Teaching Grammar In The Target Language: Part 7 – “To Go” (Future, Present & Past Tenses)

In this PART 7 post you’ll find a list of ideas to help you develop lesson plans for teaching…:

  • …the verb “TO GO” (in the future, present & past tenses).
  • …the question word: “Where?”
  • …the days of the week.

Don’t feel limited to what is written below.  Let these simple ideas launch you into developing more creative, thoughtful, and effective ideas.

The only thing you really need to remember is:

“Our main approach/principle for teaching grammar while staying in the target language is…

…give students MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES in which the target grammar structures are used often enough to be noticed and acquired.”


Instructional Activities/Strategies

1- Days Of The Week – Introduction or Review

First, show a calendar that has the days of the week written in the target language.  (If you have a way to project it, it’s fun to use Google Calendar and change the settings so that the days of the week show up in the language that you teach.)  Showing the days of the week on a calendar, and pointing to each one as you say them, is a very simple way of making them comprehensible.  (Side note: For the purposes of this lesson, students don’t need to have the days of the week memorized, nor do the students need to prove that they know the direct translations of the days of the week.  It’s enough that they know that you are talking about days.)

Show the students an oversized calendar and have them repeat the days of the week in the target language.

Show the students an oversized calendar and have them repeat the days of the week in the target language.

Next, write/post the days of the week (from left to right) on the board.  Write them as spread out as possible with enough space below to record some data.

2- “TO GO” – Future Tense

Pick a day of the week.  Under that particular day, write (and at the same time, say) a few sentences like the ones listed, in bold, below.  Each sentence should have the name of a student in it.  At first pick students who tend to be more confident than the others.  Each sentence should also have the name of a place that students would really like to go.  (i.e. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Six Flags…etc.  The purpose of picking locations like these is to peak the students’ interest.  It’s important to peak students’ interest because, depending on their proficiency level, they may have no clue what you are saying/writing.  Remember, when students have no clue what you’re saying, they will quickly lose interest.  Avoid losing the interest of your students by using names of their classmates and by saying the names of places that everyone recognizes and would like to go to.)

“On Thursday, Laura will go to Starbucks.”

“On Thursday, Emily will go to Starbucks.”

“On Thursday, Aidan will go to McDonalds.”

On Thursday, Trista will go to Six Flags.”

After all the sentences are written on the board, step back and say (in the target language), “Wow.  Okay.  Great.  Laura.  Okay.  Laura.  On Thursday, Laura will go to Starbucks.  And Emily.  Yes.  Emily.  Laura and Emily.  On Thursday, Laura and Emily will go to Starbucks.  And Aidan.  On Thursday Aidan will go to McDonalds.  And on Thurdsay, Trista will go to Six Flags.  Great.  Wow.  Great.  Okay.”

Finally, you may want to ask the class to read the sentences on the board out loud in unison.  (Side note: At this point the teacher does not expect the students to know what they are saying.  However the students are still willing to say it and stay engaged because everyone is thinking, “Okay, I’m not sure what’s going on…but it has something to do with my friends Laura, Emily, Aidan and Trista…and it has something to do with these fun places.  What’s gonna happen?  Let me see and find out.”  The names of students (and of exciting places) are keeping the students engaged, even though they aren’t sure what’s being said in the target language.  Meanwhile, something very exciting is happening.  While student interest is peaked, Teacher is introducing the target grammar structures.)

(Side note #2: The fun thing about moments like these is that Teacher gets to introduce and repeat the target grammar structure without the students really even noticing.  The students aren’t actively paying attention to the future tense form of the verb “TO GO”.  They aren’t actively noticing that you taught them a 3rd person plural conjugation for the future tense of “TO GO”.  They are waiting (some of them excitedly waiting) to find out what these classmates are going to do…and what in the world Starbucks, McDonalds and Six Flags have to do with anything).  While they are thinking about something exciting and curious, the teacher is intentionally teaching but the students are learning passively.  The students start learning without trying to learn.  It’s an amazing experience both for the instructor and learner.  Learning L2 by accident!  When my students have moments like these, sometimes I like telling them, “L2 class is like T.V…all you have to do is watch.”)

