Spanish TV Shows to Use in Spanish Class

Spanish TV Shows to Use in Spanish Class

Inside: Spanish TV shows: a list of series you can (hopefully!) use in class.  

 

If you’d mentioned movies or shows to me as a new teacher, I’d have assumed you meant how we teachers sometimes use them (hey, we’ve been there right?): that last day before winter break, when the stack of grading gets too high, or a weird testing day when half the class is gone. 

Since then, I’ve realized just how amazing Spanish TV shows in class can be. We can bring native speakers straight into our classrooms. We can travel to different places and cultures. I can get them hooked onto authentic resources they’ll remember for years.

When using Spanish shows in class, I vary my approaches depending on the circumstances.  Sometimes I incorporate a lot of extra activities, because when it comes to TV, it’s not just “listening practice.” As my classes get invested in the characters, and story, it’s a really great chance to have rich discussions and readings. If the show if not immediately comprehensible to them, it takes these extra activities to turn the show into meaningful input.

Sometimes, though, if I’m sure the language is accessible, I let them get absorbed and try not to pause too often. At the end of Spanish 2, one year, we were getting frazzled and sort’ve limping to the end. I enacted a Spanish-only rule, and told the class that every day, for the rest of the year, I would write “10” on the board. That meant 10 minutes of Extra, at the end of class. If I heard English, I erased a minute. If I slipped into English, I added a minute.

It was so much fun, and served two purposes: motivation, and input. Because, as we all know: if it ain’t compelling, they aren’t acquiring much. That’s why a good show is gold.

I used to use a lot of isolated listening “practice” clips that my students totally dreaded. Part of reason they dreaded those clips was that they had no relation, no meaning we cared about. But give them an interesting show, and they can’t get enough. Why? Because they care about the plot and the people. 

 

FREE SPANISH TV SHOWS

 

 See my Spanish movies and shows page for many more Spanish-language suggestions, and of course let me know if I missed one of your favorites. 

 

1. Mi Vida Loca

 

Designed for absolute beginners, BBC produced this free show to introduce basic language, the kind you would need to get around town while traveling. Set up as an interactive mystery show, my students really got into this one and didn’t mind that it’s a tiny bit outdated. This is a perfect end-of-the-year treat when students are getting restless, or to watch over the summer and keep up the language from Spanish 1. If you click on the link above, you can watch interactive lessons. If you don’t have flash, you can also use the episodes on YouTube. 

Level: Novice-Low and up
Episodes: 22

 

 

2. Extra

 

A loose spin-off of the sitcom Friends, Extra is fantastic for beginners, in the sense that it provides compelling, highly comprehensible input. My students loved it and by April it was the perfect little reward to watch at the end of class, a bit each day. 

However, I feel that it’s often awkward and borders on inappropriate, even for high school. I usually kept my clicker in hand and skipped awkward parts; you can preview and use your judgement. 

Level: Novice-High and up (with support)
Episodes: 10

 

 

3. Destinos

 

Destinos is a bit dated, but if you can get past that, it’s a great resource! Follow a lawyer around the world as she tries to solve a mystery and travels the world in search of answers. This is a great way to get immersed in Spanish in the context of a telenova, with culture thrown in too.

Level: Novice-High and up (with support). 
Episodes: 52

 

 

4 ¿Eres tú, María?

 

Created by Realidades for Spanish beginners, this is another (somewhat dated) mystery show. 

Level: Novice-Mid and up
Episodes: 10

 

 

5. La Catrina 

 

A 17-year-old Hispanic-American studies in Mexico for the summer.

Episodes: 14
Level: Novice-High and up (with support)

 

 

6. Violetta

 

Many teachers showed Disney’s Violetta– about a musically gifted teen who moves to Buenos Aires– when it was on Netflix, but it’s since been removed. Most of the DVDs on Amazon seem to be foreign (do you hear us, Disney/Amazon? We want to give you our money), but there are episodes available on Vimeo and YouTube (I have no idea how long these will be there). 

 

 

SPANISH TV SHOWS ON NETFLIX

 

All of these are authentic shows, and only truly “comprehensible” to Intermediate-Mid or High and up. However, many teachers have developed materials (readings, discussion, guides, etc) to make the material more accessible to their students. 

Most of those materials are not currently available to purchase or download, but 

 

1. El Internado (The Boarding School)

 

Students in an isolated boarding school become involved in mysterious events and dark secrets from the past, as friendships and loyalties are tested. (Sidenote: I haven’t watched the wholes series. It’s VERY popular among many amazing teachers, who choose to skip over some scenes. There is language, and if you put on English subtitles, the language gets translated more strongly than in the original Spanish. I didn’t feel comfortable using it in my own classroom, but you decide!)

Check the following resources if you plan to use the series:
Kara Jacobs
WilliamsonCI
Mis Clases Locas

 

2. El Tiempo Entre Costuras

 

El tiempo entre costuras is a mini-series based off the novel of the same name. Set during the Spanish Civil War, it follows a  Spanish seamstress who ends up in Morrocco after an ill-fated love affair, and eventually gets caught up between spies in Franco’s Spain.

This is one of my very favorite Spanish TV shows, and I’ve used it in class along with a study of the Spanish Civil War. The first few episodes have some scenes I skip, but it is generally a clean show and one I love using. 

 

 

3. Gran Hotel

 

Set at the turn of the century, a young man applies for a job at a hotel to investigate his sisters’ disappearance. Forbidden romance, intrigue, and danger follows as the truth comes to light. 

Here are resources from Mis Clases Locas for using the show. Though it has scenes I would skip, it’s one of the cleaner shows out there and so good. 

 

 

4. Soy Luna

 

An Argentine telenovela produced in partnership with Disney, this series is currently on Netflix. A teenage girls who loves to skate moves to Buenos Aires with her parents. I haven’t watched the entire show, but it looks appropriate for middle school and along the veins of Violetta. (If this isn’t available for you in the U.S., you still may be able to access it by adjusting the VPN on your device.) 

 

 

5. Rebelde

 

Six different teenagers– all interested in music– attend an exclusive private school together. Preview this one before using at school. 

