Questions for Level 1 Teachers

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



50 thoughts on “Questions for Level 1 Teachers”

  1. I think the question is whether or not “x” activity or “y” grammar would allow for comprehensible input for beginners and by extension if you can restrict vocabulary enough to be comprehensible and still accomplish “x.” The answer to “y” depends on what is expected to be achieved in level 1. I think any CI activity can work with beginners. The new edition of Ray & Seely (2015) now recommends not starting with TPR, but starting with TPRS in level 1 HS classes.

    1. Yes and I have that book Eric, but Blaine and Contee weren’t in on the winter discussion you started here about TPR. Had they been in on that discussion, they wouldn’t have made that recommendation about starting TPRS right away, in my opinion. What is more important than laying down a rich foundation of verb reps in the first few months of the year? Nothing.
      My answer to Keri’s question about when to start stories is that it depends on when she feels she has done enough verb slamming and TPR, CWB and OWI and all that stuff. For me it naturally fades fairly early. I used to extend CWB, etc. out over months but now I have concluded that for me I would start stories between three and four weeks into the year and do verb slamming and TPR all year, as well as CWB and OWI all year.
      Stolz starts with stories, however. We all do it differently. No rules.

      1. Chapter 6 starts: “We used to start all true beginners with TPR. We have found it is more efficient to begin with storytelling except in elementary school and in ELL/ESL classes where students have more than one first language.”
        But then later it implies that TPR is used in all classes at the beginning of the year, except not for long: “We use TPR only for a short time at the beginning for three reasons” and I paraphrase those reasons:
        1) the imperative gets ingrained, which is why TPR is now done with the 3rd p.s.
        2) not high-frequency words
        3) novelty wears off
        The way I use TPR blurs the difference between TPR & TPRS. Hard to see where one starts and one finishes. That’s how TPRS came about and we see TPR mostly in step 1. Lately, I’ve been having lots of success with making up a Gouin/Action Series around a procedure that I know will interest students, which turns into a 1-scene story.
        E.g. Going to the movies:
        1) I wait in line.
        2) I buy a ticket.
        3) I sit in a seat.
        4) I watch the movie.
        5) I laugh (if a comedy). I cry (if a tragedy).
        I model the actions and talk in the 1st person. Then, I give commands to a student. Then, we repeat the scene numerous times with other student actors, but start story-asking and adding more details to the scene. Having more than 1 student acting at the same time allows for 3rd p.plural and if I act with a student then I can get 1st p.plural. Then, I’ll have a student give commands, while the student acting describes his/her own actions in the 1st person, and another person describes the scene in the 3rd person. I have these tenses written on the board. I’m also getting lots of future (is he going to . . .), lots of progressive (is/was he ___ing) and some present perfect (has he ___ed, have you ever __ed?). I could find ways to get in more tenses and persons if I so desired. Note: the vocabulary in this series was almost entirely familiar already – if the vocabulary were not already known, then I’m not sure I could have so much freedom with the tenses and persons.
        I think I’m giving lots of rich CI with tenses highly integrated. So far, I’ve pulled this off with 4th-7th grades and it’s been a hit with all the groups. I haven’t tried to get as much unsheltered grammar with the 4th-5th grades, but got all of this in with the 7th grade, without it ever feeling fake or like explicit grammar instruction, i.e. I was able to keep student focus on meaning. My thought is that if I were to do this at least once a week with a different series with known vocabulary throughout the entire year, then kids would get more exposure to unsheltered grammar and hopefully acquire more verb tenses & persons. And of course, I can be doing this during any activity, but I think I need this teacher practice.

        1. This, to me, is brilliant! I love it!! But as you said, Eric, you did with various tenses because the vocabulary was familiar to them. That is great. But, let’s say this is new vocabulary. Would you suggest to only use 1st person or only 3rd person? Or maybe both? Would you suggest that I still use the command form to tell student what to do?
          You said that you repeat the scene numerous times which is wonderful to get so many reps! I’m wondering how it doesn’t become redundant and boring to students. Is it because you add different details in each story? I’m just thinking of my high school juniors (I have mostly juniors in level 3) and the first time will be great and they love to add details to the stories. Then we have a quick quiz which I love doing and holding them accountable. I’m just not sure if repeating the same scene numerous times would hold my students interest. What do you think? I would really love to do this with my first level class as well as my level 3s!!
          Thanks Eric!!!

