Plan B

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Today, I had to switch to Plan B.

Plan A is personalized questions and storytelling in order to facilitate language acquisition, but sometimes Plan A just doesn’t work. This seems to be the case with my class of third-year students that I see immediately after lunch. The time slot is problematic every year, and this year is no exception. There are simply too many students talking over me and over each other for me to administer consequences and control the chatter, so we’re taking a break.

We’re activating Plan B.

You see, yesterday, I had planned to teach and discuss the structures “saw” and “went”. I had the kids draw a quick two-part sketch of somewhere that they went last weekend and what or who they saw while there. I got through about…one…and realized that few students were listening attentively enough to take in meaningful repetitions of the structures, and I was about to have a conniption. So I paused class, switched to English, and asked the kids if they had any strategies for me or for them that would help control the chatter. Silence.

Today, I typed up a page-long reading based on the drawings that the kids had made yesterday. It just described where everyone went and what they saw. I wrote a list of instructions that would require them to read the text in its entirety multiple times and to focus on the difference in meaning between past and present tense verbs. I wrote a few questions about the reading for the kids to answer, and asked the kids to write any words that they didn’t recognize on the board as they came across them. I wrote the translations for those terms beside the words that the kids added as they came up. Here is the story so that you can see: Plan B, El fin de semana pasado

It wasn’t ideal, but the kids did get many repetitions of the target structures “fue” and “vio”. The greatest problem is that comprehension checks are difficult to complete. I walk around and ask kids to translate individual sentences, but I can’t get a very comprehensive read on the class’s understanding. Tomorrow, we will read through it as a class and go over all of the tasks that they needed to complete today.

At the end of class, I took a few minutes to revisit the question that I posed to them yesterday (about strategies to lessen the chatter), and one girl suggested that they needed a period for talking during the day. I had a response for that, but we eventually agreed that if they are good listeners through the entire period, I will give the last few minutes (3 or so) to talk with their friends before the bell rings. This is a waste of my class time, but if it actually works, I will end up wasting much less than I am now while waiting for everyone to quiet down between every single question or comment I make.

What strategies do you use when you have a class that can’t seem to handle storytelling or discussions?


  1. Martina,
    I feel your pain! My 5th period (lunch) Spanish II class is the exact same way. The saddest thing is that it is my smallest class and I have some really bright students in it. There are three to four students that make the class so difficult to teach. Yesterday, two of them received morning detention because they talked the entire class WHILE I was teaching. The other two fell sound asleep. It is exasperating and classroom management is NOT my forte. I would like to hear from some people too!


  2. Don’t we all have one of those classes? Mine is the last hour of the day with 29 students, mostly sophomores – very immature ones at that. Lots of personalities, personal conflicts, plain loud ones, non-stop quiet chatters and anything in between. As usual, a few make it painful for the rest because once they start, the rest follows. I even tried to bribe them with PAT on Fridays but they never earned it so it pretty much became useless. Sigh… I tried many things: different activities, technology, spent hours researching and preparing interesting activities with authentic materials… Nothing works for them. I feel unaccomplished because uninterrupted language is not happening and there are other students in the class who could excel if it weren’t for those ruining it. Every day. At least I have four other classes that are proof that motivation and a little effort go a long way.


    1. I feel your pain. This class is full of really good kids, and I don’t have any behavior problems other than talking (I had your same class, I think, two years ago in my last hour class). Giving them readings for the past two days has been really good for them and for me. I think we will finish out the week this way and try discussion again next week. We will see…


  3. Your Plan B looks good to me! My original plans for tomorrow were to add “vio” and “hizo” to our regular weekend talks that include “fue” and “hablo”. If I have them sketch it, as you suggested, I can pick and choose which ones to use A-N-D I’m going to PLAN to use your Plan B the next day as a follow up. Thanks Martina.


  4. One thing that sometimes has worked for me is waiting until the chatter subsides while I silently count. When they are finally quiet I write the number of seconds on the board and keep a tally. Then I hold the class after the bell rings the number of seconds I had to count to regain their attention, sometimes up to a whole minute. They have to wait in silence or I will restart their time. I always tell them with a big smile it’s my special quality time with them, which they hate even more. Some classes don’t care, and I only break it out if it’s a really bad day. In my really chatty class last year I used a shrill whistle to gain their attention and then counted. That typically shut them down quickly.


