7 ways to create GOOD VIBES in Spanish Class this year

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My previous post on Good Vibes in Spanish Class emphasized that when students like, trust, and care about their classmates, they will work hard together. They will speak up in class – ALL of them will. They create lasting friendships from being in your class. They will love you as a teacher, remember your class fondly, and have stronger learning outcomes.


1. Be Approachable

If you expect students to work as a team, 
you must show them that YOU are also a part of the team.


Share your personal self: The first week of school, I show a powerpoint presentation with pictures of myself, my family,and my real life. Continue to share personal tidbits throughout the year so students know you as a person. What did you do this weekend? What show did you watch last night? As language teachers, it is so easy to talk about these things because the fit directly into the communication standards!

Show students that you are human too: I embrace my mistakes and shortcomings openly to students. Don't know how to say a word? I look it up in the dictionary. I model this for my students - we look it up as a class. I love the concept of teacher as “master learner”… even teachers have more to learn.

2. Convey Clear, Consistent Expectations

Harry and Rosemary Wong were right: Students need to know from the start what is expected of them. If you have not read their book, "The First Days of School" get yourself a used copy ASAP. This is an oldie, but a goodie! 

Consider giving a formal presentation that first week or so of school, regarding your expectations. Lay it all out there. Then, FOLLOW UP! Be sure you consistently clarify your expectations and repeat them. Kids want to know how specifically they should behave in class and why.
 
Wong & Wong's "The First Days of School"

3. Trust Your Students

If you expect your students to trust one another, you must first lead by example. 


How can teachers show their students they trust them? I’ve found that having nice materials (think: nice fresh sets of markers, extra pencils, extra paper, etc.) and a well-set-up classroom are great ways to convey your investment in the class. Clearly stating your expectations for how the space and materials are used is critical… as well as calling out the class publically if materials are not respected. BUT I do believe that having nicer things makes students feel trusted, and therefore more invested in the class!

4. Emphasize Student Ownership in the Classroom

Make your students feel like they too "own" the classroom space.
           
Get 'em moving: As a first step, I get students moving so they feel comfortable in our classroom space. All throughout the year, but especially the first few weeks of school, I aim to incorporate activities in which students move around and gain familiarity with the whole classroom. I want them to know that this is not a class where you can hide out in the corner all year! See the suggestions in "#5 - Get everyone acquainted" for some fun activities that get students moving.

Give students responsibilities: I’ve had success assigning student responsibilities for classroom jobs (attendance taking, paper passing, getting their own supplies, etc.) so they have a real stake in the class and classroom, because they are leaders in the whole process. 

Value student feedback: Get students' opinions! I’ve periodically used classroom community feedback surveys to assess how students are feeling in the class. Asking for their opinions is a great way of showing that they have ownership and some control within the environment.

Here are a few feedback prompt ideas:
  1. Describe one thing your team excelled with today:
  2. Describe one area for improvement today:
  3. Describe one excelling team member and describe why:
  4. Describe how you can improve your team presence next time?


5. Everyone Needs to Know Everyone's Name

Everyone in class needs to know everyone else’s name. Period. 

Sometimes middle and high schoolers are just too cool for their own good. Not in my class. In my class, we are a team, we all work together, and value each other for our unique strengths. There is no "cool kid," "dork," "jock". Leave the stereotypes at the doorstep! 

I’ve had success with these ice breakers / get acquainted games. Best part is you can do these 100% in the target language!


·      Celebrities On Your Back Game: Teacher sticks a celebrity / character’s name to each students’ back. Students mingle with each other asking sí/no questions in Spanish to try to figure out which celebrity they have on their back. They’re limited to 2 or 3 questions with each peer, then have to move on.


4 Corners Activity: All students gather in the center of the room. Send a student leader to each of the 4 corners of the room, and give them your answer options, printed out on in large font on paper. Pose a question to the class, then corner leaders present their answers, and students move to the corner of the room that has the answer with which they best identify.
Some question / answer ideas:
¿Cuál es tu color favorito? #1 Rojo; #2 Azul #3 Negro #4 No tengo color favorito
¿De dónde eres? #1 Arizona #2 California #3 México #4 Otro país
¿Qué te gusta hacer? #1 Practicar deportes  #2 Tocar música #3 Descansar #4 Hablar español

Gesture Name Game: Form circles of 10 students or so. One student starts by giving his/her name and a gesture to go with it. The group repeats. Then it cycles to the next round where the next student presents his/her name and a gesture to go with it. Then the group repeats the first student’s name and gesture and then the second student’s. Go on through the whole group!

Verdad, Verdad, Verdad, Mentira: In small groups (or whole class) students present 3 truths and a lie about themselves. The class (or group) votes on which is the “mentira”. Great for higher level students if you’re going 100% target language.


 
Relatively easy prep for playing "Celebrities on Your Back"

6. Mix Up Students Again and Again

Good vibes need to be cultivated all year long!

