Most public school districts in the US offer World Language to students no earlier than 6th grade, often not until high school, so it’s not surprising that as a (rare) veteran elementary-level Spanish teacher (I’ve taught grades 1 – 4 for over 20 years), I get LOTS of questions from other elementary-level language teachers about classroom management and pacing. “How do you deal with exhausted first graders at the end of the day?” “How often do you transition activities?” “What do I do with wiggly kids’ endless physical energy – they CANNOT sit still!?!”
In my experience, it’s all about reading the room.
That flexibility and responsiveness PLUS some norms, routines and rituals in the ole’ tool box can really structure the class and keep it moving along in the target language with minimal distractions and interruptions (not to mention daydreaming.)
Young learners are often subject to their sensory needs (aren’t we all?) – they have to pee, pick, fiddle, diddle, tap, stand, scratch, walk, talk, and move, move, MOVE! All this while you, the teacher, are trying to personalize, pause & point, teach to the eyes, target verb-containing structures, elicit student ideas and responses, spin a story, contain the blurters…and the list goes on!
So let’s start with some fundamentals in this post. Practice incorporating these gems in your classes and you’ll be building your teaching sanctuary from the ground up.
- Start with an entrance routine. Choose from a variety. A choral greeting in the target language (i.e., Good morning, class! Good morning, Ms. Shapiro!), a song (i.e., Shalom Chaverim), a ‘move,’ (high fives all around; passing a hackey sack ball back ‘n forth with each kid, etc.) a call & response (“I LOVE SARDINES!” “THAT’S DISGUSTING!”)- a combination of these – signals to the kids that’s they’re entering the Hebrew Zone. It can effortlessly glide into a recap of yesterday’s story.
- End class with a predictable exit routine. In my Spanish class, I adopted this courteous call & response from master Comprehensible Input teacher, Bryce Hedstrom: I say in Spanish: “Thanks for learning,” and the kids answer, “Thanks for teaching.” (“.תודה שלמדתם.” “תודה שלימדת אותנו”) This signals my students to quietly line up for dismissal.
- MOVE!!! Have your elementary students transition from one zone in the classroom to another during class. The movement and the novelty of a different location and vantage point help keep class feeling fresh. I greet my youngest learners outside my room where I settle them at the bench with a series of sometimes silly, sometimes relevant commands, we enter the room and sit at the rug circle, and later transition to the chairs in front of the whiteboard/projection screen. From there we often move about the room during Total Physical Response (commands; think ‘Simon Says’) time, and when we are dramatizing a story. Movement can also constitute brain breaks, which I’ll blog about soon.
With these guideposts in place, you’ll be ready to spin comprehensible stories with your kids as a happy and healthy community. Your kids will trust that you’ll: 1. Meet their linguistic needs by insuring that your language is comprehensible and compelling; and 2. Take care of their developmental & sensory needs, by keeping them stimulated and moving!
Related: Let’s Groove