I strongly believe that teaching a language through movement, games, and songs should be the main approach when teaching young learners. However, this age group also enjoys engaging in some hands on activities. After all, most young children are makers at heart.
This set(available on TpT) will provide simple activities with minimum cutting and basic coloring. I also included some of my songs that I know my younger students enjoy. When using Interactive Notebooks I advise teachers to have the children cut out the pieces and glue them onto the notebook before coloring. That way, it will be easier for children to keep all the pieces together.
There are several activities where envelopes will be required, but you can still create your own. Interactive Notebooks are a lot of fun!
This bundle includes teaching tips, audio files for the songs and version of the activities for folders and composition notebooks. Also see my post about using Interactive Notebooks with upper elementary Spanish classes.
Have fun in your journey using Interactive Notebooks!
This a list of what I have in my classroom and can’t survive a school year without any of these materials.
Chime: Sometimes we need breaks from using call-and-response chants or clapping our hands. I have found a three tone chime* that works well because it gives enough time for my students to settle down.
Map: I had a hard time finding a map that was simple enough for my elementary students. Luckily I came across this map on Pinterest, and it has been the best purchase ever. You can find it at Spanish Cuentos.
Puppets and Plush Toys: Puppets and plush toys are a great tool in language teaching. I love when my students make connections with some of them. They become one more member of the class. Visit my post where I talk about the use of puppets in a world language class.
Special Chair: I have a chair that my students use when we sing to them to celebrate their birthdays in class. They all look forward to having a chance to sit on that chair in class. They also get a small gift from me which is usually a pencil, eraser, or small craft from Colombia. They also get a birthday certificate. Click here to download some free ones for your classes!
Play Parachute: Every single one of my students seems to love parachute time, no matter how old they are. It’s always fun to use parachutes for a brain break. I have written a few posts about how I use them in my classes:
Authentic Art: I love displaying art from different Spanish speaking countries. I usually label items to show where they come from.
Favorite Music Playlist: Thank goodness for YouTube! I love how you can easily make lists of your favorite songs. I like creating playlists by grade levels. Here is a list of some of my go-to channels:
Flags: I have flags and posters from the different Spanish speaking countries. You can display them all at once or take them out one at a time when you do the country of study. This pack is available on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Pointers: I found a really awesome set of pointers* that I use while looking at our “Plan de la clase” as well as when we play interactive games on the Smart Board. These ones have been the best so far! I have had them for about two years now:
List of Brain Breaks: Brain breaks are great not only to get your students’ attention back, but also for you to take a break as a teacher. I keep a list of brain breaks and yoga cards handy. Download free yoga cards here!
Simple Picture Books: Last year I started a library in my classroom. So far the books that have worked best are books with minimal text and also books that the children are already familiar with in English.
Movies: Sometimes I like using movies right before the break when I know a lot of my students will be missing. I also use them when I am out and can’t find a sub that speaks Spanish, or just being honest, to take a break!
Balls: Yes, balls of different sizes to play games or ask questions!
Instruments: Playing with these is something my younger students really enjoy!
Apron: This is not a “must,” but it has been great for me to stop putting things in my pockets when I am teaching. I used to always end up emptying my pockets of an assortment of things at home that should have stayed at school instead of hitching a ride with me – things like tiny pointers, markers, pencils, and the classroom keys. This is the one I plan to use this school year. I am especially excited about the llamas on this one!
What is something you think I should add to this list? Please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments box.
This is a short traditional poem that is perfect to teach a little bit of geography of the Spanish speaking countries, and also numbers from 1 to 10.
Use a map to locate Perú. If you have technology at handy, take a virtual trip to Perú using Google Earth. You can find pictures and short videos about Perú. Make sure you prepare in advance, and choose the material you would like to share with your students.
This poem is also used to jump the rope! You can challenge your students to count beyond number ten. It can also be used as a cooperative game to learn names. See videos below!
Social Justice in a world language class is a topic that I feel a lot of passion about. Especially with so much discussion (and more, ehh, colorful communication) about immigration and immigrants these days. However, finding ways to incorporate Social Justice topics such as immigration can be challenging. It’s vital to ensure that what you decide to incorporate is age appropriate, simple enough for students to understand in the target language, and sensitive to a diversity of viewpoints. I am a strong believer that it is totally fine to use some time in class to clarify what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re presenting this material. (Just a note: I like writing a lot of my posts in the first person, using “I” statements, because at the end of the day, a lot of what I write here is based on my own experience, informed by my interactions with colleagues, students, mentors, and readers over the years.