I’ve had success using these class building activities throughout the year. These also can be done 100% in the target language!

People Hunts: Also known as Human Scavenger Hunts, Find Someone Who, or the Autograph Game... For this activity students use a pre-made list of prompts to walk around the room asking questions in Spanish to find peers who can "sign off" ("firma, ¿por favor?") on their sheet. First student to get all prompts on their sheet signed wins. I love doing these thematically for the vocabulary and/or verb tenses we're focusing on at the moment. The prompts take a little work to make, but you can do it! Here are some of my People Hunt prompts as an example.

Birthday Calendars: Make one for each class. Or assign a student or two to coordinate this. Great way to practice learning days and dates as well as acknowledging everyone’s special days.

Fiestas: Unstructured socialization can also be a huge positive. I usually throw 2 or 3 fiestas each year... as a celebration of Spanish culture (fiestas de familia are an institution in most Spanish speaking countries, after all), reward for good behavior/hard work, time for me to grade at the end of the quarter/semester, and/or general good will gesture. I almost always do a "working fiesta" where students bring food and drinks, but they work on class material while they party.

Would You Rather: This is a derivation of the 4 corners game... but just uses 2 sides. Students all start in the center of the room, then the teacher (or a student!) poses a "Qué te gustaría más..." question to the class, and students physically move to the side of the room that they prefer. Pushes students' language skills while also exploring differences in opinions and conveying that all opinions matter.

Some ideas:
  • "¿Te gustaría más saber la fecha de tu muerte o no?"
  • "¿Te gustaría más ser rico y feo o pobre y guapo?"

7. Share a Little Love

Reach Out to the Whole Class: When students do great things, take time to acknowledge them. I love showing my favorite projects publicly to the whole class. Or consider presenting a bulletin board of top work from all your classes, for all to see.

Reach Out to Individual Students: For ages, my department has successfully used postcards sent home as a way to build student and parent rapport. We print a big batch at the beginning of each school year, divide them up, and make a goal of sending out 5 every week. I keep a list of who I've sent them to, to insure I'm reaching new students each week. Students LOVE the individualized attention. I always write my note short and in simple Spanish... "Querida Namoi, ¡Eres una estudiante fabulosa! Gracias por toda tu ayuda esta semana en mi clase. Sinceramente, Señorita Crane"

Awards: I've given out end of the year award certificates, or superlatives to students in the past (they LOVE these!). But have a new idea for this year... giving little awards periodically throughout the whole year. This is something that elementary teachers do with much success, and I think there is value for secondary students as well. Everyone appreciates a little acknowledgement, after all.

Some ideas:
  • Eres maravilloso/a
  • ¡Lo lograste!
  • ¿Lo mejor de este día? ¡Tú!
  • Mejor presentación
  • ¡Eres un super genio!


Who doesn't love a postcard from your teacher?

These are just a few ideas. How do you build GOOD VIBES in your classes? Would love to hear your feedback.


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Creating Good Vibes in Spanish Class

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My first year teaching high school Spanish was a doozy. There was little semblance of classroom community. 

Sure, groups of students were friends, many students were nice and friendly to me, students willingly participated and answered my questions (even if they were mostly the same 5 kids over and over again), and students were willing to work with each other when I told them to. BUT there were definitely students who got away with never having to participate much, never meeting anyone new, basically hiding out all year long. I don’t know if these kids liked or hated the class, or really what they learned, beyond their test scores. I taught at a very diverse Title 1 high school, so had students with a broad range of cultural and social backgrounds who didn’t necessarily want to get to know each other or understand each other or really work together beyond a surface level. No one was mean or even avoidant, but they weren’t racing to bond, or even collaborate at all. Students weren't really speaking Spanish in my Spanish class... isn't that the whole goal?!

Good Vibe-ing


Can't say enough good things about these texts!
In my second year, after getting picked to take a Kagan workshop over the summer, I aimed to make some big changes to build a classroom community that fostered communication. Kagan and Kagan (2009) explain that by creating a larger sense of “our class” – as an identity, a sense of pride, a team, will result in huge classroom benefits. Since investing in the idea of classbuilding / team work / student rapport building / trust building in all levels of my Spanish classes, I’ve seen huge improvements in my students’ learning, creativity, production quality, collaborations, and sense of ownership.

A strong classroom community is critical to Foreign Language classes in particular, because we ask students to take big risks – speaking publically, while testing out their fledgling language skills. Here’s how class building works.

Classbuilding

Classbuilding is “the process by which a room full of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences, becomes a caring community of active learners” (Kagan & Kagan, 2009).



Classbuilding pushes all students to get acquainted and ultimately trust each other.

Classbuilding creates an energetic and fun learning space.

Classbuilding makes all students feel safe, valued, and cared about.

Classbuilding creates a sense of belonging and pride in “our class”.

