Helping Students NOT Feel Dumb/Stupid/Embarrassed & Tips On Teaching Grammar

(*See suggestions/scripts below for using this idea to practice a variety of L2 grammar structures with older and/or more proficient L2 speakers.)


Today I gave each student a bunny…teaching a foreign language

…and I asked them to put it in the right color cup.

foreign language teaching colorsThe problem was that many of the students didn’t know all of their L2 colors yet. …and some of them felt embarrassed if they didn’t know what color cup to choose.

(Side note: I hate it when students feel embarrassed. Shame is such a powerful, action-altering, confidence-smashing emotion and I try to do everything possible to avoid situations in which my students feel shame. (Click here for a post my wife wrote on shame and its effect.) However, sometimes it’s hard to avoid. If a student gets a question wrong or makes a mistake, even though I AM not upset at him, he might feel very upset with himself or very embarrassed in front of his peers. Even if I give the biggest/warmest of smiles when I say, “Robert, you’re wrong,” …wrong is still wrong. And wrong can be embarrassing. And no student likes getting clues because they are too STUPID to know the correct answer immediately.)

So I tried something new today.

I put some classroom objects (L2 vocabulary from the previous unit) next to the colored cups.

foreign language teaching colorsIf the student looked unsure when I said the L2 color, I would quickly say the L2 word for the corresponding classroom object.

My strategy worked well. I didn’t notice very many students feeling embarrassed and I actually sensed that some of them felt empowered. It also helped me introduce new vocabulary AND review old vocabulary at the same time.


(*Suggestions for how this activity can be modified to challenge students with more advanced L2 skills.)

Past tense L2 grammar structures –

Say things like, “Robert, here’s your bunny. Isabel put her bunny in the orange cup. Aiden put his bunny in the green cup. Rachel and Maria put their bunnies in the black cup. You…you put your bunny in the yellow cup.”

Grammar structures for L2 commands –

Say things like, “Robert, here’s your bunny. DON’T PUT the bunny in the orange cup. DON’T PUT the bunny in the green cup. PUT the bunny in the yellow cup.”

Subjunctive grammar structures –

Say things like, “Robert, here’s your bunny. I don’t want you to put the bunny in the orange cup. I wanted Isabel to put the bunny in the orange cup. I wanted Aiden to put the bunny in the orange cup. But not you. I don’t want you to put it in the orange cup. I want you to put the bunny in the green cup.

Future tense L2 grammar structures – 

Before it’s time for students to put their bunnies in the cups, Write/display a list of who will put their bunnies in which cups. Write things like, “Okay class. Here are the bunnies. Robert will put his bunny in the yellow cup. Isabella will put her bunny in the green cup. Rachel and Maria will put their bunnies in the black cup.” Encourage interpersonal mode interactions by asking questions like, “Roneem, look at the list. Who will put their bunny in the green cup?”


 

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

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My First Successful “Staying In The TL” Lesson

“Woohoo! I did it!”

“Finally an idea worked. Finally, a lesson that helped me successfully stay in the target language for a long amount of time!”

It’s a simple lesson that I came up with before I started staying in the target language. It can be modified to help learners of all ages and proficiency levels.

All you need is crayons (for each student) and a worksheet that looks like this:

rainbow spanish class


 

For Novice Low or Novice Mid

Walk around the classroom. As you give one worksheet to each student, say sentences like these, “Here’s a paper for you. A paper for you. A paper for you. And one for you. Here’s a paper for you. For you, and you and you.”

Then, pass out crayons in the same way: “Crayons for you. For you. Here are some crayons for you…etc.”

Once the materials are passed out, display a sample worksheet at the front of the classroom. Hold a box of crayons in your own hands. Take out a red crayon and hold it up in the air. Motion for the students to do the same. As students are taking out their red crayons, say things like, “Good! Good Aiden! Good! Yes, red. Red. Red. The red crayon! Good Jessica…etc.”

Once all students are holding up the red crayon, have them repeat the word, “red,” after you. Then, turn your back to the class and start coloring in space #1 on the rainbow with the red crayon. When you finish coloring that section, start walking around the room saying, “Good Aiden! Good. Yes. Red. Good.” Hold up a few papers of students who are coloring in space #1 correctly.

When most students are done, hold up your red crayon and say, “Goodbye red!” and put the crayon back in the box. Keep saying, “Goodbye red,” until all students have put away their red crayon.

Go back to the displayed sample worksheet and say, “Okay. Number 1…red,” or, “Okay. Number 1 was red.” Point to space #2 and say, “Number TWO. TWO. Number TWO is orange. Take out orange.” (Hold up the orange crayon.)

Make a coloring motion with the orange crayon and say, “Class. Color #2 orange.” (You may want to say the sentence a few times.) Turn around and start coloring space #2 with the orange crayon.

