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by Erica Fischer on Mar 9, 2015

Smooth Transitions in an Effective Language Classroom

Angelica Jordan Named Top DODEA Teacher by heraldpost, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  heraldpost 

Last Thursday, #langchat participants were eager to dive into a conversation on transitions in an effective language classroom. They reflected on how they time activities and what factors they take into consideration in doing so. Langchatters also discussed what considerations go into their sequencing of activities and what transitions work best in their classrooms. Before the end of the hour, they shared their favorite one to three minute ‘brain breaks.’ Instructors counted down the minutes until the start of #langchat, with @alenord exclaiming, “It’s time! It’s time! It’s time for #langchat,” and, at the end of the hour, they were already looking ahead to the Saturday morning chat!

Thank you to everyone who participated, and to our moderators, Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Amy (@alenord), Laura (@SraSpanglish), and the newest member of the moderator team, John (@CadenaSensei)!

Question 1: How do you time activities? What factors do you consider?

Langchatters agreed that timing is an art that is refined over time. @CoLeeSensei wrote, “I will confess that after 18 years of teaching I’m still learning how long something will take!” and @alenord agreed, writing, “Timing is a magical, mystical art that we should all confess we are still working on.” Many participants are flexible when it comes to timing activities, taking student interest and attentiveness into consideration when deciding when to move on. @klafrench said, “I am pretty flexible when it comes to timing. If students are really into something, I don’t worry about moving on,” and @rinaldivlgr wrote, “I gage them in their attentiveness and change when they need to.” @CoLeeSensei now leaves room for flexibility in timing when lesson planning: “I now have ‘goals of the week’ not day so my timing can be rather ‘fluid’.” Instructors also acknowledged that individual classes sometimes move at a very different pace. @legenda0815 said, “[Each] class of students is so different and moves at different pace…. And [there are] individual [differences] on top of that!” @SenoraWienhold agreed, noting that the “exact same activity in [two] classes of [the] same [level] could take [five minutes] in [one] class [and twenty] in [the] other.” Other instructors consider the nature of a particular activity when deciding how much time to set aside for it. @alenord wrote, “Timing depends on the activity. If [students are] writing or thinking, go with doubling what your gut says.” @SraClouser also observed that reading or writing activities generally take longer. Other instructors felt that it is more important to limit time for activities, regardless of whether or not students are able to complete the assigned task. @tmsaue1 said, “[Just] having a time limit for an activity is already a good first step. [When] you say five minutes, mean five minutes.” He added, “[It’s] ok if [students] don’t finish an activity IF students know more opportunity for practice will come. [Build] trust in learning.” In response to this point, @CoLeeSensei wrote, “I specifically have [activities that students don’t] finish to learn ‘it’s the journey’ that’s key.”

Question 2: What considerations go into your sequencing of activities?

Langchatters felt that instructors should carefully consider which activities to use at the start and end of class. @tmsaue1 wrote, “[Students] remember what comes first in a lesson most, [so] we can’t start a lesson with homework, review, administrative tasks.” He added, “[Students] remember second most what comes last, so the closing activity is key.” @tiesamgraf agreed that activity selection for these times is crucial: “[Yes! The] beginning and end of class [are] SO important – DON’T plan ‘housekeeping’ tasks at either end instead… engage!” @MmeCarbonneau also noted that the “bell ringer [activity] should set the tone and expectations of what is to come.”

Regarding a meaningful sequence of activities, @SenoraDiamond55 wrote, “HOW do the activities ‘flow’ together? I see the connections, clearly, but will my [students]? They should if I’m doing it right.” Some instructors reflected on the importance of making students aware of the day’s activity sequence and goals. For example, @tiesamgraf said, “[It’s] good to post [an] agenda so [students] see activity connections and goals. [They] appreciate understanding planning.” @Mr_Fernie replied, “I do this too, especially with elementary [students. They] need to know what’s coming and what they will be doing.” Some Langchatters mentioned the benefit of establishing a predictable routine. @silvius_toda noted that “routine can help keep affective filters low since [students] know what to expect.” @magisterb480 shared the set routine he uses in his classroom: There’s a certain structure I use for units [and students] are familiar [with the flow]: [vocabulary], culture, story, repeated exposure to [a] story, review, test.” @MmeCarbonneau also wrote that effective transitions should become routine: “[You must] train students on how your common transitions work [to make them] smooth and quick.”

Lastly, participants discussed the importance of pacing input and output when sequencing activities. @SenoraSherrow wrote, “[The most] important [thing] is pacing input [versus] production to make sure [students are] ready. If they’re not ready, plans [will] implode quickly.” @tmsaue1 agreed that this is “[a] key point for sequencing (and boy was I bad about this one),” adding, “I never provided my [students with] enough input before expecting output.” @maestraschemmer commented that when instructors rush ahead to student production, “then the output is never what you hoped for!”

