Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


How to Make a Successful Centers Activity for FLES

CENTERS IN FLES CLASSES ARE GAINING IN POPULARITY-I have long hesitated to incorporate them in my own classes for many reasons, most particularly as I worried that they, like many projects and device based activities, don't match whole group instruction in terms of the amount of target language input and interaction. However, if I don't try something out, how do I know if it can be successful or not, right?! I decided to do a centers rotation with my First Graders who have been a bit squirrelly lately and seemed to need a different approach than the whole circle (honestly, part of my reasoning had to do with splitting up some little friends who were making whole group very challenging to teach!). Ever ambitious, I went with FIVE centers activities, which meant small groups of 3-4, serving to divide and conquer some behavior issues, as well as make each activity less "crowded". I learned a lot along the way, including what NOT to do-yes, there were some flops lol.... I'll get to those in a moment!

How to Make a Successful Centers Activity for FLES Elementary Foreign Language

I'VE SPLIT THE REST OF THE POST INTO FOUR PARTS (GOALS, ORGANIZATION, ACTIVITIES, FOLLOW UP), in an attempt to cover all the components I realized were vital to making centers a viable part of my classes. Please comment and let me know how you have done centers, what worked, what didn't, and what you would like to try...I am still learning loads and would love to hear from you!

*GOALS: No good activity starts without goals, a target you are shooting for. In my case, I had a couple for this particular set of activities: 1) Introduce aspects of South America via visuals and activities kids could relate to AND 2) Allow for practice of basic vocabulary we continue to revisit. And, as I said above, I also was looking for a different approach to class in order to head off some behavioral issues that were running rampant in circle.

*ORGANIZATION: Oh my! FLOPS galore in this area! Not having done centers before, it took me a few attempts to get things to run smoothly...and by a few attempts, I mean YIKES! Remember also that I teach my First Graders 100% in Spanish, no English whatsoever from me, which made framing the CONCEPT of centers challenging until I got the wording and accompanying visuals the way I wanted them. I had to figure out how to best convey the idea of rotating through activities over the course of 5 classes (one activity each class), and then keep track of the rotation itself so that I knew who had gone where. Here are some things I learned in this area that kept the TL flowing without using English (modify as appropriate!):

-Take a picture of each centers activity set up; name/label them, and create a poster or document in Google drive with the photos in order, along with arrows going from one to the next to indicate a rotation.

-Divide kids up into groups prior to starting (I like to be in control of this to maximize time and avoid arguments & hurt feelings between kids-you may want to have them select where they want to go for the first rotation, and then rotate from there). Put the list of names for each group on a sticky note and place each note under the photos on the rotation poster. This allows you to move them after each class  so you can keep track of where each group goes next-and helps you convey the idea that they will rotate through each activity eventually.

-I used the phrase 'actividades en grupos' (activities in groups) to identify what we were going to be doing. Before I do centers again (yes, I think I will!), I am going to head over to the gen ed classrooms and take some photos of kids in centers with their homeroom which I think will drive home the meaning without having to translate.

-Whether you are on a cart, or have a classroom, organizing each centers materials in large ziploc bags or bins/baskets makes for easy distribution and clean up. (I wish I had figured this out right from class #1, but alas, it took me a couple of classes to realize it would be more helpful rather than a pile of materials!)

-Have something for them to do if they finish early! It took me a couple of classes to gauge how long each centers activity would take. And, there are always those speed racers who are done in two seconds flat regardless of how many times you say 'geez, I think you might need to ____'. Having a follow up activity definitely helped! (I opened up a portion of my class library so kids could look at books related to South America, animals, and food, along with mini books they could read and color).

*THE ACTIVITIES: As I stated above in my goals, I wanted to present some aspects of South America relevant to the age level of my students. I also wanted activities that didn't allow a lot of down time that turned into chit chatting in English. This is an area where I know I can improve! Although my kiddos did a good job of using the target language to complete each activity, there was still some chatting at various points, though I have to say I frequently heard them using Spanish along with the English as they chatted! Another important consideration in choosing the activities was being sure they were all simple enough that I didn't have to give lots of instructions. One really successful thing I did in this regard was use my Illustrated Instruction Cards at each center as a visual guide. Here are the five I did:

Centers Ideas for FLES Spanish and French Elementary Classes for Kids

1) Toucan color by number: I introduced this by referencing toucans living in Colombia and Venezuela, pointing to our map which we had been working with all year- one thing I would add to this introduction would be to have small toucan icons I could place on the map as I introduced the activity to further reinforce the connection. Kids referenced our colors bulletin board when needed, which worked out really well & supported their emerging literacy skills.

