Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Tuesday Tips: Choosing 'Just Right' Authentic Resources Part 2

IN PART 1 OF JUST RIGHT AUTHENTIC RESOURCES, I talked about the process of choosing resources that are comprehensible and accessible, in particular for novice learners. In Part 2, here are some more specific ideas of just what to choose.

SINCE NOVICE LEARNERS have little vocabulary to draw on, look for resources that are simple, concrete, and don't involve too much language. Resources that have repetition or follow a familiar format are great places to start.

*RECIPES- look for ones that don't have too many varied steps as novice learners do not know a lot of cooking verbs. In other words, recipes that involve the same type of action repeatedly are better than one where you have to cut, scald, fry, mash, mix, let stand, bake etc. Some good recipes that I have found: salsa, guacamole, arepas, tortilla de patatas, patacón (tostones), chocolate caliente, and paletas. Check out my Pinterest board with recipes here!

*INFOGRAPHICS- there are a ton on Pinterest, many of which are simple enough, and visually appealing, for novice learners.

*SAYINGS, PROVERBS AND MEMES- Steer away from using too many that contain figurative language with these as you will very likely need to translate them for your students to understand them. Instead, look for ones that are straightforward and context based. My collection of fun greetings, sayings and more on Pinterest.

*MENUS and GROCERY LISTS- Vocabulary is presented in a list like format, making them easier to access for students who don't know a lot of verbs.

*SONGS and POEMS- Search out ones that have repetition rather than new refrains all the way through. Many children's songs and poems are short, keeping the vocabulary set small. Youtube videos of songs and culture on my Pinterest board.

REMEMBER, give yourself permission to use a partial resource, not the whole thing- there is nothing wrong with using the middle of a resource (or just the beginning or just the end, or a clip). If part of the resource is too challenging, but another part would be just perfect, go for using the perfect part and leave the rest out!

Tuesday Tips: Choosing a 'Just Right' Authentic Resource Part 1

AUTHENTIC RESOURCES, in the context of reading and listening, are a powerful addition to our foreign language classes, providing our students a window into real life language use, language that, according to the popular definition, is created by natives for natives. In reference to this post, I want to thank fellow Spanish teacher, Charlcie Swadley, with whom I had a very inspiring conversation the other day about this topic- she really helped me crystallize my thoughts!

FOR NOVICE LEARNERS, the challenge is in finding resources that match their level, without being so difficult they cannot access them. I've created an infographic with FOUR questions I ask myself when vetting an authentic resource- next week I'll add some great examples for elementary and novice classrooms!

LET ME LAY THEM OUT in a bit more detail here:

1) WHAT IS THE RATIO of known to unknown vocabulary/structure? We have all been there, as students and as lifelong learners- we encounter that text or movie or song that makes little sense to us. We can pick out a few words along the way, but the larger whole escapes us. Does choosing a resource like this help our students? Or would a resource that is very comprehensible and accessible be the better choice? I think you know my answer! I look for resources that have typically a 80/20 ratio of known to unknown content, utilizing the CI +1 hypothesis. Providing just enough new content within a larger frame of previously learnt vocabulary/structure means students can actually utilize what they already know to access and acquire the new information. When there is too much new content, students go on overload and they can't make sense of what they are encountering.

2) DOES IT FIT INTO YOUR THEME or topic? I teach thematically so I am very partial to this one... content that is connected intellectually has been proven to be more effective for students in terms of acquisition (Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct); it triggers more deeply held knowledge about the theme at hand, and, since you are most likely spending more than one or two lessons on the theme, you can integrate the learning from the authentic resource over and over again, recycling as you go. We all know repetition is the name of the game in language learning!

3) IS IT IN CONTEXT? Related to the above, authentic resources provided in context give students a greater frame to interact with. Isolated bits don't allow for a connection to be built, have little relevancy, and make it difficult for students to synthesize how to use what they are learning in a real world situation. I give the example of idioms- providing a list of idioms to translate, even with an explanation of how to use them, is far less effective than integrating a relevant idiom into your daily routine or interaction. Another example is cooking vocabulary- far better presented in a recipe than in a list format. Even better when you have your students participate in the preparation of the recipe while using the vocabulary they are learning!

