Teaching preschool and elementary Spanish is a journey. We always want the best for our students, and our expectations reflect that. It is important to realize that second language acquisition is a long-term endeavor. Your students’ success in Spanish class depends not so much on each individual lesson, but rather on the experience of being in a Spanish class with an effective teacher through the grades. Goals are achieved over time. Through repetition, structure, routine, the use of Spanish consistently, and implementation of effective curriculum, your students will learn Spanish.
Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction.
We continue our discussion on using repetition in the Sonrisas Curriculum:
The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum makes it easy to repeat previously-learned material each lesson through songs, games, activities, and stories. Frequent, everyday repetition should occur in each lesson that you teach. This is simply a matter of reviewing performance guidelines taught in previous lessons in each subsequent lesson. The review can occur through the repetition of songs, games, and activities and through using shared reading strategies. It’s amazing to see how this kind of repetition solidifies comprehension and language usage—students rely less on imitation as they acquire fluency with repeated language structures.
Another benefit of this kind of repetition is students’ ability to apply new vocabulary and concepts to known routines. For example: The first lesson in Sonrisas Level I is the Me llamo lesson. Students do an activity where they throw a hacky sack to each other and ask, “¿Cómo te llamas tú?” and then respond with, “Me llamo ____.” The first few times that students do this, they are just imitating the teacher. As they repeat the activity many times in each lesson, they begin to use the vocabulary and phrases with fluency. Once they have mastered this, the teacher can then introduce a new question/answer into the routine such as, “¿Cuántos años tienes tú?” and “Yo tengo ____ años.” As you build a repertoire of songs, games, and activities from the lessons, you can switch back and forth between them, choosing those that focus on the language concepts that need attention.
Teachers using the Sonrisas Curriculum should also repeat songs, games, and activities from Level I in Level II. Your Level II students can continue to benefit from the repetition of songs, games, and activities learned in Level I. Use them when you feel there is a need. These activities become well-loved, and your students will enjoy returning to them.
We have posted before on the importance of repetition in preschool and elementary Spanish, but the subject itself deserves repetition. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum.
Repetition in language learning is critical. Every Sonrisas lesson includes a communication objective with performance guidelines for achieving the objective. It’s not realistic to think that second-language learners are going to integrate the performance guidelines into their comprehension and language usage immediately after completing any given lesson. This is where repetition comes in. Annual repetition, as well as frequent, lesson-by-lesson repetition, must occur for students to achieve the communication objectives.
We strongly recommend that each level of the Sonrisas curriculum be taught for two years. Students’ level of language acquisition will increase profoundly with this annual repetition; further, teachers don’t have to repeat each lesson exactly with the same content. Most Sonrisas lessons include several book suggestions for Story Time, and there is usually more than one art project from which to choose, so teachers can teach the same theme while they vary the content of the lesson from one year to the next.
To illustrate the benefits of teaching each level for two years: In Sonrisas Level I, the lesson on Familia includes the following performance guidelines:
- Students identify family members in Spanish.
- Students comprehend the question, “¿Quién es?“
- Students answer the question using the phrase, “Es mi mamá/ papá/ hermano/ hermana/
abuelo/ abuela/ tío/ tía/ primo/ prima.”
The first time students do this lesson, they may only demonstrate the first performance guideline, identifying family members in Spanish: mamá, tío, abuelo, etc. The following year, when the Familia lesson is repeated, teachers have the opportunity to engage students’ prior knowledge of the subject matter, focusing on the second and third performance guidelines.
Annual repetition also increases language acquisition by helping students feel more comfortable, confident, and excited about the lessons because they are familiar with them. It puts their brains in a more receptive state for learning. When we’ve begun a familiar/repeated lesson, we’ve often heard our students exclaim, “Oh, I remember this! I love this lesson.”