2) Bolivian Stick Puppets: These were also introduced by referencing the map, as well as showing dolls and photos from a variety of sources from Bolivia so kids could see traditional clothing and colors. Again, I would definitely have icons to put up on the big class map.

3) Puzzles and Hidden Pictures: I put these activities together- three puzzles, including one of South America, and a print out from Usborne's '1001 Cosas Para Ver en la Granja', the rainforest page. My kiddos were really great about counting in Spanish as they looked for the hidden pictures, and had a really fun time with the puzzles. It was a little harder to connect this center to the overall theme; I have to re-think the make up before I use it again. See my post here on how to make puzzles yourself!

4) Word Search of Animals and Fruits of South America: I really like word searches as an opportunity for kids to read and interact with print in the target language. Each word was illustrated, and consisted of many cognates/words they already knew, which worked out well. I need to work on tying this center in better when I introduce it; again, icons on the map would definitely help!

5) Number Counting Cards: Seen in the top photo, I put out a set of number cards (with the number word on each) along with a set of items to count and place on each card. I had several different things to count (mini erasers from Target, tally mark mini cards, dice mini cards, dominos, and magnetic numbers) so that they practiced the numbers multiple times and weren't finished with the activity in a New York minute. I like that it also allowed them to practice content based skills (math) along with the language! One thing that really helped with this activity was to have a small photo at the center showing one number card complete, further reinforcing the idea that they needed to use all of the items on each card. Again, kids referencing our numbers bulletin board if they had trouble reading the word in Spanish. NOTE: cultural element for this one was the penguins on each card-connected to Chile and Argentina :) You can grab this centers activity in our shop here.

Simple Centers Ideas for FLES Spanish and French Elementary Classes

I SHOULD ALSO NOTE that I left approximately 15 minutes of each class (30 minute classes total) for the centers portion of the lesson. This allowed for our greeting activity and any tooth news/ birthdays to celebrate, reminding and reinforcing how each center connected to the theme, telling kids where they were going for the day, and clean up/ wrap up before they left. This was JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME for my kids and the activities I had planned!

*FOLLOW UP: Once all groups had rotated through each center, it was time to bring it all back to the overall theme, South America. Here is where the icons could be useful again, calling up kiddos to place them on the class map in accordance with what we had talked about (instead I taped up the activities themselves-¡qué feo!).  Debriefing can be a little challenging with First Graders, especially all in the TL, so using the map as a "graphic organizer" of sorts really helped!

Please let me know what you think! Suggestions are welcome!

Here are TWO new centers packs, with more on the way!
VENEZUELA Cultural Centers Pack
Las Frutas Centers Pack

Take Action to Raise Awareness in Protection of the Spectacled Bear of South America

SPECTACLED BEARS ARE THE ONLY BEAR SPECIES IN SOUTH AMERICA and are endangered due to habitat encroachment. February 21st is Día Internacional de la Protección de los Osos, and part of this day to raise awareness is the campaign on social media #pontelosanteojosporlavida. Started by conservation organizations in Colombia, participants take a photo of themselves simulating wearing glasses, and posting it on social media with the aforementioned hashtag. Join the movement and help raise awareness for these wonderful bears! And for some additional fun, we've created free printable glasses with "fur" to simulate wearing spectacled bear glasses :) Find them here:

DON"T MISS THIS SONG 'El oso de anteojos' from Fun for Spanish Teachers- you can listen to it here on her blog, too! So cute!!!!

And for an adorable video about the campaign on Youtube:

AND DON'T MISS OUR MIRA EL MUNDO MAGAZINE ISSUE about these bears, our first issue ever! Grab it here!

Have fun and help save these beautiful bears!

