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by Erica Fischer on Dec 8, 2012

Language Participation Techniques in the Classroom

Ipad Curious Learners, Fancy Jantzi. January 24, 2011. Penn Laird, Virginia, US.

Langchat Summary: Total Participation Techniques in the Classroom

It was a great meeting of minds at this Thursday’s #Langchat. The newest member of the moderating team, @CoLeeSensei, was introduced.  In addition, a reminder was given to participants to be aware of the #Langchat winter break from December 20th to the 27th.

But, #Langchat was about much more than housekeeping items.  A lot of excellent tips and strategies were given about how to motivate student language participation in the language classroom.  Participants shared great ideas for how to engage with individual students, motivate stubborn non-participators and create engaging class times. 

Building a Positive Classroom Climate

#Langchatters decided that one of the most important elements for promoting classroom language participation is classroom climate. Many participants agreed that the feel of the classroom is almost as important as the curriculum that is being taught.  Classrooms where students feel safe in trying new words and making mistakes are a key element to building language participation. @Dr_DMD said, “Engagement comes more naturally when the classroom is a safe place to take risks.”@ KGallsEduSvcs agreed: “In my Spanish class, I tell students that they must make 250K errors before fluency. So let’s get cracking!”

Knowing the Students

Another key element for getting students involved is knowing the students and using their interests to build the lessons. @Brevkin suggested allowing the students to come up with their own language participation activities so that they have more buy-in for involvement. @SraTaylor10 said, “I start off class with a conversation that directly interests my 7th grade students: Who is a better singer, Justin Bieber or One Direction?’”

Other teachers talked about how personal relationships with students can keep them participating. @Trescolumnae talked about the importance of individual conferences with students in order to find out what motivates each individual student. @PamWesley said, “100% participation requires knowing each student well – are they grade-motivated?  shy? scared? bored? hate school?”

Motivating Defiant Students

An important topic discussed this evening was ideas on how to get obstinate students to increase their language participation. Members agreed that usually students have reasons for not wanting to be involved, either due to lack of skills, embarrassment, shyness or lack of basic needs. @MartinaBex said, “I have some kids who have too many unmet needs to participate…no sleep, no food, no love…I help where I can but it’s so hard!”

There were good suggestions on how to get these students engaged. A number of teachers encouraged language participation with prizes and praise for participating in class even small amounts. Some tried to use other students as positive peer pressure to encourage participation. Others made a habit of calling on non-participating students so that they could recognize the expectation of the teachers. @LauraJaneBarber said, “Establishing expectations at the beginning and enforcing them [is important].”

For stubborn students who continue to refuse, most participants agreed that giving them space was more conducive to maintaining the positive classroom climate. @SenoraCMT said, “I try to bring them in every way that I can and then I allow them to be spectators.” @Placido agreed stating, “I don’t force or act mean, but they need to look attentive even if they are holding back.”

Creating Effective Participation Lessons

Many #Langchat teachers said that engaging lessons are the best way to elicit language participation, even from stubborn non-participators. Some teachers stressed the importance of having an engaging opening activity or “hook” to get students interested and involved. Other elements, such as varying participation and classroom activities, incorporating technology like Twitter and PollEverywhere and focusing on appropriate pacing, were key to keeping students talking in the classroom. @SenoraCMT said, “I find that the more I do novel activities, the more they participate.”

Some of these “novel” ideas were shared for keeping participation at an all-time high:

  • Having students get help from a partner first, before asking the teacher for help.
  • Create a pen-pal or student information exchange program with students at the same level from other classrooms, schools or countries.
  • Incorporate music and movement into the classroom, even at the upper levels. @Martina Bex said, “[You] have to get the kids moving at some point, even for two minutes.” @SenoraCMT said, “They sing along or at least follow along and some even download to their own phones.”
  • Have a language participation ball or stuffed animal that gets thrown around the room. Whoever catches it has a chance to participate.
  • Encourage students to ask open-ended questions and answer with more than “yes” or “no.”
  • Small group activities such as “Think, Pair, Share” or small discussion groups are low-risk ways for students to speak with others in the classroom.
  • @SraTaylor 10’s “Come se dice” Box Activity.  Students who incorporate off-topic language participation into the classroom can put their off-topic words into a box. At the end of the week, the teacher pulls some of these words and teaches them in the target language.
  • Use a token or reward system for students to attain a prize or long-term goal. @Martina Bex has a Chile system where students can get tickets in order to become a singing ninja.
  • Large group activities such as “Inner Circle, Outer Circle” and group storytelling are fun ways for students to become familiar with each other and use their creative language skills.
  • Scavenger hunts throughout the classroom or school. Have students look for objects that are being taught in the target language and check them off their lists.
  • Share pertinent information in the language classroom. Teaching valuable information that students want to know about is a great way to get them asking questions and listening for answers.
  • Incorporate culture into the lessons. Cultural holidays and traditions keep students engaged, especially as they learn to compare and contrast with their own.

Additional Resources

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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