El Burrito Sabanero is one of the most well known villancicos (Christmas songs) in Latin America. Listening to this song brings back memories of my navidades in Colombia with many of my childhood friends as we gathered around the Nativity scene praying and reciting Las Novenas de Aguinaldo. Although I always thought this song was Colombian, I learned that it was written by a Venezuelan composer named Hugo Blanco. The song was first recorded in 1972 with the voices of the chorus “La Rondalla.” Nowadays you can find many versions of the song. Here are a few versions. Which one is your favorite?
Nothing like the sounds of traditional music, and the stories behind it! I love when I am able to find a song that belongs to and represents one of the Spanish speaking cultures – and use it in my classes. Bringing traditional songs to the classroom is a way to teach our students that the Spanish speaking world in not just one culture, but that it’s made up of many cultures. It’s a way to show that there is all kinds of cultural diversity out there. However, using traditional songs in elementary school is not an easy task. Finding traditional songs that suit the levels we teach can be challenging because sometimes they have too much vocabulary and complicated structures and sometimes not enough repetition. So I know I have to work on simplifying them for my students to comprehend. Sometimes I just choose parts of a song to focus on, which usually happens to be the chorus.
This is how I recommend teaching traditional song at the elementary level:
Identify the vocabulary or structures you want to focus on.
Provide background about where the song is from. Use a map to locate the country where the song is from – and with today’s technology you are even able to prepare your students with virtual field trips using Google Earth. You can even make a play passport for your students to keep track of when they learn a song from certain country.
Make it comprehensible. Create a slide show with images from the song. Taking a screenshot works great! Use the Movie Talk strategy to talk about what the children see in the picture. If there is no video available you can create your own slide show with pictures that are representative of the song. (See sample below.)
This may vary a little from teacher to teacher, but I let my students listen to the whole song without stopping the first time.
Focus on creating meaning. I also like using TPR and create gestures that go along with the song. When songs are too complex for my level, I focus on the chorus which most of the time provides a lot of repetition.
This is also optional, but if you happen to have some of the instruments that are used in the songs, pass them around and have your students experience them.
If you have a library in your classroom, print the Powerpoints, laminate the pages, bind them together and add them to your library.
Sing and enjoy!
This is one of my favorite songs. I used it with my kindergarten students this year, and their reaction was beautiful! The first time they heard it they were in love with it, but some of them expressed sadness. I love how they were able to feel the song without the need to understand every single word.
I created a Powerpoint to talk about the song before teaching it to the class. I took screenshots of the video and added more images to use while taking about the pictures. Believe it or not, there is a lot to talk about in these pictures. Below you may find a sample of a script that I used while talking about the pictures. Expect some of the children to come up with more details. I used this song with kindergarten close to the end of the school year. I noticed that sometimes my students participated by using English, but I let it go to avoid frustration and would do the following instead. For example, one of my students said “There is a sun!” Then I pointed to pictures saying “Hay un sol,” then pointed at the side pictures on the slide, saying “Hay una luna.” Then I went back to the slide and said “¿Hay un sol o una luna?” In this way, I was giving them some vocabulary prompts and avoided some frustration at this level, allowing it to flow naturally.
Here is an example of the conversation I had with my students using the slideshow I created to make the song comprehensible.
¿Qué animal es? ¿Es un perro? ¿Es un gato? ¿Es una llama? No, no es una llama. ¡Es una vicuñita! ¿Es un perro o una vicuñita? ¿Dé que color es la vicuñita? ¿Hay vicuñitas en Austin, Texas? ¿Qué animales hay en Texas? ¿Dónde hay vicuñitas? Hay vicuñitas en Perú, Bolivia, Argentina y Chile. This is a great opportunity to pull out a map!
¿Qué animal es? ¡Hay una persona! La persona mira la vicuñita. ¿La persona es amiga de vicuñita? ¡Hay un sol! ¿Hay un sol o una luna? Hay cerros, muchos cerros. ¿Hay playas? ¿Hay playas o cerros? ¿Hay playas en Austin?
Recycle structures from the previous slides. You will see that by this time the children will start recalling vocabulary on their own. You can add “¡Hay otra persona! Hay un niño y una niña.” You can go to the class and count how many niños and niñas are in the class. Again, recycle structures from previous slides, for example “La persona es amiga de vicuñita.”