How to Use a Picture Book in WL Class When the Text is Too Difficult for Your Students

PICTURE BOOKS ARE AN AMAZING WAY TO BRING LANGUAGE LEARNING AND LITERATURE together in class, but many contain text that is too challenging for the proficiency level our students are at. What happens when we find an absolutely BEAUTIFUL book, with tremendous illustrations, and even better, one that is authentic to the native culture....but the language is far too difficult? (Disclaimer: I'm a sucker for gorgeous illustrations! I collect picture books as much for the pictures as for the story-I bet a bunch of you do, too!). Below is one way to help you bridge the gap between an incomprehensible storyline and your classes:

How to Use a Picture Book in World Language Classes

DO A PICTURE WALK: this is one of my favorite ways to incorporate picture books without having to worry AT ALL about the text. In the gen ed classroom, doing a picture walk is common practice when introducing a picture book. The method entails "walking" through the book without reading it, merely looking at the pictures, making observations about what is transpiring, and in many cases, making predictions about what will happen next. Sometimes a teacher won't show the final page(s) in order to maintain a surprise ending. We can harness this idea with a little modification in the FOREIGN LANGUAGE classroom! Here's how:

*CHOOSE A PICTURE BOOK with a good set of illustrations that provide enough detail and interest for your students, and do a good job of "spelling out" the story without reading the text. The alternative could be to choose a book which has beautiful representations of the target culture, much like the one above, 'Sube y baja por los Andes' by Laurie Krebs from Barefoot Books. (Link here!).

*USING THE ILLUSTRATIONS MUCH LIKE A PICTURE PROMPT, only with far more visual input to work with!, share the first illustration and have your students provide vocabulary/sentences describing what they see. Ask them questions about what is in the picture to broaden and extend the conversation (this is a great way to SPIRAL old vocabulary back into the mix!). The simple version of this method is to just keep doing this throughout the book, generating more and more vocabulary and reaction from your students. Your novices can create word lists or answer yes/no, either/or questions about the pictures, and answer Do you like? type prompts.

How to Use A Picture Book in Foreign Language Classes

*USE CULTURAL ILLUSTRATIONS as prompts to compare and contrast life in the target culture and the one shared by your students. What is the same/different? Make a Venn Diagram or a T chart to record answers. For example, in the above picture, the boy is wearing traditional Peruvian clothing, including a poncho/ ruana, and un chullo. With little students, you could do an easy compare and contrast activity by sharing photos gleaned from the internet or your own experience of these articles of clothing and typical coats/ winter hats in the US.

*HAVE OLDER STUDENTS/ ONES WITH A HIGHER PROFICIENCY LEVEL? (yes, picture books are great with high school students, too!) Go beyond the description conversation to encourage your students to start "writing" the storyline themselves, either by sharing orally, or writing in a journal or on individual whiteboards. You can record their sentences in Google drive so they can be shared out, or so you can go back and use them in a variety of additional activities such as making sentence strips to cut up so partners can put them together and order them, make color copies of the pages and have kids match the sentence strips to the illustrations, or have them write an alternate ending.

*PREDICTING IS A GREAT WAY to incorporate the future tense- before turning the page, have students predict what will happen next. When you turn the page, see if their predictions were correct! How or how not? Then continue with the storyline, predicting once again before turning the next page.

*USE SOCIAL MEDIA SITES LIKE SNAPCHAT AND INSTAGRAM with your older students-have them take a photo of one page, upload it to Snapchat or Instagram and create a #booksnap (where they write a quick blurb or description of the picture) to share with the rest of the class-super fun!

*SCAVENGER HUNT ACTIVITIES: If students have 1:1 devices, they can use them to take photos of items on a list you provide, either by looking through books themselves, or you can set up a “still life” with a book and other related cultural items. For example, setting up a variety of these as stations allows students to move around the room (a great way to incorporate purposeful movement!)

Prompts can be as simple or as complex as you like, dependent on proficiency level. For my upper elementary kids I like to have a mix of prompts, some very easy and a few that require more thought. So, for example, ‘something blue’, ‘something red’, ‘something small’, ‘something that makes me happy’, ‘something to drink’, ‘something I really like’ etc. Or you can have specific things like 'a setting sun', 'corn', 'a person flying a kite', and so on-the sky's the limit! You can create a file in your online platform for students to ‘record’ their finds (aka their fotos). This is a great ‘evergreen’ activity, meaning you can do it multiple times, just changing out the books and/or prompts-and makes a great Centers or Choice Board Activity, too!