3- “TO GO” – Present Tense

Teacher pulls out teacher-made signs/printouts that have the words “Starbucks,” “McDonalds” and “Six Flags” in big attractive letters.  Teacher takes the Starbucks sign and hangs it up at one end of the room.  Teacher says, “Class: Starbucks.  This is Starbucks.  Right here is Starbucks. (Teacher motions/points to a defined imaginary place next to the Starbucks sign that is the part of the classroom called Starbucks.)

Teacher repeats sentences like these while she hangs up the other signs in different parts of the room.

Now every student knows where Starbucks, McDonalds and Six Flags are located in the classroom.

Teacher walks back to the middle of the room, shrugs her shoulders and asks the class, “Where is Starbucks?”  When students start pointing to the Starbucks sign, Teacher uses the Two-Hand Method to help them answer the question, “Where is Starbucks?” with the phrase, “There it is.”

Teacher continues asking about the location of the other signs, “Where is McDonalds/Six Flags?” and students answer appropriately by pointing to the sign and saying, “There it is.”

Teacher goes to the sentences on the board and reads all four while she looks at them.

Teacher looks away from the sentences and looks directly at Laura and says, “Laura, on Thursday, where do you go?  On Thursday do you go to Starbucks?  On Thursday do you go to McDonalds?  OR on Thurdsay do you go to Six Flags?”  When Laura answers with the word Starbucks (because it’s so obvious) Teacher writes the answer in complete sentence form and uses the Two-Hand Method to help Laura say, “On Thursday I go to Starbucks.”  Teacher praises Laura for her complete sentence answer saying, “Great.  Good Laura.  Good job Laura.”  Teacher motions for Laura to stand and says, “Laura, stand up.”  Teacher motions for Laura to walk to the spot on the classroom floor beneath the “Starbucks” sign and says, “Go to Starbucks.”  Teacher gives Laura a reward/incentive for answering/participating/going-first.  (Side note: At this point, Laura may feel very “put on the spot”.  She may have felt a bit embarrassed to be going first and to be instructed to stand up and walk in front of all her peers.  (Again, that’s why Teacher should pick confident students to go first for activities like these.)  Teacher should have a high-desire reward to give to Laura for going first.  An even better reward situation would be to pick two high-quality rewards and say, “Good Laura.  Good job.  Do you want ___(reward #1) or ____ (reward #2)?”  Have class give Laura a round of applause.  If any of Laura’s peers acts obnoxious or does something to make her feel awkward…there must be a significant consequence…or else no other student will want to participate because they will feel afraid of their peers making fun of them.)

Teacher continues by looking away from Laura and directly at Emily and repeats the line of questioning/script that she used with Laura (in the paragraph above).

Teacher continues this pattern with Aidan and then Trista.

Before moving on to step #4 Teacher may choose to do all of steps 2 (future tense) and 3 (present tense) over again with new student volunteers.  The purpose of the repetition is to make sure that the whole class has a good understanding of what’s happening before introducing the new target grammar structures from step 4 (below).

4- “TO GO” – Past Tense

Once steps 2 and 3 are done, Teacher should make sure all student volunteers are seated.  Teacher should write the following questions/answers on the board and have a discussion with students about what happened (past tense) in steps 2 and 3:

“On Thursday, who went to Starbucks?”

“On Thursday, _____ went to Starbucks.”

“On Thursday, who went to McDonalds?”


Getting Everyone Involved

Once the students feel moderately familiar with steps 2, 3 and 4 it will be easier to get everyone involved.  Try some of the following ideas:

  • Add more “locations” around the room.  (i.e. “the park,” “the movie theater,” “the mall,” “Taco Bell,” “Local Ice Cream Store,” etc.)
  • Do a whole week in fast-motion.  Make a list of the days of the week on the board.  Write down a long list of sentences in the target language (future tense) delineating which students will go to which places on each of the particular days.  Teacher can point to any particular day of the week on the calendar and see if each of the students know where to go based on the sentences written on the board.  At any point Teacher can stop and ask questions in the future, present and past tenses.  When practicing the target grammar structures it would be good to have the questions and answers written/posted somewhere conspicuous.
  • Ask students to write down or say (in the TL) where their peers will go on different days of the week.  After a few of these directions have been written down or said, their classmates will have to walk around to the correct places in the room.
  • Recycle this activity throughout the year.  Call the activity something catchy in the target language (i.e. “Let’s Go!” or “Where Will We Go Today?”).  Give the students chances to review/practice these grammar structures at random times throughout the year.

