Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


3 Greeting Games with a Ball for Elementary Spanish

I ALWAYS START MY CLASSES WITH A GREETING- it provides a natural transition into class, sets the tone, and builds community, an important part of the Responsive Classroom approach. And, in my estimation, learning how to greet someone else is one of the most important skills you learn in a foreign language classroom- any conversation you start with another person begins with a greeting! Here are three simple greeting games I do using a ball (any ball will do; I have a variety of balls in class so I can mix it up and keep the greetings fresh).

*BALL ROLL- This classic game is simple and easy! Kids sit in a circle, greet someone and roll the ball to that person. Recipient greets him/her back and then greets another student, and so on until all students have been greeted. To make the game go more smoothly, use the cards below to indicate who has had a turn- hand one out to each kid before you start the game; they place it in front of them. Once they have had a turn, they put the card behind them. No more trying to remember who has had a turn and who hasn't! Download them for free here! The greetings are just prompts; you don't need to require a student to use one or the other when they greet someone (though you could! :) )

*BALL TOSS- another easy to play version, this time with the kiddos standing up in circle. Kids toss the ball to one another, greeting the person before they toss. Once a kid has had a turn, he/she sits down- easy way to tell who has had a turn! Be sure to model appropriate tossing- balls careening or whipping across the room is never fun (at least, for you)! I like to use a smaller ball for this game, but a soccer ball is great for little hands.

*GREET SOMEONE WHO.... This greeting game requires some listening comprehension on the part of your students, but is a great practice for color words. Sitting in a circle, first kid is given the ball by the teacher (greet him/her :) ) and instruct him to 'Greet someone who is wearing red (or any color)'- it is a good idea to review color vocabulary before starting so it is fresh. He needs to find someone wearing that color, say a greeting, and roll the ball to that classmate. Keep instructing kiddos to greet someone with particular colors, repeating colors as needed, until everyone has been greeted. Use the cards above to show who has had a turn.

ENCOURAGE KIDS TO VARY THE GREETING when you play these games at different times of the year, adding in new ones as the year progresses- Hola, Buenos días, Buenas tardes, Hola, ¿qué tal?, ¡Feliz lunes!, ¡Feliz martes!, and so on. Have fun!

Want even more Greeting Games? Click here to grab our pack of 20 Greeting Games with printables!

Zoo Animal Toss- A Fun Listening Comprehension Game

HAVE FUN WITH THIS SIMPLE GAME- perfect for little learners! My Kinders are starting our theme on the zoo with our minibook 'Olivia y Arturo van al zoológico' in which our friends see a variety of zoo animals... so, to practice listening comprehension skills we are playing 'Zoo Animal Toss'! Each kiddo gets a zoo animal- I have tons of little animals I've gotten over the years which I use for all kinds of activities. (TOOB brand) Kids stand in a circle and a basket is placed in the center. Call out a particular animal- everyone who has that animal tries to toss it in the basket. Once all animals have been tossed, count up how many are in the basket. I put the number on the board (great to practice numbers, too!) and challenge them to try and get more in the basket the next round. Pass the animals out again- I try to give kids different animals each round. We play about 4-5 rounds in a class :)

THIS IS SUPER FUN and could be played with any vocabulary set, as long as you have manipulatives to toss- fruits, veggies, farm animals, you name it! Enjoy!

Resources and Ideas for Incorporating Celia Cruz in the Elementary Spanish Class

CELIA CRUZ, QUEEN OF SALSA was, and is, an inspiration to all! Her music makes you want to dance and her vivacious personality was infectious. There are a number of resources available that are perfect for little learners, making her a great addition to your Spanish class. I want to say a special thank you to Salema Jenkins for inspiring this post and sharing the idea of making Celia part of Black History Month! While I definitely recommend incorporating Afro-latinx throughout the year, we can also take advantage of the spotlight in February to further highlight the many influential people that connect with this month. 

*ME LLAMO CELIA My name is Celia: This is a wonderful, bilingual children's book about Celia's life. The illustrations are delightful and kids can easily connect to the storyline.

