Do’s and Don’ts for Handouts in the 90+% TL Classroom

This post contains a link to a handout that Sr. Howard uses in his 90+% TL classroom.

It seems to be programmed into our foreign language teacher heads: we MUST give vocabulary lists to our students.  However, teachers that hand out lists of L2 vocabulary mostly end up providing L1 translations for the words.

Students need lists.  They need reference sheets.  I’m not saying that you should never hand out any paperwork.  But when you do:

Try to avoid writing down vocabulary in the target language on your handouts.

In fact, it may be helpful not to include ANY words on your handouts.  Use pictures instead.  Your handouts should have lots of pictures with corresponding blank spaces that students have to fill in once they decipher the meaning of new L2 words.  Make the students write down vocabulary in the target language.  Don’t write it for them.

Try making your handouts look like this.

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Effective Routines for Upper Elementary L2 Learners

Routines are…

  • …a good way to help L2 students feel more comfortable in a TL immersion setting.
  • …a great way to repeat target phrases enough times to enable acquisition.
  • …a teacher’s best friend.  It keeps kids on task and cuts down on the amount of original material teachers have to come up with.

Here are some examples of effective routines for upper elementary L2 learners.

1- 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.  This routine allows…

  • …students to walk around the classroom.  (rather than having to sit in their seat for the whole class)
  • …students to practice L2 numbers. (helpful Spanish numbers review videos)
  • …students to practice reading in the TL.

2- Attendance and greeting routine.  Take attendance at the beginning of every class.  Ask students to respond to the sound of their name with appropriate phrases in the TL.  As the year progresses, introduce more advanced ways of responding.  (i.e. start with ‘Present’ or ‘Here’ and move onto ‘Here I am.’ ‘I’m here.’ ‘I arrived.’ ‘I made it on time.’ etc.)  Teach students to say, “He’s not here,” when an absent student’s name is read.  Once students are comfortable with the routine, a teacher can take extra time to ask students target questions that have been previously introduced. (i.e. “How are you, today?”  “How are you feeling?”  “How is your brother?” “I like your shirt.” etc.)  The possibilities are endless.

3- Write the heading on top of paper work.  Whenever my students receive a new paper they copy down a heading.  I use the TL to instruct volunteers to pass out the papers.  I have the class write the following in the TL:

My name is ________.  My classroom teacher’s name is _________.

Today is ______ (day of week) the ____ (#) of _________(month) of the year 2014.

Once students have copied the heading you can:

  • ask students to come to the board to fill in the blanks.
  • ask students to read the heading out loud.
  • read the heading out loud as a class.
  • ask students to make any corrections to mistakes on the board.

4- Calendar/Weather routine.  Click here to see how I do my calendar/weather/greetings routine at the beginning of class.

There are many other routines that can be helpful for teaching L2 to students by only speaking in the TL.  What are some that you find useful in your classroom?  Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Instructional Strategies: Targeted Repetition

My youngest brother grew up in the public school system in which I’ve been teaching Spanish for the last 10 years.  I gave him a quick Spanish quiz this morning as we were hanging out on vacation.  I said:

  • If, “I have internet.” = “Tengo internet.” and
  • “I don’t have internet.” = “No tengo internet.”
  • …how do you say, “I sometimes have internet,” in Spanish?

He thought about it for a while and, after getting a hint, he was able to say “A veces tengo internet.”  Our family congratulated him, for his demonstration of L2 retention, and he immediately said, “That’s one thing that the Vineland Public Schools sure did: REPETITION”

If you were familiar with my district’s L2 program two decades ago, you would know that he wasn’t necessarily complimenting the curriculum or instructional methods.  The curriculum (through grade 8) was basically the same set of thematic units repeated every year.  He implied that the program wasn’t inspirational, innovative or effectively structured.  However, he admitted that the repetition of the same content each year DID contribute to his ability to retain some things.  In short:


Why is repetition a helpful instructional strategy in the 90+% TL classroom?

