31 Classroom Jobs and How to Do Them

The “October collapse” is upon us. October can be a perfect storm of exhaustion, student apathy, a dearth of daylight, and a general loss of novelty with your classes. I have noticed an increase in social media posts from teachers who are feeling frustrated this time of the year.  I know I haven’t been stopping frequently enough to go over my classroom rules. Chances are you and your students are using too much English. Implementing classroom jobs is one way to re-center your classes and concentrate on the norms if things have gone sideways.

The beginning of the year or semester is the optimal time to introduce routines that make up the backbone of your class, however the myriad benefits of having kids do these jobs will still accrue to you if you start now. Students are more likely to buy-in to what you’re doing during the honeymoon phase when they still have a mostly positive attitude toward school, get along with everyone, and haven’t fallen behind in other classes. This is especially true for first-year language students, as they have never known anything else.

If someone new to TCI were to ask me about the three most impactful decisions I have made in my teaching, my answer would be:

  1. Having students keep their phones in a caddy on the wall at all times during class
  2. Getting rid of my desks
  3. Assigning classroom jobs

I use classroom jobs because they build community, lower the affective filter, and target high-frequency language. You can use most jobs for any age group and proficiency level as long as you provide the person performing the job with the language that they need to do it confidently. They are also the best way that I’ve found to teach boring subjects such as telling time, the weather, and the calendar.

Ensuring Success with Classroom Jobs

Having a written script that the student can refer to if needed is critical in making your “employees” feel at ease and eager to perform their jobs. This is especially true in the lower levels. Most of your students who have  a job that they do on most days won’t need them after their first several weeks in position, but the structures and vocab are there if they need it. I’ve included strips with common phrases and vocabulary that you can cut out and give to your workers.

Anytime I need someone’s services, I ask the student, ¿Me puedes ayudar, por favor? (Can you help me, please?) before soliciting their help because a.) this is one of the most powerful survival phrases for a language learner, and b.) it makes them feel that they are contributing to the class in a valuable way.

Should I Assign Jobs or Let Students Choose?

It depends on the job and how well you know your students. I use a student interest questionnaire on the first day of class to learn more about their capabilities and interests. Thoughtfully assigning jobs or selectively soliciting volunteers makes things runs smoother. The kid who regularly reads for pleasure outside of class will probably do a good job as your librarian.  Students who are on the lower end of the proficiency range of your class aren’t the ideal students to serve as the interpreter. Likewise, I’m not going to have the classroom “scapegoat” be a student who has indicated that he or she suffers from extreme anxiety when they’re put on the spot.

Some jobs require a higher degree of proficiency in the target language to perform satisfactorily and provide quality input for the rest of the class. For example, the “substitute” should have a reasonable command over the past tense since this is a core component of the job. Some jobs such as the electrician require minimal speaking and would be ideal for a less proficient student.

Take into consideration the kinesthetic and social needs of your students. A kid who has trouble controlling blurting out may partially satisfy that urge by being the “sound technician”. Someone who enjoys sharing esoteric facts about random topics is the perfect “expert”. The “athletic director” is perfect for the jock who all of a sudden finds himself in a class with none of his teammates and is searching for a way to signal to his classmates what he cares about.

If you have two or more students who want to do the same job, have them audition for it. The rest of the class will love it and you’ll end up with the best person for the job.

Everyone gets a job in my classes. This helps keep everyone invested and listening with the intent to understand because they often don’t know when either I or the class will require their services. My experience is that all students want to do a good job with what they’ve been entrusted with.

When Do Students Get Their Jobs?

I assign some jobs on day one and others as the need arises depending on the level. For example, a Spanish 1 class is going to go awhile without having a librarian because they’re not going to be ready for FVR until later in the semester.

Resist the urge to assign more than a few jobs per day. Your students will get bored and it will feel like a chore for them instead of something fun that the class does together.

Do Students Keep the Same Job All Semester/Year?

That’s up to you. Because every student has a job, nobody is left out. Changing jobs requires a learning curve (some are longer than others). I teach 90-minute blocks over an 18-week semester. My students get very good at their jobs and the attendant phrases. I would say in Spanish 2 on up, the input they are providing to the rest of the class is actually pretty decent and it gets better the longer they hold that job.

How Do I Keep Track of Who Has What Job?

Don’t try to keep track of who has which job in your head.

This depends on how much space you have to work with. In any case, I definitely recommend that you write them down somewhere that both you and the class can see them. My average class size is 20 and there is no way that I’ll remember in the moment who has what job even though we only teach 3 classes. I printed out the names of each job in the target language, laminated them, and stuck them on my whiteboard with magnets. I go over and write the person’s name next to the appropriate job card as I’m assigning the job. I use a different color marker for each class. I’m fortunate to have a 16′ whiteboard, so there’s plenty of real estate for my projection area, my “Menu of the Day”, and my classroom jobs roster with space left to spare. Scroll down to the blue “Download” button to get a set of job assignment placards.

