As many of us are doing or are getting ready to do the Circling with Balls/Cards activities to start off the year, or whatever we do to start things off, let us remember what our goals in choosing CWB are:
1. To teach the rules.
2. To personalize, including names.
3. To teach some language, as completely secondary to (1) and (2) above.
Let us clearly understand that if we don’t do those three things now at the start of the year, in that order, we won’t really be able to teach much of the languages we love so much. I no longer have any desire to teach any of the target language at all until my students are firmly:
a. trained in the rules, and
b. feel that they count as human beings in my classroom.
As I have said many times here, there is nothing more important than the rules in the first few days. You won’t get this time with the rules back. The first weeks of school, as we fully know, set the rules in place – I call this norming the class – or they don’t get set and then we suck.
For those who may be new to the group, the rules I use are found on the posters page of this site as “Classroom Rules”. I spend much of the first week pointing at them at every single infraction, explaining their importance in English, and calling home every night when a misbehaving student shows any confusion or refusal to comply with each and every rule. This is, again, it cannot be said enough, my number one highest priority. A search of of the Classroom Rules category on this site will reveal many blog posts on this topic. Get the rules in place in the first week, no later than the second week, and you won’t have to mess with them again all year! The discipline will be there. Greg’s success story with this idea has been a talisman for the rest of us doing it.
The personalization piece is not far in importance behind the rules. The Circling activities (cards, balls, whatever) are built to allow you to not only teach and enforce the rules but also to get to know the kids in real and human ways. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. The personalization piece is addressed in PQA in a Wink! but there are many other blog posts here that you may want to look at by searching the PQA category.
Also on the resources/workshop handouts page is a section on naming kids. I want to add to that in this current blog post. Naming kids, using names for maximum effect in a comprehension based language classroom, is an art form. That is all described either in PQA in a Wink! or on the resources page just mentioned.
Remember, as you enforce the rules, you do that largely in English, going back and forth when discussing the cards from L2 (discussion of card content) and L1 (enforcement of rules with laser pointer). However, in those first few weeks, perhaps in the second week when the interest in the cards begins to lose some of its glitter, you may want to do a name activity that is entirely in English over one, two or even three days.
Here’s what I suggest in this English only name activity:
1. Give the kids this homework assignment:
– Why did our parents choose your name?
– If you were named after someone, who was it?
– What nicknames do you have, and how did you get them?
– Do you like your names? Why or why not?
– If you could choose another name, what would it be?
Allow a few days for the kids to complete this assignment, bring the information back to class, and discuss in twos, afterwards allowing the other person in the group of two to answer the above questions, with interruptions from the person whose name is being discussed of course allowed.
The follow up discussion, once everyone who wanted to share has done so, should ask:
– Did you notice any similarities in how names were selected for people?
– Did this activity help you to get to know each other better? How?
– Did people seem pleased with their names?
– As you listened, were you moved by anyone’s feelings about his/her name?
– Would you ever consider changing your name? Why?
To close, invite statements of appreciation:
“____, I really liked what you said about your name because____.”
“____, I like your name because____”
“____, I felt you understood when I said____”
Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that speaking English in our classroom in the second week of the year is a waste of time. It isn’t. Try the above. Just make sure that the same respect for the Classroom Rules that you have insisted on so far in class is accorded to this process as well.
[Note – the other big “getting to know the kids” piece is the Learning Style Inventory, which I have not really had time to get fully explained here. I keep meaning to. Anyway, I would wait to do that until about the second or even third month, when the kids can finally understand why it may be easy or hard for them to understand the target language in your classroom. I love the Learning Style Inventory. You can find them online. The one I use is very good and I will present it here fully as soon as I can.]
Once you have taught the rules and made the phone calls, and personalized the room and talked about their names in English as per the above, with the LSI inventory waiting in the wings for September or October, you can say that you are ready to teach the language. You won’t believe the difference when you foolishly just start in teaching the language without doing the things described above.
To summarize: In the beginning of the year I stress the rules and personalization over teaching the target language and that is, in fact, why I devised the Circling with Balls activity in the first place. When the child feels valued in the classroom by those around her, it is a great thing indeed and will impact every minute of instructional time from now until next June.
We can’t expect children who, let’s admit it, live in a dark world that really doesn’t really value children to think that the people in their WL class value them unless we do something to prove that fact to them and thus build community, as Kate Taluga is doing down there in Florida, to the great benefit of her school and community.
[credit for the above naming activity: Jeanne Gibbs’ Tribes, Center Source Publications, 1987 – p. 162.]