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Priorities and Goals for the First Day of School – and Beyond!

Welcome back to #LangChat! Our participants enjoyed a relaxing July break, and everyone who made it to our August 2nd discussion did so with plenty of enthusiasm! Our topic for the evening was priorities for the first day of school that help start off the new year well.

Priorities and Goals for the First Day of School – and Beyond!Greeting and Getting to Know One Another

Participants all stressed the importance of making a good first impression on students on the first day of class. Participants had a wealth of ideas for enthusiastic greetings and fun activities to help students feel comfortable and excited about the upcoming year of learning.

One of the best ways to put students at ease is with a warm and friendly greeting. @dr_dmd and @ZJonesSpanish both like to put music on in the classroom and greets their students at the door with a handshake and a smile.

The first day of class is a great time to get to know students, and for students to get to know each other if they do not already. Many participants have their students talk about their summer breaks using the target language if they are able. @dr_dmd likes using an activity he calls “Hand it to you” where he has students draw an outline of their hands and write one piece of information on each of the fingers. Students then pair up to interview each other before passing their hand tracing to next person. At the end of the exercise, all the hands are collected and displayed together as a “quilt.” As @dr_dmd put it, the beginning of the year is the time to establish a culture of community and collaboration in the classroom.

One of the great challenges for a teacher during the first few weeks of school is learning all of his or her students’ names! Participants have used name tags and name cards on students’ desks from anywhere from the first few days to the first few weeks of school. When @SECottrell taught larger classes, she used paper name “tents” on students’ desks all year; she found they helped her switch seating around to allow for more interaction between students.

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Getting Students Excited About Target Language Learning

@tonitheisen shared her mantra: I always want my class to be the class that students want to go home and tell their parents about after the first day. Other participants shared plenty of fun ideas to get students excited the upcoming year of target language learning.

  • @msfrenchteach is going to serve her students some traditional French dish on the first day – that guarantees conversation about French class around the dinner table at home!
  • @Marishawkins and @tonitheisen talked about making Facebook and Twitter-themed bulletin boards on which students can “post” and “tweet” – both fun and relatable for their generation!
  • @tonitheisen recommends choosing a theme for the year and talking about it on the first day of class. Last year’s theme was stereotypes about the target language culture and how to diffuse them.
  • @Elisabeth13 always shows her students a funny target language commercial or video at the end of the first day of class; she wants them to leave laughing.
  • @carmenscoggins likes to show her students comments from and videos of former students talking about how they have used Spanish since high school. This gets her new students motivated to learn themselves!

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Establishing Routines and Expectations

The first few days of class are also a crucial time for establishing routines and making clear to students teachers’ expectations. @Marishawkins starts with routines like warm-up activities from the very first day so that students get used to them. @msfrenchteach is planning to create a document for her students with tips for success in class in the coming year – especially since her students will all have iPads this year.

While the first day of class is traditionally a time to go over the class syllabus, a few participants had different ideas for kicking the year off right. @tonitheisen makes the traditional syllabus reading into a fun activity by turning her syllabus into a Wordle, and having students figure out what they will learn that year based on the words they see. @gwalbrecht, on the other hand, doesn’t bother going over a syllabus: she just focuses on getting started in the target language.

@dr_dmd plans on getting his students set up on Edmodo the very first week and giving them assignments to use it collaboratively and creatively.

A few participants talked about using the beginning of the school year to have students set their own goals and express what they hope to get out of their L2 class. @gwalbrecht has her students each write on a notecard what they already knew in the target language, and what they were hoping to learn in the coming year. @SECottrell polls her advanced students to find out what they are interested in doing and learning so that she can tailor assessments to their motivation.

@Musicuentos suggested an activity to familiarize students with proficiency levels and to help students gauge their own. A description of the activity can be found here: If students understand proficiency levels, they will better understand teacher expectations. As @tmsaue1 reminded us, teachers can take the secrecy out of language learning starting day 1!

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L1 or L2? Getting Back Into “the Groove”

There was some debate amongst participants as to whether it was important to launch straight into the target language on day one, or if it was okay to use L1 for introductions and explanation of class procedures. This hearkened back to our May 31st LangChat, when participants discussed the role of L1 in the L2 classroom.

  • @SECottrell does not use the target language that much on the first day. She explained that her class policies and procedures are so different from what students are used to, she wants to ensure absolute comprehension.
  • @senoraCMT, who starts her students off with TPRS, uses only the target language for the first 5 days; then she gives the rules in L1.
  • Level 1 students in @msfrenchteach’s class learn to say hello and introduce themselves on the first day; they also learn a few other expressions. A few weeks later, the class is taught entirely in French.
  • @dr_dmd assured us that there are plenty of great community-building, get-to-know-you activities that can be done in L2.
  • To get her intermediate and higher level students back in the swing of things, @MmeCaspari has them do a lot of circumlocution work the first few days, with games like password and taboo.

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Teacher Goals

Several participants shared their goals both for their classrooms and for themselves in the coming school year.

  • @dr_dmd plans to make a big effort to include twenty-first century skills in the classroom this year, and to make and provide his students with better grading rubrics.
  • @msfrenchteach wants to set up parent e-mail contact lists for each of her classes and so she can send them the syllabus and stay in contact throughout the year.
  • @tmsaue1 suggests that teachers commit themselves at the beginning of the year to using the target language 90% of the time – or more. It’s a much easier goal to accomplish if you start in August rather than November.
  • @msfrenchteach hopes to start a professional blog, and to have her students set up a class blog, too. @dr_dmd added that a professional blog is an excellent way to enhance your work as a teacher by recording your journey and engaging in reflective practice.
  • @ZJonesSpanish shared this helpful reference worksheet, which readers might find useful for planning the year’s activities:

We are so glad to be back in the swing of things – many thanks to everyone who participated! And a special thanks to @dr_dmd, the evening’s moderator.

Many more exciting topics have yet to be discussed, so please make your suggestions for future topics and be sure to join us this Thursday, August 9th at 8pm EST/5pm PST for our next #LangChat!

#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.

Elementary in Spanish
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.


  • Lauren Schryver

    Sorry to have missed last week. Hoping to join Langchat this week! The one thing I started doing in English on day 1 was to include students in coming up with community norms for what would make the classroom a safe place for taking risks and a comfortable space to be in. We put them on butcher paper. Students, who often expect to be TOLD all the rules, really appreciated having a voice in creating them.

  • Hi I am a Spanish teacher for 1st through 4th grades. During my 12 years of experience teaching Spanish I have discovered that the most important goal for us language teachers is to connect our students with other Spanish classrooms in order for them to practice what they are learning. I took English as a second language throughout all my elementary and high School and what I remember the most is that we will have a conversational class at the end of every week to practice what we where learning during the week.
    I also believe that music is a very important tool for language learning. You will be surprise to hear me singing all the Monkeys songs and Beatles songs without me knowing what I was singing but when I was ready to use my English skills all this vocabulary and expressions that I learn with music was so very helpful. As a matter of fact I created a Spanish music CD for young children with my brother and hopefully will be ready by the end of September.
    I will love to make contact with other Spanish teachers that will be interested in creating a connection with my students throughout the 2012-2013 school year. If you know anybody that will be interested will you please give them my email.
    Wishing you a very successful school year 2012-2013.
    Lourdes Gonzalez

  • […] few favorites: “Priorities and Goals for the First Day of School – and beyond!” (August 3rd, 2012) “What Role Does L1 Play in the L2 Classroom?” (June 1, 2012) “Maximizing Target Language Use […]

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