When you stay in Spanish in your class, your students will be more motivated to learn Spanish because they will see, through your example, that Spanish is fun, useful, and has many purposes. This is why it is so important to make speaking Spanish fun for your students. One of the joys of teaching Spanish is that speaking Spanish is fun. Whether you are a native Spanish speaker or it’s your second language, it’s important that you convey your excitement and interest in Spanish—by your attitude in class, by connecting your students to the Spanish-speaking community in your town, and by talking to them about the many advantages of knowing a second language.
We are very proud of the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum because all of the games, activities, stories, songs, and art projects make it easy to create a fun and exciting environment in your class in which you are able to stay in Spanish at least 90% of the time.
If you are worried about keeping your class entirely in Spanish, just remember: You are teaching Spanish! One of the most effective ways to do this is simply to provide a model of using Spanish for everything you do in your class. Again we refer to Helena Curtain’s article “Teaching in the Target Language,” for these very useful tips:
Make the language comprehensible.
- Use simple, direct language and choose vocabulary and structures that incorporate a large amount of material that is familiar to the learners.
- Break down directions and new information into small, incremental steps.
- Use concrete materials, visuals, gestures, facial expressions, and movement.
- Model every step of the process or the directions being presented.
Monitor and assess target language use.
- Keep track of student language use.
- Make sure that oral language use is part of student assessment.
- Make target language use a part of the classroom management system and an integral part of the classroom culture. Possibly use a reinforcement system to reward students for a short period of time to get them in the habit of using the language.
Check for comprehension.
- Students can use signals to indicate their response to a comprehension check. They can hold their thumbs up or down for “yes” and “no,” and wiggle their thumbs for “I’m not sure.”
- Students can draw pictures to signal their comprehension or write on small whiteboards. They can act out behavior or imitate the performance that the teacher has demonstrated.
Separate English from Spanish—avoid translation as a first resort.
- If the students know that the teacher is going to use both languages, they will not engage with the target language and will patiently wait for the English.
- If the teacher plans to repeat or clarify in English, he or she may not expend as much effort to make the target language comprehensible.
- Sometimes students who have understood directions or new vocabulary may call out the English, either as a way to help their classmates or to show the teacher that they have understood. It is important not to encourage or reinforce this practice, because if it becomes a habit, the language lesson can turn into a translation game.
Separate English from Spanish—use a sign.
- Using a sign on which one side indicates English and the other side indicates the target language reminds teachers and students to stay in the target language.
- The sign can help the teacher make a transition to using the target language more frequently by keeping the teacher and the students focused on using the language for longer periods of time each day.
- Of course, beginning students cannot always conduct themselves entirely in the new language. Teachers can respond in the target language by rephrasing what students said in the target language and then responding in the target language.
Hopefully you will find it useful and easy to employ these strategies just as we do in the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum. There will be one more part to this series about staying in Spanish next week.
At Sonrisas Spanish School we believe that Spanish should be used as consistently as possible in your classes. Students will be more motivated to learn Spanish when they see, through your example, that Spanish is fun, useful, and has many purposes.
Speak Spanish a minimum of 90% of the time in your class. This is the recommended usage that ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) suggests, and we believe this is absolutely attainable. In the Sonrisas curricula all of the games, activities, songs, stories, and art projects utilize visuals, props, gestures, body movement, modeling, routine, and repetitive language to make the Spanish you use in class comprehensible to your students. As for when and how to use English in your class, we refer to Helena Curtain’s excellent article, “Teaching in the Target Language,” for the following guidelines:
The use of English should be intentional and be a conscious decision, not just something the teacher slides into without thinking. The following series of questions can be helpful in deciding when and if using English instead of the target language is appropriate.
Shall I use English for a lesson segment?
- Can I find a way to communicate the new idea in the new language with visuals, gestures?
- Can I simplify?
- Can I substitute a different concept?
- Can I delay this topic until we can deal with it in the target language?
- Is an English explanation essential to further progress toward my goals for this lesson?
Shall I use English to clarify vocabulary?
- Have I already tried using visuals, gestures, or other strategies to get the meaning across?
- Will failing to understand this vocabulary item interfere with the progress of the lesson?
We will have more on staying in Spanish in your class in Part 2.
