We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on Oct 19, 2015

Stay on Target (Language) for Classroom Management!

Last Thursday, #langchat was back in full force! Participants eagerly counted down the minutes to a chat on maintaining use of the target language during classroom management. Instructors started off the hour discussing factors that they consider part of classroom management. They then described a number of issues that tend to derail commitment to consistent target language use. Langchatters also suggested tools and interpersonal activities to help keep students on task in the target language. @KrisClimer’s advice could not have been more spot on, as this #langchat moved fast: “In case you’re just joining #langchat, it may get crowded. [Buckle] up and hang on.”

Thank you to everyone who hung on tight during a lightning speed chat, and a big thanks to last Thursday’s moderators: Kris (@KrisClimer), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Amy (@alenord), John (@CadenaSensei), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell)! We’d also like to thank the moderators of Saturday’s Sequel, Laura (@SraSpanglish) and Diego (@DiegoOjeda66)!

Question 1: What factors do you consider ‘classroom management’ in the world language classroom?

As Langchatters were quick to recognize, ‘classroom management’ can mean much more than discipline. @Marishawkins said, “[Although] classroom management can [be] discipline, I think of it as giving directions.” Other participants shared their own associations. @CoLeeSensei described ‘classroom management’ as a process of starting and stopping activities, effectuating transitions: “[It’s about] getting [students] going on something,’ ‘debriefing.’ ‘stopping them from doing something’ […] (and [everything] in between!).” @rlgrandis also mentioned transitions: “[Management means facilitating] smooth transitions, making sure students participate, [and] keeping them in [the target language].” Several others noted the value of routines in maintaining management. @learnsafari wrote, “Most of my work is with young children, so ‘rituals and routines’ are the name of the game in classroom management.” Still others mentioned the importance of a sense of safety: “[It means] keeping a safe environment (physically and emotionally)” (@kltharri).

Participants also recognized the great potential of engagement. @kballestrini wrote, “I’ll be honest, I give little thought to classroom management these days: engaging content [coupled with] my personality makes it easy.” @KUBuffy replied that management “does seem to take care of itself as long as [students] are engaged.” @SraSpanglish whole-heartedly agreed: “YES, engagement is the best management–breakdown in discipline is first a breakdown in engagement.”

Question 2: What issues tend to derail your class’s commitment to stay in the target language?

Langchatters seemed all too aware of issues that risk derailing a class commitment to the target language, and tweets had fellow participants nodding in agreement. @muchachitaMJ wrote, “I’m basically silently agreeing to EVERY one of these little distractions!!” Among other factors, instructors cited the following:

  • School Interruptions: Some cited school-wide interruptions as distractions that pull students out of target language mode. For example, @muchachitaMJ mentioned: “school responsibilities – fire drills, office calls, interruptions…” @virgilalligator also cited “interruptions beyond our control,” observing that “anything that disrupts our routine and throws us off track switches off the [target language] mode.”
  • Complex Ideas, Simple Language: Students may not yet have all the tools to express their complex thoughts in the target language. @KUBuffy noted that students “having more to say than their level allows” may switch back to their first language. @MmeFarab agreed that this can happen “[when students] have questions too complex to ask [or] answer.”
  • Lax Target Language Enforcement: If you are eager to keep students in the target language, try not to let down your guard. @kltharri wrote, “[Students] not being pushed to use [the target language may] resort to [their first language, and] then [the teacher] sees it as class [management] issue.” @SraWienhold replied from personal experience: “When I am distracted and not focused on class, [students] literally run with the English!” @ENSENOra proposed a way to encourage students to monitor one another: “I’ve used clothes pins and students steal each other’s when they hear English. They love it.”
  • Peer Translations: “Pssst! That’s what it means!” Participants noted that “[when] students start translating what [their instructor is] saying to those around them” (@ShannonRRuiz) it can be distracting and detrimental for target language maintenance. @CoLeeSensei replied, “Oh my – why DO they do that? [Who] created this fear of NOT understanding and [thinking they] ‘must translate’!” @tiesamgraf commented, “I agree – [Students] want to help others and think it’s the right strategy. [This deserves] a discussion [with the] class.”
  • Lack of Boundaries: Activities without time limits or enough structure risk giving students the opportunity to slip back into their first language. @CatherineKU72 wrote, “Any extra time derails the class. I’m learning to keep extra tight [with] beginners [and] limited [with] intermediate [students]. Idle mouths…” Similarly, @mafarrace observed, “[When] I accidentally give too much time and many finish [students] within that time… [it’s a] BIG mistake on my part.” @HolaSrHoward also agreed that too much “open-ended-ness :)” could become problematic, adding, “If [students] have too many options, [and] not enough [boundaries], expectations, [and] guidelines, they opt for [their first language] and [get] off-task.”
  • Could it be me…?: Langchatters even asked whether they should take some of the blame for non-target language use. @KrisClimer wrote, “I really think I am the one who derails the [target language] use more than any other single factor.” This was the start of many similar ‘confessions.’ @CoLeeSensei said, “My name is Colleen I derail my own classes too!” and @MlleSulewski commented, “THANK GOODNESS I’m not alone! #derailersanonymous.” Langchatters recognized that they are, indeed, far from alone, and @kararparker showed appreciation for a candid discussion: “I love the honesty of this #tryingourbest.”