Assessment Ideas

  • After students are familiar with steps 2-4, start recording whether they walk to the appropriate spot in the room when the cue/direction is given.  Use a rubric to assign a grade based on whether they walked to the correct spot needing help or not, or after walking to incorrect spot(s) or not, etc.
  • Write a “model email to a friend” on the board in front of all the students.  The email should contain information about where you go on certain days of the week.  Ask students to answer comprehension questions based on the information included in the “model email to a friend.”
  • Ask students to write text messages to each other or to you.  You can do this on real devices or, if that is not possible, make a “text-message-conversation-template” to print out and have students fill in the conversation bubbles in pairs.  Students should use the target grammar structures to ask and answer questions about their plans for the week and where they will go or where they would like to go.  Students can also ask their friends questions like, “Where did you go last Saturday?”

REFLECT: What did the students experience during this activity?

  • Students got to get up and walk around the room.
  • Students repeatedly heard, read and said different forms of the verb for “TO GO.”
  • Students passively learned the word, “Where?”
  • Students used the interpersonal mode to help Teacher compile relevant information.
  • Students wrote in the target language.
  • Unit assessments were meaningful and generally non-threatening to reluctant students.
  • Digital assessment option allows students to practice collaborating and to learn 21st century skills.
  • The teacher stayed in the target language.
  • The students realized that they could not only survive in an L2-immersion environment but that it can be fun.

Have you tried out any of these grammar teaching suggestions from Tuesday’s Tips for Staying in the Target Language?  How did it go?  Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #langchat (for general language teaching comments) and/or #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments).

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

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Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com – @HolaSrHoward

Part 1 – Step-By-Step Guide for Teaching Grammar In The Target Language: “To Have” and “To Want” Verbs

 Part 2 – Step-By-Step Guide for Teaching Grammar In The Target Language: Introducing “To (NOT) Want”

Part 3 –  Step-By-Step Guide for Teaching Grammar In The Target Language: Teaching How Change in Quantity Affects The L2 Sentence

Part 4 –  Step-By-Step Guide for Teaching Grammar In The Target Language: Teaching Future Tense of “To Eat”

Part 5 –  Step-By-Step Guide for Teaching Grammar In The Target Language: Teaching Past Tense of “To Eat”

Part 6 – Teaching “To Listen” & “To Like/Not Like” – Various Tenses

Part 7 – Teaching “TO GO” – Various Tenses

What I Learned About Comprehensible Input From My Crawling Infants

One of the biggest things that has influenced the way I teach a foreign language has been being a dad and helping my daughters move from L-ZERO to L1.

Being a dad has shaped the way I teach L2 and my views on comprehensible input.

Being a dad has shaped the way I teach L2 and my views on comprehensible input.

tuesday's tips for staying in the target language

I love creating moments when language input is comprehensible to them.

The other day a teacher emailed me and asked how I started teaching they way I do.
Here’s what she wrote:
I was wondering how you got so involved in your teaching style? I used to be a high school teacher, and I would have LOVED to know more about how to teach the way that you do! Were you introduced to it in your undergrad, graduate, or just through practice? I’m thinking some workshops/books/websites to suggest to fellow teachers would be great! I’ve already shared your site with many of them.

