Strategies for a Good Start to Your Spanish Classes
The beginning of the school year can be a hectic time as we adjust to new schedules and new faces. There are additional challenges for elementary Spanish teachers. We see more students than regular classroom teachers. Our schedules vary more. Many times we don’t have our own classroom. These challenges make it even more important that we have a good start to our classes. The habits we establish and the impressions we create as we begin teaching have a lasting impact on the effectiveness of our classes. These strategies will help you have a good start to your Spanish classes.
Establish a Consistent Routine
This is one of the best practices for the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum. Essentially this is done for you with the structure of the Circle Time, Story Time, and Art Time. Within this structure you can establish consistency and routine with the way that you do the different activities in each segment.
During Circle Time maintain the same order of how you do the different activities such as: Start with calendar activities. Then warm up singing songs. Then review songs and lesson activities from previous lessons. Finally, do the new lesson activity.
During Story Time establish the way that you introduce the storybook each time. You can start by introducing the author and saying the name of the title. Or maybe you start by asking students what they think the book is about. Maybe you give a brief summary of the story, engaging student interest.
Art Time presents a lot of latitude for establishing routine. Materials need to be passed out. You may have students working in groups at tables or individually at their desks. You will want a routine for what students do when they finish their art project. However you manage these different tasks, make it consistent and this will help students effectively complete the projects.
The Importance of Routine
We know that young learners thrive with routine. I encourage you to read this excellent article by Carol Read, Advancing Learning: The secrets of using learning routines with young children. Establishing routines in your lessons includes these benefits:
- Routines positively impact student’s social emotional well-being, behavior in class, and participation.
- Routines allow teachers to more effectively plan and implement lessons and manage classes.
- Routines help teachers achieve learning outcomes more effectively.
- In Spanish class, routines have the additional benefit of actually helping to provide comprehensible input as students become familiar with different activities and what is the context of the communication that occurs.
Stay in Spanish
Another best practice for the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum is to use Spanish at least 90% of the time in your lessons. It is very important that you do this from the start of your Spanish classes. This will set the expectation for students that Spanish class is a time when they communicate in Spanish.
Avoid frequent translation. If you say something in Spanish and then immediately translate it to Spanish, students will learn to tune out the Spanish because they know that the English is coming. An effective way to use English is to use it to briefly explain a new activity or routine, but then when you go to do the activity, you should stay in Spanish.
Your Sonrisas teacher manual includes a section, in Part 2 of the introduction, with strategies for staying in the target language. The Sonrisas blog also contains numerous articles about staying in Spanish:
- How to Use Spanish Consistently in Your Class (a three part series)
- Staying in the Target Language – A Leap of Faith
- Tips for Staying in Spanish in Your Class
Engage in Meaningful Communication in Each Segment of the Sonrisas Lessons
When you start your Spanish classes with the habit of communicating in Spanish during each segment of the lesson, you send several messages to your students:
- That Spanish class is all about listening and talking in Spanish.
- That Spanish is useful.
- That Spanish is fun and exciting.
We know from second language acquisition research that acquisition occurs when you have comprehensible input and the opportunity for meaningful communication. Each segment of the Sonrisas lessons uses comprehensible input and allows for communication in Spanish.
During Circle Time the lesson activity provides the context for fun and playful communication. The lesson activity always introduces the performance targets for the lesson, so it is important to establish the routine of using the context of the lesson activity to communicate in Spanish. You will always go back and review lesson activities from previous lessons too so that students become proficient in the language used in the activities.
During Story Time use the context of the story and the illustrations to check for meaning and extend interpersonal communication. Pause from time to time throughout the story and ask students questions about the illustrations. You can differentiate your communication by asking simple yes or no questions for less advanced students or by asking questions that relate to advanced students daily lives.
During Art Time there is ample opportunity to talk with students about what they are working on. This reinforces the performance targets for the lesson and allows you to assess student comprehension and speaking skills. The art materials and the art project itself provide the comprehensible input for these meaningful conversations.
A lot of different elements need to come together for any class to be successful. By implementing strong strategies from the start, not only do we set a positive tone for the classroom, but we also lay the foundation for enduring, effective learning in our Spanish classes. Every interaction counts, so make those initial moments truly impactful.