5 Ways to Avoid Language Plateau in the Classroom

January 31, 2017 admin


What happened?  Your
students were doing so well and you were feeling like the amazing Spanish
teacher that you are, when suddenly, they start to regress!  Whoa… what’s going on?  They knew this stuff just yesterday!  Well, relax.
It’s completely normal for your students to move forward and back, and
forward and back again as they increase toward more advanced levels of the
language.  This regression may seem discouraging,
but take heart!  Although students
regress frequently, the general movement is f-o-r-w-a-r-d! 


What happens, though, when a student gets stuck in this
process?  It IS possible for a student’s
language to fossilize at a particular point or for a particular structure.  This is actually a pidginization of the
target language with the native language and often occurs when the student
lacks motivation to move forward.  What
could cause that, you say?  Well, when
the student feels that he is reaching the communicative goal, regardless of the
correctness, he may be unmotivated to continue to work toward nativelike
competency.  Many times this happens when
language is learned in the classroom with limited exposure to native
speakers.  Unfortunately, once this
fossilization has occurred it is very difficult to turn back the hands of time.

As we say here in the south, an ounce of prevention is worth
a pound of cure!  So, here are 5
strategies to motivate your students to work toward nativelike fluency, helping them to avoid language plateaus and fossilization by exposing them to the target language:

1.  Provide exposure to the target language
Bring your
students into contact with fluent speakers regularly by inviting native
speakers of the target language to the classroom.  One of the most underused resources that we
Spanish teachers have is native speaking parents!  This is a great way to involve parents in the learning process as well as to introduce culture, as parents can talk about
their native countries or traditions.
Another wonderful resource are the native speaking students within your
school.  You can have native speaking
students be guest lecturers and discuss topics of interest to your students.  Other sources would be administrators,
counselors, other teachers, and adults from the community.
2.  Increase motivation with an authentic purpose.  
Students love to use the target language for an authentic purpose. Writing to a pen pal is the perfect way to motivate your students to use their new skills.  Organize pen-pal relationships between
students and peers.  This could be as
easy as partnering with another Spanish teacher and having the two classes
exchange letters.  You could also partner
with the ESL teacher and exchange letters with her native speaking students,
rotating between Spanish one week and English the next, so that both classes
practice their language skills.  If you
have contacts in a Spanish speaking country, this exchange also works well for
those Spanish speaking students wishing to practice their English with native
English speakers.  Looking for pen pals
for your students?  See this blog post by KidWorldCitizen
 for some ideas.

3.  Supply opportunities for language use.

field trips to take your students to local markets or restaurants where they
will have to communicate with native speakers for understanding to order a meal
or buy food.  You can also have them
attend a theatrical production in Spanish or visit a Spanish bookstore for a
reading or author meet.  If this is
impossible due to funding, then have virtual field trips in the classroom and
bring in some guest speakers to introduce the native speech aspect.  Interested in learning more about virtual
field trips? 
Click here for some great tips to get you started.

4.  Promote proficiency with authentic materials.

appropriate native written books that the students want to read by having a
small library in your classroom.  You can
also bring in popular magazines written in Spanish or a current Spanish
newspaper.   This exposure to native
materials may also heighten the motivation for your students to become as
proficient in the language as possible.  Our very own Sherry at the World Language Café has some fun ways to use a library in the classroom.

5.  Encourage participation with celebrations

celebrations that involve more advanced speakers of the language.  This could be during the class time when
another, more advanced class comes and communicative games and activities are
planned.  You can also have get togethers
after school such as a ‘coffee talk’ where students have access to native
speakers to practice conversation skills.
My school has a program called Project Bridge where the Spanish students
and the ESL students sign up to meet together for 20 minutes of English
practice and then 20 minutes of Spanish practice.  Check with other teachers, your school’s
Spanish Honor Society or Spanish club to see if you can coordinate an event.  For some fun ideas, see this post by my fellow blogger,
Catharyn Crane from Sol Azúcar, where she lists 20 things you can do with your Spanish club. 

Hopefully, these ideas will help you plan for that nasty bout
of fossilization that could occur, and give you some ways to inoculate your
students so that they don’t catch that nasty bug!  You just may prevent fossilization or at
least get students moving forward again in the language development process!

How do you motivate your students to push past plateaus in the language?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments!




1 Comment

  • sangeeth November 13, 2019 at 12:49 pm

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