It’s Back To School time (again!) and I generally start the year off asking my students about themselves, and why they want to learn Spanish. (Here’s a great back to school minute by minute lesson plan!) When I talk to my students about why they a.) want to learn Spanish, or b.) enjoy Spanish class, the number one response is centered around the word communication. While students want to communicate in Spanish, they don’t always have the know how and vocabulary to do so effectively. This happens with native speakers who haven’t developed academic language yet, and after long summer language breaks for non-native learners. It is incredibly important to foster communicative skills of both interpersonal language (BICS) and academic language (CALPS) in the very first week of classes, and over the years, I have developed a very simple and effective way to set the tone for speaking in the classroom from the very first week back at school.
Because verbal communication inherently includes a listener and a speaker, I love to set up my classroom with the students in groups of no more than four students, interspersing the groups around the classroom. This not only fosters collaboration among the students, but it also keeps me from trying to lecture too much at the front of the room, as not all the students are ever facing the same way. The classroom set up and emphasis on verbal communication (un-graded, low-pressure and in small groups) during week one sets the tone for the students that, while speaking will be required of them constantly in my class, they will be supported in taking verbal communication risks.
After setting up my physical classroom space exactly how I want it, on the day that I decide to introduce speaking and communication in the classroom, I am very purposeful about my expectations, and what students should be doing during speaking time. I intentionally start out with low-pressure conversation starters, simply setting the expectation that Spanish (or any target language) must be used, thereby removing any pressure for “saying the right thing” and allowing free communication between students.
From there, I introduce my Academic Language (CALP) sentence starters, and start to throw interesting, yet relatable questions on the projector via the Power Point. Each group then has time to reflect on the question and answer it – I circulate around the room eavesdropping on conversations, and occasionally even taking notes on especially interesting comments. The time that I spend circulating around the room gives me a chance to informally assess students strengths and weaknesses, and adjust future speaking exercises according to the groups needs. Plus, I get to find out the likes and dislikes of the awesome people who have been assigned to my class for the next year!
To purchase my step by step lesson plan for fostering communication in the upper level Spanish class from day 1, my handy conversation Power Point, and instructions for how to modify and differentiate this activities for native and non-native speakers, head over to my Teachers Pay Teachers store and purchase the Upper Level Spanish Conversation Starter Power Point Packet! For a preview of my First Day Of School lesson plans, head over here!