[Note, this post is about starting out with new kids, but note that it also morphed into a very productive discussion about PQA, started by Chris, way down below in some of the comments.]
This short series of blog posts is for teachers who may have brand new kids for the second semester. The focus of the first days of class with new kids is on getting to know the kids and making sure that they all understand the classroom rules (found on the posters page of this site).
No intent is made here to present this as the only way to start a comprehension based class out from the first day. This information addresses teachers who are new to the method only, but parts of it could be incorporated by experienced CI teachers if they have new kids now in January. The information given here is found in my other books , but there is some new detail added here.
As I have pointed out on my TPRS training site many times, addressing personalization and classroom discipline in the first few days of the year is vastly more important than actually trying to teach the target language. Doing that would be like launching a rowboat without oars. In comprehension based methods, the students ARE the curriculum, with the language being merely the vehicle for discussing it. So, if you don’t
– know who your students are, and
– make the classroom rules crystal clear and enforce them from the first day,
then no real learning can take place anyway.
So, if you’re new to this, on Day 1 back with new kids, make certain that you get to know the kids, and let the kids get to know each other.
Make a big circle. Have the kids say their names and share one thing that they like to do. Do all this in English. The kids can either tell the truth or they can lie. Don’t let them lie about their names, however, obviously, because you don’t know their regular names yet, which is very important. A discussion about finding names for kids, making sure that this is done organically, can be found on the resource/workshop handout page of this site.
Note that English should be used in this first day activity, with short periods of very slow discussion in L2 interspersed into the English. This is just for this first day activity, by the way. You will move quickly to full on L2, or 90% at least, once this activity is completed.
Encouraging them to lie about their activities, not their names, is important. Some will lie and tell you that they dance the hokey pokey. This represents a big victory for you on the first day of class – you are successfully teaching them to make silly stuff up for the good of the class. This suggests to the kids that they really will be the curriculum for the class. Doing that and making sure that they know the rules sets a tone of lightheartedness that is absolutely necessary if the fluency portion of your language program is to work.
As you go around the circle, learning names, hanging out with the kids in a relaxed way, it is very important to occasionally change into the target language and circle some of the information you have learned up to that point in the circle (“Vanessa eats sharks, class!”) going one hundred times slower than you think is enough – they have never heard the language before. Go to the board and write it down and translate it (Point and Pause) and do some very limited circling with each sentence. As stated above, there is a lot of English and a little bit of L2 happening right now.
Do not fail to explain the classroom rules over and over during this time, at every infraction. Yes, this is always done in English. Remember to stay primarily in English on this first day of class overall as you will never get another chance to hammer the rules like you will on this first day and during the first week. After that it will be too late.
Hammering the rules over and over in English at each infraction (and there will be many in these first days, as most level 1 classes are made up of 9th graders who are not known for their ability to listen to adults) is even more important than getting to know the kids on the first day. This entire lesson plan is secretly totally focused on the rules. Nothing is more important in a high school classroom than strict adherence to the rules. The only person who can make the rules happen is the teacher.
Make sure to explain both the finger rules and the classroom rules. Casually mention during class that, in exchange for their “showing up” in class and following the rules, in this class there will be
– no homework
– no big tests
– frequent easy little quizzes on stuff we do in class
– no notebooks
– no books
and that the goal of the class is to have fun. Tell the kids that, given the nature of the class, their being present and active (I use the term “showing up”) is the only way that they can expect to earn a passing grade, due to the constant short five minute daily quizzes given at the end of class.
Most teachers know some variation of this first day activity as a great way to start any class out in any academic discipline. One kid starts with “I’m Andrew and I ride a Harley” (in English) and the kid just to Andrew’s left has to say who Andrew is and what he does and then present herself in the same way as Andrew did, with the kids to Andrew’s right in the circle quickly hating it when they realize that later on in class they will have to describe thirty of their fellow students in this way.
The Big Circle activity:
1. changes the focus from you to them and gets them looking at each other instead of you the entire period, so that they can get that out “checking out the other kids” thing out of the way. This greatly reduces the stress of teaching on the first day, which, without this student centered kind of activity to start things out, can be debilitating, especially to new teachers. The kids are of an age to not be able to even hear what the teacher is saying because their social concerns override what the teacher is saying anyway.
2. gets the need to call roll taken care of.
3. personalizes your classroom from the first day by giving them their first identity of the year in your class.
4. teaches them that they have no books, notebooks, little or no homework and that they can succeed (because their teacher is going to walk the walk on the research for real and not do outdated shit from the past century on them).
6. teaches them that lying and furnishing cute answers in this class is important.
7. teaches them that a tone of lightheartedness will be the norm for the class and that having fun is very much the goal of the class.
8. teaches them the classrooms rules.
9. brings immediate classroom discipline. Since the kids are standing in a big circle, friends will stand together and start talking in those little side conversations that drive teachers nuts. Then, when those same kids are sitting at polar opposite sides of the room the very next day, they, your potential trouble makers, get it real clear that they aren’t going to be allowed to talk to each other in class. I think that was Nathan’s idea – to let them sit together right away as a way to find out who the kids who like to pair up and chat are. Make no mistake about it if you are a new teacher – those kids are not talking casually. They are doing that to see if you will let them do it. (You simply can’t let them do that in a comprehension based class and the only time you can teach them that is now.) So, cleverly, you let them do it that first day, but only to out them so that, on the second day, when you stick them so far apart it hurts, the rest of the class sees that you mean it about rule #2 that one person speaks and the others listen. If messages about discipline are not delivered in the first week, they never will be.
10. gives you a chance to give the first job out to “Kid Who Calls Roll in Class” (I look up GPAs before class and pick a high GPA kid for this job), which frees you to walk around and encourage kids to speak up and all those little things that you need to do for the real shy ones to feel comfortable, to be given special supportive attention by you so that they know that they are important to you, while the whole thing is going on.
11. allows you to explain your grading policy.
12. brings the immediate good will of the kids into the classroom as they realize how different your class is going to be from their other classes, in which they are quickly, within weeks, filed into a weird, inaccurate academic hierarchy of haves and haves nots. In this class, they are often shocked into knowing that they all count, not just the smart ones. This is accomplished when they realize that the class is going to be all about them and not about some fictional kids in Lyon named Pierre and Marie who are sitting having breakfast using words that, in the last century, messed American kids’ grades up on tests that made them dislike the language they were supposed to be enjoying learning. (How can your students be expected to like Pierre and Marie when they don’t even exist and when the croissants and forms of coffee and all that junk on the table on the page in the book have the potential to mess up their grades?).
The Big Circle version of activities for the first day of class, done almost entirely in English, is a good way to start your program of comprehensible input out on a positive footing.