Keeping the Learning Momentum Going

It’s February and we’re in the middle of what I call the “long, cold learning months”; that time between Winter Break and Spring Break that is a challenge both for our students and for us! By this time of the year it means cold weather, short days, and sickness are weighing us down. Even though this time of the year is a challenge, I call them “learning months” because there isn’t much time during these months where there is a huge break. That means more time for teaching and learning! To stay motivated, I use something I call the “Cycle of Learning Momentum.”


The Momentum Cycle goes against what may usually feel like “Students vs. Teacher” and shows us what a healthy classroom environment is all about!

Think back on your best lesson EVER.

  • What made it great?
  • How were you feeling when you were teaching?
  • How were your students feeling? What was the energy like in your classroom?

If any (or all) of these questions brought a smile to your face, this is the lesson I want you thinking about!

Let’s connect this to our cycle:

  • Were your students engaged?
  • Because of their engagement, were they being successful with what you were teaching them?
  • As you watched them succeed and be excited about the material, how were YOU feeling? Did their success bring out the confidence in you?

I would venture to guess that a confident you and a tired you are two different teachers…was the confident you engaging students more effectively than usual?  You can see how success breeds success!

My next two blogs will dive into what confident teachers and student success look like, but let’s take a look back at what we already know about student engagement.  Click on any of the links below to read past blog posts on how to keep your class engaged.

Keep the ball rolling for these last few months and remember: both you AND your students are part of the Cycle of Learning Momentum!

Critical Reason #7: Language learning is a catalyst for success

There is a plethora of evidence that second language learning is a catalyst for success and benefits cognitive growth, personal interactions, academic success and gives a competitive, as well as monetary, edge to any career path.

Language educators also know that the earlier a second language program is started, the greater the reward. Young children can acquire near native levels of fluency with the right program and at the same time, stimulate the regions of the brain responsible for critical thinking.

Educators, parents and employers alike would agree that the ability to think critically is an essential key to academic, personal and professional success. Other countries around the world have long understood the great asset that multilingualism is and it is time for children and adults in the United States to be given this same gift.

In an ever more diverse society and global economy, language learning must be a priority, and we believe it is a true catalyst for future success.

Critical Reason #6: Language learning develops sensitivity to diversity

One of the greatest benefits of learning a second language, aside from enhancing communication skills, is the opportunity for cultural growth and knowledge. Language can not be separated from culture so when learning a new language we are exposed not just to new words, but to new traditions, beliefs and values.

This concept is even more prevalent within an immersion setting, as students are learning first hand from a native speaker; a vast cultural resource. As the teacher instructs the students she shares her heritage and her story. This relationship breeds respect, sensitivity to diversity, and tolerance that the student can take with them on their language journey.

Language educators will agree that another undeniable benefit shared by our students is the fact that learning other languages opens cultural doors.  Whereas, before our students began to learn Spanish, they were merely “tourists” or passive observers, watching from the outside during cultural festivals, vacations or even at local restaurants.

Now, having embraced a new language, our students can be participants and take an active role in cultural experiences. These experiences lead to friendships and memories that promote not only sensitivity to a diverse population but an overwhelming appreciation for cultural similarities and differences.

Critical Reason #5: Language learning produces better learners

Most people would say that learning a foreign language takes a lot of time and effort. One must embrace the unknown, find confidence while making mistakes, and in the case of Spanish learners, courageously attempt to pronounce the dreaded double “r” sound.

Starting second language study early in life is a great strategy for overcoming the discomfort and stress that language learning can create. (ACTFL)

Participating in classes that utilize immersion instruction gives language learners an even greater advantage to face these challenges. Our students must actively listen for clues, find seemingly hidden context within conversation, and identify the cultural nuances and body language of our native instructors, all without having any English instruction to fall back on.

These tasks require students to focus, to work hard, to unravel meaning and “connect the dots” in order to gain knowledge. The answers are not simple nor straightforward, so with each linguistic assumption or dot that is connected, our students achieve a confidence that can be transferred to any academic setting.

idea flow

Critical Reason #4: Language learning improves idea flow

A good friend of mine, who is employed by Ebay, shared a story of how he works with an international team tackling user experience issues. He mentioned that the most articulate person on his team is a man from Germany who speaks five languages. “By immersing himself in multiple languages, he has developed an outstanding ability to understand how to articulate different ideas in multiple ways.”

Different cultures use language in different ways. When you understand this as a multilingual person, you are able to articulate idea with greater description, increased perspectives and more defined precision. You have greater knowledge of how multiple languages, with their unique structure and vocabulary, can be applied to a given problem, description or conversation.

This linguistic ability gives people the upper hand at articulating thoughts because they can relate to increased audiences and greater diversity.

Plainly stated multilinguals can reach more people with their ideas.

Recent research indicates that bilingual speakers can outperform monolinguals–people who speak only one language–in certain mental abilities, such as editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information, said Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Penn State. These skills make bilinguals better at prioritizing tasks and working on multiple projects at one time. “We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking,” said Kroll, director of the Center for Language Science. “Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective taking.”  (Penn State 2011, February 21). Juggling languages can build better brains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2011

communication skills

Critical Reason #3: Language learning enhances communication skills in both languages

One of the areas of concern for educators and the business world is the development of a generation of students that will be able to innovate, communicate and collaborate across cultures.

One advantage for bilingual or multilingual students is that when immersed in a new language they are able to build meaning and search for patterns to better create new ideas in a new language.

People who are developing multilingual skills come to understand that there are multiple ways to communicate ideas, solve problems and share perspectives on the same situation. They are practicing everyday as they communicate in different languages, often without being conscious of it!