    1. Also, I try to do this very neutrally with a smile and when they start asking “WHAT?! WHAT IS THAT?! WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS MEAN?!?!” I keep putting my finger to my lips like “Shhhhh” and I’ll just keep adding more seconds until they are totally and completely silent. Then I calmly explain that that is how much time they’ll spend with me after the bell rings.


  5. Oh, absolutely! Something that gets them to stand up or move around for a minute or two before getting back to the grind. I would say that most of the time they are shorter than five minutes long…asking questions about the reading and having them touch their nose if the answer is X or touch their ear if the answer is Y, gesture wars with a partner, Simon says, etc. I think if you search “brain breaks”, something will pop up…I’m pretty sure I’ve posted on it before. It definitely helps to wake them up from the drone of the text. Thanks for asking! It’s an important strategy to use when doing such reading-intensive classes–but keep them short so that the kids don’t have too much time to lose focus altogether.


  6. This plan B really helped me during the two weeks before Christmas break. My 5th period class of sopohomores (just before lunch and well known for their whole class as being more immature) gets quite unfocused. They did very well working together on the activities that I wrote up about one of our stories. Thank you, Martina.


  7. I stumbled upon your site in search of my own Plan B. I have one of those classes every year, and this year I’m at a new school that’s notorious for poor student behavior. I’ve managed to win over all my classes except one, full of students who’ve already flunked out of Spanish (automatically starting them over in my French classes) or who spend more time in suspension or court than in the classroom. Needless to say, I’m not sure if there’s enough time in the school year to win enough of them back for successful, normal TPRS. We’ve tried everything in the book, including frequent brain breaks and counting time after the bell, and the result is the same: anything beyond absolute-silence IP work and there’s a disruption way beyond anything I’d normally tolerate (or encounter) in class. I like the idea of typing up a reading activity that requires them to use the passage several times – more bang for your buck. It’s better than Plan Z: “Here’s a textbook and workbook, have it all done by the end of the year, and good luck!” 🙂


  8. Ugh, I totally have a class that needs Plan B. I have the opposite problem as you, though they do get carried away with chattering. The biggest problem is they are first period in the morning and they don’t participate, at all. Most of them just sit there and don’t even answer my questions or do anything, while 3 or 4 of them carry the entire story with my, adding details and such. They are like silent statues when I ask them a question, and I am getting so frustrated! I had most of these kids last year, and it’s been getting progressively worse. Thinking about just doing readings for a long while until they can manage to participate better.


    1. I’ve been having a similar problem with my Sp.3s. With the same thought. Reading. They also love to chat.but I did do the simultaneous presentations and they liked the interaction and didn’t do so much talking in English because they knew I was coming around for assessment .


    2. Hi Kristin!

      I was having the same problem with my middle schoolers at the beginning of the trimester. I started having them write down answers to the questions I asked and gave them a short amount of time to practice asking/answering with a partner. Then, when we came back together as a class, I told them to star** 3 questions that they felt comfortable/confident answering. I told them that they HAD to raise their hands for each of those questions, but that I wouldn’t call on them for any of the questions that they didn’t have starred. It really increased participation for my 8th graders. Even though they didn’t “have” to participate in the questions that weren’t starred, most of them opened up and started talking a lot after they got past the initial shy/embarrassed stage. I’m not sure how well it would work at the high school, but it’s worth a try! Good luck and happy teaching 🙂



  9. Just reading this post, and I think this is a topic that is too often avoided, but is a reality in all classrooms. In an ideal world, everything we plan for our students would motivate them all and we would be in Utopia. But we are all dealt different mixes of students, each with different needs. I needed some actors for a story a couple weeks ago in one class, and nobody volunteered…..Definitely had to go to Plan B. I had a canned story (luckily) that had the same target phrases I was to teach in all my other sections of the same course that day. What I didn’t have was a hard copy for everyone, nor a pretty copy to look at. So, I did a dictation, where I read the story, students wrote what I wrote, then I typed the story up on the projector and they made their corrections as they read the correct version….. I actually ended up having several of my students say that they thought it was a beneficial activity because they really had to listen and try to write it correctly….Students labeled a piece of lined paper 1,2,3,1,2,3, etc. They wrote what they thought I was saying on line 1. On line 2, under what they wrote, they made corrections, and line 3 was a space.


    1. Thank you for sharing the bad as well as the good. I feel like as a novice, it is really encouraging to know that even an experienced and talented TPRS teacher such as you can have challenges!


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