Little Language Learners- What I have learned

I have college students who come to teach in my classroom who struggle with teaching young kids so I have collected some tips I shared with them over the years. I would love to hear from some other “veteran teachers” (Yes, those college students call me “ma’am” and it breaks my heart a little every time.)

***DISCLAIMER***- I am not a child development expert. So I am not claiming that these tips work in every situation or are backed with research I have done. I give these tips based on the 9 years of experience teaching Kindergarten through 8th grade. (And having two almost 5 year olds myself.)

TIP #1- ATTENTION SPAN

So this one is pretty obvious. The younger the child the shorter the attention span. I once heard a teacher describe it like this. “The activity should last the same minutes as their age.” So, if your students are 5 years old, then shoot for activities that are 5 minutes long. Does this ALWAYS apply? No, but it is a good reminder.  Naturally you are going to have to plan more activities for a Kindergarten class compared to a 6th grade class. However, the activities are not as long.

Sometimes we don’t always have a good idea of how long 5 minutes can be. I tried an experiment where I turned on my timer for 5 minutes and started teaching my Kindergarteners. Every time the timer went off, I changed the activity. It is not something I would do more than one day because the timer is there to remind me what 5 minutes “feels like.”

The beauty of having engaging and compelling input is that 5 minutes can be extended as long as you be keeping an eye out for when their brains start to wonder. I can get 10-15 minutes sometimes if they are SUPER engaged with what I am doing.

TIP #2- MY UP/DOWN RULE

I like to plan the order of activities based on what my students are going to be doing. Thanks to Annabelle Allen, I start class with a quick “follow the leader” dance party for a minute or 2 (not a full song). This is an UP activity because they are up and moving. I will follow it with a DOWN activity like listening to a story or ¿Qué hay en la bolsa? (Carol Gaab style). I try to plan a lesson that has my students alternating getting up and moving followed by sitting “still” and listening. I plan Up, Down, Up, Down, Up, Down etc.

FAVORITE “UP” Activities

  • Songs (with motions),
  • Follow the Leader – Dance Party
  • TPR (I break my TPR goals into short sessions to sprinkle between DOWN activities)
  • “All the World’s a Stage” (Group retells of a story where all the students are acting out the story)

TIP #3- FRONT LOAD YOUR LESSON

I find that in my older classes I am leading each lesson to a final point. My main objective for the lesson is farther into the lesson. However, I have learned that even though the 5 minute activity for the 5 year old is helpful, getting their attention at the beginning of the lesson is MUCH easier than at the end even when you have followed that rule. So, I put my most important activity as close to the beginning as I can. We spend it telling a story or PQA.

**Secret (confession time)- I don’t start my class with the calendar because I don’t teach calendar outside of what is needed for a story.** We used to sing a song about which day it was and the date but not anymore. If I felt like I HAD to teach calendar, I would put it at the end because it is not the most important part of my lesson.

Why don’t I teach calendar? – It is not high-frequency language. It would be better taught in context with a story or PQA questions separated from sequencing. It is too abstract for some kids. Children 5-7 years old still struggle with the abstract idea of time. (My Pre-K almost 5 year olds ask every other week if they are going to Kindergarten this week even though I explain that is next year.)

TIP #4- IT IS ALL ABOUT THEM

At the age of Kindergarten-2nd grade, we spend LOTS of time on their lives, their favorites, and their stories. It is all about them. They want to tell me everything. So in Kindergarten we spend lots of time talking about our favorite ice cream, our favorite movie, or our favorite restaurant. Their lives become our stories.

TIP #5- LET THEM SHOUT OUT

My Kindergarten students LOVE to add in expressions as we talk about their lives. (rejoinders) This is a way for them to express their opinion, show off their Spanish skills and participate in a conversation with their limited language and a one person story can involve the whole class. As soon as one student says it, then I repeat what made them say it, and then we all do it together. (Hello repetitions!!) My students get points for shouting out rejoinders throughout class as long as it makes sense and doesn’t interrupt me.