At first I didn’t know how to answer.  But as I started writing back to her…I realized some of the major things that have influenced the way I teach.  …and I want to share them with you.
Here was my answer to her question:

“so…how did I get so involved in my teaching style?  …hmmm.  good question.
A huge influence is actually something that you’d probably never think would affect my professional life…but it has!  BEING A DAD has significantly influenced the way I teach a foreign language!
Why/How has being a dad influenced the way you teach a foreign language?
I’ve loved helping my daughters learn their first language.  Talk about a great opportunity for ‘staying-in-the-target-language’!  When a baby is learning his/her first language (mostly from family members in a home environment):
  • there is no option BUT to stay in the target language.
  • There’s no language besides the target language!
  • There’s no way of using L1 to explain L2.  There’s only helping a baby move from L-ZERO to L1.  🙂
  • It’s language learning at it’s best: the most natural way, the least work-intensive way, the most meaningful way…and it all happens pretty much by accident.
  • The L1 teacher (parent) and the L1 learner (baby) hardly even notice that L1 acquisition is happening.
  • No L1 wordsearches for baby.
  • No extensive/overwhelming L1 grammar explanations for baby.
  • No flashcards to make and memorize.
  • Baby doesn’t even have to try.
  • As long as baby is watching, and living and breathing…L1 acquisition happens!
I loved (and still love) creating moments where incomprehensible language is PAIRED with comprehensible extralinguistic input.
One day my daughter was crawling around on the floor while we were with our extended family in the living room.  She was at that age where she was just starting to be mobile and loved her independence and ability to explore new things.  During this same stage her mom and I had to keep our eyes glued on her because she didn’t know which of her exploration items were dangerous or not.  We loved letting her explore, but it was exhausting to constantly spend energy keeping her from exploring electrical sockets, stair cases and fragile decorations.
On this night I didn’t want to supervise my exploring daughter.  I wanted to stay in the living room talking with the other adults.  So I decided to try to tell my infant/crawler to stay in the living room and NOT CRAWL INTO THE KITCHEN.
I realized that she would’ve never understood my language if I said something like:
“Ava, there are some dangerous things in the kitchen.  Furthermore your father and mother are not in there to supervise you.  Therefore our desire is for you to stay in the living room with us.”
But she WOULD understand my language if I said/did something like this:
I took my daughter to the threshold between the kitchen and living room.  I knelt down at her level.  I pointed to the kitchen side of the threshold and (with serious looking eyes) said, “NO, NO, NO.”  I pointed to the living room side of the threshold and (with smiling looking eyes) said, “YES, YES, YES.”  I took the extra time to repeat these statements 3 or 4 times.  She was able to understand because I used fewer words and I made their meaning obvious.  If I would’ve used 4 sentences with complex ‘native speaker level words’ my daughter wouldn’t have even listened or looked at me.
Through situations like this, I realized that my daughters don’t learn L1 by only hearing L1.  They acquire L1 a piece at a time (or one baby sized step at time) whenever they experience a moment where L1 is made comprehensible for them.  They don’t just need to hear L1.  They need to hear L1 in a meaning-filled context.  They need to hear L1 in reference to noticeable, tangible objects.  They need to hear L1 as a corresponding gesture is being made.  Etc.
Teaching them their first language has helped me make a philosophical distinction between language immersion and COMPREHENSIBLE language immersion.
I guess I used to think that staying in the target language meant just talking to my students in L2 instead of L1.  I thought it was saying everything that you say in L1 but switching to L2 and holding up an occasional picture to make sure that I was checking of the “make input comprehensible” box on my foreign language teacher strategy checklist.
I’ve learned that you have to make it a goal that every student understands pretty much every thing your saying…even though you are saying it in a language they’ve never heard of before.
Now, in my classroom, I talk to my students like I talked to my 1 year old when she was learning English from us at home.  I use fewer words.  …and create scenarios where the students pretty much know exactly what I’m about to say…but instead of saying it in a language they know…I say it in a language that I want them to learn.
