Wrangling – Teaching Preliterate Students – Part 1: Classroom Management

This poster underpins my classroom management system and I gratefully acknowledge the wonderful Annie Beach for her brilliant illustrations. These three verbs, I believe, are structures that successfully guide all students to become successful language learners. They are thus, a great place to start with preliterate learners and right from the start, help the teacher work towards staying in the target language during lessons.

I introduce the above poster during the very first Indonesian lesson and the language is reviewed every lesson. To facilitate acquisition, the structures are introduced both orally and with hand gestures e.g. duduk = two hands palm down pushing down towards the ground, diam = pointer finger in front of the mouth & dengar = hand cupped behind an ear. Movement opportunities for young preliterate students are beneficial for both acquisition and engagement. Engagement is vital for successful learning.

Initially, I put no demands on student expectations beyond duduk, diam, dengar. However once calling out in English needs to be addressed, I introduce the structures, ‘nakal’ and ‘pandai’. The following three slides demonstrate how I introduced my behaviour management system this year.

nakal/pandai = clever/naughty

satu stick = one stick
count the points

The first two slides are placed at the beginning of each lesson whereas the third is almost at the end and becomes the final task we do before singing sampai jumpa (goodbye) to each other. I have blogged about this system several times previously, so hopefully I won’t repeat myself too much. This post is a good one, however I no longer finish with the treasure box. I originally chose the structures nakal/pandai as they fit so well into the stories included in my scope and sequence. However, times have changed and while I’d feel extremely uncomfortable using the words clever/naughty in an English context, I have kept nakal/pandai because they are just so typically Indonesian. I have though, recently changed the images to represent nakal/pandai. I feel that having monkeys adds humour, continues the monkey theme Bu Annie created and also avoids gender/cultural stereotyping. I haven’t and don’t translate the word ‘stick’ because it is such low frequency and reflecting upon my travels throughout Indonesia, cannot ever remember needing the word paddle pop stick!! Again, I introduce the new structures of nakal/pandai with gestures (pandai = tapping the side of the head with the pointer finger & nakal is the age old pointer finger going up and down with a frown) and then starting from the following lesson, the two structures are reviewed frequently during Kursi Luar Biasa (KLB); see here. The second slide early in first term, includes only the structures students have acquired to that point ie ‘satu’ (one). As soon as ‘mau’ (want) has been introduced, I add it to the slide. All written language on the PowerPoint slides is kept to a minimum and always includes a pictorial comprehension clue to support developing literacy skills.

As mentioned an earlier post, each class has a bundle of paddlepop sticks with a student’s name written on each. I now choose a different colour for each class to make it easier to reunite missing sticks to their correct bundle. From the container of paddlepop sticks, I select one stick, checking firstly that student is not absent. It is then stuck to the board near the two magnetic laminated mini posters of nakal & pandai with bluetak ensuring the students name facing the board awaiting the reveal at the end of the lesson.

Locating the stick together with the mini nakal/pandai posters is important. I am finding that each year, I face increasing numbers of young learners with minimal self-regulation skills. I am a strong advocate for the Zones of Regulation program which brilliantly helps students identify and regulate their emotions and also explicitly equips them with skills to self-regulate. Conversations about self-regulation in my lessons always occur in English not just because young students do not have the target language necessary, but also to ensure the conversation is succinct and comprehended. Lesson time is precious and my goal remains to maximise target language input opportunities within the constraints of working with each cohort.


The finale of my classroom behaviour system has so many benefits I barely know where to start! We still count the trallied points (see above) together. This process has been incredibly helpful for students developing strong knowledge and understanding of the Indonesian number system, including noticing that an Indonesian 7 is written differently to an Australian 7. Counting the points is hands down better than a number worksheet! Eventually with time and more stories, other structures can be incorporated into the counting routine eg big/small, which one, how many, biggest/smallest etc.
Once we’ve counted both tally sets, my spiel goes like this: 
Bu Cathy mau lihat stick (Bu Cathy wants to look at the stick)
Siapa? (Who is it?)
Class then suggests a students name. If incorrect, I negate saying, “Bukan Bob!” thus providing input on negating nouns in Indonesian. If the lesson is short of time, I add a clue e.g. laki-laki/perempuan (boy/girl). Now some students are asking me this!! Woohoo.
When the students’ name is guessed, I ask that student, “Mau duduk di kursi Luar Biasa?” (Would you like to sit in the awesome chair?) and will work towards the answer, “Mau/tidak mau” but also accept ya/tidak. I very rarely insist students participate in lesson tasks, so if a student declines, I assure them in English that it’s totally ok however I will ask them again during the year because they may change their mind!! I then choose another stick. Engagement and participation are not mutually compatible. The most important aspect is always input; not output! I really love, love, love that the ‘reward’ for a greater number of pandai points offers an experience rather than an object.
However, it also needs to be added, that if there are more nakal points, the stick goes back into bundle, and no-one knows whose stick it was. The follow-on consequence of this depends on the class. If they really need a consequence to emphasise my expectations to duduk, diam, dengar, then no-one sits in the chair the following week and instead, I invite an adult to sit in it instead! I love this as it gives the adult the opportunity to demonstrate how much Indonesian they have acquired!! Conversely, if the adult is new to our lessons, it then gives the students the opportunity to impress the adult by translating my questions!! Win/win! An alternative to this, is offering the current person a bonus week sitting in the kursi luar biasa! No-one has yet refused this!! Kwk, kwk
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