Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Resources for Teaching La Galette des Rois for French Class

LA GALETTE DES ROIS IS THE PERFECT KID FRIENDLY TREAT TO INCORPORATE IN FRENCH CLASS DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON! With few ingredients, and a wealth of tradition surrounding it, la galette is a French teacher's dream when teaching little kids (and big ones, too!) Here are some links, videos and resources that work well in class:

Resources for Teaching about La Galette des Rois in French class

*J'AIME LA GALETTE: This song, with lyrics below it on Youtube, is simple to learn, and well illustrated! The link is here. And in case you are looking for more versions, here's the link to one by Les comptines du zoo and one by Pinpin et Lili, one of my favorite channels!

La galette des rois in French Class

*WHISTLEFRITZ also offers a lovely version of La Galette des Rois song on their CD 'Carnaval' which you can grab by clicking here!

La galette des rois for french class for kids

*HISTOIRE: LA GALETTE DES ROIS: Although this video is most likely at a higher proficiency level than your students, it could definitely be used by making screen shots of the key components of the history of the galette, and placing them in historical order, or using small labels for the screen shots you've made. The link is here.

Teaching la galette des rois in french Class

*LA GALETTE DES ROIS GAME: This game is a fun & simple way to incorporate la galette with little learners! Kids take turns trying to guess behind which number you've hidden la fève, perfect for novice low students! You can grab the game in our shop here :)

La galette des rois game for french class

*RECETTE: This is a beautifully illustrated infographic of the recipe to make la galette, click here to view the entire infographic.

La galette des rois for french class

*ROULE GALETTE: The classic edition is available on Amazon by clicking here!

La galette des rois for french class

*and don't miss the adorable P'TIT LOUP EST LE ROI DE LA GALETTE which you can find on Amazon by clicking here :)

La galette des roi for french for kids class

And in case you need a PRINTABLE CROWN for L'Épiphanie, grab our FREE one here!

December Stations Activities for World Language Classes

HAPPY DECEMBER! LIKE ME, YOU KNOW THIS MONTH CAN BE WILD, ESPECIALLY IN THE ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM, where excitement over upcoming holidays can wash away any memory of an established routine or procedure in an instant and reduce YOU to a crying mess in no time flat... or maybe that's just me?! lol

December Stations Activities for World Language Classes Spanish French Russian

ENTER STATIONS ACTIVITIES... last year, to save my sanity (and I am NOT kidding), I decided to do stations activities with my Second Graders-we had three VERY difficult classes behavior wise, with little success at circle on an average day, and with holiday emotions running high, I realized I had to switch things up so I, too, could enjoy the month. Honestly, I just wanted to make it out alive. #highlightREAL. Stations were, and are, as I discovered, a great way to engage kids in meaningful activities while also avoiding some of the less desirable behaviors that can surface at circle, such as yelling across the rug at one's friend REPEATEDLY, rolling about on the floor, windmilling arms that inevitably smack a classmate and then cause a get the picture. Given my students come from a variety of backgrounds and heritages, I incorporated various holidays and traditions in the original set of stations, and am expanding upon this idea this year, some being multicultural, and some being target culture specific-please note that they should be accompanied by background information, particularly if they are unfamiliar to your students. Given we all have different student populations, I thought it might be a helpful idea to provide a MIX AND MATCH set of stations you could choose from. GENERAL INFORMATION ON HOW TO RUN & MANAGE STATIONS IS PROVIDED AFTER THE LIST OF SELECTIONS :)

1* MAKE ORNAMENTS: Always a favorite, kids love to make ornaments that they can take home, and/or give to a family member- my mom still puts the macaroni glued to a plastic container top ornament my sister made in 1986 on the family tree-it's hideous, but hey, it always makes us laugh! I do try to make ornaments that aren't quite that gaudy, and designed a set this year that is based off my arpillera project I do in First Grade, which you can find by clicking here. And for Hedgehog & Mushroom Ornaments, click here!

Llama and Cactus DIY Ornament Templates for Spanish Class & Multicultural

2* PLAY DREIDEL: A dreidel station is perfect for this time of year, many kids already know how to play, and can teach their classmates. I have a printable dreidel template in Spanish and one in French so you can add to the language component- just click on each language to grab yours! And don't miss my blog post on Hanukkah in the Spanish classroom, with more ideas and links to making this celebration part of class.

3* MAKE PAPER POINSETTIAS: Poinsettias originally come from México and are part of Christmas celebrations there as well as in the US and Canada. I have a FREE downloadable poinsettia activity here. And for a bulletin board set highlighting the history of the poinsettia & it's journey to the US, click here !

4* HOLIDAY CARDS: I love to provide the opportunity for my kiddos to make holiday cards for family, teachers, and friends! Reinforcing interpersonal skills & community building, greeting cards are an authentic way for kids to combine language & kindness. You can find our set of Christmas printable cards for Spanish by clicking here.

5* ROLL A SOLSTICE TREE: The Christmas tree as we know it today originally comes from pagan traditions celebrating the Winter Solstice and the return of the sun. Inspired by a theme The Woke Spanish Teacher did last year, I've created this simple activity highlighting key elements of the Winter Solstice which can support your teaching of this celebration, available in Spanish, English, and French. These now include digital dice for distance learning! (click on each language to grab!). Be sure to also check out this additional post by The Woke Spanish Teacher on how to create more inclusive December lessons.

6* KWANZAA COLORING PAGE: Teaching about Kwanzaa in class? Consider including our Color By Number Activity Page of the Kinara, reinforcing the 7 principles of Kwanzaa! You can grab our page in Spanish here.

Kwanzaa Color by Number Page in Spanish

7* ROLL A PIÑATA: Piñatas are part of Christmas time in México, and this fun activity is a great way to integrate traditional fillings for piñatas. Kids roll a die to find out what fillings they need to draw in their piñata-available in Spanish and in English! Now includes a digital dice video which can be used in distance learning!