Don’t try and do all of the jobs, or even most of them, every day. Your students will get bored and the routines will lose their novelty. Don’t feel like you need to assign a job if it doesn’t fit your school environment or your class’s character. I’ve had classes as small as 12 in the past. In this case, those who wanted to have more than one job could have it.

I tell my students that I am the Director of Human Resources. I reserve the right to “fire” a student who isn’t taking their job seriously or performing it with enthusiasm.

Download the document with the job descriptions or scroll down past the download links to read about each job. Leave a comment and let me know if implementing these jobs has improved your classroom management.

Classroom Job Descriptions

Spanish Classroom Job Reference Sheets

Spanish Classroom Job Assignment Placards

athletic director

The athletic director tells the class what school sports events are coming up and informs them of recent results and standings. This person should be knowledgeable about a wide range of sports and professional athletes so that they can field questions from the teacher and the class.

artist

You’ll use this person a lot if you do One Word Images and class stories. We’ve all had students who love to doodle. Put this person to work for you and help the class at the same time. It helps if this student processes the language quickly so that their drawings don’t prevent them from hearing the language.

caboose

Even though we don’t walk in lines through the hallway in high school, it’s important that certain things happen when we leave the classroom to read outside or go to the computer lab to work on Señor Wooly. I rely on the caboose to make sure everyone has retrieved their phones from the organizer on the wall and hasn’t left anything else behind, the lights are turned off, and there is a message written on the main whiteboard saying where we went in case a student arrives late or someone from the office stops down.

calendar

The calendar tells the day and the date. I prefer to already have this information written on the board and ready to go in the interest of time, but you could have your calendar write it instead. This person is also in charge of keeping track of students’ birthdays. Give them a copy of the school calendar so they can make note of scheduled late arrivals and holidays off for when they report out to the class.

chef

The chef handles anything that has to do with food, whether that be passing out candy prizes or arranging the buffet table for our end-of-semester lunch/farewell party. Sometimes I’ll ask them what is being served in the cafeteria or have them confirm the main ingredients in a dish from the target culture.

This person is my assistant when we cook in class as I model each step before allowing students to try it for themselves.

clock

The teacher asks the clock, “What time is it?” at various times throughout the class and whenever we are talking about when an event starts or ends. If there’s a clock in a Picture Talk or I’m wondering about what time it is in a picture, we rely on this person. Sometimes I’ll ask a random question about what time a certain class period starts or ends, the schedule that runs between our two high schools, or scheduled times for school events like football games and concerts. Going through a modified schedule on the first two-hour delay day of the year provides them with valuable information (especially freshmen) and gives them lots of practice with times.

The key with this job is to naturally work in as many reps of various times as you can. Your students will learn to tell time and understand times when they hear them without explicit instruction sooner than they will using traditional methods because the times will actually have meaning for them and the reps will be spaced out over time, which research shows is essential for long-term acquisition.

conductor of the orchestra

The conductor tells the class to stand up and leads the class in singing “Happy Birthday” and other songs that you may use. The conductor tells the class, “Good job!” and then tells them to sit down when they’re done singing.

counter

The counter handles numbers that come up during whole class reading, PQA, and stories. The counter keeps a stuffed Sesame Street “Count von Count” under their chair. You can buy your very own 14″ Count doll here. When a number comes up that I want them to take note of, the counter says the number in the target language followed by their best impression of the Count’s “Ha ha ha.”

custodian

The custodian verifies that the room is clean before anybody gets up to leave at the end of class. I ask them, “Is there anything on the floor?” or, “Whose insert object is that over there?” For Spanish, this is an ideal way to get reps on important structures like ¿Hay algo…? and ¿De quién es…?.

This person is also in charge of letting me know when we’re running low on tissues, paper towels, and hand sanitizer.

ecologist/conservationist

The ecologist is responsible for ensuring that students are recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Even having a recycling bin literally right next to the trash can, it never fails that some people still throw cans and bottles in the trash. The ecologist will put these where they belong and remind the class about the responsible thing to do. My school also recycles paper, so this person walks around and collects used scrap paper when we’re done with it.

economist

The economist handles all matters involving prices and currency exchange rates. You’ll find yourself using their services often during personalized questions and answers (PQA). The economist can research the names of currency for the target countries and keep a relatively current chart of the values of these currencies relevant to the dollar.

electrician

The electrician turns the lights on and off and also controls any fans, humidifiers, and diffusers. I am a Vornado fan-boy (pun intended and, seriously, I have three of the larger models at home and this whole room air circulator in my classroom).

