Gain confidence speaking the target language (~shouting as opposed to speaking).
Simplify thoughts to communicate a basic message in the target language.
Students learn about the cultural importance of fútbol/soccer in the Spanish-speaking world, and play “Spanish-only” games outside with specific vocabulary they are expected to use.
Somehow, this unit always ends unexpectedly. Last year, the ball was kicked over the fence by accident and lost forever. This year, a student fell into a bush, from which emerged a swarm of very angry bees. Oh my! Ah well, c‘est la vie…
Create and build the habit of studying a language in short spurts, on a regular basis.
Work independently at his/her own pace.
Students began the year working on the Duolingo app in class for five minutes a day, 3x/week. Partway through the year, this was assigned as homework; fourth graders were expected to be working on Duolingo 3x/week. There was a very wide range here: some students went crazy, earning more than 16,000 XP over the year (rockstars!, some had streaks of 100+ days in a row), while others ended the year with less than 1,000 XP.
The overarching goal was to give those extra-motivated students an outlet to work at their own pace–which they most certainly did–and to gently encourage and build the habit of studying a language a little bit each day. I will structure this differently next year for more accountability on the students’ part (~the homework piece was more a lack of maturity, since some were not even 9 years old at the beginning of the year!).
NOTE: The commentary above is directed toward fourth graders only. We tried using the app with third graders as well, but it fizzled out–those who were not on grade level for reading in English were discouraged. That said, I had the native speakers choose a different language to study (in lieu of Spanish), which was a good challenge for them.
The majority of second & third graders preferred the Fun Spanish app, but we did not have the paid version this year (I will look into that for the future) and the free version was very limited.
Name and locate all 21 Spanish-speaking countries (jumping on a floor map).
Transfer knowledge to other maps (find countries on globe, paper, poster, etc.).
Connect country names with class Culture Projects.
Apply map knowledge in free play.
Actual quote: “No, you can’t drive to Puerto Rico- it’s an island! You have to take a boat! ~first grader proceeds to ‘row’ himself in cardboard box across the room.
Students jump on and name Spanish-speaking countries on tape floor map. Many also become familiar with the flags of said countries, more through osmosis than anything else!
Grades 2-4 completed/mastered all 21 countries.
Some classes looked at clothing tags in class (e.g., shirts, shoes) and food labels at home to identify imports/exports from Spanish-speaking countries: bananas from Costa Rica, shirts from Honduras, avocados from Mexico, etc.
Grade 1 learned all 21 Spanish-speaking countries on the map, and loved trying to better their times with an online timer.
Kindergarten learned all of South America on the map, and recognizes names of several other countries from projects.
PK-4 recognizes “Puerto Rico”, “Guatemala”, “Mexico”, and “Colombia” from projects.
Make connections with the written and spoken word in the target language (e.g., phonetics).
Combine and relate new and old ideas, especially in written work.
Apply memorized key phrases in meaningful contexts, especially in spoken work.
Express wants and needs in the target language.
Students “sign up” for a center work activity of their choice. Here, they write a letter (similar to the town simulation written work in grades 2&3), and check in with the teacher for immediate feedback re: the written mechanics, punctuation, spelling, etc. of their work. Feedback is personalized and differentiated to/for each student, dependent on literacy and reading levels.
When the majority of students are comfortable with a grammatical concept or phrase, new information is provided. Partway through the year, students are given the option to write OR speak/voice aloud their requests (hablar/escribir). By the last quarter, students are encouraged to just speak; by that point, their confidence with the language has grown tremendously. Many continue writing their requests and enjoy reading them aloud to the teacher!
Following 5-10 minutes of written work and check-ins, students proceed to said activity and work on asking for items and using key phrases in the target language with their classmates and teacher. Most days, there is constant linguistic interaction between students>students and students>teacher and teacher>students.
Kindergarten: Students write, “Soy + [their name]”; the name of a Spanish-speaking country (those less literate draw the flag stripes instead); and an activity (jugar/play; dibujar/draw; construir/build). Focus on the letter “j” and that it is pronounced like the letter “h” in English.
Grade 1: Students write, “Hola, yo me llamo + [their name]; Quiero + [infinitive]; and work on using and pronouncing “y/and” and “con/with” properly and in context. Conversationally, they worked on adding discourse fillers such as pues/well…, and también/also.
Grades 2 & 3: Students write, “Hola/buenos días”; “Yo me llamo + [their name]”; Quiero + [infinitive]; work on using and pronouncing “y” and “con” properly and in context; Necesito + [one or more nouns]; and something for the closing, like un abrazo/adiós/hasta luego. Second graders learned, “Yo voy a + [noun or country name]”, while other grades used, “Quiero ir a + [nouns or country name]”.