Roll a piñata Activity Page in Spanish and English

8* WRITING TO THE THREE KINGS: For your upper elementary students, a fun activity is to write a letter to the Three Kings (instead of Santa Claus), which provides a concrete opportunity for them to experience a cultural contrast while utilizing language in context. You can find our FREE downloadable letter in Spanish with infographic visual support by clicking here :) and for the FRENCH VERSION, click here!

9* ORANGE AND CLOVE POMANDERS: I LOVE these traditional decorations, very common all over Europe during the holiday season! The aroma is divine, and they are super easy to make, even for little hands. I have the instructions on my blog post here, which includes links to videos in a variety of languages :)

Making orange and clove pomanders in world language class

10* HOLIDAY FOOD LABELING: I am a huge fan of this activity I developed a few years ago that can be done with just about any theme- "labeling" photos and/or screenshots from videos with word cards in the target language. Perfect for novices, this activity incorporates early literacy skills while also providing cultural images and info at the same time. With holiday foods/dishes, it is extremely helpful to ensure the photos you use are very clear, showing the main components on the plate, or main ingredients being readily recognized, especially if the dishes are unfamiliar to your students. Do a Google or Pinterest search for the countries of your target culture to find adequate photos.

Label holiday dishes in target language for Cultural integration Christmas

11* ROLL A RÁBANO: December 23 marks la Noche de los Rábanos in Oaxaca, México, featuring figures & scenes carved out of radishes. Here is a light hearted activity to go along with this celebration-a digital die video is included for remote learners - activity is in both Spanish & English.

Roll a Rábano Activity Page English Spanish

I have found that stations can definitely be a challenge, but I find they have their place when organized effectively. A NOTE on how I integrate them in my classes:

-Most of my stations are geared to last 10-15 minutes max. This means, during my 30 minute class periods, I also do other activities before kids go to a station, which typically includes a greeting activity, songs, practice & review, re-reading our mini book of the theme, etc. This minimizes my concerns around less input in a whole class setting because the station activity does not take the entire class time.
-Most frequently, I organize stations to take place over the course of multiple classes, rather than within one, so kids only go to ONE station during any given lesson. We rotate over the number of classes needed for everyone to complete all stations.
-I usually don't have a station that requires my presence in order for kids to take part, which leaves me the opportunity to circulate around the room, connecting with individuals at all of the stations.
-Since most of my classes range from 18-22 kids, FOUR stations is usually what I do, though depending on your student population, you can do fewer or more :)

-When introducing stations, I try to give a quick explanation of each, pointing out the key instructions for engaging in the activities. Balancing more familiar ones with less familiar is very helpful, and even more if all the activities are familiar to kids, lessening the amount of time it takes to explain each station. I do anticipate that I will circle around and give more directed instruction to those who need it.
-I divide my students into groups that I believe will function well together, which is to say, behavior and personalities are taken into consideration.
-As noted above, I only do one station during a class period, rotating instead over the course of multiple class times. I give a quick review of the instructions after the first introductions to remind kids about each one, especially since sometimes we won't see each other for a few days before the next class.
-I have learned to let go of some of my concerns around kids speaking English to one another at the stations-it's a tradeoff that I am making, and which honestly keeps us all a lot happier. That being said, I really try to encourage language use, and, as indicated by the activities above, I try to incorporate ones that require use of the language in some way to complete. As you are making a mix & match selection from those above (and/or other ones), consider being sure to include ones that do this, along with perhaps one craftivity.

What are your December lessons plans? Let me know in the comments! :)

Mystery Scents Activity for Me Gusta (Preferences) Theme

I LOVE TO PROVIDE EXPERIENTIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR MY ELEMENTARY SPANISH STUDENTS, activities that are authentic and foster real conversation, interaction & reaction on the part of everyone in the room. One such activity that I LOVE to do is Mystery Scents, which I incorporate into my Me gustan las frutas Theme as well as subsequently through my first graders' year. Simple in nature, this activity also allows me to stay in the target language since it is perfectly geared for novice learners! Here's how I run the activity:

Mystery Scents Activity for Me gusta theme preferences in Spanish French

Gather together paper lunch bags and a variety of items that have distinctive scents, such as fruits (lemons, oranges and bananas are particularly great!), coffee, spices, pine cones/pine needles, etc. You can see in the photo above I also used cinnamon sticks and mint leaves; I've also used orchid scented soap during my theme on Venezuela, vanilla/ vanilla beans, coconut, perfume, among other items. Place one item in each bag. You will also need cards that indicate a variety of preferences expressions, such as ours shown in the photo above-for my first graders I only use 'me gusta' and 'no me gusta', but it is easy to add more as kids gain more vocabulary!

Place preference cards on either side of the room. With kids sitting in circle, indicate that they are to sniff the contents of one bag, in silence. (Although they are not perfect at staying silent, I work to keep them as quiet as possible so they don't tell everyone else what they think it is before all have had a chance to take a sniff).
I walk around the circle, letting each kid take a sniff, reminding them to stay silent. Once all have sniffed the contents, I then direct them to either stand near 'me gusta' (I like) or 'no me gusta' (I don't like) in reference to the scent. NOTE: we haven't said what it is yet!
Once all kids are standing near the indication of their preference, I then ask them what they think it is. Sometimes I start with questions like 'Is it a taco?' 'Is it pizza', etc that are obviously NOT what it is, especially if it's a word they are not secure with. If it is a word they know, I would then ask, 'So, what is it?'. If it's not a secure word, but still a cognate, I can usually successfully say, 'Is it café?' and they get it; otherwise I just reveal the item and name it in the target language.
I then instruct them to sit back down and we start another round. Usually, in one 30 minute lesson, I do 2-3 mystery bags (we also do greeting activities, sing a song and/or review before we get to this). I do this activity twice during my Me gustan las frutas theme, while in other themes, I might just bring it back for one lesson with new items geared for that particular theme.