          1. I think you have to try it out and see and adapt as you go.
            Changing the person doesn’t change the sound of the word much, so it’ll still be comprehended. Same goes for giving commands. I write on the board the commands in 1 column, 3rd person in 1 column, and 1st person in another column. I am doing this at the end of the year, so I don’t know how it would work with true beginners. At this point, the vocabulary is familiar and the structures are familiar as well, but far from acquired. And I have the structure formulas written on the board (e.g. va a ___r).
            When I repeat the scene, I’m asking the details. The customized responses make it compelling. I have plenty of kids with their hands up who want to “try the scene out” and be the actor.
            So far I’ve done the “movies” series and I’ve done a “jumping off the bridge” series (we have a bridge that kids like to jump off in the summer). I get better at it the more I do it.

        2. Eric, I love the mini TPR story! And doing this regularly with familiar but varied vocabulary (verbs and nouns) is good in the way you describe, and also a good way to turn what is familiar into something that is second nature. I am always having to remind myself that even though they come up a lot, some very basic verbs can be rather elusive for many kids.

        3. Gouin/Action Series, huh? I don’t think I’ve heard of that before. An interesting variation of StoryAsking. Something to do to try different verb tenses, as you say, when vocabulary is already familiar. It also sounds like you, Eric, are finding these Gouin/Action Series helpful at the end of the year when teaching new vocab may be too much for kids, but new verb forms just the right dosage of new.

  2. The question about getting more practice on forms other than third person puts us all behind the 8-ball if we let it. The answer for me lies in more reading. As long as they can identify the verb they can, over time via pop-ups during reading, which is the only time I allow pop-ups so as not to break the flow of the auditory CI, because it’s all unconscious and that can’t be interrupted, associate other verb endings (and in different tenses).
    In this discussion lies the old point we always forget, that we can’t actually “teach” a language; we can only provide reps in context. And since we don’t have enough time (we need thousands of hours and we only have a few hundred), we can only make it so that our students can without effort identify the meaning of the verb and avoid the pitfall idea that we think that we can actually teach the forms. If they hear and read them enough times, it will all make sense during the years after they leave our charges.
    That said, there are a few tricks we can use to spin discussion out, esp. in dialogues during stories, to get practice in the 1st and 2nd person forms. I tell the kids not to worry about those forms, that they will learn them over time if they want to and develop and non-test mindset to their language class. Your students made a good observation, but one that is not anything you can do about, unless you want to worry about not teaching enough language. But why do that? We don’t have the time to do it all so why worry? Alfred E. Newman had it right.
    I would love to know why this world is so full of teachers who don’t think that they are doing enough work, that they aren’t good enough, that if they just worked harder and did more then their students would learn more. We provide CI. Isn’t that enough? Let me answer that. It’s enough.

    1. Using different subjects:
      Things like Star of the Day / Special Chair and Two Truths and a Lie are also good ways to use the first and second singular as you speak to the student whose turn it is and then switch to third (could be singular or plural) as you speak to the class. You can choose what you want to show in writing on the accompanying slides if you are using slides.
      “Do you have an animal?” “I have a …” or whatever.
      You can also bring different subjects into personalizing/circling questions during any kind of activity and you can change up TPR too.

  3. Keri here is only one of the articles on verb tense use. Refer to the categories for more.
    Yes, start a story in October in the past. It’s fine. Stolz probably is teaching three tenses to his kids up there in Canada in the first week. Shake out the old thinking. It’s a new day. Kids gaining command of four tenses, present/past/imperfect/near future is common now. Nothing special. Same as with really young kids in their first language. Context shapes all and allows more than the now hopelessly outmoded models of the past century.

