Saturday, June 15, 2024

Using Languages during the School Day

by Mark Warner
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Contributor:
Joan Mikkelsen

The greatest challenge in teaching a foreign language is getting students to actually learn to speak it. This is what I do:

I carry a clipboard with me or have it on my desk where I can quickly grab it. I have every student’s name in a grid (like a seating chart or alphabetically). Every time the student uses the target language outside of being called on or working within a particular lesson, the student gets a point. For example, if I overhear them asking another student to borrow a pencil IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE, they get one point – or more if it is a complicated phrase.

I always stand at the door to greet students during passing period with my clipboard. That is their chance to tell me they just came from math class, or they were going to a movie that night or anything else. I mark down points right away.

When grading at the end of a quarter, the students have to have earned a certain number of these points in order to KEEP the grade they earned on tests, homework, participation, etc. So, for example, they might need 20 points (earned throughout the marking period) to keep the “A” that they had earned on their regular work. And 15 points to hang on to their “B”, 10 points for the “C’ range.

Towards the end of each marking period, I usually dedicate the last few minutes of each class to letting them catch up on points with me by having mini-conversations. I also keep them updated on how many points they have as we move through the marking period.

I live in the town where I teach and often run into ex-students who thank me and tell me their class with me was the only one where they actually truly had to learn to think in the target language.

Many teachers think this method is too cumbersome, but once you get a rhythm going, it’s the easiest thing you’ll do in the classroom.

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