40+ Authentic Songs to Learn Spanish, for Beginner Classes

40+ Authentic Songs to Learn Spanish, for Beginner Classes

Inside: Authentic & appropriate songs to learn Spanish, for beginner classes.


As a new teacher, I so badly wanted my students to feel the magic of Spanish. I loved my Latin music, and thought they’d love some songs to learn Spanish, too. The problem was that I didn’t know HOW to bridge authentic resources to my Spanish newbies.

After lots of research, I wrote a post on what I wish I’d known about teaching with authentic music as a new teacher. Martina Bex, Kristy Placido, and Mis Clases Locas have helped tremendously with how to use songs. I also wished I’d had a good list of authentic songs for Spanish class to work with. So I made one! The following songs are a jackpot of culture, fun, and authentic language.

(You can also check into my Authentic Songs for Spanish 1 Activity Pack if you would like printable lyrics and editable activities for 24 of the songs here.)


Authentic Songs to Learn Spanish, for Beginners


After throwing out my textbook, I started seriously looking for good content. For some songs, only the chorus will comprehensible, and that’s all I focus on.  Some have to do more with culture than language. I have arranged these by my tentative Spanish I units, and tried to do a mix of currently popular and enduring classics. If I missed anything essential, let me know in the comments! (And don’t miss Authentic Songs for Spanish 2 and Authentic Songs for Advanced Spanish Classes!!) I have tried to find appropriate songs for high school, or at least indicate if there’s anything you should be aware of. Sometimes I miss things, and standards for appropriate vary between schools. Let me know if you think anything should be noted or changed!


Unit I: Nuestra clase & nuevos amigos 


Who is here? Why learn Spanish? How do I get what I need in class, in the TL? Language: Start super siete verbs (tener, ser, hay), decir, greetings, classroom objects, some numbers and colors. Input/activities: Martina Bex Units, storytelling.

Tengo tu love (sie7e): tengo, soy, tiene, un, una, adjective agreement  

Los pollitos dicen (traditional children’s): dicen, tienen hambre, les da, duermen, se despiertan (Authentic Songs for Spanish 1 Activity Pack)  

Corre (Jesse y Joy): the structures are fairly complicated, so this technically belongs later in the year. But I teach Martina Bex’s “Corre” unit early on and put it here just in case!

Sofia (Alvaro Soler) –  classroom phrases (mira, sé, ¿por qué?) and fun phrases to use throughout the year (no te creo, ya no, dime).



Unit II: Mi mundo immediato y ¿quién soy?


Who am I? What do I like and like to to do?

Language: Continue súper siete (gustar, estar, querer, ir), add hobbies, sports, and adjectives.

Input/activities: “La persona especial” interviews from Bryce Hedstrom and more Somos units from Martina Bex, storytelling.  

Soy yo (Bomba Estéreo) – soy yo, así, no te preocupes  

Internacionales (Bomba Estéreo): soy, somos, nationalities, baila, vamos a bailar,  

Corazón sin cara (Prince Royce): vive, eres, adjectives, no me importa, vive, no tiene, nunca. (We start filling in our adjectives booklets with this song.)



Voy a vivir (Marc Antony): voy a + infinitives (Authentic Songs for Spanish 1 Activity Pack.)  

Me voy (Julieta Venegas): me voy, no quiero, voy a, decir  (some preterit- the chorus is most useful)  

Hoy es domingo (Diego Torres): hoy, es domingo, mañana, día, para, pastimes  

Me gustas tú (Manu Chao): time, me gustas tú, me gusta + noun/adjectives, ¿qué voy a hacer?  

Mambo (Realidades- not strictly authentic, I think): ¿qué te gusta hacer?, te gusta, me gusta, infinitives, también, tampoco  

Me gustas tú (Luis Fonsi): me gustas, me gusta, hago, me haces, tu, tú,




Unit III: Mi hogar (la familia) y mi escuela


Who is my family? What is a day/year at school like? 

Language: family members, school vocabulary, weather, days, months, time. Sweet sixteen verbs.

Input: More Martina Bex units, fables. Day of the Dead mini-unit (honoring the family).  

De colores (traditional- Joan Baez): primavera, me gustan a mí  

Mamá (Siggno): familia, mamá, siempre, te amo, scenes of life in Mexico- refers to poemita Sana, sana, colita de rana  

Hermanos (Casi Creativo): hermano, perdonar, enseñarme a compartir (WTF, abbreviated, appears at 1:17)  

A Papá (Casi Creativo– cerveza at minute :52 but otherwise a great song): papá, gracias por…, eres, te lo digo  

Te quiero ver  (Natalia Lafourcade): domingo, mañana, tarde, anochecer, te quiero ver, tú no puedes, lots of tú/yo verbs right next  each otherm horas, segundos  

Mi paraíso es (Divicio):  mamá, papá, amigo, niña, mujer, hija– not my favorite style but kids who like boy bands will love it. Would make a good MovieTalk for talking about the family and home as well.  

¿Con quién se queda el perro? (Jesse y Joy): tú te vas, yo me voy, se queda, antes, no hay más remedio  

Vienes y te vas (William Luna): vienes, te vas, no soy feliz–poetic license there–, me olvides. It’s an older video, but I’m partial to Peru and love his music.  