  4. Re: the novels it’s the same answer as above. Read in either tense you want. Right away. As long as you are using the tenses in stories. If you are doing stories in the past and readings in the present as per that article above, then it’s just a little hop for the kids to read a novel in the past, because they have the base in sound from the stories and it all clicks. Really, as long as they can recognize something in the verb that takes them back to the third person form you TPR’d to start the year, context helps them arrange it into meaning. Context is the big player in this game. They see the structure, it clicks what the tense is from all the context around it, all the auditory input you used to start the year, then they see it again, and before long, without you having to ever explain that past tense forms are built a certain way, they just know. Massive reps in context. That’s the power we have in reading and the tense doesn’t matter – they will figure it out because in comprehensible input instruction it’s all about meaning and not about getting all nervous about structure. Nobody ever explains to little kids how past and other tense forms are structured in L1 but before long kids are reading for full tense mastery and via all that reading they learn to write it pretty well over time too. How does that happen? Reps in context. Or we could explain the grammar to them like we used to. And like 1 our of every 30 kids would remember it. I’ll pass on that crap. And I want those 24 years of futility back, too.

  5. I wrestled with this problem as well. This semester I have a Spanish 1/2 split and we are doing fully unsheltered grammar (i.e. all verb tenses etc from Day 1). I have two things to say here:
    A) for reps on plural forms (we, you guys, they) FIRST, use a pair of parallel characters. This will allow you to narrate using “they” and do your direct actor questions (and PQA with kids) in the you guys/they form.
    e.g. “class, the two purple boys felt sad– (ahhhhh). [to actors] Boys, do you guys feel sad? — yes, we feel sad
    SECOND, new trick: ask the actors about other actors, so you get third person PRESENT reps (if you are in fully unsheltered, where you naturally get a lot of 3rd person past tense reps)
    E.g. “Class, the green girl wanted food, and the red girl wanted a dog.– aaaaah! [to green girl] Does the red girl want food or a sog? — she wants a dog”
    B) I got rid of all non-story activities this year (except for PQA and movietalk and L&D). I start my first story on my first day. This “classical” TPRS works best for me. If it’s not in writing AND in story form, the kids just don’t seem to pick it up. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

  6. Keri you also have a block class of 84 minutes. Here is one option for that:
    About a year and a half ago you came up with a brilliant block idea. I still remember it – it was the part in parentheses in point three below. Basically, we can
    1. Start with a discussion of a Look and Discuss picture.
    2. Give a quick quiz on the discussion.
    3. Assign a free write. (While they write, prepare a reading.)
    4. Go over the reading that you prepared while they were doing their free writes. Use Reading Option A for this.
    5. End with another quick quiz (optional)

  7. I used Adriana’s book this year (last semester) and her trick is, the first 6 I think stories are in present tense, and then it switches to fully unsheltered. Since 95% of Spanish verbs are regular, the switch into unsheltered is no big deal, and you just do lots of reps on the irregular forms.
    I like her system. I’m only doing unsheltered right now because, well, I tweaked what I did n my first 2 years and I wanted to see if I could get better results (with full unsheltered) than before. So far– due largely to extremely focused determination to NOT ADD TOO MUCH VOCAB– I’m doing OK.

  8. Keri,
    I had an area of the room with different colored tiles; this was our story area. The class knew that when I was in that area, I was actually in the story (thus, present tense). When I stepped out of the story area, the class knew that a past tense statement or question was coming.
    Like others have mentioned, direct questions to actors gives you 1st and 2nd forms. In addition, simple phrases like “did you all hear/see that?” to the class before circling something is a neat trick. I found that this also helped the fast processors notice the endings they were just dying to hear (weirdos).
    My biggest mistake when wrestling with using past tense right away was thinking they couldn’t handle more than one of them. That was just stupid, now that I think of it. When kids wrote past tense stories in January, all of the forms were Imperfect, when it would’ve been appropriate MOST of the time to have a completed aspect Perfect. I thought I chose this because it was simple (-ba- infix regardless of conjugation), which is a huge textbook-like-grammatical-syllabus-error on my part anyway, but the now-seen truth is that I chose that tense because I WAS MORE COMFORTABLE WITH IT.
    There is no form/syntax too complex as long as you first establish meaning and then ensure that kids hear/read it often. If they don’t get it, one of those things didn’t happen.

    1. A big amen to this:
      …there is no form/syntax too complex as long as you first establish meaning and then ensure that kids hear/read it often….
      And to add an additional thought to it – let’s say it’s a subjunctive form and we don’t use it very much. That’s fine. What concerns me deeply is the mindset of some teachers that they need to teach it, to fit it in. They can’t possibly. They can only give reps. Cramming in too much information against the natural slow flow of the CI is deleterious. How many reps we provide is not up to us. We just need to get into the flow and provide what input comes naturally, always making sure to get reps on at least one of our targets for that day in every utterance. In each class our job and really our only job is to get maximum reps on targets and not try to teach the entire language in one class. Some of us really need to own that last statement. We make ourselves crazy trying to pack in a wide variety of structures into each class. We don’t need to do that.

