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Student Engagement in Your Spanish Program

One of the tenets of second language acquisition theory is that learners need the opportunity for meaningful communication in the target language. In other words, when students focus on messages that they want to convey, rather than form (grammar), this meaningful interaction promotes acquisition of the target language. This does not occur unless learners are engaged and motivated to communicate. The Sonrisas Spanish curriculum excels at engaging and motivating students by creating a structured environment in which students are immersed in Spanish with lots of opportunity for meaningful communication. Let’s see how this works.

Routine and Structure

The first step towards engaging young language learners is creating a routine and structure in class. In general, young learners thrive when they have routine and structure. Essentially, routine and structure help to make a learner feel safe. This in turn helps to put a young learner’s mind in a receptive state for learning. Without fear or inhibition, students engage with lesson content more readily.

All of the lessons in the Sonrisas elementary Spanish curriculum have the consistent structure of Circle Time, Story Time, and Art Time—followed by independent practice with a Student Portfolio Activity. This is a huge strength of the Sonrisas curriculum. The consistency of the lesson structure provides a predictable environment in which students thrive. It also increases teacher efficiency by allowing teachers to focus on effective instructional practice without the burden of having to come up with lesson structure.

Diverse, Age Appropriate Activities

A second element which ensures high engagement for elementary Spanish learners involves using diverse and age appropriate activities. Neurological research has established that there is an area of the cortex of the brain which is designated for language acquisition. If this part of the brain is not activated in childhood, usually up to about the age of 12, then it gets assigned to other functions.

What this means is that young language learners have the ability to acquire a second language much as they would their first language. When we provide the opportunity for children to communicate in a second language, they will acquire that language.

Sonrisas Spanish provides that opportunity by capitalizing on activities that are age appropriate for elementary students: singing songs, reciting verse, role-playing, listening to stories, and creating art. The diversity of these activities ensures that students with different strengths and different intelligences engage with lesson content. Furthermore, these types of activities provide a basis for lots of communication in Spanish.

Fun and Play

Another benefit of doing these types of activities is that they are fun! When children have fun, they engage. This is really key to the effectiveness of the Sonrisas lessons. The age appropriate activities, within the structure, are so fun that students don’t even realize they are learning Spanish.

Really what they are doing is playing in a different language. And when students play in Spanish—through songs, games, stories, and art projects—they are motivated to communicate in Spanish. Through play, they focus on messages they want to convey i.e. they engage in meaningful communication. This means that students end up acquiring lots of age appropriate and practical Spanish.

Another benefit of learning elementary Spanish through play is that it creates a positive connotation with learning a second language. This in turn helps to create life-long language learners—one of the most important goals of world language education.

While language acquisition can happen naturally through play, the environment for this happens only with great intention and design. The Sonrisas Spanish curriculum contains all of the effective elements of structure, age appropriate activities, and play to create an environment which engages and motivates elementary Spanish students.

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