Everything in my store (including those already discounted bundles) is 28% off for the next two days only! We only participate in 4 sales a year, so now is the time to grab a few lessons to get you through to Spring Break and beyond! Click the image below to start shopping!
It's Saturday, and you are taking a break from the busy teacher life and instead of doing things you HAVE to do, you get to spend your day how you choose. So, what will you do? Chances are you will decide to do something that...
A) allows you to spend time with people that you like
B) you enjoy doing
C) you are good at or at least capable of
D) will help better your life in the short or long term
Each year, we ask students to make a similar decision when we ask them to sign up (or not sign up) for the next language course. There are numerous reasons why students choose to continue or not continue their study of the Spanish language. One of our jobs as language teachers, a subject that is still an elective in most schools, is to make it more likely that students will choose to continue than not. We have to be marketers, whether we like it or not, if we want to sustain our program and ultimately our jobs.
There are surely many factors working against us in this...
Many of these things are beyond our immediate control, but some things are not. The same motivations that you had for choosing how to spend your free time on Saturday are not all that different from what motivates (or demotivates) our students from continuing their language study. The good news, is that a teacher or...better yet...a whole department of teachers can have a big impact on those factors.
Do your students feel prepared for and capable of continuing?
Being prepared is a two way street of course. The best teacher in the world can't prepare students who are not willing, but these are not the students you want in your program anyway! Attracting students to continued language study begins with your quality of teaching. Better teachers retain more students.
Is your class enjoyable?
Many teachers resent the dog and pony show that they feel kids expect today. Today's students are no longer content to sit quietly as the teacher lectures them on grammar rules and hands out conjugation worksheets. Truthfully, they shouldn't be content with that - if that sort of teaching produced fluent Spanish speakers, we wouldn't have 75% of the country not able to hold a conversation in another language. Nor would you have to hear "I took two years of Spanish in high school and all I can say is HOLA" from every third parent at conferences.
Making your class enjoyable does not mean that you have to play games every day and throw "fiestas" every other week. An enjoyable class starts with you and the relationship you have with your students. It comes from putting yourself in the place of your students while at the same time making decisions as a teacher. More than anything, teenagers enjoy each other. If you can plan activities that allow them to express themselves and learn about each other, even the driest topic can become interesting. If you can be vulnerable and honest and share yourself with your students - your mistakes, your successes, your sense of humor - they will enjoy spending time with YOU and you will enjoy spending time with them. They will do what you want them to do because they care about you and trust that you have their best interests at heart. If you build a relationship with them and help them to build working relationships with each other, they will enjoy their time in your classroom. When you chose how to spend your Saturday, you wanted to spend it with people you like doing something you enjoy. Your class can become that and your students will want to come back year after year.
Will your class benefit your students in "real life"?
As the teacher, of course you understand how and why these skills are useful for the future. You will find parents that also understand this because of their experiences in the work force. If you teach in an area where there are a lot of Spanish-speakers, your students may already see how these skills are useful. If you teach in northeastern Ohio like I do, you may have to work a little harder to show students how their Spanish language skills will benefit them in the future.
The best thing I ever did was switch to a proficiency-based model of teaching. Everything we do is geared at preparing students for a real-life task. It is not about learning how to conjugate verbs in the imperfect tense for some unknown purpose. It is about teaching students to fill out the questionnaire at the doctor's office, navigate the metro, buy groceries and successfully follow a recipe. It's about helping kids FUNCTION in a Spanish-speaking world, relate to Hispanic co-workers, and have a more exciting trip or vacation. These types of things mean something to students. They don't have to ask "when am I ever going to use this?" because they already are using it.
Case in Point
Since the merger of the two high schools in our district 4 years ago, we have seen a drastic decrease in the number of students continuing to upper level language courses. Many of our students study the language for just two years. By the end of the third year, we have a handful of students left. So we had to start looking at what the numbers were telling us. The numbers were telling us that certain teachers had a much higher percentage of their students continue to study the language, and other teachers had hardly anyone chose to continue after spending the year with them.
The numbers spoke louder than the grades did. Some teachers had students who earned C's still wanting to continue while other teachers had A students jumping ship. Some teachers had "rough" kids that were eager to keep going while other teachers had star students that just didn't want to do it anymore.