4) DOES IT PROVIDE 'SUCCESSFUL MOMENTS' for your students? Authentic resources can be intimidating to some students; they hold the belief that their language is insufficient to the task. However, when a student interacts with an authentic resource successfully, even if it is a very basic one, they gain motivation and interest to interact with them in the future. Celebrate those successes, call attention to the amazing progress your students are making, and keep moving forward!

NEXT WEEK ON TUESDAY TIPS I will share some examples (and types) of good authentic resources for elementary and novice classrooms- be sure not to miss it! You can follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter to stay up to date!

Tuesday Tips: A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

IT MAY BE A WELL WORN EXPRESSION, but it continues to be true- a picture is truly worth a thousand words, and as language teachers we know how powerful one can be. Given our goal of 90% (or more!) in the FL classroom, we can make pictures work really hard for us. Pictures can do a lot of leg work- they can help us avoid translating concrete, tangible vocabulary, and can provide context and inspiration for further conversation.  And, they can be used in a whole host of games and activities to practice and reinforce the language (see three examples below)! But, I would maintain, certain pictures are better than others. Here's some tips I consider when choosing pictures for individual vocabulary words:

*DOES IT ACCURATELY REPRESENT your target vocabulary? For some things, this is easy- an apple is an apple. On the other hand, which better represents the number '6'- one picture of a beach ball with the number 6 in the corner, or a picture of 6 beach balls with the numeral in the corner? I've seen too many pictures like the former, which, in my opinion, don't fully convey the meaning. Think about what the word means and choose a picture which really illustrates it well.

*IS IT VISUALLY PLEASING? I must confess, I am a stickler for nice photos and illustrations- kids react better to them just as I do. Stick figures, poorly drawn illustrations or poorly lit photos don't make any of us feel excited. I have found the better the photo or illustration, the more engaged my students are, both linguistically and emotionally. Don't discount the power of the emotional connection kids (and adults) make with beautiful, eye-catching things!

*HAVE YOU HARNESSED THE CULTURAL COMPONENT? When choosing pictures of concrete things, strive for ones that portray the item in a cultural light whenever possible. A professor of mine many years ago spoke to this point- look for pictures that represent the item the way a native speaker would see it in their mind. So, for example, here are two pictures of bread, one being white bread and the other black bread, a common staple at Russian meals. To represent the word 'bread' in Russian, I would choose the black bread, as this picture would come to mind to a Russian long before the white sliced bread ever would.  This also serves to begin the process of embedding cultural representations in your students' minds and gives you the opportunity to point out cultural perspectives.

SO, WHERE CAN YOU GET GOOD PICTURES? Certainly commercially made flashcards are an obvious choice, though frequently I do find they lack in the cultural relevancy department. They are mass produced and often use generic clip art- not a catastrophe by any means, they have their place. However, don't limit yourself to them if you don't have to- Pinterest is one of my favorite sources of photos- do a search in your target language for even more possibilities. Google Images, of course, is another. Or, take photos yourself and upload them to your computer; if you are traveling to another country, take the opportunity to photograph realia, individual foods, fruits, veggies, etc. If you can't travel, consider taking pictures at the supermarket or at home, and print them out. If you have some artistic talent, create illustrations yourself, or have students do them (just be sure the pictures do a good job illustrating the concept).

*¿Qué hace falta?- This is a super simple game to practice vocabulary. Using a set of vocabulary pictures, place 3-5 in front of you or on the board, practicing each word as you place it. Instruct students to close their eyes, then take one picture away. When they open their eyes, ask which one is missing. After a few rounds, take away two pictures, then three- my kiddos love it when I take all of them away!

*Matamoscas- a perennial favorite and also easy to mount. Divide the class into two teams, and call up a kiddo from each team, giving them a flyswatter each. Put up two pictures on the board (be sure there is room below the picture for swatting!) and say one of the words- first kiddo to swat the area below the picture gets a point for their team. Keep the pace moving quickly!