Combine new and old knowledge of the target language.
Repeat key phrases and vocabulary and create movements/gestures to match each one.
Follow and comprehend short stories in the target language.
Apply words and phrases in everyday conversation (spoken).
Read lines of mini stories in the target language.
Students experience immersion in the target language and learn about The Adventures of Pato (my stuffed animal duck). Some of these stories are class conversations and wordplays and have ridiculous outcomes! Keep reading for a few examples.
Kindergarten: Pato starts the year off in a more low-key than not fashion, calmly singing a song to learn the names of the colors in Spanish. This quickly turns more exciting when he brings food coloring and coffee filters to the next class, so that kindergarteners can make their own designs. There is a lot of comprehensible input here: “How many drops of blue? Two more of red? Where? Which color over there? No, I don’t have purple, but is there a way we could make it? What happens if we mix blue and red?” etc.
The following class, Pato brings both vinegar/vinagre and water/agua, and students take turns smelling the identical-looking liquids, and commenting on whether they like the smell or not (me gusta/no me gusta). The story/conversation just keeps growing, complete with wordplays (a boy named Kai became the caimán, or alligator, in a mini story, where Pato is out on a boat with pirates looking for treasure when he is suddenly surrounded by alligators and must learn how to fly in order to escape (cue pulley/polea lesson and up/down directionals).
Grade 1: While some lessons evolve into crazy, unanticipated projects that span several classes, other silly stories are intentional class projects, as a means to an end. For example, when Pato wants to visit Spain, the class is divided into small groups and has to build him Popsicle stick boats with paper flags; this becomes a mini unit on floating and sinking objects (flota/se hunde).
Students later take a faux plane ride to Spain, have to go through customs/aduana, take off their shoes, show their pasaportes/passports, etc. When they arrive in Spain, Pato wants to see La Alhambra, the famous red fort, so first graders actually ended up painting huge swaths of cardboard red and building a very cool kid-sized model of the actual fort and gardens. They made tickets to visit and charged euros to enter the large fort. Wow!
Grade 2: A memorable day was when Pato thought fútbol, or soccer, was “food-ball”; this became a class joke and new sport, called, “Comida-ball”, wherein students took turns rolling [raw!] eggs on a soccer type field on the floor of their regular classroom (rompe el huevo). You lost if you cracked the huevo/egg, of course.
Somehow the class ended up building Pato a massive zipline outside and we experimented to see if the raw egg could make it down in one piece (it did, miraculously!). This led to the creation of a papier-mâché hot air balloon. Pato was pretty fixated on modes of transportation that first quarter.
Students experienced immersion in the target language via TPRS methodology. We co-created (as teacher and students) a number of mini-stories in the target language. The teaching style of these stories evolved over the year, in that some were pure TPRS, others were more script/play/ acting/theater style, and yet others were more AIM (gestures and repetition, but less of a focus on PQA). The latter seemed more effective for this age, mostly because processing levels (of reading and written translations on the board) varied significantly, based on their L1 reading levels.
**Note that students did not do much, if any, writing during this unit; the focus was on using language in meaningful contexts and encouraging them to apply words and phrases in everyday conversation. Students were exposed to proper spelling and punctuation/reading on the board, of course, but I did not require any written output. That said, I framed the TPRS story more as a class play, so that students had the opportunity to volunteer and read their lines aloud if they so desired.
We also incorporated well-known song classics into the story/play; for example, when an actor had “lost all hope” and was crying, the class would sing, “Ay yie yie yie, canta y no llores” (sing and don’t cry) and hear a short clip of Cielito lindo. They won’t know the name of the song, but they will recognize that line! Freewrites in the target language on a regular basis will be a goal for next year.
Locate country on the map and identify as Spanish-speaking.
Combine and relate new and old ideas, especially in written work.
Create a relevant product or business pertaining to said country.
Apply memorized key phrases in meaningful contexts.
Understand that countries use different currencies and that the value of bills with the same number on each one is not necessarily worth the same amount (e.g., 500 pesos does not equal 500 dollars).
Students participate in a town simulation. First, they choose a country as a class in which to “live”. Next, they set up businesses, make transactions with the local currency, do mini-projects relevant to said country, and really try to live the language, utilizing words and short phrases in everyday interactions as much as possible (e.g., mira/look!; necesito ayuda/I need help; necesito eso/I need that; por favor/please; gracias/ thank you; dónde está/where is it?; quiero/I want to…; etc.). Businesses evolve based on student interests. To prepare their minds each class for the task at hand, students compose short letters to the teacher (based on a sample/model) explaining who they are, what they want to do that day, and where they are going, along with the appropriate salutations.