 

 

5. Silvana sin Lana

 

A wealthy family’s life comes crashing down when the dad leaves and their fortune is lost. The mother must get a real job and the kids have to adjust to a “normal” life. I haven’t seen this one to the end, but the first episodes are pretty clean and funny. 

 

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Spanish TV Shows for Class

Food Truck Day: A Fun Field Trip Idea for Spanish Class

Food Truck Day: A Fun Field Trip Idea for Spanish Class

Inside: Looking for field trip ideas for Spanish class? Try a food truck day!

 

I am so pleased to share this guest post from Courtney Nygaard at Field Trip Spanish! Instead of trying to take your classes out on a field trip, bring the field trip to you. Getting started will be easy with her (very organized) ten steps to making it happen. Enjoy!

Are you interested in hosting a Food Truck Day at your school? For the past three years, I have planned a Food Truck day for my high school Spanish students and it has become one of the highlights of the year. All year long my students ask me if we are going to have our Food Truck Day again. I know the idea of planning an event like this can be overwhelming, but don’t worry! From the experience I’ve gained over the past three years, I’ve come up with ten steps to planning a Food Truck Day at school. In this post, you’ll learn how to successfully organize a Food Truck Day and additionally, how to use it as a fundraiser.

 

1. Get it approved by your principal.

 

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you need to do is make sure hosting this event is approved by your principal. You want to make sure you are complying with school rules and aligning the event to the school calendar as best as possible. Nothing worse than planning a large event only to find that students have standardized testing or a field trip for another class.

 

red taco truck

 

2. Plan Teacher Supervision During Lunches

 

This step will depend on how your school’s lunch schedule is set-up. At my school, we have three lunches. I coordinated with the other Spanish teachers to make sure that someone was outside during each lunch. One thing I did to ensure teacher supervision at all times was physically bringing one of my classes outside to sit on the lawn and work on their assignment. They enjoyed the chance to be outside for the hour and I was able to supervise the event. If this won’t work for you, you may need to request that your school provide a substitute for the hour you will be outside supervising the event.

 

students in line for a taco truck

 

3. Survey Students

 

I survey my students using a Google Form before I contact the food trucks. I make it clear that students will need to pay around $10 for their lunch which influences some students’ decision, depending on their economic situation. Of course, I wish every student could participate, but ultimately this event is a fundraiser which ends up funding other activities for all students later on in the year. If students choose to not participate in the event they simply attend lunch in the cafeteria as usual.

In the survey, I ask them for their name, what lunch they have, and if they plan to eat at the food trucks that day. This survey is conducted before I contact the food trucks, because in order to get a food truck to agree to attend, they need to know the approximate amount of students they will be serving. This survey also informs me how many food trucks I need to contact.

At my school, our lunches are very short (about twenty-five minutes). It’s important to know how many students will need to be fed in the amount of time you have allotted for your school’s lunch. Knowing this information allows the food truck (who is well versed in their serving capacities) to know whether or not it is possible to serve the number of students you have, in the amount of time your school allows.

 

tacos with beans and rice

 

4. Contact the Food Trucks and Set a Date

 

Now that you have an approximate student count for who will be eating lunch at the food trucks, you can begin to contact food trucks in your area. The first year of setting this up is always the trickiest. Food trucks need to be sure that it will be worth their time and can be hesitant to come to an event that will also have another food truck. In my case, I had 181 students that planned to eat lunch at the food trucks all within an hour and a half time span across our three lunches. So I needed two food trucks.

If you need multiple vendors, find food trucks that are available on the same date and inform them of the number of students, the time crunch, and arrival details. Be sure to ask about their electrical needs so you can be sure that they are close enough to the building to run an extension cord if they don’t have a generator.

It must be worth their time. The following year, a food truck actually initiated contact with me because they wanted to do this event again. The second year I hosted this event I asked if they would be willing to do this as a fundraiser for our Spanish classes. They were more than happy to donate 10% of the profit to our Spanish classes! This was great because we have been able to use the funds earned from our Food Truck Day to pay for our Three Kings Day party with our students.

 

field trip ideas for spanish class

 

5. Alert Necessary Personnel About the Event

 

Now that the date is finalized, you will want to alert necessary personnel. Contact the city about the area in which the food trucks will be parking (this may or may not be necessary for you). Put in a request to your custodial staff for several large garbage cans to be placed nearby on the day of the event. Also, make sure to contact your lunch monitors about the passes you will be using for students to be excused to leave the cafeteria for the event.

 

quesadilla

 

6. Contact Parents

 

Your event is starting to take shape! Send out an e-mail to parents alerting them of the event. Some parents may need extra time to get $10 together, so it’s important to be conscientious of all income levels. Attach the food truck menus, along with the prices. Inform parents that this event is optional; their son or daughter does not need to participate, and that if they prefer their child to each lunch in the cafeteria like normal, they may.

 

purchasing from a taco truck

 

7. Make Passes

 

Because of the time crunch, it’s likely that students will need a late-to-class pass. They may need an extra fifteen minutes of lunchtime so they can order their food, and have the time to eat it. If you would like a free download of these late-to-class passes and an event checklist you can get those here.

Something new that I’ll be doing for my Food Truck Day this year, is color coding the lunch-passes according to the lunch time-slots. This pass will be used to show the lunch monitors that a student is free to go outside for lunch. Additionally, this pass will help in identifying which students belong at each lunch as there tends to be a time overlap outside. Basically, if a student has first lunch, I want to quickly identify that they do not belong outside during third lunch. This will prevent students from abusing the system, skipping class and staying outside too long.

This event is exclusive for Spanish class students (or whichever language department is hosting your event) so passes work as an effective way to easily tell who is supposed to be there.

*Note: I don’t give students the late to class passes in advance. I give these to them if and when a particular lunch is ending, and they are still eating outside.

 

late to class pass for Food Truck Day

 

8. Go Over the Menu with Students

 

You will want to go over the menu and prices with students ahead of time. Remind them to bring cash and make sure students who have food sensitivities or allergies are aware of what’s on the menu. This is a great time to go over the vocabulary and key phrases for ordering food in Spanish (or again, whichever language department is hosting this event).