Mystery Scents Activity for Me gusta theme in Spanish class

I do really like to connect the items as much as possible to the theme itself, such as the orchid scented soap I mentioned above for my Venezuela theme. You could also use scented oils or even Glade or air fresheners if you are searching for a particular scent. I prefer items themselves so the kids can look at them and make a connection, but occasionally there is that one perfect scent that you only find as an air freshener! :)

To make it easier for you to do this activity, our Likes and Dislikes Preferences Cards in Spanish are ready to print and use in class, just click here to grab them! And for a set in FRENCH, click here!

Likes Dislikes Preferences Bulletin Board Cards in Spanish

UPDATE! I wanted to do this activity with my 4th graders (usually I do it in first grade most frequently), but since they are older, I decided to add a writing component instead of having them move from one side of the room to the other. Also, since my upper elementary students sit in groups at tables, I had to re-think how to do the activity so there wasn't lots of down time while kids were waiting to sniff the bags. Here's the modification:

Mystery Scents Preference activity in small groups

Using multiple sets of each item (4 bags for each since I have four groups of students in each class), I labeled the bags 1, 2, 3, and 4, then started the first round by putting Bag #1 on all tables, instructing them to wait until all were handed out, then gave the go ahead for each group to sniff their bag's contents. Since they are very intent on trying to figure out what's in the bag, they were allowed to look inside. The key was for them to write their reaction to the SMELL in Box #1 (I like it, I really like etc). I gave them a time limit for writing; then gathered the bags and started the next round.

Preferences Writing Sheet for Mystery Scents Activity in World Language

At the end of the four rounds, I asked kids to tell me which smell they liked the best, 1, 2, 3, or 4, which was a great follow up question! Don't want to make the writing sheet yourself (or don't have time!).. you can download it for FREE by clicking here (it is in four languages, Spanish, French, Russian, and English).

Blowing Bubbles- A Calm Activity for FLES World Language Classes

EVER HAVE THOSE CLASSES WHERE KIDS ARE JUST SO IMPULSIVE, SO WIGGLY you can barely get anything done? Nearly every year, I have at least one incoming Kindergarten class that feels like a whole batch of tumbling puppies who have no idea that being in school involves learning, as well as play (well, at least in my room we play a lot!). As I start the year, introducing routines & class expectations, I also find, particularly with classes like these, incorporating activities which foster self control and calm are immensely helpful as we focus on being learners (as well as puppies!). A number of years ago, I started searching out activities that work on this fostering of self control and stumbled upon this one- blowing bubbles- BUT DON'T POP THEM!

HERE'S A SIMPLE EXPLANATION OF HOW I RUN THIS ACTIVITY (NOTE: this is all in the target language):

(Lights off (to reinforce the idea of calm) & I speak in a soft voice)
*We all sit in circle, including me. I indicate they need to be at the edge of the rug & stay in their place.
*I take out the bubbles and the wand and tell the kids I'm going to blow some bubbles.
*I blow one batch of bubbles and express amazement- Wow! Look at the bubbles!
*I monitor very closely to see if any hands reach out-if they do, I gently redirect, indicating not to touch the bubbles.
*Usually there are at least a few who try to pop the bubbles :) so...
*I start again, saying I am going to blow bubbles-this time I tell them not to touch or pop the bubbles before I blow them, miming the instruction.
*I blow some more bubbles, again monitoring carefully and gently redirecting as necessary.
*I repeat this process, each time w the expectation no bubbles will be popped. Usually by the third time most kids will get the idea and will refrain, allowing us all to marvel at the beauty of the bubbles, and watching the ones that land but don't pop (this is endlessly captivating for my students!)
*At this point, it should become apparent (if not already) as to who really needs this activity the most-your wiggle worm! For me, the whole point of this activity is to help the really impulsive ones develop some self control, which also takes a lot of patience on my part, because now you have to monitor, coach & celebrate the success of this kiddo.
>It is not uncommon at this point, during the first introduction of this activity, that the wiggle worm just does not have the skills yet to self contain. I usually put the activity away, but bring it back next class and we try again. So far, in the many times I have done this activity, it has only taken 3 class times to get my little wiggle friends to hold back. (yes, this is a long haul activity, and I am sure there is that kiddo out there who just never responds). Coupled with other activities designed for developing self control, this can be powerful for kiddos like this. Out of control bodies can often have a negative impact on social relationships with classmates, obviously interferes with learning, and can frankly drive everyone nuts. And, since this activity can be done entirely in the target language, you are still providing an immersive setting-win-win!

UPDATED: Interested in doing this activity, but can't blow bubbles because of your mask? No worries! Instead, use the large wand which you wave through the air instead of blowing through :) 

And for a fun way to practice personal space bubbles, have each kid stand inside a hula hoop, all of which are distanced one from the other. Blow bubbles (using the large wand) amidst the kids, allowing them to pop the bubbles ONLY if they (the bubbles) enter their personal space. If a kid steps out of his/her "bubble" aka hula hoop, they have to sit down for a turn. TIP: If you are able to do this activity outside (which would be fantastic!) it is really helpful if you are able to set up the hula hoops outside beforehand so you don't have to carry them. This will also reduce handling them so you don't have to clean them :) 

Use Hula Hoops to practice Social distancing
For more calm activities in the classroom, check out my post 'Be the calm classroom'! And don't miss my Pinterest board on classroom management by clicking here.

And, for the original video I watched and modified for my class on this activity, click here!