Sample businesses this year included banks, restaurants, art museums, factories, and more. Key verbs included the following, among others: trabajar/to work; ir/to go; construir/to build; dibujar/to draw; etc.
I believe in multi-sensory and experiential learning, in involving all of the senses on a regular basis and in meaningful contexts.
I want students to not only see and think about the textual appearance of the word, “lemon”, but also to see and touch the thick outside yellow rind of the fruit; squeeze it in their hands and listen as citrus droplets fall into a glass; pucker their cheeks when they taste the uniquely sour flavor; smell the dirt as they plant lemon seeds; and begin to understand the tremendous complexity of a single word.
I believe in the power of play, that kids should be allowed to be kids for as long as possible.
I believe in wonder, joy, and curiosity.
I believe in creativity and thinking creatively, especially when there are boundaries and constraints or limitations in place.
In the classroom, I do not instruct students to simply “be creative”. I give them a problem, provide limited materials, and ask them to come up with a solution within those constraints.
I believe in hard work. I encourage developing the strength and perseverance that comes from working through challenges.
I believe in risk-taking and in the inevitability of failure. Learning how to fail is one of life’s greatest lessons.
I believe in teaching students to be self-directed and lifelong learners.
I believe that language is a beautiful canvas and mosaic with countless layers of meaning; but without context, it becomes a pile of randomly grouped Scrabble letters.
I believe that we can do anything we set our minds to.
Be smart. Be strong. Be kind. Work hard. Have fun.
1) Expectations: Students will be reminded of the academic and behavioral expectations on a regular basis. Students in my class are expected to be smart, kind, and strong (have ‘grit’), and to work hard and have fun.
2) Passwords: For some grade levels, students are given a “special word”, or Spanish password, which can determine where they sit each day. They think up creative ways to physically act out vocabulary (e.g., flower). If classes have assigned numbers, there may also be more math-related games included in the curriculum.
3) Tongue Twisters, Rhymes, & Poems: Other languages require that you move your mouth differently than in your native tongue. Tongue twisters and rhymes give students time to become aware of and play with sounds and phonetics.
4) Actions: Students physically act out nouns and verbs to reinforce and recycle vocabulary, and also to move around and get the ‘wiggles’ out of their systems. They may play fútbol/soccer outside, and learn several authentic ballroom dances as well, including the Salsa, Tango, Merengue, and Cha-cha.
5) Announcements & Advertisements: Students learn translated slogans, such as, “Me encanta” (I’m lovin’ it/McDonalds) and “Come más pollo” (Eat more chicken/Chick-fil-A) to make connections outside of the classroom. Announcements are code for public speaking practice in the target language, and will be worked in gradually as the year progresses.
6) Floor Map: Students jump on an interactive floor tape map of South and Central America to learn the names and locations of the 21+ Spanish-speaking countries and to reference the map in stories/culture.
7) Games: Students play authentic and translated versions of a variety of games in the target language. These are meant to build class camaraderie, and teach students to respond instinctually in Spanish.
8) Experiments & Projects: Science experiments emphasize order and step-by-step instructions, and allow students to participate in a hands-on way with the language. Projects are often cultural by nature. For example, students might study and then build a model of Chichen Itza (Mexico); simulate an authentic mercado (Argentina); mold Easter Island statues and tablets out of clay (Chile); or even create Salar de Uyuni mirror images with art, cameras, and technology (Bolivia).
10) Cultural Tidbits and Facts: Culture is woven throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, cultural tidbits will emerge as answers to students’ questions in class discussions. Other times, facts will be included in class stories.
9) Partner Stories & Scripts: Students read and/or create mini-stories in the target language, and also read class scripts. With the former, the idea is to develop literacy skills and spontaneous linguistic output. With the latter, the focus is on expression.
11) Storytelling (TPRS & AIM methodologies): Every conversation is a story. Here, students help the teacher “tell” a story in the target language. The teacher asks personalized questions, searching for details, and then lets the class decide (usually!) where the story will take them. Stories for the younger grades are presentational linguistically but interactive in that students may participate in certain parts (e.g., students might take turns hoisting a stuffed animal duck up-up-up to the sky on a pulley so that he could learn how to fly).
12) Apps: Grades 3 & 4 will be using Duolingo this year. The goal here is to create a habit and routine of studying the target language. Students are expected to spend 3x/week, for five minutes each day on the app. For more apps and resources, please visit the “Movies & Cartoons” page HERE.