I was doing some end of the year/semester contemplation, and I was thinking about the questions, “Why do we teach foreign language to children? What is so important about it?”. We have addressed this question before in the Sonrisas blog—mostly by writing about the different benefits of foreign language education for kids. I would like to present an easy, short list of the top five reasons to teach foreign language to children:
- Because they love it. Kids love learning languages. They just do. You see it when you teach them, and you see it when they use their second language. There is something inherent in learning a second language that brings joy to children.
- Because it makes their brains better. There is no counterargument here. Second language learning is good for a kid’s brain.
- Because it’s useful. The more languages you know, the more stuff you can do in more places.
- Because it improves their first language. Children who learn a second language become more aware of the syntax and grammar of their first language, thereby improving their usage of it.
- Because it makes the world a happier, more peaceful, and safer place. Whether on a personal level or a global one, communication is the source of happiness, peace, and safety. We all want this for our children and our world.
Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction.
Review by Brooks Lindner
Pinta ratones is the Spanish version of Ellen Stoll Walsh’s book Mouse Paint, first published in 1989 and translated by Gerardo Cabello, an editor with the Fondo de Cultura Económica of Mexico. A simple, fun, and engaging story, Pinta ratones is an excellent tool for teaching Spanish to children.
Pinta ratones tells the tale of three white mice who are able to hide from the cat by blending in with a white piece of paper. One day, as the cat sleeps, the mice find three jars of paint: one red, one yellow, and one blue. They think that it is mouse paint, and they jump into the jars, turning themselves into a red mouse, a yellow mouse, and a blue mouse. They splash the paint around and make puddles, and then they begin to dance in the puddles. As they mix the paint in the puddles with the paint on their feet, they make some amazing discoveries about what happens when you mix red and yellow, yellow and blue, and blue and red. After washing themselves in the cat’s water bowl, they then paint their white piece of paper using the primary colors and the new ones they have discovered. But, they leave a part white—in order to hide from the cat.
The great thing about Pinta ratones is how it uses good-natured playfulness to teach about colors and color combinations. Children love the characters of the mice, and they can imagine themselves jumping into the jars of paint, making puddles, and dancing in them to form new colors. The illustrations are simple and straightforward and do an excellent job of conveying the meaning of the Spanish text. The lesson of color combinations is reinforced as the mice first mix colors in the puddles and then later mix colors to paint the piece of paper. Using shared reading strategies such as building anticipation, checking for meaning, and educated guessing, teachers can illicit responses from students about what color is going to appear when the mice mix them.
Pinta ratones is an obvious choice for a Spanish lesson on colors. It is one of the book suggestions for Lesson 3 in Sonrisas Level I. Children love guessing what colors the mice are going to form, and the repetition of the colors vocabulary is very effective. The nature of the story also lends itself very well as a basis for different art projects using paint and mixing colors. Pinta ratones is one of those books that you can return to throughout the school year, and your students will always enjoy it.
Review by Brooks Lindner
¡A comer! has always been one of our favorite children’s Spanish books. The author, Ana Zamorano, was born in Madrid but resides in Sidney, Australia. ¡A comer! is her picture of Spanish life told through the eyes of Salvador, the youngest in a family of seven. The illustrator, Julie Vivas, uses beautiful watercolor illustrations to present the setting of a traditional, small Spanish town, and throughout the book she does a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of the different family members.
¡A comer! begins with Salvador telling the reader about his family and how every day, at 2:00 in the afternoon, they sit down to eat around the wood table that his father made. The story unfolds through the progression of the week—each day at meal time Salvador’s mom asks him to go and tell a different family member that it is time to eat. The meals she prepares are traditional Spanish dishes: garbanzo soup, empanadas, sardines, gazpacho, pollo asado, and paella. Each day, as Salvador goes to fetch a different family member, he finds them engaged in some activity where they are too busy to come and eat. These activities give the reader a vivid picture of the family’s life in their town: Salvador finds his father busy in his woodworking shop, his sister is practicing dancing Sevillanas with her friends, his brother is playing hide-n-seek in the ruins of a castle, his grandmother is picking tomatoes in her garden, and his grandfather is holding court in the local café. On Saturday his mom is not present at the meal as she has just given birth the night before. The following Sunday the family prepares a paella, and Salvador tells what everyone is doing around the table as they eat. The story ends with his mom exclaiming, “¡Qué maravilloso es comer todos juntos!”
