Anatomy of a low fun Lesson Plan

If this is the first post you’re reading over at this little blogcito, please know, this is not a typical post. Basically I have spent my entire career and 219 blog posts exploring how to make language class MORE fun and MORE exciting for my Little Darlings. If you’re here looking for ways to pump up the excitement and engagement, here are a billion ways to have fun with your students, but if you’re looking to dial back the fun, stick around. I have a plan for next semester.

The Back Story:

I’ve got a tough bunch in Spanish 1. I knew they would give me a run for my money when they were out of control on the FIRST DAY of school. I’ve tried a lot of things last semester to rein them in:

  • bribing them for good behavior with the Timer Trick (which was moderately successful and I think would work in a *normal* year with your *typical* rowdy class. I think this is still a good strategy, but I need something more.)
  • narrating the positive, a la Jon Cowart
  • new seats (Lord, more seating charts than you can fathom, like a mad scientist in a lab fiddling with combinations to get the magic potion just right, but not yet cracking the code)
  • phone calls home (oh the calls! More parent conversations this year than the past 16 years combined…the common response I’ve gotten is “Yep, he’s (she’s) waaaay worse at home, trust me. I don’t know what to do either”),
  • being intentional about getting to know them and build those relationships (and I think that has worked, I think we’re pretty good here, for the most part. I like them, I think they like me, but this has not translated into Spanish Class Nirvana, yet.)
  • trying hard to encourage the calm (which has helped and I’m still going to lean into next semester, but it’s not enough!)
  • I’ve conferenced with students, special education teachers, elementary teachers, my mentors (Julie, JJ and Elicia, thank you for all your wisdom and support!), our Dean of Students, Counselors, our school police officer, colleagues and even my Principal- We’ve brainstormed and strategized and…I’m still on the hunt for solutions.
  • taught and retaught and reminded them of the expectations for every.class.activity.every. class.every.day. We have procedures that we’ve practice and practiced and…still no.
  • started each class, starting in October with mindful breathing (which has been a winner, Thanks JJ! and we’ll keep on. I surveyed students and out of 150 kiddos, 147 reported that they like starting class with breathing or they don’t mind it.)

And here’s what I’ve noticed: As a whole, my Spanish 1 Little Darlings can stay focused and on task when we’re doing something boring. If we try something just a *tiny* bit fun, like TPRing some target structures or chatting about their weekends, all hell breaks loose. And when we try something that is *really* fun, like a movie talk or The Lucky Reading Game, forget about it. They leave class without giving it a second thought and I’m still stewing mad, feeling like a failure and ready to quit a career I love.

So, in order to make it through this very difficult year, some changes need to happen. And since I haven’t been very successful inviting them to “join the party” so we can have a fun and happy family where they’re acquiring Spanish and there are rainbows and unicorns and magic happening around every corner, I am going to change the only thing that I can control: me.

I know I am not the only one feeling this way. A few weeks ago, I made a desperate plea to Facebook:

And it broke the internet. Like literally. So many comments came in within the first hour that Facebook automatically turned off the comments so another teacher started another post as a Part 2, and the avalanche of comments continued. There’s a common theme, across the country: our students need a whole lot more than we have to give. But I am not one to wallow and complain and feel sorry for myself without searching for solutions and I am eternally grateful for the literally hundreds of teachers who reached out with ideas, support and suggestions. So that very night I hatched a plan, and I put it into action the following day. What my Little Darlings need from me is structure and predictability and calm. (If you know me, you know that this goes against my very nature, but I’ll try anything, and our final class before finals, with our new, highly structured plan in place, went remarkably smooth. So, fingers crossed for 2022!)

Anatomy of a Highly Structured No Fun Lesson Plan:

I’ll walk you through my plan, feel free to make a copy for yourself, adjusting the activities that work best for your Little Darlings and your schedule. We have 90 minute blocks, so, there’s a lot included in each class. This plan is a compilation of a bunch of great ideas, from a brunch of brilliant teachers, and I’ve done my best to include links and screenshots from the contributors! You should also know that my plan was heavily influenced by Elicia Cárdenas’s Implementing Plan B and JJ Epperson’s Calming our amygdalas and Why is this so hard? We’re better together and I am so thankful to be in the incredible community of problem solving language teachers.