It’s my responsibility as a Spanish teacher to step out of my comfort zone and find ways to bring Social Justice into my curriculum. I decided this time to focus on immigration, something that I think is timely even if it’s a charged topic (or because it’s such a charged topic, I can’t ignore it). With immigration as a current issue, and that unlikely to change for some time, I believe it is important for our students to understand why people come to this country, what their motivations are. Without getting into debates about policy or laws, I believe a core function of my job as a teacher, especially as a representative of a foreign culture, is to help guide students to build empathy and understand universal themes of the human condition. I also believe it’s reasonable to present a picture that reaches beyond public rhetoric and negative generalizations (sometimes with quite unfair and horrible labels) to discuss immigrants and their various contributions to this nation.
I’m lucky enough to have a school that fully supports me presenting this, and the structure of the school year has given me the chance to dive deeply into this topic. The school where I teach divides our professional growth by cycles. Each cycle has a component to focus on. The last term of the school year I was in the School Project phase. As part of this, I created a unit to discuss with our fifth graders about immigration. I didn’t create every single resource in the unit because I was able to find resources other colleagues had already shared on their blogs, and I was able to adapt some activities for the elementary level.
The picture below shows an excerpt of a project I shared as part of my professional growth:
A picture I found on the on Pixabay started the conversation with my fifth graders. We brainstormed what the picture could mean. Although I had planned this to happen in English, some students tried hard to use their Spanish, and I loved it! Cognados were a great help here!
Also to supported this unit, we watched and discussed the movie La misma luna. I adapted some of the activities from this resource from the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University (Tennessee, USA). I also created a few activities for my students to practice their language skills. One of the activities was to write a letter to Carlitos’ mom to let her know about Carlitos’ journey (Carlitos is the protagonist in La misma luna who, at just 9 years old, decides to cross the US-Mexico border to find his mom in California). My 5th graders really impressed me in their ability to analyze the movie, and some of them concluded that the movie made the border crossing journey seem much too easy. Of course, this is a Disney movie where everything is possible and some things are sensational or oversimplified! But I certainly wasn’t going to show them something as brutal as Desierto with Gael García Bernal … At the end of the unit, children wrote a reflection about this topic. Here is a sample:
Incorporating Social Justice into our curricula has to be intentional and well planned! In my case, because I live in the state with the longest border with Mexico (Texas), I think it is extremely important to make it part of my curriculum. But you don’t have to live in a border state to discuss immigration, a topic that affects everyone in this nation.
I have created a free resource that can be used to start the conversation. Please note that my intention is not to get political with my students, but to help them to see a reality from a chid’s point of view. There are of course many topics behind this issue that I feel are not appropriate to talk about with this age group. The idea is also not be judgmental because we have to understand that when a child comes to our classes, they come with their own stories, “baggage of life,” and ideas that at their young age is deeply influenced by those at home. I feel so fortunate that the school where I teach is a safe place to have these kind of discussions with my students. I am not trying to push a liberal agenda on my students. But it could be that at the end they will still have the same political beliefs. And I am certainly okay with that, as long as there is respect and their opinions are not harmful to our community.
Here is a short story I created. It is based on what’s currently happening with many children at the border. You may use this free resource to introduce the topic to your students. There are also some videos on YouTube that are useful to support this resource. Just be aware that there is a lot out there and you will need to take the time to explore and make sure the videos are suitable for the age group you teach (and make sure you always watch videos from start to finish before showing them to your students!). Click on the picture below to download the story:
If you are interested in learning more about Social Justice in world language classes, I highly recommend you read the publication by ACTFL called “Words and Actions.” And please make sure to stop by The Woke Spanish Teacher to see her post on Migration in Spanish class. I am excited about her new blog and ideas to incorporate Social Justice in elementary teaching. Thank you for stopping by to read our blogs!
As a native speaker, I find it fairly easy to stay in the target language (TL), and I’m aware that it’s important to keep my communication simple and to do as much as I can to keep my instruction at the proficiency level of my students, and, more importantly, to make it comprehensible, which sometimes I find tiresome. But, hey, that’s my job!
The Foundations of My Journey
Before moving to the United States I was a preschool/English teacher in Colombia, and comparing my experience teaching English in Colombia vs teaching Spanish in the United States, it was easier for me to focus just on what I needed to communicate in English, than what is sometimes more complex for me in Spanish. I have had different experiences teaching in the United States, having been in a total of eight schools in 17 years. The first program where I taught FLES, all Spanish teachers were required to stay 100% in the TL. I had success doing all I could to get my point across in my classes. I spent a lot of time looking for visuals, making posters, and using a lot of TPR and gestures! The program was successful, but my students thought that I couldn’t speak English. The children were trying harder to communicate with me in the TL, but there was more to it than that. I had a website, and also sent newsletters home, but the parents still thought that I didn’t know English.
Trying to Find My Way
During my four years teaching in that school district, I was approached by a parent only once, and his comment was, “I thought you didn’t know English!” At that moment, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I wanted my students to use Spanish with me at all times, during class, recess time, in the hallway, and so on, but I was also sad, because I was also there to “promote bilingualism,” and they thought I only knew Spanish. I was traveling from classroom to classroom, and the homeroom teachers stayed in the classroom during the 20 minutes of Spanish instruction. I recall that I rarely had to work hard on classroom management because the teachers were there to help. I also realized that I didn’t really know anything about my students.