¿Qué animal es? ¿Es un elefante? ¿Es un perro? ¿Es un gato o una vicuñita? La vicuñita dice, “yo soy vicuñita.” La vicuñita dice “¿yo soy un perro?” La vicuñita dice “¿yo soy un perro o yo soy vicuñita?”
Hay otra persona. ¿Es una niña o un niño? La persona no es amiga de vicuñita. Es un cazador (hunter). ¿Es un doctor o es un cazador?
Vicuñita está triste. ¿Vicuñita está triste o feliz? Vicuñita no está feliz. ¿Vicuñita está en la playa o en los cerros?
Hay lana, mucha lana. ¿Hay lana o plástico? El pelo de vicuñita es bueno para lana. El cazador quiere la lana de vicuñita para hacer un suéter.
Hay un círculo. ¿Hay un círculo o un triángulo? Vicuñita está con sus amigos.
Here are the lyrics of the song. I also created a Powerpoint with the lyrics, that I also use when not using the video to sing along. I chose just a few structures that I really wanted my students to get from this song. I might focus on more “chunks of language” with grades that have had more exposure to Spanish. These are highlighted in the lyrics below:
Del cerro yo vengo con mi vicuñita,
Del cerro yo vengo con mi vicuñita.
Cantando y bailando para mi cholita,
Cantando y bailando para mi cholita.
Yo soy vicuñita y vengo de la Puna,
Yo soy vicuñita y vengo de la Puna.
Vengo escapando de los cazadores,
Vengo escapando de los cazadores.
Mala ya la hora de ser vicuñita,
mala ya la hora de ser vicuñita.
Todos me persiguen por mi lana fina,
todos me persiguen por mi lana fina.
Last, but not least, we create gestures together to go along with our singing of the song.
This version is also great to show your students the instruments that are used to play this song:
It definitely takes time to make sure the song is understandable for the children and even more at the beginning levels, but the reward is worth it. My students kept asking for this song, and a few of them shared with me in the end of their year evaluation / reflections that La vicuñita was their favorite song. I shared a post on Instagram where you can hear just how much they were feeling the song.
Have fun singing!
You might also like these resources available on Teachers Pay Teachers
This is a collection of songs that can be used with different grade levels. They include a variety of vocabulary to express weather in Spanish, so I recommend you listen to them all and pick the one that fits your curriculum or lesson the most. Here are my favorite seasons and weather songs for elementary Spanish from YouTube.
If you have ever taught preschoolers you already know that they need to move a lot! Moving is part of their learning and growing, so why not use it as a tool to engage them? Here are five songs that are part of my Spanish & Movement program.
La Pelota: I use a big inflatable beach ball with this song. I toss it around while we practice the phrases “pasa la pelota” and “tira la pelota.” I also have small inflatable balls for children to use in pairs. I do have to admit that it gets crazy, but children love it. Something that works great for me is modeling the phrases before playing the game.
Burbujas: Through teaching Spanish to babies and toddlers I discovered these awesome bubbles by Gymboree (please note that I am not associated with them or endorsing their brand, but the reason I do really like their particular bubble formula!). The best bubbles need to be light enough to float and hang in the air and not pop immediately when touching other bubbles. This is so that children can capture them and then pile them up on their hands in bunches, giving me time to count and also practice repeating “más, por favor.” I haven’t yet met a preschooler who doesn’t like bubbles!
La Batalla del Calentamiento: This song is great to practice naming the parts of the body while moving. I love adding other parts of the body that are not included in the song. I also sing the song without the music and ask the children to choose a part of the body they would like everyone to sing in class.
El Ritmo del Tambor: Use TPR to introduce the vocabulary of the song to the class. Start playing the drum. Have the group stand in a circle and follow every movement in the song: baila, camina, marcha, salta, corre, duerme and despierta.
Danza de Paracaídas: Nothing like parachute time! If you don’t have a play parachute, a big piece of fabric works well, too. Click here to find more ideas.
If you are looking for more tips for teaching Spanish to preschoolers, I have a whole post dedicated to that topic. Please click here to visit the link to it!
¡Hola! I am Carolina, a Colombian elementary Spanish teacher based in Austin, Texas. Fun for Spanish Teachers is the result of my passion for teaching Spanish to children and my desire to inspire collaboration and creativity in a vibrant teaching and learning community. It’s the perfect stop if you are looking for songs, games, teaching tips, stories, and fun for your classes.