The Post Office Pulley System

Post Office Drop Box (Spain/España). Post Office Drop Box (USA).

In class, we cover a lot of territory. I am constantly throwing culture, geography, grammar–first graders don’t know it’s grammar, but it is–songs, new vocabulary, and more at them, with confidence that they will catch at least one new thing each day.

In the last update, you learned that students simulated walking the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile hike across Spain), and then traveled to Peru to see Rainbow Mountain and also make and pan for oro/gold (aka tesoro/treasure). ASIDE: six weeks later, I am still discovering specks of gold fairy dust glitter everywhere!

Rainbow Mountain; La Rinconada (highest city in the world); rock covered in glue and glitter to make “gold”.

As the weeks progressed, these culture projects morphed into optional centers: those that wanted to continue walking the Camino or sluicing sediment for gold could; and those that wanted to do something different also had that choice. My theory is that if students are interested and personally invested in an idea, they will be more likely 1) to retain the information; and 2) to apply that information to their daily lives, so that Spanish becomes a part of them, as opposed to ‘merely a class’.

First graders ‘sign up’ for these centers in one of two ways each class, via either speaking or writing. To build their confidence, we begin with written work: they will write, “Hi! This is So-and-So*. [Today] I want to build/play/work/walk [the Camino]/ sing/dance/draw/ fly/clean/paint/etc.” (¡Hola! Soy ___. Quiero construir/jugar/trabajar/ caminar/cantar/bailar/dibujar/volar/limpiar/pintar.) The focus as of late has been on “Quiero” (I want) and “y“. Note that the latter means “and” in Spanish, but is pronounced like the English letter “e”. *Students also chose Spanish names a while back, so sometimes they write their real name, and other times they will write their Spanish name. First graders are also now required to sign up for talking (hablar/to talk, speak). This has been extended recently to include specifying in which language–español/Spanish or inglés/English.

To make written work more enticing to six-year-olds, there were a few requirements: one, they had to glue or tape on a colorful stamp from a Spanish-speaking country (Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina) to their notecard; and two, they had to drop it in a basket pulley-system (that went up to the ceiling and down again) in order to “send” it to me at the Post Office. When this got old, we switched to writing on pizarras/ whiteboards, which was conveniently also a vocabulary word in the “Bathroom Song” (¿Puedo ir al baño?/Can I go to the bathroom?), a classic for first grade.

For each center, there are recommendations and suggestions, but they are also open-ended to allow for student agency and creativity. For example, “construir” (build) began quite literally, with first graders building towers out of blocks; this progressed to building houses and forts out of cardboard and blankets.

One day, however, someone wanted to “build” a computer out of cardboard. Another day, the “building” center became more of factory, in which students “built” paper fans (abanicos) and then tried to sell them to others (fake pesos). Yet another day, someone found a “sewing” center card (coser/to sew), and asked how to do that: we used a hole-puncher to make a ton of holes on a piece of folded paper, and students wove yarn through the holes, making their own wallets to stash dinero/money. We have even had mini ice-hockey tournaments in one class, and dance choreography lessons in the other! I will hide the puck and force linguistic interactions here: ¿Dónde está el disco?/Where is the puck?! You must understand, EVERYTHING is about language in my class!

The center work builds from kindergarten to spiral vocabulary and, gradually, first graders begin to see that the sky is the limit when it comes to creativity. Vocabulary is scaffolded to be as versatile as possible here; learning “hold-puncher” is not as useful as learning, “I want/I need that” (Quiero/Necesito eso), especially as students switch centers frequently, based on their interests.

More recently, students have practiced leading the class as the “teacher” (maestro/a) by asking and reading, “¿Cómo estás?” with several possible answers:

  • feliz/happy; 
  • triste/sad; 
  • enojado(a)/angry; 
  • cansado(a)/tired; 
  • casado(a)/married (class joke); 
  • tengo hambre/I’m hungry;
  • tengo frío/I’m cold; 
  • muy bien/very good; or
  • mal/bad.

Students will watch 2-minute Bluey shows in Spanish at the beginning of class as a listening activity as well; here, they raise their hand when they hear a word or phrase they know. First graders really enjoy this! A newer song is called Botas Perdidas/Lost Boots; here, first graders sit under the tables to watch the song, as the singer looks for things under the table (debajo de la mesa), on top of the chair, etc.

Students also spent a day sorting flashcards (masculine/feminine nouns). This lesson usually comes about when I notice some getting sloppy with spelling; my goal is simply for first graders to pay more attention to words but also to expose them to grammar.

In class, it is a silly game, where there are “boy” words and “girl” words, and boys “get” ice-cream (el helado) but girls “get” pizza (la pizza), and then they try to figure out–detective work!–what the pattern is (“el” words are considered “boy” words; “la” words are “girl” words–but it is completely nonsensical in terms of the noun itself–merely a grammatical construction).

Last but not least, first graders were introduced to a language-learning app called Fun Spanish. This is also now a center option. Whew! Thank you for reading all of this. I did not intend for it to be so verbose. I hope you are having a great weekend!