First Day of School: “Teach Like A Pirate” for World Languages (#wltlap)

Last night I participated in the first #wltlap chat on Twitter: it was fun and inspiring. There are so many passionate educators out there! The one million dollar question for me was “How do I implement TLAP first 3 days of  school and stay in the target language, especially for Novice learners?”. This post is an attempt to answer this question.

The eternal dilemma of teaching World Languages is finding the right balance between speaking the language and building rapport with your students. When you teach level 1, it is difficult to get to know your students (and for them to get to know you) without using any English. I am still wrestling with this question but at this point, I am leaning towards using comprehensible input not only to teach but also to build relationships with my students.

So… for the first day of school, Dave Burgess has his students create something with Play Doh that represents themselves. Burgess uses the creation time to walk around and speak one-on-one with students. Then, rather than have everyone present (and be put on the spot on their first day), he holds the creation and asks a few questions.

How do we translate this first day into a World Language environment?

1. Lower the stress level associated with hearing a teacher speak a language students don’t understand.

I show them a 35 sec video I prepared on the video tells them it will be like a game trying to figure out what I am saying and to pay attention to my visuals and body language.

2. Model. You ask them to create something with Play Doh, have something ready to show them and talk about (in target  language!)

I love dancing so I will have my little Play Doh ballerina ready to go!

3. Use a lot of comprehensible input: practice cognates, visuals, and gestures in advance so that you are deliberate about what kind of input you communicate with your students.

Turns out, there are a quite a few cognates ready to help me with my first day: ma passion; la danse; j’adore!; contente; enfant, etc. Also, a bunch of gestures can come to the rescue: point at the Play Doh, create something with Play Doh, point at the calendar to show how often I dance, actually dancing!, thumb up and down to check level of understanding, etc. And finally a few props could come handy like a timer to check on the 10 minutes.

Will the students come out of my class pumped? I am pretty sure they will: they got to play with Play Doh, share something personal about themselves, and their ego got a huge boost because they already understand French on Day One!

I am excited to try TLAP first day of school in my French 1 classes while continuing to speak French to my students!


  1. I like the emphasis on making a game of figuring things out, but I think I’m going to need more than a video (will have to check yours out when I get to a computer) to make mine believe the constant guessing is fun. Ideas?

    Also with the Play Doh, I’m wondering how to get my novices enough vocabulary to present theirs. Introduce WordReference, possibly comparing results to Google and dictionary at stations? Would that lose the first-days momentum? Maybe have a few sentence-starters? (Je [fait], j’aime…, je suis…?)

  2. HI Laura, thanks for your comment! I teach 7th graders and they love figuring things out as long as you make it fun (lots of facial expressions and body language). With High Schoolers, I think you are right it can be a bit tougher but it ends up being a nice break in their day to “play”..

    Regarding their presentations, I would let them present in English. What matters in the first few days/weeks is for you to speak in the TL, not them. They are Novice so they have no language. Have you ever watched the Annenberg videos? They show WL teachers in action. This particular one shows the teacher speaking only in French and the students responding with what they have (English or French).

    What think?

  3. Did you get permission? I am going to try this tomorrow in French 2 🙂

    • YES! I am going to do it enxt Wednesday. I am now assembling my Dumbledore costume 🙂 Let me know how yours go tomorrow and if I need to change anything! Bonne Chance

  4. Merci! Today went well with the play dough 🙂 I’m switching the order a bit and going to talk about methods and the why and the how of learning French with CI methods. Then on Monday I will wear the wizard costume to do the sorting and expectation writing because tomorrow is spirit day. I will let you know how it goes!

  5. So happy to see this post, as I’m trying to figure out TPRS and TLAP at the same time.

    One question–your video doesn’t seem to exist. Help?

      • Thanks for the update! Yes, I agree with TLAP/TPRS linkage, for sure.

        I guess I have another question. . . How did this lesson go (do you remember? 😉 )? I’m getting ready to do K-8 for my first year back since becoming a (mostly) full-time parent. I was a middle school teacher before having kids, so I’m feeling a little daunted by the younger group. I’m only teaching part time and have 25 minutes with the K-5 groups (each grade separately), two days a week, though the 6-8 kids I’ll have for 50 minutes and that seems easier to deal with the Play-Doh. Even if I carry the activity over to a second day (by the time, with those little ones, that I work on very specific procedures like how to get into a line to leave my classroom), I’m trying to decide if it’s the best bang for my buck to go with Play-doh, or do some other adaptation>

        Oh, and one more (and I may have more, which is why I started following you on Twitter today! ;): Did you circle the kids’ Play-doh creations/interests? (Like Ben Slavic’s Circling with Balls?) Or did you just talk about them with the class?

      • Yes I remember! Kids loved the Play Doh but 1) I would not do it with only 25 min and 2) harder to follow-up the next day than if you had a drawing (easier to store). We can continue this conversation over Twitter/email. Please contact mne @Cecilelaine or

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