      1. Honestly, it is embarrassing to our profession that anyone would think they can teach for communicative mastery the tenses: present (level 1), past (level 2), subjunctive (level 3). Textbooks are running quite the scam. For example, you need thousands of hours to acquire subjunctive and its mastery has almost no communicative value, almost no effect on overall proficiency ratings (until maybe around the advanced-mid of the ACTFL scale). Yet, look at the traditional scope & sequence. You can’t say you teach for proficiency and communication and at the same time teach a grammatical syllabus for mastery. Oh man, oh man.

      2. How many reps we provide is not up to us. We just need to get into the flow and provide what input comes naturally, always making sure to get reps on at least one of our targets for that day in every utterance.
        This is a calming statement. We stress ourselves out enough with trying to do our best in delivering CI. Yes, let’s focus on getting reps of that target vocab, but let’s not stress about getting that golden 70 reps in one class period if the teacher and the students aren’t ready for it.
        Last year I posted tally numbers per class period, a la James Hosler, so that students could see their rep counts in comparison to previous days and in comparison to other classes. I’ll try that again next year. It was nice to have these hard, tangible, concrete numbers as data points to casually reflect on the immersion success of the class period. “Yeah, we used ‘quiere’ a lot in the story when Maria was in the cafeteria, but not when she was in the restaurant.” I learned quickly not to get competitive with these numbers though.

  9. This is how I worked it out this year on the block schedule: I started with an “opening routine” that went like this: first we did “greetings”, where I asked how people were feeling (a la Sabrina), and gradually extended into whether they were hungry, what they had eaten, whether they had slept, and then what they did the day before…you get the idea. A lot of this PQA was supported by slides. Then we translated a series of sentences (often a kind of mini story with lots of possible PQA). A student job was to pick the sticks that have student names on them and call on different people to translate. This turned out to be the most coveted job of all. Then we had a little calendar routine where a student job was to ask for the day, date, and weather (answers supported by visuals on the walls/screen). Sometimes I followed that up with a little drill – usually TPR of either verbs, prepositions, opposites, or something like that. Then we’d stand up and do some stretches or exercises for a couple minutes. By the time all of that was done, it could be anywhere from 20-40 minutes into the block. Then I’d do a couple chunks of some standard CI activity like stories, MovieTalk, followups, etc. On the evaluations I got a lot of positive feedback on the highly personalized warmups, which by the end of the semester often evolved into some pretty sophisticated conversation by Novice standards. I found that by having that kind of routine, it took some of the stress off of planning for the block. It also gave students a chance to run the show, especially when I would put some superstar in charge of asking the greetings.

