Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Tuesday Tips- Knowing Your Little Learner- What is Different (and Special!) about Early Elementary Students

ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE LUCKY PEOPLE that has switched from teaching Spanish to high school or even middle school to elementary? Yes, I said LUCKY! Now you're sitting in a circle on the carpet, fending off sneezes right and left, and singing 'Los pollitos dicen' 20 times a day while flapping your little 'wings' like a chick... I know, it's paradise!

BUT, YOU ARE ALSO WONDERING who are these little people and how do I teach them? There is a fair amount of information out there regarding the pedagogy of teaching little children, but something they often miss is the nitty gritty-what makes up a Kindergartner? or any elementary student, for that matter....


*A WORLD LANGUAGE is a foreign concept to many little ones. Unlike older students who have a working knowledge that people around the world speak in different languages, Kinders lack that understanding. You are introducing them to new words- and a new way to communicate. The idea that you can use another language to get meaning across is one you need to practice and reinforce all the time, as well as the idea of WHAT a foreign language is. Be patient- they will frequently answer in English, or "translate" for you. Speaking a language is like a game to them, or a code... go with it!

*MAKING THE TRANSITION from home (or preschool) to Kindergarten is stressful and sometimes downright traumatizing... oh, and exhausting! Little 4 & 5 year olds miss their mommy, want to be home, and still need naptime. Don't be surprised by tears, sucking thumbs, even a kiddo falling asleep in your class (I know, this could never happen, right, because your class is so fun?... never underestimate how tired Kinders are, especially if you have them in the afternoon!). What I have noticed is that Kinders really don't settle in until about late October or November. Until then, be prepared to jettison your teaching to hug and console a little one. Keep it fun and not too challenging until they acclimate to being in school.

*IMAGINATIVE PLAY is a goldmine! Little kiddos still believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, that stuffed animals can talk and go on adventures.... tap into this magical world they are still living in! Have a puppet or stuffed animals as part of class, incorporate Ratoncito Pérez, the Tooth Mouse (find our theme pack here with lost tooth posters & more!), and PLAY, PLAY, PLAY! And don't forget about using manipulatives (Thank you opattie for your reminder!)- plastic foods, toys, counters, manipulatives of every kind- kids love to touch and play with THINGS, not just interact with a screen.

*LITTLE KIDDOS LOVE NON FICTION...content based instruction is a huge motivator for young children. Science is a BIG hit with littles- animals, habitats, life cycles, outer space, the environment, dinosaurs, geography are great topics to tap into! And, since the gen ed classroom is often involved in these themes, you have the opportunity to coordinate and connect with them!

*SCHOOL SKILLS have to be taught and least in my district, more and more Kinders are coming to school without preschool experience, so knowing how to sit in a circle or walk in the hall or participate without interrupting and talking over everyone else are skills we are teaching more and more, rather than reinforcing. On top of that, social skills aren't as well developed, so manners, taking turns, being kind and respectful to others are not always ingrained either. Setting up routines, procedures and expectations right from the start is key- modeling and practicing these is crucial. is a great resource for this!

*THE ATTENTION SPAN of a 5 year old is about as long as the number of years old they are... 5 minutes of an activity and it's time to move on! Keep the pace lively and varied, involve the whole group as much as possible (a group of 18 kiddos will only wait so long if you are taking turns before they start to squirrel out), and have more planned than you think you can actually do in a time frame. If you see them getting restless, you need to be prepared to switch to another activity!

JUST STARTING OUT IN A PROGRAM and looking for a curriculum that is geared specifically for LITTLE KIDDOS, is motivating and presents language in context? Check out our YEAR LONG Curriculum Packs, each designed for a year of elementary Spanish. Click here for Year 1, here for Year 2 and here for Year 3.

Elementary Spanish Curriculum

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but I hope it helps! What would you add?

And don't miss my post on choice baskets with littles, click here for ideas and tips!

Tuesday Tips: Provide Choice Within Structure- Using Pattern Sentences to Practice & Reinforce Vocabulary

STUDENT CHOICE in the elementary foreign language classroom (really at any level!) is a key component to increasing motivation and engaging learners. Frequently choice looks like student generated vocabulary, which can be tricky with novice learners who have small word banks. On top of that, you still need a common vocabulary for the class so everyone can participate and understand the language being used. Too many new words, used only once or twice, don't get the repetition needed to acquire them, and may not be high frequency vocabulary that you know your students need to learn.