*CELIA CRUZ QUEEN OF SALSA- Another biography of Celia, this is one I haven't read yet, but is on my list! The excerpts on Amazon show a wonderfully written storyline telling about Celia's life, with beautiful illustrations.

*PEPITA LEE SOBRE CELIA CRUZ MINIBOOK & ACTIVITY PACK: This printable minibook features salient facts about Celia's life in simple Spanish, while the activity pack includes activities to incorporate salsa music and dancing to class- great to introduce Celia and Cuba to your class! You can find it here

Teach about Celia Cruz in Spanish class

*ZUN ZUN BA BA E: Here is Celia on Sesame Street singing the traditional song, Zun Zun Ba Ba E- kids love this!

*GUANTAMERA: I LOVE this version of Guantamera, sung by Celia, as well as the video- just beautiful!

*YO VIVIRÉ- This song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it! Though for elementary students, the lyrics are probably too much to learn, it is a great song to play for Freeze Dance or while they are doing folder activities. Other great songs are La vida es un Carnaval and Rie y Llora. Also perfect for Baile Viernes!

*HERE ARE A FEW MORE BOOKS to build your library! Find them at your local independent bookstore. Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Lil' Libros board book, Celia, is adorable (as are all their books!)

and part of the popular series, Who was ...? comes Who was Celia Cruz? by Pam Pollack, perfect for upper elementary and middle school:

and this beautiful picture book ¡Azúcar! by Ivar da Coll

ENJOYED THIS POST? Check out our post on bringing Frida Kahlo into the elementary classroom, too! Click here to read it!

Tuesday Tips: You don't have to teach EVERYTHING in one theme! Spiral your curriculum

WE'VE ALL BEEN THERE- we know there is so much to learn in a foreign language- words, phrases, grammar, expressions, idioms... the list goes on and on. And with the limited, precious time we have, we try to cram as much in as possible into every theme or unit we teach. However, if we take the long term view, thinking of our curriculum over months or years, instead of unit by unit, we can take heart that all the things we need and want to teach will have their moment.

SPIRAL YOUR CURRICULUM.... imagine a spiral or helix where content is introduced, practiced, then sometime in the future the curriculum comes around again and hits that same content, building on it, placing it in new contexts, reinforcing previous learning while at the same time introducing new content. And so it goes throughout the program; the spiral keeps coming around again to key content. When I first started building my curriculum, I made a chart with each grade level at the top and key themes/content along the side and began thinking about where in each grade level I could tap into these themes along the continuum.

SO FOR EXAMPLE, FAMILY VOCABULARY: in Kindergarten my kiddos learn a basic set of nuclear family vocabulary: mamá, papá, hermano, hermana, abuelo, abuela, perro, gato, and casa. My objective for them is to be able to comprehend the vocabulary and identify verbally at least 4-5 of the words, that's it. Talk about simple objectives! Later in the year we do a theme around the zoo and what words get reinforced? mamá and papá and bebé is added as I show them pictures of animal families in the course of the theme... ah, devious! Even later in the year, we reinforce 'hermano' and 'hermana' during our Picnic theme when we read 'Julieta y Mateo hacen un picnic'... our two little mousy friends are brother and sister.

WELL, THEN IN FIRST GRADE, here comes the family vocabulary again! Nuclear family vocabulary is reinforced and we add the construction 'Es mi ____'. Kids make a mini album labeling their family members using this construction- again, really simple! SECOND GRADE sees the addition of 'Yo tengo ____' with family vocabulary (Yo tengo dos perros, yo tengo una hermana) as well as tapping into the entire set of words around Thanksgiving when we do a big bulletin board entitled 'Doy gracias por ____'. In THIRD GRADE we do a big theme around pets where kids use 'Yo tengo ___' and 'Mi ___ es ____' in a new context to describe their pets. And so it goes, as each year and throughout the year this vocabulary is expanded upon as we reinforce and practice this core vocabulary set. By the time my students leave me at the end of Fourth Grade, they have used and practiced this set in a variety of contexts.... and I didn't have to do it all at once! That's the beauty of a spiraled curriculum- by coming back to previous content, you allow yourself to spread the learning over time rather than try to do it all in one go.

