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Today, I had to switch to Plan B.

Plan B... but what's Plan A?

Plan A is personalized questions and storytelling in order to facilitate language acquisition, but sometimes Plan A just doesn't work. This seems to be the case with my class of third-year students that I see immediately after lunch. The time slot is problematic every year, and this year is no exception. There are simply too many students talking over me and over each other for me to administer consequences and control the chatter, so we're taking a break.

We're activating Plan B.

Are your Spanish classes out of control? Do you need classroom management help? Find strategies to provide comprehensible input while maintaining order in your language classes.

What went wrong with Plan A

You see, yesterday, I had planned to use the structures "saw" and "went". I had the kids draw a quick two-part sketch of somewhere that they went last weekend and what or who they saw while there. I got through realized that few students were listening attentively enough to comprehend the language, and I was about to have a conniption. So I paused class, switched to English, and asked the kids if they had any strategies for me or for them that would help control the chatter.


First attempt at Plan B

Today, I typed up a page-long reading based on the drawings that the kids had made yesterday. It just described where everyone went and what they saw. I wrote a list of instructions that would require them to read the text in its entirety multiple times and to focus on the difference in meaning between past and present tense verbs. I wrote a few questions about the reading for the kids to answer, and asked the kids to write any words that they didn't recognize on the board as they came across them. I wrote the translations for those terms beside the words that the kids added as they came up. Here is the story so that you can see: 

It wasn't ideal, but the kids did intake language that they understood.

How to check for comprehension on Plan B?

One big problem with Plan B is that comprehension checks are difficult to complete. I walk around and ask kids to translate individual sentences, but I can't get a very comprehensive read on the class's understanding. Tomorrow, we will read through it as a class and go over all of the tasks that they needed to complete today.

When can we get back to Plan A?

At the end of class, I took a few minutes to revisit the question that I posed to them yesterday (about strategies to lessen the chatter), and one girl suggested that they needed a period for talking during the day. I had a response for that ;-), but we eventually agreed that if they are good listeners through the entire period, I will give the last few minutes (3 or so) to talk with their friends before the bell rings. This is a waste of my class time, but if it actually works, I will end up wasting much less than I am now while waiting for everyone to quiet down between every single question or comment I make.

Update: I ended up keeping this class on Plan B for quite a while. Click here to read a post that I wrote about it, or glance down this list for some practical ways to keep students immersed in the language and not in each other's business ;-).

Plan B activities

All of these activities are reading-based and mostly independent. They also work for sub days!

Seeking Definitions

Students read the story and write unknown words on the board. Teacher writes the translations beside them as they add new words to the board.

Q & A

Students read and respond to L2 questions in writing about the reading (this works because it is not for assessment purposes).

Summarize & translate

Students write a summary statement for each paragraph in English, then translate each summary statement into Spanish.

Sequence Scramble

Teacher writes a list of events from the story (in L2 or L1) and scrambles them; students put them in the correct order.

Matching Paraphrases

Teacher writes a summary statement for each paragraph in L2; students match it with the correct paragraph.

Before and After

Teacher makes a list of events from the story, students write what happened before and after each event.

Horizontal Conjugation

Students change the perspective or tense of the story. This should be structured!! Have students first identify all verbs in the story that would be changed (present tense or verbs done by the main character). Students should also identify anything else that refers to the subject that would have to be changed to tell from a different perspective (nouns, pronouns, etc.). Then have the kids re-write it.

Emotions Analysis

Teacher writes a list of events. Students write out a given character feels during that event.

Draw 1 2 3

Student illustrates the text, adds 2 speech bubbles, and describes the illustration in 3 sentences in the target language. (See post here)

Expanding Summary

Teacher writes an abbreviated version of the story (a summary). Students add details.

Back to the Future

Teacher writes a detailed summary of the story from a different perspective or in a different tense (teacher-generated horizontal conjugation), and students have to change it back to the original (the text is slightly different since it's a summary, but they must reference the original to change the verb forms and other applicable words).

Dueling Texts

Teacher writes an alternate version of the story. Students read both and compare and contrast.

New Versions

Students write a new version of the story using specific criteria (change one detail per sentence/all proper nouns/etc.). See more ideas here.

Pick the Pic

Students match (student or teacher-generated) illustrations with events from the story (kind of like this).

QAR Questions

Students write questions using QAR models/prompts. Questions can be re-distributed and used later by classmates.

Find the Intruder

Teacher writes an erroneous version of the story. Students identify and correct errors.


Garbanzo is new to the list in 2019! We created this online, interactive library of stories and informational texts to give students input when they can't get it through interaction in class. Find Garbanzo lessons that match what you're doing in class by examining the Core Vocabulary list for each path or by searching by topic, tense, country, AP Theme, or SOMOS Unit! In the context of Plan B, students can read and respond to questions independently while you plan your next move ;-)

Use forms to keep on task

I often give my students worksheets for the activities described, worksheets that have instructions written on them as additional support to help kiddos stay on task, and you can find most of them in my Independent Textivities and MORE Independent Textivities packets.

What strategies do you use when you have a class that can't seem to handle storytelling or discussions?

Practical ideas for re-setting language classes that are struggling with behavior, management, and academic issues

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