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by Erica Fischer on Oct 1, 2016

How to: Maintain student interest in the midst of routines that facilitate the teaching process?

My system

My System” (CC BY 2.0) by Justin See

Last week, #langchat contributors decided to talk about how to best go about maintaining student interest in the midst of necessary routines that facilitate teaching in a world language classroom. Participants discussed what routines facilitate but maybe bore the kids/hijack the learning, as well as ways to establish trust so that students know the teacher’s decisions are the right ones. Chatters also talked about how to accomplish routine “administrivia” in a way that minimizes distraction from learning, along with ways to account for student interest when it comes the less “interesting” but vital instruction needs. Langchatters finished up with sharing their ideas and experiences with routines that have helped increase student engagement, rather than detract from it.

Question 1: What routines facilitate but maybe bore the kids/hijack the learning?

Routines can sometimes be considered a necessary “evil” when it comes to facilitating the teaching process in a world language classroom – they get the job done but they can also hijack the learning if/when students start to get too bored with them to engage. @tmsaue1 illustrated a lot of participants feelings on figuring out routines perfectly when he said, “That’s one scary first question.”

Even still, routines are needed, and some of the ones that were discussed the most as “facilitating yet boring” included things like using bellringers, the need to give instructions/set an activity up, having to ask “typical” introduction questions like weather/date/etc., assigning/going over homework, distributing/collecting materials and papers, having to give reminders to students to clean up/put technology away correctly, reviewing daily learning objectives, vocabulary introduction, and using a note taking/lecture style format.

It’s important to remember though that you shouldn’t give up on an activity just because your students consider it a “routine” – if it serves a helpful learning purpose, your students will learn to make it work. @SrtaSpathis made a good point when she said, “Routines are valuable, especially with novice learners. We go through a warm up/date/weather each day. Actually helps [students] regroup.”

Question 2: How do we first establish trust so that students know that our decisions are the right ones?

Establishing trust with students is key in any teacher-class relationship, but it is especially so in the world language classroom because students generally feel like it is a more “high-risk” environment since they have to actively put themselves out in the open and try new things. Getting them to trust that you are choosing activities and picking things for them to do based on what’s best for their learning process is huge in getting them to actively engage in the process.

Ideas for how to establish that trust included explaining the how/why of routines to students at the beginning of the year, building routines with students to demonstrate the purpose, keeping the content novel/relative, give the context so there’s a well-defined/greater purpose so they can see value, help students see the connections between routines and performance so they understand the method behind the madness, allow students to suggest tweaks to routines if they aren’t working well, and most importantly, be willing to actually cut a routine if it becomes obvious that it’s really not effective.

Building trust really comes down to being open and honest with students, making sure they know that your whole purpose is helping them succeed, and also being willing to be flexible and listen to their opinions/adapt routines when you applicable. @SrtaWauford shared a much-agreed upon idea when she shared that she thinks it’s important to, “Emphasize/explain why we’re doing certain activities. I also think asking for/acting on [students] feedback helps with trust too.” and @ksipes129 was on board with that thought saying, “I agree, it is important to tell kids WHY it is important & HOW it can help them be successful.”

Question 3:  How do you accomplish routine “administrivia” in a way that minimizes distraction from learning?

No matter what subject you teach, there are always going to be requirements placed on you by your school’s administration to perform certain duties every class period. This routine “administrivia” has to be dealt with in a way that minimizes the distraction as much as possible. Participants had lots of helpful ideas including taking attendance in the TL/timing it to make it a game and keep student invested in class, once you know students – give them a task and take attendance independently, use your students as “assistants” when it comes to tasks like attendance/picking up handouts/etc. to keep them engaged, and if you need to collect/check things make sure to do it during small group/downtime tasks.

@lotteesensei had a great suggestion to minimize the affect of administrative routines when she shared, “Keep the administrivia routine the same each time. It goes faster and students feel comfortable when they know what to expect.” and similarly,  @profepj3 said it helps him to, “Keep a tight timer on [administrivia] activities so there’s no lag time.”

Basically what it comes down to is figuring out what your non-negotiable “administrivia” is and when it has to be accomplished in class, and then coming up with the least distracting strategy to get it done as quickly as possible. But also realizing that sometimes things don’t go to plan so you have to be flexible – as @AggieGarza pointed out, “Work on smoothing the attendance taking process. If I do it during the first 5 min, it gets done, if not it’s at the end.”

Question 4: What about the less “interesting” but vital instruction? What about student interest then?

“Vital instruction” in this context can be understood as things like giving directions, clarifying instructions, etc. And world language teachers are most often trying to make sure that they make every little moment interesting and fun in order to keep students engaged in the TL.

But realistically, not all vital instruction is going to be seen as “interesting” by students – ideas to not lose them completely when imparting the less interesting important directions included make the un-exciting verbally interesting by being loud/dynamic, tell them and ask them questions to make sure they’re understanding you, keep it direct/concise and student-centered, and then they are more likely to stick with you. As @krisfauch pointed out, “Students stay cooperative during “boring” moments if they know they will be able to practice what they are being taught SOON!”

Still, students know that not every moment of any given class is going to be entertaining, and especially in the world language classroom, students need to know that all activities have a purpose that relates back to every other activity that they are doing. As @srtakarigan put it, “I think this goes back to everyone’s responses to an earlier question – [students] need to know the “why”/purpose of the lesson.”

Question 5: Give us your great ideas! What routines have INCREASED student engagement?

Not all routines are hard to implement or take extra time to get students to invest – they can be a wonderful teaching tools when implemented correctly, so participants closed out this week’s chat by sharing their experiences with routines that have increased student engagement. A summative list of their suggestions is below:

  • Use frequent partner/group changes to make routine conversations more interesting
  • Make the environment engaging and it will make the routine engaging as well
  • Give students jobs so that they are physically/mentally invested in the routine
  • Do a little handshake/greeting when students move to a new group so they know that afterward they are to listen for a prompt
  • Implement the structure of the circle and always come back to that after different tasks
  • Use last five minutes for a digital exit slip thru Kahoot or Quizizz games
  • ClassDojo table talk for activities like speed friending, whiteboard challenges, classroom cloze, etc.
  • Use similar graphic organizers across any interpretive source to establish routine
  • Regular exposure to authentic materials helps when it comes time for summative assessment.


This week, langchatters shared their thoughts on necessary routines to help facilitate the teaching process. Takeaways included it’s a great idea to change up the beginning scheduled and start out classes differently (maybe throw in a table talk/chat next week), don’t be afraid of reflecting on your established routines and deciding which ones are actually working well, and always be willing to admit if a routine needs to change in order to really be effective for you and your students – just because it’s something you’ve always down doesn’t mean it has to stay.

Thank You!

Thank you to Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell) and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for spearheading this week’s chat, and as always, thanks to everyone who takes the time to join these discussions every week. We hope that you continue to link up with #langchat as often as you are able – if the weekday chats on Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. ET don’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats have gotten busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

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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