1- Repetition creates a familiar environment in the L2 classroom.  For L2 learners, L2 is a very unfamiliar thing.  Unfamiliarity can cause some students to be uncomfortable, intimidated, and vulnerable.  Teachers can make ‘the feel,’ of an L2 classroom, more comfortable if they consistently recycle content and activities.

2- Repetition enables L2 acquisition and retention.  Sometimes I ask my students to teach me the language they speak with their family.  IT’S HARD!  If I ask them to teach me a Turkish greeting phrase, I can’t produce it the next day until I’ve heard them repeat it to me many times.  The syllables sound so unfamiliar.  The progression of sounds just doesn’t stick in my head.  It seems like I have to hear it a thousand times (over a series of days/weeks) before I can produce the phrase without reading or repeating it.  These experiences have helped me be patient with L2 learners in my class.  I say the same basic things over and over again knowing that my students need to hear it a thousand times before they’re able to produce L2 content on their own.

3- Repetition makes lesson planning less complicated.  Lesson planning is very important.  However lesson planning can get overwhelming if a teacher feels like the students need to experience new content and fresh activities every day.  Instead, create meaningful and targeted routines that allow students to repeatedly encounter target vocabulary in meaningful, focused and comprehensible ways.  It will help students feel more comfortable and help teachers feel less busy.

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Instructional Strategies: Señor Howard’s Video and ‘Why he does what he does?’ Part 2

This post contains video clips of Señor Howard teaching in the target language.

It’s important for foreign language teachers, who teach in the TL, to develop routines.  The following video clips show Señor Howard leading students through some effective instructional routines.  This post is a continuation of last week’s post.

From 1min56sec – 2min40sec – “I’m asking students to respond using the TL.  If students aren’t confident, participating isn’t their favorite thing to do.  I keep in mind that they might be intimidated.  I make sure to smile and nod a lot.  I try to verbally praise students after they respond, even if their response wasn’t correct.  After a student participates, I want them to feel that it went well even though it might have been nerve-wracking.”

At 2min30sec – “A student misses the target and hits the SMART board instead of my hands.  The class laughs.  It was an honest mistake.  So rather than trying to calm down the students (with verbal instruction and hand gestures or an angry tone) I move on to the next activity.  If your next activity is attention-getting enough (as in the case of the continuation of this instructional video clip) redirect off-task behavior by moving on.”  (speaking of SMART board check out this post for tips on using SMART board in class from @SenoraWienhold)

At 3min23sec – 4min10sec- “I decide to make the task more difficult by increasing the amount of target questions they have to respond to.  If you’re following ACTFL’s recommendation to stay in the target language at least 90% of the time, make sure your students are aware of sudden changes you might make in difficulty level.  To prepare my students for a more difficult task:

  • I interrupted the flow of the activity with an obvious break.
  • I slowed my voice down.
  • I used slower and exaggerated body language.
  • I modeled the performance task with correct answers.
  • I gave the first student participant a lot of time to think about what I was asking and what he needed to respond with.
  • I helped him feel more confident with his unconfident first answer by repeating the same target question.  The repetition reaffirmed for him that he was right.  It also changed his lack of confidence (in relationship to me) to a relational humor (because I was teasing him in a friendly way by repeating the same question over and over.)

The point is: do everything you can to help your students be successful.  Some teachers try to trick students.  Keep in mind that some students will be very embarrassed if they make a mistake in front of their peers.  Don’t unnecessarily trick someone into making a mistake.  Staying in the TL is intimidating enough.  Don’t compound it by tricking students on purpose.”

At 4min45secs – “I teach young students.  It’s helpful for them if I change things up every 5-10 minutes.  In this case, the students had been sitting on a rug for a while.  It was a big class so they were cramped a bit.  The movement at 4min45secs helped students take a stretch break.  Afterwards, they are refreshed and ready to keep engaging in the TL instruction.”

