All Aboard! Combining cohorts & making plans

As if we haven’t had enough changes in this past year, let’s throw in another BIG change! On March 8th, ALL my Little Darlings are coming to class AT THE SAME TIME. It’s been a long time since I’ve taught in a full classroom (We were virtual last Spring, of course, and this year we’ve taught Face to Face but with only half the students at a time). I’ve got some big feelings about this, BUT this post isn’t for that. This post is about logistics: How to welcome them, introduce them to each other, make school feel fun again while following our state’s (ever changing) guidelines?

And here’s a little disclaimer: I have no idea what I’m doing. I have not been specially trained for this, I’ve never done it before and there are no “best practices”. This post is nothing more than my thought process as I work though my “Back to School in March” plans. Take it with a grain of salt, or better yet, take it with a whole salt shaker. And if you’ve done it, or you’re getting ready to do it, I would really love your suggestions, insight and encouragement! Please, please comment below! I need it and I suspect it will be helpful to others as well.

Thankfully I will see each cohort one before the madness/excitement begins, so I am taking advantage of that!

Seating Charts:

Hopefully more chairs will arrive on Monday (fingers crossed!) because I want to assign new seats before cohorts collide. I want to avoid any “Hey, that’s my seat!” weirdness. I’m working now on seating charts: each cohort will have their own “new” seating chart with half the chairs empty, and then I’ll combine the seating charts on March 8th, so everyone sits in the chair they sat in the previous class, but with a whole lot of new amigos around them. Students requested to sit one cohort on one side of the room and the other cohort on the other side. Sometimes I listen to their requests, this time I am not. I don’t want any West Side Story Turf Wars. Everyone is getting mixed up and evenly spaced 3 feet apart. (3 feet, I know! Sounds awfully close, doesn’t it?!) This is my plan, but it only will work if the janitor acknowledges my “Pretty, pretty, please deliver chairs on Monday” SOS email. We shall see. My fingers and toes are crossed.

Let’s Play:

Of course I’ve got some games planned to get to know each other and hopefully we’ll have fun. Both games require a little bit of work up front, so I’ll get started on it this week, to be ready for next week:

Spanish 4 & Heritage 2:

With my “Big Kids” we’ll be playing Mientes con todos los dientes, a hilarious lying game. This week students will write me a handful of interesting and little known facts about themselves, that I will type up in comprehensible language. Then when we’re together we’ll play. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, basically you call 4 kids up front, and they all say the same statement, which is true for one of the students and a lie for 3 of the students. (So maybe they all say “I was a child model” but only one of them was really a child model. Then by interrogation, the teacher and rest of the class asks questions to figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth.) It is really hilarious. Watching kids lie is funny…watching them lie in another language is ridiculous. Of course I’ll be careful to call up my outgoing kiddos who I know will ham it up. I’ll leave my shy, silent types in the audience to place their bets on who is telling the truth.

Spanish 1:

With my “babies”, we’ll play Cierto o Falso. Before we combine cohorts, I’ll play the game separately with statements about myself. I project a statement, written in Spanish about myself, that they can all understand. They consider the statement carefully and then decide if it is True or False and record their answer on a piece of paper. After a handful of statements (10 or so), we’ll “grade” them together and that’s where they really get a lot of Comprehensible Input. It sounds like this (but in Spanish, of course!) “Number 1. Mrs. Chase sleeps with her eyes open. Who thinks yes, I sleep with my eyes open?! (Students raise hands) Who thinks, NO WAY! I don’t sleep with my eyes open, that is False? (Students raise hands). You guys…it is true! I really sleep with my eyes open! It is so weird! Mr. Chase does not like it. He thinks it is weird but it is true! AND my dad sleeps with his eyes open too! How strange! Do you sleep with your eyes open?!” Milk it for all it’s worth before moving onto the next statement. THEN students write statements about themselves (which is why we’ll do this before we play all together!). I leave my examples on the screen , so students can either use my format and change details in Spanish OR they can write their statements in English. I ask them to write 4-5 statements about themselves, some true and some false (and tell them to indicate which are true and which are false!!!) which they will turn in to me.

Before we play, I will combine their statements into a slideshow, using ONE statement about EACH student. (The reason I ask them to write a few is because sometimes I just can’t make something comprehensible, so I want options…and also, sometimes everyone writes about breaking their leg so I like to have variety!) If you have any absent students, just make a statement up like “Joey has 7 siblings” or “Amari is allergic to bananas”.

Then we’ll play again, but this time they’ll see a statement about a classmate and guess if it’s true or false. Then when we “Grade”, I ask the student if the statement is true or false and any follow up questions (sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English) to learn some details. I’m planning on playing this over 2 days: we’ll do half the students’ statements on the 1st day together and the rest on the 2nd day. I think going through 25 all at once will be too much.

Let’s mix it up…outside!

One of the best things about teaching from my Portable, sweet Portable is that I’ve got a soccer field right outside my door. And Praise Jesus, we’ve had a mild winter and so we’ve really taken advantage of our “outside classroom”. And to make the deal even sweeter we’re permitted (and encouraged to take) “Mask Breaks” so long as we’re outside and spread way out. Seeing their unmasked smiles makes my heart soar!

In normal years, I love using Animal Buddies to move kids around and give them a chance to get to know each other. This year we haven’t been using them, but I’ll be bring it back on March 8th…with a few Pandemic Tweaks. My classroom is just too small to have kids mingling around while maintaining distancing, so we’ll do all our Animal Buddy fun outside.

