As good language teachers, we all know the more we stay in the target language, the better it is for our students. We know that immersion is the best way to learn a language and want to recreate as much of that "immersion" atmosphere as possible inside of our classroom.

For most of us, it's not a problem for levels 2 and above, but what about level 1. How can you start day one in the target language with level 1 students? That's the topic of this post.

This idea is not original and is my version of Ben Slavic's "Circling with Props" activity. I have modified his activity to be used with various thematic vocabulary, not just sports and activities, but the basic premise is the same.

On the first day of class, I stand in my doorway and welcome my students into class with an appropriate greeting in the target language. If they ask, I'll tell them what it means or how to respond, but do not make a big deal of this or spend much time on it. I also tell them in English, to get to work on what's on the board.

On the board are the following instructions:

  • Welcome to Spanish Class!
  • Please read the list of Classroom Expressions.
  • Write your name at the top of your paper like the example. Be sure to write your name as you would want to be called in class. Example, your name is Michael, but you like to be called Mike.
  • Draw a picture of something you like to do. This can be a sport, a game, or other activity. The only requirement is that you LIKE to do it. You will not be graded on your artwork, but do your best.
  • When finished, reread the list of Classroom Expressions and sit quietly for further instructions.

Next to these instructions is a large poster board which looks exactly as I want my kids' smaller version to look. In big letters I write my name along the top and underneath I draw a picture that represents something that I like to do. No words, just pictures.

I give my kids 10-15 minutes to complete this activity. We always have a ton of paperwork to complete on the first day of school, so I'm busy completing it while they are working.

When time is up, I give them a brief explanation of what we're about to do and the behaviors I expect from them (pay attention, answer questions, ask when they don't understand, time-out signal, etc.). Then I get started.

I hold up my poster board and say in the target language, "My name is Profe B." I then go to my laptop and type the target language and the English so that it can be projected on the LCD projector (for those without LCD projectors, just write it on the overhead or on the board. The benefit of the LCD projector or overhead is that you have a hard copy that you can copy and distribute to students.).

I then write the words for yes and no and their English equivalents and then I circle that first statement. "Is my name David?" "Is my name Profe Z?" "Is my name "Profe B or Profe Z?" etc.

Once I have circled that for a little bit. I then add in the target language "I watch movies." or "I like to watch movies." (Insert your preferred activity.) It doesn't matter which form you choose to use, but just be consistent. Once I immediately finish the statement, I again write the words on the board with their translation. I break up the words on the board to their basic parts. For example, I would write "I watch" and then "movies" or "I like to watch" and then "movies." I do this so that students can easily recombine later and aren't stuck on that those words have to always be together. During all of this, remember good TPRS teaching skills of talking slowly and clearly, and to pause and point each word out as it is said.

I then circle this statement and I might add a new detail here or there like "I like to watch movies on Saturdays." Because "on Saturdays" is a new vocabulary item, I would stop and write it with it's translation, repeat it again while pausing and pointing. I would then circle this new statement.

After I have spent some time on my information, I then pick a student to ask. When the kids were entering the classroom, I tried to size them up. What I was looking for was the potential troublemaker. I didn't do this to start off negatively, but if I can pinpoint who my potential troublemaker is and win them over, then classroom management is that much easier. So the student I pick is the one that I think may be a troublemaker or is otherwise disinterested.

I walk over to that student and prepare to have a one-on-one conversation with that student with about 30 other eavesdroppers. I look at their picture and I ask them "What's your name?" in the target language. As this is new vocabulary, I will write that entire phrase on the board with the translation. I will also write the response below it, "My name is..." with it's translation. I will then walk back to the student and repeat it while I pause and point. Although I do believe in the silent period, I do expect them to be able to answer these simple questions because I've already written the answers on the board and there's no thinking required. After the student answers, I praise them. I exaggerate the praise so that they really feel good. I don't care if they said the whole phrase or just replied with their name. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they made an error. Just say, "Good job!" in the target language with two thumbs up and re-say the information. For example, the student mispronounces the phrase. I would say in the target language, "Very good! Your name is Johnny! Great!" I would then take time to circle this with the class.

I call this fishing. I'm fishing for some information, then I real it in for the class. So I ask the student their name and then I circle it with the class. I go from one-on-one to the class back and forth throughout this whole process. It is a one-on-one conversation with the student, but I have to keep bringing the class into it to keep the interest and participation level high.

After I've circled the name of the student for a bit, I bring myself back into it. I ask the class if my name is the name of the student. And then I compare and contrast our names and circle that for a few minutes.

I then go back to the student. I ask them "How are you?" Since this is new vocabulary, I write the expressions and appropriate responses on the board with their translations. I go back to the student, I repeat the question while pausing and pointing, and I wait for their response. When I get it, I praise them, I circle it, I ask the class.

Now, I'm finally getting to the activity that the student drew. I ask them if s/he does/likes to do that activity. I stop and write it on the board with it's translation and then I repeat and await a yes answer. (Obviously it's going to be yes, because they drew their preferred activity.) When the student answers, I reply in the target language, "Class, Billy likes to skateboard!" and then I coach the class on how I want them to respond by saying "Ooohhhhhh!" (Later on in the year, I change how I want them to respond. I have them use other conversational phrases like, you don't say, how interesting, etc.) After I get the class to respond with the obligatory response (Ohhhhh!), I then begin to circle the statement with the class.

After I've done that, I try to get more information from Billy. "Billy, do you skateboard on the weekends?" Be sure to write any new vocabulary on the board with it's translation, repeat, pause and point. When Billy answers, repeat his response and then begin to circle with the class the new information.

I continue this back-and-forth until I've spent a great deal of time with Billy. I will also add in from time-to-time my responses to the questions and I'll compare and contrast. "Do I skateboard or does Billy?" "Who skateboards?" "Do I go to the movies or does Billly?" etc.

It will take the whole period just to do myself and Billy (approximately one 48-60 minute period). I probably didn't even have time to get as far as I wanted with Billy, so I'd pick it up where I left off the next day. Remember to review, repeat, and circle often. Go back and compare and contrast. Go slowly and gauge the comprehension of your students.

On Day 2, I would review my information as well as Billy's and circle it for a bit. If I still needed to stick with Billy for a little bit longer, I would do so. If not, I would move on to another student in the EXACT SAME WAY as I did Billy. I would ask the same questions and write any new vocabulary on the board with it's translations. I would circle the new information and compare and contrast with my info, Billy's info and the new student's info.

I continue this procedure until I get through each and every student. It takes weeks, but the students are gaining TONS of vocabulary and structure throughout and are getting tons of repetitions.

Don't go too far out of bounds. Think about the vocabulary you need to cover and stick with that (months, days, seasons, colors, numbers, etc>) when you're asking for details.

If you see a funny story arising from the information that you're getting with your students and the students are with you, if you feel comfortable, jump into that story and work it with asking the story and circling. You can always go back to the personal questions tomorrow. If a story presents itself, you have to grab it and run with it. It will add variety and interest to the class.

By starting class this way from day 1 you are setting the tone for your class as one that will be conducted in the target language and only LIMITED English will be tolerated. Scaffolding the information by writing it on the board with its translation coupled with the Classroom Expressions, will get a lot of mileage.

Once you've completed this phase of class (after many weeks or months), go back and take an inventory of the vocabulary and structures you have used with frequency. You'll find that you've taught quite a bit of vocabulary and structures while sticking only with one topic (activities) and the kids are already well on their way to fluency!