Summer Checkpoint For Teachers

June has come and gone in a flash! We’ve unplugged from the school year and have been looking at fun ways that our students can continue practicing their Spanish this summer.

What about the person that’s at the front of the room?

Now that we are at about the halfway point of our summer, I want to flashback to some of my past blog posts that focus on rejuvenation, reflection, and motivation.


The #1 goal of a teacher over the summer should be to rest and rejuvenate! Click on any of my previous blog posts below to gain some insight:

The Perfect 4 Ingredient Recipe For Rejuvenation
How To Truly Bring It Home For The Holidays
A Gift For Yourself – Boundaries!


Once we have cleared our mental space, gained clarity, and are generally feeling like ourselves again, we know we are ready to reflect:

Create Mental Space
Reflection…It Should Be Called “ReflACTION!”
Four Questions To The Best Teaching Year Ever


It’s always comforting to know that you’re not alone! The blog posts below were contributed to by your fellow Spanish teachers (and students):

Teachers Helping Teachers With Words Of Wisdom
Can Anybody Say “America’s Funniest Videos”??
Students Give Teachers Some Words Of Wisdom...

I hope you’ve all had a restful June! Whenever you’re ready to take a peek ahead at your next school year, check out “Ruth’s Blog” at Spanish Curriculum for more teaching tips and tricks. ¡Nos vemos!

Top 5 Places For Student Summer Practice

You and your students have all bid farewell, settled into summer, and are taking a well deserved break. In the back of our minds, however, we know that our students’ Spanish will lose its spark if they stop practicing completely!

Even if you have sent them off with great resources to practice with, language is interactive. We need another person to speak to! Are your students really going to stare into a computer screen and get the same quality practice as they would by conversing with another person?

Take a look at my top 5 places for your students to practice their Spanish this summer:


There’s no excuse to NOT practice here! Even if there are no other Spanish-speakers in their home, the student can be the teacher! Teaching their family a few simple phrases will both increase retention for them and give them other people to practice with.

Restaurant or Café

If there are other neighbors or friends that are also practicing their Spanish, get together for some lunch! Try to stay in the target language and help each other practice.

Skype, Facetime or Google Hangout

The world we live in today knows no limits! Getting together with a group of friends or with a native speaker via webcam is a great compromise to the real thing. Unlike a conversation over the phone, a webcam still provides the visual cues of hand gestures, facial reactions, and eye contact.

Local Restaurant or Market

There is a strong Latino presence in the United States! If you have the option, find a local Latino restaurant or market and take a shot at practicing your Spanish! Most students get intimidated when approaching a real-world situation, but know that just making the effort goes a long way.


Traveling will always be my #1 choice. There is nothing that opens a student’s mind like traveling the world and exposing themselves to new cultures and experiences. Traveling also provides the opportunity for complete language immersion!

Remember that language practice will never be limited to where you are! Encourage students to find ways that work best for them and to have fun!

Bite Into This!: Delicious Latin Foods

We’ve been having a fun summer practicing our Spanish! From learning new vocabulary (see “Fun Summer Vocabulary for Practice at Home”) to learning new songs, it’s been great to share new ways to stay engaged in Spanish.

Today, I want to share one of the more delicious ways to incorporate language and cultural education into your practice at home this summer. Any one of us knows where the best place in town is to eat a taco or a burrito, but I want us to explore a few new fruits, drinks and dishes from Latin America. Use this as a fun way to practice your Spanish and try some new foods in the process!



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Maracuya originates from South America but is now found throughout Latin America. Also known as “passion fruit,” try it in a flan!


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Although membrillo looks very similar to a pear or an apple, you must cook it to eat it because of its strong flavor. The Quince fruit (as we know it in English) is delicious in a cheese! Quince cheese, or dulce de membrillo, makes a perfect dessert.


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Guanabana is native to Mexico and is known as Soursop in English. It is now gaining recognition for its cancer-fighting properties and makes a refreshing drink!