New ideas shared, problems solved and working well with others are skills essential for success and without highly developed communication skills, many doors will close. Learning another language builds confidence and communication skills in both, native and second language, and offers the key to doors once closed.

Critical Reason #2: Language learning creates better thinkers

Studies prove that being able to fill in the blanks between what is understood and what is not while learning language, promotes cognitive development and helps to create students that can think critically. (Center for Applied Linguistics)

Critical thinking is a skill that is essential for success at any educational level and continues to be crucial in the job market. According to, there is a direct correlation between participation in a rigorous second language program and success in college courses.

The cognitive skills used when deciphering a foreign language are the same critical thinking skills that are needed to solve math problems, propose scientific hypotheses, and undoubtedly, confront the global challenges that we face today.

Language learning promotes and enhances the critical thinking skills of 21st century education!

7 Critical Reasons Why Your Child Must Learn Another Language

In light of the recent legislation and academic focus shifting quite heavily towards Math and Science in the United States, we thought it imperative to discuss the critical reasons why a second language program of study must be a priority in this country.

Over the next two weeks, we will highlight seven critical reasons why the study of a second language benefits children.  Join us to examine the research and facts that overwhelmingly support our commitment to language learning.

The Seven Critical Reasons why your child must learn another language!

The experts agree that language learning…

  • Levels the playing field
  • Creates better thinkers
  • Enhances communication skills
  • Improves idea flow
  • Produces better learners
  • Develops sensitivity to diversity
  • Catalyst for success

Critical Reason #1: Language learning levels the playing field

Despite of what the legislation dictates these days, the reality is that we are falling behind our international counterparts. American monolingual students are going to be competing in a job market, with people from other countries that speak two, three or even five other languages.

On a global level we must feel the urgency of the situation and equip ourselves and our students with the language skills to maintain our competitiveness and leadership in the real world.   An article from Forbes magazine, quotes U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “To prosper economically and to improve relations with other countries, Americans need to read, speak and understand other languages.”

Furthermore, the article points out that only 18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English, while 53% of Europeans (and increasing numbers in other parts of the world) can converse in a second language”. (Forbes 2012).

Our children need an level playing field. Our children must learn another language!

Stay tuned for #2-7!

Two Simple Tricks for Immediate Sub Plans

Life happens!  Between vacations, family emergencies, being sick, and attending conferences, there are inevitably days when we need a substitute teacher. So how do we effectively communicate to a sub how our classroom works without spending hours writing out every detail?

Write out your routines NOW

You know today how the routines, consequences  and rewards in your classroom work. Write them out now! When the day comes that you need a sub, it will simply be a matter of making a copy or scanning a paper.

Know the basic structure of your lesson (well!)

In Sombrero Time lesson plans (do you need lesson plans? Check out the free trial on our website), we follow a structure that we deliver for the entire year. If you are not already using Sombrero Time lesson plans, check out the basic lesson components below to build your next lesson plans:

Opening Conversation

What are some “homerun” questions your students know how to answer or would benefit from reviewing?  Write them on popsicle sticks, a beach ball, or assign them numbers on a die.  Students will be able to drive conversation as your sub serves a guide, and this means no extra prep time for you!

Vocabulary Development

What new vocabulary are your students learning? The Sombrero Time curriculum comes with flashcards for each of our vocabulary words that you could easily put up in your classroom or carry with you in a cart.  Simply putting together the right set of flashcards means that the vocabulary component of your lesson is done. Nice!

If you’re not working with the Sombrero Time curriculum, find a method of vocabulary instruction that works best for you (maybe building a Power Point presentation or building your own flashcards).

Guided Practice/Independent Practice

Look back into your “bag of tricks” (check out our previous blog post, “Save the Day in the Classroom”) to find the activity that will be the best fit for your lesson. Done!

If you are already going to miss a day of teaching, there is no need to add to your stress. Breathe deeply, use the tools you have, and trust in your students!

Save the Day in the Classroom

You see all of the signs that your class is completely tuned out from your lesson.  After revisiting all of your management strategies, what do you do now? Every teacher should be prepared with at least one go-to activity that will save a lesson, no matter how far gone.  Read on to see some of my favorites!


Charadas: Charades is a classic way to practice vocabulary.

*Advanced levels: Make them create a full sentence with the word, or make them act out a full sentence.

Dibujo secreto: You have drawn a simple drawing with shapes.  Using a whiteboard or paper, your students listen to your directions on how to draw it and attempt to recreate the picture without seeing it.

*Advanced levels: Have them lead a drawing.

Simón dice: “Simon says” is great practice for verbs and body parts

*Advanced levels: Add multi-layer actions (i.e. “Touch your nose and jump on one foot.”)

Teléfono roto: The timeless game of “telephone” helps students practice pronunciation and repeat new vocabulary.

*Advanced levels: Have them create a sentence to share.

Literary and Phonics activities:

Read a book: Reading is naturally calming and exposes students to new vocabulary (reading aloud also provides practice for pronunciation)

Dictados: Dictations are great for spelling practice and creating stronger sound-to-symbol connections.

*Advanced levels: increase the length of the sentences you dictate to your students and have them dictate original sentences to the class.

Hangman: Aside from phonics, this game helps students remember the names of their letters! Create a word or sentence for the objective of your lesson.

Entrevista pública: One student leaves the room and you have a predetermined set of questions with two choices.  The rest of the class, as the student is outside, write their guesses as to how the student will answer the questions when they return.

*Advanced levels: Have them create the questions.

Remember: Even games should always drive the objective of your lesson! If you are practicing numbers, your game should revolve around numbers. If you are practicing colors, make those the focus of your game.  These are only strategies to change the pace! Not to derail your lesson.

Bring it on, rainy days; we’re ready!