Sample Lesson Plans for Preschool World Language Class such as Spanish and French

ONE QUESTION I RECEIVE REGULARLY IS HOW TO PLAN A SPECIFIC LESSON, how to break down timings for various age groups in order for the class to run effectively and efficiently. I thought it might be helpful to start a short series of blog posts highlighting sample lesson plans that could serve as a template for teachers. Let's start with PRESCHOOL- and remember, this is just a TEMPLATE, there are tons of variations on the idea, this is meant to serve as a global 'get you started' outline-this could work well for a first day/first week lesson plan:

Sample Preschool Lesson Plan Template for Spanish and French


*GREET students at the door or at rug (if you are on a cart) with a simple ¡Hola! / Bonjour!

*INVITE students to stand in a line outside the rug; motion for each to sit in a designated spot on the rug (make seating charts ahead of time-you can always change these later once you know the kids better). Model walking to the seat and gently guide your little friends to their space. I frequently make the 'shhh' sound and a finger to my lips while I am doing this-it reinforces the idea of calm and begins to instill the concept of paying attention to me for direction.

*GREETING SONG OR GAME : because this age is so squirrelly, having a song or game that does not take turns is optimal (otherwise they will lose their attention and patience). A song like ¡Hola! from Super Simple Spanish can be accompanied by doing the actions in the video or rhythmic clapping-don't worry about them learning the words, but rather just moving along with the song at this point.

*NAME GAME Naturally you want to start learning names, but because of their attention span, activities where you are calling on one at a time can lead to losing them quickly. Instead try a simple listening- movement activity like "Stand up _____" (name in blank) , "Sit down ___", -have name cards handy and just pull them randomly so kids have to listen for their name and do the action (be sure to model what stand up is-be in a seated position yourself, say 'stand up' in the target language, and stand up, using your hands to indicate an upward motion. For 'sit down', be standing, say 'sit down' in the target language', sit down while using your hands to indicate a downward motion). After a few names, start calling two names at a time, work up to three names, etc. Have some kids remain standing for a rounds before having them sit back down again. Keep the pace brisk while pulling cards and calling names while giving the instructions, just for stand up and sit down. Give applause frequently for their great listening :) It usually takes me 2-4 classes to learn all names, so I do games like this EVERY class to help me get them down.

*HIGH FIVE When you end the above game, have a mini celebration with a high five-give a high five to the kid next to you in circle, that kid then "passes" the high five to the next kid and so on around the circle. Celebrating success, big and little, builds confidence and reduces some of their anxieties about not knowing the target language.

*COOL DOWN After all that energy, it can be helpful to have a cool down time. Lullabies are a great way to bring this about, as it naturally taps into a routine they already know well. Turn off the lights, make a 'shhh' sound with finger to lips, and play a quiet song like La lechuza hace shhh or Au clair de la lune. The goal is not for them to learn the words, but rather to watch and settle down a bit. Bring in the element of imaginative play by having them pretend to go to's night time, let's go to sleep. You can sing the lullaby again as they "drift off". Let them "sleep" for a minute or two, then "wake them up" with a magic wand or sprinkling "magic dust" on them. You can even have them go back to sleep and do the imaginative play again :)

*GOOD BYE I like to have a low key good bye at the end of class. Have them stand up (but stay in their circle spots) and invite them to line up by walking in the order they are sitting around the outside of the rug. As they leave, say 'good bye' in the target language to each one with a wave :)

45 MINUTES OR MORE (Incorporating the above plus the below-consider these "buffet items" that you can mix and match depending on your class)

*BILINGUAL STORY TIME: This can be a great option if you are ok with a fair amount of English being spoken during your class. Connecting with the lullaby above, you could read a 'bedtime story' like 'Buenas noches luna'/ 'Bonsoir lune' before they "go to sleep".

*CIRCLE GAME I love playing circle games where everyone is involved, such as 'Al corro de la patata' or 'A la rueda de San Miguel', or 'Corre el trencito', and in French, Rosi Rosa and they are perfect for little kids. Again, I am not looking for them to learn the words, but rather to just participate in the game.

*FREEZE DANCE My kiddos LOVE to play Freeze Dance, and it is a great way to not only incorporate authentic music, but also to instill elements of self control. I always go over my three guidelines for moving before we start: 1) you stay in your spot 2) your body is in control 3) we don't touch anyone else while dancing

*DRINKS sometimes, especially with a long class period like this, it helps to take a drink break. Just be cognizant that, if you have a large class, you will have squirrels in line while they are waiting or after they have had their turn at a drink. Clapping songs, counting, I spy can help keep everyone together while getting drinks. It also helps to do a count down for each kid so they don't take forever getting a drink.. 1, 2, 3 and done. Next!

AS I MENTIONED ABOVE, there are MANY variations on this, but I am hopeful this can serve as a guide. Note that I did not include rules or norms in this first class; there is plenty of time to go over these in subsequent classes :) My goal with any first class for preschool and Kindergarten is to keep it low key, with little expectation of output on their part, and let them start to get to know ME by the tone of my voice,  my smile, my welcoming demeanor and upbeat time together. :)

Eid Breakfast at Abuela's Book Review

AS AN ELEMENTARY SPANISH TEACHER, I am always on the lookout for books that represent the wide diversity of the Spanish speaking world-and that also represent my students, both those who are heritage learners, and those who come from a variety of backgrounds other than heritage Spanish speaking, such as the Bosnian Muslim family that moved into our district last year. I was SO EXCITED to stumble upon this new book, Eid Breakfast at Abuela's, by Mariam Saad. Sprinkled with Spanish, this book tells the story of Sofia, whose father is Muslim, and who travels with her family to visit her Mexican Abuela to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan.