Plates and Bites

Gallo Pinto

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Gallo Pinto will always be on my list! As a “Tica” at heart, this famous rice and black bean dish from Costa Rica is delicious and easy to make. ¡Pura vida!

Papas Rellenas

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Papas rellenas are balls of mashed potatoes stuffed with seasoned beef and then fried. These Cuban bites are addictive!


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You can’t talk about potatoes without mentioning causas peruanas! Causas are potato cakes that are topped with salsa de ají and your topping of choice. Traditional toppings include shrimp, chicken, egg, and octopus.


Chicha Morada

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To the surprise of many, chicha morada gets its deep purple color from a type of corn that is found in Peru. Despite the fact that the main ingredient is corn, chicha is sweet and much like lemonade on a hot day!


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Mate is a strongly caffeinated tea that is a staple in South American life. It’s traditionally enjoyed from a gourd and a bombilla (the “straw” that you see in the picture above), but has been growing lately in popularity as a sweetened iced tea.


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Puerto Rican coquito is usually enjoyed around Christmas with rum, but feel free to omit it if you want to try it as a family! Coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and spices all come together to make this delectable treat.

These are only a FEW foods that could broaden the horizons of your palate this summer! Another way to bring the family in on the fun is to do a bit of research together yourselves and tackle a new recipe (for a bigger challenge, look for recipes in Spanish). ¡Buen provecho!

The Most Powerful Tool to Unlock Language

We know that there isn’t a “fast track” or a “silver bullet” to learn language. The process of speaking another language takes time, effort, and plenty of practice! For those of us who started a bit later in our lives, we know that it felt like WORK. Learning was challenging, at times frustrating, and it was important to celebrate even our smallest victories!

Even though younger students have an advantage when it comes to acquiring language, all is not lost. One of my favorite (if not my favorite) tool for learning language is also the most fun:


We’ve visited the topic of music in my earlier blog post, “The Best Way to Celebrate in Your Classroom.” In that list, I include songs with cultural value that could be used in a classroom celebration.

Today, I want to share songs that we use in our curriculum because of the way they boost language production. Even for adults and older students, opening up our minds and singing along to a kid’s song is valuable language practice! Click on the song titles below for an audio version of the song.

Los elefantes (This version is by El Reino Infantil)

This song helps practice numbers and has a clear cognate (“elefante”) that students can connect to. The verses also repeat many of the same phrases! If students can’t get the verse the first time, they’ll have a chance to by the fourth or fifth repetition. Here are the first two verses:

“Un elefante se balanceaba sobre la tela de una araña.
Como veía que resistía, fueron a llamar a otro elefante.

Dos elefantes se balanceaban sobre la tela de una araña.
Como veían que resistía, fueron a llamar a otro elefante.

Vengan a Ver Mi Granja (This version is by Jorge Anaya)

This song not only helps build Spanish vocabulary of animals, but also shows how some animal sounds are different in Spanish. Again, there is a chorus that repeats throughout the entire song. Repetition, repetition, repetition! Here is the first verse and the chorus:

“Vengan a ver mi granja que es hermosa,
Vengan a ver mi granja que es hermosa.

El pato hace así: cua cua
El pato hace así: cua cua

O vengan amigos, vengan amigos, vengan amigos, vengan.
O vengan amigos, vengan amigos, vengan amigos, vengan.”

Juanito Cuando Baila (This version was provided by Sara Seth)

This song practices vocabulary of body parts, repeats, and also practices pronunciation of individual syllable sounds. Here are the first two verses:

“Juanito cuando baila,
Baila, baila, baila.
Juanito cuando baila,
Baila con el dedito.
Con el dedito, ito, ito.
Así baila Juanito.

Juanito cuando baila,
Baila, baila, baila.
Juanito cuando baila,
Baila con el pie.
Con el pie, pie, pie.
Con el dedito, ito, ito.
Así baila Juanito.”

Whether you start using these songs today or wait until the Fall, sing them out loud! You’ll see and hear your language improving!