La bicicleta (Shakira y Carlos Vives):  te quiero, voy a hacer, no quiero ser, por ti, puedo ser, le gusta, llévame, óyeme




Unit IV: La comida y las celebraciones


How do we share food and meals?  

What do food and celebrations tell us about Hispanic culture and life?

Language: food, ordering at a restaurant, holidays, reinforce super seven, sweet sixteen, and other high-frequency verbs. Input/activities: Canela, La quinceañera, Martina Bex.

Come vegetables (Casi creativo): somos, vitaminas, plato, deben ser, miel, vegetables, zanahoria, espinaca, tomate, brócoli, fruta, sabores.  

Come frutas (Casi Creativos – “carajo” at 0:18): la nevera, mañana, por la tarde, por la noche  

8 vasos al día (Casi Creativo), antes de comer, al día, vasos,  

Las mañanitas (Alejandro Fernández): birthdays, despierta, levántate, venimos  

Tiempo de vals (Chayanne): la quinceañera


Mi niña bonita (Chino y Nacho): often sung at quinceañeras for father/daughter dance, aquí hay, tanto, para, sin, me siento,  

Chocolate (Jesse and Joy): sabe a chocolate, bombón, nuestro,




Unit V: Mi ciudad y la geografía


What is my hometown like? What are similarities and differences between my city and cities in Spanish-speaking countries?

Language: places, geography, Spanish-speaking countries, present progressive Input/activities: Martina Bex geography units, storytelling, maybe Agentes Secretos

Fronteras (Gaby Moreno): Full of comprehensible language, present tense, and yo verbs, immigration, Guatemala. This is PERFECT for the novel Esperanza, though I use that unit in Spanish 2.  

La gozadera (Marc Antony and Gente de Zona): Hispanic countries, somos tu y yo, might be a good exposure to the preterit.  

Latinoamérica (Calle 13): Many repetitions of “tú no puedes comprar… al sol, al viento, el calor, etc”, with images of Latin America in the background, repitions of tengo.  

El perdón (cover by Siggno- skip the intro): las calles, present progressive. Such a great version to play alongside the original! Beware the “como un loco tomando” line.  

El perdón (Enrique Iglesias y Nicky Jam): las calles, present progressive. Beware the “como un loco tomando” line.



Unit IV: El amor y  los piratas


Is love or money more important? What makes a good/honorable partner?

Language: high-frequency verbs, direct and indirect objects, clothing Input/activities: Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto

Robarte un beso (Carlos Vives & Sebastian Yatra)  

La camisa negra (Juanes): ya no me quieres, la camisa, me duele. Contains the word “maldita.” I don’t really love this song, but lots of teachers like to include it.  

Darte un beso (Prince Royce): direct/indirect objects, darte, para, no sé que hacer  

Te mando flores (Fonseca): object pronouns, abrazar, besos, brazos  

Cuando te veo (ChocQuibTown): cuando te veo, son,me hace feliz, me llena, __ como__, puedo  

Cielito lindo (Mariachi band): classic folk song and love song  

Caraluna (Bacilos): yo sé, tal vez, nunca, mientras, cada, progressives, object pronouns  

Volvi a nacer (Carlos Vives): puedo, quiero casarme contigo, que voy a hacer, quedarme, dejar  

El amor (Tito “El Bambino): progressive, tienes que



Unit VI: Viajar y el medio ambiente


Language: travel, the environment, reflexives Input/activities: Robo en la noche by Kristy Placido, study of Costa Rica

La tierra del olvido (Carlos Vives): te quiero, mas que, tienes, río, mar, lluvia, la luna  

Pura vida (Don Omar): mainly because it  says pura vida over and over again  

Madre tierra (Chayanne): abre tus ojo, mira arriba, environmental theme  

Tabaco y chanel (Bacilos): reflexives (no se va, no se olvida), hay que, object pronouns, las estrellas. This is probably my favorite song of all time… so I had to squeeze it in somewhere!  

If you would like to search by country: http://musicaenespanol.weebly.com/

A giant database of music, with grammar, vocabulary, and themes listed: http://elmundodebirch.wikispaces.com/Spanish+Music+Database

Bryce Hedstrom’s list: http://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/SONGS_ALL_SPANISH_STUDENTS_NEED_TO_KNOW.pdf

I’d love to hear your favorite songs to learn Spanish! Let me know if I missed any gems!

Authentic Songs for Spanish Class 1

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10 Awesome Icebreakers for High School Spanish Classrooms

10 Awesome Icebreakers for High School Spanish Classrooms

Inside: Icebreakers for high school and middle school Spanish classrooms.

As a semi-introvert, most icebreakers terrify me– all the ones that make you remember everyone else’s name, think of a clever adjective for yourself, or THE WORST KIND: make up a dance move. I’m not sure super-confident people can really comprehend what that situation can feel like.


(This is me. ^^)

Icebreakers can be tricky in the World Language Classroom. They reflect the tension we feel most days: how can we stay in the target language, connect with our students, communicate effectively, and make the whole process enjoyable? No wonder we’re tired! In those first days, I do think it’s important to establish a couple of things:

We speak in the TL as much as possible. This isn’t a class about Spanish; it’s a class mostly in Spanish.
I care about you. You’re safe here: safe to try new things and make mistakes.
My job is to make sure Spanish is comprehensible, and yours is to pay attention and stay with me.

I really think it’s important to do low-pressure icebreakers those first days, especially if you’re trying to do so in another language. Games that build community, look for things in common, and ease everyone into the target language can be a great way to start. Hopefully these will help!