Here are some examples to show you what I’m talking about:
1- I eat a bite of cupcake and put on a face that says, “I really enjoy this,” …and when they are all watching (and wishing they could be enjoying what I’m enjoying) I say, “Delicioso,” or “Que rico.”  (they wouldn’t know what it means except that the scenario I created made it unmistakable that I was talking about good taste.)
2- I have something in my hand (something attention grabbing) that the students watch me drop or see me thoughtlessly set down.  Then, I pretend that I lost it…or can’t find where it dropped.  I look around, with a slight sense of urgency, like I can’t find it.  Finally, when all the students undoubtedly notice that I can’t find something, I say, “¿Dónde está?”  It creates a wonderful moment for language acquisition:
  • The item was noticeable and attention-grabbing.  So every student knows where it fell.
  • The students are bursting with a desire to tell me where I dropped it.  They are pointing and sitting on the edge of their seats wishing to be the one that tells Sr. Howard where it is.  Some even start to say something in English because they are so excited that they know where it is.
  • Then…at that climax of attention…and climax of student desire to say something…I use the two-hand method to help them say, “allí está!!!”  …and then i pretend like I still don’t say it…and we go back and for saying, “¿Dónde está?” “allí está!!!” a few times.
  • They wouldn’t know what those words mean except that the scenario I created made it unmistakable that I was talking about “where is it?”  and. “There it is!”
So every moment of my Spanish class becomes moments like those.  In a 40 minute period, the students experience hundreds of meaningful PAIRING moments.  Every moment is intentional.  Every moment is on purpose.  A lot of times the students are so focused on the meaning-filled scenarios/situations I create, that they forget they are learning another language and even functioning in an L2-immersion environment.
“When a teacher uses PAIRING to facilitate L2 acquisition, it’s like she puts a puzzle together…all but the last piece.”
To me that phrase means…I create a scenario (and then another scenario and then another and another and another) where my students unmistakably know what I’m about to say next…but instead of saying it in L1…I say it in L2.
…and then I repeat it…and repeat it…and repeat it.
Sometimes I repeat it immediately.  Sometimes I say it once but repeat it daily/weekly by including the L2 phrase in one of my routines.
Repetition is important because each piece of incomprehensible L2 input will never be acquired unless students have the opportunity to hear it repeatedly PAIRED with an equivalent form of comprehensible extralinguistic input.
The last thing I should say about that is in regards to performance objectives, curriculum and state standards.
All of what I just said sounds very impromptu and improvised.  And, to be honest,…some of it is.
But I’m a firm believer that, in a formal academic setting, a teacher should be an instructional leader.  She should set daily performance objectives and short and long term performance goals for her students.  A teacher should have a standards based curriculum.
I don’t think that teachers who use this style of teaching should believe that all learning should be spontaneous and student led.  I believe that teachers should leave some room for that…but still be intentional with using this approach to move students through all the required components of a proficiency based curriculum.
So that’s a long explanation to my first answer: “Being a dad has helped shape the way I teach language professionally.”
Another thing that has shaped how I teach has been taking advantage of good PD opportunities.
Going to ACTFL 2012 jump-started me on this staying in the target language journey.  …and a lot of what I do has snowballed from there.
It’s really fun.  It makes the classroom so much more meaningful and worthwhile because we don’t emphasize things that students have a hard time finding meaningful (like L2 skills practice or L2 vocab memorization).  Instead, we do REAL.  We do MEANINGFUL.  We do FUN.  We do “STUDENTS TAKE OWNERSHIP.”  And yes…we do worksheets.  We do assessments.  …but we do it in an L2 immersion environment that’s RICH with instances of PAIRING. We do it in a way that all the students (even the kindergartners) understand pretty much everything I’m saying even though I’m talking to them in a language they don’t know.)
If you are interested in sharing resources with fellow teachers about this way of teaching…I don’t have much to offer…cause I don’t do any research or reading myself.  But I would say…:


