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by Erica Fischer on Oct 28, 2013

Making Language Fun: How to Have a More Engaging Language Classroom

On Thursday night’s #langchat, participants described what the ideal language classroom looks like as far as engagement, interaction and even noise level is concerned. Then, they shared some ways that they create an engaging and communicative language learning atmosphere in their classrooms.

Making Language Fun - How to Have a More Engaging Language ClassroomWhat is Engagement?

“Students speaking in the target language more than the teacher is talking.” @tiesamgraf

“A visible spark that may begin as curiosity but leads to sustained involvement in the lesson.” @SrtaTeresa

“A joyful learning community building meaningful things together.” Author unknown. Shared by @trescolumnae

Although teachers of world language classes have different ideas about what engagement is, they all know that they have to do a little extra to keep their students communicating and having fun in the classroom. On Thursday, #langchat teachers created a general picture of what a good environment for language learning is. What they found was that this environment is much different than it is in a core curriculum class like Math, Science or English.

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Language Classrooms are Safe for Risk-Taking

Unlike other curriculum classrooms, success in world language revolves around risk-taking. How can we makes students feel safe enough so they are willing to take risks? Emotional risks are necessary in order for language students to branch out and learn new concepts. During #langchat, it became clear that many teachers struggle with persuading students to speak out when they don’t feel confident with the language. @mstort6 said, “My students are afraid to take risks, afraid to sound dumb, afraid they’re not as smart as the others.”

Why are students afraid?

Fear of Judgement – @frenchteacher11 said, “Speaking requires risk-tasking. Students fear peers will judge them.”

Fear of Making Mistakes – @ldpricha said, “Students are too used to mistakes leading to a lower grade. They aren’t encouraged to make mistakes.”

@CatherineKU72 suggested the idea that language classes are unique in the types of communicative requirements that they have. She asked, “Could it be that they don’t have too many classes that “require” what we ask of them: communicate, express?”

While it is clear that many classes do have communicative elements, it is very different in a language classroom. In a language classroom, mistakes are necessary in order to be successful. Students must learn that they are supposed to be speaking out, even if they are saying something awkward or wrong. This goes against most expectations that students have about learning. In order to create a better environment for communication, students must lose their fear of judgment and failure in order to succeed.

How do we create a safe language classroom?

1. Scaffolding. @sorokowskij said, “Students need to master one-on-one talking before larger group conversations in order to build confidence and even discussion skills even.”
2. Movement. @CoLeeSensei said, “Maybe we’re beyond caring how ‘we’ll look’ – that’s why I like the “class moving a lot” – so they don’t stick out.”
3. Feedback. @CecileLaine said, “Instant feed-back. Use rubrics where students are encouraged to use new structures as opposed to rely on old ones. #langchat” @alenord agreed, saying, “I think feedback, making students aware of their successes and celebrating them, is important to engagement.”
4. Practice Mistakes. @CoLeeSensei said, “We ‘practice’ errors – what to do when it happens – so everyone knows how to “help.” My first years all now know what to do when someone makes an error or forgets! Students say it makes them “braver.””
5. Small Groups. @msfrenchteach said, “Working in small groups can facilitate more widespread engagement.”
6. Classroom Community. @tiesamgraf said, “It’s important to create community in the classroom – so students feel safe. Let them know you care and appreciate their risk-taking. We need not focus on students’ mistakes. We should allow communication without constant correction.”

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Language Classrooms are Funny

An engaging language classroom has time and space for humor. Not only does this encourage a better classroom climate and risk-taking, but it humanizes the teacher and makes them more approachable. Students tend to remember funny stories long after the class is over. Plus, laughter relaxes you. As the teacher, enjoying your day as much as possible is healthy and necessary in order to avoid burnout.

What are some ways to infuse fun into your language classroom?

1. Blooper Reels. @CatherineKU72 said, “We’ve been watching “blooper” clips from their videos/video evaluations. It’s fun to laugh together, but I always check first.”
2. Laugh At Yourself. @sorokowskij said, “I make sure to point out when I make mistakes with the language so they can see EVERYONE flubs now and then. @dr_dmd said, “Even teachers make mistakes! Let them laugh at us too!”
3. Celebrate the Fun. @CecileLaine said, “Today I had 3 rewards for a write-up “most accurate”, “most unusual” and “most fun.” All 3 get posted on class blog.”
4. Keep Perspective. @LauraJaneBarber said, “I think we just must make sure we are remembering both fun and learning goals and weighing what is the most valuable use of our time.”
5. Be Silly. @CoLeeSensei said, “Yesterday it was ways to ‘refuse’ a date…they loved it!”

Language Classrooms are Personalized

Every student learns differently. A truly engaging and communicative classroom takes these differences into account and allows students the opportunity to choose how they will collaborate and share their knowledge. Choice gives students control in the classroom, in a way that is approved by you. @msfrenchteach shared, “My students are more engaged if I involve them in the decisions about their learning.”

How can personalization and choice increase engagement?

1. Choice of Reading. @Ashida_Linda said, “Students are often given choice of reading / listening materials related to theme / Essential questions #langchat”
2. Stay Open-Minded. @profefranklin said, “also allowing for multiple answers and points of view.”
3. Share Classroom Control. @TPRSPublishing said, “My students are more engaged and motivated if I allow them to drive the curriculum. I allow them input about what they want to learn and their interests.” @lesliedavison said, “Sometimes just giving choice in order of activities of the day works.”
4. Encourage Self-Evaluation. @CoLeeSensei said, “@alenord I often ask them to “tell me what made you proud” today…they are thrilled when they can do what they’re asked to.”

