Friday at school a new para-pro walked into my room, and I had one of those moments where I was pretty sure I was looking at a former student, that I couldn't quite place. In my defense, it turns out I had her two 3-week stretches, during a year where I taught 800 students 10 years earlier, so she understood my not recognizing her. She said she remembered me because she never forgot learning the German* alphabet after 3 weeks in my class (not to interrupt the flow of the story, but if you are wondering WHY she remembers German from my class when I am a Spanish teacher see the asterisk at the bottom of the post).
She remembered the German alphabet after 3 weeks in my class 10 years before, because I am a believer in trying to seize the little moments in the teaching day to squeeze in extra input. I didn't spend much time directly teaching the alphabet (even before being a CI teacher). We only have so much time with the students, and every second counts, and they need all the input we can give them. When I taught her class German all those years ago, I squeezed the alphabet into my 3 weeks by saying it as I spelled out words, singing/chanting the alphabet with the class when we passed out papers, and/or transitioned between activities, and quick games that lasted less than 5 minutes. These small moments that could be left open to students to get off task are the perfect chance to fit in more comprehensible input. When we had it down in song form, we did it in a call and response chant. I even had baseball parents tell me that 6th grade boys team sang the alphabet song, our number songs, and the what is your name song in German on the way to games. I love hearing about students doing class activities in their free time. To me, it is the best kind of success when they want to keep doing the language on their own.
FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) is one of the best ways to increase our student's language acquisition, but there have been lots of great posts about FVR, and this will not be one of them. Instead the focus is other ways to sneak input into the little moments of our day-to-day.
Focused brain breaks help. One way I did this with the alphabet was a "race" that took roughly 3 minutes of class time. Each student was randomly given a letter of the alphabet on a notecard. The goal of the race was to to put the alphabet down on a chair at the front of the class in the right order. The race begins when the student holding the card with the "a" calls out "I have the a" in target language. Stands up and runs the a to the chair at the front of the room, turns and runs back to their seat. They must sit down before the next student can stand up yell "I have the b" and race the letter to the teacher in the same manner (we time ourselves with a stop-watch and try to beat our best time, and other classes).
This could be done with a sequential story the kids know well, numbers, or an activity where one action has to happen before the next action happens (as long as students are familiar with the vocabulary ahead of time).
It doesn't matter what you would like your student to acquire, there are many novel ways to fit in extra input. I have more games for the alphabet like Face Off, which can be played with numbers as well as letters. Brain breaks, and transition times can be used in ways such of these to fit small doses of input in novel ways.
You can read about more mini Games for bursts of input by clicking on the word games for more details about variations.
Another brain break that has been a small moment gone big, is the game "For you/for me". Inspired by the more 'aggressive' hand slapping game I played as a kid. In the kinder and gentler adaptation of the game two players stand across from each other. One player holds out their hands to the other player as if they are offering them something (my students pretend there is invisible chocolate in there hands). The player holding out the 'chocolate' (we can call him Kevin) says in the target language "for you" to their friend (we can call the friend Bob). Bob tries to grab the imaginary chocolate. When Bob reaches for the chocolate Kevin yanks his hands back quickly and says in the target language (for me). If Bob does not touch Kevin's hands before he takes them back; play continues and Kevin says 'for you' again in the target language (para ti/para mí). If Bob touches Kevin's hands (and the invisible chocolate) before Kevin takes his hands back, they switch roles. Now Bob offers the invisible chocolate and Kevin tries to grab it.
My students LOVE this game and it is so quick that it is good for when there is a technology problem or I have to answer the phone. I knew 'Para mí/ Para ti" was a hit when teaching it for the first time to a new rotation of students (so I had taught this game to other 3rd grade classes, but not this particular class). When I started to teach the game, one of the students called out, "Oh...so that's what everyone was playing in the bus line."