    1. For those who haven’t seen how Sabrina starts the class with greetings, it’s all business. Here are the expressions she uses and they are written on a tripod and visible every day which I think is a huge idea from Sabrina:
      Ça va/ Ça ne va pas – Good/Not good
      comme çi comme ça – so-so
      Je vais bien – I’m well
      J’ai confiance en moi – I’m confident about myself
      J’ai soif – I’m thirsty
      J’ai faim – I’m hungry
      J’ai sommeil – I’m sleepy
      J’ai mal – I am sore, I hurt
      Je me sens/Je suis… I feel/I am…
      content – happy
      heureux – happy
      excité – excited
      amoureux – in love
      en forme – in shape, feeling good
      fier/ fière – proud
      soulagé – relieved
      grincheux – grumpy
      irrité – upset
      stressé – stressed
      triste – sad
      fâché – angry
      inquiet – worried
      frustré – frustrated
      nerveux – nervous
      déçu – disappointed
      vaseux – out of it
      malade – ill, sick
      confus – confused
      épuisé – exhausted
      Sabrina goes around the room getting reps on these structures. She does not allow students to repeat answers. It’s a master class on asking the same question 35 times. She makes it look like fun to go around the room at the start of a class and ask how each kid is actually feeling that day. The students, since they are not stupid, will be able to tell if she really wants to know and that will prompt them to choose honest answers from the list above. When I observed I could tell that Sabrina’s kids really answers as per how they were really feeling that day and since they knew Sabrina would not go too deep with any follow up questions it was cool to watch real not fake communication going on between her and the kids. This is true even in a first year class. For example, if a kid says she is grumpy Sabrina asks why and the kid can just say one word, like “un professeur” or a boy could say he is happy because of “une fille” and Sabrina seems happy to get that much and then she moves on. It’s just a fun way to start the class.
      I personally leave words like “depressed” out of the list of choices I offer my students.
      If a child uses an answer that another child has already used during this time spent working on greetings, we use the following expression to swat away their repeated answer:
      Déjà pris! – Already taken!
      (credit: Sabrina Janczak)
      What you do after the greetings Angie is also very similar to what has become a standard opening to classes in DPS. To start class there is an across-the-board district mandated “Do Now” sequence in all subjects in DPS. In WL we work from slides. I learned this from Kathryn Kuypers and Julie Soldner.
      The first slide sets a tone of quietness to start class, which is of immense importance.
      Here is what is on the first slide:
      When the students walk in, they sit down and in their notebooks start writing full sentence responses that first address the date, weather, time etc. The question on the Do Now slide might be, on a certain day, in the TL, “What is today’s date?” On other days, the questions could be about the weather, etc.
      Next, there are three questions or sentences to be translated – chosen randomly using vocabulary from input contained in previous classes – which the students also answer in complete sentences in the TL. The students are allowed seven minutes to respond to all four questions in this Do Now activity.
      Then, for a few minutes, there is general discuss about the date and the weather in the TL. Short daily repetitions on the weather and calendar expressions are by far the best way to get enough reps in this important area of our instruction.
      The second slide can actually have pictures of weather, time and calendar expressions on it so that the teacher can go back and forth from the first and second slide to get lots of reps on those things. The value of images in this work is immense. The teacher also can return to the first slide to discuss the three Do Now questions, with some PQA thrown in.
      This entire activity to start class should normally be from ten to fifteen minutes long, unless it takes off. That would be seven (timed) minutes for the written responses and another five to seven minutes or so for the ensuing discussion.
      One of the benefits of the Do Now activity is that each day the students enter written information into their notebooks. Although it is true that students need only minimal writing in their first few years of language study (input precedes output), we as teachers need, for job security, to produce something physical that students have done, and the Do Now daily written responses serve that purpose well.

      1. It hit me this past year how important it is to walk up and down the desk aisles and check in with students at the beginning of class. Looks like Sabrina swam with and not against the current of her students’ states-of-mind. Very wise. Probably not something that needs to be done in classrooms of happy, healthy, rested students.

          1. …are there classrooms of happy, healthy, rested students anywhere in this country?….
            No. Even in the ones that think they have such students. The students are faking it for the grade. The kids are crazed now. They just can’t show it. And that’s why they need happy, rested teachers. And we can be so now. The bad dream is over and we are all just waking up to true things in SLA. You are not alone in making self care as professionally important as being a good teacher in the classroom.
            You have proven so much, Angie. It’s not just what you have done on a personal level, but you have shown us that the method has in it healing qualities. I have always known that about Blaine’s work. I have felt it myself. You used the term Teacher Heaven above. My own personal search in my classroom ever since I first met Susan Gross fifteen years ago has been for the Pure Land (what the Vietnamese call Heaven.) I have been there with my students twice, years ago, for less than a minute each time. Could grammar teachers speak about such a personal quest in their professional situations?
            My own mental health, my relationships with others, etc. all are better because of CI. Evidence of your change was in that link to the last audio you sent about a month ago. Your voice is that of an accomplished, calm, rested, awesome CI teacher with perfect pacing and patience. (I can’t find that link – it was posted here just a month or so ago.) I think that the group would like to hear that right now if you could find it and post it below.
            TPRS/CI is not about being a loud show off. It’s about what you describe in your teaching above and what can be heard in your voice in that one clip, and in your kids’ happiness in being taught by someone who is not out to shame them. They know you like them. This work is about being part of the solution and not part of the problem. It is about bringing sanity to an insane situation in most buildings in the U.S. It’s about giving kids hope, and not just a grade. Your evaluations reflect that it has been done in your classroom Angie. How lucky we are to have you in our group, that you didn’t quit.