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

Señor Howard

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

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! 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).

“My Students Don’t Feel Comfortable When I Spend Long Amounts Of Time Teaching In The Target Language.”

 “My students don’t feel comfortable when I spend extended amounts of time teaching in the target language.”

“My students complain when I stay in the target language.  They say, “Miss…I don’t speak Spanish!” or “What she sayin’!?” or “I didn’t understand a word you just said!”

“Staying in the target language may be a good instructional goal to shoot for, but it just wouldn’t work for my students.”

Along these lines, a reader made some insightful comments after reading last week’s blog post:

I think many HS students walk into a WL class “expecting” those L1 -> L2 connections to be made.  Many of them think they can’t function unless they “know” what those words mean in L1, and they dislike having that knowledge gap created.  It’s difficult for many of them to “trust” in the L2.  Lots of L1 interference comes into play here.  (I’m not commenting on whether these things are good or bad pedagogically — those are just my observations of student reactions).

If a foreign language teacher approached me for advice pertaining to situations like these I would say:

1-  My students, as well, experienced levels of discomfort when I switched into staying in the target language.  (Read my story of transitioning into 90+% TL use.)

When I asked students to participate, they would often say things like, “But Sr. Howard, I don’t understand Spanish!”  I guess their conclusion was that they were in the wrong place.   It was as if they felt like they boarded the wrong flight.  “I must be in the wrong place because this feels like a place for people who speak Spanish.  …and I DON’T!”  They assumed that my “Speaking Only Spanish” class wasn’t for them because they didn’t speak Spanish.

2-  Expect the transition into 90+% target language use to include a level of discomfort.

It’s normal for individuals to feel uncomfortable (especially at first) in an L2 immersion environment.  Explain to your students that it is okay if they feel uncomfortable.  Explain that it’s normal to feel confused or overwhelmed when someone starts talking with sounds they’ve never heard before.

3-  Give students a reason (or motivation) to “stick with it” even though it’s uncomfortable at first.

Click here to read a list of what I did to increase student motivation to “stick with it”.

Read this post for what I believe is the most important reason to “stick with it”.

4-  Give students tools/strategies to make sense of their new L2 world.

There are times when a class of mine might need a refresher on what tools and strategies to use in order to make sense of the language they’re hearing.  Whenever this happens, I pause instruction in the target language to tell my students, in English, things like:

  • “Don’t expect to understand 100% of what I say with my mouth.  Your goal isn’t to understand everything.  I don’t expect you to understand everything.”
  • “You can’t understand what I’m saying by just listening.”
  • “You have to WATCH, WATCH, WATCH!”
  • “You might think, ‘Sr. Howard, why do you make us be so quiet while you are teaching?  It’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop!’  Boys and girls, I ask you to be so quiet because the only way you will learn Spanish in my class is if you are watching what I’m doing or showing you.  If you are talking to a friend, or if your whisper makes someone stop looking at me, NO SPANISH LEARNING will be happening.  And you have a job to do when you are in this room.  Your job is to learn Spanish.  And to learn Spanish, I make it very easy.  All you have to do is WATCH.
  • “I never get mad at a student for trying.  I never get mad at a student for making a mistake.”
  • “I do get very mad at a student for making fun of someone else who makes a mistake.  I also get mad at a student if she keeps another student from WATCHING the source of instruction.”
  • “In this class, mistakes are good.  In this class I will say, “Hooray!” when you make a mistake because it means that you tried!”
  • “You’ll notice that I do some of the same things over and over again.  Those are the important things to pay attention to.  Also, notice what I write under the word, “IMPORTANTE” on the board.  Those are the important things to pay attention to.”
  • “You’ll never understand if you don’t WATCH what I’m doing or what I’m showing.”
  • “Spanish class is like TV:  All you have to do is watch.”

It’s important to give your students tools for making sense of their new L2 world because they can no longer rely on their ability to understand what’s being spoken.

5-  When you stay in the target language, your students will stay uncomfortable IF you haven’t made a philosophical distinction between an ‘L2 immersion environment’ and a ‘COMPREHENSIBLE L2 immersion environment.’

It’s one thing to be in an L2 immersion environment and have no idea what’s being said.  (i.e. Example #1: Listening-in on a telephone conversation between two native speakers of a language you’ve never heard before)  It’s another thing to be in an L2 immersion environment (or situation) where you can understand completely what’s being said, even though you’ve never heard the language.  (i.e. Example #2: Someone just indulged in their first bite of a chocolate dessert and closes their eyes before slowly saying something to the effect of, “Delicious,” in the target language.)

In your 90+% target language environment, try to avoid facilitating an immersion experience like example #1 from above.  Instead, try to facilitate situation after situation after situation of examples like example #2 from above.

Remember to keep in mind this general rule:

Hearing a foreign language ALONE will not allow a person to acquire a foreign language.