Spanish Curriculum and Sombrero Time are not affiliated with the YouTube channels at the links provided in this article.

Fun Summer Vocabulary for Practice at Home

I always love to hear parents ask what they can be doing at home to practice Spanish with their student! Often times, the parents in our program don’t speak Spanish but still recognize the value of practicing at home.

In this life of free Apps, YouTube videos, and Podcasts, the entire world is at our fingertips. For me, however, there is nothing that can replace good, old-fashioned, human interaction.  Parents: have you tried learning and practicing Spanish with your child? Think of this as a fun new experience you can share with your kids! Not only will you be helping them practice their Spanish, but you can pick up some language yourself!

Below are a few fun vocabulary words that you can use this summer vacation. First, there are a couple of letters that I want to highlight. Click on the individual letters below for a guide to pronunciation:

  • All vowels: A, E, I, O, U

  • Letters D and T

  • Letter combination LL

  • Letter H

Using what you’ve just learned and practiced, apply Spanish pronunciation to the words below:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.14 PM= el sol      Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.17 PM= la playa

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.21 PM= nadar       Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.24 PM= la paleta

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.26 PM = las gafas del sol        Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.29 PM= ¡Hace calor!

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.32 PM= la toalla      Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 4.55.35 PM = la piscina

How’d you do? If your students already have some Spanish, try to use your new summer words in sentences! If not, try to use the word in Spanish when you spot something as you’re out and about.

For some more vocabulary fun, we also offer free vocabulary lessons at Sombrero Time’s YouTube channel using our curriculum and flashcards.  Click HERE for a free video vocabulary lesson on our “play” unit.

Challenge yourselves to recreate an immersive experience in your practice at home (even if it’s only for 5 minutes)!  For more ways to practice, see my last blog post “4 Things Students Of Any Age Can Be Doing This Summer.”

4 Things Students of Any Age Can be Doing this Summer

’s time to put the books and planners away, have some fun in the sun, and enjoy the break! Before you send your students off, remember all of the hard work we put in this year! As much as we would all love to put something aside for three months and come back to it as fresh as ever, things don’t usually work out that way.  Below are four of my favorite activities to keep students of any age brushing up on their Spanish over the summer:


Anything from a children’s book to Cien años de soledad, reading will always be one of my favorite ways to practice language. Materials that are intended for younger ages are usually a more fun way to practice this skill!  For your higher level students, remember that fairy tales are often set in the past (“Once upon a time…/Había una vez…”) and are a creative way to continue practicing more challenging past tenses!

2. Start journaling in Spanish

Even if it’s only once a week, digging into some writing in a non-academic way will give students a personal outlet to connect with the language.  It will be more effective if they do their best to not use a dictionary or a translating tool! They should challenge themselves to USE WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY WHAT THEY CAN.  Getting students to use the language is a bigger victory than having them produce a perfectly composed paragraph!

3. Find a song that they like in Spanish and have them learn it

Especially for students who play an instrument like guitar or piano, finding a song in Spanish that they like is a fun way to keep themselves engaged in the target language.  Even if they don’t like to flaunt their singing voice, singing along can build vocabulary, improve pronunciation, introduce authentic cultural “dichos”, and expose them to new genres of music! See my previous blog post, “The Best Way to Celebrate in Your Classroom” for some song ideas!

4. Watch one of their favorite movies in Spanish

Since they already know the plot and the characters, they won’t get lost in the language! Turning on the Spanish subtitles as the movie plays in Spanish will also give them a visual of the new vocabulary.  Animated movies are great to use because they can reach students of all ages and often have songs in them too!

Congratulations on a great school year and remember to have some fun this summer, too! Check out my “50 Things To Do This Summer Vacation”!

