First Week (or whenever!) Activities

School starts tomorrow for us here in the RVA, and like many of you, my mind is racing with thoughts of “what should I do in class the first week?” This year I am in a new school and for the first time in my career, I am teaching several different upper levels. Although I have never taught these levels before, as a former student and teacher of CI I know that building community is really important in any level. What students need as they progress in language is not new different topics ever single day (or every unit) but more more community-building activities that contain perhaps a little bit deeper, more complex themes for students to explore. These deeper, more complex themes are more palatable to the students when presented as a community-building exercise. Here I am going to discuss what I plan to do the first week (or two) in levels 5, 6 and AP Spanish Language.

Day 1,2,3: The first thing I am going to do is called Card Talk. I will pass out cardstock (or regular paper) to each class and have them write their first name (or what they want me to call them) on the paper and draw a picture of something they like to do or something that interests them. I give a different color paper to each class, so in one class all cards are pink, another all are green etc. It’s much easier to sort the cards when they end up in a pile on my desk. I also hold on to the cards at the end of each class period. Perhaps with older students this is not necessary, but I prefer to have them all in one place and that way no student can say they forgot it the next class period. I can also review the cards during my planning period and pick the best ones to select “randomly” during the next lesson. It’s also a great opportunity to assign your first job: Paper Manager or whatever you want to call the person who passes things out.

While I walk around the room I get a chance to look at each student’s card and ask them questions if it’s not clear what they are drawing. While I am circulating, I am also secretly deciding who I want to call on first for the card talk session. Some teachers let students volunteer, but I have found that the students who volunteer on the first day can be the ones who may want to take control of the class and on the first day I want to send the message that I am in control. Because of the affective filter in level 1, I would allow students to volunteer at first to allow them all to become comfortable with the process. However, since I am teaching the upper levels, I know how important it is for everyone to be speaking, even if they make mistakes or just say simple “yes” or “no” answers. The best thing about teaching the upper levels is what they are already capable of. Even if they haven’t had any CI instruction before, they should be able to understand and speak waaaay more than a level 1 or even level 2 student at the beginning of the year.

Once the students have finished drawing, I will call on my pre-selected students for some card talk. It usually goes like this:

Me: (I see Bradley’s card has a fishing pole on it) Class, Bradley like to fish! (establish meaning for “to fish” if they don’t already know it) Bradley, where do you like to fish?

Bradley: In the ocean.

Me: Wow! The ocean! On a big boat or a small boat? (establish meaning for boat)

Bradley: A big boat.

Me: Wow! A big boat. Did you fish this summer? (establish meaning for summer)

Bradley: Yes.

Me: Did you catch a big fish?

Bradley: A small one.

Me: Wow! A small one. What type?

Bradley: Cod.

Me: Awesome! Who else in the class likes to fish?

You can keep going and going and going. Who did you go with? What was the weather like? Is it your boat or did you rent it? Which ocean did you go to? What is the farthest place you have traveled to fish? You can make it last forever, but I usually stop when I feel the interest is being lost on Bradley. We’ll come back to him later, but now I want to cash in on the silence and attention I have on the first day.

I don’t talk about the syllabus on the first day. I don’t talk about myself on the first day. I say my name and the class, I call roll and do what I have to do that is required by my school in each class (collect fees, pass out papers etc) but then we jump right into the TL and my chosen activity of card talk.

I plan to do card talk for 3 or 4 students, however long it feels interesting. If you are truly “teaching to the eyes” a la Ben Slavic, you will know when it’s time to move on. After card talk, you can go right into a Write and Discuss activity of what you just learned. You can read more about how to do Write and Discuss here. And that may be all I get through in day 1. Even though I am not teaching “the curriculum” or delving into the AP themes right away, I feel that the community building aspect of this activity is of utmost importance. It also presents a great opportunity to teach and reinforce the rules, which you can also read about here. These two things, community building and rule establishment, are the two MOST IMPORTANT THINGS you can spend your time on in the first week. Spending them time to establish these two things in the classroom will allow the rest of your year to run smoothly.

Day 4,5: On days 4 and 5, I’m going to continue with card talk, but now card talk may be getting a little bit old for the students. On day 4 (or maybe day 3 if card talk falls flat), I’m going to introduce Special Person Interviews for Upper Levels. Bryce Hedstrom is the creator of this gem of an activity and I have used it many times in the lower levels with much success. The idea is that you have a Special Person (or more than one if you want) that you interview in the target language. It’s very simple, but most students love to be interviewed. I allow the students to choose whether they will come to the front of the room or stay in their seats, but they do not have a choice as to whether or not they will be interviewed. I believe that Bryce Hedstrom created the PowerPoint of questions, but I cannot find the original that he created so I will link mine here. This is as close to the original as I have, but I have tweaked it a little bit for my needs. Feel free to make a copy and use it for yourself!

For my new role teaching upper levels this year, I created a similar slideshow but with more challenging questions. You can see it here. The first few times I use this slideshow, I am going to leave the English translations but after a week or so I am going to take them away. I feel confident that the students will understand the questions without this support after a few times of doing the activity. This is another community building activity and similar to card talk, but it explores more themes that just the one interest of one student. You can focus on the one student as much as you want, or bring in the class as well by asking them the same questions one at a time or as a group. I have found this activity to be wildly successful in my classes, because who doesn’t like talking about themselves?! I would follow up each student with a Write and Discuss activity, and as Bryce Hedstrom suggests I will give a quiz after 5 students have had the chance to be interviewed. This lets the students know that it is important for them to pay attention and it lets the Special Person know that what they are saying is valuable and important to me, their teacher. After 5 students have been interviewed, I will give an oral quiz during which I will ask the students to write the name of the student that pertains to the fact that I state. For example, if I say, “This person has 5 siblings” they know to write Bradley because Bradley was the one who told us that fact.

So this is how I am going to start my first week! I am really excited that I am in a new school and teaching the upper levels so that I can talk to them about more topics. I am also looking forward to using Academic Card Talk a la Tina Hargaden in the future and writing a post about that. I also plan on using El Internado, Clip Chat (formerly called Movie Talk) and Music Wednesdays this year, all of which I will blog about at a later date. Tomorrow’s the big day – here we go!pexels-photo-207658


    • This is the only one, I believe: I’m not particularly proud of it either. I don’t think I made a lot of the interview comprehensible enough. But it is something. I would say in general that my student interviews are way more fluid than a lot of people do. A lot of people have specific questions in mind and even project the questions on the board. That’s great! But I tend to be more interested in encouraging a more free-flowing conversation about an interest of the students. For example, I had a Sp. 3H student last year travel to Kenya to visit family over Christmas Break. He was la persona especial for a couple of classes as the students asked him questions about his trip and he shared. We used google maps to look up his itinerary, google images to look up landscapes. He even sent me a few pictures he took during the trip. It was very cool. I’ve done that sort of thing with lots of different vocab themes: sports tryouts week, I always ask the students who made a team to be interviewed as a group. After holidays and breaks, I always ask students to be interviewed if they had an interesting break. Last year during the food theme, I had a student who is in our technical center’s Baking and Pastry Program be interviewed. Etc…

      I’ll try to be more diligent about taking video next year!


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