        1. I think the key to having a “routine” work is to remember that we are talking about things every day that are important to the students. We also talk about the menu because everyone wants to either talk about what is for breakfast/lunch or talk about how they like/don’t like what is for breakfast or lunch.
          Not because they have to learn food.
          That is what makes our routine different from another teacher’s routine.
          We talk about the weather because it may affect this afternoon’s game or if the hay gets in or if they can go mudding vs. horseback riding.
          We always talk about the date because someone will be having a birthday soon…
          We talk about a current event because they are interested in it…not because I chose it randomly (although I do convince them to be interested ….evil laugh…)
          Frankly, I am NOT a routine person. Period. It cramps my style and I usually forget I am supposed to have a routine!!!
          But…I stuck to it like glue this year and it really made a difference for me and for my students (I had a couple of groups who did not like to be out of their comfort zones.)
          AS long as I remembered that it was always connected to the students….it was beautiful.
          with love,

          1. Thanks for making it so clear that this is about the kids, Laurie.
            It is so easy to be teaching stuff instead using it to talk about our interests. I like how you point out that weather has consequences, for us and for our kids. How is it relevant to us as humans?

  10. Thank you so much for all of your responses! I feel better now knowing that I don’t have to do anything much different from what I was doing with my 3’s this year. I agree with what Ben said about not worrying about the s/he forms so much as those will come with time. As I said once before somewhere here, my five year old daughter speaks Italian but still doesn’t put (or I should say pronounce) the appropriate ending on the 1st person singular. She still uses the 3rd person singular for some reason. However, she knows the vocabulary and what she wants to say and this, to me, is more important. Of course the right ending will come in time. That is the same for our students.
    I would like to start of level 1 with some TPR, without overdoing it, CWB until it gets boring, and super mini stories as suggested above. I may be able to begin a very simple novel by mid-October. I feel better knowing that it’s still okay to still ask a story in the past in level 1 because I feel it’s so important to expose them to all sorts of grammar from day 1 (as long as it fits with what we’re doing) I also like the weather, date idea as well as how they are feeling with the list of adjectives.
    Just a question, even though I think it’s so important for them to see and talk about the date and weather every day to acquire it, do you think that would get boring to start each class this way? Maybe each day when talking about the weather we could add just one verb and talk about how a student will be “swimming” today because it is “hot”? Or if we are talking about tomorrow “Joey will swim tomorrow” because “it will be hot” if we want to practice the future? And, of course, we could do the same in the past. I don’t know, just a thought. This could turn into a mini story with our target structures being “It is hot” and “He swims”. It could last for five minutes or forty-five minutes depending on the energy of the class.

    1. Interesting idea, adding one verb in the Do Now to spice things up. My initial response says, “Not a good idea because you may not have enough time to establish meaning.” But then again, I’ve heard that those first 5 – 10 minutes of a class are golden minutes in terms of students’ attentiveness. They remember those first few minutes more than the rest of the class period. This is why I’ve tried to avoid doing Do Nows as much as possible and got away with it at my old school because I had admin support.
      That said, if you can swing it and not have to worry about making your playful CI class seem like dull-ol’ school, then perhaps introducing that new verb at the beginning is a good idea, especially a verb like “swims” since it’s a good action verb.
      I, unfortunately, am going to have to put into place a DPS like Do Now scheme for next year to establish calm and orderliness. We’ll see if I can gradually let that go. I’ll also try the student job of cold calling during the Do Now. Thanks Angie for bringing that up again.

    2. The key is, do not beat your daily routine to death. You ask 3-4 questions about date, 2-3 about weather, you spend 5 mins on “what did you do last night?” Then you move on. You feel the energy. If you feel the spark, run with it.

  11. I found that, at times, it was hard to sustain the opening routine because it was “boring”, but in the end it was worth it. It was a frame out of which magical moments could spring. If it doesn’t have energy for a day or for a week, it can be done quickly and move on, but on that day when a kid is in love, or when the clouds are doing something really cool and everyone is looking out to decide what the weather is like, or when you are suddenly spinning a half-hour story because two girls were walking in the hall and one suddenly stopped and the other bumped into her and dropped her cell phone and it broke, or when the classroom phone rings and you hand the pointer to a superstar and realize that she can run the class without you, then it’s worth the moaning and groaning from all of us who aren’t used to the kind of discipline where you invite magic through purposefully creating a space for it over and over again.

