spanish pop songs whose lyrics highlight certain grammar points. I have some good ones for Spanish 2 and 3 that fit in with preterite vs. imperfect, the subjunctive and commands. Students are surprised to find that some of the artists they know were originally hot in the Latin market and have lots of Spanish songs.
Extra credit is not my favorite thing. I’d rather the students did the assigned work. Some of the things other teachers give extra credit for irks me so I’ll just stay quiet on the subject. Sometimes, though, I will give 5 or 10 points extra credit on tests.
Parent – Teacher Parents like to blame the inexperienced, novice teacher for their kid’s bad grade. Stay on top of things with calls, e-mails, and progress reports.
Discipline should probably be a bigger category here than it is, since there are so many things that can happen. Classroom management encompasses pretty much everything I’ve touched on. The main thing is that if you keep kids busy with good learning activities then discipline problems rarely occur. This is an elective class so they generally want to be here. Here’s the single best thing I’ve learned: if a kid gives me lip or screws up in some way I deal with it immediately. The next day I greet that kid at the door and we have a little chat in the hall before he comes in. It goes something like this: “I didn’t appreciate your behavior yesterday. That’s not going to happen again, is it?” If he’s apologetic I just say thanks and we walk in. If he’s at all belligerent then the rest of the conversation goes like this: “I’m giving you your first warning right now, out here in the hall. You won’t get a second chance in the classroom. Understand?” Then if there’s a problem that day I say for all to hear: “Hey, I warned you before class started. I’m not going to put up with this behavior again. Go sit in the hall, leave the door open so you can hear what we’re learning.” Be firm, be consistent. You can have favorite students, but no one should know who they are except you. Treat everyone the same.
School Involvement – go to games and events. It’s fun!
Always be on time.
Use a 20 point font or larger when making transparencies.
Make backup copies of everything on your computer.
Practice your lessons out loud to an imaginary classroom.
Have everything planned out for the entire chapter before you begin a chapter.
Label all handouts with level, chapter number and lesson number (Spn 1, chpt. 2, day 4).
Run copies at least a week in advance and have enough for every student plus 2 or 3 extra.
Have a folder for each class for collecting homework.
When handing out work, put absent kids’ names on papers and save in the folder for their return.
Change the seating charts every 5 weeks so students aren’t always paired with the same person.
Keep a Kleenex box handy and have a couple of bottles of water and cough drops in your desk.
Don’t try to be the students’ friend. You’re the teacher. Act like one and dress like one.
Learn the school’s emergency procedures.
Mistakes are a good thing – we learn more from our goof ups than anything else.
Get to know the secretaries, custodians and support staff.
Stay out of teacher lunch room gossip, politics and drama.
(If this helped, please let me know by leaving a comment.)
copyright 2010 by Debra Chapoton
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