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Inside: What is comprehensible input? How do students acquire language?
In Part 1, we talked about proficiency: where we are going in the language classroom. Here in Part 2, I’ll talk about acquisition: how students take language in. If our goal is students who “rise in proficiency” (World Language Classroom), how do they grow? What do they need? What is the best way to get language “in”?
When people find out I teach Spanish, 95% of the time I get a comment like this: Oh man, I took 3 years of Spanish. It’s usually followed by a joke using the few words they remember: Mi casa es su casa. Hah!
Seriously– I get this all the time. From those very informal observations, it seems that we’ve been doing for decades now just isn’t working. When I discovered proficiency-based language teaching, I saw where I wanted to go: I wanted students who could communicate in Spanish, not just perform isolated exercises. And I needed to find a better way to teach them.
Inside: What is language proficiency? What does it mean for my Spanish classroom?
Last year I wrote a post explaining why I was throwing out my Spanish textbook. Of course, throwing it out was the easy part. But what to do next?
I’m writing this series because I remember so clearly what’s it’s like, to be on the edge of that cliff– poised to jump into textbook-free land, with a mind-boggling array of choices below. I just wanted someone to hold my hand, help me sort it all out, and put me touch with the experts. And that’s exactly what I’d like to do here.
So, here’s my after-story to going textbook-free. I found I had three major tasks in developing a plan for the year: figure out our objectives, research how students acquire language, and then choose methods and develop content. Here in Part 1, I’ll share how I formed a big picture and zeroed in on targets for each class. (more…)
Inside: A fun & easy activity to learn Spanish with songs in class, only using a piece of paper.
One of my favorite things about teaching textbook-free is that authentic songs in Spanish are central to class now. If you’re not sure how to start, read how to teach Spanish with authentic songs, and then browse my suggestions for songs in Spanish, for all ages.
I can be a scatter-brained teacher, and my go-to activities are always the simple ones. I call this listening activity Draw, Listen, Check. It works for authentic songs and only requires a piece of paper– perfect for last-minute fillers and reinforcement. Here’s how it goes!
Choose a song your class is already familiar with. Pull out 4-6 structures you want to emphasize, and write them on the board, or dictate them. The students should divide a paper into 4-6 sections, and quickly illustrate one structure into each square.
This is what one student drew when we did Vivir mi vida by Marc Antony. The target structures were:
Erase the target structures from the board, and play the song without showing the lyrics. The students should put a check mark in the boxes each time they hear the corresponding phrase. That’s all!
This is not an assessment, but just a quick way to highlight the target structures, get some input, and practice listening skills. My students like it because it’s low-pressure and they usually see it as a personal competition to get the closest score.
Some variations on Draw, Listen, Check:
Continue as long as you like until you have a winner or several winners.This would be a really fun brain break!!
Have more ideas for learning Spanish through songs? Leave a comment!
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Inside: Teach yourself Spanish, with these free online Spanish resources.
This is the list I wish I’d had as a new teacher, or as a Spanish learner myself! Here I’ve collected my favorite online Spanish resources, and all are free (though some may have paid upgrade options). These are great for supplementing in the classroom or practicing at home.
1. DuoLingo is unparalleled as far as free lessons go. You can use it online, although it’s most convenient as an app. Take a placement test and move through lessons at your own pace. You can practice speaking, listening, and reading, and even have “chat” with native speakers. It’s great for teachers, who can get weekly progress reports of their students.
DuoLingo can be a little frustrating because it can be picky about small errors, but it seems to be improving. There is also a new stories feature, that seems to be more in line with comprehensible input!
2. Fluencia Similar to DuoLingo, this site/app takes you through bite-sized lessons that include listening, speaking, and reading.
3. FSI I haven’t personally used this site, but it came strongly recommend here. Put out Foreign Service Institute to train foreign workers and officials, it includes an online textbook and audio lessons.
4. Coffee Break Spanish Some of the features are paid, but you can access free podcasts.
5. Busuu The free version is a bit limited, but gives self-paced interactive lessons and connects you to native speakers as well.
1. Mi Vida Loca This series is one the best online Spanish resources! Created for absolute beginners, you get an immersive adventure set in Spain, with lessons along the way. There’s a tad more English than I’d like, but it’s still great. I created a series of games and links to accompany each episode, as well as a free packet to accompany the first 5 episodes.
2. Extra Extra en español exposes learners to Spanish, in the context of a sitcom-like setting (similiar to the show Friends), through 13 episodes. The show is really funny, and though most teachers don’t have any problem showing it, the romance scenes are super exaggerated (awkward? weird?) Parents/teachers might want to preview. Here’s the first episode:
3. Destinos So Destinos is a bit dated. If you can get past that, it’s a great resource! 52 episodes follow a lawyer around the world as she tries to solve a mystery. They’re a great way to get immersed in Spanish in the context of a telenova, with culture thrown in too. See episode 1 here:
4. Video Ele is a series of videos that introduce different themes and strutures, with some culture thrown in. My students find them a teensy boring out of context, but for a motivated learner or to show a specific topic in class, they’re great! Here’s an example:
6. ¿Eres tú, María? A mystery series set in Madrid, for Spanish learners who have been studying for a few months already.