 

pouring hot sauce on tacos

 

9. Survey Students Again

 

The week of the event, survey students again in order to give a more accurate number to the food trucks.

 

picking up the order

 

10. Contact School Lunch Staff & Teachers

 

With the latest numbers, notify the school lunch staff of how many students will not be eating lunch in the cafeteria that day. This helps the school reduce food waste.

Send out an e-mail to all teachers letting them know some of their students may be arriving late to class (with a pass) that day. Attach a photo of the late-to-class pass in this email. This will give teachers an idea of what to look for in the event a student were to arrive late to their class.

Also, inform teachers that they are more than welcome to purchase lunch at the event themselves. Notifying them additionally, that the best time-frame to do so will be before/after normal school lunch slots if they prefer not to wait in line. Some teachers have prep during those times. The lines will most likely be long during lunches, and it is always a good idea to look out for your colleagues.

 

Three Mexican style tacos with lime and radish on the side

 

Final Tips for the Day of the Event

 

The day of the event I have a Bluetooth speaker outside playing upbeat music in Spanish, which always adds a nice vibe. Since students eat out on the lawn, some of them bring blankets to sit on, which I think is a great idea!

As lunch times change, ask students to show you their pass, so you can verify whether or not they should still be there. If they need more time to finish eating, give them a late-to-class pass.

Final note: You may be concerned about students who cannot afford to eat lunch at the food truck. As this event is a fundraiser, you could use the funds you raise this year as scholarships for next year’s event. So in the year following, the students’ whose family may not be able to afford it would simply need to check a box on the Google Form survey stating that they would need a scholarship in order to participate.

You should be able to prepay with the vendor in order to get pre-paid tokens allowing students to order pre-determined food options. Pass the tokens out to your students the morning of the event. At this point, you should be set for a cultural experience you and your students can thoroughly enjoy!

 

students with taco truck

 

 

Courtney Nygaard is a high school Spanish teacher in Minnesota. She also runs a website for Spanish learning called Field Trip Spanish and a travel blog called Travel For Days. You can find Courtney’s teaching resources for your Spanish class at her Teachers Pay Teachers store – Field Trip Spanish by Profe Nygaard.

 

 

 

 

Do you have more fun field trip ideas for Spanish class?

Leave a comment below and tell us about them. 

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field trip ideas for Spanish class

Spanish vs. English: Which is Easier to Learn?

Spanish vs. English: Which is Easier to Learn?

Inside: Spanish vs. English– which one is easier to learn?

 

My husband and I have a long-standing spat. He’s a native Spanish speaker who likes to complain about how weird and hard English is. I’m always quick to point out how hard and complicated Spanish grammar is.

I’m not sure if we are really arguing over facts; it may be we really just want the other person to understand what’s hard about speaking their language. Perhaps we mean to say: Do you see how hard I’m working to speak YOUR language?

Either way, we’re all fairly blind to the complications of our native languages. This is one of the reasons it’s valuable to study a second language: we develop more self-awareness, and hopefully a whole lot more empathy for immigrants and friends learning our language.

 

 

 

 

That self-awareness is a side-goal of my classes, and I like to show this clip early in the year. It’s a fun reminder that English only seems easy because they unconsciously learned it and use it. (As an aside, I aim for a similar “unconscious” experience and ease in acquisition in my Spanish classes— to the degree it’s possible with older students.)

 

 

But back to English vs. Spanish.

Social media informalIy tells me there’s an overwhelming consensus: English is WAY harder for Spanish-speakers to learn. I’ll concede that the erratic nature of English is obvious. You don’t have to look far for examples:

 

 

think people are right that English is harder, but it is really WAY HARDER than Spanish? Let’s do our best to find out. 

(I doubt this will be a conclusive post. When I decided to research, obviously I starting by googling around. The first two or three pages were almost entirely posts by companies selling language-learning materials. If you have a more scientific, research based article lying around, PLEASE let me know.)

So: IF you’re interested in an amateur examination of Spanish vs. English, read on. 

 

Word Count: Spanish vs. English

 

Which language has more words?

“There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of animal’, and a verb meaning ‘to follow persistently’)?” – Oxford Dictionary

Ok, but can we roughly estimate word counts?

“The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.” – Oxford Dictionary

“Current editions of the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy), the closest thing there is to an official list of Spanish vocabulary, has around 88,000 words. In additional, the Academy’s list of americanismos includes about 70,000 words used in one or more Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. So to round things off, figure there are around 150,000 “official” Spanish words.” – ThoughtCo. 

Approximately (and according to the scant information I could find), English has about 180,000 words in the dictionary and Spanish has about 150,000. You generally use more words to express something in Spanish (English is more grammatically dense):

“…a 300-word document in English will typically be 350 or 400 words in Spanish.’ – Transfluent

How useful are these numbers? I’m not sure. I think the more relevant numbers are how many high-frequency words a native speaker depends on in a day, and I couldn’t track that info down. 

 

Phonetics: Spanish vs. English

 

Historically, Spanish takes foreign words and applies Spanish rules: people here say Goo-glay and Che-vro-let. (Though I wonder if this will change with the advent of social media– “selfie,” anyone?) English, on the other is a mish-mash of Anglo-French and Germanic influences, and evolved significantly from Old English into Modern English. We maintain French rules, for example, when we say She-vro-lay.

Basically, Spanish is a lovely and perfectly phonetic language. English, on the other hand, is VERY hard to read, pronounce, and write. Spanish has 25 phonemes; it’s generally agreed that English has 44 phonemes. (Phonemes are speech sounds.)

So it’s generally harder for a Spanish speaker to pronounce English well. It means learning entirely new sounds. While the English speaker will need to learn “rr” and nuances like “b” and “v,” Spanish speakers have a longer list. “Th” and new vowels sounds are particularly difficult. 

Writing and reading is difficult in English, even for native speakers. Consider that the sound /sh/ can be represented by all of the following: sh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, and ti. 