So what do you do? If you have a department with multiple Spanish teachers, experiment with which teachers teach which courses. Identify the teachers who are losing students so that the rest of you can assist - can you swap classes occasionally so that you have contact with those students? Can you team up and do some activities together? Be honest with one another, discuss your strengths and weaknesses, and set reachable goals. Once a program has been damaged, you are not going to change it over night, but if you keep these things in mind you will reach a tipping point.
Ten years ago, at a high school of about 1,000 students we had 15 students in Spanish 4 and 5 students in Spanish 5. After just 3 years of concerted effort, we had 100 students in Spanish 4 and 25 in Spanish 5 despite our student body being the same size. Today, it is time for us to look at this again. With the shuffling of teachers and courses now being chosen by seniority, our numbers have again dwindled. But the good news is that there ARE things that we as teachers can control if we are committed to growing and building our program.
I have seen a lot of discussion among Spanish teachers about how to deal with oral presentations. From the planning, to the practicing, to the presenting - there are a LOT of things to think about. Add on students who whine that they don't want to present, and it's no wonder some teachers abandon this sort of assignment altogether. I wanted to share with you some of the tricks I have learned over the years that will help you to achieve the result you want - students who willingly SPEAK Spanish.
I hope this has given you some ideas as to how to make oral presentations run more smoothly in your classroom. Feel free to share additional tips and tricks in the comment section below.
Event 1: Señora Cabeza de Papa Relay Race
1. Place all of your Mr. Potato Head body parts on a table at the front of the room. Count out the parts so that you have one less of each than the number of teams playing (ex: if you have 5 teams, you need 4 of each body part). It doesn't hurt to add some additional accessories as distractors.
2. Have students seated in straight rows of 5-6 students.
How to Play:
One person from each time comes up to the table and places their hands on the edge. The teacher calls out a body part in Spanish and the students race to find that body part and return it to their row to be placed on their Mr. Potato Head. Since there is one less body part than teams competing, the slowest team will not receive that body part. Teams get one point per body part at the end of the game.
Looking to add a little more spice?
-Award bonus points for the team that gets the body part on their potato head first
-Award a bonus body part for a specific item (ex: the arm holding the purse, the feet with sandals, etc)
Event 2: Symptom Charades (al revés)
-A list of symptoms in Spanish
How to Play:
One participant from each team comes to the room. The teacher describes a symptom, in Spanish, and the first student to correctly act it out wins a point for their team.
Event 3: Toca la Boca
-A list of directions for students to follow involving body parts
How to Play:
One student from each team comes to the front of the room. The teacher gives an instruction in Spanish.
Option A: The first person to follow the direction appropriately earns a point for their team.
Option B: The LAST person to correctly follow the direction LOSES a point for their team
Looking for some ideas for commands or instructions you can give your students or have them practice? Here are some of the ones I use and I am sure there are many more that would work depending on the experience level of your students.
Looking for more ideas for teaching body parts? Check out these resources from our store!
Looking for a way to incorporate your tree into classroom activities this holiday season? Check out these ideas for turning your classroom tree into a tree of knowledge!
Not setting up a tree this year? These ideas could easily be adapted for a classroom bulletin board too!
More Activity Ideas
1. Para Escribir - Have students grab an ornament from the tree and write a sentence, in Spanish, containing that word
2. Review Relay - Have a student grab a question off the tree, answer it, and tag another student to do the same. Have teams play against teams or classes play against other classes for the best relay time
3. Choose a student to read a joke or trivia question from the tree to start off class each day during the holiday season.
4. Instead of Christmas related words, try words related to trees themselves - elm, poplar, birch, trunk, pinecone, needle, etc.
5. Have students bring in a wrapped item from home that they don't want anymore and have students pick gifts. Great activity for reviewing direct and indirect object pronouns.
Looking for holiday specific activities for the season?
Visit my store to find activities about Las Posadas, Día de los Reyes Magos, el Año Nuevo, or sing Villancicos Navideños and make sure your students learn while they're at it!
Each year during the last full week before Thanksgiving, my students participate in an Art Interpretation Project. At the beginning of the week, they choose a photograph that inspires them on which to base their project. Then, each day, they learn about a different Spanish or Latin American artist (in the target language). They apply what they have learned by creating a drawing of their photograph through the eyes of each artist. The goal of the project is to learn about important people from the target culture, but also to pass on a bigger message about different perspectives and the value that they hold.
