Create Living, Dynamic Exchanges of Language

Here at Sonrisas Spanish, we talk a lot about the idea of creating living, dynamic exchanges of language with students (and developing elementary Spanish curriculum that allows for this to happen). This is what engages students, ignites their curiosity, and develops their love for learning language. This is what creates deep connections for students and activates their natural capacity to acquire language. This is what makes your job as a teacher fun and rewarding.

Hopefully, in any language class, there are a lot of exchanges of language going on. When these exchanges involve young children they are usually, by nature, dynamic. The key is: how do we create dynamic exchanges of language that are living for our students? It’s easy to do activities in your class that require rote responses from your students or to read them books without interruption or to hand out worksheets and have students fill in the blanks. What is more challenging is to find what is alive in your students and turn that into an opportunity to communicate in a way that creates a connection for your students and, as a result, helps them to internalize Spanish.

Language is the system of words and signs that people use to express feelings and thoughts, and in order for language to have meaning, it must have a receptive audience. So, for a language to be alive it must express feelings and thought, and it must have an audience. (This is why computer-based language programs most often fail—software cannot be an audience.) You can discover what is alive in your students by watching them, listening to them, and being their audience! Children will show you and tell you their feelings and thoughts without inhibition. Once you know what is alive in your students, you can focus your communication on that living aspect and use it to guide them through an exchange of language that is meaningful and expressive.

So, how do you do this in the context of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum? The first thing you need to realize is that the curriculum is a framework, not a script. It provides structure and activities for you to do, and it is within these that you have ample room for living, dynamic exchanges of language. The components and resources of the curriculum are your catalyst for allowing communication to take place that is alive in your students. These components include:

Rich, well-written, beautifully illustrated books. We have always used children’s literature to teach Spanish. We choose books that engage young learner’s imagination and invite the reader into another world. You can make a book come alive by using gesture and tone to bring life to the author’s words. Doing shared reading (explained in the introduction to the teacher’s manual) allows you to involve students in the storytelling processing. The story and the illustrations provide a springboard for living, dynamic exchanges of language.

Images, paintings, drawings, and photographs. These invite dialogue, opinions, sympathies, and antipathies. They include storybook illustrations, art projects, and classroom posters. We avoid graphics that appear as if an illustrator was hired to create a cartoon image that one imagines will appeal to a child. I think we all know the stock style to which I am referring. These images lack gesture, tone, or depth of interpretation. When an artist creates something from the heart, we feel it. It doesn’t have to be complex to provide this quality. These images provide the student with a rich context for language, and their open-ended quality provides teachers with an opportunity for a living, dynamic exchange.

● Games and activities. Every lesson in Sonrisas Levels I and II have a dedicated lesson activity that helps to introduce the language concepts for that lesson. These have infinite possibilities to evolve, twist, and turn into living, dynamic exchanges of language.

● Student-created art projects. These provide students with a creative, hands-on connection to language concepts. They are also a huge source for living, dynamic exchanges of language.

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