Repeat this pattern until the rainbow activity is finished. If you want (and if your students would like it) make up a little tune that you can sing while the students are coloring using ONLY the L2 color and number words. (i.e. “Number 1…red. Number 1…red. Number 2…orange. Number 2…orange…etc.”)


 

For Novice High or Intermediate Low

Follow the same pattern (as with Novice Low or Novice Mid) except substitute the simple L2 words for L2 phrases and/or questions.

After the materials are passed out, hold up a crayon and say things like, “Aiden. What color is this? Is this color red or is this color orange? Aiden. Point to something else in this class that is the color red.” (Aiden points to something red.) Teacher says, “Good Aiden. Yes. That flag is red.” Teacher turns to address the whole class and says, “Class. Take out the color red.” As students are taking out the red crayon say things like, “Not the blue crayon. NOT the green crayon. Don’t take out the purple crayon. The RED crayon. The RED crayon. Take out the RED crayon. Good! Yes! Yes! Like Jessica. Good Jessica! Yes class. Take out the RED crayon.”

Ideas For Interpersonal Mode

After you’ve done the rainbow lesson as a whole class, pass out blank worksheets and give instructions for students to work in pairs. Tell the class that they will color the rainbows with mix-matched colors. “Space #1 WON’T be RED. It will be a different color. It will be the color that your partner tells you.” Pass out a small piece of paper to all the Partner #1s in the class and tell them to keep it hidden. The paper will tell them what mix-matched colors to use for all the rainbow spaces.

#1 – Green

#2 – Red

#3 – Purple

Etc.

Walk around the room and make sure each pair of students is speaking only in L2 and coloring according to Partner #1’s instructions.


Intermediate Mid – Advanced Mid

Pass out the worksheet and the crayons. Instruct students to color space #1 RED, space #2 ORANGE and space #3 YELLOW. Tell them not to color spaces 4-6. Write your instructions on the board and have them start coloring.

While they are coloring, SECRETLY change your written instructions by erasing the word, “yellow” and replacing it with the L2 word for “purple.” On your page, color space #1 RED, space #2 ORANGE and space #3 PURPLE.

When all the students are done, start walking around the room with a confused look on your face. Take one of the students’ rainbows (choose a student who is confident and NOT easily embarrassed) and say things like, “Tyler. You colored #1 RED, #2 ORANGE and #3 YELLOW! Yellow!? Why did you color it YELLOW!?” (Let Tyler answer.) Then say, “No, Tyler. I did NOT say to color it YELLOW. I asked you to color it PURPLE! See! Look at the instructions I wrote on the board!”

Let the students start venting their frustration at you in the target language. Encourage them to say things like, “No, Miss. You did NOT say to color it PURPLE. You must have changed your instructions!” Argue back and say, “Why?! Why would I change something like that!? And we all know that the third color of the rainbow is NOT yellow. It’s obviously PURPLE. All of you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Continue the argument for as long as you’d like. Repeat the incident with instructions for coloring spaces 4-6.

Ideas For Presentational Mode

Ask the students to write a story about a mom/dad doing this rainbow activity with her/his child. Tell the students that their L2 narrative must include dialogue. Have them model their story after the frustrating experience they just had with following your rainbow-coloring instructions. Give them some sample sentences like, “Son…you shouldn’t have colored #2 YELLOW. I told you a thousand times that it was supposed to be ORANGE. I told you that #1 was supposed to be RED and #2 was supposed to be ORANGE. It would be better if you listen more carefully in the future.”


Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

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Share your target language teaching experiences!

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“They Look At Me Weird” – Dealing With The Awkwardness Of Using L2

Three stories and then I’ll get to the point of this post:


Story #1

I’m sort of like the bee and they’re sort of like the honey.

I’m sort of like the wallet and they’re sort of like the money.

I see them at McDonald’s and at the grocery stores. I notice them at the public parks when I’m pushing my daughters on the swings. They don’t think twice about seeing me. But when I notice them, I’m wishing for a chance to talk to them. I want to be around them. Sometimes I’ll give them a friendly smile and they look at me like, “why are you smiling at me?”

It’s a little weird, I admit.

“They” are the Hispanic adults that live in my community (mostly from Mexico and Puerto Rico). I wish that I could go up to everyone of them and talk to them because I LOVE getting any chance I can to speak Spanish.

However, over the years I’ve noticed a pattern. Whenever I open my mouth to speak Spanish to them, they tend to speak back to me in English. Even if their English is broken, they seem to prefer speaking it. Even if I insist by continuing to reply in Spanish, many of them stick to English. (The exception is if they have a problem and my ability to speak both languages provides a solution for them.)

This dynamic can be disappointing for me, at times. “Don’t they know that I just LOVE to speak Spanish!?”

