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Focus on the Experience in Your Spanish Class: Immersion, CI, and Meaningful Interaction

During the many years that we have been creating the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum and training teachers, there has been a common concern amongst teachers: How do I get through all the lessons by the end of the school year? One answer is that it totally depends on your class schedule. A more worthwhile answer is that teachers should not worry about getting through all of the lessons, but rather they should focus on providing an effective learning experience. What is an effective learning experience? An effective learning experience is one in which you provide your students with a consistent, immersion environment in which they have the opportunity for lots of meaningful interpersonal communication using comprehensible input. This is what the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum is designed to do, and this is what promotes acquisition.


The goal of any language class is acquisition of the target language. We’ve written before in this blog about acquisition and the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum. We know that it requires meaningful interaction in the target language and comprehensible input (CI). We have found in our 25 years of teaching Spanish to children that acquisition is also supported by having a consistent experience and structure in the target language. This is why we developed the consistent structure of Circle Time, Story Time, and Art Time for our lessons. Each of these segments is meant to be taught in Spanish, and each segment utilizes CI.

Circle Time

In Circle Time CI comes in the form of physical movement and activity during the songs and lesson activities. This is why it is so important that teachers learn all the movement and gesture that accompany the songs and then perform them with students—this is opposed to simply playing the songs for students and having them sing along. The movement and gesture that accompany the songs provide the CI for the words that learners sing. Likewise, each lesson activity is designed so that it can be experienced in Spanish with the context of the activity providing the CI. Circle Time is meant to be kinetic and engaging with lots of opportunity for meaningful interaction in Spanish.

Story Time

During Story Time the most obvious form of CI is the illustrations in the book. They provide the context for the text that students hear. But the storytelling experience has the ability to incorporate much more CI through elements of shared reading. Using shared reading, teachers can use the illustrations in the book and the context of the story to extend interpersonal communication by asking both open-ended and targeted questions about the characters, plot, and theme of the story. All of the books in our storybook sets have been chosen based on their effectiveness at extending communication. This means they include not only the element of vivid illustrations that convey the meaning of the text but also elements such as repetitive text, verse and poems, and familiar traditional tales.

Art Time

The art projects provide an excellent tool for using CI. The physical art materials and the art project itself provide CI. As students work on the art project, the teacher uses these materials to have one-on-one conversations in Spanish about what the student is working on. This interaction reinforces the performance targets for the lesson.

It is true that young learners are adept at naturally acquiring languages, but this does not mean that acquisition happens magically. Rather, it is the result of careful planning and an intention to provide an effective learning experience. The design of the Sonrisas Spanish lessons equips teachers with the structure and activities they need to be able to provide this experience. When you focus on providing this experience, your students will acquire lots of age-appropriate, practical Spanish. So don’t worry about getting through the lessons. Focus on the experience.

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