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Immersion, CI, and Communication

One of the best practices for the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum states that the instructor should speak Spanish at least 90% of the time in class. This guideline comes from ACTFL and is totally achievable with the lesson design of the Sonrisas elementary Spanish curriculum. We know from language acquisition research that acquisition occurs when learners have comprehensible input (CI) plus the opportunity for meaningful interpersonal communication. Let’s take a look at how the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum provides this by creating an immersion environment, with CI, and lots of communication.

An Immersion Environment with Comprehensible Input

Each segment of the Sonrisas Spanish lessons can be done entirely in Spanish. In Circle Time, the teacher sings songs, plays games, and does lesson activities entirely in Spanish. There is no need to use English in these activities. Comprehensible input comes in the form of the physical movement performed while singing and the routines of the activities—they provide the context for the Spanish that the teacher and students use.

During Story Time the teacher reads a Spanish children’s storybook to students which exposes them to different voices and styles of Spanish. No English is necessary as all of the books include elements which provide comprehensible input. These elements help convey the meaning of the text. They include vivid illustrations which depict the action of the story, repetitive verse, poetic and rhythmic verse, and familiar themes.

In Art Time teachers reinforce the performance targets for the lesson by having one-on-one conversations with students as they work on the art project. The teacher uses the physical art project and the art project materials to provide comprehensible input. Teacher and student use these materials to convey the meaning of their real time conversation. No English is necessary.

Lots of Communication

Each Sonrisas lesson includes a lesson activity which is done during Circle Time. The lesson activity introduces the performance targets, vocabulary, and phrases for the lesson. During the lesson activity students have the opportunity to communicate with the teacher and their peers in a fun, engaging, and age-appropriate way. Teachers can differentiate their communication for learners at different levels. They also have the opportunity to extend communication to talk with students about their everyday lives, routines, likes and dislikes, etc.

In Story Time the teacher uses the strategy of shared reading to activate communication through the storybook. Using the illustrations, the teacher asks students questions about the story. The teacher can focus the questions on the story, or the questions can act as springboards to extend communication with students. As in Circle Time, the teacher has the option to differentiate her communication based on students’ varying abilities.

The one-on-one conversations which occur during Art Time provide the opportunity for limitless communication between teacher and student. The idea is to use the art project to reinforce the performance targets for the lesson, but the sky is the limit in these conversations. The teacher may choose to keep them really focused, drilling with the performance targets, or she may choose to let them flow freely and extend to wherever a student’s attention and interest take them.

When Is English Appropriate?

It is appropriate to use English to explain a new activity or routine. A teacher can do this briefly and then implement the activity in Spanish. For example, in Sonrisas Level I, Lesson 1, the lesson activity is the Me llamo game. The teacher explains the game by saying, “I am going to throw you a ball. Then I will ask you what your name is by saying ¿Cómo te llamas tú? You can answer by saying, Me llamo… . With this explanation, the teacher can then begin the game and stay in Spanish the entire time. If a student does not know how to respond, the teacher can provide the example by doing it for the student.

It is important to understand the value of an immersion environment has on learners’ acquisition. If English is used frequently in a class, students can develop the habit of tuning out the target language. But when students have the consistent experience of being immersed in the target language, with CI and lots of communication, their learning goes deep, and they develop skills in the target language that last a lifetime.

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