ENTER THE PATTERN SENTENCE... a most lovely and useful tool for practicing and reinforcing vocabulary, while at the same time providing choice- WITHIN STRUCTURE. Imagine the sentence 'Olivia sees (a) _____'... a simple sentence with a high frequency verb. Now, start filling in the blank... 'Olivia sees a dog.' 'Olivia sees a car.' 'Olivia sees an apple.' 'Olivia sees....'  you get the idea! Now imagine your students filling in the blank- here's where the choice comes in! Instead of you deciding what Olivia sees, they do. Suddenly, kids are more engaged, they want to share their ideas, and the noise level goes up in a positive way.

NOW, I LOVE CHOICE, but I really love 'directed choice'.. in other words, my students choose from what they already know, rather than me becoming the translator for things like 'platypus', 'werewolf' or 'unicorn', words I have picked up along the way (and, please, don't ask why!) but are outside the common word bank my kiddos are working with. To make this easier for my students, I provide a bunch of pictures or objects as prompts for them to use in filling in the blank. This also aids in memory recall, and helps that kiddo that can't come up with an idea on the fly. Once they start filling in the blank, ask follow up questions, like '¿De qué color es el elefante? or '¿Es el elefante grande?' '¿Es chiquitito?' or '¿Es la salsa deliciosa?' and so on. Get really silly and ask '¿Es el elefante delicioso?'... you can create all kinds of funny answers while still sticking to what they already know!

WHAT I LOVE about this, too, is students show what they know, rather than being asked to recall a specific word or phrase, demonstrating their personal word bank which is unique to them. They pick from the list provided, saying a word THEY KNOW!

PATTERN SENTENCES also allow you, and your students, to stay 90% (or more!) in the target language, using comprehensible input while practicing and reinforcing high frequency vocabulary. Throw in a few new words here and there to add to their learning, especially during the follow up questions, where you can use cognates and either/or questions to their maximum effect...and have fun!

DID YOU KNOW? Many of our minibooks utilize pattern sentences in the storyline! Starting with a story means you start with the structure in context, which then provides the leaping off point for student choice.. visit our SHOP today!

How To Teach a Cultural Comparison of the Return of Robins & Swallows in the Spring in the TL

I HAVE BEEN WANTING to teach about the spring return of robins and swallows in my elementary Spanish classes for years, but never got myself in gear to do it. I am endlessly delighted to see the first robins arrive from the south after our very long winters here in Maine, and imagine many in Spain feel the same joy when they see swallows returning from Africa. This year I got myself together and taught a mini (very mini!) theme around the migration of these two birds who are symbols of the return of warm weather, a perfect, tangible cultural comparison for my Kindergartners. Over the course of three 30 minute classes, I introduced the migration using very simple language (oh, did I say I did the whole thing in 90% Spanish?), we colored the two birds (great practice for color words), and cut them out to create a school bulletin board.

Here's how I did it, with accompanying script (teacher script in quotation marks, student responses in parenthesis- CHANGE MAINE TO YOUR STATE):

PREP: I found a world map in Spanish online that I could project on my Smartboard, two photos, one of a robin and one of a swallow, picture cards of the four seasons, and my printable birds to color and cut out. You can download our printable here!

*DAY 1: (have the map projected behind you on the whiteboard)"Ok, niños, vamos a hablar acerca de unos símbolos de la primavera." Hold up a picture of spring, repeating 'la primavera'. Then put down cards for the other three seasons, saying each as you do so.

Click here to get our 'Seasons Activity Pack'

Ask a student (in English) "Are these a set of shoes?" (student-'No') "Hmmm, what could they be?" (student-'the seasons!')
"¡Sí, son las cuatro estaciones! La primavera, el verano, el otoño, el invierno. (point to each card in turn) Miren esta foto de un petirrojo- ¿hay petirrojos aquí en Maine? ¿Sí o no?" (students-  '¡Sí!).
"Sí, es la verdad, hay petirrojos en Maine. Hmmm, ¿hay petirrojos (point to the photo of the robin) aquí en Maine en el invierno?" (point to the winter card) (students- 'No') "No, no hay petirrojos aquí en Maine durante el invierno."
"Bueno, en el otoño (point to autumn card) los petirrojos dicen '¡Adiós Maine! y vuelan, vuelan, vuelan (making flying motions with your arms) al sur." Bring the picture of the robin to the board along with the seasons cards spring and fall- stick the robin up next to your state, and the seasons cards where the Atlantic Ocean is, and repeat "En el otoño los petirrojos dicen '¡Adiós Maine! y vuelan, vuelan, vuelan al sur" making the flying motions and drawing an arrow from your state to the south.
"Y, en la primavera (point to the spring card) los petirrojos vuelan, vuelan, vuelan y dicen '¡Hola Maine!'" again making flying motions and drawing an arrow from the south back to your state.

