“Speak English!” is one of the sentences that comes out of my mouth more often than my name or the word “the.” I can’t tell you how many times a day I tap a student on the shoulder or point across the room to remind my Brazilian kids to use the language that they need to practice, the one they’re practicing with me everyday as we read Romeo & Juliet in English, work out of our English vocabulary book, and prepare presentations in English. Why I constantly have to remind them to speak English in English class is just beyond me because if I were my students, I would take every single opportunity to speak English with a native speaker, just like I much prefer to speak Portuguese with Brazilians here.
In any case, because I have become absolutely sick of hearing myself say those two words over and over again like I’ve got a debilitating obsessive disorder where I have to repeat phrases a hundred times to function well, I came up with an idea to make my students feel pressure to speak English in class. And that idea was this: when I hear them speak Portuguese and after I have reminded them once already, they need to say after school with me for five minutes (or more if they continue to use Portuguese) and speak English.
Do you know what I heard when I told them that was going to be the consequence for using Portuguese in English class? “Cool! Can I stay?” I rolled my eyes and the kids laughed. “That’s not really a punishment, Ms. C,” one boy told me.
Today was the third day I’ve had to keep kids after school. Three students came in, remembering without me having to remind them, and we sat for 10 minutes together and talked about their Science Fair projects. Three other students, who were not required to stay, remained in the doorway listening and asking to participate. This has happened every time a student has stayed after school. They stare at the others with an excited anticipation and I can tell they want to join our conversation.
It’s nice because I can talk to my kids about their days and find out things about them that I wouldn’t normally, like where they see themselves later on in life, what their plans are for the upcoming weekend, and what happens when you put an egg in Coca Cola for three days. (Respective answers: Electrical engineers, going to dance class, and the shell becomes thin and slimy and the whole thing attracts flies and smells bad. That last one is one of the coolest/grossest things I’ve heard in a long time and reinforces what is so neat about working with 7th graders: They are so not afraid of gross stuff and they remind me why gross stuff is so great.)
But even after a week of this kind of system, I still find myself frustrated and repeating “Speak English!” Any suggestions for what I can do? I have some ideas floating around in my head, like using a system of positive reinforcement and pizza, but we’ll see. I’d love some help. In the meantime, though, I’ll stick with this quality time because it’s really kind of fun.