Exhausting & Energizing: The Novice-Low Class

A Novice-Low class is the most exhausting one to teach at the beginning of the year. The good news is that an Intermediate class will be able to run itself eventually. So, hopefully, you have the good fortune to teach both.

It feels so exhausting because the beginners’ circle is powered by teacher energy. I knew this was true, but it hit me hard last week. Who can relate?

I thought I would share with you some of things we keep in mind when leading a novice-low class as we strive to set the tone for the year. These are elements I could write entire posts about (and probably will).

1. Repetition

The importance of repetition was made clear to me when I was a participant in Chinese, French and Arabic circles. I could only handle so much vocabulary. I craved repetition.

2. Fast-paced

Novice-Lows will resort to English if you give them more time than they need on a task. Hint: in pairs, more than a few seconds is more time than they need. Each week that time they can handle grows with their language.

3. Novice-Level Tasks

Again, Novice-Lows will speak English if you ask them to do something they can’t do. Or if they don’t understand what you are asking them to do.

So, what are novice level tasks you ask?

Repeating, using memorized words and phrases, listing, responding with their body to show comprehension.

You simply cannot ask a Novice-Low class to produce sentences. This might seem obvious to you. But, pre-proficiency, this was something I did.

4. Movement

Movement plays so many roles in the deskless classroom. (I also believe this to be one of the aspects that non-language teachers can easily bring into their classrooms). To name a few: it allows the brain to work better, it gives meaning to words, and gives the brain a break from the language. It also infuses play into the classroom (see below).

One of my favorite things about movement in our circle, however, is that it can sometimes feel awkward. I purposely push students out of their comfort zone with the movement. Why is that my favorite thing? Because in the past, SPANISH felt awkward. Now, Spanish is the easier part of the class. I will definitely be exploring this more with you.

5. Non-language tasks/activities

At different points in the class period, students need to be able to complete tasks that don’t require language. This can be as simple as passing a clap around the circle (like the wave) or any game that doesn’t require language. The one I used this year was Copy Cat. It requires some language to explain, but students were able to catch on quickly and play without using language.

These activities build community, help students to feel successful, build communication skills, give them a break from the language and encourage play.

6. Opportunities for non-verbal communication

Students want to express themselves and communicate with you and one another, but they don’t yet have the vocabulary in the target language to do so. Build in opportunities for them to do this with their bodies. Our gestures allow that. Students can answer questions with the appropriate action even if they can’t produce the exact word yet. Additionally, activities that have students move a certain way to answer a question, give an opinion or demonstrate understanding are all important.

6. Play

Class should be fun and light-hearted. Students need to take risks and they are more likely to do that if they feel comfortable, are having fun and aren’t afraid of being corrected or punished for making mistakes. Play can also cause a desire to communicate, which creates a need for the language and a context for vocabulary to have real meaning for students.


Finally, Novice-Lows are all about Vocabulary Building. This is my third September using this approach in the classroom and each year I’m impressed by how much language students are able to understand as well as how many words students are able to retain after just a few days.

Today, after 3 classes of Spanish (separated by a 4 day weekend), I asked my Novice-Low class to generate a list of words from our circle. They came up with 45 words before it was time to leave class.

Which of those elements most interest you?

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10 thoughts on “Exhausting & Energizing: The Novice-Low Class

  1. Thank you SO MUCH Ashley! ALL of my students are Novice Low and reading this was very helpful and TRUE! Great things for me to keep in mind. I, too, remember craving repetition in the Chinese, Arabic and French circles. That helps me feel confident about there never being too much repetition in a Novice Low circle.

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  2. thank you Ashley! All of my students are novice low as well. I was wondering if you might share some kind of a sample lesson plan you might have, I am finding myself still trying to plan around vocabulary rather than taking it to a theme. I am 2 and a half weeks in and they are still going back to English and am having trouble pulling their interests into the circle. I teach in inner city cleveland and it seems very difficult to really get them enthused. Any advice you could offer would be GREATLY appreciated!! Gracias! love the blog.

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  3. I would also add that we see the most rapid growth at this level because our students go from knowing “nothing” or very little to being able to comprehend and speak (brokenly) about a variety of topics in a short period of time. Sentence length discourse comes later, but single word responses or even memorized phrases that they understand can happen quickly as with toddlers.

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  4. I agree Ashley, this level is exhausting, but my gosh the results you see with them are amazing. They really have nothing to loose so they try everything!

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