Classbuilding optimizes learning potential, because when threat is removed students are empowered to take risks, participate, and collaborate with each other.

Classbuilding teaches students to value individual differences and collaborative relationships.


Why Bother?


When students like, trust, and care about their classmates, they will work hard together! They will speak up in class – ALL of them will. They create lasting friendships from being in your class. They will love you as a teacher, remember your class fondly, and have stronger learning outcomes to show for.


Now that we’ve defined and discussed the idea of classbuilding, see my next post in this series, 7 Ways to Create Good Vibes in Spanish Class for practical applications to the secondary Spanish classroom.

My next post in this series


Reference

Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. (2009). Kagan cooperative learning. San Clemente, California: Kagan Publishing.

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Minuto Loco

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Minuto Loco

This post was updated in June 2017.

I created the game “Un Minuto Loco” as an engaging way to help my high school students learn verb conjugations. Students race to conjugate as many verbs they can within the time limit, similar to mad minute math drills. Verb drills aren't necessarily anything new, but there's something special about how the Minuto Loco format resonates with secondary students.

How does it work?

Minuto Loco races can be adapted for a variety of content - verbs, vocabulary, etc. For the most part, I use them to reinforce and practice the verbs and verb tenses we are learning at any given point in class.

Learning Objective: Students will be able to conjugate the given Spanish verbs in the given tense.

Prep and Materials:
  • Print a Minuto Loco sheet for each student (or a sheet for pairs of students to share)
  • Students need a pen or pencil
  • Teacher needs a timer (I use Google's timer, projected digitally at the front of class)
  • Teacher may use small prizes, candies, or awards for winners
The Activity:
  • Students work individually (or with a partner, as a differentiation option - pair a weak and strong student together and partners alternate writing the answers)
  • Each student keeps their Minuto Loco sheet turned face down until the race begins.
  • Teacher sets the timer for 1 - 3 minutes, depending on your students' level.
  • Teachers says "go" and students write as many conjugations for the given verbs as possible in the time allotted.
  • In each box on the Minuto Loco sheet, students write the conjugated Spanish verb that corresponds with the subject given.
  • Teacher calls "pencils down" when time expires and students stop writing.
  • To grade, students switch papers with a partner. Teacher posts the answers and students place a big X through the box for all problems that are incorrect or incomplete. After grading, they add up the Xs and put the number missed (or number correct) at the top of the page, returning the Minuto Loco race sheet to the original owner.
  • For my students, we take about 10 minutes to complete one round, grade their answers, and award prizes. 

Why does it work?

Minuto Loco is always a hit with my own students, with the other teachers at my school, and now with the many teachers I've been able to share it with through TeachersPayTeachers. Why does it work?! I think Minuto Loco works because it:

  • Can be differentiated
  • Is easy to explain and easy to play
  • Doesn't waste paper or require many materials
  • Takes just 10 minutes
  • Gives students AND teachers formative feedback about progress
  • Can be competitive

But isn't drill and kill bad for students?

The pendulum is in Foreign Language pedagogy is swinging away from drill and kill to more contextualized language learning, right?! So games like this would be pointless, correct? 

While I VERY much believe that language learning should be applied, contextualized, and relevant, I also believe that older language learners (beginning in the teen years) DO benefit from some simple memorization. 

Take a personal example... Back when I was in high school, as a native English speaker, I spent many useful hours memorizing SAT vocabulary words which I still use TODAY! Sure, I learned some of those words through authentic experiences reading books, listening to TV, and my parents. But the drill and kill method also was helpful in the end. Years of cognitive science research has shown again and again that repeated exposure can be an effective way to encode new content in your brain. This is especially true when it comes to simple language, like new vocabulary words and verb structures.

Should you drill and kill with conjugation games non-stop? NO! Consider using activities like this as a simple warm up or closure activity. From my own experience, games like this are a great way to engage students and motivate them to learn.



Minuto Loco races are easy enough to create yourself. Just insert a table into a word document, and type in the verbs you want students to conjugate. Print 'em out and you're ready to play. Or for a few bucks, pick up my Minuto Loco races in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I have a big list, my Minuto Loco Menu, where I list every race I currently have for sale, if that's helpful, and check out my Minuto Loco ER & IR Verbs in Present Tense as a free sample!





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Celebrating a milestone and 500 followers on Teacher's Pay Teachers

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¡Órale!

I'm excited to announce that this week I will be recognized on Teachers pay Teachers for a milestone and also that I've just exceeded 500 followers! I love sharing my stuff with other teachers, and am so honored that a few people, at least, find it just a useful as I have.


So let's celebrate... with free stuff.

As a way to celebrate, I made a new freebie that Spanish and bilingual teachers from elementary to high school levels will hopefully be able to use. It's a set of little award cards and extra credit passes for students. 100% en español. It's a great way to build student rapport and classroom community. Download them for free here. :)


What do you think of these little awards?

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