So, let’s dive in, I’ll show you what’s on my Lesson Plan Template, my cheat sheet of low fun activities to make planning quick. I’ll also show you what students see, projected on my front screen. Feel free to make a copy of my Winter Student Slideshow or Spring Student Slideshow (Thanks to SlidesMania for making them so pretty!) to adjust for you and your Little Darlings. I link the Student Slideshow in Google Classroom so absent students know what we did and what to do while they’re away. Here’s a tip, use the same slideshow every day, copying and pasting the previous slides for the current class at the top of the slideshow, before making the adjustments for the current class, so that absent students only have to open the document to see what they missed, rather than scrolling through a billion slides to find the most recent info.

I will admit, I was skeptical starting class with a game, afraid that the energy level would be hard to bring back down…but we’ve done it for 4 classes now (before winter break) and so far, so good. Sometimes we’ll play vocab, just matching English to Spanish (which I don’t think is that great, pedagogically speaking, but also, that’s where we’re at right now. I think TPR is a much better way to teach and introduce vocab, but since that hasn’t been successful, this year, we’ll do what we can.) Other times we’ll using Blooket or GimKit or Quizlet as a reading activity, using sentences so they’re reading and using their brains. What about kids who don’t have their Chromebooks? Or forgot their charger? Or don’t feel like playing? They can select a book and Free Read. Play a game or free read. We all love choices and those are the choices to start class.

First, we check in as a whole group and we keep this going for as long as they can handle it. Maybe I ask them who’s feeling like X, and who is feeling like Y? Maybe they ask a partner and discuss. Maybe they just show me the number of fingers that corresponds with the picture and we move on. Read the audience and go from there. Feel free to grab a few slides from my Chit Chat Slideshow or my Check in Slideshow.

Then the plan for the day and any important announcements.

I like to start class with breathing, but I don’t like to start class immediately with breathing, because nothing disrupts the vibe like tardy students trickling in! If you’re tempted to skip this step, be sure to read JJ’s post first: Why is this so hard? The great thing about breathing together is that it not only settles them down for our class…helping them learn to self regulate is a skill that will serve them well, anytime, any place! In level 1, we do our breathing in English, because, Lord knows, we need all the help we can get, but the nice thing about Headspace is that you can change the language, so in Spanish 4 and AP, we alternate between English and Spanish.

This little blogcito’s catchphrase is (was?) “Loading my Little Darlings up with Comprehensible Input”. Well, that was the case before a pandemic came alone and totally disrupted the good thing we had going. Now I’m aiming for a slow trickle of Comprehensible Input, because a slow trickle sounds a whole lot better than the minimal input that happened last semester, when I was spending 90% of time redirecting wild animals (For example, I actually said, “In High School we don’t kick”) and 10% of providing input. At least now with the recorded videos, the students who are here to acquire a language have a chance, and the rest can screw around silently on their Chromebooks. This is where we are at, my friends.

My hope (please Jesus, please!) is that pre-recorded input is a temporary and we’ll be able to creep back into whole class input + interaction, one day. I’m playing with the idea of doing small group input with 10 or so students (PQA or Picture Talk or…?) while the rest are working on an EdPuzzle, to ease our way in. We’ll play it by ear and see how it goes! Fingers crossed!

At about half way through our marathon 90 minute block period, they need a break. Pre-pandemic Señora Chase relied on a lot of fun brainbreaks and songs and chants and games to give their tired brains a reset. Pandemic Señora Chase is like, “Take a break without hitting or touching anyone”. I’m just being honest here. I am not taking a break while they are taking a break, I’m taking advantage of the downtime to make connections and chat it up with my Little Darlings.

After their break, they need to be brought back and refocused, and this year, Little Darlings respond really well to Write and Discuss and Dictados. We might write about the previous Input Chunk, or we might use a cultural photo or art piece to inspire our writing. Spanish teachers, if you don’t know Carmen Lomas Garza, the incredible chicana artist, check out her art! It’s absolutely perfect to use as a jumping off point for discussing Mexican and Mexican American culture. Another great resource is Mike Peto’s Cartoon template. Have students write directly on the template during Write and Discuss, THEN have them re-read and illustrate their storybook in the next segment of the lesson plan.