So how do instructor actions sometimes work against target language maintenance? Langchatters acknowledged different potential factors. @K_Griffith pointed to a lack of comprehensible input: “[This can happen when] I use language that isn’t comprehensible.” Others cited a lack of commitment to target language use. For example, @SraWillis wrote, “When I fail to stay in [target language because] it’s faster [or] easier to slip [into the first language], game over. I lose [students’] commitment.” @mohamedansary72 agreed that instructor commitment is key: “If the teacher does not show a commitment toward using the [target language], don’t blame [students].” Poor planning was also discussed as a potential cause of decreased target language use. @SraWienhold said, “I need to plan activities that facilitate [target language] use. Usually poor planning leads to [use of the first language].” Lastly, @fabughoush drew attention to possible consequences of instructors’ frustrations: “[Not] being calm. Getting mad. Students acting bad. Loosing control. [All of these emotional reactions can pull us out of the target language].”

Question 3: What tools and techniques help your class remain on task with high levels of the target language?

Langchatters suggested three primary tools and techniques to keep students working in the target language: scaffolding, insisting on target language immersion, and teaching students to embrace the unknown.

  • Scaffold – Prepare Students to Stay Afloat! In the words of @tiesamgraf, “Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold! Give [students] the tools, build them up, practice and they will speak!” Participants shared different ways to support student production. @Elisabeth13 suggested “word walls! [with words] everywhere!” @SraHutton recommended that instructors “[model] and write phrases on the board before sending [students] to do a task.” Participants also encouraged providing students with key phrases and teaching circumlocution to keep them going. @SraStilson said, “A useful phrases list is helpful; [circumlocution games] help build confidence in all levels.” @KrisClimer also suggested having students “[learn] high frequency, functional survival phrases early [on],” adding, “[We should make] trying and circumlocution more important than using correct grammar!” @SraStilson agreed: “We should reward kids for TRYING as much as we do for being right!”
  • Don’t Give in to Student Demands! @HolaSrHoward wrote, “[Target language] use is natural when [the target language] has [its] PLACE to be used and NEED to be used. Do [students subconsciously] see my class as a PLACE for [the target language]?” @apiolxi said, “Don’t give in to [students’] demands to use English.”
  • Teach Students to Embrace Not Understanding: @CoLeeSensei wrote, “[This] may be crazy but practicing, preparing for NOT knowing [or] understanding in [the target language is essential].” She added, “[We] practice not understanding, we practice ‘small talk’ follow-up [questions], we practice [and] prepare so [students] can stand on their own.” @tiesamgraf encouraged making the path to greater understanding fun: “[Make] figuring out the content […] a problem solving game! Use gestures, images, actions and be silly! It’s a fun puzzle.”

Question 4: What interpersonal task designs keep everyone on task in the target language?

When it comes to designing interpersonal tasks that promote target language use, Langchatters recognized the value of modeling, supporting preparation, having students speed date and circulate, and allowing for practice through games.

  • Model First: @tiesamgraf suggested that instructors “[model] the interpersonal activity first [with] another student so they see the strategies in practice.” @rlgrandis commented that teachers can get involved in activities themselves, serving as models in the process: “Sometimes it’s not about me monitoring–it’s about me joining in and participating. I’m right there still and I’m modeling.”
  • Support Preparation: @CadenaSensei noted the benefit of “giving [students] time to think about [a] response [with a] pre-writing [activity].” @mELTingTeacher added that preparation through partner work, where students are held accountable for producing something, can also support target language use: “Anything ‘public’ [is helpful]. Let [students] work in pairs to practice talking, but knowing their work goes OUT of the class is a big push!”
  • Speed Date and Circulate: @KrisClimer said, “Speed dating, [with] me circulating is a good [strategy].” @tiesamgraf pointed out that such exchanges can take the form of ‘inside-outside circle,’ adding, “[And] get OUTSIDE the classroom – in the hall or open space. [Interpersonal] practice works magically.” @CoLeeSensei also encourages “a constant mixing up of partners,” writing, “[You] can do the same thing over and over with new people! […] After [students] switch partners couple of times I also ask ‘[Tell your] current partner what your last partner…’”
  • Practice with Games: @SraStilson proposed a game format: “Set it up as a game. Go fish. Pyramid. Guess who. If it’s a game that [requires the target language, students] actually SPEAK [the target language]!” @melyluna415 proposed Taboo as a way to practice circumlocution, and @kballestrini recommended VERBA.


Lots of factors risk pulling students out of the target language, but, with determination and strategizing, maintaining target language use is possible! Langchatters offered their take on classroom management and described a number of issues that tend of derail a commitment to consistent target language use. They also mentioned tools and interpersonal activities that can help keep students on task in the target language. As @CoLeeSensei reminded fellow participants, “[This] is a WORK IN PROCESS for both [teachers and students]. Don’t beat yourself up over it – it’s a journey!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to last week’s detailed chat. Now you can get your #langchat on twice a week– Remember, #langchat will take place both on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET AND then again during the Saturday Sequel at 10 a.m. ET!

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. Got a question you’re eager to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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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