Brain break or calm down activities? This is the question I have been asking myself this year after teaching my sweet first graders. I am lucky that we have a mindfulness teacher in the school where I teach. I asked him for some help, and he graciously offered to come sit and observe my students in my class. After observing my class he noticed that I have been using a lot of brain breaks that will leave my students with high energy, which doesn’t really help this group of active first graders maintain focus during the rest of the class period.
This is what he suggested I do:
Calming Scents: He mentioned to me that this age group is highly affected by their environment. He suggested that having calming scents such as lavender, lemon or peppermint might help.
Sounds: Playing relaxing music or natural sounds such as rainforest or waterfalls as they enter my classroom might help lower their energy levels.
Slow movement activities: Play slow music in the room and have them pretend to be different things in nature. Visuals will be handy for this. For example, a cloud, a slow elephant, a bird and so on (and this also gives a fun opportunity to reinforce some vocabulary or teach new words).
Breathing movements: Encourage movement activities that require students to inhale and exhale while sitting down or walking around the room.
Here are some visuals that might be helpful to have in your room.
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.
I have made it a tradition to end each school year with a post reflecting on the year. It’s become a way for me to keep track of my progress as an Elementary Spanish teacher. I have been teaching for 20 years, and every year I find myself ditching things that didn’t work, adapting old things, and incorporating new ideas. I have discovered that I always like to try new things each year. This was my second year teaching in Austin. I am no longer the only Spanish teacher at the elementary level, as I was in the schools where I taught in Boston. I am extremely happy that I have two new compañeras that I get to learn from everyday. Given that this was my second year at this school, it felt better than last year. I spent last year getting to know my new school and the community. I also came to a school where part of the curriculum had already been created. Things were in many ways easier this year, and I feel that I was able to find my voice and share more ideas with my fellow teachers to bring new things into our curriculum. (Wow! I can’t believe how serious my post sounds! Believe me! I am not that seria!)
Teaching in the Target Language
My goal is to stay at 90% to 95% in the target language. There are days when I am able to stay in the target language 100%, but there are days when I feel that using that 10% of English (that I like to say I keep in my pocket) for classroom management, making sure every student understands, and making connections with my students is totally fine. My students clearly know that I am from Colombia, and I am immigrant, so I also want them to know that I am bilingual, and since I am teaching them a language, I want to be a multi-dimensional role model for them.
Let’ be honest! We all have those days when kids are all over the place! This year I made a poster with more simple rules. I used that poster as reference all the time, and I noticed that having the poster close allowed me to be more consistent and make sure the class was a safe learning space for everyone. I can’t take credit for the simple rules. One of my colleagues shared them, and since I love designing resources, I turned them into a poster for my classes. I placed the poster in front of the room, and I could refer to it when it was needed.
I have had years that I haven’t use a system and years where I have used different reward systems. For example, los billetes, la clase/la maestra points from Whole Brain Teaching, Secret Student, and, this year, Class Dojo, but for some reason this felt tiring to me so I decided not to use the points in the middle of the school year, and I can say that it was a relief. I felt that I was wasting time when children were trading their points for prizes and sometimes it felt that some of them were willing to work hard and follow directions just for the points. I also asked my students to vote, and many of them voted for not having points because it was stressful for some of them. At this point I don’t plan on using any point system next school year. I will focus more on using Responsive Classroom since I have been trained in it, and it was used widely in the previous schools where I taught. I will also use the SEL (Social Emotional Learning) program we use in my current school.
I am a brain break fanatic and I used a lot of them this school year. Some of my students wrote in their feedback that they feel that I need to use even more, so I plan to look for new ones this summer to add to my repertoire. Yoga worked great with my kindergarten and first grade students. I am looking forward to incorporating more mindfulness in the Spanish class since the school has a strong program too.
This is something I still need to work more on. Of course, because I am from Colombia I love teaching and sharing my culture with my students. We have included in our curriculum to share facts about two countries per month, but I still feel that we need to study this more deeply. Goal for next year!
Communication With Parents
In all the years I have been teaching, I can say that this year was by far the one I have communicated the least with parents. We are a team of three, and it wasn’t easy sometimes to coordinate to send newsletters. We have had conversations about using Seesaw more to communicate with parents. So far, I have used it as an assessment tool, but not as much I as I need too. Working on this next year!
What Am I Excited About Next Year?
It will be my third year teaching in Austin, so I know the students, the community and the curriculum! I am excited about being able to finally add my own voice and identity to the curriculum. I am excited to continue learning more about CI and TPRS, and I will also be writing stories! I also look forward to attending some conferences and maybe presenting again! And most important, really using the summer to recharge!
How was your school year? What goals do you have for next school year?
I hope everyone is having a great school year so far! This will be my 4th week with students. We spent the first week and a half making it a safe place for our students, getting to know to know one another and giving them a chance to get to know the space. I teach K-5, and this week was my first full week with my K students. Everything is so new for them that our school principal and their teachers feel that for specialists to start teaching them subject material from day one could be terrifying! I love this new approach of getting to know our students before we dive into our curriculums.
I have been working on classroom routines, classroom rules and encouraging them to use hand signals when we are in class. I have decorated my classroom with some input for them but will be adding more little by little. I feel that it doesn’t make sense for me to fill every space on the walls of my classrooms with signs that they don’t yet understand, and I know I am not in need of them yet.
