Find Your Blob: A Fun Brain Break for Spanish Class

Find Your Blob: A Fun Brain Break for Spanish Class

Inside: A fun brain break in Spanish for the language classroom.

I’m working hard this year to make sure I break up our classes with some sort of movement. I came up with Find Your Blob for something that’s quick and ties into the lesson. The students are speaking the TL, but because it’s related to their opinions and preferences, they get into it. (It’s also LOW-PRESSURE. I don’t consider it a brain break if an activity creates anxiety for the participants!)

How to Do “Find Your Blob”

The idea is simple: Come up with a question related to the content you’re working on. ¿Qué te gusta hacer?, for example.

Then, list or brainstorm 4-6 answers (depends on your class size). Me gusta: correr, dormir, leer, viajar, etc. The students silently pick their answer. 

When I say so, everyone stands up and walks around asking the question. If the answers match, those students stick together. Then those two look for more people. Everyone with the same answer has to be in the same blob (or group of people), until the whole room is sorted into four blobs.

That’s it! I like to erase the two most popular answers, and replace them, so everyone has to mix it up again. Most everyone in Spanish 1 this morning, for example, chose cansado in response to ¿Cómo estás? So we erased that, and added in more creative options. Once they get the hang of it, you can add in things like ¡Yo también! or ¡A mí también! 

If the groups are interesting (perhaps one person is alone, or one group is huge), it can make for some fun conversation and helps you get to know your students. I ask what the groups represent, which could bring in ¿Qué les gusta hacer?, and then Nos gusta… I’ve really liked this because the language is organic and memorable. Sometimes we do two or three rounds of responses, and then sit down, ready to work again.

You can do this with anything– any tense, any topic. Some more ideas:

If you could be any _________, what would you be?
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
What would you like to do this weekend?
What’s your favorite _______?
You’re going on vacation. Where are you going?
Which book would you like to live in?
If you had to wear one outfit the rest of your life, what would it be?

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Find You Blob, a Fun Speaking Activity for the World Language Classroom

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The Best Way to Learn Spanish With a Native Speaker: 7 Tips

The Best Way to Learn Spanish With a Native Speaker: 7 Tips

Inside: Tips for learning Spanish with a native speaker.

 

I’ve had several questions lately about children trying to practice Spanish with a native speaker (usually a family member). Families realize they have a great asset in the native speaker, but aren’t sure where to start. I often write about raising bilingual kids, but today I’d like to focus on families who are trying to teach an additional language, one the parents might not be fluent in.

Families often have multilingual relatives or friends, and would like to take advantage of that, but… it’s harder than it looks. For the rest of the post, I’m going to use a hypothetical situation as our example. Let’s say there is a family whose grandmother speaks Spanish and English. Her daughter speaks a little Spanish, and the grandchildren speak little to none. The grandmother would like to speak Spanish with the grandchildren and help teach them.

So, one day Grandma calls up on Skype. And… she suddenly realizes she doesn’t know where to begin. Should she just immerse her grandchildren in Spanish, and trust they’ll pick it up? How can she maintain the relationship and teach them something? How can she make sure the kids don’t get frustrated and give up on communicating?

Here are 7 Tips to help you navigate the situation!

 

1. Go for Comprehensible Input, Not Immersion as Input.

 

Immersion–just speaking the language without limiting speech– is great if you have massive amounts of time. If you can go spend every summer at Grandma’s, by all means go for immersion. In the situations we’re discussing though, you will have to be more intentional and use the time you have wisely. You will need to limit new vocabulary and focus on recycling, recycling, recycling the words they know.

Comprehensible Input (CI) is just that… input that is understandable. It’s language that’s comprehensible because of pictures, gestures, or because all the words are known. CI is actually the way people acquire language itself, so don’t worry about teaching grammar or having Grandma correct the kids. They need to receive rich, interesting, chunked language from her. Although some isolated vocabulary is okay (numbers, colors, food etc), phrases are even better (How are you?, My favorite food is pizza., etc.) Remind the native speaker as well to speak slowly and clearly.

 

2. Begin with Interesting, High-Frequency Phrases and Topics.

 

Start by learning and practicing phrases that are natural and interesting to your kids. Perhaps Grandma can begin the call every week by asking things like, What did you do this week? What was the best part? What was the worst part? If the children are beginners, they can begin with just isolated words: park, party, test. At a much more complex level in the language, it might later be, I played at the park with friends, I went to a party, and I had a test at school.