6-  Stick with it.  Students will gradually become less uncomfortable.

Many transitions in life are uncomfortable at first.  When you start a new exercise routine, it can be painful at first.  When you start setting your alarm to wake up early after a long vacation, the first couple mornings can be very difficult.  A first year teacher is in for quite a long year as she transitions into a new teaching job.

If you give up quickly, you’ll never be able to notice that, eventually, it does get easier.  Tell yourself and your students that it won’t always be as hard as it is during the first couple weeks.  Stick with it and it does become easier.

The majority of my students have not only moved past experiencing discomfort in a comprehensible L2 immersion environment, many of them actually love it!  Some of them even forget that they’re actually learning L2.

A few minutes ago (as I am writing this post) one of my students just walked into my classroom with his mom.  We chatted for a while before it was time for them to leave.  When his mom said it was time to go, he said, “I wish that I could just stay here and live with Señor Howard.”  I asked another dad if his son told him what we did last time in Spanish class.  His Dad rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, he told me like 200 times.”  One mom said, “We’ve moved a lot, and we’ve never had a language class experience like my son is having now with you.  He is learning so much.”

An Italian teacher from Australia just tweeted me the other day and said:

“Gotta tell you that you inspired me! Am now running Year 8 and 9 classes in 100% Italian except for the last 3-5 mins! Thanks!  …and not only that, but have managed to inspire the other 7 people in my faculty! Xlnt results,kids focused,& enjoying it!:)”

7-  More about experience than language study.

If you still find your students feeling uncomfortable or uninspired, long after you’ve made the transition into staying in the target language, consider doing things to help the students focus less on language learning and focus more on whatever experience they are having in the target language.

For an example of this, read the posts on teaching grammar while staying in the target language.  You’ll notice from the scripts that a participating student could easily forget he’s learning language because the activity (eating cereal and/or wondering who’s going to get to eat the cereal) is so engaging.  If your activities/experiences are worthwhile and meaningful, it could be that the students begin to acquire L2 without even realizing it.

More posts to help you get started:

Rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  1. If something you are about to say in the target language isn’t going to be comprehensible, it’s not worth saying.
  2. Use less words.
  3. Set a goal that your students will not think, “I have no idea what my L2 teacher is saying.”
  4. It’s not unrealistic to set a high goal for how much of the input will be comprehensible for the students.
  5. Even though you are speaking a language that is foreign to them, you should strive to make sure that at least 80% of the input is comprehensible.  They may not understand every word.  …but that’s okay.  If you shoot for input being comprehensible 80% of the time it won’t matter as much to your students that they don’t understand every word.  The will still be able to decipher.
  6. It’s hard work for students to decipher the input that you are trying to make comprehensible.  Give them frequent deciphering breaks.

Keep the conversation going!

Have you tried out any of these teaching suggestions from Tuesday’s Tips for Staying in the Target Language?  How did it go?  Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #langchat (for general language teaching comments) and/or #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments).

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

Señor Howard

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

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

How NOT (I Repeat: NOT) To Assess The Progress Of L2 Students In A 90+% Target Language Classroom

I need some help.

I need some feedback on a thought I’ve been developing regarding how to assess the progress of L2 students who have been learning L2 by being immersed in a comprehensible L2 environment.

Here’s the thought: Don’t expect students (from an L2 classroom where the teacher stays in the target language 90+% of the time) to be able to answer assessment questions like:

  • What is the word for “please” in L2?
  • Match the following L2 phrases with their correct English translation.
  • Fill in the sentence blank with the correct form of the L2 verb.
  • Also…(especially if the student is younger than a 4th grader) I don’t think parents should be shocked if it takes a lot of effort for their child to answer the question, “What did you learn in L2 class today?”

I’m starting to think that foreign language teachers shouldn’t expect students in their #TL90plus classroom to be able to think that way.

