New Classroom Tools and Supplies

Hi all! I am enjoying my last weekend of summer vacation before the madness of returning to school begins once again. I’ve been getting things organized at home this summer and I’m excited to tell you about some of the new stuff I have for my classroom this year.

The first thing I’m excited about is a template for a weekly packet. One of the most valuable things I’ve done this year is watch the presentations Jon Cowart gave about classroom management and engagement for Comprehensible Online. I had some difficulties controlling both behavior and engagement last year and I found Jon’s advice to be quite valuable.

One of the biggest issues I had was that many students treated my class like it wasn’t a legitimate subject. Let’s face it – providing comprehensible input (CI) often means that kids are supposed to just sit there, answer questions, and absorb language. My more mature students were able to handle this, but my immature ones could not. They have been inadvertently trained over the years to think that if a teacher isn’t making them write stuff down, study for a high-stake test, take notes, memorize lots of facts, and do worksheets, then they don’t have to pay attention and participate. Undesirable behaviors start to manifest themselves. Moreover, if students are not engaged, they are not interacting with the input and making any language proficiency gains. Enter the idea of a weekly packet.

Every week, Jon gives his students a worksheet that they must fill out daily in class. Part of it is a “Do Now,” which students have to complete as soon as they arrive. The worksheet also has things that students have to do at other times during class, culminating in an quick quiz or Exit Ticket that students have to answer before they can leave class. The worksheet keeps students accountable for things happening in class and, with any luck, will improve class behaviors and engagement once they realize that they’re going to get some kind of assessment at the end of every class and a grade based on how well they fill out their daily worksheets. To read more about Jon’s weekly packet, visit this post.

Some teachers may be reluctant to implement a weekly packet because they think it might add a lot of extra grading to their workload. I plan to limit my time spent correcting by doing so at random. While I will walk around the class while students are completing their Do Now, I don’t feel the need to check everyone’s worksheet every day. I’ll just pull a few out at random and make sure to correct every student’s paper at least once every five days or so.

This leads me to the second thing I’m super excited about having for class this year, which is a personalized stamp for classroom use. Etsy has some really nice products, which is where I’m able to find personalized items to use in my classroom. A few years ago I bought a stamp that I can use for books I’ve purchased with personal funds in my classroom library similar to this one. Then this year I bought a stamp similar to this one with my name on it that says “Bien” to mark those papers I am grading just on completion (By the way, I do NOT get compensated if you should order something after clicking on one of the Etsy links in this post).

Along with Jon’s weekly packet, I have a Daily Behavior Log that I will also use for classroom management purposes. This is a binder I will keep in the class. If a student doesn’t follow one of my rules, they will have to fill out a line on a form in my Daily Behavior Log so I have a record of their behavior and subsequent consequence based on their transgression. The idea for the Daily Behavior Log is something I learned from Craig Sheehy. You can read more about his take on managing a classroom here.

Another thing I decided to purchase this summer was personalized pencils. I teach at a middle school, and many students come to class without a writing utensil. I do have extra pencils that I keep for those who come without materials, but I don’t always get them back. One trick I used in the past to get them back was asking students to give me a shoe as collateral in exchange for a pencil, but middle school student feet can be pretty smelly (I’m sorry to say that I know that from experience), which can be quite the distraction. Moreover, it can become a safety issue if students need to exit the building quickly and they don’t have both shoes on. In addition,,middle school kids don’t usually have other things that high school kids might have like car keys or a cell phone that can serve as collateral, so I purchased personalized pencils similar to these from yes, you guessed it, Etsy. With any luck, most students will remember to return these because they have my name on it.

I also ordered some custom-made posters for my classroom. At a conference this summer, Scott Benedict recommended using a company called Short Run Posters that prints decent-quality posters pretty cheaply. I used their services to order posters of my classroom rules, classroom expectations, and consequences for undesirable behavior. I designed my posters on Microsoft Publisher, uploaded a PDF to the printing company, and had my posters about two weeks later. It was super easy. I had five posters made for under $30, which I thought was very reasonable.

And even though I tell myself every time I go to Target that I am not going to purchase more materials for my classroom, I almost always succumb to the temptation. I inevitably find something that will either brighten my classroom, make my teaching more efficient, or aid in classroom storage and setup. Nothing I’ve bought there has cost more that $5, which is good for my budget. This summer I’ve found name tags in Spanish, storage bins for notebooks and folders, and cardboard display shelving to display books.