Icebreakers for High School Spanish Classes


1. The Glob Game

This is a low-pressure get-to-know-you game. Call out (perhaps show) a term like “eyes,” “number of siblings,” or “favorite subject” and the students with the same answer stand in a group. If two “globs” form over the same things, they should join. If students are upper-level, use words they know in the target language (TL). If they are new, use pictures to make it comprehensible.

This is good for getting to know each other and finding out things in common. (From Cult of Pedagogy)

2. The Cognates Game I

Mark one side of the room as “I like” and the other as “I don’t like” (in the TL if desired). Call out cognates (like “chocolate” and “animales” for English-Spanish) and student stand on the side of the spectrum that shows how they feel about it.

Alternatively, put a line down the middle of the room. Students stand on the side that matches their opinion/answer.

This game, of course, only works for languages that have cognates. It’s a good way to show students they can understand many words right away, even when they are brand-new to the language.

high school spanish games

3. Strip Bingo

This one is more innocuous than it sounds! If you are planning to start off with an “About Me” presentation, or an intro to the syllabus or procedures, spice it up a little by with this one. Choose about 5-7 key words from your presentation, words that will be repeated frequently. Write those words on the board, and tell students to write them down in a horizontal row on a piece of paper, but in a random order. As you give your presentation, tell students they may tear off the key words as they hear them, but ONLY if the word is on the outer edge. If the word if blocked by a word to the left or the right, it can’t get torn off. The first student to tear off all the words gets a prize. (From from Martina Bex at the Comprehensible Classroom.

4. Games with Music in the TL

These don’t require speaking– they’re just for fun. Ending the first day of class with games played to really good music in the TL just makes everyone feel good about class, and leave with a good feeling about the langauge!

  • El Hueco: This one was a favorite dinámica back in Peru, and requires no speaking.  Arrange chairs in a circle, and everyone sits down. Make sure there is one extra chair. Start the music. Two students will have an empty chair between them, and they need to grab each other’s hand, and run and grab another students to sit in that chair. When the music stops, whichever two people have a missing chair are either out or get a “punishment.” In Peru, the castigos were pretty embarrassing; I’d suggest something light like high-five the teacher or count 10.
  • Musical Chairs
  • Islands: Set out several newspapers around the room. This is similar to musical chairs, except that when the music stops, everyone tries to stand on the newspaper. Each time, the newspaper gets folded in half, and whoever isn’t touching the paper is out. There will be as many winners as there are newspapers. Obviously, this is more physical, so use your discretion!

5. The Cognates Game II

This is another version of the cognate game. Use my PPT bracket outline to project onto the board, and list cognates on either side. Do a tournament to see which cognate beats all the other ones. Start on the outside, and have students vote for the top or bottom choice by going to the left or right side of the room. This game is fun because you can introduce cognates and get to know one another as well.



If desired, use the TL and make it comprehensible with pictures, so that you can have more useful terms for finding out student preferences (hobbies and pastimes, for example). If you are calling out the terms in the TL and pointing to them, you can stay in the TL the entire time, and they will understand you. This is either great review for returning classes, or a good way to show new students they can understand the new language, even on the first day.

For Returning Classes:

6. Human Bingo

Prepare a board that has questions your students know from previous years. Remember to keep them simple, and include picture clues if necessary. The students must go around the room asking questions to their peers. (Do you have a cat? Is your birthday in September? Are you a new student?) If someone answers yes, they write their initials down in that spot. Whoever gets Bingo first wins.

7. If You Were on a Deserted Island…

Give this classic question a language twist by telling students to think of three things they’d bring to a deserted island– but only using words they remember from the year before in the TL. Everyone writes down three things, and you collect the cards. Have everyone guess who wrote which card.

8. Two Truths and a Lie

Students write two truths and lie about themselves in the TL, on a note card. They write their name at the top, and give them all to you. If their language isn’t perfect, you can correct errors and make the sentences comprehensible as you read them out loud. Don’t say the name, but let the class first guess who wrote the sentences. Once everyone understands them all, and knows who it is, have the students guess which sentence is a lie.

Games in English: 

9. The Circumlocution Game

Ok, this is basically Taboo. Prepare slips of paper with words on them, and divide the class into two groups. Set a timer (1-2 minutes). One student draws a slip of paper, and tries to get his/her team to guess the term without saying the word itself. After the word is guessed, the next team member draws a word, and so on until the timer goes off. Count the slips up and give those points to the team.

Use this game to talk about circumlocution, talking “around” a word you don’t know in to avoid resorting to English. Establishing an expectation of circumlocution is a big part of staying at least 90% in the target language.

10. The Salad Game

Write celebrity names or any terms on slip of paper. Students sit in a circle. Divide the class into 2 or more teams by counting 1-2. For each team’s turn, set a time (1-2 minutes).

1st round (verbal clues): The first team begins. One students draws a slip of paper, and describes the person or word to his or her team without saying the actual name. As soon as the team guesses, the next team member draws another slip and play continues until the timer goes off. Then the other team gets a turn. Once all the slips are used up, tally the points for each team.

2nd round (one-word clues): This round is the same as the second, except that the students must only use one word to get their team to guess the celebrity or word.

3rd round (actions): Similar to the first and second round, except that only gestures may be used as clues.

