Use classroom decorations that double as input
While we don’t want to overwhelm our students, there are plenty of decorations that do double duty. Signs with essential phrases, such as “Can I go to the bathroom?” or “I have a question.” are a must! If you post classroom rules, make them bilingual so you don’t have to translate as you go. By mid-year, the first language side can be removed and you can continue to refer to the rules in the TL only. Keep the rules simple and easy to understand.
It is essential to support our students through visuals, such as pictures or movements. From day one, this brings down students’ affective filter and allows them to build connections between their first language and the TL. Simply speaking in the TL will prove frustrating for both teachers and students. Use pictures to present vocabulary, gestures when explaining directions, and any other visual that makes the TL input meaningful and comprehensible. The more support we provide our students, the greater the ease with which they can, and will, adapt to the TL learning environment. In doing this, students can begin the year with greater ease, knowing they have visual support for their language.
Below are my version of the "Helpful Phrases" and "Question Words" that you can download.
The first few days of class are for getting to know each other and for an extremely high level of TL input. I stay away from classroom rules and spend more time having students ask questions of each other. Not only do they get to know each other, but also they begin to build their TL conversation skills and to become comfortable with TL use. I want to set the tone for the rest of the year – TL usage is our goal!
Model, model, model.
Simply providing instructions in the TL, whether supported with gestures and visuals or not, does not guarantee students will understand. Everything is new in the first days of school; modeling provides students the extra support they need. By simply completing the task as a class first, students gain a better understanding of their directive and spend less time asking questions, which they usually do in their first language. Although it seems like it would take more time, it actually saves time in the long-run.
Plan, plan, plan.
While 90% TL use is the goal, the remaining 10% is important as well. In the first few days of school, deliberate planning of first language use is crucial. We want students to know that the first language is not the norm in the classroom. Many teachers plan for first language use with behavioral expectations or other management items, while other use the 10% for teaching cultural perspectives. Deliberate planning, no matter the use, means that time is constructive and intentional.
As you begin planning the school year, take time to look at the activities and concepts you want to present. You may have to shift your expectations or adjust the way in which you express an idea. It IS possible to maintain that 90%, no matter what level or age you teach.