February/March: This month*, students in second grade had fun adjusting to a new daily routine: at the door of the Spanish Cave, after one student says, “Dime la contraseña” (tell me the password), the other responds with the fruit or vegetable of the week (that is, naranja/orange, plátano/banana, zanahoria/carrot, espárrago/asparagus, melocotón, durazno/peach, arándano/blueberry, cebolla/onion). To start the month, they took a day to welcome seventh graders and listen to Powerpoint presentations of mini-stories that students had written in the target language. After phasing out their center work (e.g., quiero trabajar en la máquina del tiempo/I want to work on the time machine; quiero jugar baloncesto, ajedrez/I want to play basketball, chess; quiero ser una espía/I want to be a spy), second graders launched into several new culture projects with the question and song, “¿Adónde vas?” (Where are you going?).
First, they “went” to Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) and tasted sal/salt—and azúcar/sugar, just for fun!—because it is the largest salt flat in the world. The interesting thing, is that during the rainy season, a thin layer of water over the salt allows the sky to be reflected perfectly, which is especially gorgeous during sunrises, sunsets, and starry nights. Second graders recreated these symmetrical reflections with watercolors by folding papers in half. Later, students began assembling paper cubes to build a replica of “El Castillo”, a pyramid in Chichen Itza (Mexico), which is famous for its extraordinary mathematical calculations: every year, exactly on the equinox, a shadow of a tail appears on the side of the pyramid, which aligns perfectly with a snake head. While recreating the shadow itself would be difficult, second graders worked together to try to build the pyramid as a class. They also tasted fried plantains (patacones or tostones) that first and third graders had made (a popular snack in many Spanish-speaking countries), and were encouraged to make them at home. Last but not least, they played a game called Tingo-Tingo-Tango (Colombia).
More recently, second graders have been building their vocabularies by playing Policías y ladrones (Cops and Robbers) outside: quiero ser un policía/I want to be a police officer; ¡a la cárcel!/go to jail!; no quiero ir/I don’t want to go; ayúdame/help me; soy inocente/I’m innocent; libertad/freedom; no evidencia/no evidence; juez(a)/judge). 2.A also took a day to act out a very exciting pirate play in the target language, with kings, queens, a boy named Target and a pirate named Jimmy, a shipwreck during a terrible storm/tormenta, and an evil forest allergic to maíz/corn. It has been an exciting few months. (*Note that my definition of “month” here is not necessarily aligned with society’s views on temporality…)
December/January: This month, students in second grade worked on naming and jumping on all of the twenty-one Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map independently. Many have demonstrated complete mastery of this skill—bravo! In the written world, they began differentiating between statements and questions “quiero/I want and ¿puedo?/can I?”, in both speaking and writing (e.g., intonation, punctuation). Here, second graders chose various (differentiated) modes to express themselves; while some opted for a fill-in-the-blank style letter or posting to Seesaw, others preferred to “text” back and forth to a friend in Spanish on printed out phone templates (not sure if this counts as tech integration or not!). In order to emphasize why spelling and details matter, they learned about a true translation disaster: once, shirts were printed for the Pope’s visit, but the translator messed up and the shirts ended up saying, “I love potatoes” (la papa/potato, el Papa/the Pope, el papá/dad)—whoops! Translations are funny things: we like “see you later, alligator” in English because of the sound, but in Spanish, in order for it to rhyme, you say, “Adiós, corazón de arroz” (goodbye, heart of rice). Second graders had a good laugh at that one!
Once second graders became pretty comfortable with naming the Spanish-speaking countries, they took a day to redesign the Spanish room for a more project-based approach. Some days, culture was merely a fun fact or short activity. For example, when students saw a thirty-second video of sneezing iguanas (Ecuador), they physically reacted—jumping and sneezing around the room for a few minutes, mimicking the reptiles’ action. Another class, they ate twelve grapes and hoisted a plastic disco ball to celebrate the New Year in Spain.
On other days, however, culture was a full-fledged project: students cut out feathers to create a bulletin board display of the Andean Condor, a bird with a wingspan of nearly eleven feet; built a replica of the Alhambra (Spain) out of cardboard boxes and massive amounts of tape, and then decorated the Moorish palace with painted geometric tiles (a lot of LS classes helped with this!); and drew out the Nazca Lines (Peru) with masking tape all over the floor—designs in the desert that you can only see from an airplane.**
November: This month, students in second grade continued naming more Spanish-speaking countries and developing new businesses and locations in their class pueblo/town. For example, one day a student created an enormous soccer field in the classroom out of masking tape and asked to play (¿Puedo jugar al fútbol?/Can I play soccer?). Next, some second graders at the class hotel/hotel hung paper television frames to watch the game and videoed it all on an iPad, while others took it upon themselves to make banderas/flags for the Spanish-speaking teams playing (i.e., Colombia vs. España/Spain) and cheered on the sidelines (golazo/goal; por acá/over here; pásala/pass it; casi/almost; vamos/let’s go; rápido/quickly). Later, the team decided to stand for Spain’s National Anthem before starting the game. Amazing!
Students also recently created an art museum/museo de arte and zoológico/zoo (with feeding stations and live pets as well as toy animals; one day, a bunny escaped from the zoo and ended up on the soccer field (2.A), which caused a bit of chaos until animal control was able to handle the situation). Another week, a few talented street musicians even entertained on the keyboard for tips. Last but not least, students learned that the map of their town was created on an authentic map of downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, home of the widest avenue in the world: 16 lanes of traffic. Second graders also tasted dulce de leche, a sweet, caramel-type of spread eaten in Argentina and many parts of South America. HERE is a recipe if you would like to try to make it at home.
**NOTE: Parents with children in multiple grades may notice that there has been some overlap in terms of content between the grades this past month and half. The purpose here is twofold. First, when children realize that they know the same Spanish vocabulary, a conversation begins—a door opens between grade levels where everyone is invited to the Party called Learning! If everyone in the world only knew segregated vocabularies, no one could talk to anyone.
Second, in the cultural realm, and now that students have more or less mastered the map, projects have begun popping up all around the Spanish room. When a class enters and there are suddenly masking tape designs all over the floor and a cardboard box tower in the corner, they naturally want to learn why and who and where and how and what. Of course, lessons are differentiated and age-appropriate, but it is absurdly exciting to hear first and fifth graders reference La Alhambra (Spain) or ‘jugar’/play in conversation. I feel that it builds a more inclusive, Spanish language-learning community when there are a few common building blocks.