Some of my FAVORITES- ¡Qué ridículo!, ¡Qué asco! Yuck!, ¡OH NO, OH NO, OH NO! ¡Qué lastima! ¡No me digas!

TIP #6 COMPREHENSION CHECKS!!!

If you have ever been lucky enough to be in an elementary workshop with Leslie Davison, then you have probably seen this video.

In the video the lady is singing “Ken Lee” instead of “Can’t live.” Leslie’s point is that a student, especially a younger student,  will memorize the sounds of a song because it might be fun to sing, or is pretty (or it is required of them), but they don’t know the meaning of the words. This is why it is SO important to check for comprehension…often. Not just once. Check until they look at you and sigh “Señora, we know that. It means __ .”

Personal example-

On the way home…

Twins: (singing) I’m in the Lord’s army (yes, sir) I’m in the Lord’s army (yes sir) I may never march in the “impatree”, ride in the “calorie”…

Twin 1: Wait, wait! Mommy, what is a “impatree”?

Twin 2: I know. I know. It is a tree that has all the fruit on it and it makes all your dreams come true…if you dream of fruit.

Twin 1: I don’t think that’s right. And you march in it??

Twin 2: Yup

(silence)

Both continue singing -I may never march in the “impatree” ride in the “calorie” shoot the “artillerme” I may never zoom over the enemy. But I’m in the Lord’s army. YES SIR!

Moral of that story- Check for comprehension! Check often!

TIP #7- DOUBLE UP THE LISTENING

A major step in any language classroom should be the READING step. But what do you do with pre-literate or emerging readers? First, you don’t hide the words. Show the words! Write them on the board. Point to them. Project your story and have them illustrate it.

BUT…. know that your students are not ready to rely on written word for their meaning. They need to be exposed to it but not expected to use it alone for meaning. (Kinda like my 7 month old needs to eat solids but is not relying on them for his main nutrition.)

So, do you just skip that last Reading step? NO! You replace it with MORE listening!! You need to DOUBLE UP THE LISTENING step. This is why I love a game like ¡PARA! that gives me more repetitions while staying engaged.

Other ideas 

  • Character Descriptions- You give them pictures/drawings of characters from a class story and then the teacher describes the character. What did they do? Where did they go? What did they say? How did they feel? Students raise the picture in the air when they figure out which character you are describing. **Lisa Timmerman Schauer and Megan Hattersley Hayes at iFLT 2016 suggested taking this activity outside. They can have drawings, a chalk line or chalk names on the ground that they jump to when they hear the description.
  • All the world’s a stage- Karen Rowen– Where you have all the students act out the character as you retell, or you divide the class into different characters.
  • Retell the story with different student actors.
  • Retell the story but change the speed (super fast or super slow), you sing it and they sing their lines, they are now penguins instead of humans… etc.
  • LE DA game
  • Retell the same story but make it a “new story” because now it is about Sebastian not Annie. (ex. STORY 1- Annie goes to Sweet Frog to eat vanilla ice cream. STORY 2 Sebastian goes to Jandy’s to eat chocolate chip mint ice cream.)

The list goes on and on…

So now “veteran teachers” what are your tips to those young “whipper snapper” teachers who are teaching a foreign language to little language learners?

4 thoughts on “Little Language Learners- What I have learned

  1. My tip is to be silly! My kids love it when I say things in an operatic voice, or chant and hit myself on different body parts, especially the bottom. I love it when I hear a child say, ‘You’re funny, Ibu Anne’. I know that affective filter is way down and learning will follow!

  2. Pingback: What’s in the bag? | Mrs. Spanish's class

  3. Pingback: Stories in K-2 classroom (Building Blocks for how I plan a K-2 lesson) | Mrs. Spanish's class

  4. I am so, so happy someone finally pointed out the fact that it’s not such a great idea to teach the calendar to the littles – I teach prek – 8th and I took out the calendar this year for prek – 2nd ish! Some still think the next place they go is tomorrow… c’mon! But I do once every other week or so use ” Senor Jordan’s Los Dias de la semana” video for an “up” activity! I love his crazy song so much I end up singing it by myself in the shower.. and doing the moves!

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