ALTHOUGH SOFIA'S GRANDMOTHER IS NOT MUSLIM, she prepares a party in honor of Eid, melding Mexican and Islamic traditions together. From a banner that reads '¡Feliz Eid!' to empanadas and churros, a visit to the mosque and a song in both Arabic and Spanish, this story sweetly honors a family's welcoming of multiple backgrounds to become one together- certainly an inspirational message for our times!

AT THE BACK OF THE BOOK is a bonus-a vocabulary list in three languages-Spanish, Arabic and English-LOVE!! I hope you love this book as much as I do!

YOU CAN ORDER THIS BOOK at Prolance Writers by clicking here!

About the Author: 
Mariam Saad was raised in Southern California by Egyptian parents. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton. She worked at the family business for many years, with schools locally, and taught 8th Grade English abroad. With the birth of her son, her time and energy were focused at home while she surrounded him with reading materials and developmental toys. Before getting a taste for his board books, her son had taken interest in listening to her voice while he admired the images and felt the textures on the pages. This was the start of her inspiration in entering the world of children through story telling and lesson teaching.

About the Illustrator:
Chaymaa Sobhy is a children's book illustrator based in Cairo, Egypt.
Instagram: @chaymaadraws

How to Teach A Song With Regional Variations Resources for Spanish

ONE OF THE THINGS I LOVE MOST ABOUT my online community of fellow world language teachers is the opportunity to meet and learn from colleagues around the world. One such teacher and song writer, Ana Calabrese, has inspired me with her dedication to creating songs in Spanish that are not only beautiful in their own right, but are designed to both teach Spanish AND convey positive messages to her students, and by extension, to ours. Her approach is thoughtful, grounded in good practice, and shows her ability to understand what young children enjoy and bring that to her music.

Spanish Plus ME Song Activity

IN A CONVERSATION WITH ANA ABOUT TEACHING SONGS, she made mention of her wish to inspire more teachers to use music and songs in their classes, but also expressed a concern that many teachers might run into challenges incorporating them in their classes due to regional variations in vocabulary.  Most of us have had at least one moment where we have been teaching vocabulary that either a student or a parent questions because they have grown up with and/or learned different words for the same thing, so we can relate! From that conversation, Ana went on to write a post with fantastic tips to celebrate this diversity via songs and music. Along with the excellent tips, one of the things I love most about her post is how she shares her personal experiences as a Colombian living here in the US, and how they have allowed her to grow as a teacher and supporter of bilingualism.

I SHARE THIS REVIEW WITH YOU in the hopes you will visit Ana's website, read her article (click here!) and check out her songs-they will be a wonderful addition to your classes!

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya Book Review

I WAS SO EXCITED TO BE INVITED TO REVIEW PABLO CARTAYA'S NEW BOOK, EACH TINY SPARK, especially as I had loved his book, Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, which I had reviewed last summer (you can read my review by clicking here), and I was not disappointed!

Each Tiny Spark tells the story of Emilia Rose, a tween living outside Atlanta, Georgia, with a lot of different puzzles to figure out in her life: how to deal with having ADHD, understanding her father who has returned from overseas active duty, town politics affecting her school, her own latina heritage, and the history of immigration and it's impact on her neighbors, friends and family.

Emilia Rose's story is compelling, entirely relatable, and poignant. In many ways, the multiple threads of the storyline mirror Emilia's ADHD in that you don't spend long amounts of time on any one of them, but rather Cartaya skillfully weaves vignettes together-Emilia trying to deal with her father's lack of communication while at the same time they work on fixing up an old Shelby Mustang together, the pressure she feels from her Abuela to conform to traditional dress and activities of young latina girls, navigating a friendship that is rapidly deteriorating, and coming to terms with the strong emotions school redistricting is surfacing in her town. Running through each of these is a common thread of identity, which Emilia Rose ultimately discovers as she works to untangle the facts she learns about her state's history and which develops a sense of purpose within her to raise awareness about immigration law and the unfair treatment many immigrants have received.

Pablo Cartaya
One of the most fascinating aspects of Cartaya's book is the local history-I learned so much about my own country through the research his character, Emilia, does for her school project. As she digs deeper into the past, Cartaya treats the reader to an informative overview of the law and it's impact on individuals and families. What I love about this is it's accessibility to young readers, and how the development of Emilia's understanding is contagious-as you read her process, you cannot help but want to get involved, too-an incredible message for today's young readers!

:) Julie

For more information:
Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It's hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.

     Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family's auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear.

     But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict. 

     Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya is a tender story about asking big questions and being brave enough to reckon with the answers.

Pre-order Here:

Pablo Cartaya is an award-winning author, speaker, actor, and educator. In 2018, he received a Pura Belpré Author Honor for his middle grade novel, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. His second novel, Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish, is also available.

Weather Talk in World Language Classes - An Authentic Approach

WEATHER VOCABULARY IS A STAPLE OF WORLD LANGUAGE CLASSES, with weather reports and/or themes a common part of many programs. Over the last few years, I have seen it lose popularity with some teachers for a variety of reasons including a concern that it's not relevant to students, or it's boring, etc. I cannot say whether this is true at older levels, but I have found that amongst my elementary students, nothing is farther from the truth. Little kids talk about the weather ALL the time-if you are an #earlylang teacher, take a moment to listen to them. Weather plays a huge role in their lives-if it's raining, chances are they will have inside recess. If it's snowing, there could be an early release, or a snow day. Or they might get to go sledding at recess time (at least in my school). Not to mention snow is still magical to most kids-just think, they have only seen first snow of the season 5-6 times! Thunderstorms can be scary, and heavy wind is definitely an event! All of this is to say that I hear weather talk from my students on a regular basis, and since I am always listening to what they are saying in order to figure out how I can move that from English to Spanish (in what I call the 'replacement approach'-more on that in another post :) ), it is natural for me to want to incorporate weather in my classes.

