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Teaching Elementary Spanish Can Be a Lot Like Performing

One of the best ways to teach Spanish to elementary students is to do lots of fun, age-appropriate activities that invite the opportunity for lots of interpersonal communication. This is what we aim to do with the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. In theory, what we are doing is providing students with the opportunity to acquire Spanish naturally. In order to do this, we must keep students engaged—engaged with their physical bodies, engaged with their senses, and engaged in their imaginations. In practice this means that teaching elementary Spanish can be a lot like performing.

This can be a challenge for teachers who are coming from a different level or a different content area where the model is to do mostly direct instruction, student practice, then testing. Elementary Spanish is a whole different bird. First, you’re dealing with a language barrier—this makes it very easy for students to tune out if they are not being engaged. Second, the simple fact is that many young learners have a strong kinetic intelligence—they use their bodies to express ideas and learn new things. It’s not enough to simply implement lesson activities and read stories and do art projects without putting some energy and enthusiasm into them. A good question to ask is, “How do I make this activity come alive for my students?” Many times the answer to that question is to treat each activity like a performance where your role is that of an entertainer delivering material in a highly engaging way that hooks your “audience”.

The Circle Time segment of the Sonrisas lessons provides a wonderful opportunity to get physical and have fun with your students. All of the songs in the Sonrisas lessons have movement and gesture that accompany them. The movement not only provides comprehensible input for students, but it also provides the opportunity to use their kinetic intelligence to connect to Spanish through their bodies. Bringing lots of energy and enthusiasm to the songs and activities in Circle Time will ensure that your students are engaged. I also like to look for the opportunity to inject humor into the songs and activities in Circle Time. There is nothing better for hooking students. Humorous moments can be turned into learning opportunities which students retain at a high level.

During Story Time we always recommend that the instructor do Shared Reading. In Shared Reading, the learner sees the text, observes the expert reading it with fluency and expression, and is invited to read along. The key here is the expression. A story is like a script. The teacher can “perform” the story through facial expression, tone and inflection, and cadence. Read in this way, a story can be a powerful tool for engaging students’ imaginations—one of the best ways for them to naturally acquire Spanish.

In Sonrisas Level III, the teacher uses the method of TPRS Storytelling to teach the bulk of each unit. This method almost requires that you perform as you guide students through the story and embellish it with each new detail. In this method, students also have the opportunity to act out the story, thereby bringing them into the role of the performer and also bringing their learning to a deep level as they synthesize details, ideas, and themes into a coherent presentation.

Every teacher has a different capacity to perform in class. It is certainly not completely necessary that you perform in order to have effective lessons. But when you do, you will find that your students’ level of engagement increases, their retention goes deep, and they enjoy Spanish class which goes a long way towards them becoming lifelong language learners.

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