50 Things To Do This Summer Vacation

Summer is finally here! After another school year full of challenges, victories, and discovery, what is a teacher to do for the next few months? Take a peek at the list below for what I call my “summer bucket list”:

1) Read a book or join a book club
2) Attend an educational conference (see Great Professional Development Opportunities)
3) Go for a walk
4) Laugh!
5) Walk along a beach
6) Take a nap
7) Get a massage
8) Take a yoga class
9) Meditate
10) Sleep in
11) Try a new restaurant
12) Try a new sport
13) Take a day trip
14) Go for a hike
15) Spend time with an old friend
16) Practice a new language
17) Watch a classic movie
18) Try a new recipe
19) Sing karaoke
20) Go for a swim
21) Splurge on something for yourself
22) Dance!
23) Go for a jog
24) Make a vision board
25) Journal
26) Go camping
27) Watch the sunrise
28) Create a time capsule
29) Scrapbook
30) Scavenger hunt or go geocaching
31) Play a board game (or create one!)
32) Learn to play an instrument
33) Have a yard sale (or go to one)
34) Have a picnic
35) Go to a pool party
36) Play frisbee
37) Go bowling
38) Make ice cream
39) See live music
40) Visit a museum
41) Go to the library
42) Go for a bike ride
43) Paint
44) Go to a farmer’s market
45) Volunteer
46) Stargaze
47) Create a Pinterest board for Fall school year ideas
48) Redecorate a room in the house
49) Do a Random Act of Kindness
50) Have FUN!

Take any or all of these suggestions and recharge this summer! Hats off to you for another great school year!

How to Turn a Piñata into a Language Lesson

Piñatas are fun! Most students already know what they are and (most importantly to them) what they have inside.

But how many times has a piñata turned into a huge headache?

The tears when not everyone gets a turn, the injustice when Max gets more candy than Alex, the cries when someone accidentally gets hit or stepped on, the teacher having to constantly remind students “remember to ______!”  How can using a piñata actually be a learning experience for your class?

Your piñata activity with your class starts a week before you actually hit the piñata.

Think about it: the moment you have a piñata full of candy already dangling in front of your class, you’re going to be in for a challenge! They get excited! The best thing you can do for yourself and for your class is to be proactive. In the week leading up to the piñata…

Teach them thematic vocabulary

  • For introductory levels, useful vocabulary could be “dulces,” “¡dale!,” “¡pégala!”, “siéntate,” y “espérate.”
  • More advanced levels could give directions to their blindfolded friend: “¡A la derecha/izquierda! ¡Para arriba! ¡Para abajo!”
  • Walk them through what you want them doing BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER hitting the piñata
  • Before: Where do you want them hitting it? Outside under a tree? Will they be sitting in a circle around the tree? Or in a single file line? Will you have them hitting in the order they are in line? Or pulling names from a hat? Will every student be hitting or only a few?
  • During: Will the hitters be blindfolded or not?  What are other students doing as one is hitting? Will they hit it a set number of times? Or will they hit under a time limit? WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE PIÑATA BREAKS? Do all students rush to the candy or do they sit and wait? What will they be putting the candy in?
  • After: After students have collected their candy, where do they go? Do they sit back down? Will you have a cue to regroup them? Will you go back to the classroom? Do they get to start eating it as soon as they get it?

Bring in the empty piñata a bit earlier in the week to incite the excitement! Use the introduction of the piñata to motivate them to walk through procedure with you in Spanish.  They will want to learn where they will be standing, how you will take turns in hitting it, and (especially) what you will do with your candy.  For younger students, it could even help to walk through and practice without the piñata the day before.

With a little extra time, you can keep order in your classroom, create an opportunity for some exciting language learning, and add in some FUN!

To add some tradition, use the piñata song!

“Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino,
Porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino.
Ya le diste uno, ya le diste dos,
Ya le diste tres y ¡tu tiempo se acabó!”

The 5 Ways You Should Be Talking to Your Students Every Day

When your students perform a task in class, do they know how they’re doing? If you were to ask them, would they know what they did well and where they could use improvement? For many of us, giving our students feedback is a challenge both because we believe it’s time consuming (“it takes a long time to grade papers!”) and because we want to encourage them with positivity (“Great work!”).  Our inhibitions about giving feedback could actually be holding our students back!  There are 5 factors to giving feedback that we should checking in with every day:


Sometimes, we need an explicit reminder to do this.  We may assume that students know how they’re doing, but have you ever stopped to ask them? Sometimes I take a moment to ask my students about how they performed on a task and they are either too hard on themselves or (at times) far too confident. Even in a task as small as answering a question, let them know how they did!