To begin, pass out an Animal Buddy Sheet to each student (here’s a free download from my TPT store!) and explain to them that they will have 9 new partners, one for each picture. So, for example, if Susi and Ana want to be “Compañeras de pato”, Susi will write Ana’s name below the duck picture and Ana will write Susi’s name under the duck. Later, whenever I announce “We’re gonig to work with our Duck Buddies”, Susi and Ana will consult their paper and partner up.

Since my goal here is getting kids to interact with students from the other cohort, I’ll specify they should have a minimum of 6 partners from the other cohort, and they can have 3 buddies from their cohort. After everyone understands how to fill out the paper, head outside and give them a few minutes to find partners and fill in their papers. Normally we unmask outside, but for this, I will ask them to keep their masks on, since they’ll need to talk to each other to get names and fill out their paper. If you’re going to try Animal Buddies, be sure to read the whole blog post Partner Up Blog Post for complete instructions and the pitfalls to avoid (like don’t forget to make a paper for any absent students!!!!)

Then, weather permitting, we’ll do something fun outside every class, using their Animal Buddy Sheet. Before we leave I’ll explain the game, tell them to find their “Compañero de burro” (or whoever!) then we’ll head out to play! Off the top of my head, here are a few fun partner brain breaks and games.

Mira Señala is so fun and will be perfect to play outside with a partner.

Number Wars will be another good one. Students face each other (from a safe distance) and put one hand behind their back and selects a number on their fingers (1 through 5, but not the middle finger!) On the count of 1-2-3 they both show each other their pre-selected fingers and the fastest person to add them together and announce it in the target language is the winner. (So Jared shows 3 fingers and Lucas shows 5 fingers…the fastest to announce 8 wins, then they play again.) After they get good at it, we play with each finger representing 10 (so 2 fingers is 20) and then with each finger representing 100 (4 fingers is 400).

Of course all variation of Rock, Paper Scissors would be fun to play outside with a partner. La Maestra Loca describes Evolution, which we’ve never played before and will be a fun one to work into the mix!

More outside fun:

In a normal year, when the weather gets nice, we just can’t stay in our classroom. The great thing about teaching with lots of CI is that it is easy to take the show on the road! This year especially we’ll be spending as much time as we can outside. Free reading, chit chatting and of course playing! Here are some of my favorites to play outside.

1-2-3 Cacahuate is a quick brain break that requires lots of space. Oh we can’t forget about Screaming Ninjas, another great game to play outside. Number Shuffle is another great outside game…to reduce risk, before we leave I’ll instruct them to create their number cards inside before we head outside, so they’re single use. We will recycle them after we play.

We haven’t played Mafia this year because I just couldn’t spread them out far enough in my classroom to sit in a circle…maybe we’ll try it outside! And of course, Running Dictation will be a fabulous one to play. I don’t think I’ve written about Running Dictation, but Martina Bex has and here are her instructions.

So, to sum up the plan:

I’m going to focus on introducing the cohorts, giving them as much Comprehensible Input as I can muster and stay flexible…because if 2020 (and now 2021!) has taught us anything, it is that FLEXIBLILTY is the key! Holy Moly it’s been a ride and it’s not over yet!

Stay safe my friends and I’m thinking of you and praying for you! I know how hard this has been for you. Take care of yourselves and love those Little Darlings, whether they’re on the other side of a Zoom Call or right in front of you! Hang in there…this can’t last forever, right!?

And I’m serious! If you’ve combined cohorts already, or had “Back to School” late in the school year, or have any ideas, suggestions or encouragements, we’d love to hear it! Comment below 🙂

8 comments

  1. On March 8th, my school will be inviting students to the classroom for the first time. We have been virtual all year, and now we will have 25% in class and 75% at home, so I have no advice for you. But what I can say is that you have provided so much inspiration and your ideas have brought some life to my virtual classroom. If anyone is going to ROCK IT on March 8th, it is you. You are an incredible educator, and your students are lucky to have you.

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    • Oh Renee! So many changes is stressful, isn’t it! I’ll be thinking of you on March 8 as you get to meet some of your kiddos for the first time!! Wishing you all the best and thank you for your kind words!!

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  2. I combined cohorts in January. I imagined the new seating chart and several days ahead of the merge, I gave them their new seating assignments. Then, every day, as I took attendance, I would walk around and say each student’s name so the cohort that was present could hear the names of the incoming cohort. In one particular instance, the first time I said the name of an “incoming” girl, several of the present girls began to make protesting noises/comments. I was able to diffuse that right away by squashing their protest and reminding them that my class is a safe place. Sounds like you have a wonderful plan, AnneMarie! All of my mergers went well, except for one class. I liked the dynamics of the two cohorts better. But, I also am SO happy to see my kiddos 4 days a week instead of 2. You’re an inspiration! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Oh Laura, so good to know! I love the idea of saying the names of the incoming kids before they arrive! Thank you for sharing!!

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  3. Wow – that’s a huge change! I appreciate so much that you always go all in with plans that put your students first, having fun second, and learning Spanish third (at least that’s how I read it). Putting content third might sound like sacrilege to some, but I think that’s the beauty of leaving the textbook behind and teaching with CI – we can teach the content while also being human.

    Speaking of being human, though, don’t forget to put yourself first too. I trust that you are venting those “big feelings” to a different audience! And planning some serious self-care and down-time for next week.

    You can do this! We all can do this…just one step and one adjustment at a time!

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    • Yes, and thank you for the reminder! I am caring for myself, and my husband patiently listens to all my big Feelings!! 🙂

      Seriously. One step at a time- the motto for teaching during this pandemic!!

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