¡A comer! is one of those books that just works. Through the simple, yet engaging story and the beautiful, informative illustrations, the reader is transported into the story—transported into the setting and life of the family. I really like the illustrations in this book. Vivas effectively presents the illustrations of the family’s mealtime from different perspectives: straight-on, from floor-level, from above, from outside the window looking in, close-up, and farther away. She does this very subtly, and it really makes the book come to life. Because the book comes to life so effectively, it engages children’s imaginations; making it a very effective tool for teaching Spanish to preschool and elementary students.
Most obviously ¡A comer! can support a cultural lesson on Spain. It is one of our suggested titles for Lesson 6, Tapas en España, in the Sonrisas Cultural Curriculum. There are many opportunities to gain knowledge and understanding of the Spanish culture in ¡A comer!: the different foods, the different customs and practices surrounding mealtime, the family structure, music and dance, the architecture and setting of the town, and Spanish daily life.
¡A comer! can also support a number of different themes: food, mealtime, family, and days of the week. It is a suggested book for several lessons in the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum. In Level I it accompanies Lesson 6, ¿Qué día es hoy? and Lesson 12, Mi familia. In Level II it accompanies Lesson 11, Describe la familia. There are various vocabulary words that are repeated throughout the book that could be used as a springboard for instruction including: nos sentamos, encuentro a, ve, and dile. Whether you use it for one of these specific topics or simply as a beautiful and fun book to read to your students, I highly recommend ¡A comer! as a part of your children’s Spanish library.
Review by Brooks Lindner, Spanish teacher and co-author of the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum
Arriba y abajo comes to us from Everest Editorial based in León, España. The Spanish in this book is rich and authentic with phrases such as, “Aquí arriba toco la corteza de los árboles y sus ramas que se inclinan con el viento.” The most remarkable thing though about Arriba y abajo are the colorful, captivating illustrations. In the book a father and son compare and contrast the different worlds of their senses “up here” and “down here.” The illustrations are done in pastels with broad brushstrokes, and they are all close-ups of the different worlds of “up here” and “down here.” Children love these illustrations and are instantly drawn into the story by them. The illustrations also do a wonderful job of conveying the meaning of the Spanish text. It is books like this that we look for to include in our Sonrisas Spanish School curriculum. The combination of a fun story, engaging illustrations, and authentic text makes a book like Arriba y abajo a very effective tool for teaching Spanish to children.
We use this book to teach the opposites arriba y abajo in Lesson 19 of Sonrisas Level I, and it is part of our Level I Storybook Set. The repeated phrases of “aquí arriba” and “aquí abajo” make it an easy choice for this theme. But Arriba y abajo lends itself to many other themes. It is an excellent book for teaching the five senses which are covered as the father and son ask each other:
Veo, veo. ¿Qué ves?
Huelo, huelo. ¿Qué hueles?
Gusto, gusto. ¿Qué gustas?
Oigo, oigo. ¿Qué oyes?
Toco, toco. ¿Qué tocas?
As mentioned, the book is also full of colors, and it would do well accompanying a lesson on colors with text that mentions “un cielo azul, hierba verde, hormigas negras, y las flores rojas.” You could also introduce the theme of flavors with phrases such as, “la piel ácida de las manzanas” and “las fresas dulces.”
I love this book and would recommend it to any Spanish teacher as a valuable part of her Spanish library. Arriba y abajo ends with the universal message of filial love as the father and son say, “Si me agacho en el suelo veré tu mundo,” and “Si me levantas en brazos veré el tuyo.” Arriba y abajo is also available for sale individually in the Sonrisas Bookstore.