The Benefits of Thematic Units in Sonrisas Level II

The Sonrisas Level II lessons are divided into seven thematic units. We designed these themes to have relevance in the context of young students’ lives. In each unit, students interpret written and spoken language, engage in conversations, and present information using background knowledge from their own lives while learning new language concepts. This allows them to acquire meaningful and useful language skills, rather than merely learning vocabulary in isolation. All of the thematic units are centered around one big idea, or central question, “What are the experiences that make us human?”

One of the biggest differences between humans and animals, plants, or objects is simply that humans possess the gift of language. We are able to communicate in thousands of languages, and in doing so, express our worldviews, cultures, and values. By centering our thematic units around diverse topics related to the human experience, we give our students an awareness of the power of language to interpret the world around us with our uniquely human perspective. As humans, we have a history of using cultural and linguistic differences as barriers. If we can help our students see that our differences are expressions of our shared humanity, then we are teaching them tolerance and compassion in addition to language skills. If this seems like a lofty goal for the language classroom, we would argue that the foreign language classroom is perfectly suited for this purpose. By learning Spanish, our students have the unique opportunity to remove one barrier between themselves and the Spanish-speaking world.

By organizing the units thematically, we also provide an opportunity to engage our students in more complex and sophisticated thinking and language use. Because no skills are taught in isolation, the focus stays on developing skills for effective communication. The questions in the graphic below are the essential questions that guide each thematic unit:

The essential question in each thematic unit connects the content of each lesson to the theme. At the beginning of each thematic unit, you will find a thematic unit overview page with a graphic map (similar to the one above) that illustrates the connection between the lessons and the essential question. The essential question also allows you to differentiate instruction based on your unique knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures and your understanding of your students. You can bring each lesson to life by making a personal connection between the content and your students. The thematic unit overview page also provides guiding questions that help you do this, such as:

  • What matters about this theme to my students?
  • What will be engaging about this theme for my students?
  • How can I ensure that they see the connection between this theme and their own lives?
  • How can I use my own experience with Spanish-speaking cultures to give my students a unique perspective of the target culture in relationship to this theme?

Planning your lessons with the thematic overview in mind will allow you to maintain a focus on the theme of the unit as you teach. This will make all of the activities in your lessons more effective.

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