This year we focused on Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Frida Kahlo, and Fernando Botero.
Here are some of my favorites alongside their inspirational photographs from the target culture.
You can purchase this project with all the necessary materials in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Click here to see the full description.
UPDATE: Breakout EDU Games are now available in my store! Check it out here!
Escape rooms are popping up all over the country, and if you haven't heard of them before, you are missing out on a great way to increase engagement in your Spanish classroom in a fun and challenging way.
Basically, Escape Rooms are places where you and a group of your friends or family can go, pay someone money to lock you in a room, and then try your hand at solving puzzles in order to figure out how to get out within the 60 minute time limit. Breakout EDU takes all of the fun of an Escape Room and moves it to the classroom.
During a Breakout game, students work in groups to solve a series of puzzles that will give them combinations to open locked boxes and ultimately win the game. The materials are pretty simple - boxes, locks, and puzzles. If you're not sure you are ready to go that far, even just the puzzles will get your students applying their newly found Spanish skills in new ways. If you want to just jump in, it is relatively easy to have your project financially supported with local grants or through websites like donorschoose.org. There is even a company that sells a Breakout EDU kit just for educators for around $100. The site also features ready made games that can be downloaded, though there isn't much in the way of Spanish yet which is why I had to create me own games. I made my own kit with materials purchased from Amazon because I was picky about what I wanted and it was a bit cheaper to piece it together myself.
The benefits of involving your students in Breakout games are many. Students will learn important real world skills, such as how to work together, problem solve, and think creatively. From a content perspective, I have found that not only are the puzzles that students will be asked to solve a great way to review concepts, culture, and vocabulary...but they also increase student motivation BIG TIME. Students seem to WANT to learn the material well because they know the games are coming. I knew my students would like Breakout EDU, but I did not expect to overhear comments like "this is the only reason I came to school today". Giving students a reason to be excited about coming to school is a great thing - if every student had something to be excited about every day at school, I think we would see a much different atmosphere school wide (idealistic, I know, but it has to start somewhere).
We have been learning about food for the past week and I have been stuffing kids full of vocabulary and comprehensible input in preparation for our big launch into talking about what we eat in Spanish later this week. I will be giving them a reading & listening assessment tomorrow, so today was the perfect day to see exactly how much they can understand when it comes to food in Spanish.
Puzzle 1: Students were given a card with clues and a word search. On the back of the card was a hint that said "Remember, sharing is caring!". Once the students found the word for each clue, they had to find the letters that were shared by two words and that gave them the 4 letter code to open up their first box.
Puzzle #2: The first box contained a message, in Spanish, that they students had to figure out. The message directed them to look for a specific food item in a crate full of plastic food. Once they found the correct food item, they found a key attached to it which allowed them to open the next box.
Puzzle #3: The next box contained two lacing puzzles. Students had to use the puzzle to lace Spanish and English food words with the same meaning together. If they did it correctly, there would be 3 arrows showing on each puzzle (other arrows would become covered by the string as they completed the puzzle, so they had to complete it to figure out what the correct arrows were). Once they had completed both lacing puzzles, they had 6 arrows visible which were the code to a directional lock that would open the next box.
Puzzle #4: The last puzzle consisted of 7 popsicle sticks, each with 6 letters and a key. Students had to use the popsicles to form 6 different Spanish food words. Once they knew what the 6 words were, they then used the key to work out a simple equation which gave them the key to the final box. I typically split my class into 3 teams so that they can compete with each other. The first team to open the last box will find keys inside. They get to keep a key to put on their keyring and that is how we keep track of their "wins" throughout the year.
For those of you who are interested, I am currently working on getting some of these puzzles put together for you in my store. This way you can have your students try them as group activities even if you don't have the locks and other materials to do the whole Breakout game. They will still enjoy them, learn to work together, and be applying what they have learned in new ways! So, stay tuned...
This week we are beginning our review of how to talk about likes & dislikes in Spanish. We are also throwing in some new vocabulary as an extension of what they learned in Spanish 1 with phrases such as me importa, me aburre, and me molesta.
I wanted to come up with an activity that would not only allow them to learn some of these important phrases, but also that would be genuine and allow them to get to know one another better.
I gave each student one of these papers and asked them to consider how they felt about each item or activity.
Then, I had them cut away any phrases that did NOT describe how they felt about the item or activity, leaving only the one that did describe how they feel intact.
