An updated look at my classroom

Back in 2013 I published a photo essay about how I use the physical space of my classroom. Three years later a lot is still the same, but a few things have changed. First here is an animated gif panning around my classroom:
my classroom

One of the biggest changes over the past three years is the size of my classroom library. After years of purchases it is finally a functional size to maintain not only an FVR program for beginners but also a full heritage speakers program. I am proud to be able to offer an independent pleasure reading course to heritage speakers. They sit in this little reading nook in the back:
2 reading area I can only fit two independent readers per period, but you will notice that each bungee chair has a lamp so that they can read even when the classroom is dark. Added 8/13/2016: A few years ago Jason Fritze said something about lice that led me to remove all hats and clothing from my props collection (replacing them with pictures of crazy hats that students hold over their heads). I am thankful that another teacher who wishes to remain anonymous has led me to reconsider the pillows that I place on the bungee chairs.

Below is a photo of the book shelf where I communicate with the independent study students (we also eat lunch together once a week). I currently have five students in this unique course. While they can browse the entire library on their own, I like to leave two or three books as suggestions. They read 20-30 pages per day and are allowed to pick a new book if they grow disillusioned with their current selection. That is, after all, what I do as an adult reader… I don´t finish boring books. Outside of view I have a clipboard where I keep track of what they liked, what they finished, and the suggestions that were rejected. I use the lists to help me make good suggestions and to guide future purchases.
3 reading area

Last year with the growth of my classroom library I encountered a new problem; it is too big for students to navigate! It was manageable enough to separate the TPRS readers into two sections (low and high) for the non-heritage speakers, but my heritage learners read anywhere between a first grade reading level all the way up to college level. Despite my book talks I felt like I could do more to get them to explore the library further. Then something serendipitous happened; Kirsten Plante from TPRS Academy wrote on Facebook about a Tokyo juku (cram school) that she visited. It is worth reading about their incredible reading program. In this school students do not blindly choose a book for FVR but rather the teachers use their in-depth knowledge of the student and extensive library to suggest books. While I do cannot exactly do that, I realized that breaking the classroom library into manageable chunks will help students discover their homerun novel that connects them to the reading life. This inspired me to create a wall of books of the week so that students looking for a new FVR book have a more manageable selection to choose from:
4 active library Currently the “active library” only consists of easy TPRS readers to encourage a good first reading experience, but as the year goes on I will rotate different books to appeal to different readers.

I moved my main book shelves back to my desk so that these shelves become a “passive library”. In the photo below you can also see the sets of colored index cards for each class. Students start the year providing a few details about themselves on the cards, but for the most part these cards are empty right now. As we find out more information about them I will pencil in details so that I can remember and seed the information into future classes. Not only do I include biographical information, I also take notes whenever they were a particularly memorable character in a class story. The best part of all is that I can flip through these cards in class and immediately identify which students have been passing “unnoticed”. A blank card is an invitation to find a way to make that student a star. 5 passive library

Your expectations in a deskless classroom can never be too clear if you do not want chairs migrating all over the room. Grant Boulanger warns teachers not to place duct tape on carpets or risk creating a very bad relationship with some people who can make your life miserable: custodians. I think this is solid advice; I spoke to my custodian before doing this and, with his blessing, we all have agreed that he will never clean the dark marks left behind when the tape id removed. He actually likes the order that this has created and often comments that my classroom is one of the cleanest in the building. There is something about an orderly room that discourages mess. In addition, he loves it when my last class stacks up the chairs against the wall. 6 clear expectations

Ben Slavic says that classroom management always comes first. A TPRS class will not be effective until students have internalized the rules. Nonetheless this rigid, “everything in its place” organization will give way to seeming anarchy by second semester when students are literally sprawled out on pillows laying on the floor, draped in comfy chairs or sitting with their friends. That is fine for second semester when they are well-trained to maintain their exclusive attention on class, but for me August is all about establishing authority.

Here is how I fit 36 kids into a classroom designed for 25:
7 fitting 36 kids With the independent study kids, a kid sitting at my computer and another couple hanging out back, it is not uncommon to have 40 people crammed in focused on one lesson. Organization is crucial to quickly eliminate distractions while students learn to focus on the story… especially on those days when I am not being a brilliant story-asker.

It has always bothered me that only one side of the room is facing the sweet sixteen verbs posters that I often point to with my laser pointer. Over the summer Amy Marshall posted on the TPRS/CI/iFLT facebook page about adapting Terry Waltz´s idea of using rolling window shades to fit multiple word walls into a classroom. I found an old projector screen that was no longer being used (the district bought larger screens for every classroom, so this screen was considered “obsolete”). Now I have the sweet sixteen on both sides of the classroom, and pointing at both screens will be a much needed reminder for me to slow down. 8 sweet 16 on both walls

Anabelle Allen inspired me to radically redo my question words posters in the front of the room. Check out her blog La Maestra Loca, it is worth following!9 anabelle allen

A year or two ago Craig Klein Dexemple from Spanish Cuentos gave me permission to trace parts of his “Storytelling Characters Poster” against my wall. This is so wonderful, I use it throughout the year to spice up a story or unblock a students writing block when they sit down to do free writes. In addition to a poster, Craig sells his image as a downloadable PDF so that each student could place a copy in their notebooks. And why not mention it? Craig is also the author of two TPRS novels in my easy classroom library. 10 klein

Below is a photo of the “¿Quién es el señor Peto?” poster that I hang towards the front of the room. 11 about me

In the back there are a few celebrity fans who occasionally make entrances in our stories to rave about how they follow a student on twitter, want them to make more youtube videos, etcetera.
12 celebrity fans

And no, I did not buy my own Billy La Bufanda. That would be like making your own friendship bracelet! 🙂
13 Billy


  1. Mr. Peto, I want to be like you and love everything that I see here. I am willing to venture out to this side of foreign language teaching because I don’t want to do what I have been doing for years. I want to hear my students speaking the TL 90% of the time so I will let you know how things go but I have a burning question: How do you deal with the fire Marshall/administration visits when they see everything that goes up on the walls???