I remember learning Spanish in Peru and being very frustrated when I would ask for the spelling of a word. Instead of spelling it, my friends would just enunciate the word again: sim-pá-ti-co. I guess there’s a reason Spelling Bees aren’t a big thing in Spanish. 

One more point that sort of fits here: 

“Do you ever feel like speakers of foreign languages are talking really, really fast? If you feel this way about Spanish or Japanese, you’re correct! These two languages were spoken faster than the others, at a rapid 7.82 and 7.84 syllables per second, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, English and Mandarin Chinese were relatively slow, at 6.19 and 5.18 syllables per second, respectively.” – Transfluent

So while it’s easier to write and read in Spanish, it’s fair to say that listening to spoken Spanish is hard. 

 

General Grammar: Spanish vs. English

 

In terms of general grammar rules, English rules seem harder explain or “make sense of.” Spanish rules are more formulaic but still may take a long time to master. 

Things that make Spanish hard:

Gendered Nouns. On the surface, this is fairly easy to explain: masculine vs. feminine, and here are the exceptions. But it really means knowing the gender of EVERY noun, and applying this knowledge in almost EVERY sentence. It’s a huge extra “layer” that you don’t have to worry about in English.

 

Things that make English hard:

Order of adjectives. Most English speakers probably aren’t aware of this, but there’s a strict order of adjectives. You can say “She was a beautiful young French woman,” but it would sounds strange to say “She was a French young beautiful woman.”

Negation. In Spanish, a “no” in front of the word usually does the trick. In English, there are a variety of pre-fixes to choose from: “un-,” “dis-,” “in-,” and “non-.” Negatives go together in Spanish as well (“No quiero nada”), while we mix them in English. 

 

Verbs: Spanish vs. English

 

This is where Spanish gets significantly more complicated than English. Spanish has 14 complete paradigms for verbs– seven simple tenses, and seven compound tenses. 

Regular Verbs

I think the numbers speak for themselves here. To conjugate the regular verb bailar in Spanish, I counted 56 different verb forms. (Correct me if I’m wrong, hehe. It took several counts. ) In English, I counted 4 (dance, dances, danced, dancing). 

Irregular Verbs

Ser: 48. (soy, fui, era, seré, sido, fuera, fuese, fuese, sé, seas, etc.)
To be: 8. (am, is, are, was, were, being, been, be). 

The Subjunctive

The subjunctive mood isn’t a big deal in English, and generally follows the indicative verb forms. “I hope you get well soon,” “I hoped you would get well soon.” (“I wish _____” is a notorious exception.) In Spanish, however, it introduces an entirely new set of endings– including present, past, and future in the subjunctive. “Espero que te mejores pronto,” and “Esperaba que te mejoraras.” 

The Imperative

The imperative in Spanish means two new sets of verb endings, for positive and negative commands. In English, a positive command is the same as in the indicative, and a negative is formed by putting “don’t” at the front. 

 

Conclusion

 

My sense is that Spanish is more formulaic: it lends itself better to charts and logical explanations. However, the grammar is quite extensive. There are many who will reach intermediate proficiency quickly, and sound extremely natural. Those people might still struggle to express very complex ideas, even after massive input. I suspect Spanish is more quickly comprehensible. Even though learners may not produce highly accurate verb forms, they can grab onto the “stem” and make sense of it. 

English, due to its origins, is more erratic. The rules are quite complex in a sense (especially when it comes to phonetics), but with no gendered nouns and few verb endings. It will be harder to sound like a natural in writing or speaking, but not such a stretch to communicate theoretical ideas. 

IN CONCLUSION: I really don’t know, but I feel better prepared to explain the unique challenges and perks to learning either language, as a native speaker of the other language. 

I WILL SAY THIS: After writing this blog post, I am ever-more committed to language acquisition through comprehensible input. Newbies shouldn’t be getting bogged down in the rules. Period. 

 

Do you have the definitive answer to this? Tell me all about it in the comments below?

The Problem With Worksheets in Spanish Class

The Problem With Worksheets in Spanish Class

Inside: Re-thinking our dependence on Spanish worksheets/practice/skill-based activities in the classroom.

 

Is anyone else a teensy bit obsessed with Cult of Pedagogy?

Minimalist, just-right graphics. Oh-so-cool profile picture. And her content? — excellent. Last week she published another amazing post: Frickin’ Packets. It was spot-on. Stop right now, and good read it.

Honestly– read it, before you read the rest of this post. I’m not attempting a comprehensive essay on worksheets myself, because she just wrote one. Mine is a rambling response to her post.

Let’s talk about… frickin’ packets. Friggin’ worksheets. Our dependence on them runs deep. It says a lot about our thinking as educators. It shows how we believe students acquire Spanish.  

Essentially, in this post, I’m discussing:

  • Problems Behind Teaching Spanish with Worksheets
  • What Makes a Good Worksheet in Spanish Class?
  • Does This Mean Interactive Notebooks are Bad?

 

 

What’s Wrong With Busysheets in Spanish Class

 

“In my experience, when people criticize worksheets, they are referring to a specific type of worksheet, what I will call a busysheet, the kind where students are either doing work that’s fairly low-level recall stuff–filling in blanks with words, choosing from multiple-choice questions, labeling things–or work that has no educational value at all…”Cult of Pedagogy

The thinking behind “busysheets” in Spanish class is the real issue.

Essentially, we use them because we don’t trust the input. We don’t trust the magic of books, the stories, the songs. We don’t trust the curiosity of our students, the natural inclination of the mind to absorb interesting material, or the process of acquisition itself. (Read What is Comprehensible Input? if that paragraph sounded confusing.)

So we boil language down into a set of skills: vocabulary lists to memorize, formulas to practice. We think explaining language will get us to fluency faster than quality exposure to language. So make a packet of worksheets and feel we’ve “covered” the material because we’re holding the papers in our hands. 

Worksheets are pretty darn handy for explaining and practicing things, but they’re problematic in getting us to fluency.

