Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Reading Strategies for the World Language Classroom- How Teaching Them Can Really Help Your Students

OVER MY MANY YEARS TEACHING SPANISH IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, I have been very fortunate to observe literacy classes and lessons in the gen ed classroom, as well as in Title One Reading, and with our Literacy Coach. Needless to say, I have learned SO MUCH from them about teaching literacy, from vocabulary building, to environmental print, to building sight word banks, along with reading strategies and many other aspects. And of course, this is all transferable, sometimes with a bit of tweaking, to the world language classroom because we are teaching literacy, too! One component I love are the Guided Reading Strategies that are taught to many kids in their process to learn to read.

Reading Strategies for World Language Classes Spanish and French Posters

THESE READING STRATEGIES are geared to help kids when they encounter an unfamiliar word as they are reading text...sound familiar in our world language classes? Yup, even novice learners are encountering print, and I find that by 3rd grade, my kids are developmentally ready to start applying these strategies in more earnest in my class. To that end, I created the below set of Reading Strategies Posters and Bookmarks in SPANISH and FRENCH as visual supports for learners. You can download them FREE in my shop by clicking here.

Reading Strategies Posters for French and Spanish

OF COURSE, I AM ALWAYS STRIVING TO STAY IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE rather than translate, so my secondary goal with these is to make them as comprehensible as I can, with the inclusion of illustrations to aid in conveying meaning, so that both the phrases and the images work together to remind students long after the original meaning has been established (perhaps in English). Here are the six that I gleaned from our Literacy Coach that work best in my classes:

*LOOK AT THE ILLUSTRATIONS- this one is pretty obvious, right? Illustrations, by definition, show in pictorial form what the written text is saying...they do a lot of heavy lifting in the comprehension department!

*SKIP THE WORD- the secondary piece of this is 'and come back', but the key component here is not to get hung up on a word you don't know. Keep going and see if you can guess the meaning from the rest of the sentence.

*LOOK FOR FAMILIAR WORDS- This can do double duty in the world language classroom. Firstly, literally look for words you already know, they are your life preserver. Then, look at other words and see if familiar words "appear" if you cover a letter(s) or only look at a part of the word. If you teach a language with lots of cognates, these will "pop" out- a strategy I teach my students as part of how I make words more comprehensible. 

Literacy Strategies in the Foreign Language Class

*PRONOUNCE THE SYLLABLES ONE AT A TIME- I'm sure you've seen kiddos sounding out words- it's amazing how slowing down and saying the word in it's parts can "magically" reveal meaning! I think some kids become deer in the headlights when reading, so a strategy like this can really help.

*ASK YOURSELF "WHAT MAKES SENSE?"- this is a funny one because often in language classes we are talking about absurd, wildly funny, contrary to fact stuff, so asking 'what makes sense?' could be a set-up... however, you also know as a teacher that kids are highly random and often blurt out things without thinking- and this is what this strategy is really trying to get at- think before guessing. If I show you a picture of a dog eating cake, does it make sense that he is thinking of dirty socks? Probably not......

*USE YOUR RESOURCES- I provide my students with lots of ways to figure out things on their own, from visual supports on my walls, to our mini books in their folders, picture dictionaries and more. Before they ask me to be their personal interpreter/translator, my prompt is 'Use your resources, that's what they're there for.' #fosterindependence 

I hope these are of help in your classroom- please let me know what you think and how you support reading in your classes!

