No, this is not a post about a song by Juanes.
“La luz” is an integral part of my classes, and I don’t think I’ve ever officially described it. It looks like this:
It’s nothing more than a cheap battery closet light that turns on when pressed. It hangs in my classroom, and I use it from time to time. The rule is simple. When the light is on, no English is permitted – only Spanish. Speaking English when the light is glowing results in a loss of participation points and a good scolding from the teacher.
When the light is off, we still use the target language almost exclusively, but a slip into English is not penalized. The light gives us a visible sign to know that we’ve entered a new dimension in which such a slip is a sin.
I know other teachers who raise flags, flip a poster or a use a different gimmick to identify a No-English period. Awesome. There are many ways to do it.
Keys to success with your No-English device:
1. Make a spectacle of it: Be silly. Pretend the device has magical powers. I often start by saying, “Respeta la luz. La luz te ve. La luz sabe todo.” (Respect the light. The light sees you. The light knows everything.) Make a big deal out of No-English time.
2. Respect it yourself: Model perfect obedience to the device. If the light is on and I am speaking and I need to drop in a quick definition in English, I run over and turn it off. I quickly define the word and then turn on the light again. If you start disregarding the device, it loses its power.
3. Be consistent with the penalty/reward: I use classdojo.com to keep track of participation points. I quickly subtract a point when English is used. I also like the idea of a reward for nobody using English. Whatever system you use, be consistent.
4. Do not put students in difficult situations: Use it for retells or talking about the weekend. Students should be well-prepared to complete the task. It might be scary at first, but using the device should actually build confidence. Wow, I can avoid English altogether. Start with simple tasks and then do more and more.
5. Do not use it every minute of every class of every day: My class always happens in Spanish. I am doing most of the talking (providing input). I use the Target Language at or above 90% and students do as well, even when the light is off. Pressing the light means that now we must all be at 100%. If you try to institute a 100% TL rule for every minute, it will probably break down and your system will be lost. Find a gimmick to designate certain times as No-English. I often comment to my students when they begin to panic about the light, “Relax. This is only slightly different than what we always do.“