Monday, August 30, 2010

Amigo Search: A Spanish Get to Know You Grid

This year we had several changes take place in our Spanish program. We went from having two Spanish teachers to one and we have quite a few students who are new to our school, which for the most part means that they are taking Spanish for this first time. As a result of these changes, I decided to take a new spin on how I assessed language skills. Instead of the traditional paper and pencil pre-test, I used a grid that required students to search for their classmates’ signatures, much like is used with most get-to- know you grids. The objective was to get as many classmates to sign your grid. While this activity was meant to get students to interact with each other it also served as an informal assessment of previous skills or knowledge of the Spanish language and its cultures. I was able to achieve this by including statements that required a response. Here are some of the items I included in the grid:

1. Has a big familia.
2. Can count up to 20 in Spanish.
3. Can name 3 frutas.
4. Rides el autobus to get to school.
5. Can name 3 Spanish speaking countries (besides Mexico).
6. Can say their birth month in Spanish.
7. Can sing a song in Spanish.

My students enjoyed this activity very much. They loved getting the chance to show off how much they remembered or knew in Spanish. This activity was also able to keep their attention for the allotted time. I even allowed them to ask me to sign their grid once they had obtained most of their signatures. During these instances, they learned some quick facts about me.

I highly recommend this activity for all levels. Since my students are beginning learners and due to our mixed ability grouping, I needed to make my grid bilingual. However, this activity could be adapted by including only phrases in the target language for more advanced learners.

Finally, I want to give credit to the sources that inspired this activity. While the actual grid is something that I have been using over the years, the handout used for this specific activity was modified from a template provided by Some of the statements were also inspired by a posting written by Deborah Blaz in the FLTEACH Listserv, where she described situations that focused on how students interacted with the target language in their homes or communities. In my activity, I included statements that required students to recall vocabulary items. To a certain extent, I blended Blaz’s concept of language interaction with assessment in mind.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Free Printables & Games for the Spanish Classroom

In my last blog post, I outlined some great books filled with engaging activities and games for the foreign language classroom. Fortunately, I own a majority of these books thanks to funding from a FLES grant. Now our program is functioning without funding from our previous grant and my search for more games and activities is just beginning. For this reason, I am sharing more places to find printables and activities that can be downloaded for free. This is my way of welcoming you back to a new school year. Enjoy!

Free Activities & Games

This is one of my favorite sites for game ideas. It offers some tips for presenting and reinforcing content in the elementary Spanish classroom. I feel that many of these activities can be easily modified to teach other languages in the elementary setting.

This site is a goldmine when it comes to finding activities to reinforce skills in listening, speaking, writing, reading, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Simply click on the section that you want to focus on and you will be directed to a wide array of activities that suit different proficiency levels. Each activity is clearly outlined and some include a sample worksheet. Although the exercises are meant for teaching ESL, I have found that they can apply to other languages as well.

This is a must see site! It contains activities and games that have been compiled from discussions on the FLTEACH Listserv. Instructions are included along with some sample templates and worksheets. Also, the games are not language specific and can be modified for different levels and age groups.

I came across this site through Twitter and loved how the exercises can apply to almost any language setting for young learners. The activities are very hands-on and age appropriate.

Free Printable Worksheets & More

I love this site because it offers many printable worksheets on different themes and letters of the alphabet. There are also some very cute craft activities that can complement most thematic units. I highly recommend this site to Spanish teachers in the early grades.

Although this site is meant for ESL, the concept of using flashcards can be used in any language and at almost any level. I also like that this site has a variety of colorful and humorous flashcards. My favorite feature is that you can choose what size to print your flashcards.

I love to use the lists on this site as reference guides for my students. They are colorful and very easy to understand for my students.

I hope these sites help in your search for free materials. I would love to hear your comments about where you find free printable worksheets and activities for your foreign language class. Your feedback is always appreciated!

Engaging Activities & Games for the Elementary Spanish Classroom

Just recently I have networked with several teachers who were interested in games for their elementary Spanish classrooms. Connecting with these teachers inspired me to share some of my favorite resources with other foreign language teachers. Please feel free to leave a comment or share a game that your students enjoy.

Some Tips
1. Introducing a Game- When I first introduce a game, I play it as a whole class so that students can familiarize themselves with the format and rules. Once we have played the game a couple times and once students are comfortable playing it, I incorporate the game in my learning center rotation. This year, my plan is to type and laminate the rules (to different games) as a guide for students.

2. Collaboration over Competition- I try to set up a collaborative environment rather than a competitive one when it comes to games. When games are first introduced, each table is its own team. In order to ensure that students of different abilities are at represented at each table, I create a seating chart that reflects this at the beginning of the year. Also, instead of rewarding the “winning” team with prizes, I reward the whole class for participating in the activity with a star, which counts towards their points for a class party.

My Favorite Resources

1. Languages and Children: Language Instruction for an Early Start, Grades K-8 (4th Edition) by Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Dahlberg
This is my absolute favorite text for games that gets kids active in using the target language. Curtain and Dahlberg include various activities that reinforce vocabulary, listening, speaking and writing across different proficiency levels. I also love that the activities can be modified for any foreign language.

