Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Increase Student Motivation

When switching to 90+% TL use, the first question I decided to address was…:

…how can I make students want to actively participate in a L2 environment that is initially uncomfortable, intimidating and confusing?

I initially did three things to increase student willingness to stay engaged in an L2 environment.

1-  I told students that it can be more exciting to learn a foreign language when the instructor stays in the TL. (keep in mind that the instructor has to be excellent at pairing incomprehensible L2 input with compelling extralinguistic input.)  I told students to imagine the way they learned L1.  Their parents didn’t sit them down, as 1-year-olds, and give them vocabulary lists or explain complex grammar structures.  Infants acquire language naturally through being immersed in their native language.  I told students that I wanted them to experience the beauty of foreign language acquisition through immersion.

2-  I set up a LONG TERM system for rewarding students.  We recorded how long we could stay in the TL.  The class with the most minutes at the end of the year wins.  Here’s how I did it:

  • I found a good timer/stopwatch (download one or use the one on ClassDojo)
  • Timer was ON when I was in the TL. (Students loved watching the timer go up!)
  • Timer was OFF when I had to switch into L1.
  • Record total minutes in the target language at the end of each class.  (I used Google Sheets to record.  See Kinder example.  See 5th grade example.  Note: Use tabs at the bottom to switch between sheets.  See how to set up online record sheet.)
  • Class/section that has the most minutes at the end of the year wins a party/award.
  • Timer keeps going even if students need to switch to L1.  Teacher must stay in TL.

3- I set up a SHORT TERM system for rewarding students.  I used a free and popular behavior management software product. .  Here’s what I liked about it:

  • Sound effects give immediate and comprehensible feedback to students regarding their behavior.
  • Students can choose/customize their avatars. (Make a lesson out of it by teaching/practicing expressing preferences.)
  • Student ‘behavior points’ are tallied next to their avatar.  (Use this feature for practicing numbers identification in the TL.)
  • Parents can receive daily reports on student progress with details.  (You can also text parents through the ClassDojo webpage.)
  • A Mobile App is available.  This allows you to use the software in front of the class or privately on the side.
  • Settings can be modified to make the system appropriate for different age groups.
  • More on ClassDojo to come in future blog posts.

Making these three adjustments has worked for me.  It’s fun!  Students who once struggled are now thriving.  Students use vocabulary that isn’t even part of our performance objectives.  Students are more motivated.  I feel like I have to focus less on entertaining and keeping their attention.  Teaching in the TL has made me love my job even more.

I like to talk with others about the changes I’ve made in my classroom.  Feel free to make comments or ask question in the section below.  You can also email me or follow me on twitter to ask questions.  Stay tuned to this blog for more posts on management strategies for the 90+% TL classroom, including videos of me using these strategies with students.

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

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @calhwrd

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7 thoughts on “Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Increase Student Motivation

  1. Pingback: “My Students Don’t Feel Comfortable When I Spend Long Amounts Of Time Teaching In The Target Language.” | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

  2. Pingback: Todd & A Series On CI (Part 6) – Forms Of Input: Gesticulated Input | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

  3. Señor Howard,
    I just discovered your blog last night and was so excited! I feel like I have gotten away from staying in the TL in favor of adding more complicated activities to my lessons. You have inspired me to strive for immersion by not only giving examples, but the tools in order to be able to do so. Thank you!

    I have two questions for you (and I apologize if the answers are somewhere on your blog):
    1). Do you use project-based learning in your lessons? My district is really pushing inquiry-based learning and I found it difficult to do without using L1.
    2). Also, what do you do with students who enter your program in the upper grades with no language experience? I had a lot of new students this year in the upper grades and it was difficult at times motivating some of them who were not used to immersion and did not have the same foundation as my other students. Any thoughts?
    I greatly value your opinions!
    Thank you for this outstanding professional development!
    Alison Morrison

    • Hi Alison,
      I think the most helpful thing I can do is point you to Laura Sexton (if you haven’t already heard of her). Her website is (Project-Based-Learning in the Target Language). She’s incredible.

      The other thing that might be helpful to hear from me is, “Don’t feel guilty if you feel like you aren’t using the TL as much as you think you should. I don’t think using the TL is the right strategy to use in every foreign language education setting. For example…if there is a district wide test that assesses students’ ability to provide the english word for L2 vocabulary…or that requires students to provide the correct form of a conjugated verb…staying in the TL might not be the best way to prepare them. If your district is pushing for inquiry-based learning…it may not be that the best strategy is to stay in the target language 100% of the time. Sara-E Cottrell (from will be the first to tell you that there are many methods for teaching a foreign language and any one method won’t be THE right way to teach a foreign language in all educational settings.

      I personally choose to use the target language because it helps me with the issues of retention and motivation. I only see my students once every 6 school days. Before I used the target language…they’d forget everything. Now students are using spanish words, phrases and some sentences to communicate in Spanish with me out in the hallways and on the playground. Some of the phrases I’ve never even directly taught them. Also…we’re having a good time. The students are learning/acquring…and sometimes they don’t even realize that they’re learning or that I’m even administering an assessment. We laugh together and class feels meaningful to them.

      I don’t have a lot of administrative pressure to teach in a certain way…so I have the privilege of teaching in the way that I feel is best for my students. (Lucky me)

      Regarding what I do with students who enter into the program without much language experience:
      …nothing fancy…I probably do what every teacher does…I do the best I can with a tough situation. Maybe instead of requiring them to answer an open-ended question…I might ask them the same question…but give them two options. For example: for the question, “Describe the dog in the picture.” or, “what is the dog like?” Whereas other students might have to start using some L2 adjectives and sentences structures to answer…I might say, “Is the dog big and white or is the dog small and brown?” …and then with my vocal inflections and facial expressions…I’ll make the answer very obvious to the new student. I’ll give them chances to succeed…so they build up their confidence level…and so that L2 class becomes a place where they want to be and want to succeed.

      Feel free to ask more questions or follow up questions at any time!
      Best wishes!

  4. What a brilliant blog!! Thank you!!
    I’m just wondering if you’re aware of any additional literature or info on classroom management – of behaviour- and TL use?
    That’d be great, thanks!

    • Thank Amy.

      I wish I could help more. I haven’t looked to see what else is out there on that topic.
      You probably already saw these posts…but here’s the collection I wrote on the topic:

      1- Managing Student Behavior AND Staying In The Target Language

      Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Increase Student Motivation
      Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Ensure That Input Is Comprehensible (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

      You might want to tweet your question using the #langchat hashtag or #mfltwitterati. you might get some better responses there.
      Best wishes!

  5. Pingback: The First Week Of Trying To Stay In The TL With Your Students | Tuesday's Tips For Staying in The Target Language

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