At 6min9secs – “I use a random student picker.  It’s helpful for a lot of reasons:

  1. It creates an expectation in the class that everyone participates.
  2. It keeps me from having to remember who I’ve picked and who I haven’t picked.
  3. It keeps students on-task.  There’s a constant feeling that they might get picked.
  4. It keeps students from blaming me for picking them too much or not picking them enough.”

At 6min9secs – “It’s time to turn on the lights.  Try to avoid being a teacher who does things that students can handle on their own.  Look for chances to give commands to students that can be repeated often.  Turning on and off the lights is perfect for this.  I have the students repeat the command with me until the lights are finally on.”

Next week’s blog post will continue picking apart Sr. Howard’s demo routines in the TL.  We’ll continue answering the question: ‘Why does Sr. Howard do what he does?’

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Instructional Strategies – Sr. Howard’s Video and ‘Why does he do what he does?’

This post contains video clips of Señor Howard teaching in the target language.

Summary of last week’s post: ROUTINES are a great way to making students feel more comfortable in your 90+% TL classroom.  Included in the post was a link directing you to a video of Señor Howard leading some routines he uses in the classroom.

Read the rest of this post to find out why Señor Howard does what he does for his routines.

At 4secs – Señor Howard prepares to put on a video. (find it at  “I put on a video 4-8 mins after I do some type of whole group instruction or discussion.  Usually after 4-8 minutes of hearing the target language, a student gets tired of trying to decipher L2.  In an effort to not lose the attention of students, it’s a good idea to put on an engaging/attractive instructional video (still in the target language) that will allow students a reprieve from the hard work of tracking with what the teacher is discussing in the target language.”

At 22secs – Señor Howard’s video shows a numbers count down.  “Notice that each number is spelled in the target language underneath.  Teachers encourage their students towards success every time they allow students to see the TL written.  Written words allow students to practice reading/phonics skills.  Written words allow students time to study the word.  During the study time, students may have the chance to activate prior knowledge to help TL acquisition and/or comprehension.” – “Lots of students can count UP very easily.  Help students acquire other skills with numbers by practicing counting DOWN.”

At 25-60secs – Señor Howard takes advantage of ‘down time’ while students are engaged with the instructional video.  “It’s so nice to be able to have a moment to gather my thoughts while the students are occupied.  It helps me think about what’s next in the lesson.  I can prepare materials.  Sometimes I take a moment to record student performance data from current and previous activities.  Sometimes I pull aside a struggling or off-task student re-explain my expectations in L1.  Make use of these great ‘down times’.”

At 1min – Señor Howard pauses the instructional video.  “Some of the instructional videos that I use (which can be found at I show to the students repeatedly throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year I let them watch the video.  As the year progresses I start pausing the videos to allow students chances to practice some of the skills they see modeled in the video.  Sometimes I’ll use a soft object to help organize a conversation practice activity.  I ask a target question and throw the object to the student who will respond.  It’s fun for students to throw something.  It increases students’ desire to participate.”

At 1min5secs – Señor Howard uses his hands as puppets to help make input comprehensible.  “When practicing interpersonal mode activities, I use Hand 1 and Hand 2 to model what Person 1 and Person 2 are supposed to say.  It’s such a helpful technique that I picked up from some great teachers at ‘Real Language Right Away.’  It eliminates a lot of confusion among students regarding what they are supposed to say and when they’re supposed to say it.”

At 1min18secs – Señor Howard tries to only asks students to perform an interpersonal mode task when they’ve had the task modeled repeatedly.  “An L2 immersion environment is naturally intimidating.  Being put on the spot (in front of peers) is also intimidating.  Intimidation can squash a students desire to practice L2.  Try to eliminate intimidation from your classroom.  Expect your students to participate only when you’ve given them sufficient chances to understand what’s happening in a language task.  Model the performance activity repeatedly.  Use effective techniques for making input comprehensible.  Only then can you start to kick intimidation out of your classroom and allow your L2 students to flourish.

