December/January: This month, students in fourth grade moved on from naming all of the twenty-one Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map, to identifying major landforms in South America: montañas/mountains (Andes Mountains); desierto/desert (Atacama Desert); and río/river (Amazon River). They made storyboard comic strips in the target language to wrap up their storytelling unit; chose Spanish first and last names; and practiced reciting the Pledge of Allegiance/Juro fidelidad a la bandera—at students’ request. Fourth graders also listened to both more traditional music (Mama Tingo, Johnny Ventura; Ojalá, Silvio Rodriguez/esp. 4.A) as well as pop songs (Tal vez me llames/Call Me Maybe Spanish cover; No tengo dinero, MAFFiO).
Later on, they began a centers unit. Here, students write form letters in the target language, filling in the blanks where necessary—or sometimes reconstructing it from memory—and receive immediate feedback re: accents, spelling, punctuation, etc. They choose their preferred activity of the day: tocar el piano/play the piano; jugar baloncesto/play basketball; pintar/paint; jugar a los naipes/play cards; jugar en la fortaleza/play in the fort; construir un videojuego/build a videogame; and/or work on a guided culture project—e.g., painting tiles for La Alhambra, a Moorish palace in southern Spain. The goal is to incorporate more Spanish words, phrases, and expressions at each center. For example, when they play cards, students exclaim, “¡Tú ganas!/you win!” or “¡Yo gano!/I win”; in basketball, they might say, “Pásala/pass it”, or in the fort, “¡No zapatos!/No shoes!”. Any time they want to switch centers during a class period or leave the room to get extra materials or go to the bathroom, they have to ask in the target language. Naturally, certain items will intentionally go ‘missing’ from time to time, leading to forced linguistic interactions; if I hide the basketballs in the closet, fourth graders must ask for the keys in Spanish to open the closet (Necesito las llaves/I need the keys). Teehehee. If you are intrigued or questioning the importance of play in the classroom, please visit the Language Blog and read my post entitled, “Just Play”.
On one particularly exciting day, a student colored all over his hands with florescent marker (wait for the explanation before you say, “WHAT??!”), and put them under the class black light to demonstrate bioluminescence—a natural phenomenon where your skin glows underwater when it comes in contact with algae in certain parts of the world, including Puerto Rico. This kind of experiential creativity, combined with language and culture, is what learning is all about to me. As always, feel free to visit my website below for links and more information.*
November: This month, students in fourth grade worked on starting their sentences with, “Pregunta” (question) whenever they wanted to ask something, and learned how to dance the Salsa after they started naming Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean on the tape floor map; the dance is particularly popular there. Fourth graders also played the “offline dinosaur game” and designed their own live video game course in the Spanish classroom, complete with jumping obstacles, gold as the prize for completing all of the levels, and Super Mario music playing in the background for 4.B—whereas talented 4.A musicians opted to play video game type songs on the class keyboard (jugar/play; nivel uno/level one; salta/jump; el oro/gold).
Students also helped create more mini-stories in the target language. For example, in 4.A, an orca named Flippers has a boat/barco and is saved by a student in an airplane during a highly unusual storm, where it rains lemons. Fourth graders listened to the famous Ojalá llueva café en el campo by Juan Luis Guerra (Dominican Republic); in the song, it rains coffee. In another story, a Minecraft lamb named Lime/Limón Verde lives in a haunted house. Students have begun bringing in their favorite stuffed animals and toys around which the stories are then created. In 4.B, students chose a spooky genre, and things got a little weird: a lizard named Burrito lives in a haunted house with ghosts and zombies. One night, his dog is sleeping, and one of the zombies, Pocoyo—fourth graders decided on this cartoon character because the stuffed toy version’s head spins—is hungry and eats the dog’s brain/cerebro. The puppy calls a doctor, but the doctor is actually a mad scientist/cientítifico loco and gives him a super brain, with all of the information in the entire world. Yikes!
Last but not least, students in 4.A learned a clapping rhyme that children recite to pass the time when they are waiting (~in line, on the bus, etc.): Jorge robó pan en la casa de San Juan, quién yo, sí tú, yo no fui, entonces quién/lit., George stole bread from Saint John’s house/who me/yes, you/it wasn’t me/then who). To inspire them for their cookie cutter design project, 4.B learned about Las Fallas, a unique celebration in Valencia (Spain) where people build massive parade floats, and then burn them all at the end of the week.
*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.