Maintaining contact in an ELE classroom

Milka Peñaranda

Teaching ELE (Spanish as a foreign language) one on one is unique in that the requirements for the teacher as well as the student varies depending on the needs and objectives of each student. Also, when teaching both tourists and volunteers, planning a 3 or 4 hour class is not the same as a 45 minute or one hour class. Since you are with the student face to face, day after day, it’s necessary that you invent different strategies and activities to avoid monotony and keep the student from losing interest in learning and teaching.

According to Linsay Clanfield (teacher trainer and author on the subject), a class should be organized into three paramount activities: First, heads up, which is time for the teacher to explain the grammar, vocabulary and/or other instructions. The students should be paying attention and looking at the screen/whiteboard. Second, heads down is when the student reads, writes, or listens. And third, heads together is when students speak and share ideas with each other.


One on one classes are also made of with the concepts of heads up, heads down and heads together; of course they are done with the teacher. If you apply these three activities proposed by Linsay Clanfield to the four competencies that should be achieved in each class, you would have good results. In other words, you would develop strategies to improve reading and listening comprehension and, of course, oral and written expression.

In a one on one class, heads up can be seen as listening and reading exercises generated by using the computers available in the classroom. These activities use audios and videos, images, and texts. For example, a worksheet for recognizing verb forms, which would generally be a heads down activity, becomes a heads up and heads together task as the student and teacher interact through use of the computer. In this way, a student is engaged in the exercise, practicing audio and written comprehension while at the same time generating oral production.

While it’s good to have reading and writing exercises, they shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes because it would be too much heads down time and would create a waiting environment that could be uncomfortable for the class. Still, you could combine it with a heads together activity. For example, the student could read a section of text and, after, answer comprehension questions or clear up any confusion with vocabulary. It’s good to maintain a dialogue to practice listening comprehension and oral production.

However, conversing for the entire class length of a class in not recommended because you would only be heads together and the student would feel like - “you haven’t taught me anything.” Also, the purpose of the lesson can be lost in a meandering conversation. Combining a conversation class with short readings from the computer screen, images, or short videos and explanations of vocabulary and culture, is important for motivating the student and give direction to the conversation as the class would incorporate heads up and heads together.

In summary, learning ELE in a one on one classroom is all about maintaining a special kind of contact with the student. Trying to combine heads up, heads together and heads down will help establish this dialogue between teacher and student.


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teaching ELE / Spanish as a foreign language / reading and writing exercises / conversation class