Weather Talk for Authentic communication in world language classes

HERE'S THE THING-I WANT IT TO BE ORGANIC, I want it to be part of the natural dialogue and interaction we are already having in class, part of the CONVERSATION- because I want it to be authentic and meaningful for my kiddos. There is a difference between giving a weather report as part of calendar time and stopping class to point out the window and call out 'It's snowing, friends!". For those who say there are no authentic moments in a language classroom, I respectfully disagree. If you all rush to the window and watch the snow together, commenting and reacting in the target language, you've got an authentic moment on your hands. If it's a beastly hot day and you all comment on it, complaining about the heat, that's an authentic moment. And, oh, I also call it INTERPERSONAL because you and your students are interacting with one another in the target language, swapping opinions and reactions.

SO, HOW TO BRING WEATHER TALK TO YOUR CLASSES? It's both simple & a bit challenging at the same time. It's simple because the phrases themselves are familiar to us as teachers, and short, which is great for delivery purposes. The challenge is in being comfortable with the impromptu nature of changing course in the middle of a lesson to react to weather as it unfolds, and remembering to include it as part of other themes, activities you are doing. The other piece of course is that it adds an element of the unknown to your planning, and may skew some classes in a grade level off of others, which can get a little hairy. Practically speaking, you need to be prepared with visuals to help you stay in the target language and provide clear, comprehensible input for your kiddos. I don't do calendar time (another topic that I incorporate organically), so no weather report either-and by this I mean where a student stands up at the front of the class and tells the weather to everyone. I don't have an issue with this, especially since most elementary kids are familiar with this activity, I just don't do it in my classes. Instead, I intentionally plan on mentioning the weather "in passing" or reacting to weather events as they occur outside my classroom window. If I have time, I will run outside between classes to take a photo of the current weather with one of our characters that I can then project on the whiteboard to support a comment I want to make. Sometimes I mention the weather and ask questions as my kids are arriving, or I embed it in other thematic activities we are doing, the greeting, or even as they are leaving. The key is in being authentic yourself-remember, interactions like this build community as well as language skills! :)

HERE'S A SIMPLE INTERACTION for novice learners to serve as an example:
Me: Look, kids, it's snowing!
Me: It's snowing-it's so pretty!
Me: Wow, it's snowing. I really like the snow. _____ (kid's name), do you like the snow?
____ answers. (I react depending on their answer- Yes, me too, I really like the snow. or No, you don't like the snow? Is it too cold? (this could go on depending on student & class, or stop here)
Me: _____ (kid's name, different kid), do you like the snow?
____ answers. I react.
Me: Kids, raise your hand if you like the snow. (I count hands and react)
Me: Kids, raise your hand if you don't like the snow (again, I count hands and react)

I could continue this conversation depending on the kids and the class-we could end up talking about things we like to do in the snow using yes/no questions, the cold and whether we like it or not, the rate of snowfall (fast or slow), if we brought our snowsuits to school that day or not (again yes/no), whether they will be sledding at recess or not (yes/no format again), etc OR I may just move on or return to what we were doing before I noticed the snow. This 'go with the flow' teaching is part of what I mentioned above in terms of being a bit challenging-but it is very rewarding to see kids sharing and building community together!

NOTE: in the above, having visuals for the yes/no questions is crucial to stay in the target language, especially with novice speakers who may not be familiar with some of the vocabulary. For example, if I am asking about going sledding at recess, I use a photo of kids sledding on OUR playground to ask the question 'Are you going to sled today at recess?'. All they need to answer is yes/no-REMEMBER, you can pose questions with unfamiliar vocabulary if you are using a yes/no format and still have an authentic conversation!

BONUS! WEATHER EXPRESSIONS ARE A GREAT WAY TO INCORPORATE CULTURE in a contextualized format-working them in as you go makes for what I call 'everyday culture', those small ticket items that make up so much of our lives, such as idiomatic expressions like the one in our photo of Olivia below (NOTE: this is another expression for Está lloviendo a cántaros, another being Está lloviendo hasta maridos)

Está lloviendo a mares Weather Idiomatic Expressions in Spanish

NEED WEATHER VISUALS FOR CLASS? We currently have them in Spanish (click here), French (click here) and Russian, and German on the way!

How I've Broken Down Novice Low & Mid into Sub Categories-and Why

LAST SUMMER I WROTE OUT MY INTERPRETATION OF THE ACTFL NOVICE LEVELS WITH AN ELEMENTARY PERSPECTIVE, which has really helped me view my students and their interactions in class more clearly. (Read them here) However, this has also prompted me to get more serious about my desire to change how I assess and grade my students, which is to say, along proficiency lines rather than discrete assessments at any one point in time. In some ways, I am already doing this, having identified what my expectations are for each grade level, but I am looking to take it further to define it as a proficiency level for each grade level. But, this brings with it significant challenges-for ex, my kiddos, over the course of their five years with me, mostly fall in Novice Low and Novice Mid for the bulk of our time together, with movement into Novice High for a portion. This means assigning Novice Low for 2-3 grades levels, which honestly doesn't help me if I am trying to identify whether a kiddo is 'On grade level' or not. Contemplating this nugget brought into focus the fact that even within each of these sub-categories (Low, Mid, High) there are gradations-not all Novice Low looks the same, especially if you are looking at a kiddo over the course of a couple of years. A Kindergartner in September is a different Novice Low than a First Grader in June, after having two years of class. So....

Breakdown of Novice Low & Mid Utterances into Sub Categories

TO DELVE INTO THIS MORE, I DECIDED TO TRACK STUDENT UTTERANCES & INTERACTIONS so I could get a clearer sense of what is actually happening. To that end, last November, I started writing down verbatim what my students are saying, and roughly placing them on a continuum from Novice Low to Novice High. I continued this process all the way to June, using a closet door in my room and sticky notes. What became readily apparent was what I suspected- lots of gradation, but patterns began to emerge within those gradations where I have been able to lump utterances together. So, for example, within what I am terming Novice Low, there are these:

"Green and blue!"

