At the very minimum spending a few minutes on the daily agenda provides a structure and routine for students to get class started. Each day I start class by saying “Good morning/afternoon, class” to which they respond “Good morning/afternoon, teacher” Right after that we go through the agenda for the day. These two things combined really create a positive and smooth start of class.
To get started with novices you can start by simply stating what the students do and what the teacher does with a lot of repetition. For example, you might use sentences like this: First, the teacher presents new vocabulary for the lesson. The students practice with the teacher. Then, the teacher reads a story to the class. The class listens to the teacher attentively. Finally, the students sing with enthusiasm. At first consider drawing a picture with words to help with meaning. Consider using a couple basic transition words like: first, then, at the end. Then use them all of the time until they get them down before introducing new transition words. Gradually add in simple connecting words to help students get used to processing longer sentences. This is a good place to do that considering the agendas are generally not more than 5-8 sentences for a 40 minute class and the students always have your support and their peers for decoding the sentences. Over time, naturally increase the complexity of the language and sentence structures as you see students growing in their comprehension.
I have processed through some different ways to leverage an agenda and categorized them in this post. I also took pictures of different agendas I have used in the past week. Be aware that my observations/suggestions are in reference to Spanish and may not apply to all languages. I only have example agendas in Spanish.
Here is a list of ways that I get a lot of mileage out of the agenda. I don’t use all of them daily, but as they seem relevant. I typically spend about 4 minutes on the agenda for 7th grade. I typically spend less for 8th grade because we don’t translate as much of the agenda.
Like any comprehensible reading passage, keep a good balance between the quantity of new words you introduce in the agenda so students can use context to figure out the new word. Alternately you can just define the new word the first couple of times as well and help them through it.
- Each day as part of your agenda consider reading and/or questioning about the day and date. This will help reinforce days, numbers 1-31, and months in a logical context.
- Have students spell out words from the agenda periodically to reinforce the alphabet. Introduce new letters over time as they seem to be ready. A place that I regularly spell out words and eventually ask students to spell with me are days, numbers and months. It is just part of the routine. Possibly consider using this in conjunction with an alphabet song in your language.
- Include a question each day to review with the class- How are you? What’s the weather like? etc. Ask for a choral response from the group or do a quick pair practice of the question. Shelter the quantity of answers for kids to respond with at first (ex.: How are you?- fine, so-so, not well). When you revisit the question start adding other responses based on frequency of use and keep building options over time.
- Teach any vocabulary that is relevant to an agenda in a natural context. You can integrate almost any vocabulary you want to reinforce. For example, with school supplies you could write: Today you are going to write with a pencil on the paper in your notebook. You are going to use the stapler to put your writing sample in your notebook. First, you need to take your book out and put it on your table, etc. Integrating vocabulary like that will serve the purpose of keeping it fresh in your students’ minds and/or give you a way to teach some thematic vocabulary in a context for a purpose.
- Expand students’ vocabulary. Teach synonyms for words- once they have “listens” well ingrained then switch to “hears” for example. In Spanish for example instead of always using “rápidamente”, try “velozmente”, etc. to continue to expand vocabulary and comprehension.
- Include a couple words to help students continue to grow their vocabulary that might be more of a challenge to figure out or that they need to use the context to figure out. This will offer more advanced students a challenge to figure out/new words to learn and it will offer all students support in decoding new words in a context. Then, repeat those new words until students are comfortable with the words.
While I teach predominantly with comprehensible input, I do feel that for purposes of language precision and to help students transition to expectations at the high school, that there is a small place for grammar in instruction. The agenda is an easy way to integrate grammar practice on a daily basis without it feeling intrusive. Identify grammar that you need to teach or that is troublesome to students in your language. Make it a point to use those types of structures regularly so students have a chance to see them a lot. Point them out briefly and frequently. I also like to use the agenda to preview grammar that students will be responsible for knowing at some future point by giving them lots of opportunities to see it used in context ahead of time so it “looks and sounds” right to them when the time to understand it comes.
- Vary how you write the agenda. You can write it in command form, present tense, near future, future, using a mix of present and past as would be natural to express the idea, etc. Include a recap from the day before to include more past tense. Use the agenda to your advantage to support structures from the current lesson or ones you want to start previewing for future lessons, etc.
- Vary the pronouns you use. Talk about what you as the teacher will do during the lesson in 1st person, talk about what “you all” will be doing, what we will be doing together, etc. Scaffold for novice learners by using the same pronouns for awhile until the students seem to have those down and then introduce others. Introduce trickier pronoun combinations like you and I, etc. so they are comfortable reading a variety of subjects and associating them with their corresponding verb forms.
- Point out subject verb agreement with the varied subjects and verbs you use. If relevant in your language, sometimes remove the pronoun as students have more experience and see if they can read the verb without the pronoun to help. Point out parts of the verb- stems and endings and connections between the conjugations and the subject pronouns in preparation for when I will formally teach conjugations. This encourages kids to start noticing the endings and their meanings. Point out the different parts of the verbs and have students identify the meanings.
- Model use of adverbs by using them whenever relevant. Talk about how students are going to participate in the lesson/activity/game (carefully, attentively, quietly, with enthusiasm, etc), how you are going to model/teach the lesson, how you are going to do things together, etc.
- Expressly model noun-adjective agreement by pairing an adjective with a noun whenever possible for languages where the order is reversed or different from the L1 of the learners. Point out noun-adjective agreement.
- Use the agenda as the context to create a quick warm up with a cloze exercise for conjugations or other grammar you need to reinforce. Students can orally discuss the answer with a partner or write it down on a whiteboard. I am currently doing this daily with 8th graders and leaving 4 to 5 verb blanks. You can tailor the agenda a bit to verbs you want to have students practice.
- Don’t avoid trickier grammatical constructs in your language. Just use them. The kids always have support from their peers and from you to decode the messages in the agenda. It is a way to naturally keep scaffolding the material for the kids to the next level of grammatical complexity. For example, kids in level 1 will understand the future tense just fine when you explain the pattern and they have multiple opportunities to see it used in context. Having had the opportunity to read the new structure repeatedly makes in incrementally easier for them to understand the structure when they are expected to understand/produce the utterances using the future tense.
Reading an agenda provides another purpose for reading for students. They generally want to get information about what they will be doing in class that day.
- Teach reading strategies like finding the root in the word to decode new words, teach close reading by asking students to train themselves to really look for accents and to look particularly closely at cognates for subtle spelling differences that tend to be overlooked. Point out other patterns in words like: -tion in Spanish is -ción or -sión, -ly in English is -mente in Spanish. You can purposely use the words you want to reinforce or let them occur naturally.
- Work on reading for meaning by reading the sentences in the agenda one or two at a time. Read the whole sentence(s) through and ask students to read along with you focusing on the message in the sentence(s). Then, as a group doing a choral response, point to each word in the sentence and have students say the word in their L1. This process gives students the chance to process the meaning by themselves first and little more think time. It also teaches them to focus on getting the gist of the message first. You as the teacher then get a good, quick and regular comprehension check as students translate the sentence word for word. If students struggle with certain words, make sure they show up in the agenda again for the next few days if possible so they get more reinforcement of the word. For more advanced levels, potentially differentiate by spot checking words rather than asking for a full translation of the agenda, depending upon the complexity of the agenda and your purpose.