SO, NEXT TIME YOU FEEL YOU CAN'T FIT IT ALL IN, cut yourself a break and remember- you don't have to do EVERYTHING in one theme! And don't forget to join us on Facebook every Tuesday morning for our Tuesday Tips!

Highlight Key Vocabulary to Focus & Enhance Learning in Your Foreign Language Class

IN OUR FOREIGN LANGUAGE CLASSES we teachers often struggle with the knowledge that there is way more vocabulary than we could ever teach, yet we try mightily to cram as much in as we can, hoping our students will pick up vocabulary simply because it is provided- of course, we know this isn't realistic but hope springs eternal! And honestly, I can't advocate for a 'less is more' approach because, well, more is more. However, we can take our objectives for a lesson or theme and prioritize out what are the key words/ phrases.

SO, LET ME GIVE AN EXAMPLE... if my kiddos are reading our minibook 'Pepita y la mariposa' during which Pepita observes the life cycle of a butterfly, one of my goals prior to starting this theme is to identify key words that I absolutely want my kiddos to retain. In Marzano's Art and Science of Teaching, he calls this 'critical content', an instructional strategy to organize content. In my butterfly theme, there are a host of words I could choose from: ve, un día, sale, después, mariposa, oruga, crisálida, huevo, se construye, adiós, among others, including prior knowledge such as colors and adjectives of size, and the verb 'es'.

FOR THIS THEME, I have chosen three key words- 've', 'mariposa' and 'es'. These are the three I am going to emphasize every class, even as I am teaching the other vocabulary as well. Why these three? One of the learning goals for this theme is to describe a stage in the life cycle of a butterfly using simple sentences and adjectives. 'Es' is a natural verb to use to achieve this learning goal, and 've' places the description in context. 'Pepita ve una mariposa. La mariposa es verde y azul.' Of the four stages in the life cycle, 'mariposa' also ties into a cultural learning goal for this theme, the monarch migration to México, so it is a 'heavy lifter' for me.

THESE THREE WORDS ARE ALSO WORKHORSES, meaning they will serve not only for this theme, but in others later in the year and in subsequent grades, so they form part of a larger list of 'key words' I have for my K-4 entire curriculum.

LET YOUR STUDENTS KNOW what the key words are- this is as important as identifying them in the first place. By informing your students, you are helping them to focus in on a subset of all the content you are exposing them to, allowing them to make better sense of the fog of language they are immersed in. I was skeptical when I first learned about this at a Marzano workshop, thinking EVERYTHING I teach is critical, but after using and seeing this strategy in action, I can say it works! My students are more responsive overall during class to these words, and, as we continue through the year, they come up time and again, further reinforcing their usefulness. I often also burn my 1.45 minutes of English (I've done the math- this is approximately how much time I can speak in English out of 90% in Spanish during a 30 minute class) giving my students a quick explanation as to why these are our key words, or how they can be useful to us in achieving our goals. For example, during our 'Las Mascotas' theme in 3rd grade, a key word is 'mi'... one of our goals is to be able to describe one of our pets; my students are able to understand that 'mi' helps us to get to this goal by allowing them to construct a sentence such as 'Mi gato es negro.' This provides a reason behind the words which my students comprehend and buy into, and increases their motivation as well.

I WOULD ADD, for your ADHD kids, this strategy of identifying key content is beyond critical for them-they struggle intensely to know what to focus in on as a rule, so giving them this right up front is an enormous help to these types of learners.

-Post these words/chunks on a poster or word wall with visuals
-Have kids highlight them in the text
-Print these words on a different color piece of paper so they stand out from the rest-Alternatively, use a different colored marker to write them, again so they stand out

I would love to hear additional strategies you use-put them in the comments!