"It's verde and azul."

"Verde y azul."

These are all in answer to the question "¿De qué color es ____?". Note the progression from English, to a mixed bilingual sentence, to a completely target language response that would be a typical response from anyone, even a native speaker, when answering this question (I say this because, as we all know, it is common to answer questions of this kind without using a full sentence-What color is the ___? Green and blue.)

OK, SO NOW WHAT? As the year progressed and I had more and more utterances documented, I began thinking about what to term these sub-sub categories, and/or how I could present them visually. My internal metaphor for learning another language has always been to liken the process to climbing a mountain, with dips and plateaus, switchbacks and get the idea. I began playing around with a representation inspired by this metaphor that would be readily understood by a 5 year old, and came up with the below concept for Novice Low (for the PDF version of this click here):

Novice Low Break down of Utterances as a Progression

AS YOU CAN SEE, I'VE USED THREE SIMPLE WALKING PATHS, a sidewalk, the lawn, and an easy nature trail to visualize the progression, with the sidewalk being of the shortest duration, the lawn being a little longer, and the nature trail being the longest of the three, reflecting what I observe in my classes-kids move pretty quickly from the "sidewalk" to the "lawn", and from the "lawn" to the "nature trail" where they spend a fair amount of time. Imagine sharing this with your early elementary students-or your middle or high school students for that matter! The "sidewalk" is an easy walk, no special clothing or equipment needed. The "lawn" needs sneakers or flip flops, and might house some things to take into consideration, like flowers, bugs, or small stones. An "easy nature trail" requires sneakers and probably some bug spray, and perhaps a granola bar along with a water bottle since it could be a bit of a walk. It's highly evident the progression of "difficulty" from one to the next, which I think is also appealing to kids AND has the benefit of showing said progress over time, which a designation of just 'Novice Low' cannot do.

OK, ONTO NOVICE MID... I find this one a little harder to break down, in large part because I see kids mixing and matching utterances, with a lot of fluidity and gray area. I've decided, at least for the moment, to only have two sub-sub levels here (this is definitely a work in progress!) that flow back and forth-so, envision less precise categories, and kids' utterances moving back and forth along the progression as they integrate new content and fall back before moving ahead again. (The PDF version is here)

Novice Mid Break down into Sub Categories

CONTINUING THE TRAIL METAPHOR, I have two trails, one termed 'Nature Trail' which has a few rocks but otherwise smooth- one would need sturdy sneakers to successfully navigate the terrain. At the other end, 'Nature Trail with Hill' with more rocks, a slight incline and more trees, with one needing to pay more careful attention to the terrain and any obstacles, as well as put in a bit more energy to climb the hill. As a continuum of "difficulty, as kids gain more content, they are able to integrate this in more varied ways, such as stringing together vocabulary, adding modifiers as desired, and personalizing some of the practiced phrases they are learning, which takes on the aspect of original expression. Kids still rely on well learnt words, chunks and phrases and I still see a lot of English interference, both in terms of word order, etc and using the L1 to fill in the gaps for what they still don't know but want to express. Language is still rudimentary in nature, and sticks closely to the familiar topics from class, which makes sense given they still have a very small vocabulary set, though it is growing :)

I WANT TO ADD, THERE IS SOOOO much more to these charts-my goal is to continue to flesh out my observations and ideas over the course of this summer, getting them out of my head and onto virtual 'paper' :)

CAVEAT: All of the above is based on my experience with my resources and my method of teaching, which is 90-100% in Spanish, and incorporates a lot of conversational back and forth, encouragement and support of spontaneous interaction, and lots of scaffolding, all of which may affect what I see in my kiddos and may not be what your students output looks like- because of this, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and experiences-please share in the comments below!

PSST: I am working on a kid-friendly printable of these so they can track their progress for those of you who incorporate this in class-should be finalized soon!

Father's Day Resources for Spanish Class

FATHER'S DAY, EL DÍA DEL PADRE, LIKE MOTHER'S DAY, IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR STUDENTS TO ENGAGE IN AUTHENTIC COMMUNICATION, as it is naturally a time to put into practice greetings and short phrases that are meaningful and extremely relevant for learners. As well, it is a great way for kids to use language to communicate and brighten someone's day- their dad! Here are some links and resources to integrate Father's Day in elementary Spanish class:

Father's Day Resources in Spanish for Kids

*CANCIÓN PARA EL PAPÁ: This adorable song from Babyradio is perfect for your heritage learners!

*¿QUIÉN SE PARECE A QUIÉN? Cantoalegre video from the series 'Lolalá vamos a cantar' is absolutely adorable! I love this video, and use it with my 1st grade classes as a Video Walk. Lolalá walks about the farm with her binoculars, spying baby animals that look like their fathers. I video'd one of my lessons using this video-you can see it by clicking here!

*PAPÁ, POR FAVOR, CONSÍGUEME LA LUNA by Eric Carle is a beautiful story of a little girl and her dad who climbs up to bring the moon back to his daughter. You can find the book on Amazon, and for a video version of the book, click here.

*EL PINGÜINO EMPERADOR song by Pinkfong is super cute and celebrates 'el súper papá' :) You may know that Emperor Penguin dads are the ones who sit on the egg until it hatches, not the mother. Here is the link to the song.

*TE AMO, PAPÁ Mini Theme Pack features our adorable and very simple mini book with animals from Spanish speaking countries who also happen to be great animal dads! El coquí, el ñandú and more are included, along with simple activities & a craft students can make for their dad. Grab it by clicking here!