A Review of Pablo Cartaya's Book Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish Blog Tour August 2018

I AM ALWAYS ON THE LOOK OUT FOR BOOKS ON HISPANIC THEMES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN & TEENS... each year I write a blog post with summer reading suggestions based on the many great books I find. I love having my students include these books in their reading, and I feel as a Spanish teacher, it's really important for me to plant those seeds of interest wherever and whenever I can! This year, a colleague of mine, Emily, suggested Pablo Cartaya, author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. Particularly appealing because Cartaya's protagonists are boys (it is so challenging to find books that feature boys as the main character in this genre right now!), I was thrilled to include him in my 2018 recommendations list. (Psst! You can win a copy! After you read my review, enter OUR RAFFLE BELOW! Winner will be announced on Twitter, Thursday, Aug 23 :)

Penguin Books Blog Tour Pablo Cartaya

FLASH FORWARD to the end of July- contacted by Penguin books, I was graciously sent an advanced copy of Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, set to come out in August and invited to participate in Cartaya's BLOG TOUR, a great way to get the word out about a fantastic book! A HUGE thank you to Penguin Books for this invitation! Written for young teens, Marcus Vega is perfect for middle and high school students- and adults!

Book Review of Cartaya's Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

MARCUS VEGA starts out at Marcus' school in Philadelphia, and instantly pulls you into the trials and tribulations so familiar to many middle schoolers... feeling like an outcast, unsuccessfully navigating the social mores of school, being different. Oh, and having a non traditional family situation where you, as the kid, need to take on more responsibilities in order to help out. The kicker for me personally came when it was revealed that Marcus hadn't seen his father in over 10 years, and wanted desperately to know more about him.... this emotional need to know more is very, very familiar to me. My father died in a car accident three months before I born, so I've spent my entire life wanting to know more. I connected immediately with Marcus, but you will, too. He's just so real.

THE MEAT OF THE BOOK takes place in PUERTO RICO, where Marcus, his younger brother Charlie, and his mother head after Marcus is suspended for hitting a fellow student in defense of his brother, who has Down syndrome. Ostensibly to get away from the challenges of life and do a reset, the trip to Puerto Rico becomes a mission for Marcus to discover a family he didn't know he had, an island and a language that are part of his heritage but about which he knows next to nothing, and of course, his father, who is supposedly somewhere on the island. It is this process of discovery which highlights what constitutes our identity- and as much as the emotional power of Marcus' search for his father resonated with me on a very personal level, it was the evolving and burgeoning sense of identity that Marcus found that ultimately captured me as a language teacher.

Pablo Cartaya
CARTAYA MASTERFULLY COMBINES THIS SEARCH FOR IDENTITY with vivid scenes from Puerto Rico- sounds, smells, and views that come right off the page as you are reading them. Couple this with Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout, the reader gets an immediate sense of the culture Marcus is slowly coming to know and appreciate. As a Spanish teacher, I am particularly thrilled with how accessible and tangible these cultural elements are-I imagine one of my students (a non heritage speaker) reading this book and getting an authentic taste of Puerto Rico, a key component when I am recommending a book. Cartaya skillfully highlights how these elements are part of one's identity, and how language, food, sights, sounds, memories and more are all key to who we are.

THIS IS THE PIECE I LEAVE YOU WITH,  because I think this book is a fantastic read for any child, but most specifically those kiddos who straddle two worlds, whatever two those may be. I have had many students over my 25+ year teaching career who have tried to hide their home language, whether it be Spanish, Russian, Czech, Vietnamese, you name it. Marcus' journey sends a strong message to the reader that being a blend of languages and cultures is A GOOD THING.... there are so many kids who need to hear this, particularly in these times!

Book Review of Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

Pablo Cartaya's novels explore identity, place, and the spaces in between. His debut novel about a boy standing up for his community, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, received three starred reviews. When Pablo isn't writing, he's spending time with his family or dreaming of his next visit to Puerto Rico. You can learn more about him at and follow him on Twitter @phcartaya. You can find Cartaya's books at your local book store, or through Amazon- grab it today!

:) Julie

3 Ideas for Using Memes in the World Language Classroom

AS WORLD LANGUAGE TEACHERS, WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AUTHENTIC RESOURCES we can use in class that are both engaging and COMPREHENSIBLE. There have been some great posts written about using MEMES and other visuals of this kind in class, but I haven't seen any for ELEMENTARY level, so here are some ideas that work for me with my students: (they can be used with older kids, too!)

