Tips from Jennie

It’s not really fair to call this “Tips from Jennie,” because I’m sure she’d have a different list. But here are some of the random things I picked up in her classroom.

First, she has a little sign up to the top left of her white board. It says:

Puntos (Points):

No tardies

All materials ready

Opening activity

Hall pass

Target language

If no kids walk in late, the class gets a point. If everyone has materials, and participate in the opening activity, they get two more. If there is only one hall pass issued, another, and if everyone uses target language, there are up to ten more.

Jennie awards these at random times during class, saves them in her gradebook rather than keeping track in competitive fashion on the board, and then awards them in game time randomly through the week when she wants to, rather than setting up a specific time (like my Friday fun times). I think I will switch to this system for when my advanced kids want to choose the songs they will sing.

Another classroom management idea was an argument she didn’t get into. (I didn’t view this; I heard about it.) A kid said that she was wasting time by stopping class to address behavior when all he did was make a quick comment to his friend. Jennie said calmly that the class would stop wasting the time addressing behavior when the behavior improved. I like that matter-of-fact response.

On flow in the lesson: Jennie started a lesson with a dictation about the previous day’s story, with some comments about the story as she went and some grammar pop-ups. Then she re-asked the story, introducing the “had been kicked out, had had a baby, had been living with Soldier Boy” structure. That brought yesterday’s absentees up to speed on the story. Then she went into the pre-story, trying to figure out what had happened before the story that they had established, promising the stars of the original story that they’d get back to their roles the next class.  Then as the class ended, the students each wrote two sentences about what had happened before the original story. They were allowed to collaborate. That was a great way for her to see whether the students had picked up on the grammar. And her seating–a double horseshoe around the edge of the room–allowed her to walk around as kids were writing and easily see what they got. I am newly inspired to keep focusing on just one structure for my upper levels and work it into everything.

During dictation, Jennie pointed to her fingers to identify each individual word. When she was teaching Spanish, I didn’t really notice, because I knew the separate words. But when it was French, I could see that would really help. If the word was two that were combined with an apostrophe, she would mark them off on her fingers and then join the fingers together to demonstrate it. Her kids were actively watching her fingers.

And when Jennie did that, she used a trick that I didn’t notice at the time, but she said she got from choir teachers: she started on her right and moved to the left, so that the kids were “reading” the words on her fingers from left to right. She also points to her left when directing kids to their right, and to the right if she’s facing kids and asking them to point to their left.

There was a cute moment during the French lesson when the group had become distracted by a bottle falling over, and they all got talking (in French) off the topic of the story. She used the French phrase, “Return to our sheep” and someone baaahed. Then she had them return to various other animals, then to their “sick sheep,” and finally back to the lesson. There were many funny animal sounds–a perfect brain break in the middle of the lesson.

Finally, when one class broke out in English, Jennie talked with them briefly in English about how, whenever the class has an emotional response, the natural language that they will want to use is their first language. She said that is one of the reasons to have unusual things happen in stories; it gets them used to having emotional responses but staying in the language. I thought it was a very kind thing to tell the kids–to explain that the desire to explode into English is natural and not a character defect, but that they have to guard against it. I will be using that in class tomorrow!

Jennie had the same story going in three classes of five about a house in which three friends were living but one got kicked out. I could hardly believe the different manifestations of that story. There is no way that I would have known they came from the same idea.

There’s much more that I learned and will continue to think about from Jennie. My goal on this blog is to share classroom snapshots. Those are my favorite blogs to read: what goes on in other people’s rooms. So if you feel like you’d like to share yours, please do!!

6 responses to “Tips from Jennie

  1. Disclaimer: Any great ideas that happen in my classes are all part of the flow. Many are directly “stolen” from colleagues. Some are gifts of my students. Since my trip to Colorado last spring, I have been truly blessed by the ability to relax more in my classroom and to not blame myself so much for things that aren’t working.

    The CI community, the one that extends into each of our classrooms and to each other as colleagues, has Forgiveness as a trademark. I forgive my students for their lapses, they forgive me for mine, and we all encourage each other as we keep working towards what I call “acquisition mode.” May we all acquire that flow as we’re acquiring language.


  2. emotional responses in English…
    I was just wondering how to handle this very situation. Beautifully done. thanks Jennie. The part about forgiveness is really helpful too.

    Thank you so much for sharing these, Michele!


  3. frank james johnson

    Your description of Jenny’s class-points system is not entirely clear. Do I correctly understand that the class with the most points at any moment gains the privilege of choosing their game/song-time activity or least one of its important components? Please elucidate a bit more.


  4. Good question…

    I believe that this is a Fred Jones PAT technique. I had adopted it for my lowest-level English class, and had been keeping a running tally of minutes the kids had earned on the board, saving them up for Friday. In the past, I’d used this with all my Russian classes, keeping that tally on the board by period, and each class would see how many the others were getting, supposedly trying for more because of the competition. No matter what, the kids got a certain degree of choice for their free-time activity.

    Jennie said that she quit keeping it on the board because the competition between classes was not productive. I had to agree, but I had thrown out the whole system for my Russian classes, rather than changing it! She keeps track of the points in her gradebook, and when she decides they need a game or some other favored activity, she stops right then to tell them that they’re going to use some of their points for whatever the activity is. She doesn’t save them up until Friday.

    Maybe Jennie can correct this explanation too! I suspect that I might have it a bit wrong. The parts I really liked were that the kids are becoming aware of their behavior, and that the process focuses on their successes. The way Jennie did it didn’t waste class time, and the whole thing felt like it could be part of “flow” instead of interrupting the day.


  5. Your explanation of the points is what I do, Michele. I want to tell students exactly what I’m looking for, and reward them with points. One point equals one minute. But I am in control of when and what the rewards are. It may be a few minutes for a game, or it may be another “fun” activity I’ve figured out. But if the points are on the wall, I always get interruptions about “when do we get our fiesta” (which is never how I’ve used these points anyway). This way it’s kind of low key but I can throw another point up there when they’re doing something really awesome.


    • Just a note…one of the students in my life is taking French at college and says she’s jealous of Jennie’s students after reading this blog. She would like to introduce her teacher to TPRS. I just walked her through how to circle the introductory dialogues in the textbook with her study group, and I’ll send her some of Ben’s videos so that she can watch French and learn some that way. It won’t be perfect, but she’s taken Russian classes with me and she is very motivated to learn. She is frustrated that the teacher is working on pronunciation when the students don’t even know what they’re saying. She knows that pronunciation comes with having heard and understood volumes of input.


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