Te amo Papá Father's Day Theme Pack in Spanish for Kids

Envisioning World Language Goals that Go Beyond the Language

I FREQUENTLY SEE WORLD LANGUAGE TEACHERS ASKING ABOUT GOALS FOR THEIR CLASSES... or, trying to answer a student who asks, 'Why are we doing this?'. I suspect this question is raised in all content areas, most especially as students are no longer buying into the 'learn for the sake of learning' mantra nor the 'because you will need it in the future' explanation. As Joshua Cabral of World Language Classroom so rightly notes in his interview on the Inspired Proficiency podcast (Nov 6, 2018 episode), students want to see meaningful application of the learning NOW, not later.

Re envisioning World Language Goals that Go Beyond the Language

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO REWORK THE LEARNING GOALS IN MY ELEMENTARY SPANISH CLASSES to reflect in their wording a greater purpose and/or meaning-changing the idea of 'we are doing this because you are learning Spanish' 'or, we are doing a Movie talk so you can practice your Spanish vocabulary' to goals that reflect community and connection. This is how I frame it in my mind: WHAT IF WE WEREN'T WORKING TOWARDS STUDENTS MOVING ALONG THE PROFICIENCY LADDER but rather PROVIDING THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO USE THE LANGUAGE AS IT'S BEING LEARNED TOWARDS A GREATER PURPOSE? What if we were using the language for enjoyment- singing a song together just because IT'S FUN, reading a picture book because IT'S MESSAGE IS INSPIRING, playing a game together because IT BRINGS US ALL CLOSER TOGETHER? What if we are using the language TO SOLVE PROBLEMS or to LEARN NEW INFO we are interested in?

I'LL BE THE FIRST ONE TO ADMIT, these musings don't bring up anything particularly new, especially for elementary teachers who've taught content-based instructions as a matter of course... and I'm super excited to see more teachers incorporating the environment and social justice, amongst others... and yet, I know for many, a large number of theme or unit goals still lie somewhere in the linguistic realm; after all, we are hired as language teachers, right? That is what we are supposed to do, teach language. But, what if we re-envision how we frame the purpose for what we do in class?

Re envisioning the purpose of class activities in world language classes

GO FROM a goal written like this: Student will use greetings & leave takings appropriately
TO: Students will reflect their partnership in our class community by brightening someone else's day via the greetings & leave takings they use with one another (in Kid Speech: Let's brighten someone else's day by greeting them!)

BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A GREETING? Is it to show you know how to say one? or is it truly to say 'I see you, I acknowledge you, I care about you.'?

Here's another example:
GOING FROM: Student can write a description of a familiar object or person
TO: Students' descriptions of their pets allow all of us in the class community to learn more about each other (Kid Speech: Let's learn more about each other's pets!)

BECAUSE WHEN WE KNOW MORE ABOUT EACH OTHER, we are more likely to respect one another, period.

GOING FROM: Student demonstrates comprehension of verbal directions
TO: Students take care of classroom materials by listening to, and following, classroom instructions (Kid Speech: Taking care of our classroom also takes care of our planet)

BECAUSE RESPONSIBILITY OF OUR SPACE AND MATERIALS contributes to taking care of the earth- recycling, not wasting materials so we don't need to throw them away prematurely, etc.

GOING FROM: Student demonstrates comprehension of written text
TO: Based on information drawn from written texts, student learns more about their favorite animal. (Kid Speech: Let's learn more about our favorite animals!)

BECAUSE WHEN YOU'RE SEVEN YEARS OLD, learning about what a panda eats is pretty darn interesting and engaging!

LET ME TELL YOU, this is a slow and challenging process as I weed through the many goals for my program and re-envision them with the above thoughts in mind, and I know they aren't perfect by any measure! And, I suspect that some goals just might not be re-envisionable (I know that's not a real word but it serves lol) and that's ok. However, what I observe is that when I articulate goals like the ones above to my students, they really RESONATE. This tells me I'm on the right track, even if I am bumbling along as I do it :)

I RAN ACROSS THIS TWEET from Wolf Conservation Center in NY, and it resonated so deeply for me-THIS is why we sing together, whether we are wolves or humans-to strengthen relationships and enjoy time together. 

GOING FROM: students will identify vocabulary in a song 
TO: Singing songs together strengthens our class community 
(Kid speech: singing songs is a fun way to spend time together)

BECAUSE SINGING SONGS TOGETHER IS FUN! Using a song merely as vocabulary practice is kinda a killjoy, really. Sorry, not sorry.

ANOTHER AREA TO FOCUS ON in terms of relevant, meaningful outcomes & goals is in moving away from ‘comprehension checks’ activities which don’t match the purpose of why we are sharing certain information with our students, in this case in the realm of social justice. So, for example, after reading a few simple facts about Rigoberta Menchú Tum’s life, instead of asking them questions related to what they’ve read, such as ‘Where is Rigoberta from?’ Or ‘What international prize did she win?’, I provide a prompt related to what I really want to get to-how Rigoberta might inspire my students to fight against injustice and for peace, justice, and equal rights for all. What might they do? What act could they put into practice? 

GOING FROM: Student demonstrates comprehension of written text 
TO: Reading social justice passages inspires me to reflect on, and take action, to make my community & world a better place. 
Kid speech: I can be an activist, and here's how I'm doing it.


NOTE to above activity: While the reading is in the target language, the prompt and their answer is in English-strategically provided at the end of class (with just a few minutes left)-this allows me to read what they’ve written, engage with them via our online platform outside of class, then bring back a visual synopsis to next class which we can then talk about/react to. This helps me to stay more in the TL in class, while at the same time leveraging English to get to some deeper conversations.

I would love to hear your thoughts, reactions, how you are writing your goals-put them in the comments below!