2. Activities, Games, and Assessment Strategies for the Foreign Language Classroom by Amy Buttner
This is another one of my go to sources. Buttner includes very engaging activities and games to practice vocabulary, listening, and speaking which can be modified for various proficiency levels. Activities are categorized into warm-up activities, group activities, partner activities, individual practice activities, and five-minute activities. There is also a section dedicated to games. Two great features of this resource are the recommendations and modifications offered for each activity.

3. 100 Games and Activities for the Introductory World Languages Classroom by Thierry Boucquey, Karina Flores, Julia Kramer, Laura McPherson, et al.
This is a great resource that provides general games that can be adapted for most foreign languages. Games are categorized into themes that include animals, body parts, clothing, colors, numbers, date, time, family, the home, personal description, food, weather, travel, geography, and culture. I also found this book most suitable for middle school and high school.

4. Foreign Language Teacher’s Guide to Active Learning by Deborah Blaz
Although this text is geared towards middle and high school students, I have found several activities that can be modified for the elementary Spanish classroom. The games and activities can also be easily adapted for other foreign languages too. Blaz does an excellent job of providing clear instructions, tips, and variation across themes (clothes, animals, body parts, etc).

5. Utilizing Games and Cooperative Learning Activities in the Classroom by Lisa Moore and Eva White
This is a great source that is not language specific. Many of the games can apply to different themes and concepts in language learning as well as promote collaboration and active learning. I like this text because it provides clear instructions with accompanying handouts and templates.

6. Games & Activities: Supplementary Materials to Reinforce Skills and Vocabulary in the Basic Spanish Classroom by Deb Scott
This text also provides a great collection of activities for individual, partner, or group practice. I especially like how each activity is labeled according to proficiency level (easy for first year student, medium for second year students, and challenging) and includes accompanying materials (board templates, story picture squares, clip art). Also, activities tap into different skills such as listening and speaking.

7. Games & Activities for Individual Whiteboards by Pam Chalus
I love this text because it has creative games to practice writing and vocabulary with individual whiteboards. It’s an excellent source that reinforces skills in the intermediate to higher level classrooms.

8. Colección Kaleidoscopio by Maria Gabriela Acuña
This collection provides worksheets, flashcards, game templates, and ideas to practice vocabulary and grammar skills. Each book is dedicated to a theme such as colors, numbers and alphabet, food, classroom objects, animals, and clothes. This series is a must have in my classroom because it provides ready-made fun activities that I use for my learning center rotation. My favorites have been the game boards and dominoes.

9. ¿Jugamos? 1 by Maria Gabriela Acuña
I highly recommend this book because it offers games that are not covered in the Colección Kaleidoscopio. Just like her previous collection, Acuña provides worksheets, flashcards, game templates, and clear instructions that are suitable for beginners but that can also be modified for more advanced learners. I especially like this book because the instructions to the games are simple enough to use for independent practice or learning centers.

My Goals for This School Year

As a jump start to the new school year, I decided to reflect on my goals. These past three years, I have learned so much about the language learning process and have come across some innovative ways to teach a foreign language. Here are some of the things that I have planned for this year:

1. Global and National Collaboration Projects
Over the past few months, I have connected with other elementary Spanish teachers across the United States. My goal is to have my students connect with other Spanish classrooms in order to put their language skills to use. From learning songs to retelling stories, I want both classes to equally exchange and participate during our sessions. I also plan on maintaining a relationship with our abroad contacts and continue our discussions about culture and life in their countries. One project that I am excited about is exploring popular music in Spanish-speaking countries.

2. Integrating More Technology
Throughout the summer I have been playing with several Web 2.0 tools and brainstorming ways to integrate them into my curriculum. I feel that these kinds of tools create opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and application of language skills. Some of my favorite tools include Animoto Slide shows, Glogs, and Vokis. My students seemed very excited when I described these projects and I am as eager as they are to get started!

3. Out-of- School Learning Experiences
Due to demographics and geographical location, my students have limited exposure to Latino cultures and the Spanish language in their home communities. For this reason, I feel that it is important to expose my students to as many cultural and language experiences as possible. So far my absolute favorite event has been the Latin American Performance by the Hispanic Flamenco Ballet, which presents folkloric dance from various Spanish-speaking countries. This company schedules a performance in our city every year, and I would love to continue taking our students to enjoy it.

Another event I plan on organizing involves visiting a language institute that is part of our local university. This institute has native Spanish-speaking students who volunteer as guest speakers as part of their community outreach program. Last year, we had these students come talk to our students about their home countries, history, and culture. This year, I would like to duplicate those same activities but host the event at their institute.

4. Hands-On Learning Experiences
Last year I used learning centers to reinforce vocabulary. I plan on continuing these centers but would like to include activities that involve language that goes beyond single words. Incorporating arts and crafts is also on my to-do list along with including engaging ways to learn grammar concepts.

I also used many games to reinforce vocabulary. Although I liked the concept of using games to practice language, I did not have enough games to work with. After doing some research, I have come across many that can be adapted to fit different themes and proficiency levels, which is important in my teaching setting.

So these are my goals in a nutshell. What kinds of projects do you have planned for the upcoming school year? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!