The Rhythm of Instruction: Are you holding pace?

Have you ever noticed that video games always have a running clock? Why? Fast is rewarded. Time keeps us engaged.

Remember the old game of Operation… with the clunky timer ticking away as you were trying to keep your hand steady and pull out the small plastic pieces without touching the sides. Why do we subject ourselves to the stress of timing?

Well… because we thrive on it! And so will your students!

Think about how long each activity will take. As you look over your lesson plans, visualize how you want to move them from one step to the next. Can you interject whole class repetition so that they continue to be practicing their vocabulary and pronunciation? Add a crisp clap-clap that they repeat to indicate that you are moving to the next step?

Timing and pacing are key ingredients to concocting the fun factor in your classroom. Build it into your instruction by playing with the timing of your delivery. Know there are times to be quiet and let your students think, other times to keep them on their toes and call on them spontaneously, and other times to compete with a ticking clock. Ask yourself: How are you varying the timing of your instruction to keep students engaged and having fun? Ask yourself: What part of my lesson can I change up to create more fun today? So, think carefully about the pacing of your delivery.

Also, think about the timing of your students. Could I time them on conjugating tener into the present tense? Do I have a timer handy to track 3 minutes when I give them time to write out their grammar sentences? Do I speed up, slow down my own speech to surprise my students? You create the environment, so be thoughtful. Plan well. You can drive your student participation by thinking critically about how you are using timing and pacing in your instruction.

Remember, students frequent gaming and are accustomed to the ticking clock. Don’t miss what game makers have been using successfully for decades — the sense of urgency and timing to engage us. We can take note and incorporate this strategy to ensure that we are creating the FUN factor to highly engaging our students in learning Spanish!

So get that clock ticking!

The Three Keys to FUN in the Classroom

Learning a language should be fun for you and your students. Want to see how?

Are you tired of hearing students ask “Can we play a game in class today?” Do your students roll their eyes when you want to practice verb conjugation? Do you feel like you are barely holding onto their attention unless you pull out a game of bingo?

If your answer is YES to any of these questions. You are not alone. I am here to tell you that by adding three key ingredients to any and every activity, you can boost the fun factor in your classroom. We all know that when the fun factor is up, students enjoy learning.  When students are having fun, they are not even aware of how much Spanish they are mobilizing.  Developing functional language in our students is the goal. Having functional language to use is super fun. So having fun and teaching students how to speak Spanish effectively should marry themselves fantastically!

Let’s see how:

1. Keep everyone involved.

Design and deliver your activities and instruction in a way that everyone is participating.

2. Reward.

Acknowledge effort, performance and achievement. There are so many ways to encourage full participation and best effort from your students. Be creative here!

3. Keep up the pace.

Monitor your time so that you are making the most of it and students have a sense of urgency and competition.

This way everyone enjoys speaking and learning Spanish!

So do not be content if you feel like fun only comes when you put in a movie or pull out bingo or worse yet, start speaking more English than Spanish? You do not need to choose between fun and functional language!

What is functional language? Functional language is developing the student’s’ ability to speak, understand and communicate their ideas, questions and requests in real world context. In other words, students that develop functional language can function in Spanish outside of the classroom. Now that is motivating for students and teachers!

So go get it and create the FUN you and your students want to have in class!  Stay tuned to more ideas and details around how to do this in the next two blogs.

Get Your Students Moving

“Brazos, manos, dedos…brazos, manos, dedos…”.  My class always began with reviewing the body parts in Spanish.  Useful vocabulary, check!  Proper pronunciation practice, check!  Repetition, check!  Critical to teaching young children Spanish, getting students up and moving, CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!

Average Attention Span = Age of child +1

With this in mind, the best laid lesson plans can be lost within 7-15 minutes of implementation for most of our students!  Younger learners will tune out even the most entertaining teacher if they are required to sit still and focus past that 7-8 minute mark.

Think about real life language.  Children are emotive, children gesture, children are interactive and children are constantly MOVING!  Emulate real life and get your students moving at regular intervals.  Keep classroom activities varied, concise and interactive and young learners will stay engaged and attentive through the lesson.

Have a lull between activities? “¡LEVÁNTENSE, CLASE!” and quickly review the gestures and movements from class vocabulary.  Play a speedy game of “Simón Dice”, practice numbers by counting jumping jacks in Spanish, organize a simple game of “Cuatro Esquinas”, build sentences on the board with a class relay, or have the whole class act out this week’s story as you eloquently model it!  Are your students getting squirrelly?  Do you notice a distinct hollow glaze in their eyes?  Is English permeating your lesson?  Create a grab bag of easy to implement review games that Get Your Student MOVING!

Kinesthetic learning gets the blood flowing, awakens the brain, and most importantly, is FUN!  Shifting gears for a minute or two to move around and interact with each other in Spanish will refocus your class and revitalize any lesson.