1. Spanish Proficiency Exercises All are video recordings of native speakers from different countries, and are organized by proficiency tasks and levels (score!).
2. Spanish Listening This is another gold mine of native speakers, with videos divided by topic and level. There are also activities to go with each recording.
3. Radio Ambulante Produced by NPR, this podcast contains Latin American stories and is best suited for intermediate to advanced learners.
4. Lyrics Training An online fill-in-the-blank activity for listening to music in Spanish.
5. Ver-Taal Authentic commericals, trailers, newscasts, and more in Spanish, with comprehension activities as well.
6. Learn Spanish Podcasts Very cool site for learning Spanish through comprehensible podcasts (not for absolute beginners), with transcripts included.
1. BBC Mundo World news in Spanish.
3. ESPN in Spanish
4. Newsela This is a great resource for news articles. The best thing is that you can choose grade levels to simplify the reading if desired.
1. Study Spanish This website has most Spanish grammar topics broken down into lessons. The explanations are clear with examples, and there are a variety of ways to practie.
2. Spanish Language & Culture Lots of grammar activities and in-context practice, with some listening and song activities thrown in.
3. 121 Spanish Is a well-organized site, with video as well as grammar activities.
4. Señor Jordan A Spanish teacher, Señor Jordan has a series of YouTube videos explaining various Spanish structures, with some songs as well. Since I don’t do much grammar in class, this is a great online Spanish resource that my students can do at home. He also now teaches using comprehensible input, and is beginning to create storytelling videos that teach grammar as a pop-up. Here’s an example:
What sites did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!
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Inside: Free resources to learn Spanish online with kids.
It’s easier than ever to learn language now, with so many online Spanish resources for kids– for free! The hardest part is just going through all of them and deciding where to start.
No worries though: I’ve collected and sorted through the most popular Spanish resources, so you can find what you need. If I am missing any, let me know! I’ve also got you covered if you want to teach yourself Spanish and need resources for an older crowd.
1. Peppa Pig
There are tons of free Peppa Pig shows on YouTube. They will be difficult for true beginners, but if your kids know a little they will definitely recognize words and phrases. Most of the language is clear, simple, and repetitive, and the action is slow enough that the language is more accessible. (Find the official Spanish channel here.)
Inside: The best Spanish cartoons and shows for kids, on Netflix.
Cartoons can be a great source of Spanish input for little learners. Now, we all know to limit screen time for kids, right?
BUT… videos and shows really can be an incredible resource for authentic and rich language.
I’m not a native Spanish-speaker and can’t provide a totally fluent environment for my kids, by myself. (My husband is fluent, but not at home as much as I am.) So we rely on music, books, and shows to round out the input. Sometimes it’s funny to hear my three-year-old bust out a phrase I know I’ve never used (¡Ay, cielos! from Pooh).
Netflix has a fair amount of cartoons and movies with audio in Spanish, and here are my top picks. They do pull and add shows, so this list may change. Lucky for us, most Netflix original series are available in multiple languages and stay there for good!
(If you are looking for something for yourself, here’s a giant list of movies in Spanish. I’ve also got you covered with lists of bilingual books for kids, authentic books in Spanish for kids, songs in Spanish, and free online resources to learn Spanish with kids.)
1. Puffin Rock: We love, love, love this show! It’s nature-based, with lovely graphics and sweet story-lines. The audio is very clear and understandable, and would be perfect for learners who understand a fair amount of Spanish, but aren’t fluent yet.
2. Winnie the Pooh: This is another favorite. Unfortunately, the original movies are no longer available, but there are still several to choose from. High-quality visuals and high-quality audio and music.
3. Peppa Pig: I really like the slow pace and simple storylines. This is an excellent show for kids who aren’t fluent, because the audio is very clear. Even beginners would be able to pick out the phrases they already know. (This show isn’t available in every country. If you can’t find it, you can still access the Peppa Pig Spanish Channel on YouTube, with complete episodes!)
4. Pocoyo: This is the best show for absolute beginners, as the phrases tend to be more isolated and easy to catch. Kids love this one!
5. Sarah and Duck: My kids like this one a lot right now. Everyday stories about a girl and her pet duck. (Not available in Spanish in every country.)
6. Little Baby Bum: This is a series of popular children’s songs and nursery rhymes available in Spanish. Listening to songs is really one of the most effective ways to learn a language, and would be perfect for little ones.
Below are series we haven’t necessarily seen or watch, but are in Spanish. Let me know if you love any and would recommend them!
1. Veggie Tales in the House
2. 72 Cutest Animals (a nature show)
3. The Hive
5. Beat Bugs
6. Cars Toons: Mater’s Tall Tales
7. Ask the Storybots
8. Word Party
10. Luna Petunia
12. Inspector Gadget
13. Curious George
16. Julie’s Greenroom
17. Justin Time Go!
18. Care Bears and Cousins
19. Masha and the Bear
And movies (some aren’t toddler-appropriate):
1. The Little Prince
3. The Fox and the Hound
4. The Wings of Life (nature documentary)
5. Lilo & Stitch
6. Kung Fu Panda
7. Brother Bear
9. All the Mickey Mouse movies
10. Disney Short Films
Did I miss any of your favorite Spanish cartoons and shows? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
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