 

Problem #1:

 

Apart from the well-established fact that teaching grammar outside the context of meaningful writing does nothing to help students become better writers, and in many cases makes them worse, the skills being practiced in this kind of worksheet don’t actually teach or reinforce the goals set by our academic standards.  – Cult of Pedagogy

We often use worksheets because we are teaching a “skill.” In other words, we select a rule that can be isolated, explained, practiced, and tested. Verb drills fall into this category:

Yo _________ (correr) a mi casa. 

If we drill and practice enough, our students can become quite skillful at conjugating verbs and passing fill-in-the-blank tests. But if we’re reaching for growth in proficiency (spontaneous communication of messages), busysheets won’t get us there. 

As language teachers, we have to accept that language acquisition is more nuanced and less controllable than a set of skills. Providing our students with rich comprehensible input is sometimes scary because it doesn’t fit neatly into a busysheet, but it will lead to authentic communication. 

 

Problem #2:

 

Worksheets come between the student and living materials. The students knows there are questions to answer, and what happens? The worksheet becomes the center of attention; the text becomes a source to find the answers. 

Worksheets (and textbooks) tend to lift language out of context. The language serves a purpose other than telling an enjoyable or compelling story. Students know this. Years of worksheets train them to look for answers instead of getting absorbed into the language itself. We teach students to dissect language before they have learned to love it. 

Gonzalez notes,

Having students answer low-level recall questions about a passage of writing that offers no meaningful context doesn’t do a lot to make them better readers… So much of what we call “reading instruction” is far inferior to having students read real books.

One of the reasons I hated teaching with a textbook was that the reading passages and listening activities were inferior, as far as literature goes. I mean, would never read or listen them for pleasure. Would you?

When I dropped the textbook and moved away from worksheets, we started reading good books and having more natural conversations. We had time for it. Direct contact with living materials– songs, videos, stories, games– is infinitely more absorbing than an out-of-context passage, rule, or vocabulary list.

I’m not saying I reached a level so compelling they’d choose my class over their phones everytime. But in reducing the worksheet-ish moments, meaningful messages took center stage.

Not sure what teaching looks like outside of worksheets and “practice”?– see my post on strategies for delivering comprehensible input.)

 

 

Do Worksheets Have Any Place in Spanish Class?

 

Ok, so does this mean that you have to feel guilty every time your students touch a piece of paper fresh from the copier? Here’s what Gonzalez says:

Technically, a worksheet is anything printed on copier paper and given to students to write on. And since you can print just about anything on a piece of paper, we really can’t say that worksheets per se are good or bad. 

And:

Some worksheets are clearly nothing but busysheets, while others, like note-taking sheets or data collection tools, directly support student learning; I’ll call these powersheets. I think a lot of worksheets fall somewhere between the two. 

Even after ditching the textbook, paper never disappeared from my class. In fact, I used interactive notebooks– which I’ll get to in a minute.

But I think she’s right: we need to think hard about what send to the copier and what we hand to students. 

We can ask:

  1. Is this better than just reading a book or telling a story?
  2. Am I doing this because it is cute, or because it’s meaningful?
  3. Could this worksheet be reduced by half and still be just as effective?
  4. Is there any way to incorporate choice?

Only you, of course, know your needs and classes well enough to answer this each time. 

 

What can powersheets look like in the Spanish classroom?

 

I’m not advocating 100% input with zero student response. Students will often respond to input in one way or another, and “powersheets” can streamline and support that. I don’t how comprehensively I can answer this, but here are some examples I think of as I move towards powersheets, and away from busysheets. 

 

Good graphic organizers. Why?:

  • They’re usually a form of digesting input– and so the focus stays on input. 
  • They often ask students to think higher on Bloom’s taxonomy: compare, contrast, etc.
  • Even novice students can list isolated words in meaningful context with a Venn diagram, for example. 

 

Freewrites. Ok, so this one might literally be a sheet of paper. (I personally love Martina Bex’s versions.) But SO GOOD. Why?:

  • You find out *exactly* what language is in your students’ heads. What words have stuck, and what level of complexity they’ve reached.
  • Choice. They say what they want and express themselves. 
  • If the proficiency levels are included at the bottom of the paper, the students write and then get immediate feedback– about how many words they can write in ___ minutes and what proficiency level they are reaching. 

 

Multiple-activity sheets. Pardon the self-promotion here, but I’m going to use one of my TpT products to show how I try to judiciously use paper and create my version of a powersheet. 

These sheets help us work through songs in Spanish. I try to pack in varied activities that I use over several days, as an anchor to help us understand the song and work on the skills I do think are important: listening, reading, and writing. I work really hard to fit everything on one sheet of paper, and keep the focus on the music itself.

When I make a worksheet, I think: Does this help us acquire, more than simply listening/reading/discussing the material? If so, I make it. If not, I don’t.

 

 

 

 

What About Interactive Notebooks?

 

Many of our darling activities are not spared in Gonzalez’s post (crosswords, word searches, Google Drive activities, and others get called out). If you follow me at all and use interactive notebooks, you might thinking… umm, do I need to throw mine out???

I mean, she does say:

Interactive notebooks: These vary widely in quality, with some offering true interactivity and others just offering the same value of a worksheet, just colored, cut, and pasted into a notebook. – Cult of Pedagogy

I use and make materials for interactive notebooks. But I think she’s spot-on. 

Our thinking has to change. We can throw out the textbook, and then go make a zillion worksheets. We can toss the worksheets, and call notebooks interactive because stuff lifts up and looks cute. But re-packaging won’t change our content or methods. Interactive notebooks will ONLY support acquisition if we are thinking correctly. 

My interactive notebooks are not the point. Input is the point; the meat of class. Our interactive notebooks simply house and organize the input.

I also believe we should think of interactive notebooks as subordinate to language. I have a rough idea of sections in mind at the beginning of the year, but the writing, journaling, and responding that takes place depends entirely on the class and what we explore.

I’ve always told people not to bother with interactive notebooks if it doesn’t make sense to them. To me, they are a super-convenient, sensible way to store our Spanish input, organize ourselves, and digest our stories, songs, and conversations.