This game would work to explain circumlocution, and also to talk about proficiency levels. You can discuss how being a “novice” might mean only being able to communicate in isolated words or phrases (and/or gestures), and moving up in proficiency will mean putting words together and then communicating through more complicated sentences.

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10 Beginning of the Year Icebreakers and Games for the World Language Classroom



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5 Myths About Interactive Student Notebooks

5 Myths About Interactive Student Notebooks


In a recent post, I wrote What Not to Do When Using Interactive Notebooks: things I’d learned the hard way as I began to use them. I concluded at the end that interactive notebooks will neither make or break your teaching, and only you– the teacher–can decide if they are right for your students. Interactive notebooks are hot right now, and so I thought discussing these common “myths” might help you decide what you think of them. Hopefully this can help!


1. Foldables & Flip-ups Make the Notebook Interactive.


I may be going out on a limb here, but I think this is important. It is easy to assume that because a foldable is involved, what was once a mind-numbing worksheet is automatically “interactive.” What makes an notebook interactive is that an active connection occurs between the page and the mind of the student. This, of course, only happens when the content itself is compelling and excellent. If the hands-on format of a foldable makes the page even more engaging and undestandable, so much the better!

Foldables and flip-flips can be amazing tools. Sometimes just the fact that a flip up can be physically lifted in three parts provides just the right “Aha!” moment. We just need to remember that some pages can be very plain, and still highly engage the mind and imagination of our students. That is the ultimate test for our notebooks– not how fancy or cute the components are.


2. Interactive Notebooks are Only for Elementary Students. 


I see this one a lot. Perhaps just the mention of glue and scissors gives nightmares to upper-level teachers, who chose high school precisely to get away from such materials. But the beauty of interactive notebooks is they are exactly what you want them to be: just as cutesy, formal, and involved (or not) as you like. I do think that many of the benefits for younger students (organizational help, portfolio of learning, ownership of work) extend to older students as well.

3. Interactive Notebooks Are Just a New Fad. 


The first time I came across interactive notebooks was actually 10 years ago in South America. While teaching in Peru, I watched my host family do beginning-of-the-school-year prep. My host mother bought notebooks for her sons, a different color for each subject, and carefully laminated each one. Those notebooks were used the entire year, with every student in the school following the color-coded system. The glued-in parts were less elaborate, as copies in general were a precious commodity, but it was the same basic concept. My husband remembers having a notebook for each class and gluing in organizers and notes 25 years ago then as well.

Nature journals (advocated by turn-of-the-century educator Charlotte Mason) provide another early example of “interactive notebooks.” Students began with blank notebooks. They would then go out into nature, find something interesting, and either draw it or glue the plant itself into the notebook. Then they would write about it, label it, or include a related poem or thought. Her Book of Centuries was another example of a precursor to our interactive notebooks.

Again, it’s not exactly the same as our modern-day notion of an interactive notebook. But I think shows that the idea of compiling a year’s worth of learning into a notebook to synthesize information in a hands-on way isn’t exactly a novel invention.


4. Interactive Notebooks Must Be Time-Consuming.


Interactive notebooks can be time-consuming. They don’t have to be, especially if you gravitate toward a simple format and clean lines that only require one cut. With good procedures for materials, prep time can be very short (and might make for a good brain break in the middle of a lesson.)

If you have lots of foldables, it will take some time to do them well. But in the overall scheme of things, ISNs can still save time. When foldables, outlines, or graphic organizers are well-done, they are formatted to make sense. They are made so that the foldable or arrangement itself tells the story. One of the biggest concepts in Spanish grammar, for example, is getting the plural vs. singular. Our grammar notes are on flip-flaps that consistently follow a plural/singular,  left/right format. I don’t have to even talk about this very much– it’s simply implicit in the design itself. We may spend a little longer setting up the notes, but I feel like I get more bang for my buck in the notes we do take.




5. Interactive Notebooks Mainly Benefit the Teachers. 


This myth might come from a suspicion that it just makes the teacher feel good to have a learning portfolio that looks nice. I have found, though, that using an interactive notebook makes me think harder about what I want students to take away from a lesson and how I want them to interact with the knowledge. I think the students are more directly in contact with the information; it is their work to make it their own in the notebooks, and physically place it there.

Typical worksheets– which I do still occasionally use–seem to require less thought. They tend to involve more fill-in-the-blanks, information I’ve already digested for you as the teacher. The advantage of an interactive notebook is that the burden of recording and assimilating the information is on the student. Interactive notebooks are begun empty, only filled in real time as knowledge grows. With ISNs, I know that each page will look different between different students, and that’s okay. It is their notebook, and their own record of knowledge.

I’d love to hear what you think, as I’m still a newbie with interactive notebooks! Have you heard the myths too? Do you think they might actually be true? I’d love to know.


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Five Common Myths About Interactive Notebos (4)



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Grammar vs. Comprehensible Input: Who’s Right?

Grammar vs. Comprehensible Input: Who’s Right?

Inside: The role of grammar, and grammar vs. comprehensible input, in foreign language learning.

From Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass:

“Let us consider an apple. If we approach it synthetically, we take it as we find it– in its state of wholeness and completeness– and we eat it. Once eaten, it is digested, absorbed, and becomes a part of us. If we approach it analytically, we take it apart– not in a natural way, which is merely a smaller portion (here is half an apple!), but rather, here is the fiber, here are the vitamins, here is a bit of water, and some sugar. Suppose we ingest each bit– a spoonful of fiber, a vitamin pill, a swallow of sugar and water.