*¿Cuál no corresponde? o ¿Cuál es distinto?- Perhaps you remember the Sesame Street game 'Which one of these is not like the others?'- it was great back in the 70's and it's still great now. Choose a set of pictures that are related plus one that isn't- three fruits and a cat, for ex. Place them all in front of your students and ask ¿Cuál es distinto?- un gato, of course. Here's the extra bonus- if you teach the sentence starter 'Porque es ___/ porque no es __', you can elicit additional responses that have to do with categories, such as 'because it's not a fruit'. As your students acquire additional language, the verb after 'porque' can vary (tiene, hace, anda, etc).

What fun picture activities do you do in class? Tell us in the comments!

Refranes y citas para el Día de San Valentin

THERE ARE MANY WONDERFUL REFRANES and expressions to tell the one you love just how much they mean to you... and, since they are authentic, they are also an opportunity to include culture in your San Valentin lessons- perfect for the message portion of a Valentine card! Here's a round up of some of my favorites!

DON'T MISS THIS CHANCE TO WIN A $40 GIFT CARD! Click here to enter the drawing: 
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FOR MORE FUN SAYINGS AND EXPRESSIONS visit our Pinterest board ¡Feliz semana chicos!

AND DON'T FORGET TO GRAB OUR PRINTABLE VALENTINES PACK! Perfect to go along with these refranes! Click here to get them in our shop

Tuesday Tips: Design Your Lesson Like a Letter!

ORGANIZING THE FLOW OF YOUR LESSON can look like many things; why not like a letter? A letter has THREE key components- the greeting, the body or message, and a closing. These three elements provide a complete whole, which feels satisfying upon reading- there are no pieces left undone, you feel you have been acknowledged, you have experienced communication in a capsule. I take this idea, or analogy, and apply it to every lesson I teach, creating a completed experience for my students each and every time we are together. Here's what it looks like broken down:

*GREETING: I start every class with a greeting activity, which typically takes about 5 minutes- whether it is a simple ball roll activity or a more involved partner greeting, saying hello is just nice! It allows us to practice our interpersonal communication skills and fosters interaction between students (and myself, as I always participate in the activities). This is also sets the tone for class and primes my students for more Spanish.

*MESSAGE or BODY: This is the bulk of classtime and features a variety of activities which make up the "meat" of the lesson. Activities could be: practicing vocabulary we are learning, introducing a new minibook, a song, a game, doing an activity page related to the theme, Q & A related to the theme, movement activities, etc. Depending on what we are doing and the age level, I may include 2-3 activities during this portion of the lesson. Little kiddos cannot sustain any one activity for very long (much research suggests a kiddo can sustain the same number of minutes as their age, but wow! my Kinders often can't even sustain 5 minutes for one activity!). Keeping it lively, transitioning well from one activity to the next, the body of the lesson is the time to focus on theme work, etc. Much gets done during this part!

*CLOSING: Any good letter doesn't leave you hanging at the end, and neither should a lesson. This can be as simple as a good bye game or song, and may include clean up time. I use the song 'A guardar' (available on ITunes) as our clean up song (and it's authentic!) which signals it's time to go! This sets the tone for an organized exit as well, which greatly reduces noise and chaos, and brings your lesson to a tidy end. During your closing you can also give a preview of what you will be doing next time, a great way to get kids motivated for your next class!

A LETTER LESSON, as I like to call it, also provides predictability for your students- they always know the general flow of your lesson, which also aids in comprehension of the target language. If they know you always start with a greeting, they are better primed to understand words like 'saludo', 'conversación',  and 'dile a tu compañero ___', etc- this vocabulary information is provided in the context of your routine.

LOOKING FOR SOME GREETING ACTIVITIES?: See my blog post '3 Greetings Games with a Ball' and in our shop: '20 Greeting Games for Spanish Class'.

20 greeting games for Spanish class

AND DON'T MISS OUR EMOTIONS BULLETIN BOARD CARDS! A great visual support for this important vocabulary! Find them in our shop here

Printable Spanish Valentines for Kids

CELEBRATE EL DíA DE SAN VALENTIN with these cute printable valentines featuring the idiomatic expressions 'Eres de otro mundo' and 'Eres de otro planeta'. Print out on stiff paper (if possible) and have kiddos write Valentine's Day messages on the back- a great way to practice greetings and short letter writing in Spanish! Download the color version here!

and a black and white version for kiddos to color in! Download here!