If you want to read more, see my page on interactive notebooks in Spanish class. I have several videos and examples to show what I do. You can take a look and decide for yourself if they’re in busysheet-land or powersheet-territory!

 

 

 

What do you think? Am I too harsh on Spanish worksheets? Do you love them, hate them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

Spanish Worksheets

Letting Go of Language Fear: Teaching Spanish, When You Don’t Speak it Perfectly

Letting Go of Language Fear: Teaching Spanish, When You Don’t Speak it Perfectly

 Inside: How to find confidence and build your language skills when you aren’t a perfect speaker. 

 

I have a confession: I am an insecure about my Spanish.

The insecurity mainly comes from people knowing I teach it. Talking with a bunch of old friends, who are native speakers? Fine. Teaching a low-level Spanish class? No problem. 

But sit me down with another teacher who speaks better Spanish, and my proficiency literally crumbles in front of me. My heart races, and I can hear the mistakes falling out of my mouth. I want clarify: I do at least, hear the errors. Somehow I just can’t stop them!

 

via GIPHY

 

Another confession: I hate writing in Spanish on social media teacher forums. With friends I can text and message all day. But writing in a FB group, where the grammarians are just waiting to help me improve my Spanish? No thank you. 

 

via GIPHY

 

do realize this isn’t healthy. I do know that I should love and welcome feedback. After all, I ending up learning Spanish, teaching Spanish, and raising bilingual kids without planning any of it. My credentials are not all up-to-speed. I should be wide open to it, grateful to people who help me get better. 

My husband, a native Spanish speaker is like that. He insists on his English being corrected. Thanks to his thick skin, he has that strange ability to separate an honest mistake from his personhood. I get defensive when my story gets interrupted to let me know it’s tenga, not tiene; he’s grateful for the a-ha moment.

Perhaps I should listen to the words I say to my students: I’m so proud of you for trying! Who cares if you mess up? We’re all learning, every day! But I do care, because– accidentally or not– Spanish is now my job. I’m Spanish-speaking mama, making Spanish-speaking kids. My mistakes kinda do matter now.

It’s annoying to be imperfect, but it also means I totally get it when people share they’re afraid to talk to native parents… or teach an upper-level course…or admit they grew up in a Spanish-speaking home… or that they’re Spanish teachers.

 

via GIPHY

 

In no other subject area are your credentials on the line every. single. time. you open your mouth or say something on social media. Seriously.

So, there’s our situation, us non-native speakers who aren’t where we want to be. I’ve got some thoughts and then some concrete ideas for where to go from here.

 

It seems we need to figure out 3 main areas:

  • Make a plan to improve our proficiency, long-term. 
  • Figure out how make up for our language gap while teaching, in the meantime. 
  • How to become more confident in ourselves, wherever we are.

Working on Your Own Proficiency 

 

Long-term, we want to grow in proficiency. There are fancy and fun ways to do this: travel, do an immersion summer, find friends who will speak with you, or take a class. If you don’t have space to do something like that now, here are some ideas for learning at home. 

  • Find a good Spanish podcast. This is the easiest step to take. Listen in the car, while doing housework or while getting ready in the mornings. 
  • Get hooked on a Spanish show on Netflix. I often multitask while watching, but it’s really better to put everything down and really soak up the language. 
  • Read. You can go straight to an authentic book in Spanish, choose a good YA book translated into Spanish (think Harry Potter), or you read the advanced Fluency Fast readers. I find this particularly helpful, because they often the language I need to provide in class– sort’ve like I’m filling myself up with the language I need to give. 
  • Listen to music in Spanish. Listen to the same songs over and over, til you’ve memorized them!
  • Set your devices to Spanish, and like or follow several social media accounts. 

 

Teaching Spanish, in the Meantime

 

Long-term, we’re growing and getting more fluent. But right now? Right now, you might have been thrown into Spanish 4 mid-year, because that teacher quit. There might be native speakers trying to correct you, and you find yourself reverting to English too much. Their parents chat you up in the hall and you want to die of embarrassment that you can barely understand them. 

Or maybe you committed to teaching your own little kids Spanish, and are now realizing you didn’t learn how to say, “Ew get out the toilet! There are germs and it’s disgusting and if you ever do that again you will be in huge trouble!!!!”

Here are some suggestions.

Teaching a class with lots of heritage/native speakers: 

 

  • If possible, be honest and upfront. Tell them you might stumble at times, but that by being a non-native speaker you understand what it it like for them. I let them know I was still learning; I openly looked up words I didn’t know. When we did silent reading as a bellringer, I tried to get a novel and read– to show them I was still learning, too. 

 

  • Set the boundaries for when native and heritage speakers can help you. You need to decide if you welcome suggestions during class or not. If it’s happening a lot, consider pulling the students aside to understand why they feel the need to correct. Establish when and where it’s okay, and when it’s not. 

 

  • Explain the many regional differences right off the bat (ask, “How you do you say ______ in _____?). Also, it’s worth it to explain that some street terms are different than what’s often taught in class. (“Ya’ll” and “gotta/gonna” are used, but not found in English books, for example.)

 

  • Acknowledge but downplay their “corrections.” Perhaps say “Muy interesante” nonchalantly and add it to a vocab list or word wall posted somewhere. It may be these students are feeling insecure elsewhere, and use Spanish class as a way to show off. Try to channel that in a positive direction. (If it’s rude and needs correction, that’s another matter.)

 

  • Give them something else to do. If the students are truly at a higher level than you, consider putting them in direct contact with books, music, and podcast that will challenge them. It’s some work upfront, but it will allow you to focus on the class. 

 

 

Not Feeling Confident to Speak 90% in Class

 

  • You can only start where you are. Are you at 50% Shoot for 60%. You may need to do some extra prep for a while– write out your PPTs, write a story ahead of time, script out your MovieTalk. 

 

  • If you are grammar-based, I HIGHLY recommend looking into comprehensible input. There are tons of resources out there. It is MUCH easier to stay in the TL when you are using materials in the TL. Study novels together in class. The language is there, and you are only facilitating the discussion. If it’s an upper-level class, just stay one chapter ahead. Study authentic songs in Spanish, use stories that other teachers have written, and bring listening resources right into the classroom. You will grow with your students!