Now hold up the picture of a swallow- "Esta es una golondrina- a swallow. En el otoño las golondrinas dicen '¡Adiós España-Spain' y vuelan, vuelan, vuelan a Africa." Put the picture of the swallow on the board, and draw an arrow from Spain to Africa.
"Y, en la primavera, las golondrinas vuelan, vuelan, vuelan y dicen '¡Hola España!" Again, draw an arrow from Africa to Spain.
I also wrote 'Hola' and 'Adiós' along each arrow to reinforce the words.

At this point I had a few extra minutes before the end of class, so I reviewed our colors (we have a quick song) and then I asked kiddos "¿De qué color es el petirrojo?" and ¿De qué color es la golondrina?".  *NOTE ON TIMING: I always start class with a greeting activity and a transition activity, so the lesson laid out above took about 12-15 minutes, give or take.

*DAY 2: After our greeting and transition activities, I repeated the above script starting from the point where I was at the board, drawing the arrows to indicate migratory patterns as a quick review. Then, introduce the two coloring pages, identifying each and pointing to the pictures. You can review again "En la primavera el petirrojo dice '¡Hola Maine!' y la golondrina dice '¡Hola España!". Starting with the robin, indicate to the class what color to color each part. I do ONE color at a time, having everyone finish that space before we move on to the next color and part of the bird. This really helps ensure birds are colored appropriately, and since my Kinders only have early emerging literacy skills, I don't expect them to read independently. Once the robin is finished, move onto the swallow. NOTE: We ran out of time before the swallow was finished in our 30 minute period so we finished up during DAY 3 of the lesson.

*DAY 3: Again, after the greeting and transition activities, I repeated the script using the pictures on the board. We then reviewed colors and finished up the swallow, again going one color at a time. After the swallow is finished being colored, instruct the class to cut out both birds, making sure to put names on the back as each is cut out. (I go around and monitor as they are cutting to be sure names get on the birds).

Once all the birds were done, I collected them and created a bulletin board out in the hall!

*Interested in the seasons cards shown? They are part of our 'Pepita y el oso' Activity Pack, teaching seasons in context. You can find it in our shop here!

5 Traditional Games to Play OUTSIDE with your Elementary Spanish Students

THE WEATHER IS WARMING UP and all of us would love to be are some traditional, authentic games you can play in short bursts of time (so many of us have short class periods) with the whole class and little prep and minimal rules to explain.

5 Traditional Spanish Children's Games to Play Outdoors

*GATO Y RATÓN: This tag style game most likely comes in many variations; this one is from Puerto Rico. Children stand in a circle, holding hands. One student is inside the circle (el ratón) while a second student is outside (el gato). The object of the game is for the gato to catch the ratón, while the circle tries to keep the ratón safe by attempting to keep the gato from entering the circle. Once the gato enters the circle, the ratón may exit to try and escape, whereupon the gato chases him. I have altered the ending slightly from the original game, putting a time limit on the chase so more kiddos can have a turn.

Here is a video of preschoolers playing 'Gato y Ratón' so you can visualize it:

*¡UNO, DOS, TRES CALABAZA!: Much like 'Red Light, Green Light' one kiddo stands at a distance with his/her back to the group. He/she calls out 'Uno, dos, tres,'- while doing so, the rest of the kids quickly and quietly try to run up and tag him/her. (I allow speed walking, no running). The caller can say the numbers slowly or quickly, but when he shouts '¡Calabaza!' everyone must freeze. He/she turns around and anyone still moving has to go back to the starting line. Game continues until someone tags the caller. That person now is the caller, and the game starts again.

*BETO, BETO DÍME EL ALFABETO: This is a fun jumprope chant which has the added benefit of reviewing the alphabet! The object is to try and jumprope all the way through the alphabet. Kiddos can have their own jumpropes or you can have two kiddos swing the rope and one jumps in the middle. Borrow jumpropes from the gym teacher so everyone can participate at the same time. Simply chant the alphabet from your 'go' signal!