Using Memes in the World Language Classroom for Elementary Spanish French Kids

NOTE: At the end are some guidelines I use when choosing memes-all the ideas are predicated on these guidelines. Links to memes are there as well :)

*JUST FOR FUN: Unexpected lead in, right? Actually, my favorite way to use memes and other humorous visuals is to post them outside my classroom door so when my kiddos arrive, they can look at them, read them, we all chuckle, and punto. No making a big deal, no working hard to get kids to understand something, just good ole fun- we need this with our students, and humorous memes can make it possible with little to no work on your part as a teacher. What I love about this, too, is that kids see these throughout the day and week, not just when it's Spanish class, since they are in the hallway. I frequently hear kids repeating the phrases to each other, or reading them out loud as they pass. (BONUS: Reading!!)

If you are on a cart, without a classroom, just post the memes somewhere in the hallway or lobby of the school. (I did this for years when I was on a cart :) )

*CREATE A CAPTION: This is a fun activity for students who have more language under their belt- challenge them to create an alternative caption to the one in the meme. This can be a fun centers activity, 'right before a holiday' activity, or as part of a theme that focuses on specific vocabulary sets. I am also a huge fan of putting up an image, handing out sticky notes, and having kids write their caption on the sticky note. We then put them all up there, sharing as we stick them- I then hang the whole thing in the hallway so other classes can check them out. Take, for example, the image below- students can create captions about the sock, how he's feeling, or even just a short phrase or sentence describing the image.

Link to this pin
*CULTURAL CONNECTIONS: Perhaps it goes without saying that since memes are authentic resources, they inherently convey culture-which is a huge bonus as they therefore allow us to incorporate "small culture", my term for culture that doesn't fall into those 'big ticket' cultural topics like holidays & celebrations, food, traditional dress, etc...those 'everyday' bits of culture that, in my opinion, are as powerful and important as the big ticket topics, and are far easier to incorporate on a daily basis. By virtue of being authentic, they allow students to experience the act of enjoying humor that has been created for exactly this purpose, or as a way to brighten one's day; additionally, many memes contain images from the perspective of the target culture: this could look like the type of food depicted (a beet or turnip in a Russian meme, for ex), the type of animal depicted (a llama for Spanish vs a moose for Canada), the scenery (the Eiffel Tower in the background, a forest vs mountains, etc), even the color scheme can convey cultural perspectives (Russian illustrations often have a very typical color scheme which is immediately recognizable; many memes & other images incorporate colors of the flag connected to the region/country, which again, conveys cultural information). The season depicted might also convey cultural perspectives- imagine snow for Canada or Finland, or an autumnal scene with chestnuts for Spain...these types of images tap into deep cultural perspectives and associations for native speakers, just as the Canada geese honking overhead reminds me of my childhood and the arrival of fall. You can see what I mean in the images below:

Using memes in the foreign language classroom

You can point out these cultural components when talking about the visuals, or just let your kids soak them in. Never underestimate the power of unconscious mental connections!

LIST WHAT YOU SEE: Given many of our students are at Novice Low and/or Mid, single words & phrases are a hallmark of their proficiency level. Give them a prompt to simply list any and all words they can think of related to what they see in the meme (or any image!)- it could be as simple as naming colors, objects, etc or phrases like ‘I like’ or ‘I’m hungry’. I love this because it allows for differentiation across all students & abilities, including heritage learners.

HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT MEMES & PINS TO USE? I look for ones that have language in context that my elementary novice level students can comprehend without me translating... this means vocabulary that we have used in class, and vocabulary they can intuit through the image and context. If the language is too challenging for their proficiency level (and/or age range and mental stage), then it is not appropriate for my kiddos, even if I personally think it is great! This ties into my goal of teaching 90-100% in the target language. There are so many out there that fall within these guidelines! For a bunch, you can check out my Pinterest board here (Spanish and some Russian). For French, more Russian, and German click my board here.

HOW DO YOU USE MEMES? Let me know in the comments!