I’ve got a zillion reading strategies listed on the Lesson Plan template. For the readings, we may use previously created Write and Discuss class readings. We may use readings from Revista Literal or El mundo en tus manos. If you’re a subscriber to Garbanzo or Señor Wooly, those are some excellent sources for reading as well. The important thing is they’re reading something comprehensible (and even better if they find it compelling!) however, I am trying to be cognizant of how much screen time I’m asking of them, so if they got their input chunk on their Chromebooks, I want them reading on paper. If their Input Chunk was a Story Listening of up front, or even watching a video of me, then I feel good about their reading on their Chromebook, using Textivate or Flippity Manipulatives. I also have some pretty needy Little Darlings, so where’s where they can decide if they want to work independently and silently or with me in a small group.

This last bit is pretty vague, but intentionally so. If anything previously runs long, it can run into this time. If they’ve been corporative and not acting like feral beasts, we’ll try a low energy game, maybe Quick Draw or Telephone. We may do a little Listen and Draw on mini whiteboards or do a CLOZE activity with a new song and watch a Music video. I’m intrigued by Lance Piantaggini’s Flex Time idea. And if we accidently have too much fun and they get amped up for the last 10 minutes of class, well, their math teacher can deal with them 😉

So…that’s the new plan. Is it more work for me? Yes, absolutely. But I’d rather put in the extra time preparing for each class, than hating teaching and feeling miserable. This plan might be an epic failure, and if it is, I’ll try something else because that’s what good teachers do- they keep trying until they figure out what works for their particular bunch of Little Darlings.

Good luck, my friends, and Happy 2022!

 happy 2022 balloons

17 comments

  1. I have found plain old TPR with props around the classroom to be a real attention grabber for those kinds of classes. It is repetitive, full of important high-frequency input, puts the students as the star of the show and makes the squirrely kids shape up quick so they can be a volunteer. The repetition allows me to call on shier students who gain confidence after seeing others do the same routine. It also naturally lends itself to story creation or is a great way to preteach for a movie talk. I have kids asking if we can do it when they come to class.

    Thanks for all your sharing – your blog is invaluable. Happy 2022! Laura

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    • Oh.My.Word. This might just save my sanity. “We don’t kick in high school” I feel ya! It’s so nice to know that *I* am not imagining this and the only one thinking this is my personal year from hell. Thank you for sharing so freely – especially the planning guide with links. You are today’s blessing.

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      • Hopefully it will help all our sanity this year, Lord knows we need something!! Fingers crossed!!

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  2. Thank you for this blog post! Wishing you luck and sending you prayers and blessings upon blessings for 2022!

    Nettie
    Annette Ringer
    8th grade Spanish teacher
    Horseheads Middle School

    Get Outlook for iOS
    ________________________________

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    • HI Melanie. I’ll do my best…let me dig around. I think I can send you a subscribe request to the new email. I’m not sure if I can remove the other, but I will try. If not, I wonder if you can unsubscribe from the bottom of an email…maybe there’s an option there? Thanks for the Tea Support, that was so kind of you!

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    • I couldn’t find your other email address to unsubscribe you, so I think you must have figured it out! Happy 2022, Melanie!

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  3. Thank you so much for this post! i mean– really, THANK YOU! I was feeling like a bad teacher because, like you I was finding that any “fun” options just derailed the class. I feel I have permission to follow my teacher intuition and dial back the fun a bit and just survive this year. Good wishes to all teachers as we shoulder this burden.

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  4. Thanks so much for this post!!! I think this kind of structure is exactly what one of my classes needs, and it may be more work – but that’s worth it if they get any kind of input that sticks in their brain. I’ve felt like such a failure of a teacher when I have kids after a semester of Spanish that are at the level my 1st week of Spanish 1 kiddos are normally at. They can’t even handle talking to each other in any kind of interaction since it immediately turns into snarky comments, bullying, arguments, he said/she said situations, etc. Its so hard to run class when I pretty much have to bar them from interacting in any way with other students. I seriously had to tell a kid to not kick someone in the shins like it was 2nd grade and that calling someone a fat Bertha was inappropriate :/

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    • I’m not the only one with Kicking students?! I’m right there with you… praying that some structure and adjustments (less fun!) will help us out!!

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  5. Eres Unica! thanks you so much for sharing such great resources! You have inspired and motivated me. Your passion is evident in every blogpost. Can’t wait to implement these this week with my students! Happy New Year!

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  6. Hi! I have been reading through your blog, preparing for this semester, and I seem to remember reading that you would have the kids read for 10 minutes at the beginning of class but in a chapter book. Was that you or señora JJ that was linked through your blog? I wanted to do this and there were some assessment ideas in there too. Sorry if it’s not you! I’m trying to figure out how to navigate her blog as well!

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