5-week Crash Course for Language Teachers: Harry Wong

Harry Wong

Harry Wong’s advice in the language classroom.

Welcome to the 5-week Linguist Show. If you want to learn a language or you teach a language, you’ve come to the right place. Join Janina each week for tips, resources, and advice for making engaging language learning happen anytime, anywhere.

Welcome to the 5-week Linguist Show. Over the next few weeks, I really wanted to talk about starting the school year. I’ve been teaching for a long time, teaching languages since the early ’90s. I’ve taught in a variety of settings. I taught university level English. I’ve taught some private language, done some private language teaching, but the majority of my time has been in that sort of K through 12 environment. I’ve taught language immersion. I’ve taught FLES, Foreign Language for Elementary School. I’ve taught languages, English and Spanish.

I wanted to share with you for a world language classroom some essentials to start the year. The things that I know now that I wish that I knew in the ’90s when I was a young, inexperienced language teacher that would have made my life so much easier. Today, I really want to talk about Harry Wong. So early in my career, I taught at a private school and then I taught at a university. I didn’t have a lot of training in language teaching. Of course, I had a degree. I went into it intending to see what it was like. It was a private school, so I didn’t need certification. In the university, I didn’t need certification. Then I found that it really suited me and I decided to seek certification.

In doing that, I was working at a public school and I had the privilege of hearing Harry Wong, the author of The First Days of School present. I’ve never heard of him. I didn’t have a big background in education. I had one in languages and in drama. It was really transformative to me. So it was a whole day with Harry Wong speaking, and then you had these breaks to really think about how to apply the things that he talked about.

Harry Wong and classroom language.

The things that really resonated with me, there are many, but some of the ones that really truly resonated with me, the first one is don’t ask kids how they’re doing. You’re their teacher. Say something positive to them. Say something, “It’s nice to see you. I’m glad you’re here today.” Things of that nature. Don’t get in a conversation. They’re teenagers, a lot of times they’ve got their own issues with friends. Just be consistent and let them know how nice it is that they’re in your class today.

So I thought, well, that’s brilliant as a language teacher. You get to just say the everyday things all the time, and then you get to really say positive things. For example, how great is it to see you, all those greetings. You’re looking forward to seeing them the next time. This is perfect for a language teacher. I just need to make sure that I’m saying as many of those things as I can to my students. That’s total CI. That’s total immersion.

Also with regard to comments. So I got really into target language stickers and stamps and comments. I think it’s from Spanish plans, [inaudible 00:03:57] Me Gusta stamp, I think it’s brilliant. I put that on my papers. All the stickers have lots of praise on them. So I think it’s a great way to give feedback as well as teach them some great phrases in the target language, keep them immersed. When it comes to feedback on their papers and such and on their speaking, for the most part, I mean, you’re going to see mistakes. You have to just fall in love with mistakes and they’re going to have so many mistakes.

So it’s really oftentimes particularly at the beginning levels, it’s a matter of just completing the task, right? Did they complete the task? Were they able to do X, whatever, fill in the blank? So being able to heap on that praise, great job, instead of… Really focusing on what they can do and not on what they can’t do. So that’s what I really liked his suggestion to do that.

Harry Wong and routines.

Secondly was all about routines and procedures. He talks about this ad nauseum, but it makes sense. As Harry Wong said, it’s all really just common sense that I’m talking about. It’s really common sense. Sometimes we get so caught up in the content area that we forget about the common sense. We get so caught up in maybe teaching physics, or in our case languages, that we forget some really simple things that can make all the difference in the world. He suggests, “Don’t even consider teaching content for the next two weeks,” which a lot of us would gasp when you hear that, you think, “Oh my goodness, that’s just the worst thing that I could ever possibly hear. How am I going to do it?”

Once you get all the procedures and the routines up, well, this is perfect. Once you get all the routines and procedures set up, then you can get into teaching the content. It’s perfect for us as language teachers. If you think about it, all the different things that we have to do in a classroom. So I’ve heard this statistic and I couldn’t tell you the number. Do teachers make more decisions than air traffic controllers? I mean, it’s something insane. It’s something crazy. I can’t even remember, thousands a day more than other people in other professions. All the little things, going to the bathroom, going to the nurse, where’s their extra paper, where do you turn in the homework.

Think about all of those little things. I just think, “Oh, bingo. This is perfect for my language classroom. This is perfect.” So this means that I can focus 100% on all of those greetings that I just talked about, the greetings and praise and the saying goodbye. That interaction, that CI interaction, and I can focus on immersing them in the target language with all about procedures, right, routines and procedures. I always talk about how important this is. This has been a huge, huge transformative thing in my career. So I would list out every single thing you can think of that kids might need.

Nothing’s too small, right? Where is their pencil? Raise your hand. Open up book to page this. Push in your chairs. What happens if we talk too much? These are all target language lessons. So I would sketch out every single thing you think they need. If you’re a first year teacher and you think, “Oh my goodness, I don’t even know where to start.” Don’t worry about it because you can just start with even 10 things, 10 or 15 things that will make your classroom… That you think kids will need. Then it won’t take you long to be able to add into these. It’ll take you a day, because they’ll come up with questions that you would’ve never thought that they would ask that things are going to come up in your classroom every single day, right?

Or many days rather, or they’ll come up again, things that you’re just going to have to address as a teacher that you never thought you would have to, right? You thought, “Content, this is my job.” So you can start really using a lot of CI materials to do this. So my first few lessons are all about where the target language is spoken, all in the target language, these routines and procedures, and moving through them. I write them into my lessons and I add onto these routines every single day. Well, I’m going to talk about that a lot more in detail.

But I’ll talk about some of the routines that I do every day and why I do them. There’s a lot more that I do. So, but starting with the beginning of the year, some of those procedures in the classroom, right, they need to know how to go to the bath, right? How to ask to go to the bathroom, how to ask to go to the nurse, how to say I don’t understand, how to ask for paper, how to turn in work, for example. We go over those things, ad nauseum, using drama and CI, and lots of gestures and lots of visuals.

I have a whole wall in my room that I built with the kids. I take it off every year. So it’s not overwhelming when they first walk in. As I teach these survival language with procedures, [foreign language 00:10:05]. We’re putting those up on that wall and that’s exactly where it is, all that language that they need to be able to survive in the target language in the classroom. I get a lot of them from… I’ve made quite a few of my own because I do enjoy doing some things on Canva, but there’s some great ones out there that you can find. I want to say Passwords Perfectos from miscositas.com. She’s brilliant. She makes a bunch that she shares, and really focusing on that.

So I see the first two weeks as my target language and I heavily write in procedures and routines into my lessons. We’ll go through another week of that. But basically what you can do now is write down everything you think they’d need to know and how can you teach them this, right? How can you plan this into the lesson, into your language lesson of surviving in your classroom for the first two weeks. Harry Wong was right, everything falls beautifully into place. I’ve established CI environment. I’ve established Spanish as the language. I’ve established that they can communicate in the language and they know what to do and they know where to go if they need help. Next week, we’re going to talk about culture in the classroom and this getting set up to start the year. How do you start the year? Let me know. Until next time.

Resources for teachers of ANY language: https://reallifelanguage.lpages.co/language-lessons-5-weeks-of-low-and-no-prep-fun/

Thank you for listening to the 5-week Linguist Show with Janina Klimas. Join us each week here and visit us at reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog for more resources for learning and teaching languages.

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