What makes this game even better, is that they have acquired the language from this game. "For You/For Me" in class has allowed me to jokingly say "for me" when I see students with treats or trading cards in the hall. This is a great way to bring the language into other parts of their school day. They always yank their item back and say "for me" in the target language when I pretend to reach for it. The other day I walked by students in the hall carrying a plate of cookies. All of them yelled out "¿Para mí?" Joking with students in Spanish is music "para mí" any day. This game has been a hit as young as Kindergarten.
Cootie catchers with PQA questions to spur conversation among students are another small thing gone big that sneaks in extra input. Whenever I use a cootie catcher for PQA I get extra CI in for my students in two ways. First, we fold the cootie catcher as a class, all directions given in Spanish of course. The students are glued to these directions as the desperately want to make a cootie catcher on their own. They count in Spanish as they play with them (check out the video below if you haven't used them before) and play with these at recess, on the bus, and at home (and sometimes even when they are not supposed to, think fidget spinner big people)!
Teaching kids handclap games are also a great way to get them practicing Spanish outside of the classroom as they love to show off their skills to friends. I spent part of a class teaching this to my first graders, made the video below available on the website, and had students sending me videos of mastering it at home the same night.
I learned about story retells from Blaine Ray at a training,and they a favorite way to push Spanish out of the classroom are story retells (where they use dolls, toys, friends, family members or pictures to retell a class story to a friend are also a big hit with kids and parents).
You can also bring Spanish home by encouraging kids to watch shows, or cartoons inSpanish. I give my students optional homework. Each week, they have the option to play on my website (where I make 3 or 4 of the 'buttons' found here (free), available for them). Each button includes cartoons, stories, games and music that go along with what we are doing in class.
Students have the option of playing on the above website, playing on Sr. Wooly (if they are in 2nd or 3rd grade), or playing on Du0lingo. Students usually prefer my website or Sr. Wooly if they are older. I have 500 students, and generally get 500 to 2000 hits on my website a week. Students who go regularly (proudly self reported) show noticeable gains in class, and parents report students love doing "Spanish homework" at home.
A class 'pet' that goes home with a different student each class also increases time spent with the TL. The student names the pet, answers some PQA style questions about it, and prints or draws a picture (or sends one to me to print) with the pet. They speak Spanish with the pet at home and take them out around the town with them. I have had very shy students take the "Spanish pet" to Mexican restaurants and end up going back to speak with the kitchen staff and other servers at the restaurant in Spanish when they explained what the pet was from. To read more about this project, click here.
The video on the left was made by a Kindergarten student and her 2nd grade brother (he narrated and she acted it out). The second video was made by the same two students the following year. They made these videos for fun, and were so excited to share (shared here with permission).
Other ways I try to sneak language in during the day are at the start and end of the day. Whenever I can, I greet students in the morning in the target language with, "hello", "good morning", and comments on the weather. I love it when students start joking around with me about the weather (i.e. saying "It's hot out" when it is snowing, etc. and laughing as if it it is the funniest joke). Then they start joking around with it each other that way as well.
I also take advantage of times the whole school is gathered together and waiting for an assembly or in line to sing Spanish songs that all the students know, both impressive to non-speakers and a great way to bring the Spanish speaking outside of the classroom when the whole school sings or dances in Spanish. Greeting students in the hall, or asking a student how they are or about their weekend in the hall are all great ways to sneak in even more TL.
All these small moments increase student input in big ways. I have been very happy with the results in my own students. Many of these tricks may already be known, but I hope that you learned a way to increase your student's time in the target language!
*If you know me, you may be confused by the fact that the student remembers German from my class when I am a Spanish teacher. In my 13 years in my district I have taught many things as my certifications qualify me to teach in the classroom, and also Science and Spanish up to 8th grade. Although I taught Spanish my entire career in one form or another (be it as an after school program, summer program, or in the classroom); I have also taught 3rd grade, 5th grade, Intro to Spanish/French/German, Quest(K-3 Science), Middle School Spanish, Academic Support, and Elementary Spanish (5 years now).
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.