HAVE A FAVORITE PICTURE BOOK you've been wanting to use in class? Let us know which it is in the comments!

Have fun!

Shifting Your Mindset to Reach 90% in the Target Language

HAVE YOU MADE IT A GOAL TO USE MORE TARGET LANGUAGE IN CLASS? LOOKING TO HIT THAT 90% RECOMMENDATION FROM ACTFL? One of the biggest things I learned when I made the move to bump my TL usage in class was that I had to SHIFT MY MINDSET; I was operating under a set of assumptions that were getting in my way, and as I speak with other foreign language teachers, I often hear those same assumptions expressed. Here are some things that I needed to shift in order to be successful in delivering a 90% classroom- maybe they will strike a chord with you, too:

Teaching 90% in the Target Language- Shifting Your Mindset

FIRSTLY, I HAD TO RECOGNIZE THAT IT CAN ACTUALLY BE DONE! Or rather, that all aspects of class CAN be done in the TL. Although I had been teaching a lot of my class in the target language already, I realized that there were still areas where I thought it just couldn't be done in the TL. For my part, the biggest area was certain aspects of culture, specifically those 'facts' around holidays, celebrations, traditions, famous people, etc. Other areas I commonly hear teachers mention are class expectations and routines, classroom management and relationships with kids. Barring complicated topics like grading and homework expectations at middle and high school level, most, if not all of these, can be done in the TL and/or with minimal English. The trick is in firstly making the commitment to do so-then figuring out HOW to do so. (be sure to check out my Pinterest board for ideas and links to more of my blog posts on this! Click here)

ANOTHER SHIFT HAS COME IN HOW I PLAN MY CLASSES... 90% in the TL still allows for some English to be spoken. However, since it is very limited, I have found that I have to be very INTENTIONAL in what I am going to say in English, not just what activities (and how I will do them) in Spanish. This intentionality around English has been very different from my previous planning, where I didn't even necessarily take that into account. Now, I identify beforehand WHAT I will be saying in English, whether it is framing a conversation, translating a key word(s), stating the lesson/theme goal, highlighting a key concept, etc. I have this decided prior to starting the lesson, which also helps me to stay in Spanish. And, given in my 30 minutes classes I have about 3 minutes for English (or less) being intentional really makes a difference in how I proportion the class language usage.

A BIG SHIFT HAS COME IN TERMS OF DITCHING WHAT DOESN'T WORK IN A 90% CLASSROOM. This can be a hard one for a lot of teachers; beloved lessons that we've done for years may need to be thrown out the window because they do not work, perhaps because the instructions for the activity are too complicated to do in the TL for the proficiency level of the students, or the activity itself really isn't at the right proficiency level, or the content we want to impart is too complicated to do in the TL... there are a lot of factors as to why an activity may need to be dumped. I re-evaluated (and continue to do so) my activities, and threw out a whole bunch, or modified them to be more in line with a 90% classroom. This did mean saying good bye to some projects I have loved over the years, this has meant I don't share some "deeper" information about some cultural topics, this has meant I've reworked themes to have more input in the TL, and that has been a lot of work. However, my goal is highlighted in the quote above in the photo- I want to provide enough input to increase the proficiency level of my students, and if an activity that I am doing doesn't meet that goal, I am willing to get rid of it or change it to make it further that goal. That is the guiding principle for myself-does this move my kids forward in SPANISH?

I will say that an elementary foreign language teacher has several luxuries that high school teachers, in particular, do not have...most notably, the luxury of seeing a long time span for kids to interact with the language. My kiddos start in Kindergarten and have the opportunity to study Spanish all the way to graduation. That's a very different timeline than a student who starts in 9th grade and takes 2 years to satisfy a credit requirement. I recognize that sometimes it is easy to say 'you can do this in the TL, you just have slow down and take more time to do things.' but for a high school teacher, time feels urgent and textbooks and curricula demand you 'move on quickly'. However, even for those teachers, making it a goal to increase the amount of TL used in class, whatever the percentage ultimately, is only going to benefit your students in the long run. The long term perspective, meaning a student's whole life, enables us all to look at that goal as the worthy one in the end.

 I really hope my reflection has sparked some ideas for how you can move towards more TL use in your classroom! Please let me know your thoughts and reflections in the comments- I LOVE to hear what you are doing in your room!