Keeping Class in the Target Language

In preparing for #CIIA16, our incredible keynote Grant Boulanger (website:; twitter: @grantboulanger) suggested that we put together a panel on classroom management instead of someone doing a presentation on it.  I thought it was a brilliant idea because there are so many variables when it comes to classroom management: age level, the kind of school (urban/rural), teacher and student personalities, and so much more!  Grant suggested having common classroom management questions to guide the panel, but that we allow attendees to ask questions as they came up.  I reached out to the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook group and here are the burning questions people had about classroom management in a TPRS/CI classroom.  One prominent question was: how do you keep students from speaking English?

I do not have the perfect answers, but I thought I would share the few techniques I have tried this past year in hopes that they help someone else.  I used each idea at different times of the year and in different contexts, and there are things I like and dislike about each idea.  Although these are all things I have done since becoming a teacher who uses TPRS and CI, I think traditional teachers could use them, too.

Keeping Class in the Target Language | Shared by Elizabeth Dentlinger at

Keeping Class in the Target Language | Shared by Elizabeth Dentlinger at

The first idea I tried was lights at the front of the classroom.  I would turn the lights on when I wanted students to stay in Spanish, and turn them off when it was OK to speak English.  This worked especially well at the beginning of the year and with my Spanish 1 kids.  It was a nice visual for them for when they should speak Spanish, and it was easy enough to switch between Spanish and English when I needed to check comprehension in English at the beginning of units.  I even had two boys in Spanish 3 that would run up to turn the lights on if they wanted me to start in Spanish or turn it off if they needed to ask me a word in English.  However, as the year progressed I found that my students needed less and less comprehension checks in English, and thus students became a little desensitized to the lights and I got lazy with turning them on because I simply expected to spend most of the day in Spanish.

The second thing I tried was a card system that Martina Bex had shared somewhere (but I don’t have the original link).  Each student received a card that awarded them 10 points.  Each time I heard English I subtracted a point off of their card.  This was great for partner work!  What I liked about this activity was that there was a consequence for speaking English during class, and students understood that if they were the ones to speak Spanish that they themselves lost the point.  However, what I didn’t like was using this method during an activity in which all students were expected to participate (like class stories) because it really separated my extroverts and introverts.  I found that introverts spoke a LOT less than normal because they were so afraid of losing points.

The third thing that came to me in the spring of last year was The Fruit of Shame.  I had read this post by Cynthia Hitz about Donkey-jote and the idea stuck with me for a long time.  One day when the light method wasn’t working during a story, I thought of Donkey-jote but I knew I couldn’t used stuffed animals because my students would actually want the stuffed animals (see why here).  I’ve also felt guilty for not officially teaching a lot of food vocabulary as of late.  So I quickly pulled out a plastic apple and named it la manzana de vergüenza (the apple of shame) and told the students that when they spoke English they would receive la manzana de vergüenza until they heard someone else speaking English and then they passed it to the student that had spoken English.  The student that ended the class period with it had to write me a story (without a translator!) of 30 Spanish words by the next day or they would receive a detention.  This worked really well until one bright girl realized she had the apple and would most likely end class with it so she kept speaking English over and over to tease me.  I had to think quickly on my feet and so I told her that after she received the apple her word total would double each time she spoke English again with the apple still in her possession.  Once I was sure my students knew manzana, I moved on to another plastic fruit like el plátano de vergüenza, la pera de vergüenza, etc.  What I liked about this was students monitored themselves for English, that it also taught fruit vocabulary, and that it was story friendly because students had to write me a story if they had it at the end.  What I didn’t like was when students didn’t bring their story on the next day and I actually had to give a detention (which only happened twice).

Two ideas I’ve heard of (but have yet to try out myself): Jason Noble’s English Box and English police.

I also loved Grant’s idea of having a no inglés poster and pointing to it when students speak English and patiently waiting for them before continuing in Spanish.  I am hoping to soak up more of his wisdom on classroom management at his #iflt16 presentation, as well as Bryce Hedstrom’s session, as well.

What have you tried out to keep your kiddos in the target language?  Share below!

I love connecting with other world language educators!  Please feel free to add me on Google+, tweet at me on Twitter, love my blog on Bloglovin’, and check out my pins on Pinterest!

5 thoughts on “Keeping Class in the Target Language

  1. I absolutely LOOOOOOVE the “manzana de vergüenza” idea… I teach in a Catholic school and can probably somehow tie that into the apple in the story of Adam and Eve… the various fruits can all be our “forbidden fruits.” =)

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