Although I try to vary my warm-ups, many times I will have students complete a textbook activity. It was typically our only work in the textbook, so I tried to maintain this activity. The other day, I changed my mind.
I had to ride the metro to see a Wizards game. I always read on the metro, and I didn’t have my David Baldacci novel. I grabbed an old textbook from college- Teacher’s Handbook Contextualized Language Instruction. This book is written by Judith Shrum and Eileen Glisan. I probably hadn’t opened it since 2005, but I discovered that it had many helpful ideas.
One passage discussed how teachers can “incorporate more… interpersonal communication into their teaching.” It went on to say, “They can change the way in which the traditional warm-up is done at the beginning of class. Instead of asking each student a question that has little communicative value (e.g., ‘What’s the weather like today?’ or ‘What time is it?’), they can introduce an interesting and/or personalized topic (e.g., an upcoming dance or championship game) and engage only a few students in discussion so that they are able to take multiple turns. If time does not permit participation by the whole class, those who don’t speak on a particular day will benefit from observing a meaningful conversation and will have opportunities to participate on another day.” (71)
Wow! This is true, and this is just what I needed. On Friday, I replaced my warm-up by writing three questions on the board for students to answer. I asked them about what they were doing this weekend and what they were doing on Monday. I also asked them with whom they would spend time. Teenagers love talking about weekend plans. The first class went well! One student said that he was going to school on Monday because he forgot that it was Martin Luther King Jr day. I asked him in Spanish with whom he was going to school because I was not going to school on Monday. The whole class laughed. Later, I changed a question and asked who was going to the Middle School basketball night. One class I asked who they thought was going to win. I received a lot of earnest responses then.
While the questions are a good jumping off point, the more important part was the follow-up questions. The original questions were planned discourse, and the following questions students had to understand and reply to on the spot. I was pleased that many students were able to do this easily. However, most of my students did not respond in sentences; they gave one word answers. I feel that this is developmentally appropriate for beginning language students.
From here, I am looking forward to reading more about personalized questions. I know that this will become essential to our warm-ups for the rest of the year. I look forward to seeing how students transition as we include this activity.
*Book excerpt from “Shrum, L., & Glisan, E. (2005). Teacher’s Handbook Contextualized Language Instruction. Boston: Thompson Higher Education.
Clip art from: http://openclipart.org/detail/172998/cartoon-hedgehog-whos-asking-a-question-1-by-vorzinek-172998