I’ve wondered about WHY this happens. Maybe they prefer speaking to me in English because:

  • they are afraid that, if we speak Spanish together, it will mean that their English is not good enough.
  • they don’t want to stand out as a foreigner in the community.
  • they would prefer not to be noticed for their ethnicity or ‘foreign-ness.’
  • they want to prove to me that they can function as an English speaker in an English speaking community.
  • they want me to know that they don’t need my Spanish-speaking help.

I don’t know exactly WHAT they think, but I get discouraged when they finish their conversation with me and then walk off speaking Spanish with their hispanic friends/family.

Why do they give me a weird look when I want to speak to them in Spanish? Why do they speak Spanish naturally and comfortably with each other BUT NOT WITH ME?


Story #2:

I was on recess duty and, since it was raining outside, I brought the 3rd graders inside to play in their classroom. Some students started playing “Connect Four” and others sat at their desk drawing pictures. Three girls (all of whom were born into Mexican families and spoke Spanish at home with their parents) decided to play “Battleship.” They’ve always been great friends and it looked like they were having a wonderful time.

But there was one PROBLEM. They were speaking English to each other!

I thought to myself, “why do they speak English to each other if they all are accustomed to speaking Spanish in their homes?” I decided to walk up to them and (in Spanish) say, “why don’t you speak Spanish to your Spanish speaking classmates? She speaks Spanish and YOU speak Spanish. You should continue having fun playing “Battleship” but DO IT WHILE speaking Spanish together.”

Here’s how they reacted:

  1. They paused.
  2. They hesitated.
  3. They looked at each other awkwardly as if saying, “uh. yeah…I know we all speak Spanish…and that we all speak Spanish at home with our families…but it would be SO WEIRD to speak Spanish to each other here at school. All of the other kids are speaking English.”
  4. They said an uncomfortable word or two in Spanish to each other while I stayed close.
  5. They quickly switched into English as soon as they knew I wasn’t watching them anymore.

Why did they give me a weird look when I suggested that they speak Spanish to each other during school hours? Why do they naturally and comfortably speak Spanish at home BUT NOT HERE?


Story #3:

Ever since my wife was pregnant with our first child, I wondered what language I would speak to my children. I knew I wanted them to be able to speak both Spanish and English (and maybe even a 3rd or a 4th language!) but I I wasn’t sure how I would teach them. Some parents suggested for me to speak both languages to them. Other parents told me that doing so would confuse the child. They said it would be better for the mother to exclusively speak one language and the father to exclusively speak the other language. I didn’t know what to do. With hesitation, I to start speaking only English to my first infant. As the months went by, however, I started feeling guilty. I thought, “I’m a Spanish teacher, for crying out loud! At this rate my daughter will never speak Spanish!”

So, one night (when she was 8 months old), I decided to see what would happen if suddenly switched into Spanish in the middle of her bedtime routine. She got her bath (in English). I put her into her pajamas (in English). I gave her her favorite blanket (in English). I picked her up (in English) and then readied myself to sing a song for her and pray for her (in SPANISH). She had been completely calm and content but as soon as I switched into Spanish, she started to cry. It was weird. Her cry seemed to say, “This is different. This is not what I’m used to. Where’s Daddy? Where’s my usual bedtime song?”

Why was she pleasant while I was speaking English and UNPLEASANT WHEN I SWITCHED INTO SPANISH?


Getting To The Point:

As I reflect on stories like these, I realize that:

1- Every language has “its home,” if you will. Remember Story #2 from a post I wrote 10 months ago? A first grader (who speaks Russian at home and English at school) heard me play some Russian audio on my iPAD. When she heard the Russian language she didn’t say, “that’s Russian,” or “I know/speak Russian.” Instead, her eyes got big, her smile got bigger and she exclaimed, “that’s HOME!”

A language feels most at home when:

  • it is with the people that speak it naturally. (i.e. when it is with native speakers)
  • it is within the physical boundaries of where that language is expected to be spoken. (i.e. within a particular country, geographical region, or home/family etc.)

From Story #1 (above): Spanish felt “at home” when the Spanish speaker was speaking with his Hispanic friends and family. (not with me)

From Story #2 (above): Spanish felt “at home” for those 3 Mexican girls at home (with their parents) and not at their NJ public school.

2- When a language is NOT at home, it doesn’t feel as comfortable and the speakers of the language won’t feel as natural.

I think the reason why the Spanish speakers (from Story #1, above) looked at me weird when I suggested that we speak in Spanish is because:

  • we were having the conversation in a public place in New Jersey (where the “at home language” is English).
  • my face didn’t make Spanish feel “at home.” My face is a very non-latino face. I’m as white as white can be and, (no matter how good my accent is) when Spanish looks at me, it doesn’t feel “at home.”

