All teachers know that the first day of school is important. We want to start off the year on the right foot. Gone are the days of teachers boring students by spending the first class together talking about the rules and the syllabus. Instead, it’s crucial to focus on building community, getting students excited for the year, and showing them that you care about them.
If you are a World Language teacher, it’s also important to establish that the class will be conducted in the target language. Depending on the level you teach, this might be 90% of the time, as ACTFL guidelines recommend, or even more.
If students are coming into a level 2 class from middle school, or coming from a teacher who didn’t use much of the target language, this can be a big and scary jump for them. The last thing we want students to feel on the first day of school is that they are going to be lost in the class or that it will be way too hard for them.
So, how do we accomplish everything listed above while still giving students confidence?
Well, it’s not perfect, but here’s how I like to start the first day of Spanish class.
First, I start with a printed class list with student photos and room to write notes. This is my go-to for attendance, identifying students and writing down any student issues for the first few days.
I always clearly label my door with the subject I teach, the room number, my name and my class schedule. This helps students know they are in the right place and avoid embarrassment.
As students come in, I greet them at the door in the target language and point to the board. The do-now or warm-up, that we will later have every day tells them to choose any seat with a survey and fill out the survey. I have a survey for them on their desk to fill out while we wait for everyone to come in. The survey asks them questions for me to get to know them. In addition to general questions, for World Language Classes I like to ask:
-How and where have you studied X language in school?
-What other languages do you speak or have you studied?
-(For heritage language students) What percentage of the time do you speak this language at home?
-What connections do you have with this language or culture outside of school? For example, do you have co-workers that speak Spanish? Do you travel to France in the summer? Do you have Chinese heritage?
Once students have filled out the survey, I have them write their name on a name tag and I take attendance as they introduce themselves in the target language (usually just “My name is…”). I’m awful with names, and the only way I will learn them is to see them written out. Plus, I think this helps students learn each other’s names quicker, too.
The hoop and stick game
Then, I will tell students (in English) about the importance of comprehensible input and using the target language in class. We can’t learn a language if we don’t hear or read it, and we need lots of practice to be better speakers and writers. I tell them that we are going to do an activity 100% in the target language and I bet they’ll be able to understand.
With exaggerated gestures and facial expressions, I tell students to stand up and that we are going to learn the directions. I teach them right, left, up, down, forward, back and stop. Ideally, these are written on the board or on posters, so they have something to refer back to. I make them physically act out the gestures I say and ask them which each is until they have it down.
Then, I bring out a hoop and stick. If you don’t have a hoop and stick, you can improvise and roll up pieces of paper and tape them into a circle or triangle. You can also use an unsharpened pencil or a ruler for a stick.
I then ask for a volunteer to hold the hoop. There are usually a couple outspoken students in each class who will be happy to volunteer, but if not, reassure them that the hoop holder doesn’t need to speak. With the hoop holder at the front of the classroom, I take the stick and explain, still in the target language, of course, that I will cover my eyes and the class will need to tell me directions to walk up and put the stick in the hoop. When I see that they’ve understood, I blindfold the volunteer or have them cover their eyes and then spin them around, counting to three. I then take their hand and we review the directions one last time. Then I say go and students start calling out directions.
Sometimes I’ll need to help redirect the volunteer, but usually it works pretty well. We’ll usually have two or three enthusiastic volunteers try it, and if they are doing great sometimes the person holding the hoop will go to other parts of the classroom to make it more challenging.
At the end is the most important part. Speaking in English, I congratulate them on being able to do this in a language other than English. I ask them how they were able to understand and they say they looked at cognates, facial expressions, gestures, repetition and more. I tell them that these are key to learning a language in our classroom and this is why it’s most important for them to be an active listener and participant.
This is usually a good segue into talking about what we are going to learn during the year, and I give a quick overview of some of the units, highlighting things students have enjoyed in the past.
All About Me
If you teach shorter periods, the class may be finished after this. If the class is a block period, I like to give students some individual work that still helps build community. I have them fill out an All About Me sheet if they are in level 2 or above. You can grab these for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store in French or Spanish.
Once students have filled these out they can introduce themself to the person they are sitting next to and use the sheet to talk about themself. Depending on the level of the students, they might then tell the class their partner’s name and one thing they learned about them.
And that’s the first day!
Students build community with a team-building activity that gives them confidence and the high expectation for target language usage is set.
In the days that follow we will work more on this expectation, do lots of low-risk partner activities, and continue to play fun games in the target language to get to know each other. I usually save the class-created expectations for day three, as I know that they are doing it in six other classes on the first and second day. We also will talk more about what a good language learner does and how it is not necessarily the A student who can memorize all the verb conjugations that will do the best in the class, but the student who will take risks and will be ok with making mistakes.
If you are preparing for the year, here is How to Get Spanish Books For Your Classroom Library.
What do your first days of school look like? Let me know in the comments below.
Shout out to Donna Clementi, who I learned the hook and stick game from years ago!