Seeing the Value of Teamwork and Mentors
Despite all of these critical reflections, I still learned so much there, where I learned so much about being a Spanish teacher in the United States. I had seven awesome colleagues who had been teaching for a long time, so they were always open to listening, and their classrooms were always open if I needed to learn more. They respected me and the strengths I brought to the table as a native Spanish speaker, and they mentored me, too. As a new immigrant at that time, they provided strong support! Those ladies shaped a lot of the teacher that I am today!
Forced to Change Course with Opportunity in Adversity
Sadly enough, the town voted against a tax override, and the school district lost the Spanish program. Spanish language instruction at the elementary level fell victim to other budget priorities. To this day, I still don’t understand why there is more emphasis on high school foreign language instruction than in the early years when it makes a lot more sense in so many ways. I did decide to create my own program targeting pre-K kiddos, but that’s another story! After a few years of working independently, I decided to go back to a school because I was really missing being part of a school community.
Growing More Flexible
Once I moved to a different school, the policies about teaching 100% in the TL were different. The school already had a Spanish and French teacher for grades 4 through 6, so I was hired to create the other part of the program with the help of my colleagues, and we used a backward mapping process to create our curriculum for grades pre-K to 3. Both of the French and Spanish teachers used some English with their students. Although I had a little flexibility to create the program, I first stuck strongly with using only Spanish in class out of habit and desire to push students to use the TL. I started noticing that the other language teachers had such strong connections with their students, and their students would actually look for them during recess time. That was when it dawned on me that I had been missing an opportunity to connect with my students and get to know a little bit more about them. So by my second year in the school, I finally became more flexible and started to allow interactions with my students in their L1 during times out of my class.
Building Deeper Relationships
Children would actually come and sit next to me by the bench on the playground, and we had great conversations, rom talking about my family in Colombia to their plans after school! That’s when I realized that it was okay for them to use their L1 to communicate with me during recess time. I also feel that because I am a native speaker, they need to know that I am bilingual and that I have interest in their language and culture. Keeping my class at 90 to 95 % TL in my classroom continues to be my goal.
Hitting My Stride and Learning the Value of Patient Beginnings
I am now in my third school (as FLES teacher), where the program is awesome! We have a seven-day cycle, and I get to see my students five out of every seven days. I can do so much with my students! And the consistency in our schedule definitely helps the program. In this school we spend the first days in English, in fact, nobody teaches any of the subjects because we spend the first days getting to know our students and making space for our students to get to know their teachers. This has been the best idea ever! Kudos to my school principal for encouraging us to start our school year this way. Last year was the first time it was done schoolwide, and it made a big difference in that it was an opportunity to connect with my students without the pressure of digging into my curriculum right away. During the first days we discussed classroom procedures, explored the space, and talked about the rules in class and how important it is to follow them to make it a safe space for everyone. We used TPR with the rules, and then it was easy to transition to using them (and TPR) in Spanish.
Honing My Craft and Holding Myself to the Same Standards
I keep the poster in front of the classroom to refer to the rules whenever I need them. I also teach hand signs that are connected to “passwords” they need in class. (See my post about “passwords” here.) I also have a poster that says “En español,” and I point at it when needed, and a hand sign that I use if I have to use English (Time out sign.) I usually use this sign and accompany it by saying “Voy a hablar…” and my students say “inglés.” If they have a question for me, they request permission to use English by asking “¿Puedo hablar inglés?” So I figured I also have to signal it when there is the need to use English from my end.
Weaving in Complexity and Culture
I try to keep my teaching at between 90% and 95% in the TL, and sometimes I actually have classes with the TL at 100%, but there are times when I feel that it is necessary to use my students’ L1. When teaching culture that goes beyond the tangible. They also see me taking risks with words that are difficult for me to pronounce. I am working hard on incorporating more culture into my classes and to be able to give voice to the different Spanish speaking cultures. They’re so diverse! My students already know enough about El Día de los Muertos, or La noche de las velitas, but if there is something new or unique, I’d rather use five minutes of my instruction time in English making sure everything is clear, than letting things go by and being responsible for inadvertently instilling or reinforcing stereotypes, however subtle..
Taking the Summer to Reflect on Reflections!
Writing this post has been so great to take the opportunity to reflect about my own journey and process as a language teacher. This is my own experience, and this is how I have arrived where I am right now with the use of TL in my classes. I know as teachers we have to look at what works best for us and most benefits our students. I am just happy to be able to share my own journey with you. I would love to hear what you do in your classes and learn about your journey and your own process of adaptation over time! Please feel free to add a note in the comments!