Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


90% in the Target Language- in Elementary School?

***Please see my updated comments at the end of this post! :) ***

I WILL ADMIT, I have struggled with this concept my entire teaching career. I recognize the pedagogical value of staying in the target language, and strive mightily to do so every class....but (and there always is a but, isn't there?) at the elementary level, I find it to be such a challenge. I know of teachers who do it, but I imagine their classes have no behavior issues, no children have sudden nosebleeds or papercuts, no dogs have passed away the night before, no kiddos want to tell them all about their new bike or the taco they had last short, they must have classes completely unlike mine. When faced with these types of situations, I revert to English, in part because my students just don't have the vocabulary to either tell me about the situation, nor the vocabulary to understand me if I respond in Spanish. And, my relationship with my students is paramount to what my class is all about...building community, fostering a bond, making them feel safe and cared for takes precedence over language. I can't justify demanding the target language when these types of moments crop up.

Download, print and post in your classroom!

OKIS, SO I'VE MADE MY EXCUSES for using English sometimes in class (and I'd like to think they're not too bad lol) but it is my goal every year to use as much Spanish as possible with my kiddos. This year, I've taken a moment to brainstorm when the target language can and is used in an effort to remind myself that yes, most of my classes really are in Spanish and to help myself be consistent on those days when I'm exhausted, sick or frustrated. Here's goes my list:

*THE MEAT AND POTATOES: Yes, the obvious ones, activities....almost didn't need to be said, but it demands to be included! Any and all activities are game for 90%, though some are better than others. Too much introduction or explanation for the activity will rapidly see that 90% decline. Sometimes an activity seems like a good one..until you introduce it and find so much information is needed to scaffold it/set it up that it just doesn't deserve a place at the table. I have found that developing a repertoire of activities which behave similarly in terms of how we will do them helps in this regard- when kiddos know what to expect because you've done something like this before, it is easier to introduce the next one in the target language (or use minimal English to get it rolling).

*INSTRUCTIONS: Oh, I love this one! Teach your students early in the year vocabulary around giving instructions (verbs and materials typically used) and then use them each and every time you give those instructions. I like to post my instructions visually step by step as well as say them verbally for added support. I can then refer back to them easily by pointing to them on the board without needing to use English. (We've got a great printable pack to help you with this one! )

Click here to get it now!

*CLASSROOM ROUTINES AND PROCEDURES: Here again, teach this vocabulary early in the year, as you are going over your classroom expectations. Use it over and over again when reminding and redirecting students who are off task or need to be brought back on board. (Squirrels unite!) This includes behaviour management as well as classroom requests (May I go to the bathroom? May I get a drink? Can I have a bandaid? and so on.)

*MANNERS: Another great love of mine! Please, thank you, you're welcome, bless you!, excuse me, and all the rest form a great backdrop of kindness in your classroom, provide an environment for authentic communication in the target language, and instill and reinforce cultural values.

I AM SURE MUCH COULD BE ADDED to this list, but these are what have occurred to me on this hot Maine day as I get ready to go to the beach (only a few days left of summer vacation for me!) What could you add? Tell us in the comments!

***AN UPDATE TO MY POST! It's nearly Thanksgiving now and I have undergone a real shift in my thinking around 90%- as in, wow! it really can be done, even with the paper cuts and the falling off bikes and pinching....I didn't realize until several weeks into the school year, that, although I had always done a LOT of my class in Spanish (as in, probably on average 75-80 %), I was experiencing resistance in myself about certain aspects of the 90% concept, most specifically around certain types of behavioral issues and building of community in my room. When I made the commitment to do EVERYTHING (or just about) in Spanish, the dynamic shifted, both for my students and for me! I feel even better about my teaching, I haven't lost relationships with my students, and most of my students are on board. You can do it, too!

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