Before I end this post, I do want to talk about using personal funds for professional use. I know that some teachers make a point not to purchase anything for their class with personal funds for philosophical reasons. I totally respect and understand their viewpoints. I expect my school district to supply the basic necessities I need to make my classroom function, such as paper, writing utensils, technology, novels, accompanying teacher resources, and texts needed for district-sponsored professional development. I’m sure many of you have seen news stories and angry posts on social media about teachers who have to use their own money to purchase materials to keep their classroom afloat. I get so angry when I read about that, because no teacher should have to use their own money so they have paper. Luckily, many of these teachers are starting to mobilize to demand change.

In contrast, the things I’ve purchased this summer are extras that are fun to have but, in all honesty, I could do without them if I needed to. In addition, sometimes it is just easier for me to fork over $3 at Target or $20 on Etsy than go through the whole purchase order process. Metaphorically speaking, my school provides the meal, but I am willing and able to provide the spices that make that meal tastier. But I also know that I am lucky to work in a district that is able to take care of my major classroom supply needs. If that’s not your situation, maybe you can put items like this on your Christmas or birthday list. Also, you can at least think about the weekly packet and behavior log ideas, which don’t cost anything.

Please reach out if you would like any more information about anything I’ve written about here, and have a great start to the school year.

Adapting Tina’s Lesson Plan Framework

In my last post, I talked about Tina Hargaden’s lesson plan framework for a traditional 50-55 minute class. In this post, I’ll discuss how to adapt this framework for shorter or longer classes.

Tina’s traditional lesson plan framework is set up below. See my last post for in-depth explanation of these components.

  1. Norming the class (2-3 minutes)
  2. Reading Workshop (5-10 minutes)
  3. Guided Oral Input (14 minutes)
  4. Scaffolded Oral Review (6 minutes)
  5. Shared Writing (12 minutes)
  6. Shared Reading (6 minutes)
  7. Student Application and Assessment (3-5 minutes)

Teachers with shorter classes can adapt this framework by breaking it up over two days. Here’s Tina’s suggestion:

Day 1
1. Norming the class
2. Reading Workshop
3. Guided Oral Input
4. Scaffolded Oral Review (Very quickly)
5. Shared Writing
6. Student Application and Assessment (Very quickly)

Day 2
1. Norming the class
2. Reading Workshop
3. Scaffolded Oral Review (In depth)
4. Shared Reading (Of Shared Writing from Day 1)
5. Student Application and Assessment (in depth)

Teachers on a block schedule should follow the same framework as the original, 50-55 minute class but extend and/or repeat a few of the activities so they last a little longer and schedule some breaks in between (See this post for ideas about Brain Breaks). For example, Guided Oral Input in a 50-55 minute class might have a main idea and three details, but have a main idea and five details in a block class. So perhaps it might look something like this:

  1. Norming the class (2-3 minutes)
  2. Reading Workshop (5-10 minutes)
  3. Guided Oral Input, Part 1 (14 minutes)
  4. Scaffolded Oral Review (6 minutes)
  5. Guided Oral Input, Part 2 (14 minutes)
  6. Scaffolded Oral Review, Part 2 (6 minutes)
  7. Shared Writing (12 minutes)
  8. Shared Reading (6 minutes)
  9. Student Application and Assessment (3 to 5 minutes)

No matter what the length of class, Tina’s lesson framework is flexible enough to adapt to practically every class. I’m looking forward to implementing it in my own classes next week!

Two Days With Tina

This past Monday and Tuesday I went to a two-day workshop with Tina Hargaden. Tina runs the group CI Liftoff and has taken the upcoming year off from teaching to travel around the US training teachers. I have been Facebook friends with Tina for a few years now and was excited that I finally got the chance to see her in action.

Tina is a French and Spanish teacher who uses a proficiency-based, comprehensible input (CI) approach in her classes. What sets her apart from other French and Spanish teacher trainers, however, is that she also has a background in teaching social studies, English to students of other languages (ESOL) and English language arts (ELA). This offers an interesting perspective on teaching a second language because she has incorporated the use of strategies from those fields in her second language classroom.