 

Speaking Spanish with Your Kids at Home

 

This is REALLY hard to do (so kudos to you!!). Parenting your kids means saying very complicated things. And, you are also trying to build an emotional connection that lasts a lifetime.

 

  • Consider setting aside certain parts of the day to be Spanish-only (like bedtime), or a certain night of the week. Lean heavily on book and songs (learn together), watch movies together, and play games where the vocabulary is handy. I wouldn’t worry about mistakes (I make them all the time), as long as your children are in contact with some native speakers or materials. 

 

Speaking Spanish as a Latino

 

It’s really common that kids grow up hearing Spanish their entire lives, but feel really insecure about speaking it. Maybe you got teased about errors from older siblings or family members, and clammed up. Maybe you had a time in life when speaking Spanish wasn’t cool, or your parents didn’t surround you with as much language as you needed. Your Latino last-name probably makes it worse when your language doesn’t come out impeccably. 

 

  • Be honest with your family (if you can). Explain that the jokes or teasing makes you more self-conscious. OR maybe you need to explain that you want family time to be real, honest communication. No error-correction, just help if you ask for it. 

 

Being Confident in Yourself

 

Ah, this one is hard. The worst thing that can happen is that you abandon Spanish (at home or as a career) due to perfectionism. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Your imperfections can be quite inspiring to your students and kids. (She laughs at her own mistakes and moves on? Wow.)

 

  • There will always be someone better, and being native won’t always fix it. Some of you reading this actually have quite good Spanish, but every mistake still kills you. Hey, guess what? Even native speakers make mistakes. There are entire debates on Spanish teacher forums about a ser vs. estar nuance (yeah, that thing we teach the first month of Spanish 1). 

 

  • Sometimes differences are regional. Spanish is a big language, geographically. I’ve been mortified over an error on facebook, only to be find out it was just a difference between countries. 

 

  • If you find yourself cornered in a conversation that’s making you flustered, ask questions! Point the conversation away from yourself, give yourself a minute to breathe, and try to understand the other speaker. 

 

  • Sometimes, ignore. Sometimes, people are insecure in themselves and are looking trouble (whether it’s students, parents, or even fellow teachers). I’ve heard horror stories of teaching walking into other classes and correcting something in front of all the students, or a Spanish-speaking parent “testing” the teacher’s Spanish. At some point, you can’t do anything about that sort of toxicity and you have to let it go. Believe me, I’m bad at it. But I’m working on it!

 

 

I would love to hear your best advice for building confidence as a Spanish speaker. Let me know your ideas in the comments below!

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Why I Stopped Trying So Hard to Get My Students to Speak Spanish

Why I Stopped Trying So Hard to Get My Students to Speak Spanish

 Inside: Shifting our thinking on speaking in the language classroom, and creating space for confident speaking.

 

As a new teacher, I was determined to get my students speaking. Everybody wants to get their students speaking, right? It’s the holy grail of language class: communication, conversation. 

I mean, why are we teaching Spanish, if not to produce students who can speak it? And yet… one of the biggest frustrations is students who don’t speak, don’t stay in the TL, or don’t participate.

For me, the most dramatic improvements in speaking came when I let go of “getting my students to speak up.”

WHAT? Ok, bear with me. 

In those early days, I was frustrated that my students weren’t speaking in Spanish like I’d hoped. They were holding side conversations in English; silence followed when I asked questions. Even my eager students hesitated to speak. What was I doing wrong?

First, I was tempted to blame them. They had bad attitudes, or were lazy. I needed to be stricter about “Spanish only.” I needed to immerse them more, set a higher standard, you know?

Try harder! If you don’t speak, you won’t learn Spanish. 

So I implemented systems. Tickets, charts, punishments. You know the drill. And still– I wasn’t getting the spontaneous communication I wanted. 

Finally, I began to wonder if the reason was deeper. Maybe it was deeper than not having good enough systems, or fancy enough rewards and consequences.

And one day, I stopped trying so hard to “get them to speak.” I started focusing on making our time together compelling and meaningful, trusting that communication would follow.  I had been trying to pull my little plants to make them grow faster. I stopped measuring their growth so much; I started focusing on the soil, the water, and the sun: the parts I could actually control. 

 

 
Proficiency, Acquisition, and Comprehensible Input
 
 
 
(Before I dive in, I KNOW some classes are difficult and just harder than others. I know some classes aren’t staying in the TL language, and it’s a discipline issue. I know students aren’t passive plants. I’ll address this at the very end of the post, don’t worry!)
 
But I also believe that most students, deep down, are attracted to meaning. They want to communicate. They have things they care about, and want to feel successful in class. 
 
So what was I doing wrong?
 
 
 

6 Ways I Was Sabotaging Speaking in Class

 

 

1. Inappropriate Expectations.

 

As a new teacher, my expectations for output were way too high. No wonder my students shut down! I was doing many activities they couldn’t be successful with, no matter their determination.
 
When I became familiar with the ACTFL guidelines, I was shocked. It was also a huge breath of fresh air. Novice-low was expected to produce lists, not full spontaneous sentences with perfectly conjugated verbs? WHAT? Here’s what the ACTFL has to says about Novice speaking levels:
 
“Novice-level speakers can communicate short messages on highly predictable, everyday topics that affect them directly. They do so primarily through the use of isolated words and phrases that have been encountered, memorized, and recalled. Novice-level speakers may be difficult to understand even by the most sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to non-native speech.”
It wasn’t lack of rigor, then— in fact, my imagined rigor was probably producing rigor-mortis. I had to re-adjust my expectations, re-work many activities, add lots of visual supports, and really re-work how I spoke to them.
 
For my novices, my questions were often too open-ended, so that even when they wanted to respond, they didn’t have enough language to do so (which made them feel like they were “behind” or “bad at languages,” and increased the fear factor). When I began rely heavily of yes/no questions, either/or, and one-word answers, participation increased. I became more skilled at differentiating as I communicated, as well– adjusting individual questions to a particular students level.
 