On paper, we have consumed the same thing in both cases– equal portions of nutrition– but there is a very, very large difference. Only one of those meals tasted good and created an appetite for more.

When we break apart our food-meals into discrete portions of unrecognizable substances with no wholeness or discernible relation to each other, we have no interest in consuming more of the same unappetizing matter. The same holds true for our knowledge-meals. Given knowledge in recognizable, understandable form, we consume it gladly and it tastes good. Given mere information without context, we choke on the consumption of it and never think of it again if possible.” (Consider This, 37)

Confession: I’m not here to resolve the grammar question. The word grammar— how much? when? how?– often evokes strong reactions among language teachers. I began teaching Spanish the conventional way: grammar as the building blocks to learning Spanish; only recently did I Threw Out My Textbook in search of a better way.  Though I can’t tell you everything about grammar vs. comprehensible input, I want to share what I’m thinking.

The Why of What We Do

As I’ve lurked on language forums and read teacher-authors, I’ve wanted to know what to do. I have wanted to know how Martina Bex  begins with comprehensible input and does pop-up grammar: what is her method? I want to do it too! Glass– writing about classical education– warns,

“When we are more concerned with what the classical educators were doing than why they were doing it, we are unlikely to achieve what they achieved.”

So I am looking for the why. In reading blogs, Consider This, and reading Charlotte Mason herself, the why has became clearer: all of them were advocating a first-whole, then-parts approach.

Glass spends a large portion of the book contrasting a synthetic approach vs. an analytical one. (Last post I cited this video from Musicuentos, which also uses the term synthetic- but very differently. I don’t know why there is a difference, but just a heads up.)

“The word analysis also comes to us from Greek roots meaning “to dissolve or take apart.” If you are alive, and you attended any kind of institutional school, it is almost certain that you were taught to think exclusively in the analytical mode. In fact, upon hearing that the opposite of synthetic thinking is analytical thinking, the first response of those of so educated is likely to be, “what is wrong with analytical thinking?- we ought to analyze things!

Perhaps we ought, but not first. Analysis should not be out primary approach to knowledge or our primary mode of thinking, especially in the in the earliest years of education. We should not begin taking apart the things that we learn until we have put them together first, and so solidly unified out understanding of the world that we will lose sight of the relationships between things when we do begin to analyze. This synthetic approach to learning has been called “poetic knowledge”…”

analytical vs. synthetic thinking

I should have added this to last post: in beginning with grammar, we are asking students to analyze that which they don’t know or love. We ask them to study the colors of a painting they haven’t seen; to practice the notes of a song they haven’t heard. (Idea credit: Joshua Cabral)

If all this philosophizing is getting long, let me give an example.

Grammar vs. Comprehensible Input

I would agree with Sara Elizabeth Cotrell  at Musicuentos that we cannot replicate L1 acquisition with our limited classroom time. Therefore, we must pay attention to patterns when deciding on which comprehensible input to use. When appropriate–after plenty of input– we can stop and consider those patterns explicitly. Let’s use direct object pronouns in Spanish as an example.

You see, back in the day I would have approached them analytically, first– something like this:

  • Define what a direct object pronoun is (in English), and show some examples.
  • Show the direct object pronouns (me, te,  lo, las, etc.) and define each one.
  • Show examples in sentences: Cassie tiene un libro. Cassie lo tiene. 
  • Exercises, games, and practice in using object pronouns. An exercise might be: Replace the nouns with an object pronoun:

¿Puedes ver la pelota?                 →    ¿Puedes verla? or ¿La puedes ver?
Yo llamo a Alicia por teléfono.  →     La llamo por teléfono. 

Though we “learned” this in Spanish 1, I can’t actually recall a student using this spontaneously in Spanish 1 (or for that matter, Spanish 2). Meaning, they weren’t actually acquiring this structure, even though we had worked so hard on it.

If we take a synthetic approach (the way Glass defines it), we might be reading The Boy Who Cried Wolf in Spanish, and come across these sentences: El joven cuida las ovejas. Las cuida por la noche. Las cuida en la lluvia.  It only takes a few seconds to point out that las refers to las ovejas. Later on, when we read Piratas del Caribe, Raquel and Antonio will argue: ¡Tú me abandonaste! ¿Yo te abandoné? and we can pause to talk about me and te and where they are positioned. After. I might even make a lesson of it. We can briefly enter in the direct object pronouns into our interactive notebooks, with some sample sentences from texts we read.

The difference between the lessons is that in the first approach, my students don’t know who Alicia is, nor why she’s getting called on the telephone. That sentence exists entirely to make a grammar point. In fact, the students have never seen a comprehensible sentence with a DO pronon before, because the theory is to only show content after the particular grammar point has been taught.

In the second approach, the sentence “¡Tú me abandonaste!” is packed with emotion. We have been wondering the entire novel, in fact, who actually abandoned whom. That sentence illustrates a pattern my students need to acquire, and its message mattersMeaningful content, and patterns in context, have a far better chance of actually being assimilated. When I introduce a structure by first analyzing it I need many, many examples to explain it all. When we analyze something we already know–something meaningful– the context explains the structure, instead of the other way around..