expert

The expert has the final say when the class can’t agree on a detail for a story or when there is debate over what is true or false. Don’t let people argue with the expert after they have made a ruling.

gardener

You can have a gardener even if you don’t have any live plants in your room. My gardener pretends to “water” my two artificial ficus trees each morning and my kids find it amusing. You could also have them spray your fake plants with a spray bottle. If you do have live plants, your gardener is responsible for watering them, moving them as needed to receive adequate light, and informing you of their general health. Just like the zookeeper is an expert on animals, this person can chime in when there are questions about plants.

historian

I do a “this day in our history” segment every day. You’ll probably figure out who your history buffs are soon enough, or you could show your history/humanities teachers your class rosters and have them tell you. Depending on their knowledge and proficiency level, the historian can provide additional details or confirm dates while we’re discussing what happened on this day in our history. The historian should be comfortable saying these in the target language.

host

 The host greets visitors with an appropriate greeting in the target language. I have them say, “Welcome to Spanish ___ class!” and “Have a good day (or weekend)!” when they leave. Make sure you pick someone who will do this with some enthusiasm so that visitors get a good first impression. We practice the host’s lines before they do it for real so that the class can hear how these phrases sound different based on the number and gender of the visitors. Students who arrive late are also greeted the same way.

If an administrator is completing an observation or stopping by to do a walk-through, the host will offer him or her a seat within our class circle (I’m deskless).

interpreter

Sometimes providing a translation in L1 is the quickest way to establish meaning. The interpreter will say or write the word in L1 per your directions. In higher levels (although I encourage circumlocution starting at level one), this person could use circumlocution to try to explain it to the class in the target language.

librarian

 I do Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) four days a week at the beginning of class. The librarian tells the class to go get their books at the beginning and to put them away at the end. This person is also in charge of ensuring that the books are facing forward in an orderly manner in our “library”, which is a spinning display rack.

I try to pick one of my stronger readers to be my librarian so that they can also recommend appropriate books to individual students for FVR.

medic

 The medic gets bandaids from my first aid kit for students with minor cuts. This person will accompany students who aren’t feeling well to the nurse’s clinic. Since I teach in a STEM school, I choose someone who is in the health science pathway.

messenger

The messenger relays information or notes to and from the office. I pick a stronger speaker to do this job since I have this person report out to the class when they return. This should be someone who you can trust to get from point “A” to point “B” without taking detours to stop and talk with friends.

meteorologist

 I ask the meteorologist, “What’s the weather like today?” They can also make forecasts for the weekend and special events like football games and the Homecoming parade.

photographer

The photographer takes whatever pictures I request as well as some of their own. For example, I might ask them to take a picture of the notes on the board from a Special Person Interview and email it to me so I can post it on our learning management system. They can also take fun pictures during Reader’s Theater, running dictations, and other classroom tomfoolery. These pictures can help convey to parents what you do in class on Meet the Teacher/Back to School night.

police officer

The police officer verifies that all cell phones are in the caddy that is hanging on the wall. I’ve been very pleased with the quality, durability, and value of this one that is available from Amazon. This person also tells the class to retrieve their phones at the end of class once the custodian verifies that the room is in satisfactory condition. If you don’t have kids turn in their phones during class (or in addition to this), you could have the police officer be in charge of getting (or attempting to get) the class to quiet down.

I like to pick an assertive, self-confident student for this job. It helps if they naturally command a little more respect than the average student. I usually go with an upperclassman if one is available.

professor

I always write my tentative plan for the day on the whiteboard so that students feel like they’re in the loop. After I check in with the secretary for the attendance, I ask the professor, “What’s the plan of the day?” or, “What are we going to do today?” You can also work on ordinal numbers by asking what we’re doing first, second, third, last, etc.

“What are we going to ___?” is a high-frequency, versatile structure that your students can use in real-world scenarios for making plans for meals, going out with friends, and much more.

psychologist

The psychologist can call for a brain break when they feel the class needs one. Since this person is a student, they will have a better sense of when they need one than you will. They can also lead the brain breaks that they are familiar with.

Sometimes a student will report that they are stressed, frustrated, or generally not doing well when I check in with the class at the beginning. The psychologist could provide some positive affirmations or give advice. For Spanish teachers, this is an ideal way to get reps on Deberías

secretary

 I like to assign this job to a kid who I know needs to move around a lot. The secretary is in charge of handing out copies of readings and other papers, collecting finished assignments, and passing back graded work.