Language Classrooms are Noisy

A world language class is much different than many others. Movement, activity, music and dance are all important parts of understanding the culture and curriculum of the target language. These types of full-body learning methods are perfect for learning in the world language classroom, but may be foreign for some students. @trescolumnae said, “So many students expect a passive “sit and get” approach: lectures and worksheets.”

While noise, activity and motion might be discouraged in other core classes, they are actually beneficial to the world language classroom. @SenoritaClark said, “I have a feeling we run a “different” kind of class compared to traditional core academics.”

Why are these tools so vital?

1. Activity Leads to Production. @CatherineKU72 said, “Today we were all over the floor, the room, the campus. It’s hectic and messy: but they’re learning and producing.”
2. Lowering the Affective Filter. @dr_dmd said, “Group work is often a great way to lower the affective filter: think, pair, share… processing time, talk to a neighbor…”
3. Less Self-Consciousness. @CoLeeSensei said, “Maybe we’re beyond caring how ‘we’ll look’ – that’s why I like the “class moving a lot” – so they don’t stick out.”

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Language Classrooms are Enthusiastic

@CatherineKU72 said, “This might sound “hokey” but one of the best motivators (in their words) is the enthusiasm in class. They see we love it, they’ll try.”

Staying excited about teaching is one of the best gifts you can give to your students and one of the easiest ways to keep them engaged. Your love for the language and teaching it to your students is immediately obvious to any observer of your classroom. And, even if your students don’t see to be influenced by your passion, don’t worry. @trescolumnae said, “Students can APPEAR disengaged but actually be learning a lot, absorbing rather than producing.”

How can you share your love?

1. Share stories about your personal experiences. You are the bridge between the language and culture and your students. Show them pictures, tell them tales, make it real for them.
2. Tell your students that you enjoy teaching the language. Saying the words out loud will reinforce your feelings.
3. Praise and encourage your students. @alenord said, “Praise them in front of their classmates! They often don’t hear enough positive things during day.” @alenord said, “But, also find ways to reward students who are struggling and encourage them.”

Other Ideas and Tips for More Interaction and Communication

  • @mstort6 said, “I start every class with “I can” statements to introduce day’s goal; it’s great way for students to have a head’s up as to what to expect.”
  • @trescolumnae said, “Yes, “I Can” statements are powerful … especially when you revisit them and students see that they really CAN.”
  • @lesliedavison said, “I have a bunch of animals that I throw around when I hear Spanish. Kids want them so they keep speaking Spanish.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We self evaluate in some of our activities and they want to be able to circle “didn’t use English!”“
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We work a lot in pairs – they seem less inhibited when it’s with one other – then we switch up a lot.”
  • @ldpricha said, “For my next unit, I’m going to try free choice Friday. Students complete 3 choices from a tic tac toe board.”
  • @alenord said, “Another idea: 2 Stars and 1 Wish – 2 good things that happened today and 1 thing you wish was better. Great feedback!”
  • @CecileLaine said, “My crazy French Club wants to reenact the storming of La Bastille. Not sure we can pull it off but will have fun trying.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We do a Murder Mystery in Gr12 …they love it!”
  • @SECottrell said, “Making sure interpersonal communication is scheduled (for us, Tuesdays) ensures we don’t leave it out.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “I usually make crepes and do whole school trivia contest. Other events and experiences vary from year to year.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “We do a scavenger hunt throughout the high school with QR codes.”
  • @frenchteacher11 said, “Last year my students did a bake sale in class with real food. They had fake money and bought and sold everything in the target language.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “I’d like to try version of Senior Assassins (game played on campus) or Zombie vs Humans, but in the target language. Multiple levels, grades.”
  • @alenord said, “Another simple idea for engagement, powerful images as prompts. The more emotional, the more response.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “My level 3 students are going as a class to make meal bags for campus-wide Stop Hunger Now! tomorrow. Perfect timing because of service unit.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “We start each year with a ‘classic’ tale…it gets them reading in the target language again.”
  • @SECottrell said, “Ideas that have revolutionized my classroom: storytelling, teaching from authentic resources, brain breaks, kicking vocab quiz.”
  • @cocamanar said, “We developed vocabulary lists from authentic target language materials and students track “must know” words they find themselves needing to supplement it.”
  • @MllesrtaUrso said, “Pinterest is AWESOME for discovering new, authentic materials I can’t find anywhere else. And…it’s FREE.”

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Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @CoLeeSensei and @msfrenchteach, for monitoring this rollicking session of #langchat. So many amazing ideas and technology tools were not included in this week’s summary. If you are interested in seeing what we missed, check out the online archive for a full transcript.

Thank you so much for participating in #langchat and making it so awesome! If there is something you’d like to discuss in a future chat, share your ideas with us! We’d love to know what is happening in your classroom and share ways to become better language teachers.

Additional Resources

Level 1 i cans
TodaysMeet
Amy Lenord
Keys For Using Student Self-Evaluation in Discussions
Epals.com
Octobre-semaine5
SAMR Model
FrancaisAP
Les cours de français I au lycée Mount Vernon
“Everyday Situations” – The Taste-Test Activity
Wyoming French
Teacher vs Student: How Each Actually Uses Social Media
PAT Bank

rita_videos-300goyo_games-300

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.

One comment

  • Pauline Galea

    We have been doing this as AIM teachers for over 10 years! Thanks for the excellent overview.

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