Next week’s blog post will continue picking apart Sr. Howard’s demo routines in the TL.  We’ll continue answering the question: ‘Why does Sr. Howard do what he does?’

Señor Howard –

Instructional Strategies For the 90+% Target Language Classroom: Routines

This post contains video clips of Señor Howard teaching in the target language.

Teaching a foreign language, by staying in the target language at least 90% of the time, can make students feel uncomfortable (especially at first).  Your words can sound completely unfamiliar, especially to a novice speaker.

One of the easiest ways to make students feel more comfortable in an immersion setting is by creating meaningful routines.

Routines …:

  • …allow students to anticipate what will happen next.  (When students know what to expect, they will be less confused by the unfamiliar sounds of the target language.)
  • …help create a structure that enhances comprehension.  (The target language without context and repetition is almost meaningless.)
  • …allow for target vocabulary repetition.

Check out these video clips.  The three clips show Señor Howard using routines as an effective instruction strategy for the 90+% target language classroom.  In the next blog I’ll discuss how these routines, and others can help enhance comprehension in the immersion setting.

Señor Howard –

Instructional Strategies: Intro

Over the last several weeks my posts have been dedicated to answering questions like, “How do you manage student behavior AND stay in the target language?” (New to this blog? – Click here to see all blog posts touching on this topic.)

Looking ahead, I will start transitioning to instructional strategies that are effective for use in the 90+% TL-Use-Classroom. (I say start because I may still touch on classroom management by posting videos of classroom management techniques in the target language.)

Topics will include:

  • The importance of routines
  • How to create and develop worthwhile routines
  • Effective vs. Ineffective worksheets and handouts
  • What works and doesn’t work when focusing on interpretive, interpersonal or presentational modes

Feel free to leave questions and comments below regarding instructional strategies for the 90+% TL-Use-Classroom.

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

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @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).

Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Ensure That You Are Pairing (Part 1)

A teacher’s chances of winning the behavior management battle, in a 90+% TL classroom, soar when she excels at pairing incomprehensible L2 input equivalent  and comprehensible extralinguistic forms of input.  Student tendency to engage in off-task behavior increases when he/she doesn’t understand what is happening in class.  Therefore, a 90+%-TL-using-teacher should have a goal of causing students to understand most of what’s happening in an L2 immersion environment.

How can a foreign language PAIR effectively?

1.  Use Fewer Words – When speaking in front of students, many teachers think that they need to sound like a native speaker.  This is, generally, NOT a good practice.  Staying in the TL (depending upon the proficiency level of the students) isn’t about sounding like a native speaker.  Don’t try to string together fancy sounding words.  Don’t try to speak quickly and fluidly.  These actions actually make incomprehensible L2 input feel more aversive to L2 learners.  And when this happens, students easily lose hope and give up.

Instead, teachers should consider the following principles in order increase the chance that a student will be willing to engage in an L2 immersion environment:

  • Use fewer words
  • Speak slowly
  • Insert brief pauses between words
  • Focus primarily on using vocabulary from the day’s performance objectives.

I learned the ‘Use Fewer Words’ principle when my daughter was 10-20 months old.  I quickly learned better ways to verbally instruct my crawling, non-language-using daughter to stay out of the kitchen?  Obviously a parent should not say something like: “Infant daughter, 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.”  In a situation like this, a parent needs to eliminate extra words.  I took my daughter to the threshold between the kitchen and living room.  I pointed to the kitchen side of the threshold and said, “NO, NO, NO.”  I pointed to the living room side of the threshold and 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.  (In teacher words: she would’ve engaged in off-task behavior.)

These same principles can be applied to foreign language classrooms.  When communicating with L2 learners, eliminate extra words.  Take extra time to ensure that your words are paired with comprehensible extralinguistic input.  Use situations, and context, to make words and phrases meaningful.  The more understandable the input is, the easier it will be for students to stay on-task during learning activities.

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

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – – @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).

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

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).