blog post written by Melisa Lopez
As teachers, we want students to use the target language as much as possible, and in the beginning level courses that can be a challenge because they simply don’t have enough language yet. Both Grant Boulanger and Bryce Hedstrom’s sessions at iFLT were great resources to get students to speak from day one! Grant had a great analogy about being communication partners: it’s like a game of catch. If we throw a ball (language), students need to be able to catch it (understand) and be able to throw it back (communicate through response). We need to know that students understand what we are saying and are able to respond appropriately.
From the beginning of the year, it’s important to establish routines and expectations. Through the use of rejoinders, passwords, and call and responses, students can be expected to stay in the target language while also ensuring that they are understanding what we are saying. Grant introduces rejoinders in a couple of different ways. He has a few of the most common phrases that he will introduce to students with an action along with a super dramatic way to say the phrase. This is an excellent way to get students into learning it while also remembering its meaning! Here are some of the gestures that Grant uses when teaching rejoinders. Another way that Grant introduces rejoinders is by having them come up naturally in class. Do you have a student who is always saying, “I don’t care.” Have them be the designated “Me da igual” person in your class! As you tell stories, students will want to react, so as they come up, you can teach as many rejoinders as they need to communicate.
When giving rejoinders, Grant makes sure to tell students in English that they need to make sure that the phrases they use are said at the right time, the right place and with the correct tone. This keeps them from blurting out phrases in the middle of your teaching and keeps everyone on the same page. You can squash the banter by allowing one student to take full responsibility of one rejoinder. If a student has mastered something, give them a more challenging rejoinder to try to incorporate at the right moment. We might also have students who hesitate to participate because they are more introverted. Even if a student doesn’t say it out loud, give students credit for thinking it at the right time, or allow them to use the rejoinder on a ruler as a sign that they can put up during class when it’s appropriate. Grant and Bryce both gave the advice of using a counter to keep track of the amount of rejoinders that a class uses. Everybody likes a little competition, right?
Two years ago, I wasn’t able to attend iFLT, and I found Bryce’s session on passwords was being live-streamed on Facebook. I watched the entire session and started coming up with how to incorporate them in my classes for the following year. Passwords are short phrases that students use to get into class. Usually a new password is given weekly. Sometimes they can be rejoinders, or you can ask a question that elicits some type of short response. I also use it to front load a specific phrase that would come up in a reader or a song we are going to study. While this might not work for you, it dramatically changed how I interacted with my students the second they walked in my door.
Bryce also talked about passwords again in this session, and I loved being able to share how they transformed my classes. Students who had never completed homework made sure to know the password to get into class, or if they were unsure, they would stand off to the side while their classmates came in to make sure that they said it perfectly. If I was gone, there was a student who always took the password in my absence. I was able to make eye contact with each student and take a quick inventory of how they were doing that day. Did they look tired? Were they wearing the same clothes as the day before? Did they seem to be happier than most days? If I needed to talk to a student to check in with them, I could allow a “bouncer” to take the password and take the time to talk to that student. Bryce made sure to emphasize that the use of passwords creates community, connections and communication. It’s an exclusive club for students that includes them in the community, and I have seen nothing but positive characteristics in my classroom as a result of using them.
Finally, Bryce talked about how using call and response in the language classroom can allow students to pick up small phrases that they can use even if they don’t have a lot of language yet. You can use phrases in Spanish like “¿Qué te pasa, calabaza?” and students respond with “Nada, nada limonada.” You can use other common authentic sayings, traditional songs, cultural sayings, or courtesy expressions.
This year, I’m teaching mainly level one Spanish classes, and I hope to use these strategies to keep students engaged and in the target language as much as possible! I used to think that language like this could only be naturally used in the upper level classes, but now I feel confident in knowing that using rejoinders can be powerful (and fun!) even in level one. Students want to learn how to speak the language they are learning, so let’s give them the means to do so from the moment they step in our classrooms!