    1. I comply. Most of it does not have to be on the wall in the beginning of the year. Question words & super 7 verbs in present tense to start. Fire Marshall comes through. Big wall poster with pictures of characters goes up a few days before the first quick write. One word images are posted as we make them. If admin complains, take something down… but I have never seen longevity in these requests. A couple weeks pass, nobody remembers. If you are in a school where this is #1 on your admin team agenda, it is not the end of the world.

  2. ¡Hola Michael!
    Muchas gracias por compartir tus experiencias!
    Me encantan tus ideas y he usado muchos de los materiales con chicos italianos.
    Un saludo de una profesora chilena que vive en Italia! (he visto que has vivido en Chile, tremendo viaje)

    1. Somehow I missed it when you submitted this comment! Pasé un semestre en Valparaíso como estudiante y he regresado varias veces… el año pasado fuimos a la X Región, caminando por el Valle de Cochamó hasta llegar a un refugio idílico. Seguramente era una de las experiencias más lindas que he tenido.

  3. Hola Sr. Peto– I was already a fan of you because of your awesome work to make El internado comprehensible. Love (and am going to steal) many of your room ideas. One question: what did you use on your wall in order to be able to display your “libros de la semana”? I have brick walls on 2 sides of my class, windows on another, and white boards on the 4th, so I would love to figure out how to display my FVR novels. Years back at another school we stole Jason Fritz’s idea of mounting plastic rain gutters upside down, but the custodians said we could not do that on the brick walls. Thanks again for your contributions to the CI world!

    1. Our walls are made of a bulletin board-like material, so that will not help. It is true, however, that if you can arrange your books with covers facing out then students will be much more likely to become intrigued.

    2. Could you suspend your upside-down rain gutters (love that idea!) from the chalk tray of your white board(s)? Perhaps by using C-clamps on the tray, and loops of heavy wire around (or through holes drilled in) the gutters (attach the wire to/ through the C-clamp)? Maybe you could then suspend another gutter below the first one? I’m not sure, you’d have to be careful about weight, probably.

      Another thought–clear vinyl shoe organizers that hang over a door or on a wall. (There is a pocket for each shoe, each pocket would probably hold a book–you’ll have to check though.) If you have a cork “bulletin board” strip on top of your white board or those little metal hook things that slide horizontally across it, you might be able to hang a vinyl organizer from those things. It may block some of your white board but might be worth it. Sorry I am not explaining things very well.

      Sr. Peto, I stumbled on your blog thanks to a post you made it response to Martina Bex. I teach French but you have given me some things to think about. Thank you! I’ll read your blog again, I’m sure!

      1. I have a colleague who has clear vinyl shoe organizers for student cell phones… organized so that there is one shoe holder numbered for each chair in her class (that also have numbers). Student get extra credit for turning off their phone and voluntarily placing it in the shoe organizer. As for books, I think I have tried that before and it was too small for most books.

  4. Mike,

    Your classroom inspires me. I love all of the updates and talk about a room full of language and fun! If you don’t mind, I am going to attempt to redo some of my classroom walls and add some of the things that you have. Thanks for this great tour!

  5. I am sharing with our department today! And I love the celebrity photo/sticks! I’m most nervous about the story part of all this so am starting with a few scripted ones. I know they don’t personalize, but I need practice first.

  6. Mike, the classroom looks great! I am still a novice a TPRS and often wish I could do away with my tables. Haven’t had the guts yet. I’m also not sure if administration would go for it.

    How do you get your words on the word wall to be so big?

    1. Everything is hand drawn. Each question word poster took me about 20 minutes to make… whenever I could slip out of mandatory meetings in the first few teacher-only days I was up in my room making these posters!

  7. Saludos Sr. Peto, I love your recent post and photos!! Gracias. I’m trying to find a posting about La Maestra Loca’s question word posters, but alas no luck. Do you have a list of the question words you posted on your wall? Thanks so much! ¡Feliz comienzo del año! Madeleine Wood

    On Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 7:47 PM, My generation of polyglots wrote:

    > mpeto posted: “Back in 2013 I published a photo essay about how I use the > physical space of my classroom. Three years later a lot is still the same, > but a few things have changed. First here is an animated gif panning around > my classroom: One of the biggest changes” >

    1. I posted all that I often use: ¿qué? ¿quién? ¿cómo? ¿cuándo? ¿a qué hora? ¿cuánto? ¿dónde? plus several variations to make life easier: ¿con quién? ¿de quién? ¿cuántos? ¿adónde? and ¿de dónde?. There is a video of Anabelle Allen teaching at iFLT and her questions words posters were so large that I had to ask myself why I had settled for a little strip of question words that kids in the back row had to squint at?

  8. I did the shades for my class this year after getting the idea from Terry Waltz’ book….maybe it came from there. Your room looks great! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Looks terrific Mike!
    Thanks for sharing this with everyone.

    Amy Marshall is the teacher that posted in IFLT/TPRS/CI teachers on Facebook about using window shades for HFW.

  10. Thank you SO much. I have learned a tremendous amount from reading and watching all you have here. Wonderful.

    On Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 7:47 PM, My generation of polyglots wrote:

    > mpeto posted: “Back in 2013 I published a photo essay about how I use the > physical space of my classroom. Three years later a lot is still the same, > but a few things have changed. First here is an animated gif panning around > my classroom: One of the biggest changes” >

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