 
 

2. Over-Emphasis on Accuracy.

 
Back when I taught with my textbook, the backbone of my units were grammar points. Instead of providing rich, whole language, we were hyper-focused on something like ser vs. estar, or memorizing the irregular preterites. So when my students spoke, they were trying to construct rules and piece together bits of language, while worrying it would come out wrong. 
 
This paralyzed them, obviously. When explicit grammar lessons took a backseat, I naturally switched to giving them whole language from the beginning. I didn’t present ser as a conjugation chart: I introduced it as “Mira clase, hay una chica. ¿Es alta or baja?” And bam— in the first week of Spanish they were responding in phrases, just like that: “¡Es alta!”  without mentally running through a conjugation chart to land on es. When I laid off the explanations and just told them what a phrase meant, they ran with it.
 
The day I realized ACTFL classified consistently conjugating verbs correctly as an advanced-level skill I felt FREE. Accuracy has a place, but it’s a small place in novice-intermediate levels. An over-emphasis on accuracy, will hamper risk-taking and fluidity in speaking. This quote says it better than I can:

I would humbly submit to you that many teach grammar and syntax as prerequisite knowledge for communication. I contend that this notion is misguided, at best, and leads us down the wrong path instructionally. Grammar and syntax are important, not for the creation of communication, but rather for the avoidance of miscommunication.
– Jon De Mado, On the Role of Grammar

 

3. Not Centering the Course on High-Frequency Words.

 
When I followed my textbook to a T, we learned ar, er, and ir verbs in-depth because they were “easier” than irregular verbs like “gustar” or “tener.” It was months before we got to those. 
 
I suppose the textbook was arranged that way because the thinking goes how can you use and understand a word you couldn’t explain/dissect? (Even though my two-year-old could, just like most English speakers can use do and does quite accurately, without being able to explain why.)
 
But how the heck can you have a interesting conversation without gustar? Once I focused FIRST on high-frequency verbs, the change was huge. We could talk about SO MANY THINGS. We could get the gist of SO MANY authentic songs and #authres. If students know even twenty core words, so much can be said.
 
 

4. Phony Conversation Topics. 

 
My students are human beings. They are actually dying to talk and communicate: it’s why I have to make rules about side conversations. They LOVE sharing their opinions and talking about themselves. 
 
They’re just not dying to talk about inane topics. Before I centered my program on high-frequency words, we were stuck in really unnatural partner activities and conversation. Every teacher– no matter the method– can fall into the land of boring and pointless conversation.
 
So I began a new rule of thumb: if we wouldn’t talk about it in English, why would we talk about it in Spanish? If the game wouldn’t be fun in English, why are we playing it in Spanish?  I began choosing games that were so fun, they wanted to speak Spanish— not because they were practicing, but because they were lost in the fun of the task (= game, in this instance). Mafía, Mano Nerviosa, Manzanas a Manzanas, and the Circumlocuation game are good examples of this. 
 
I am by no means 100% successful here, but I’ve learned to take a step back if a class discussion is bombing: is it really that my students are being uncooperative, or did I just ask a dumb question? Are we dealing with bad attitudes, or would I also be crying inside if I had to talk about this for 20 minutes?
 
 

5. Lack of Focus on Input.

 
Ironically, when I had an output-focused mindset, the output was worse. When we did lots of memorized dialogues, presentational tasks, paired partner speaking, and games that “practiced” speaking, the output suffered. You can actually acquire a language on some level, without speaking. You can’t speak a language without massive input, though. 
 
When I let go of “getting my students to speak Spanish,” I focused my energy on fantastic, compelling input. I gave them tons and tons of things to read. I told them stories and held conversations, and we watched movies and listened to songs. I zeroed in on what my students cared about.
 
I stopped the endless quizzes to know what they’d memorized the night before. I stopped thinking they could memorize their way into fluency. My assessment in the lower levels became more relaxed and unrehearsed (“tell me about your family”) as I began to search for what language had made its way into their minds, and could naturally flow out. 
 
And guess what? The output blossomed. When I let go of “getting my kids to produce,” they largely spoke when they were ready. 
 
 

6. Changing My Immersion Mindset.

 
When I clung to the idea of immersion, I was not understanding that all input is NOT equal. Comprehension was more important than immersion. My immersion was a lot of noise. It made my students shut down. When I allowed myself to speak English, I found that 10% of class spent in English made the 90% REALLY effective. To me, 90% of class time in Spanish that is comprehended Spanish is better than 100% of class time in Spanish that is only 70% comprehended. 
 
(This isn’t to say that teachers who do 100% immersion are wrong— as long as they’re getting 90%-100% comprehension, we’re on the same track. I just found that allowing myself 10% in English meant a rich 90% in Spanish. It may be I haven’t developed the skills to do this.)
 
 

Conclusion  

 
I don’t mean to paint my classroom as rainbows and unicorns— there was/is still a range. There were still students who didn’t gush over Spanish and decided not to take Spanish 3. And in the end, our students are not passive plants. They can choose to pay attention and participate, or not. 
 
So in the end, I STILL found some of speaking-in-the-TL systems helpful. Why? 
 
First: I speak Spanish. And yet, with my friends who are native English speakers but also speak Spanish, we chat in Spanish. People by nature revert to what is easiest and most comfortable, so most people need accountability. 
 
Second, there will always be classes whose departure from the TL is a character issue. Sometimes it is a discipline issue, and sometimes an issue of laziness.
 
I keep my systems lighthearted, like a game, and celebrate their speaking like a crazy. I gush over bravery in speaking, and celebrate them. 
 
One year, in the spring, I told a level-2 class they would get ten minutes to watch extra, at the end of the period. If they unlawfully spoke English, I’d erase a minute. If I slipped up and said anything in English, they got an extra minute. We had so much fun with this, and it worked for that last stretch of the school year when everyone was stir crazy. 

My favorite post with ideas for target-language accountability is this quick one one from Sherry, at Secondary Spanish Space, and then her longer post at World Language Café

 
I would love to hear your thoughts too. Let me know in comments below!
 
 

 

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