  12. There is one other benefit to having an opening routine that I have never seen mentioned: We are teaching our students how to do “small talk”, an important social skill in any language. The safe subjects are usually weather, recent activities, plans, personal interests (e.g. sports, music, pets).
    As we approach the end of the year, my first-year students are starting to ask one another the follow-up questions “where?”, “when?”, “with whom?”, “did you like it?”, etc. They know the questions but are finally feeling comfortable enough to ask them.
    One other thing that I do deals with late-arriving students. If a student comes in late, he or she must come and shake my hand in greeting. (Class has been disrupted anyway, and this way no one gets to sneak into class.) Then I ask in German what happened. If the student can tell me in German what happened, I won’t give the tardy. Today a second-year student told a nice little story about his brother oversleeping and not driving him to school, so he had to call a friend, who was running late. Of course, I help out with the language if a student is genuinely trying. I also start doing this during second semester of year one. Before that my students don’t have the language, and I want to reinforce that arriving on time is important – but I actually have very few issues with tardiness.

    1. My year 1 students were also getting into the follow-up questions (with some prompts if needed) this spring. It’s such a nice easy way to start speaking. We did a lot of Star of the Day and they were doing a lot of the follow-up questioning and some initial questions, too, at the end. I kind of let the last couple of Stars run the interview. They called on kids to ask them different questions and then others to ask followups. It wasn’t phenomenal, but it was a good start.
      I like your routine for late arrivals. That could probably be tuned to fit any level as well as different situations that interrupt class. I’m not sure what situations exactly, but it seems like something to think about – turning an interruption into a conversation with some expectation of student involvement. Or maybe that sounds like a slippery slope.

    2. I have a question about the tardy talk. Do you take excuses that are made up? Sometimes I will ask them why they were tardy but I will take a fantasy answer. I don’t ask all that are tardy but I think I will start that next year.

    3. This is brilliant, Robert; have student shake your hand when they walk in tardy. That is exactly the kind of classroom culture I so desperately need to cultivate next year. Boy, this teaching gig requires lots of patience.

      1. It’s part of my meet and greet with students. I stand at the door every day, shake hands with every student, and say hello. If something should happen and I don’t get to the door, then I go around the room and shake hands with every student after the bell rings. That personal contact is very important. It doesn’t solve all of the problems, but it creates an interpersonal relationship, and I find that my relationship with students benefits from that. Standing in the hallway between classes also gives me a chance to say hi to students from other periods as they walk past, allows me to keep an eye on things, and impresses administrators.
        So, if a student walks in late, I still make personal contact.
        Students are also good about telling me they are sick. If a student is sick or has a double handful of books, etc., then we bump elbows. I also teach students how to turn their left thumb under so they can offer a handshake if their right hand is full, in a cast, or otherwise not available for the handshake.

        1. I like to be at the door to greet them, although I have not used handshakes. I like the idea of the formal greeting, Robert. That is an important “College and career readiness” benchmark.
          When the bell rings for dismissal, I scoot over to the door to high-five everyone as they leave an “hasta mañana,” “hasta el lunes,” or words from a song or a proverb. I have found that it is important that whatever has happened in class we are still “in touch.”
          Some students will use that opportunity to withhold the high five. That rejection bothered me at first. A few girls who refused to reciprocate at the beginning of the year, started responded with a high-five at some point. I still do not know what made the change, but it is not because they are any less snotty otherwise. Some refuse to do the high-five to say they are mad about something. They will get another chance tomorrow.
          I had a Sp 4 class last year that refused to open their mouths or respond, unless and until I said “Good morning/afternoon” and “How are you doing?”
          It is so easy to skip the small talk in a traditional classroom. There is so much to do, so many pages to cover. There is just isn’t time for stuff that won’t be on the common exam. And it can easily be reduced to a formality. So when one person says he is doing great and another says she is doing lousy we have two opportunities for follow-up: “Oh, I’m sorry. Why are you feeling bad?” and “That’s great. Why are you doing so well?” Interesting answers can come up. It may be simply “I slept/didn’t sleep well last night.” Like Robert says, “This is important small talk.”
          I am not sure that serous (non-fiction) endeavors like Common Core recognize how important small talk is for greasing the machine that cranks out big talk.
          Thanks, Robert, for affirming the practice of validating the late-comer. It is easy to think that recognizing him is rewarding him for being late. But most students are probably a bit embarrassed, already being out of their routine. Greeting and letting the student know where we have been done is great way to lower the affective filter. It affirms the proverb by saying that you are important enough that “late” is truly better than “never.” And since they are used to asking another student “What are we doing?” we cut out that distraction.