*A LA VÍBORA DE LA MAR: Similar to London Bridges, two kiddos form an arch, one being 'melón' and the other 'sandía'. The rest of the class forms a line and weaves their way through the arch while the song is sung (I usually only sing the first verse with kiddos to keep the game moving). At the last 'tras' the arch comes down and whomever is captured must choose either 'melón' o 'sandía'. Whichever they choose, that child then forms an arch behind the original kiddo with that fruit (so, now you have TWO arches). The game starts again, with the line now 'snaking' through the first arch and then the second, until another kiddo is captured, who then again picks a fruit and forms yet another arch and so on until you end the game or everyone has been captured. Click here for a link on Youtube for the tune. TIP: Since the line may snake through the arch(es) multiple times before you get to 'tras', use cones or other markers to delineate a path for the line to take. Also, I use a plastic cantaloupe and watermelon to remind kiddos of the vocabulary, placing them next to the two original arch holders.

*A LA RUEDA DE SAN MIGUEL: This circle game is fun to play with littles! Kids form a circle all facing inward, holding hands, with one kiddo in the center. As you sing the song, the kids walk around in a circle until the last stanza, where the kid in the center fills in a name of a classmate. That kiddo turns around, still holding hands with those on either side, but facing outside. The game continues until everyone is facing outward. Depending on how many students you have, I recommend having two kids' names called at a time, rather than just one, to make the game move a little more quickly. With 18-20 kids in a Kinder class, I find mine get a little tired after so many rounds. Here's the tune on Youtube!

Tuesday Tips- Advocating for your Program

THIS WEEK IS NATIONAL FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEK- we want to say first of all, YOU ARE AMAZING TEACHERS! Teaching in the elementary school brings it's own challenges and we salute all you dedicated professionals who make every day a special one in the life of a child!

WE ALSO KNOW that elementary programs can find themselves in insecure positions, especially during difficult budget years or in those districts that lack great vision for the future. Whether your program is secure or not, however, it is of ongoing importance to advocate for, and educate about, your program. Here are some ideas to keep your program front and center, reaching families, administration, and the community:

*BE PRESENT IN YOUR SCHOOL: Attend Open Houses, be visible and available during conferences, participate in grade level or school wide events such as performances and assemblies. While these may not be world language specific, your presence allows families to get to know you, putting a face with a name, and giving them opportunities to ask questions about your program.

*COMMUNICATE with families via newsletters and/or notes home. Put a blurb in the school newsletter or create one yourself for your program, highlighting what is happening in your classes.  Create a Facebook, Twitter, or blog account for your program, and encourage families to follow it.  Caregivers want to know what is going on in their child's life; this is a good opportunity to not only share your themes and activities, but also information about why elementary programs are important- there is ample research showing their importance, be sure to share it! (A great resource for this is NNELL, National Network for Early Language Learning)

*HOST A WORLD LANGUAGE NIGHT or team up with other "Specials" classes to have a night focused on your program and invite families and administrators.

*ACTIVITIES DONE IN CLASS can serve as ambassadors for your program- when you send home activity pages, projects, etc these give your students an opportunity to share their excitement about what they are learning, making a home school connection with families. If you have the time, attach a note telling about the activity or the theme to further educate them on what your program is about. And of course, if you use a platform like Seesaw, you can regularly share with families class activities-I would also consider curating what you put on Seesaw, choosing activities that really showcase what kids can do.  You can also put a note at the end of the activity specially for families providing some additional information about the purpose or integration of this into the greater program. 

Tips to Advocate for Your Elementary Foreign Language Program FLES

*CONNECT WITH THE MEDIA in your town. Local newspapers love to feature events in school, so give a call and see if they would be interested in doing a piece on a special event or activity you are doing in your program. This raises awareness in the larger community (who vote on school budgets, and may not have kids in your school) about your program- don't underestimate the power of those grandparents and community members who value language instruction!

*GIVE A BOARD PRESENTATION about your program. Tell them about the why and how of what you do; if you can, invite some students to demonstrate a song or activity. Remember, board members come and go, so keeping them appraised about the value of the program is an ongoing need.

*SEND PERTINENT ARTICLES to your administrators and board members... when a great article comes along that outlines why foreign language instruction or being bilingual is important, send the link along to those decision makers in your district. It is always good to keep your program and it's value on the front burner.

*ORGANIZE A FUNDRAISER that supports a cause related to countries where Spanish is the official language. Kids can get really excited and involved in fundraising events, sharing their enthusiasm with families and neighbors. This is a win-win for your program- a wonderful reinforcement of philanthropy combined with heightened awareness of your program. See our post on ideas for charity here, which includes links to several great non profit organizations.

Happy National Foreign Language Week!