The bell rings, you close the door. Greet your students: “¡Buenos días!” or “Bon jour!”. Have your students chorally greet you back. Then, in every class that you teach, whether it be Level One or Advanced Placement, start the class with the following warm-up activity. Prepare, on a single piece of paper, two lists of questions, each list containing exactly seven questions. I usually photocopy these lists, handing out a copy to each student, or I project the list on a screen, using an overhead transparency or an LCD projector. Here is what this paper might look like:
Warm-up BSB 2 Lección 5
A) ¿Va a comprar tu familia un árbol de Navidad?
¿De qué material son muchas botas?
¿Te gusta cuando hay fuegos en la chimenea?
¿Caen muchas hojas de los árboles en el otoño?
¿Cómo se llaman los renos que usa Santa Claus en su trineo?
En tu opinión, ¿son más guapos los hombres con barbas?
¿Cuál es tu cuadro favorito?
B) ¿Has sido parte de un equipo muy competitivo?
¿Has visto jamás un dinosaurio?
¿Has disparado jamás una pistola?
¿Te ha mordido jamás un perro?
¿Te gustaría ir conmigo al cine?
¿Dónde estarás el año que viene?
¿Dónde estabas el marzo pasado?
These questions come from a second-year Spanish class. The underlined words feature new vocabulary from Chapter Five in the Breaking the Spanish Barrier. Students might well have their textbook open as we do this exercise in case they don’t remember what some of the vocabulary means. You will notice that most of the questions are fairly straightforward “yes” or “no” questions. In groups of two, one student will ask the first question of his partner. She will answer that question and then pose the second question back to him. He, in turn, answers that question and then poses the next question, until they get to the seventh question, the last one of the list. At that point, the person who answers that seventh question will now repeat the first question of the very same list. The person who last time answered the first question will now get to ask it. The one who asked it will now answer. The second time through, the vocabulary is now more familiar, and the answers tend to flow more freely.
Once I feel that most students have gotten through those questions “twice,” I will announce that everyone is to change partners (if they worked with a partner on their left before, they will work with someone on their right). They now begin the second list of questions: “B”. They move down in the same routine, alternating back and forth, just like a ping-pong game.
During this exercise, I will wander around, helping students who are stuck, listening for good answers, offering praise, trying to resist making too many corrections. I will mostly try to enjoy the sounds from this Tower of Babel as a full class of students, speaking simultaneously, will make beautiful sounds of Spanish.
Your students will think that this drill practices vocabulary, which, of course, it does. Yet, unbeknownst to them, I have laced each drill with grammatical points that I want emphasized. First and foremost, all the questions model perfect grammar – there is subject/verb agreement, adjective/noun agreement, correct word order, beautiful punctuation, and lovely choices of tense! By answering, students are usually speaking quite accurate Spanish. I am trying to set them up to speak beautifully. I want this practice to sink into them. I want the Spanish to become a part of their lives.
If you look closely at the warm-up sentences in the lists above, you will notice that the present perfect tense is used quite a bit in the second bank of questions. That chapter in our text not so coincidentally covered the present perfect. During the warm-up, I always include many sentences that practice the grammar we are studying. I don’t make a big deal about it. It is a bit like subliminal advertising. The grammar is there, living, breathing, coming alive. The students are having fun speaking in Spanish. I am helping them by setting them up to say perfectly constructed sentences!
Mostly, I want them to speak. I read an article once that reported that the average student in a language classroom actually speaks less than fifteen seconds of the target language each class period. That is remarkable! Why does that happen? It’s obvious: we language teachers love to talk. We dominate the classroom. We tend to talk all the time.
This warm-up exercise is the perfect antidote. This drill runs from three to four minutes. In that time, your students will have each posed and then answered fourteen questions. They will have spoken twenty-eight times! You have given them a gift right at the beginning of each class. Now, if there is in an unexpected fire drill or power failure and class is cut short, you can smile knowing that they have spoken significantly more that most students usually speak in a full week in an average foreign language classroom.
Part of the success of this activity is your being able to let go. Students will make some mistakes that you won’t be able to correct! A few students will even whisper – or joke around – in English. Yet, the majority of students will be on task. They are actively participating. You can even have them create their own warm-up questions on occasion (I suggest that they turn them in to you a day in advance for proofreading – it is important that the model questions be accurate!).
In this exercise, students are only asked to speak. To answer. To enjoy this activity. To be fearless of making an error. As young children, we spoke long before we knew any rules. Our parents listened to our many grammatical errors. Through trial and error, we learned to make sense of language.
Give your students the best gift possible at the beginning of each and every class. Have them speak to each other in groups of two. Follow up a little, if you want, as a whole group. If you heard some great answers, ask your students those questions.
I think this activity is the best way to start any class. Do it. Every day. This is the one activity I ALWAYS, ALWAYS do. Every day.
One the Breaking the Barrier website, you will find thousands of questions written and ready for all levels of Spanish and French. Use them today in class! Just click one of these links.