February/March: This month*, students in third grade had more than a few discussions about phonetics and language in a more general sense, as opposed to “only” Spanish. There are, after all, about 7,000 languages in the world! These conversations touched on word loans—tacos, tortillas, quesadillas, and deja-vu, for example, have all been borrowed from other languages; there is no word in English for “taco”. This led to more talk about untranslatable words; there are many words with no English equivalent, such as pisanzapra in Malay (the time needed to eat a banana), or 木漏れ日 (komorebi) in Japanese (the light that filters through the trees). It is easy to describe these concepts with English words, but there is not a single word that encompasses either concept. Third graders also watched a video by an actress, Amy Walker, who travels geographically around the world and says the same thing in 21 different accents—from England and Russia to New Zealand, South Carolina, and New York; they later practiced identifying languages on a “Guess the Language” online game to hone their ears. At one point, English was spoken with such an unfamiliar accent that students guessed it was Czech!
Third graders continued adding to their Spanish vocabularies via center work, and spent a chunk of time presenting in front of their peers in the target language in mini-speech form. Their confidence has grown tremendously since they began this practice near the end of January. They also heard several jokes in the target language, some of which were in Spanish and others with Spanish and English wordplays—e.g., Seven days without tacos makes Juan weak. Students are also required to say the password upon entering 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).
In the culture realm, students learned a bit about El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile hike and pilgrimage across northern Spain (that their teacher completed last summer); cooked and tasted fried plantains (patacones or tostones), which are eaten in many Spanish-speaking countries; and used photos in the Spanish classroom to inspire various projects during center time. For instance, some students tried to create a replica of an underwater art museum in Mexico in a fish tank with florescent paper fish, rocks, and flowers, which was amazing… until the tank started leaking; others made dozens of Coquí frogs (Puerto Rico) out of green paper; and still others opted for pick-up soccer games (fútbol) outside, as soccer is a hugely popular sport in many countries. (*Note that my definition of “month” here is not necessarily aligned with society’s views on temporality…)
December/January: This month, students in third 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. It is almost overwhelming—when you hear them rattled off— to grasp that there are completely different Spanish accents, vocabularies, and cultures (music, foods, art, sports, customs, etc.) in each of these places. My goal as an educator is to provide a general overview here; now that students are familiar with the names of these places, they can associate cultural and historical events with said countries in a more meaningful context.
With that in mind, third graders spent a day trying to replicate the Nazca Lines (Peru) around the Spanish room. These are an ancient mystery: at ground level, they appear to be lines, or trenches, in the desert going in all directions; however, from an airplane, you see that they are in reality massive geoglyphs of animals and plants—and yet, these civilizations existed prior to the invention of the airplane! Hmm… Students also painted and colored tiles for the class fort, aka La Alhambra, which is based on an actual Moorish palace/fortress in southern Spain; ate twelve grapes to celebrate New Year’s Eve (tradition in Spain); learned that an ice cream shop in Venezuela holds the world record for the greatest number of flavors offered: 900 (3.B); and began building a model of Machu Picchu in Peru (3.A).
In other news, students wrote first and second drafts of their storyboard comic strip stories in Spanish, and then shifted from storytelling (Q&A in the target language) to centers, where third graders sign up for their center of choice each day (tweeting, writing a form letter, or speaking aloud), requesting any materials they need and explaining what they want to do in Spanish* (e.g., build roads to drive their Spheros (construir/build), play Twister or basketball (jugar/play), make slime (hacer baba/make slime), play the piano (tocar el piano), etc.). They have been listening to Tal vez me llames (Call Me Maybe) by Kevin Karla y la banda regularly as well; it is funny to hear the cover of a song you are already familiar with in another language! As always, feel free to visit my website below for links and more information. If you are intrigued or questioning the importance of play in the classroom, please visit the Language Blog* on my website and read my latest post entitled, “Just Play”. Last but not least, students chose Spanish first and last names in the target language, and had fun practicing writing their new signatures all over my whiteboards. As always, feel free to visit my website below for links and more information.
November: This month, students in third grade practiced saying the Pledge of Allegiance (Juro fidelidad a la bandera) to continue working on their phonetics study. They also sat according to their birthday months, made personalized passports—with miniature flags of all of the Spanish-speaking countries—and continued telling and acting out their class stories.
In 3.B, Pato was eaten by an evil pig, who is friends with a Powerful Notebook. Students paused here to brainstorm a list of powerful things and then drew a collage of said concepts around the word poderoso/powerful. Anyway, the fantasma/ghost of Pato wants revenge, and decides that because the evil pig is allergic to flan (a Spanish dessert), he will use it to get back at him and make him sneeze uncontrollably—there is a tradition of saying, “Salud, dinero, amor/health, money, love” when a person sneezes (Colombia). However, because the Powerful Notebook, or cuaderno poderoso has the flan, he will have to visit his home, a cobertizo/shed filled with cucarachas/cockroaches and other insectos/insects. Because the story centers around venganza/revenge, third graders watched a silly cartoon chicken video about animal sounds in Spanish, where the chicken gets strong and gets revenge against a truck (Pollito pío). Additionally, third graders took a day to made Popsicle stick sheds with paper insects. This class also went on a tangent one day—though I realize all of this sounds like a tangent!—and had a mature discussion about endangered languages and untranslatable words. Students tasted dulce de leche (not flan, but very sweet at least!) and fried crickets, too, as it was [mostly] relevant to their class story.
In 3.A, students only had four classes in November, due to Student-Led Conferences and Golden Guest Day rehearsals, and spent the time finishing their passport booklets and reviewing their class story: here, a policeman and dog chase after two enemies that have stolen money and stuffed animals from the main character. The enemies put dulce de leche (Argentina) on the ground, which slows down the police. Students were also able to taste this sweet, caramel-like spread in class.
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.