To close with more of the apple analogy, Karen Glass goes on:

Further, we might pursue our knowledge of apples in different directions- many possibilities arise if we find the apple interesting. What would happen if we cooked the apple? Or froze it? Or mixed it with some other food? No affection for apples is generated by the analyzed (broken down) apple, and in fact- the greatest tragedy of all- we might not even recognize a real apple when we encounter one, if we have eaten only analyzed apples all of our lives. The implications of this as an educational hazard are sobering.

Young children should love and know “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” long before they learn that “diamonds in the sky” is a simile. New students to Spanish should have heard whole sentences and cared about them before they begin to take them apart. Though I’m still working on my how, I think I am closer to my why.

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Why I’m Throwing Out my Spanish Textbook

Why I’m Throwing Out my Spanish Textbook

Inside: Teaching Spanish without a textbook.


I finally did it.

Last year, I half-used my textbook, wanting to get rid of it and yet not quite knowing what to do instead. It had been a year of feverish research, scrolling through blog posts late at night, reading opposing opinions and sometimes coming away more confused than ever.

I knew at a gut-level there was a better way. Perhaps it was that years of being homeschooled had impressed the word textbook into my mind as a dirty word. My mother mostly eschewed traditional textbooks for subjects like history and language arts. We were too busy reading real books– living books, as Charlotte Mason termed them. Drills, passages out of context, and multiple choice answers seemed like an oddity, as if one were being asked to study and label the parts of a bicycle instead of just getting on and riding it.

teaching spanish without a textbook

Like most of you, I started with a thick textbook when I first taught high school Spanish. My formal background is Elementary Education, and I’d dabbled in TPRS when tutoring and teaching Spanish in younger grades. So when it came to teaching high school, it was me, my gut, and the textbook. And the internet. Thank goodness for the internet!

Over the first few years, I saw that the textbook wasn’t best. I couldn’t have told you why at first, but I think I can finally explain what wasn’t working and why.

As you read, keep in mind that here I’m referring to traditional textbooks– there may very well be textbooks out there that work better than mine did. Also, I’m not in the “better a bad day of TPRS than a good day with the textbook” camp. To be honest, some of my lessons this year were embarrassingly bad. I’m not about to say that an amazing teacher working within the constraints of a textbook couldn’t possibly teach as well I can on a good or bad day. The point I’d like to consider is whether the textbook is the best tool for teaching language.

(Update: since writing this post, I’ve since created am entire page for all my posts on Textbook-Free Spanish Teaching.)


Teaching Spanish Without A Textbook: Why?


So, why am I throwing out my textbook? Basically, my textbook does not “get”

  • proficiency (where we are going and what can the student do), or
  • acquisition (how language is taken in, primarily through comprehensible input).

Once I began to understand proficiency and acquisition, it all began to make sense. Research was telling me that a proficiency-based, comprehensible-input-driven Spanish classroom is the path to acquisition. The textbook was just on much a different path, and in fact never used the terms proficiency, comprehensible input, or acquisition.

I’ve got some concrete reasons why I’m throwing out the textbook, but I’d like to unpack proficiency and acquisition first. I’m no expert, but I will cite some authors who are.


Teaching to Proficiency: Where are we going?


Most textbooks plan to give students an introduction to the language: to teach them about Spanish. Over the course of a few years, students are taught the entirety of Spanish grammar and a smattering of vocabulary themes. Their progress is marked by how many tenses they can use and the accuracy of their sentences, how many vocabulary lists the students have “memorized.”

As I understand it, in the proficiency-based classroom, expressing and understanding meaning is the ultimate goal. The point is not what material has been covered: I am an advanced Spanish student because I can conjugate verbs in the subjunctive. The question is what the students can do to express meaning. Beginners understand and produce simple messages; progress is shown as those messages grow in complexity.

The real goal is to actually “rise in proficiency” as Joshua Cabral at World Language Classroom says. Progression through proficiency mimics the process that children go through in learning their own native language. They begin with words, move to phrases, and eventually string together increasingly complex sentences to communicate meaning.

Proficiency is what a student can do in an unrehearsed context and therefore a true measure of one’s ability in a language. Once I became familiar with the ACTFL Standards and Can-Do Statements, I realized that my lessons– based on the textbook– were designed to help students memorize rules and terms to pass a test. Teaching to actual proficiency was going to require entirely new methods, and certainly new assessments.

This may seem like a lot of theory, but it has a huge impact on where we spend our time. Where we were are going directly affects all the little things we do in class, day in and day out. Will we spend precious hours drilling rules and marking exercises with a red pen? Will we spend time reading real books and having interesting discussions? Are we trying to ride the bike or become bike mechanics?


Acquisition: How do students “get” language?


Most textbooks are based on the explicit theory of language: that language can be broken into rules which are taught, memorized, and drilled.

Sara Elizabeth Cottrell at Musicuentos has a good breakdown of the approach textbooks take:


The problem with this focus on “forms” is that it assumes that language is acquired through learning about the language. Stephen Krashen and and Bill Van Patten have done extensive work researching the difference between learning and acquisition, and both argue that acquisition is achieved through massive amounts of comprehensible input. I still think accuracy has its place, but CI is ultimately how language gets into our heads.