In fact, if you know she asks that every time, the kids can think about their week, look up the words they need and learn them before the conversation. They will also be more motivated talking about that than random words. Make sure grandma models how to say hello, good-bye, and questions like, Can you repeat that? or How do you say….?, in case they get stuck.

 

3. Use Visuals as Needed.

 

If your children are absolute beginners, they are going to run out of things to say really fast. Grandma is also going to be very limited! It may help to have something to look at together. Perhaps the kids can draw their weeks, and do their best to describe it. Because there’s a picture, Grandma can ask questions and help them find the words they need. She could also use a picture or an object and tell them about it.

Reading books over Skype could work, as long as they are appropriately simple. Repetitive books like Brown bear, brown bear work well, or perhaps something they know in English.

 

4. Use Questions.

 

It’s really best if most of the talking is done by the native speaker. After all, what your children primarily need is input. But you don’t want it to be a monologue, and Grandma needs to know if she’s being understood or not. Questions should be frequent, to check in with the kids and make sure they’re tracking. With beginners, low-pressure yes/no, and either/or questions might be all they can handle: Did you like the park? Was the test good or bad? Did the caterpillar eat an apple or an orange?

Language teachers also use circling to ask questions. If Grandma is reading a book Se Vende Gorras, she might ask, Did the monkeys steal his hat? Did lions steal his hat? Did monkeys steal his glasses? It may be helpful to learn interrogative words like who, what, and how, to ask and answer questions.

 

5. Learn Poems or Songs in the Native Language.

 

The advantage of learning poems or songs is that you can practice them between visits, perhaps online or on a CD. Make up little motions to accompany the poem or song and make it more comprehensible too. You might even ask Grandma if she’ll record some songs, poems, or read-alouds to use at home.

 

6. Play Games.

 

It can be exhausting to practice a new language, both for the learner and the native speaker. Take some of the pressure off by having some games you can pull out during the visit or call. Try some of these:

  • Bingo. Send Grandma the word cards, or a list of them, and have the kids play against each other while she calls out the terms.
  • Guess Who. Mail Grandma one board, and keep copies at home too. This is great for practicing yes/no questions!
  • Slap-it. Put cut out copies vocabulary cards on a table, and make sure Grandma has a matching set of terms. Grandma calls out the words and the kids compete to slap the card first.
  • 20 Questions. The kids can take turns thinking of something. Grandma asks yes/no questions trying to guess what it is.

 

7. Be Sensitive to Everyone’s Needs

 

Like I said, language learning can be daunting. Start slow, and keep sessions short at the beginning. You don’t want Grandma to feel like she’s losing out relationally with her grandchildren, and to get burned out on teaching. You also don’t want your kids to get overwhelmed and shut down, either! You will want to have a regular schedule, both to stay consistent and have a boundary: we talk in Spanish to Grandma on Tuesday, and on regular phone calls we speak English.

Keep it fun and upbeat! You are giving an incredible gift to your kids. Make sure they feel the joy as well.

 

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7 Tips for Learning a New Language with a Native Speaker

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Conversation Jenga for Language Classes

Conversation Jenga for Language Classes

Inside: Conversation Jenga for the language class.

When I put my students in a speaking situation, I like to make it low-pressure and fun. We’ve really enjoyed conversation Jenga lately– which is obviously better than a worksheet with questions to ask each other. In a sense, conversation Jenga is an authentic speaking situation because it’s a an actual game people would set up at parties as a get-to-know-you sort of thing.

 

Conversation jenga for Spanish class

 

I’ve learned to be more realistic about speaking activities, over the years. Language is acquired through input, and speaking activities aren’t the most effective way to get language in. Still, there’s a place to become comfortable speaking the target language. The key is to pick appropriate questions with the students’ proficiency levels in mind. For novice-mid levels, you will still want questions with yes-no or one-word answers. It’s also helpful to choose questions that genuinely interest the students.

To make this more versatile, simply number the blocks. Then, you can create an endless supply of questions or tasks that correspond to the numbers. This makes a fun class reward, station, or an activity for fast finishers.

For more fun activities, check out my Spanish classroom games page

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