We want our students to look forward to Spanish class! We want our students to go home excited about Spanish!  We want our students to become lifelong learners of Spanish!  So, we must GET THEM MOVING!

Develop Vocabulary in Context

I will never forget being a student teacher and observing a Spanish 2 class taught at the local high school.

The classroom was filled with well behaved, but minimally engaged teenagers.  They were sitting in rows, diligently completing a worksheet about the verb “ser”. As I wound my way up and down the aisles, I reviewed their sentences. “Yo soy rosado.” read one sentence. “I am pink,” Really? I thought to myself. When would this student or any student for that matter ever need to say, “I am pink.” Even though the verb was conjugated correctly, the adjective matched the noun, I couldn’t help but ask myself – is this useful, productive, helpful?  The student beamed with pride, but I was struggling to know how this was helping him.

Language is purposeful and contextual by nature. It is a tool to mobilize and share ideas, thoughts and requests. Removing the purpose and context, removes its sole reason for existence — communication.

So how do I keep the vocabulary in context you ask?

Teaching vocabulary in a usable fashion way is the way to accomplish this MUST DO in your Spanish classroom. Of course, we all have our target vocabulary list, but are you plugging them into dialogues?  Do they find them in the story they will read?

You still can be silly and fun even fantastical and imaginative. In fact, students thrive in such an environment when learning language. The point is it has to be USEFUL! Don’t you want your students to be able communicate about a story, hobby, or given theme, using the acquired language is sensical and purposeful ways. Remember that students are more apt to acquire language that is relevant and meaningful to them.

So do not have your students memorize a list of vocabulary with no way to be able to use it in the real world. Always teach vocabulary in a way that demonstrates how you would use the vocabulary in the world.

Teach Spanish in Spanish

Number #1 on Spanish Curriculum’s list of MUST DOs is total Spanish immersion.

Teach Spanish in Spanish.

You make the most use of your instructional time and the best benefit to your students.  Don’t fudge on this one!  If you open the English translation door, your students will continue to knock on it and push harder for that door to open.  If you are accustomed to translating, go cold turkey!  Tell them you want them to learn more Spanish, so you are asking them to use what they have to say what they can.  Tell them not to wait for the English translation to come – because it is not coming anymore.  What good it is to teach them to wait for the English when you are trying to teach them Spanish?

You can do this!  Teach Spanish in Spanish.

I can not emphasize enough how strongly we feel that to truly acquire a new language, students MUST be immersed in the target language 100% of the time. I realize this can make you nervous.  What if they don’t understand me?  Keep it simple.  Use lots of visuals and movement to build comprehension, which we will unpack in another blog. Fill students’ time with Spanish songs, visual aids of new vocabulary, chants, games, short stories, and creative writing activities. You will find that there are endless possibilities to keep your students immersed in Spanish for the entire class period. Post numerous useful Spanish phrases around your classroom to help students communicate in the target language.  Minimize chatting in English during gap times by establishing a transition song or chant to move students from one activity to the next.

Remember, becoming bilingual is a lifelong gift that you are giving to your class, embrace this idea even when you are met with those beautiful, blank stares. The brain has an amazing capacity for language acquisition and with each struggle it is creating new pathways for problem solving, critical thinking and multitasking.  The hard work will pay off, the fear will subside and in time your students will proudly declare, “¡SÍ, YO HABLO ESPAÑOL!”

5 Things You Must Do In Your Spanish Class

These five “musts” will make you more effective, help your students learn more Spanish and insure everyone having more fun in Spanish class! Who doesn’t want that?

1. Teach Spanish in Spanish.

There is much conversation about immersion — why because it works. We know from research and effective programs globally that this is the most effect way to teach language.

2. Develop vocabulary in context.

You could memorize a dictionary but not know how to have a conversation. Always teach new vocabulary in a way that demonstrates how you would use the vocabulary in everyday life.

3. Practice pronunciation.

Don’t skip developing native like sounds in your student’s pronunciation. Take a few minutes to practice over annunciating the vowels and syllables.

4. Get your students moving.

Language should be fun and interactive. Model this in the way that you interact with your students. Even if you only have 30 minutes with your students – make sure to spend 5-7 minutes moving. Put a motion to the verbs you are teaching. Stand up and review the parts of the body. Get moving!

5. Start and end your class well.

Make a statement by the way that you start and finish your class. Sing a song. Repeat a daily greeting. Make a chant. It is important that your students have a very definite sense of when class starts and finishes.

Don’t forget: keep your instruction in Spanish, spend 2 minutes practicing pronunciation, use new vocabulary in everyday dialogue, start and end class with a solid routine, and get your students moving during class. If you do these things tomorrow, I promise you and your students will have more fun and learn more Spanish!

Want to learn about each of these tips? Stay tuned as we unpack each individually.