It’s a lot of semantics– when I looked up learn in the dictionary, acquire was a term used to describe the word learn– but this distinction is important. Before, for example, I would have assumed that because a student could correctly conjugate verbs in the present tense, that they had “acquired” the present tense. And I would move onto the next grammar point. If a student couldn’t correctly conjugate verbs, I would have assumed they needed more conjugation exercises– not more compelling, comprehensible input.

Bill Van Patten explains this really well in this series:


So, those are the theoretical reasons. Getting down to the nitty-gritty, here are more immediate reasons why the textbook wasn’t working.


1. The Crazy Vocabulary Lists


I am not entirely ready to abandon vocabulary lists, but I am done, done, done with the ones my textbook created! They usually center on a specific theme, and are unbearably long. Students will make flash cards, take quizzes, see the words in boring worksheets, and then never see 75% of them ever again. But words learned in themes like this, out of context, individually, are actually really hard to get into the long-term memory.

I am increasingly convinced that if lists are to be given, they should be given in context, chunked (set in phrases) if possible, and short. They should also be needed words. My textbook started with greetings, which is a logical place to start. However, since this was the book’s opportunity to introduce greetings, every possible greeting was taught right then. My students authentically needed ¿Cómo te llamas? right away, but el placer es mío, el gusto es mío, igualmente, and encantado/a were overkill. For students two weeks into Spanish class, mucho gusto is plenty to get by on.

I don’t mean those terms should never be introduced. When we do speed dating activities, the students love variety and I build the terms in. But the textbook’s method of introducing every variant on a certain theme, at once, is overwhelming. At the end of the day, students still walk away with ¿Cómo te llamas? and not the other terms, even if all of them were “memorized” and quizzed.

As an aside, Charlotte Mason advocated fewer, but higher-quality picture books and poems for young children. You will hear now that parents should expose their children to many, many, books and poems. The thought is that the more vocabulary and stories children hear, the better and more diverse their own language will be. I’ve come to agree with Mason that fewer stories– but dearly loved, memorized, recited, stories– will actually produce richer language. Sometimes more is less.


2. Not ordered by High-Frequency


Vocabulary and grammar are introduced as complete, deep themes, to be thoroughly studied before moving on. In my textbook, students spend the first months learning greetings, classroom objects and subjects, ar verbs, numbers, days, etc. Now, I have some fun games to make this less painless. But try creating compelling content and interesting discussions with those topics! –AR verbs are presented first because the pattern is “easy,” not because they are actually higher frequency verbs. So my students were learning la física and descansar before tener and hay.

If I were required to use the textbook, I would still make sure to incorporate some storytelling from the get-go and introduce the “Super Seven” that Terry Waltz came up with:



3. Grammar as the Path to Language Acquisition


Most textbooks look at a language and break it down into pieces of grammar. In Spanish, the first year is generally focused on the present tense and all the parts that go with it: ser vs. estar, direct object pronouns, all regular, irregular, and stem-changing verbs.

Instead of introducing real content that includes these patterns, the language is introduced grammar concept by grammar concept and then drilled. When teaching ser vs. estar, for example, the students take notes on every. single. rule. that applies to ser vs. estar. Students who can barely express and understand meaning at a very basic (novice) level are expected to “master” this quite difficult concept because it falls under the present-tense Spanish-One category.

I haven’t, actually, hopped onto the “grammar is evil” boat. I think there’s a time for it. But I used to think that in learning the rules for accuracy, we were acquiring Spanish. I now see grammar as a tool for accuracy, specifically.


4. Too Little Comprehensible Input


Our textbooks were packed. They just weren’t packed with comprehensible input. Aside from some videos, cultural notes, and song lyrics or emails here and there, the bulk of the program was “practice.” My students need massive amounts of quality input– to be read, heard, watched– to understand and speak Spanish.

Most of the input they DID see in the textbook, unfortunately, was confusing  (= not comprehensible), and made them feel like Spanish was just “too hard.” I think this was because we began with explanations and lists, practiced the skills, and that led up to the content. Of course, because the vocabulary and grammar went really “deep,” it was hard to master both thoroughly enough to be comfortable with the related content.

Here’s another video from Musicuentos that explores grammar, input, and “skill” a but further:


5. Comprehensible Input That Isn’t Compelling


Of the little CI available in textbooks, most of it is sad, sad, sad. This is true of most textbooks anyway: content is soon outdated, boring, irrelevant, and low-quality as far as literature goes. Most of time, grammar (with vocab), was the point. Content was there as a way to practice the particular “skill.”

Now language, of course, is a means for communicating an actual message, a story, or an emotion. If the message or story is boring, the students will think that language is boring. If the students don’t feel invested in our discussion–i.e., they feel no emotion– then Spanish is tedious.

Reading real living books this year, Esperanza and Piratas del Caribe, showed me what can happen when input is absolutely compelling. All of a sudden we were debating whether romance or money was more important (in Spanish) and boy, did they pay attention to what the others were saying! In a thank-you note at the end of the year, one student wrote, “Now I know the priorities of the guys in our class, hah.” These moments were hard to come by with a textbook. Authentic resources and non-fiction have their places, but it’s pretty hard to find anything as compelling as a story. 

Again, here’s another video from Musicuentos to explain this better than I can:


Whew. This post was a long time in coming. The internet can be both an awesome resource and a path to self-condemnation for teachers. I know that many of you don’t have flexibility like I do, and have to follow a set curriculum. I know that many of you have zero time to plan, and go home to kids or other responsibilities. Throwing out your textbook just isn’t realistic right now. Hopefully my complaints against the textbook can just help you think through how to use yours and work with what you have.

