Motivating Students to Stay in the Target Language

I want to share with all of you a way that I am motivating my elementary students (and inadvertently, myself), to stay in the target language during our class.

I recently read a blog post by La Maestra Loca about classroom management.  She uses a tally point system to motivate her students to avoid using English and communicate to the best of their abilities in Spanish.

Spontaneously last week, I decided that I wanted to try this.  The follow class, I said “Boys and girls, we are going to do a challenge today.”  There was so much excitement. Ooo! A challenge! “It is going to be all of you verse me.”  Even more exciting! “What we are going to do is if you catch me saying anything in English, you will earn a point.  But (!) if I catch you saying anything in English, I earn a point. Whoever has more points at the end of the class wins.”  My students were so excited and motivated to do this. I was excited that they would be working collaboratively to achieve a goal: beat the teach.

I started by giving my students strategies to use if they heard their peers or me using English.  We reviewed simple phrases like “No ingles” and “Solo español”. Obviously, I didn’t want my students shouting out “You used English!” in English.  They needed the strategies to remind each other in Spanish.

For the first class, this was EXTREMELY successful.

I was so surprised at how well this went.  At the end of the class, there were less than ten tally marks in total on the board at the end of the thirty minute class.  That meant that there were less than ten utterances of English throughout the whole class. I loved that. I decided to try it again with the next class.  It was another great success. I continued to do this successfully with my classes for the rest of the week.

I knew the novelty of it wouldn’t last for long and there needed to be some kind of reward at the end if I wanted to keep my students engaged.  I thought for a couple of days about what I could put out there as a reward. Eventually, I came up with a simple idea.

For each day my class is able to speak less spanish than me, they will earn a “llama”.  I asked classroom teachers if I can hang these llamas in their room. That way, I don’t have to be in charge of carrying around charts to keep track of llama numbers for 11 separate classes.

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Since the llamas are kept in the classrooms, the students will seem them all day long as a reminder all day long that they should be using only spanish in my class.

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When a class earns ten “llamas”, they will be treated to a reward.  For the first round of rewards, I’ve decided to do a Spanish game day.  My students are really excited about it. We’ve played academic games in Spanish class before, but we’ve never had an official “game day”.  I have some games up my sleeve that I know my students will like, but ultimately I will give them the choice about what (Spanish-based) games they will play.  After all, it is their reward.

So far, my llamas have been successful.  It’s easy for me to do and it’s fun for them.  I could see this motivator working successfully with any age group.

What motivators do you use with your students? Share them in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “Motivating Students to Stay in the Target Language

  1. Love the idea. Curious though about the effects of the student who “tattles” on a student speaks and what occurs if it’s the same transgressor and no improvement is noted.

    1. I have been working on this…sometimes I will speak with specific children quickly at the end of class to remind them why we are doing this and what the main goal is. The conversation changes depending on the age of the student and the nature of the situation.

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