I have been making some changes around the room according to the needs of my students. I have a deskless classroom. My K-2 students sit on the rug, and grades 3-5 have assigned seats. Each chair has a pocket where we keep our notebooks and pencils. That saves me time when we do writing activities.
I have a calendar, but I mostly use an online version projected on the board. The online version of the calendar has links to guess the day’s temperature in different Spanish countries.
I have about 115 students, so this poster has been helpful to remember dates. Every month we change it, and the children quickly write their name and date of their birthday.
I have a class list and have assigned a number to each of my students in each grade. I use these popsicle sticks (not a new idea!) to choose participants in the different games we play, since sometimes it is hard to choose. Students also have the choice to say “paso” to indicate “I pass.”
I added a reading corner to my classroom. I haven’t use it yet, but I plan to add copies of the TPRS® stories we do this year. I have some students who are heritage speakers, so I think they could benefit from other stories as well.
I also like comparing the time zones in different countries. I have a clock that shows Colombia, one for Austin and one for Equatorial Guinea. I might change the countries later.
I have decorated the classroom with some useful language, question boards and signals, and classroom rules. At the top of the board, I keep the flags of the countries of study. We do about 8 per school year with grades 2-5. One more thing is that this year the interactive board comes with a microphone which is great for the little ones. They can hear me better and are more engaged.
I have a projector that I can use to work on rewriting stories together or simply filling out worksheets in class. Best thing to have ever!
Next to the projector, I have a table with different props and with some Yoga cards that I use as brain breaks with my students.
I also keep a chime handy when the attention getters I use don’t work. Voice saver!
I have decorated the classroom with art from different Spanish speaking countries. I wish I had one to represent each country. So far I have a lot from Colombia, Panamá, La República Dominica, Guatemala, Ecuador, México, and Chile. I write the name of the country under the piece of art so students know where it comes from.
I also have have other small decorations around the room, mostly around my computer. I have a chair next to some furniture that is part of the classroom.
I use this chair for students to sit when we sing the birthday song.
This is a Friday selfie! Feeling ready to go home!
How is your school year going? Do you have a classroom, or are you traveling? I used to be a traveling teacher and wrote a post a while back about how I used to roll! You might find the post helpful!
A few years ago the science teacher at my school approached me with an exciting idea. It was September, and she started the year off teaching about the Monarch butterfly migration. She wanted to create a cross-curricular connection and shared with me the idea of joining a symbolic butterfly migration through an organization called “Journey North.” It was the best idea ever! She taught the butterfly life cycle in her science class, which included raising the butterflies in her classroom. She also taught the Monarch migration and why they are important connectors of ecosystems and landscapes.
In our Spanish class, we learned about the butterfly migration traveling from north to south because it was the fall. These are some of the questions we used and might help you start a conversation in class. Having a map and a paper butterfly helps a lot! ¿Dónde vivimos? ¿Vivimos en Colombia o en Estados Unidos?
¿Cuál es la estación? ¿Es el verano? ¿Es el otoño?
¿Qué animal es? ¿Es un perro? ¿Es un gato? ¿Es una mariposa? ¿Es un gato o una mariposa?
¿Qué clase de mariposa es?
¿Por qué van las monarcas al sur?
¿Adónde van las monarcas?
¿Adónde en México van las monarcas?
¿Cuándo van las monarcas a Michoacán?
¿Qué se celebra en México el 1 y 2 de noviembre?
¿Qué representan las monarcas para las personas en Michoacán? Each student decorated small paper butterflies and wrote basic information such as:
Yo me llamo _________.
Yo tengo ______ años.
Yo vivo en __________.
Mi color favorito es___________. We also decorated a bigger butterfly the size of a filing folder and added a picture of our class in the middle. We also needed to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (10” X 13”) in order to get our butterflies in the spring. I uploaded a picture of a big butterfly to the Journey North website and shared it with parents. On the map, we were able to see the schools that were participating in the country, as well our big butterfly.
We also read a story called “Monarca va a Michoacán” to introduce and review high-frequency vocabulary.
We made a connection with the homeroom teachers. During their reading time, students had different books related to butterflies and also to “El Día de los Muertos.” It’s believed that Monarchs are the souls of the departed and loved ones, and they arrive in Michoacán to join the celebration. Students read “Uncle Monarch” in their classrooms, and that helped us make a connection to explore the Day of the Dead celebration.
We also got to say “adiós” to our real butterflies before they embarked on their journey south.
In Spanish class, we read a bilingual book called “El Día de los Muertos.” It led us to make a comparison between Halloween and this beautiful celebration for them to understand the meaning of the Day of the Dead and why it’s important to the Mexican people – and how it differs from Halloween.
When the spring came, we had an awesome surprise! We got mail from Journey North with beautiful paper butterflies made by children in Mexico and other parts of the United States. This was an amazing experience not only for the teachers who got to work together but also for the children who were excited about their paper butterflies. This is also an opportunity to raise awareness about Monarchs and what could happen if they go extinct. Thinking about joining the journey this year? Click here to visit the link to learn how to participate and download the “Teacher Packet” with all the steps to join the symbolic migration. The deadline to join is around the first week of October, so make sure you don’t miss the date. Visit Señora Speedy’s blog to read what she has done in her class with the Monarch butterfly migration. Also, visit Mundo de Pepita’s blog to read up on her experience too! Last, but not least, I recorded this song with some friends in 2012 to use in my classes. I am not the best singer but had a lot of fun recording this song.
¡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.