They could then quickly and easily lay their paper on top of a classmates to see what they had in common. Only one phrase would appear if they both felt the same way, but if they felt differently, two phrases would show.
They then were responsible for keeping track of how many matches they had with each of their classmates, and listing one of the things they had in common.
This first activity was meant to focus on reading comprehension and get the students used to the new vocabulary.
Next week, when we work on speaking and writing, these papers will contain genuine information that students will be able to talk about in Spanish. I will use them to introduce the structures that use the indirect object pronouns le, nos, and les as we talk about what different people have in common and what we have in common with others.
It can also be easily converted into an information gap activity.
The best part was that the students were SO INTERESTED to see what they had in common with each other. They even wanted to see what they had in common with me. One of my girls was very excited when we got 9 matches. I was not expecting that!
DOWNLOAD YOUR OWN EDITABLE COPY OF THIS MATCHMAKER ACTIVITY HERE!
It all starts with a simple list of words. We know that students need words if they ever want to achieve any degree of proficiency, but what do we do with these words? Do we just hand them over and say "memorize"? That doesn't work - not when you want students to retain these words long enough for them to be accessed for purposeful communication.
So, what DOES work? Research shows that someone needs to be exposed to a word 15-20 times before they will have a high probability of learning that word - and retaining, well that's a whole other story. We also know that short, frequent bursts of learning vocabulary are more effective than a single session of the same duration. Some teachers prefer to leave this up to the students - to assign a 15-20 minute study session each night, to thumb through a pile of flashcards, or to do an exercise on Quizlet. Vocabulary is central to communication - more important than verb conjugations or tenses, more important than accent marks, more important than...well...pretty much anything. Since vocabulary is so important, teachers should make vocabulary learning a priority in their classroom activities. And, if you want students to retain and actually be able to use that vocabulary, there needs to be some sort of deliberate progression to your vocabulary instruction.
This chart shows various activities that can be used to build vocabulary skills that will lead to proficient readers, listeners, speakers, and writers. The activities range in difficulty from level 1 to 10; with levels 1-5 focusing on vocabulary recognition (interpretive skills) and levels 6-10 focusing on vocabulary production and exchange (presentational and interpersonal skills). Each activity takes approximately 10 minutes and each day the difficulty level is raised. I have found that in two weeks (10 school days) it is possible for novice students to master between 20-40 words, on average, using this technique.
I have used this sequence of vocabulary instruction for several years now and I can honestly say that it builds strong vocabulary skills not only in the best students, but in the worst students too. And once they have a strong vocabulary, your worst students have the potential to become among your best. It is all about short, frequent bursts of exposure and gradual ratcheting up of the student's responsibility for language acquisition. Also very important is the reduced reliance on the native language on the part of the student. They should not hear it or see it. Each of these activities employs pictures to make up for gaps in the current target language vocabulary, and minimizes the student's need to revert back to English.
Looking for some ready-made vocabulary activities? I've got you covered!
-Themed Word Wheels with activity ideas
-Themed, Tiered Speaking Prompts
Think about your favorite activities to review vocabulary. Where would they fall on the chart? How could you make slight adjustments to make the activity of a higher or lower difficulty level?
Each year we begin school with an informal open house. Parents and students are in and out of our classrooms for several hours in the evening, but the opportunity to impart any valuable information on them is limited and rushed.
This year I developed what I am calling a "Spanish Parent FAQ" to have available as a handout that parents can take with them. I find that many parents want to leave Open House with something tangible because, like us, they are seeing a flurry of people in a condensed period of time. Once the newness of the year wears off and reality sets in, the concerns of parents change, and addressing some of the most common questions up front can save everyone some grief.
During my 15+ years as a Spanish teacher, I have heard the same questions a million times. Parents are all pretty much concerned about the same things because they know that a bad year for their kid equals a bad year for them too. Your focus during face time with parents should always be in communicating that you are dedicated to their child - not just to the standards or the content of your course. They are trusting you with their children, and if you earn their trust in that way, you will have their trust with everything else as well. Use your face time to relate to them on a personal level and let them read about the course "stuff" as they need to.
Here is my FAQ in case you want some ideas for creating your own!
What other questions do you frequently get from parents? Leave me your ideas in the comments below!
I have been teaching Spanish for the past 15 years in a large Suburban School District.
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