Question 3: What ‘transitions’ work best in your class?

@tiesamgraf wrote that transitions work best when they are part of a routine, whatever that might be (“use a bell, switch on/off lights, clap, key words, etc.”), adding that it’s “never too late to start a new routine.” @SraClouser trains students to transition early on: “I spend the first week working on some transitions cues – clapping, [turning] lights on/off – so that students know [my] expectations.” Instructors then shared some of the effective transitions that they use in their classroom:

  • Take-away shout-outs: @profepj wrote, “I have [students] share out what fantastic take-away they have from their partner work, review some key [points that] I heard, [and] then build on.”
  • Partner encouragement: @amandacisneros3 has students encourage their partner before moving on: “Often [I’ll say,] ‘[Tell] your partner: you are a rock star and high five or [give them] any compliment.’ [This signals the] end of one activity and [makes students realize that we are] moving on.”
  • Songs and chants: @Mr_Fernie suggested songs and chants to signal the end of one activity and the start of a new one. He noted that they work well at the elementary level, but “[middle] schoolers think they’re corny.”
  • Bell ringing: @MmeCarbonneau wrote, “I have a waiter bell students beg to ring. Letting a [different] student ring [it] each time is fun!”
  • Visual transitions: @lovemysummer gives students instructions “(like hand in this [assignment]), [and] then [posts a] meme/intriguing photo/music

    while they do it.”

  • Pssst! We’re moving on! Are you with me? @maestraschemmer suggested whispering to communicate with engaged students and pique student interest: “Today a good transition was whispering in [the] L2 to the [students] who were with me until others were curious and joined [in].”
  • Movement to move on: @SenoraSherrow encouraged movement to refocus students and help them move on: “[Have students stand] up, toss [a] ball to answer [a] quick question or do some [total physical response], sit down and move on. [It’s like] a reset button for the brain.”

Question 4: What are your favorite 1-3 minute brain breaks?

Participants shared their favorite quick brain breaks in the final minutes of the #langchat hour. We bring you some of their go-to breaks!

  • Memes in the target language: Several Langchatters recommended memes as a brain break. @SECottrell shared a link to memes in español:, and @magisterb480 shared a link to a site with memes in Latin:
  • Songs: @MmeMinor recommended a variety of songs, writing that they could consist of, “[songs] we’ve made up about [vocabulary], [authentic resources, such as] music videos, or even impromptu 80’s karaoke.”
  • Movement: @Mr_Fernie emphasized the need to get students out of their desks. His favorite brain break is “[anything] that gets kids up and moving and breaks them out of their ‘sitting in place mentality’.” He added that this could mean “[simply] moving to a different part of the room.” @CadenaSensei agreed that “Movement is key,” adding, “I just ask [students] to go high five 3 other students, then fist bump 3 more, then ‘ankle bump’ 3 more.” @MCanion suggested a beach ball challenge as another way to get students moving: “[My] all time [favorite] break [is] the beach ball that can’t hit the ground.”
  • Funny stories: @profepj3 wrote, “I tell funny stories about past students [or] classes.” Entertainment value aside, stories can build rapport between instructors and students, while also providing students with more exposure to the target language.
  • Snacks: @lovemysummer recommended snacks as an important brain break, observing, “[It’s amazing] the number of kids who haven’t eaten breakfast each day, or who didn’t have enough.”
  • Brain break balloons: This break has an element of surprise! @silvius_toda wrote, “I love [@sonrisadelcampo’s] idea of [putting] balloons on a board [with] brain break ideas inside – [Students] choose which balloon to pop [and] do [the] activity [that’s inside].” @sonrisadelcampo shared a link to her blog post on this activity:
  • Origami in the target language: @AHSblaz recommended this as a popular brain break. This break has the added advantage of exposing students to instructions that they must process and follow in the target language.
  • Commercial breaks: @mjmergen wrote, “I like to do commercial breaks with humorous TV commercials in the TL related to our unit.”


Langchatters had lots of suggestions for activity timing and sequencing. Most participants are flexible with activity timing, taking student attentiveness and engagement into consideration. Instructors also noted that sequencing is an art that is refined over time, but they encouraged careful reflection on how activities build on one another. As @alenord wrote, “Disjointed activities do not facilitate learning … [We have] to stop thinking, ‘This is great activity,’ [and] start thinking, ‘This is great tool. When to use it?’” Langchatters also highlighted the value of effective, routine transitions. Finally, and emphasized the importance of brain breaks, sharing some of their favorites.

Thank You!

Thank you to all those who continue to make time for #langchat once… or twice a week! Remember: now you can also join us on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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.

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