The secretary is also in charge of attendance. Make sure this person has an updated class roster; don’t forget to redact student ID numbers. Most importantly, ensure that the secretary knows who each kid is! This is a natural opportunity to have students properly introduce themselves to one another in the target language and build community from the first day of class.

substitute

I have the substitute ask the secretary, “Who wasn’t here yesterday?” It is the substitute’s responsibility to ensure that anyone who was absent the prior day receives copies of readings and handouts. The substitute collects enough copies of handouts for students who are absent.

This helps (but does not eliminate) students from coming up to me right before class to ask what they missed, or my personal favorite, “I wasn’t here yesterday. Did we do anything?”

I occasionally ask the substitute what we did in class the prior day in order to get reps on the preterit and imperfect first-person plural verb forms. This also helps remind them of the previous day’s topics and conversations.

scapegoat

 This one can be a lot of fun, but you need to make sure you pick someone who has a thick skin. The class will blame everything that goes wrong on this person. Everyone turns to this person and says, “Name, it’s all your fault!”

The cafeteria ran out of chicken tenders on Chicken Tender Tuesday? We didn’t get a two-hour delay for fog? The Fortnite server is down? It’s all their fault!

sound board/technician

This one is just a lot of fun if you have “that” student. Pick your most gregarious, attention seeking student to make sound effects at the proper times (it helps to have a cue) during stories, Reader’s Theater, and whole class reading of class novels.

technician

The technician turns my projector on and off and helps me troubleshoot technical problems when they arise. Since I teach in a STEM school, I choose someone who is in the information technology pathway.

zookeeper

The zookeeper is the authority on anything relating to animals. Every class I’ve ever taught has had someone who is an animal lover. I take their suggestions for my “Animal of the Week” and have them confirm details about the animals we are talking about.

If you have a fish aquarium or other classroom pet, the zookeeper is in charge of feeding and taking care of it.

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Mystery of the Iced Tea Bell Ringer

Here’s a quick bell ringer/brain teaser you can open up class with since it’s still 80* in October. 

Prior to introducing the riddle, work in some PQA with the following questions:

  • “Do you drink iced tea?”
  • “Does anyone else in your family drink it?”
  • “Do you drink iced tea only when it’s hot out or year round?
  • “Do you like lemon in your iced tea?”
  • “Do you drink sweet tea or unsweetened tea?”
  • “If you don’t like to drink tea when it’s hot, what do you drink instead?”

In just this quick warm-up, we get reps on all of the following:

  • months and seasons
  • names of places
  • family vocabulary
  • structures such as “instead of” or “in place of”
  • “with” or “without”

El Misterio del Té Helado – Microsoft PowerPoint

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Homecoming Bell Ringer

Homecoming is just around the corner. I enjoy talking with my students about it because it’s a great way to build culture and community with my freshmen (as well as upperclassmen). Here’s a bellringer with sentence starters to get the conversation going.  For added effect, you can add a second slide with pictures of you as a teenager from your own Homecoming dances!

Homecoming Bell Ringer – Microsoft PowerPoint

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“All The Things Crocodiles Can’t Do” Picture Talk

I found this series of pictures that someone posted on the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook page and added a sentence using the structure “no pueden” for each one.

All The Things Crocodiles Can’t Do – Microsoft PowerPoint

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CI “Meet the Teacher Night” Presentation

back to schoolMany of us around the country have been back to school for a couple of weeks now. By the end of August, we’ve developed our routines and reinforced our classroom norms. With September comes the first home football game, spirit week, and…Back to School/Meet the Teacher night! This is a prime opportunity to explain to parents and caregivers how a CI classroom works. What you say and the way you say it tonight will carry far more weight than anything you put in your syllabus or on your class website.

I use to demonstrate a very brief story in the target language, however I never had enough time to explain the “why” behind what we do because parents rotate classrooms every 15 minutes. This is just enough time to cover the information in this presentation and answer any questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents in the audience say, “It makes sense to teach it this way!” to one another as I go through the presentation.

I chose the quote for the opening slide because just about everyone in attendance completes the sentence with some variation of the following:

                “…and all I can say is baño, taco, and gracias.”

A majority of the parents of children we’re teaching now learned through the grammar translation method. While they may have forgotten most of what they learned, they haven’t forgotten feeling lost, the drill-and-kill, and the pages of grammar notes in English. I introduce my presentation with this because it lets parents know that, a.) I recognize that there is a problem, b.) I want something more for their children, and c.) I know how to give it to them.

Parents may wonder why their children aren’t bringing home lists of words to study or verb charts to memorize. It’s just as important that parents understand the basics of CI as it is that your students do. Your students (and consequently, their results) will always be your biggest advocate, but don’t miss out on this opportunity to explain how we acquire language to those who are able to attend.

My grades are based on performance of the ACTFL Can-Do statements, so I included some examples of these. If you grade your students with an interpersonal communication or habits of mind rubric, this would be a good time to demonstrate to parents what performance at each level looks like.

Feel free to modify the presentation as you see fit. Do you have any novel ideas for explaining CI on Meet the Teacher/Back to School night? Leave a comment below!

Meet the Teacher Night Presentation – Microsoft PowerPoint

 

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Student Interest Questionnaire for the First Day of Class

How to Use This Surveystudent interest questionnaire

I have used this student interest and experience questionnaire more or less unchanged for the past four years. I have my students fill these out in class toward the end of our first meeting. I enjoy overhearing the kids chat enthusiastically with one another about the questions as they complete their surveys in class. For this reason, I prefer to have them complete this in class instead of taking it home. This also ensures that I receive all of them back.

Not only do I get valuable information about the students who I will be with for 90-minutes a day for the next 18 weeks, but this questionnaire also serves to put everyone at ease and reinforces my opening message that for the most part, they are the curriculum.

While I do read all the questionnaires after I get them back on the first day, this is a lot of information to process at one time. I like to re-read my students’ responses throughout the year. You’ll impress your students and yourself with how many details you’ll remember in the moment if you go through these regularly.  Once we’re a few weeks into the semester and I have a feel for who is outspoken and who is more reserved, I like to pick a few of the quieter kids and review their questionnaires. Talking to them about what they wrote or incorporating some of their responses into your lessons can often help them feel like they’re just as much a part of the class.

Have you ever had a lesson that took less time than you thought, a discussion that fizzed out, or a story that flopped? We all have had! Keep your stack of these completed surveys handy the next time this happens. Read a few items from a survey without saying who it belongs to and see if the class can guess.

Why You Should Use This Questionnaire

Obviously we want our students to know that we care about them from day one. We’ve all heard something to the tune of, “Students don’t care what you know until they know you care.” Getting a kid to buy into a class that is conducted in another language doubles or triples the truth in this statement. I have written previously about the things that your students need to hear you say on the first day of class. Whether they admit it or not, students of all ages do care that you care about what is important to them.

Asking the questions in this survey in the first several days of class establishes that we value our students’ interests. It’s also a great segue into Picture and Movie Talk because you can use the students’ responses to inform your lesson designs no matter how formal or informal you prefer to make them. If nobody in the class is in band or plays an instrument, then maybe you skip talking at length about the upcoming band concert.

I use the students’ responses just as much in class as I do outside of it. Seeing a student wearing a concert t-shirt or eating their favorite food in the cafeteria will remind me of other things that they put down on their questionnaire. We both win; we enjoy a good conversation, the student sees that their teacher is a human being, and they know that someone is interested in them enough to take the time to ask them about the things that are important to them. Every kid deserves a champion, right?

While I enjoy reading through my students’ responses and chatting with them about things they wrote on their surveys at the start of the semester, the real magic with this document comes later in the year. Even though I only have my kids for a semester, most of them forget that they filled this out in the fog of the first week of classes. They are amazed when I bring something up during PQA (personalized questions and answers) or Special Person Interviews. Wait until you see the look on their faces that is both shocked and flattered as they wonder how on earth their teacher knows some obscure detail about one of their interests. I find that students not only sometimes forget what they wrote down, but that their interests can change even during the course of a semester.

You probably realized the importance of relationships very early on in your transition to CI-based teaching. As teachers, it’s all too easy to get too busy to nurture them, but we would be wise to take every opportunity we can to remember how much the little positive interactions we have with our students matter. You might have only glanced for a moment at the part where the reticent freshman girl wrote about how she volunteered over summer vacation helping handicapped kids ride horses, but that student is going to remember that you cared enough to ask and will tell you so at graduation (true story).

Student Interest Questionnaire

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5 Reasons You Need to Write Your Plan for the Day on the Board

Start with “breakfast” and write out a brief summary of your activities that you have planned for the day.

Why It’s Important to Write Down Your Plan for the Day

Do you find yourself planning solid activities that deliver loads of comprehensible (and comprehended) input but get caught in the moment and forget what you’re doing next? I’m going to share with you how I help myself and help my students keep the class running smoothly with the unique way that I write down my plan of the day.

My students always confuse the names of different meals in Spanish. I got this idea from a colleague my first year of teaching and have been implementing it ever since. Start with breakfast and work your way to after-dinner dessert. It’s OK if you don’t have an activity for each “meal.” You’ll find yourself pointing to the names of the meals on a regular basis during activities like PQA and Weekend Chat. For example:

  • “Brynn, what did you eat for breakfast this morning?”
  • “Class, it’s Tuesday. What’s for lunch in the cafeteria today? That’s right! It’s chicken tender Tuesday!”
  • “Austin, I remember you telling me that The Cheesecake Factory is your favorite restaurant. What do you normally eat for dessert when you go there?”
  • “Who has a snack with them today? What is it? Is it healthy or not?”
  • “Maddie, when does your family eat dinner?”
  • “Lexi, when is your lunch period?”

1. It keeps you on track and helps you manage your time.

Some teachers are better at “winging it” than others. For example, I can’t think that fast on my feet when I’m going completely untargeted when storyasking. I expend too much conscious mental bandwidth trying to stay in bounds (not adding too much new vocabulary) and more than anything, remembering the details that my students voted on.

Even during semesters when I only had one prep and taught the same 90-minute block three times a day, I liked being able to glance over at my whiteboard to remind myself of where the lesson was going next. I’m that guy who can spend hours preparing a fun, high-speed, low-drag activity and then forget to do it until we have 10 minutes left in class! Now the activity has to wait for tomorrow and some of the novelty inevitably wears off.

2. Transitions between activities are more efficient.

Every teacher prep program stresses that poorly executed transitions can eat your classroom management for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having my plan written on the board is especially helpful on days when my activities are a bit eclectic and there’s no clear way to transition from one activity to the next. For example, if we are starting class with work in the class novel followed by Jeopardy!, I might prime the Jeopardy! game by reminding the class that there will be a category in the game specific to the character or issue that we’re discussing in the novel and tell them that the winning team can raid my treasure chest of candy. Now it’s already in the students’ heads what’s coming next so they’ll waste less time getting settled into their teams since they’re already in the competition mindset.

Novice and veterans teachers alike recognize that their transitions from one activity to the next go smoother when they take the time to intentionally plan them. I sometimes draw little symbols or use different colors of markers in between the activities on my daily agenda to guide my transitions. For example, if our final activity for the day is Two Truths and a Lie, I might draw a tiny stick figure stingray somewhere off to the side to remind myself to use one of my two “truths” that has to do with a stingray in order to introduce the activity. Without my drawing, I still could have transitioned efficiently to the activity, but the class would have missed out on an entertaining story in the target language that serves as an intriguing hook.

We don’t usually think about starting class as a transition, but it really is when you consider how much emotional and physical upshifting and downshifting students are doing as they arrive to your class. If you still don’t think it’s a transition, think about how much time you waste when you do it inefficiently. After briefly daily announcements in the target language, I start class with individual FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) four days a week. Most students see this written on the board next to the word “breakfast” as they’re walking in and grab their readers from my spinning rack that is right inside the entrance to my classroom. This helps get everyone settled down at the start of class. I estimate that this practice alone saves over an hour over the course of a semester.

3. Your students function better and are more at ease when they know what’s on the agenda.

It’s easy to forget what it feels like to be a student, especially in a class conducted in a language that is still very new to you. This is particularly problematic in our discipline because even low-grade anxiety about what is going to happen in class that day can really spike our students’ affective filters and cause them to shut down. Even a first-year language teacher has had thousands and thousands of hours of input, while most of our students have between zero and several hundred if they stick with the program to the end.

If it’s Monday and you’re going to lead off with Weekend Chat, write it down in the “breakfast” spot so your students have a second to think about something interesting they could talk about or answer questions about from their weekend. Just like with our L1, there is a difference between needing time to think of something to say and needing time to think how to say it. The former is fine, however we want to keep the latter process in our students’ subconscious minds since we are teaching for proficiency (unrehearsed, extemporaneous production of speech on a somewhat familiar topic performed in a culturally competent manner).

Even your students who don’t outwardly appear excited about being there still want to know what to expect on any given day in your class. I’ve always been surprised by how many questions (often in L2 at that!) that I’ll get from students who are curious about one of the activities in the couple of minutes that we have before I start class. This happens most often when they recognize the Animal of the Week and have a funny story to tell me about it.

4. It makes it easy for administrators to get a general idea of what you’re doing in class that day.

Do I think that you need to have your learning objectives or the state standards written down on your board if the children are going to have any chance of learning that day? Of course not. Neither do your administrators. They were teachers too not that long ago, too. Assume positive intent in others.

Put yourself in your administrator’s shoes for a second. How would you ensure that the district and building initiatives that you are responsible for carrying out are being implemented in the classroom if you rarely stepped foot into a class apart from when you are required to by the state for official observations?

Administrators are responsible for ensuring that classroom environments are conducive to learning and that teachers are employing pedagogically sound practices. A large part of this is verifying that teachers are being professionals and coming to class prepared. Regardless of how targeted your instruction is, you should have something written down both in your planner and somewhere in the classroom that is visible to students.

If we’re teaching in the target language 90% of the time as we should be, then we will want to make it a point to walk over to our written plan of the day and explain (in L1 or slow, comprehensible L2 with gestures) so that they know what they’re seeing. You’ll get bonus points for doing it in L2 and your students will love watching their principal have that “a-ha” moment.

5. It helps students who arrive late and leave early.

In an ideal world, students would never be absent and they would be in our room from bell to bell. The reality is that braces need tightened, college campuses need visited, and driver license exams need taken.

Having your plan written on the board in the same space every day puts the responsibility on the student on days when he or she is not present the entire class. Students who need to sign out early can know in advance what they need to do independently at home. They can ask me for a copy of handouts or readings at the beginning of class since they already know in a general sense what they will be missing and will avoid interrupting my lesson when they arrive or get up to leave.

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The Best Jeopardy! Game Ever For The Classroom

I searched the web far and wide for an editable Jeopardy! game that is functional, looks good, and makes the questions disappear after they’ve been taken. I couldn’t find one, so I made one. I incorporated the original sounds, colors, and fonts from the television show. Just like the real deal, there are two Daily Doubles. There is Final Jeopardy!, but I don’t do a Double Jeopardy! round because the game already takes quite a bit of time.

My students love playing this. We use it to review class novels, current events, and notes from Special Person Interviews. Answering Jeopardy! questions is a fun way for students to ask questions in the language. Hopefully you have your question words posted somewhere conspicuous.

How to Play

Give each group (3 or 4 students) a mini-whiteboard, dry erase marker, and an eraser. Here’s a set of 30 white boards, markers, and erasers that ships with Amazon Prime. 

All teams attempt to answer each question on their whiteboard, so there is no buzzing in like in the traditional format of the game. This helps keep the whole class engaged. All teams that correctly answer the question receive the money for the question. Teams that answer incorrectly or provide an answer that you feel is incomprehensible lose the dollar amount for that question.

Groups wait to flip over their whiteboard until I call for the answer to prevent groups copying one another’s answers.

If the group that picked the question got it right and at least one team did not, then the group that picked the question gets to also choose the next question. If the team that picked the question got it wrong, then the next group in the rotation that got it correct gets to pick the next question. If all the teams answered the question correctly then I go to the next team in the rotation to change it up.

I have teams keep a running account of their money in a corner of their whiteboards, but you could also have someone who isn’t assigned to a team keep track of everyone’s score. I recommend that you review the procedures for placing a wager for Final Jeopardy prior to starting so that you don’t run out of time at the most exciting point in the game. A team can bet up to the amount of money it has. Teams in the negative can answer the Final Jeopardy! question but may not make a wager.

How to Set Up The Game

Write your questions so that the difficulty of the questions increases with the money. I like to re-cast the answer in a complete sentence when space permits on the answer card. This way, the students hear the correct answer posed as a question and then also read it immediately after.

I made the category title cards in Photoshop, but you could use any basic graphics program that come pre-installed on most computers.

When editing the PowerPoint to add your own questions and answers, be very careful not to change the order of any of the slides. If you mix up even one slide, the entire system of internal links will point to the wrong slides and the game will not work correctly. In this case, just download the file again and start over.

A Few Tips:

  1. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get through all of the questions. You need to account for the time it will take to get students into their teams, gather their whiteboards, markers, and erasers.
  2. Encourage team members to discuss the question within their group, but keep the game moving. Click the speaker icon in the lower right corner of the question slide to indicate that time’s up.
  3. Based on my experience, this is one activity where it is important to assign teams based on familiarity/ability with the game questions so that one team of high flyers doesn’t run away with the game and cause the other groups to check out.

At 78 years old, there’s a good chance that the show’s host, Alex Trebek, will retire soon. Let’s do our part to help keep this legend alive with this generation of students!

Jeopardy! Game Template – Microsoft PowerPoint

I created the above game for Episode 1 of El Internado. Simply make your own category title cards and substitute your own questions and answers to adapt if for your purposes.

You can download the “Korinna” Jeopardy font that I used in my file free of charge here.

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“El Internado” Is Leaving Netflix

**Update** 10/17/2018

As of yesterday, El Internado: La Laguna Negra is back on Netflix. I haven’t confirmed this, but I suspect that this is the result of a rumored deal between Atrés Media and Netflix. I am leaving this post up as I believe there is still useful information here for those using the show. Furthermore, very few shows stay on Netflix in perpetuity. I am glad that I have my DVDs (that I purchased from Amazon.es) in case it goes away again in the future. The assurance that I can still use the show if the wireless goes down provides me peace of mind.

What Happened & Where We’re At NowEl Internado cast

Spain’s Antena 3’s El Internado: La Laguna Negra will no longer be available on Netflix as of August 1, 2018. The show, which ran from 2007 to 2010, has played a prominent role in many CI classrooms in the past several years.

We’re left with two options: a.) discontinue using El Internado or, b.) purchase the DVD set and continue using the show as before. In my opinion, the show is too captivating and we have put in too many hours creating great supplemental resources to stop using it. Have you downloaded my free first season readings/episode guides? They’re between three and six single-spaced pages a piece and have embedded comprehension questions to support your students’ understanding of the episodes.

Why This Might Not Be So Bad

Netflix’s decision to pull the show is a two-edged sword. It’s unfortunate any time that such a compelling resource becomes unavailable to a motivated student who wants extra input outside of class.

I’ve always been ambivalent about students watching ahead. For the majority of those who watch ahead, it’s beneficial since they can focus more on the language because they’re not expending mental bandwidth processing what’s happening on the screen.

With that being said, I have experienced several problems when kids realize that the show is on Netflix. First, some students who watch ahead get bored when we watch it in class, especially when I really slow down to explain scenes that feature a lot of incomprehensible language that is critical to the plot. Second, some kids just aren’t good about not spoiling things. Paula’s eyes lighting up at the end of Episode 3 as she stares at her bedroom ceiling just wouldn’t be the same if you knew it was coming, now would it? Finally, some students unfortunately pay less attention to it than they would otherwise because they know they can catch up on what they missed anytime they want to at home.

I’m not going to lie, I like being in control of pacing the show and being the “gatekeeper.”  I traditionally showed it for part of class on Fridays provided we got everything done from earlier in the week. El Internado was a “carrot” that would be there for them on Friday if they had a good week (which they almost always did).

Why You Should Buy the DVD Set

Even though its first episode hit Spanish TV over a decade ago, it will be awhile until El Internado starts to feel dated (the characters’ flip phones might be the first domino to fall…) While the complete series DVD set from Amazon.es runs around $100 plug shipping, you need to keep in mind just how much content (7 seasons of episodes that are 70+ minutes each) you’re getting for that price. If you used the show for 45 minutes once a week (including viewing time and discussion), how much was your cumulative saved planning time worth by the end of the semester? This isn’t even including the increased student buy-in that you are going to kindle from the first day you watch it.

There are subtitles on the official DVD box set, however they are only in Spanish, whereas you could change them to English on Netflix. This shouldn’t affect how you would use the show in class since we want to keep the input in the target language 90% or higher of the time.

Do you need help convincing your administrator to either give you permission to use the show in class or purchase the DVD set (or both)? Download my admin letter below.

El Internado Letter to Administrators – Microsoft Word Document

Don’t waste your time with the bootlegged boxed sets on eBay. While I’m no fan of how Antena 3 has treated educators in the U.S. who created resources for El Internado (and consequently put Antena 3 on the map in the Spanish teaching community here), as professionals we don’t want to support piracy. Non-original DVDs also tend to be poorly edited, feature lower resolutions, and lack subtitles.

What You Need to Know About DVD Regions

DVD region codes allow copyright holders to control international distribution of their content. For example, a film studio doesn’t want consumers in Japan to be able to watch a DVD from the United States of a movie that is still in Japanese theaters and vice versa. The U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada use Region 1. Europe, along with several other countries and zones, uses Region 2, and so on.

LG DP132H Region-Free DVD Player

A basic but name brand region-free DVD player like this one will let you play the DVDs from Spain (or anywhere in the world) for around $50.

Fortunately there are now region-free DVD players available that ignore region coding and will play all DVDs. This  LG region-free DVD player upscales non-HD content and ships free with Amazon Prime.

The DVD set from Amazon.es comes in a sturdy, well-designed plastic case. There are four episodes per disc (two on each side).

Back when I was in Mérida, México for my undergraduate study abroad program, I remember calling the Blockbuster movie store on the phone (now there’s a sentence that will make you feel old!) to ask them about the region codes on their DVDs. I ended up switching the region on my laptop’s DVD drive to Region 4 for the duration of my stay. This is an option if you don’t want to buy a separate player, but beware that most optical drives on PCs and Macs will only allow you to switch regions five times before it permanently stays on your most recent region setting.

While you’re here, make sure that you join the “Teaching El Internado” Facebook page that Travis Murray (another Buckeye State Spanish teacher) and I started. It’s a fun place to talk about the show, ask questions about how to use it in class, and share resources. We just added our 500th member this week.

What are you going to do for your classes this fall in light of Netflix’s decision? Leave a comment down below!

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Guatemala Infographic

I created this infographic to introduce my students to Esperanza as a class novel.The Esperanza teacher’s guide has some great presentations that will give your students a baseline understanding of Guatemala’s geography, economy, and political climate.
Guatemala infographic

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