I’m not sure if you can relate, but sometimes I feel like half the battle in maternelle is just getting the day started on the right foot.
If I can get my students calm, happy, and speaking French right from the get-go, we generally have a calm, happy, French-filled day.
If not, I’ve sometimes had students climbing on window sills (true story!!), throwing tantrums because someone didn’t share, and/or speaking English all day long.
Just like with adults (I have a super strict morning routine myself!!), I think that our students can really benefit from starting the day in the way that we would like for it to continue.
There is a particular way that we start our school day in my maternelle classroom, every day, right from Day 1.
Read on if you’re curious to learn more!
Every morning, I like to do a “How are you?” circle.
Not only is this great communication orale practice, but it helps me know who is ready to have a great day and who might need a little more TLC to feel good.
We start this routine on Day 1, but, of course, it looks different on Day 1 versus on Day 185.
How to get started
I teach my students to find a spot sitting on the perimeter of the carpet. I quickly review the ways they are allowed to sit – criss cross, on their knees, or with their legs out straight in a pike position.
They aren’t allowed to lay down on their backs or bellies during this time, but by giving them three options to choose from, most students will make a good choice on their own.
I have a talking stick (it’s actually a cube!) that I tell them is *magic*.
It’s magic because only the person holding it is allowed to talk…and everyone else must listen.
I explain that we will be using the magic cube to share how we are feeling each day. I stress that this activity is optional: If you don’t want to share, then you can just pass the cube to someone else!
Teaching the necessary vocabulary
On Day 1, our choices are, “ça va bien,” “ça va mal,” and “ça va comme-ci comme-ça.”
Of course, later in the year, we say much more, and I will teach them “je suis/je me sens…parce que…”
I use lots of gestures to help them succeed: thumbs up, thumbs down, and wiggly thumbs for comme-ci comme-ça.
I model first how to answer, and then I pass the cube to the student beside me and ask them « comment ça va…? » and so on, all the way around the circle.
When your students are ready, they will all participate. I had one student who said nothing at all until January, and then she would whisper it in my ear and I would repeat it to the class, and then, finally, in May she would say it on her own. All progress is progress!
Why I love it so much
During our how are you circle, my students are learning extremely important communication skills: both speaking and listening to their peers respectfully and reacting to their stories appropriately.
So many teachable moments happen inside of these 10-15 minutes!
This time also allows me to hear personal stories from my students and really get to know them and what is going on in their lives, and it also allows me to share things from my life with them.
A strong relationship with our students is key to helping them feel comfortable with taking risks…and you can’t learn to speak another language without being willing to take some risks!
Building relationships is also key to an effective gestion de classe.
I also learn of any events or issues that could affect someone’s day or mood and can be ready for potential meltdowns or grouchies.
What if your students talk too much?
Of course, your circle will not last 10-15 mins in September; it will probably be under five minutes, which is awesome for our low September listening stamina!
Later in the year, I actually have to limit how many things they are able to share, or we would be in our circle all day (which would be super fun for me, but super hard for busy five-year-old bodies!) :)
To do that, I pull out a sneaky conscience phonologique skill: segmenting sentences into words à l’orale.
I pick a number, and students have to try to say how they are feeling in that many words or less. I love seeing them reflect on their words and learning to count words in a sentence.
What a great way to think about what a word is!
Sharing and expressing feelings and emotions is an important outcome for kindergarten students in Nova Scotia, and a “How are you?” circle is a wonderful way to practice that, every single day.
Plus, since starting our day in this way, I have noticed an increase in positive feelings and a decrease in windowsill climbing. It might just be a coincidence, but I’m not willing to risk stopping ;)
I highly recommend it! Will you be trying it in your maternelle class?