Friday, September 17, 2010

Teaching Students Good Manners & Respectful Behavior

A few years ago I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Hal Urban speak at a workshop.  A veteran teacher, Hal taught for more than 30 years in public schools in California and says he loved every minute of it.  Hal proposes that we can teach our students about the value of having good character and using good manners no matter what subject we teach or what sort of school we teach in.  He says that everyone, no matter what their background, can agree on the following:  1) The Golden Rule (treat others the way you'd like to be treated), 2) Societies (and therefore classrooms) function better when everyone uses good manners.  Hal convinced me that it's OK to take a few minutes of instructional time to set the tone for my classroom and to help teach students something even more important than French!  I followed his advice by talking to students about good manners and the power of words at the beginning of the year.  Hal suggests placing signs near the clock (because students will look there often) as a visual reminder to keep their words positive.  Here are the signs I put up this year.

Hal tells students that negative words can be as powerful as spraying poison in a classroom, so he uses an aerosol spray can as a visual reminder to all to keep their words from being poisonous.  I made one for my desk.  Here's a photo.

I pick up the can whenever I hear any name-calling, whining, complaining or any other type of negative talk and remind everyone not to "spray poison".  This really works.  I knew that for sure the day I walked by another classroom and heard one of my French students instructing their classmates to stop spraying poison.  It's a simple way to raise everyone's awareness of what's coming out of their mouths.  

After several strategic discussions about manners and the power of words, I ask students to write the rules of our classroom.  Here's a photo of my students pledging to themselves and to me that they would do their best to follow the rules they've written this year.


These are just a few of the things I learned from Hal.  Taking the time to implement these ideas has resulted in a truly positive classroom environment where mutual respect is the norm.  I highly recommend it. 

BE the change you want to see in the world.  It can start with YOU in your classroom!

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to Use a Mannequin in Your Classroom #2: Learning to Count

Today we learned to count to 20 in first year French.  I used our classroom mannequin, Jacques DUBOIS to teach this.  The conversation went something like this (in French, of course):  "Look everyone!  Jacques has his backpack with him.  I wonder what's in it!  Let's take a look (I open the backpack and gasp)...oh my!!  There's CANDY in his backpack.  How many pieces do you think there are?  Let's count them.  (I count in French, students who already know the numbers join in spontaneously).  Wow.  There are 20 pieces of candy.  How many students do we have in our class?  Let's count.  Can you believe it?  There are 20 students in the class, and 20 pieces of candy.  What a coincidence!  I think maybe I should give all of you a piece of candy!"

So I passed Jacques' backpack around the room, and everyone took a piece of candy.  I know it sounds a little crazy, but I assure you that I had every student's undivided attention.  And everyone was smiling while they practiced counting to 20 with a partner!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flower Pens!

A few years ago I tried a new idea inspired by our high school librarian.  She had a clay flower pot filled with coffee beans at the front desk.  The pot was "sprouting" daffodils, which were really just pens made to look like flowers.  I decided to make my own flower pot filled with flower pens for my desk.  I bought various colorful silk flowers and attached them to pens with tape.  Then I covered the entire pen with floral tape so it resembled the stem of a flower. 

I placed the flower pens in a pot filled with coffee beans.  Students are allowed to borrow the pens for the class period if they wish.  I've been pleasantly surprised by how much they seem to enjoy using these pens.  Believe it or not, last year a group of 11th grade boys enjoyed them the most and would sometimes race to class to claim their favorite pen first. 

Who wouldn't want their students racing to their class with anticipation?  This is just one small way you can make your classroom a more stimulating place to be.  I think it's worth the extra effort!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Brown Paper Bag Activity

The first homework assignment for 3rd year French involved a brown paper lunch bag.  I gave one to each student while explaining the assignment.  Students were asked to take the bag home and find 3 interesting objects to put in it that represented them in some way (unacceptable items:  pens, pencils, cell phones or car keys).  They were to come to class the following day prepared to explain to their classmates in French what was in the bag and why.  I divided the class into groups of 3 and had students present the contents of their sack to their group.  Then I assigned them to a different group of 3  and had them do it again.  While all of this was going on, I rotated in and out of the groups in order to make sure I heard each student and to verify that they could name the objects.  Here's my favorite photo of this activity.

This is a good assignment for the following reasons: 

  1. All students are engaged in speaking French.
  2. Students are talking about themselves, which makes it personal and interesting.
  3. Communication is more authentic because they aren't reading what they're saying.
  4. Everyone is saying something different, so those who are listening are learning new words.
  5. Anxiety is low because students are presenting to groups of 3 rather than addressing the whole class.
  6. Each student is making their presentation twice.
Why not try it yourself?


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