Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Tips for the traveling foreign language teacher

LAST EVENING we at Mundo de Pepita hosted a fun event on our Facebook page, Operation: Have Cart, Will Travel, with the focus on how to organize yourself as a foreign language teacher on a cart. We shared many ideas and tips, as did the many teachers who joined us online. We thought it would be a good idea to bring those all together here on one post! And be sure to follow our Pinterest board 'Organization for Teachers'! SEE BELOW FOR UPDATED IDEAS FOR TEACHING WITH COVID-19 IN MIND!

AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, we began with THE CART...that magical steed which transports our mobile class from room to room. Teachers shared pictures with us of their carts- everything from an AV cart to a rolly wire market basket. The key features were portability and capacity- enough space to fit multiple classes of student info and materials. Utilizing every inch of the cart was also mentioned; using the sides for hanging posters or other visuals maximizes its use and reduces what you need to hang up in the classroom. There is an alternative to the cart, as I mentioned during this part of the conversation-I eventually switched from a cart to tool bags I purchased at Home Depot. With lots of

pockets, a capacious center pocket and a shoulder strap, I could fit my binder, small posters, manipulatives, pencils, clips, birthday stickers, and everything else inside. I had one for each grade level, each stuffed accordingly. It also closed at the top, which was good news on rainy and snowy days when I had to travel between buildings!

TEACHING IN SOMEONE ELSE'S SPACE resonated with everyone in terms of being a challenge. Some tips I shared from my cart days included:
#1: Introduce yourself to the teachers beforehand- at the beginning of school, go in and say hello, thank the teacher for being welcoming (it's not easy for them, either, to have someone come into their room) and ask about how you can use their room- what materials you can use, where you can post things, whether they use a circle if it is an elementary classroom
#1B: Regarding materials: I had some teachers who were happy to let me use their crayons, markers, etc and others who were not so thrilled. (But everyone was very welcoming overall!) One year I had a teacher who didn't want me to use her tables because she used Spanish class time to set up her activities for after my class- totally understandable. Find out what you can and cannot use beforehand. If you need to bring your own, it's better to know that up front rather than find out when you walk in and have to rethink your lesson on the fly.
#2: Scope out the rooms you will be going into (this ties into Tip #1).. are there bulletin boards you can pin onto? is there an easel? is there a whiteboard (or chalkboard)? Figuring out how you are going to display materials is important- you want to stock up on clips, big thumb tacks (Walmart has gigantic ones), magnets, etc- I find every room is set up differently, so having a variety of ways to hang stuff up is key.  
#3: Ask for a space to store a crate or other container in each room. I had a crate in each room in which I stored kiddos' folders, visuals we used frequently (yes, I had a copy for each classroom!) and any projects we were working on (if they fit in the crate!). This made it a lot easier for me- though I have arms of steel, I just couldn't carry everything! And depending on the year, I would have 5 or 10 minutes between classes, which meant running and getting new sets of folders was a challenge, especially as I often touch base with individual kiddos after class or with the gen ed teacher. Anything to save time! 

Several teachers mentioned the sheer number of things they carry on their carts- truly a classroom on wheels! Right down to bandaids for little kiddos, along with caddies for pencils, crayons and project supplies, these carts have it all! Having a well stocked cart means you are self sufficient, and there is no need to ask the gen ed teacher for materials they may also have in short supply.
Technology was also a big part of this discussion- when I was still on a cart, we still had projectors! Now, many classrooms have Smartboards or other tech boards which can be linked to your computer. Many teachers mentioned being able to plug right into the boards without displacing the gen ed teacher- a plus in my book!

ORGANIZATION OF YOUR MATERIALS was a huge topic of discussion. With hundreds of students, multiple classrooms to visit in a day (and sometimes multiple buildings!), and the challenge of carrying everything with you to teach each lesson, we could all agree this is the most difficult yet the most necessary. I broke the conversation into a few parts to let us focus in more on some big themes:

*Materials to teach (visuals, cards, game pieces, manipulatives of all kinds, etc)- thumbs up to ziploc baggies of all sizes! Cheap, readily available, and they come in all can't beat them. I prefer the larger ones with slider tops for easy open and close action. Several teachers also mentioned using folder pockets, mini caddies, and totes. Keep your stuff organized and easy to get to!

*Clips- you need 'em, better have a variety! Going into someone else's classroom means you have to work with their setup, not yours. Magnetic bulldog clips, oversized clips, small ones...they all serve to get your visuals up in front of your students with minimal interruption to the gen ed teacher's space. 