I think the reason why my Spanish speaking students (from Story #2) looked at me weird is because:

  • the language of their school experience is English. Their teachers, cafeteria aids and peers ALL speak English. The “at home” language, in that space, is English.
  • no matter what language is spoken at home, students subconsciously feel/know/agree/believe the language spoken at school is English. To speak any other language, would feel unnatural or out-of-place.

I think the reason (at least in part) that my baby cried when I switched into Spanish (from Story #3) is because:

  • she was used to bed time in English. Her routine included English and switching into Spanish felt foreign.

Implications For The Foreign Language Classroom

  • Although I don’t think L2 can ever be completely “at home” in a foreign language classroom, how “close to home” does L2 feel in your classroom? The more “at home” L2 feels in your classroom, the more naturally it will be spoken by your students.
  • The less “at home” L2 feels in your classroom, the more students will need to be motivated by something external in order to engage in the L2 learning process.
  • L2 will quickly feel less “at home” whenever students perceive L2 as something to be practiced.
  • L2 will feel more “at home” whenever students perceive L2 as something needed in order to engage in meaningful/relevant interpersonal interactions.
  • It’s okay if L2 doesn’t feel at home in your classroom. There are situations where it’s NOT best to teach a foreign language by staying in the target language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

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Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Quick Tips: Making The Mundane More Meaningful

I get tired.

tired

…tired of teaching certain vocabulary themes. (Months of the year, how to introduce yourself, numbers 1-20, to name a few.)

Here are some ways I’ve tried to MAKE THE MUNDANE MORE MEANINGFUL for my students and me.

Introducing Yourself/Others

  • At random times I call myself the wrong name. (i.e. “Cool, huh!? Were you impressed by that? Round of applause for Sr. Howie!!!!”) Then, when the students are puzzled/shocked that I called myself the wrong name, I say (in the TL), “Sr. Howie!? No. Wait. No. My name is not Sr. Howie. My name is Sr. Howard.” Sometimes I’ll have the sentences written/posted so that I can point to them while I say them.
  • Well into November, I pretend like I don’t quite know the names of all my students. When it comes time to call on one of them, I pause (with a confused look on my face) and say, “What is your name?” or, “What is your name, again?” and expect them to respond with a complete sentence.
  • When I greet the students, at the beginning of class, I’ll ask them how their brother, sister, mother/father are doing. Then I will say, “What is your brother’s name, again?” and expect them to respond with a complete sentence. If they can’t respond with a complete sentence I’ll use the Two-Hand Method.
  • When we do Data-Hunt Activities, I will ask them to pick a fake name for themselves. At the end of the activity, I’ll ask questions like, “Class, what is Rachel’s (fake) name?”

Months Of The Year

  • The student that accumulates the most ClassDojo points in any given month receives a prize. Then we reset the points to zero and start the new month fresh. At this point I like to practice the L2 months in a meaningful way.  I say something in the target language like, “we have to say goodbye to all the points because we are saying goodbye to _______ (i.e. August, December).”  Then I have the students say, “Goodbye points,” and I reset the point bubbles.  Then I sing a “goodbye to the month” song.  Then we say goodbye to all the months that have passed in the school year so far.  By the end of the year students know all of the months without ever having to complete a formal thematic unit on the months of the year.
  • Students must write the date (including the month) as part of the heading on all of their papers.

Numbers 1-20

  • I have a set of 20 Guatemalan Kickballs (although you could use 20 of any throw-able object). I use the ClassDojo.com ‘random-student-picker’ to choose a volunteer to throw one ball at a time into a box. The class counts each time a ball is successfully thrown into the box. (Missed throw = no count) At the end, we write down the number of balls in the box.
  • Students find their seat by matching numbers.  Each desk should have a different number written out in the target language.  Each student receives a number when they walk into the classroom.  Students match the number to it’s written form to find out where they sit for the day.  Make the task more challenging by replacing low numbers for higher ones as the year goes on.
  • As a part of my attendance routine, I count how many students are in class. First I count from my attendance list, then I count the students in the room to make sure the numbers match. Once they match, I hold up the corresponding number (on a magnet) and show it to all of the students.
  • Sometimes, when there’s a few minutes to kill at the end of class, I’ll randomly choose a student and they will have to say all of the L2 numbers that I point to on the ClassDojo homescreen.  I love doing this because my youngest students are masters at counting but start stumbling when I ask them to say a random number that I point to. Often we will also talk about which student has the most points.  We talk about it so much that even my 2nd graders can ask and answer complete L2 sentences like, “How many points does Roger have?” and “Who has the most points?” Whenever I see a student get excited about earning a point, I take the opportunity to use the Two-Hand Method to teach them to say, “Look Sr. Howard! I have 8 points!”

Passing Out Classroom Materials


Not sure how to give instructions AND stay in the target language for some of the activities listed above? Check out this post: “Ahhh! How Am I Supposed To Give Activity Directions In The Target Language!?”


What do you do to make the mundane meaningful? Please comment below.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).