Be specific

“Good job!” is one of the most ambiguous (yet popular) phrases that we use in our classroom.  “Good job” at what? Sitting? Raising my hand? Speaking at all?  All it takes is a minor adjustment to specify what you’re talking about: “Good job sitting so quietly!” or “Good job finding the square root of 774,893,207!”

Make it immediate

The sooner you provide feedback, the more effective it is!  It does your students no good when they take a test and have to wait a week to get it back. Whether you give them verbal feedback, write them a sticky note, or hand them an elaborate rubric, try to give your students even the slightest clue of how they’re doing immediately. Peer editing and correcting tests in class is a great strategy for this!

Be honest

Think of how you would give friend advice.  Would you really tell them that their neon green dress with shoulder pads looks great on them? Probably not.  There’s no reason you should be doing that to your students! If they bombed a presentation, be honest and tell them why.  They can only correct what they did wrong if they KNOW what they did wrong in the first place.  If you constantly tell them “good job!”  they’ll either believe you and won’t improve, or they’ll know you’re lying and they’ll stop believing you at all!

Keep track of it

Rubrics are great tools for helping us keep track of the changes we want our students to make.  If we told them to improve their verb conjugations in the present tense, we should be able to see how they’re meeting that goal over time.  Having students self-reflect and keep track of these goals as well is a powerful way to motivate them and have them hold themselves accountable for their own learning.  They’ll learn to set goals and reach them.

Remember: Say SOMETHING, be specific, make it immediate, be honest and keep track of it!

What You Need to Know Before You Put on a Sombrero

I absolutely love latin culture! The food, the music, the language, the people; everything about it brings me so much joy.  I’ve had many people tell me that I was meant to be born as a latina!  So how exactly did Spanish come into my life in the first place?

I spent years in a high school classroom, looking at a textbook and translating.  When the time came that I had to apply my Spanish to a real world situation, I had no functional language available to me!  It was only until I lived abroad in Costa Rica that I learned and spoke more Spanish than I had EVER done in any of the years I had spent in a classroom.  As my own children grew, I wanted them to have the same impactful language learning experience and it was only when I realized that there wasn’t one available to me when “Sombrero Time” was born.

For me, my sombrero and the latin culture and language that it represents holds a special place in my heart.  I love what I do! In light of the popularity of Cinco de Mayo, it is important to me that we chat a bit about cultural celebrations.

Cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation

For some academic insight on how to respectfully partake in the celebrations and symbols of another culture, I spoke with Professor Lilia Rosas of the St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

Cultural Appropriation versus Cultural Appreciation

She defines cultural appropriation as “the adoption of cultural beliefs, customs, and celebrations while erasing the people and history where these ideas, practices, and other cultural manifestations stem from and silencing the importance of the values expressed.” In other words, using symbols or partaking in celebrations and completely ignoring the cultural origins. She contrasts that with cultural appreciation, which “celebrates another people’s culture with an attention to the respecting the origin, history, and people whose beliefs, customs, and celebrations are being honored, remembered, and/or practiced.”

So…what do we do?

Respect is priority number one.

“Folks should remember they are there to honor, celebrate, participate in a cultural manifestation that is meaningful, perhaps, even sacred, to another community… [You] should partake with intention, patience, and respect.”

That means not this…:

Ignoring a historical lesson and putting on a fake mustache and sombrero for the day.

…but that:

Instructing our students on the historical origins of a cultural holiday and finding authentic ways to celebrate through community events or by speaking with someone of the culture.

Remember that we are creating global citizens! If you think that what we are doing at Spanish Curriculum would be a good fit for your classroom, check out a free trial with us.

¡Felices fiestas!