Here are two stories that explain why:

Story 1 – “Teach Me Your Language”

Every year I teach 600 elementary aged students.  Whenever I meet a student that speaks a heritage language, other than English, I tell them: “If I teach you Spanish…you should teach me your language.” (i.e. Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Turkish…etc)

Over the last 11 years I’ve tried learning basic phrases in the language that these students speak at home with their parents.  (It’s important to note that most of these children speak their heritage language fluently with their parents.  When they’re at home, they can navigate, the Russian language (for example), with ease and fluently talk about a wide variety of topics.
I’ve noticed, however, that when they are with me (a non-Russian speaker in a setting where they never use Russian words to communicate) they struggle to answer seemingly simple questions about their language.  For example, If I ask, “how do you say the word for ‘please’ in Russian?” they might…
  • look at me with a blank stare
  • they think for a while
  • and then they say, “I forgot.”

I’ve also noticed that this happens more consistently with students that are younger.  The older students (4th and 5th grade) tend to be able to give me the Russian word for the English word that I give them.  The younger students, however, almost exclusively, freeze up, seem shy, don’t respond, or say, “I forget.”

When I ask them to make a direct connection between their L1 and my L2…THEY CAN’T.

They CAN fully function in their family’s L1 environment (Russian).  They CAN fully function in the school’s L2 environment (English).  But they struggle when they are asked to make direct connections between the two languages.

Story 2 – “That’s Home!!!”
The other week I got so excited about an idea I had to make a special connection with one of my 1st grade students who speaks Russian at home and perfect English at school.  I recently downloaded a trial version of Rossetta Stone (in Russian) onto my iPad.  When I saw the pictures and heard the Russian audio, I knew right away that my student would love seeing/hearing it.  Remember: this 1st grade girl can speak English just like her 1st grade classmates.  …but at home the family only Speaks Russian.
I walked into her classroom (while she wasn’t too busy with other work) and I showed her the app.  I briefly showed her how to use the interactive features and she saw the pictures and heard the audio recordings of native Russian speakers.
As soon as she heard/saw it her eyes brightened up….and she said, “That’s home!”
Notice that she didn’t say, “That’s Russian,” or, “That’s the language that I speak!”  She said, “That’s home.”
Her statement made me realize that, in her mind she doesn’t think in terms of “languages” or “L1” or ” L2” or “translating.”  If she tries to say something in English to her friends, she probably doesn’t think of it first in Russian and then wonder, “what is the English equivalent of these Russian words that I would like to speak to my English-speaking classmates?”
If she has any thoughts about languages, I would guess that she would think more along the lines of:
“My parents speak to me differently than my school teachers speak to me.”
“The words I use at home (to communicate and get what I want) are different words than the words I use at school (to communicate and get what I want).”
Because of experiences like these, I have developed the phrase:
L2 teachers (who stay in the target language) should try to help students avoid thinking, “this L2 word means this L1 word.”  Instead, students should think, “In this L2 situation, this L2 phrase is used.”
Why is this discussion important?
Foreign language teachers need to assess the progress their students are making.  Foreign language teachers need to make sure that their instruction is effective (i.e. that the students can give an acceptable demonstration proving that they’ve mastered of each day’s performance objectives).
However, foreign language teachers need to make sure that they are using appropriate assessment measures.
It would be inappropriate for a #TL90plus foreign language teacher to teach in the target language and then ask their students to demonstrate language acquisition progress by providing direct translations.  Staying in the target language, as a foreign language instructional strategy, isn’t about helping students to make connections between L1 and L2.  It’s about giving them the tools they need to jump into a different world.  A world where people use different verbal sounds (and read and write different letter patterns/symbols) to interact, enjoy friendship, argue, express passions, create, debate, express their grief, work…etc.
What do you think?
I’m particularly curious about your experience with older individuals.  I only work with young students.
1- Is it ‘easy and natural’ or ‘difficult and strange’ for older students, particularly students immersed in a comprehensible L2 environment, to make direct connections between L1 and L2?
2- Do you think students should be expected to demonstrate language acquisition by making direct connections between two languages, or should teachers keep the following phrases in mind when they are preparing their assessments:
L2 teachers (who stay in the target language) should try to help students avoid thinking, “this L2 word means this L1 word.”  Instead, students should think, “In this L2 situation, this L2 phrase is used.”
Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #langchat (for general language teaching comments) and/or #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments).

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

Señor Howard

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

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!