    4. Just as soon as I finish a book Robert comes in with something that should be added, which screws up the pagination. Thanks, Robert, I think. The handshake idea for late arrivals is a total winner.

  13. ^ awesome ^ will do next year. The handshakes remind me of Blaine’s “págame” cards.
    Our opening routine is ask day, date, weather & what everyone did last night. After 3 months they have their 1st person past DOWN. After 5 months they know the #s and weather. BOOM one boring thing taught.

  14. The thing about when Sabrina does the greetings, it allows her to move around in different verb forms and she does:
    Class, Josh feels wiped out today! (ohhh!)
    Is that right Josh? You feel wiped out today? (yes)
    Sally, do you feel wiped out today? (no)
    No class, Sally doesn’t feel wiped out today. (Ohhh!)
    I don’t feel wiped out today. I felt wiped out yesterday, but not today.
    Yesterday we all felt wiped out right?
    Do we all feel wiped out today? (no)
    Jenny and Cathie and Latonya look wiped out today.
    Are you wiped out, you three? (no)
    Well, you look wiped out. Well, Cathie you look wiped out. (make sure Cathie can take it, is one of the students you can joke with when you “go there” with her)
    I think we are feeling good today, as a class, right?
    I bet over in the Spanish class, they are all wiped out, but today I can feel that we don’t feel wiped out. But I just think that they over there across the hallway are wiped out. One thing about us is that we are never all wiped out at the same time.
    I know, I know, we can’t do that in a level 1 class. But compare/contrast, and this is my point, is always a useful tool for getting reps along with various verb forms.

  15. Alisa Shapiro

    Adjusted for elementary kids, my opening routine often gets hijacked (in a good way!) by the announcement that it’s someone’s birthday. If not the actual birthday, then then half-birthday (cuz the real b-day is in summer) and the kid is brought a treat to the Gen-Ed classroom for a celebration.
    Kind of organically, I have a birthday shtick that the kids have come to love. I’m going to tweak it for next year – have class lists w/birthdays so that I can anticipate them. But it really doesn’t matter – cuz it’s real (and fun) communication.
    It goes something like this.
    The kids enters in & declares it’s her birthday.
    I nod and she brings her chair to the front, facing the class. I go over to the calendar and she tells us her birthdate. We cheer that it’s today. We ask how old she is. We compare her age to that of her classmates, Cookie Monster, Red Riding Hood, me. We acknowledge that since it’s her special day, she can have whatever she wants, after all, its Spanish Class! She asks for a cape, sunglasses, giant strap on feet (very popular prop- from Oriental Trading). She models the feet and marches around the room. We clap to the beat of her stomping. If it’s a boy, he almost always asks to wear the green Tutu. So far only boys have requested it.
    Then it’s time for (plastic) birthday treats. I give her a plate and she requests – 5 slices of plastic cake, 3 brownies, 6 ice cream cones, etc. The plate overflows so I balance a fake cookie on her head. On top of the wig or hat, that is… The crowd goes wild! Finally we all sing Happy B-day to You in Spanish – the B-day girl decides whether it’s with or without cha-cha-cha’s. Sometimes she gets back up singers to come up and shake maracas while we sing. We use i.e., want, like, wear, walk/march/dance, prefer, has, is – lots of hi-freq verbs for our mini-silly celebrations.

    1. Can you get video of your classes, Alisa? It would be sooooo valuable. This sounds like the most awesome stuff. I’m sure that parent release forms would be a necessity, but would that be possible?

    2. Talk about a Special Chair to the max! Your students are going to remember your classroom more so than their trip at the end of the year to Great America, Alisa!

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben