Keeping the First Week of School Awesome!

Jul 30, 2017 | 4 comments

So you’ve already read about the first day of school (if you haven’t, check it out here), but what do you do on the second and the third and the rest of the first week? We want you to keep the First Week of School awesome, so read on to find out how to do just that. 

We’re going to want to continue to have our conversations with our students throughout the first week of school. We’re still building relationships and setting the tone for the class. What are we not doing? We’re still not talking about class rules, procedures, or any other administrative stuff. We have plenty of time for that later. Right now, we need to focus on the kids.

Warm-ups.

Before the school day begins, you should have a warm-up activity ready and up on the board. You need to establish this routine without even speaking about it. Each day should have a 5-minute or so activity students can get started on without any help from you while you complete the attendance and any other beginning-of-class administrative tasks.

Some great warm-ups are 5-question quizzes, copying new vocabulary, free voluntary reading, reflections (in English), and paired activities. If you have some other great ideas for warm-ups, please share them in the comments!

New vocabulary.

Because the start of the year is focused on the students, there isn’t any specific vocabulary for your students to copy. The words you write on the board ARE NOT VOCABULARY and you shouldn’t have your students copy that down; however, it’s a great idea to make this available to your students if you type it up on a Google Doc.

When we do start to target vocabulary, I like to write the vocabulary on the board with it’s translation and have the students copy that down in their composition books. This is just for their reference; it is not something I want them to memorize.

Free voluntary reading.

Free voluntary reading is an excellent way to start class. I wouldn’t do this on the first or second day, but the third day is completely fair game.

The idea of FVR is to give your students an opportunity to read in the target language a few times a week. You provide the books and they can choose any one of them they wish.

I’m a big fan of having a library of various TPRS novels. Thanks to Mira Canion, I always buy my novels in pairs so that two people can be reading the same book at the same time. As my library grows, I have more than just two copies per title.

I used to use children’s books to stock my library but after reading Michael Peto and Bryce Hedstrom’s views on FVR, I’ve gone the way of the novel.

I don’t care which novels a student chooses to read. I don’t care if it’s at their level, below their level, or above their level. It’s students’ choice. I just want them to read during this time. For level 1 students, where all but a few novels are beyond their reach at the beginning of the year, a great resource for simple books is wilbooks.com.

I start my level 1 students at 3 minutes the first week of school and then slowly increase the time until we get to 15 minutes. If your kids can’t handle that long, then pare it down accordingly. With levels 2 and up, I start with 5 minutes and work my way up to 15 minutes.

THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! You must read as well. You must set the example. You must sit in the middle of the room and read, away from your computer, away from other teacher distractions. If your students need a little management, then you can slowly walk around the room with your book in your hand reading. But you must read.

For many accountability is important, but for me, the joy of reading is MORE important. I don’t believe in giving my students busy work to test if they’re reading or not. We teachers do that all too often and have killed the joy of reading in many students. The only thing that I ask of my students is to write the title of the book that they read that day. That’s it. It’s an honor system. I do tell them that I can tell if they’re reading or not based on how their vocabulary increases or their writing improves. I don’t need any other accountability piece to give me that data.

5-Question quizzes.

5-question quizzes are just simple quizzes that can be answered in single words or short phrases based on something you’ve been working on in class. These are meant to be self-checkpoints for your students, so don’t grade them. But do take note to any issues your students have answering them, as these will be areas you’ll want to work on in your instruction.

Paired activities.

Paired activities are another great warm up. I prefer to have my paired activities be less structured and therefore more authentic.

I might have students talk about their weekend to their partner, about something interesting going on in their lives, about the book that they’re reading, about a student activity they participated in, etc.

Of course, these conversations are in the target language, but are less structured so students can use the language they feel comfortable using and the interaction is more natural.

Often with paired activities, students are told to engage in one specific aspect of conversation that there’s no room for creativity or variation. In these situations, they tend to know how to do it in those very specific situations, but in real life, when everything doesn’t happen according to a script, they often are left unable to adapt and have any real conversations.

Reflections.

Reflections and metacognitive activities are so important to the process of learning.

Reflections come in different types and sizes. Here are a few of my favorites.

One-word reflections. I love these. They’re short, brief, succinct, and very hard to do well. Students really have to think to boil down their thoughts into one word and there lies the beauty. Have students write one, single word to describe how they feel about your class, how they feel about their understanding of the language, how they feel about a particular activity, how they feel about their overall progress in the language.

Alternatively, you can have them write longer reflections answering many of the same questions. With these longer reflections, the focus is on the “why” they gave the answer they gave. Like the one-word reflections, these are also hard to do. Guiding your students through the process and offering sentence frames can help them perform better on these deeper-thinking activities.

Finally, I love asking kids how much they understood as a reflection. They rate their comprehension on a scale of 0-10 (0 meaning they understood nothing and 10 meaning they understood everything). Then they write a short reflection as to why their comprehension was where it was. Was the class moving too fast, did they zone out for a few minutes (that’s normal), did the teacher not make the class as understandable as they needed to, etc. It’s instant feedback on how your class went that day.

All of these types of reflections are great for creating better thinkers in your classroom. Students will develop a greater understanding for how they learn, what works and what doesn’t work for them. And these are absolutely awesome for your instruction. You will know if you’re hitting the mark and if not, where exactly are you missing the target or with which subsection of the class.

Before class.

Before the bell rings you’re still outside greeting your students one by one, right? This is extremely important to build those relationships and to set you apart from their other teachers. This is where you take the time to smile at each of your students, greet them in the target language, and really notice them. Are they happy? Are they upset? Are they chatting with friends or are they all alone. Are they wearing something new? These things may seem small, but to a child, they are not. Many children move throughout their lives without people noticing them and our taking a moment to really notice them, even if only for a few seconds, can change their day and make it awesome.

After the bell.

Once the bell rings, again, greet the class loudly, with a giant smile in the target language. If you can switch up the expression, try to do so, so that students can hear different greetings. You want to make them want to be in your class.

While your students are working on their warm-up activity, you can take the attendance and do any other administrative tasks that you need to do.

After all of the administrative tasks are complete, you will begin class reviewing the information from the previous class. You’ll do this through questioning.

“Class, what does Jason do?”
“That’s right, Jason plays baseball.”
“Does Jason play on a baseball team?”
“Excellent! Yes, Jason plays on a baseball team.”
“What’s the name of his team?”
“Great! Yes, his team’s name is the Flyers.”

Once you’ve taken a moment to review the first student from yesterday, review the other students you spoke about and take a few more moments to compare and contrast them. This whole process should take no more than five or six minutes.

For level 2, you’ll be reviewing the students’ fears; for level 3, what makes them awesome or different; and for level 4, what they would do if…

Now the fun continues. Choose your next student and ask them questions like you did the day before. Don’t forget to ask them their name in the target language and you’ll want to add a new question before you get into what they like to do. Ask them “How are you?” In the target language. Keep writing all new words or words they may have forgotten on the board. Keep making sure you’re being comprehensible by asking questions like:

“What did I just say?”
“What does X mean?”
“What did I ask?”

to make sure the students are with you.

Continue this same process with each additional students and remember to compare and contrast with each new student. You’re spending about 10-15 minutes per student as you work through your roster.

Be sure to leave about five minutes at the end of the class.

Wrapping up class.

During these last few minutes, have students rate their comprehension and what you as a teacher can do to make class more comprehensible. Tell them to keep it positive!

Now in the target language, thank them for being awesome students (you may have to translate parts of this on the board, but do not do it orally—translate only on the board.)

Now you just finished the second day. How do you feel?

The rest of the week.

You’re going to continue the rest of the week the same way.

You’re going to have a meaningful warm-up ready for your students when they enter class, you’re going to greet each student outside your room before class, you’re going to give a heartfelt greeting to your students immediately after the bell, you’ll take attendance and complete any other administrative tasks, you’ll review the students from the day before, and then you’ll connect with your next student using the target language.

One thing you’ll continue to add as the days progress is spiraling your vocabulary as you continue to ask questions. For example, I might start asking things like, “When do you play baseball? During the week or on the weekends?” “Do you play baseball in the summer or the winter?” “What time is your practice?” “Do you read before or after school?” “What do you do when you see a spider?”

I think about what would be logical, related questions that can expand our discussion and I ask those questions. Think about things that will eventually come up in your curriculum that would fit perfectly with the discussion. Days, months, seasons, time, frequency, locations, etc. Do this slowly, especially in level 1. I would only add a new layer of questions every couple of days. For levels 2 and up, you can probably do it a bit more quickly, but not by much.

Remember to leave five minutes at the end of class to have the students tell you their comprehension level in an exit ticket and for you to thank them for being AWESOME students.

Pre-test—baseline writing.

In all levels, I like to get a baseline writing sample. I want to do this early in the first week so that their baseline isn’t influenced too much by the new year’s instruction.

For level 1, I only have them list any words they already know in the target language. This is the least stressful pre-test I can give them.

For levels 2 and up, I give them 10 minutes to write about anything they would like in the target language. I don’t give them a topic, a vocabulary list, or any structure the;y need to include. I want this to truly be whatever they want to write about so that I can see their range of ability.

Free voluntary reading.

By the third day, I like to start my FVR program. In English, the day before, I tell them why reading is so important, especially in a second language. I tell them that when they come into class the next day, their warm-up will be to select a book or two from the bookshelf, sit down, and start reading. I tell them during FVR, there is no writing, no talking, no getting up to get another book, only reading.

They’re welcome to “quit” a book during FVR, but they must have an alternative to read (so get more than one book). For level 1, be sure you have enough really easy readers (one word per page books are a great start) so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Remember to model good reading habits by sitting in the center of the room with a good book and read. If you must get up to take care of any classroom management issues, bring your book with you and stand next to the situation while you read your book.

Start level 1 off with 3 minutes and the upper levels with 5 minutes. Don’t tell them how long they’ll be reading for. Just set a timer and they read until the timer goes off. As your students get more engaged in their books as the days and weeks go on, increase their reading time one minute at a time until you’re reading for about 10-15 minutes for level 1, and at least 15 minutes for levels 2 and up.

I try to do FVR at least twice a week with my students.

What about classroom management.

As I’ve stated before, I don’t talk about any of this stuff the first week of class. They are usually in the honeymoon period, and it’s rare that any major behavior issues arise that week; however, I do have my classroom rules posted on the board where they can be easily seen. If there is an issue, I stop instruction, point to the rule, and carry on. If that’s not enough, I’ll quietly walk up to the student and ask to speak with them after class.

You’ll start talking about classroom rules and procedures in week 2.

You can read more about my classroom-management plan here.

Friday reflection.

On Fridays, I like to have my students reflect upon their learning in some way. I have them do this in English and I want a longer form reflection. I guide my students how to do this the first few times and provide sentence frames each week throughout the whole year.

The first week, I like to ask my students how Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Latin, Italian, Russian, Japanese (etc) class went the first week.

I want them to talk about the pace, their comprehension level, their level of engagement, which activities they liked, which they didn’t, etc. I especially want them to discuss WHY they answered the way they did. That’s where the magic happens with reflections.

Your English and Language Arts teachers will appreciate your doing this with your students.

End of the week.

Whew! You made it. The weekend is here.

How did your first week go? Let us know in the comments below.

Download our First-Week Lesson Plan here.

Here’s our article on the first month of school. Happy reading!

If you haven’t read our First-Day Lesson Plan, check it out here.

 

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