For me, the most valuable takeaway from the workshop was Tina’s lesson plan framework. I love the consistency and flexibility it provides. I anticipate that I will not have to agonize as much over my lesson planning once I adopt and adapt this lesson plan to my classroom needs.

Here is the framework Tina uses on a daily basis when planning a lesson.

1. Norming the class. During the first two or three minutes of the class, Tina tells students what the day’s objectives are (Example: “Okay class, today I’m going to tell you a story about something that happened to me when I was young. After we read and write about it, I will ask you some questions about it to make sure you understood it.”).

2. Reading workshop. With her background in ELA, it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that Tina stresses literacy in her classes. In addition, if you’ve been reading this blog, you have already learned that reading is the most powerful way for students to acquire language, in both their first language (L1) and second language (L2). This five to ten minute segment is one of the first of two reading activities that students do in class on a daily basis. This block of time is when students do Free Voluntary Reading, where they can read practically anything in the L2. Other activities that Tina may do during this time include Book Talks, during which she may describe and recommend a book in her class library in the L2, whole-class reading (if she finds a short passage that she wants to share with them) or Volleyball Reading.

3. Guided Oral Input. This part of Tina’s lesson is the longest (14 minutes or so) because students need to receive comprehensible input (CI) in order to acquire language. Here is where she uses one of many strategies such as Storylistening, Storyasking, Movie Talk, Picture Talk, One Word Images, or Special Person Interviews to provide input to the class.

One strategy that was new to me that Tina modeled at her workshop is called a Narrative Input Chart, which she first heard about at a Project Glad training. In an ESOL class, it is a story-based activity used to teach academic language and concepts. For example, if the class is studying about the solar system, the academic content and vocabulary is embedded in a story about an extra-terrestrial traveling through the solar system looking for a new home. Below is an example of how a narrative input chart might be incorporated into an ESOL class.

Tina has modified this strategy for use in the second language classroom and has used it to complement L2 storytelling. My fabulous workshop partner Rachel (this is a different Rachel, not the one who introduced me to the Carlos Game)and I have plans to use this technique for history and cultural lessons in our classes.

4. Scaffolded Oral Review. This part of the lesson is about six minutes long, during which the teacher reviews whatever was done in the Guided Oral Input part of class. This can be pretty much any oral review activity, ranging from a quick question-and-answer session to a review game.

One strategy that was new to me is called Reading the Walls. The teacher reviews any visual created during the Guided Oral Input segment of class (Tina recommends doing this in a question-answer format for heightened engagement) and affixes large Post-Its with key terms on the visual as the class reviews, thus reinforcing those key terms.

5. Shared Writing. Together, the teacher and class write about what was discussed and reviewed during the Guided Oral Input and Scaffolded Oral Review segments of class. This activity should take about ten minutes or so. If you search for this technique online, you may find it referred to as “Write and Discuss.” When I do this in my class, I will often start a sentence in the L2 and ask students to finish it. If students are unable to finish it, I then may give them a choice to help them. Here are two examples of this in English.

Me: Today is…(I write the first two words and wait for students to call out a response)

Student(s): Tuesday.

Me: Today is Tuesday (I finish writing the sentence).


Me: Today is…(I write the first two words, wait for students to call out a response, but nobody finishes the sentence)

Me: Is today Monday or Tuesday?

Student(s): Tuesday.

Me: Today is Tuesday (I finish writing the sentence).

If you want to learn more about Write and Discuss, John Piazza does an excellent job explaining how to do this activity in this post.

6. Shared Reading. Once the writing is complete, the teacher reads the text out loud as the class translates. This takes about eight minutes. When she demonstrated this in class, Tina circled and translated any new words (she is not afraid to add some new words in the shared writing). In addition, she also took time during this segment of class it to discuss grammar as needed in pop-up grammar style. Tina often will often encourage students to share ideas about the language by asking “What can you teach the class?” This gives students a chance to examine the text and comment on language features.

7. Student application and assessment. This is the last segment of the class where Tina wraps everything up with some sort of formal or informal assessment. Depending on how she decides to assess, this may take about five to ten minutes.

This lesson plan is designed for a traditional 50-55 minute class. In my next post, I will describe how to modify this for a shorter or a longer class.