*Student data- with hundreds of students, managing student data (class lists, attendance, assessments) is a big job! Several teachers mentioned using Edmodo, particularly at the Middle and High school, with positive things to say about it. Many of us at the lower end are still using charts, often on a clipboard or in a binder. Having quick and easy ways to mark grades is so helpful- the names on my charts are listed in order of their seating charts which makes it much quicker to find a name! (and I do recommend seating charts- no wasting time for kiddos to figure out where or next to whom they are going to sit! I call them 'Spanish spots' ;))

*Time management- one teacher recommended an app called 30/30 which gives you a 'To do' list and prompts you to get things done- a great way to be sure you have everything done each morning as you prep! I've already downloaded it! 

TIPS TO LIVE BY: these were my closing tips that I always lived by (and still do!) while on a cart. -Organize ahead of time and you will save time and stress during the school day. Use your prep time in the morning or the afternoon before getting all materials, worksheets, activities ready to go for the day. If you use folders, stuff them ahead of time- this saves time in class (no passing out materials, they are already ready for use).
-Create separate files/binders/info for each class and label or color code them. If possible, keep some, if not all, of this in a crate or bin in the gen ed classrooms. One less thing you have to lug around.
-Maximize your class time- have your clips already on your posters, or stick magnetic tape on the back of your visuals so you can plunk them right up on the board. If you are using your computer, have the programs/videos ready to go using multiple tabs or separate browsers. Designate a helper student when passing things out or collecting things to make the work go more quickly.
-If you have a cart, use the sides to display posters or a pocket chart- another surface already set up for use!
-Stay strong and know there are so many teachers in the same boat... let's all row together and support one another!

And don't miss our post on 8 Ways to Organize to Maximize Class!

Join us on Facebook for more events like this one!

UPDATE!! Here are some tips for TEACHING IN THE TIME OF COVID ;)

With the advent of Covid-19 and the unique challenges it presents, I'm adding some new/adjusted tips to deal with having to adapt materials, lessons and space to minimize sharing of items, social distancing, etc.

Tips for Traveling Teachers with Hygiene in Mind

*DECREASE THE USE OF MANIPULATIVES, especially ones that are difficult to clean, such as stuffies and other soft surface items. This is a killer for me since I love hands on activities-but with concerns about spreading the virus via surfaces, this is a must. Focus instead on activities like guessing games, Listen & Draw (or Read & Draw), estimation activities, songs, video walks, etc. You can see some of these in action on my Youtube channel here

Word Guessing Game for World Language Class

*DISINFECT YOUR MANIPULATIVES: This can help you with manipulatives that are not soft surface, like plastic food, animals, etc. Our school has spray disinfectant which can safely be used on materials. Select a set of manipulatives which you use with just one class, then disinfect them, letting them sit over night-you can use them again the next day. In order to make this workable, you need sufficient amounts of your items to make it through one day of classes, or you flip flop lesson plans so one homeroom is doing an activity with manipulatives while on the same day another homeroom from the same grade level is doing something different, and then you flip those lessons the next day. A little tricky but can work if you really want to use your items! :)

*DRIED BEANS MAKE GREAT COUNTERS! Large dried lima or kidney beans can be a great, inexpensive alternative to bingo counters, small animals, pom poms, etc. Have them divvied up in small bowls or containers which can be designated for only one class. Instruct kids to take several from the bowl, but don't put them back until the end of the lesson. Those bowls then can be spray disinfected, or go into quarantine for 3-4 days before they are used again to "de-virus". Because they are so cheap, you can have multiple sets of bowls without breaking the bank to provide materials.  

Dried Beans are a great alternative to bingo counters

YOU CAN ALSO NUMBER AND/OR PAINT DRIED BEANS to replace soft surface manipulatives that you might normally use-definitely labor intensive, but have potential.

Use Dried Beans as Counters

*FOCUS ON HYGIENE: I think everyone will be doing this! Be sure kids use hand sanitizer before starting a lesson, and after any sneezing or coughing. You might have been doing this all along, but now's definitely the time to make it a priority. I have a bunch of infographics and visuals for hygiene in Spanish here on my Pinterest board. And for French, click here! Just a note: I searched high and low to find images that included diversity, and found little to nothing, for which I am very sorry! I will continue looking and/or create some myself :) 

WHAT OTHER IDEAS DO YOU HAVE? Please share in the comments below! :)


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  2. Hi Paul,
    Thank you so much for your kind words! Teaching a foreign language is both a challenge and a magical thing- anything we can do to help in the process is our pleasure!

  3. Thank you for sharing all of these fabulous ideas! I am a first year Spanish teacher and knew being on cart would be a challenge but had no idea how much of one! I realized very early on I needed to be very organized and have implemented many of these ideas already. Thank you!

    1. So glad to hear it was helpful! It is indeed a challenge to be on a cart! If you are interested please join us in our Facebook group 'Teaching Spanish to Children'.. here is the link:

  4. I am going from a classroom to a cart next year. This is very helpful! Thank you!


    1. Ashley, So glad to hear it is helpful! Being on a cart can be a challenge, but also lots of fun! Check out our Pinterest page for traveling teachers-


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