October/Trimester 1: This trimester, students in third grade practiced acting out their password cards and naming the Spanish-speaking countries* on the tape floor map. They also acted out wildly creative story plots: from an evil pig, duck sandwich, powerful notebook, town named HairGel, and a ghost who wants revenge (3.B), to a magic school bus, stolen pets, daring enemy escape by plane, and musical keyboard accompaniment by talented student musicians (3.A), third graders began to grasp how to make the target language come alive in their minds. In addition, students had fun identifying ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ words (i.e., masculine and feminine nouns: el/la/los/las, or the four ways to say ‘the’ in Spanish), and ‘claiming’ them as their own property, respectively; began tuning in to pronunciation details and new sounds, such as “ñ” (nyah) and the forever silent “h” (hola); and took a few “Kindergarten/Activity Days”, where third graders painted, drew on the board, played fútbol/soccer, and explored their own personal interests via centers. Cultural projects and facts were sprinkled throughout the trimester: from sculpting Easter Island statues out of clay (Chile), coloring calaveras/skulls and making papel picado for Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead (Mexico), learning about the 900-page, world renowned novel Don Quijote and tracing Picasso’s painting of the main characters (Spain), to singing La cucaracha and hearing different types of güiros (Latin America), third graders’ interest and boundless energy continue to inspire.
*Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras.
September: This month, students in third grade chose animal password cards and made sure to ask, “¿Qué es?” (What is it?/“K S”, pronounced like the alphabet letters) when they could not remember a word. If their password card was at the wrong seat, third graders responded, “¡Esta no es mi contraseña!/This is not my password!, focusing on the “ñ” sound that requires your nose to crinkle a bit when you say it—‘nyah’, as in español, contraseña, baño, etcetera. 3.B got excited about their sound study and proceeded to work on a tricky tongue twister, just for fun: Pepe Pecas pica papas con un pico. Con un pico pica papas Pepe Pecas. (Pepe Pecas picks potatoes with a pick. With a pick picks potatoes Pepe Pecas.)
Third graders also jumped on and named certain Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map before they sat down each day; a new country is added about once a week. To make this activity more meaningful, students created pasaportes/passports that are stamped as they enter and exit each country. They began their travels at the tip of South America with Chile and Argentina; more stamps will be added upon completing the continent. Now that they have finished working on the actual passports, students must show their booklets upon crossing the official frontera/ border of the Spanish Cave every class (“customs”). No passport, no entry!
Later, third graders learned about Easter Island (Chile), and then created and painted replicas with air-dry clay of either the Moai statues or one of the undecipherable Rongorongo tablets (written in hieroglyphs and reverse boustrophedon). Students seemed to latch on to the idea that the tablets were engraved/carved using shark teeth and volcanic rock, but gracefully accepted that they would only be using toothpicks in Spanish class. Note to self: next year, I will not use the word ‘tablet’ to describe the wooden boards; in this digital age, third graders thought I meant that iPads were discovered on Easter Island. Ahem.
Third graders continued with their class stories as well. Updates as follows: In 3.A, the enemy forces—namely, a magic school bus/autobús mágico and train/tren—traveled from Egypt to Los Angeles, California to steal a famous actress’ money and pets, and then escaped with the goods to Hawaii, with an out of the way stop at Easter Island. The class went to Easter Island to fight the enemies—but tragically, students were hungry upon arrival, rashly touched a magical apple, and were turned into statues. Better luck next time? Note: If anyone reading this happens to be in possession of a large refrigerator box, I would gladly take it off your hands to build a time machine and change students’ luck.
In 3.B, and with Pato held captive as his prisoner, the evil pig (el cerdo malvado) decided that a delicious bocadillo de pato (duck sandwich) would really whet his appetite. The class voted by chanting either, “¡Ayúdame!” (Help me!, as the voice of Pato) or “¡Cómelo!” (Eat him!, as encouragement to the evil pig); when the votes were tallied, the evil pig was no longer hungry. *Sniff, sniff* However, students ended up making unicorn, witch, and wizard hats and turned our dear friend Pato into a ghost. Obviously, he has some unfinished business on Earth.
Last but not least, third graders were given the terribly onerous, yearlong task of collecting one fruit and vegetable sticker, label, and/or clothing tag, from each of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries. They were told to keep their eyes open particularly when grocery shopping; bananas, for example, are frequently from Spanish-speaking countries: if/when you buy them, students may add said sticker to their page (and eventually, passport). They are strongly advised to post a blank page on the refrigerator so as not to lose it! This homework assignment (and import/export study) will be ongoing throughout the year. If one country is particularly difficult to find, we will discuss as a class the “why” behind it. For now, please just encourage students to keep their eyes open!
August: This month, students learned that they have been selected to join the world-renowned Spanish Acting Company. As participants, third grades will perform in multiple shows throughout the year, as main characters and audience members. The importance of each role was emphasized here. Performed as theatrical plays, each story will include both fiction (creative, student ideas) and nonfiction (cultural, historical facts).
The first story begins with the following: a famous actor with absurdly strong bodyguards—stuffed animals under students’ sleeves as muscles—must summon his courage to deal with a most calamitous situation: his arch-nemesis has stolen all of his money and pets (3.A) and car (3.B). How to manage? Only time will tell… particularly as the class stories are teacher-asked but student-led. In addition to storytelling, third graders also chose individualized password cards, and then practiced thinking up ways to physically act out each one as part of their beginning-of-class routine; responded to action commands; and danced to the song Madre Tierra during brain breaks. Gracias for a great month.