Again, Musicuentos to the rescue with a Checklist on when to use textbook activities and advice on when you are Forced to Adapt a Textbook. Be sure to follow Joshua Cabral from World Language Classroom on Periscope– he has great scopes on teaching for Proficiency, regardless of what materials you use. Throw Away Your Textbook is another good resource.

What about you? Do you love your textbook? Are you already teaching Spanish without a textbook? Do you want to throw it out, but can’t? Are you totally starting from scratch like me? I’d love to hear your experience!

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What NOT To Do When Using Interactive Student Notebooks

What NOT To Do When Using Interactive Student Notebooks

Inside: Advice for teaching with interactive student notebooks.


My first year using interactive student notebooks, I jumped in on a whim. I liked the idea of student ownership: that the students would physically put together a record of their learning. They could put their personal style into this amazing portfolio of all we did.

Well, here’s Exhibit A of how that turned out, from an 8th-grade boy:

what NOT to do with interactive notebooks

It really was his personal style; it wasn’t what I’d been picturing.

Like most good things, interactive student notebooks can be great. But they require thought and planning to be done well. Now that I have a page devoted exclusively to lovely images of interactive notebooks for my Spanish I class, I’ll give you a look into The Year I Didn’t Plan Well. It’s kind’ve embarrassing, but it’s for a good cause: to help YOU!

Here’s my advice on what not to do with interactive student notebooks. (Update: don’t miss my posts on Getting Started with Spanish Interactive Notebooks, and 5 Myths About Interactive Notebooks!)


1. Don’t be unrealistic.


I started these the same year I had a baby at home, no planning period, no Spanish textbook, and too many preps. I taught 3 days a week then, so my planning period was me trying to type and grade on a Wednesday morning, while my kids played in the toilet or tried to sit on my head.

I’m glad I tried them out– even though they weren’t perfect, we enjoyed them. Just be aware that you will only attain all those beautiful Pinterest-y notebooks with careful planning. You may want to start with just one subject or level.


2. Don’t expect a printable or foldable on every page.


Despite my grand ideas, I quickly realized that interactive means:the student is connecting with the page in a meaningful way. Not: this paper flips up, and is therefore meaningful. It helps when work is beautiful and organized, but the main goal is meaningful and useful. Something just writing on the page is the most efficient and useful route.

Also, develop some “go-to” outlines for when you’re not using a printable/foldable, such as Cornell notes. Or have some graphic organizers you can project onto the board for students to copy.


3. Don’t think that printables/foldables have to be fancy. 



It can be something really simple like a strip of keywords and questions, glued in and then responded to. Efficient, sensible, and just enough structure.


4. Don’t use regular glue. Glue sticks are way better. 


Regular glue was a horrible mess! I really thought that middle schoolers / high schoolers might have a handle on the whole “a little dab’ll do ya'” refrain, but apparently not. It also takes a long time to dry, which is annoying if they need to go back and write something in.


5. Don’t number every. single. page. Just number the ones on the right. 


Overall, the students really liked our interactive notebooks. But The Day We Numbered All 200 Pages was a bad day. It’s quite hard to number them correctly without skipping one and only realizing it 20 pages later. It’s much easier to stay on one side of the page and refer to the right and left side (good practice for derecha and izquierda!). One title will often work for both sides anyway.

what NOT to do with interactive notebooks (1)

To buy my bilingual Table of Contents / Índice, click here!


5. Don’t forget about the table of contents. OR forget about it entirely.


As you can see in the picture below, my 8th grader wrote exactly one title: El cuento de Paco.

what NOT to do with interactive notebooks (2)

Some of my students wrote every title page religiously, and some didn’t. It was my fault because I wasn’t enforcing/remembering the whole table of contents thing. I also had somehow lost track in every class of what page things were supposed to be on. Usually one responsible student would ask for the title and page number, and I would shoot back, “Whatever’s the next page!” I’m not sure that it truly matters, but for more Type-A teachers it might.

OR, if you know you won’t keep up with a table of contents, just go chronologically.

The root cause was not establishing a routine for our notebooks, and not staying a step ahead in my “Master Teacher Versions.” (Hah, hah. Those poor notebooks got abandoned by October, I think.) Which brings me to my next point…


6. Do make a Master Teacher Notebook for each subject/level you are doing. 


I was so overwhelmed I didn’t do this, but it really would have helped me. You need to think very specifically what you want each page to look like, because it’s amazing how students can misinterpret an overgeneralized explanation of something you think is fairly obvious. My goal is not to make a notebook of cute and clever worksheets, or a student-made textbook of drills. I want it to be thoughtful, and creative solution for organizing and using what we learn. A well-done interactive notebook will make learning more efficient.

And that, my friends, takes some thinking ahead.



7. Don’t expect interactive student notebooks to make or break your teaching.


I love them. They make sense to me. But they’re just a tool, in the end.

And my 8th grader with the torn-up notebook above? By the end of an informal 6-8th grade Spanish elective, he and the others were reading Piratas del Caribe. He had some of the best comprehension out of the class, and could give amazingly thoughtful answers. I’ll take that over a beautiful notebook, any day.

Did I miss anything? What’s you best advice for interactive notebooks, or what not to do with interactive notebooks?

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What not to do with interactive notebooks

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