Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


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!

Summer Reading List 2019 for Elementary Spanish Students & Heritage Speakers

SUMMER IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER, and as per my yearly tradition, I've gathered a list of book recommendations for STUDENTS IN ELEMENTARY SPANISH as good reads while they are on vacation. My hope is to keep those connections to culture and language alive over the months we are apart, and of course, at the same time, encourage kids to read some FANTASTIC books! This year I'm including books available not just in English but also in Spanish for our heritage speakers.

Summer Reading List 2019 for Spanish Students in Elementary School

To see my past Summer Reading Lists visit:
2015 Summer Reading List
2017 Summer Reading List
2018 Summer Reading List


*DREAMERS by Yuyi Morales- This is such a touching, memorable story of coming to the United States from México! Not only is the story beautiful, but so are the illustrations- I highly recommend this book. Also available in Spanish: Soñadores

*THE DAY YOU BEGIN by Jacqueline Woodson- a lovely story about celebrating who you are as a unique being! Also available in Spanish: El día en que descubres quién eres.

*ZOMBIES DON'T EAT VEGGIES by Jorge Lacera and Megan Lacera- this is the debut book of Colombian author and his wife, Jorge and Megan Lacera, and features traditional foods in a witty, fun story, sure to be enjoyed by kids! Available in Spanish: ¡Los zombis no comen verduras!

*PLANTING STORIES, the Life of Storyteller and Librarian Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise is the biography of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, and namesake of the prestigious Pura Belpré Book Award. On my own reading list this summer! Available in Spanish: Sembrando historias.

*YO SOY MUSLIM by Mark Gonzales is on my reading list this year-I'm excited to see a book exploring cross-heritages, highlighting the complexities of identity and celebrating ones roots.


*SARAI AND THE MEANING OF AWESOME by Sarai Gonzalez (of Soy yo fame) and Monica Brown. Both inspirational and fun, this short book is perfect for upper elementary reading! Available in Spanish: Sarai y el significado de lo genial. NOTE: This is the first in a series featuring Sarai, be sure to check out all the titles!

*SOFIA MARTINEZ, Every day is Exciting by Jacqueline Jules- I LOVE this book for early emergent chapter book readers (say, around 2nd grade or so)- Sofia Martinez is getting ready for her friend's quinceañera, with mishaps galore before she finally makes it to the party. Cute and accessible! Part of a series, these are awesome books for young readers :) All books in the series are also available in Spanish.

CHAPTER BOOKS for Upper Elementary and Middle School

*THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C Pérez is AWESOME! I loved this book so much, really fresh, relatable for kids of all backgrounds, but most especially for kids who have a mixed heritage and are struggling to figure out their identity. A Pura Belpré Honor Book. PSSST: Celia let me know via Twitter that this book will be available in Spanish this fall- ¡yupiiii!

*MARCUS VEGA DOESN'T SPEAK SPANISH by Pablo Cartaya is another book exploring one's identity in light of your heritage- I adored this book, and think ALL kids can connect with Marcus' story.

*MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS by Meg Medina won the 2019 Newberry Medal, and is on my reading list for summer. Featuring Merci Suárez, a 6th grader trying to make her way in a new school, this sounds great-I'll report back after I've read it!

*LUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar won the Pura Belpré Award and tells the story of a Cuban-Jewish immigrant to NYC, whose journey to belong is jeopardized by a tragic accident which leaves her bed ridden for an extended period of time. Set in the 1960s, this is another on my list TO READ!

Finally, last year I had on my list Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, by Angela Cervantes which I LOVE LOVE LOVE and is now available in Spanish: Frida, el misterio del anillo del pavo real, y yo. A great read for heritage speakers!

Happy reading!

Going GREEN in Your Classroom- Ideas for a More Environmentally Friendly Space

LIKE MANY OF YOU, I TRY REALLY HARD TO BE A RESPONSIBLE STEWARD OF THE EARTH AT HOME-we compost, we recycle everything we can, we've reduced our plastic, water and electricity use where ever we can, I carry metal straws in my purse, and reusable bags in the car. But honestly, I haven't put nearly as much thought into my footprint at school... until now. Over this past school year, I have been systematically making my classroom a GREENER space, and am continually searching out new ideas to implement. Have you been thinking the same thing? making efforts too? I would love to hear about it-post in the comments below and let me know what you're doing to help the one and only earth we have!

Going Green in Your Classroom Eco Friendly School Space


*PAPER BAGS INSTEAD OF ZIPLOCS: I will profess, I long have loved ziploc bags, they are so cheap, convenient and come in so many sizes. But, as my stash is being used up, I'm not buying more. Instead, I found paper sandwich bags, and am using them to hold manipulatives, class sets of materials, pictures and more. For larger items, I've been using paper lunch bags. So far, so good- I just have to label the outside of the bags before storing them away (as opposed to being able to see through them to the contents like with ziplocs).

*REPURPOSING VEGGIE TRAYS: Sometimes our vegetables come on a stiff paper "tray", which are perfect for arranging & organizing items (like legos, dice, little letters, etc) at stations or around the room instead of plastic bins.

*COPY PAPER BOXES: This I've been doing for as long as I've been teaching, but as a few have worn out, I haven't replaced them with plastic bins. I keep all my theme materials in cardboard copy paper boxes which are sturdy and can be stacked easily if necessary. TIP: I've gotten all mine from our custodians- which is to say, FREE!

*LOW/ NO LAMINATION: Whaaaaaatttt???? I know, this is a tough one, especially for us elementary teachers! Now, I've been at this on and off for the past several years as I became concerned about the freakish amount of lamination I had been doing and the potential health risks from inhaling all those fumes (we have a hot laminator at school)... but this year I have gone the extra step to work on wrangling my students to try and be a little more careful with materials so they would last longer rather than laminating them. By no means a runaway success, their heightened awareness of the problems plastic poses to the environment has helped the cause and I can say happily that I haven't laminated anything since last September :) SIDE NOTE: Although I haven't laminated in months, I don't expect to give up lamination altogether, there are some things that just make sense to laminate, but reducing to the bare minimum is definitely a help for the environment!

*CRAYON SHARPENERS: How I missed this one all these years is a mystery to me! I don't use markers in my classroom (but if you do, definitely recycle them via CRAYOLA's program- link here), instead having crayons as I find them easier to deal with....but the down side is once they are dull, kids don't want to use them anymore and I end up throwing them away. I have spent a lot of my teacher time peeling crayons to try and extend their lifespan, but even that is not satisfactory for my little treasures. Enter the crayon sharpener on the back of the 64 pack- it works reasonably well and lengthens the life of a crayon quite nicely and in an acceptable manner for my students, meaning I don't have to throw it out so soon. (and yes, I tried baking them down into blob crayons, but the smell was unbearable! Nevertheless, if you want to try this at home, here's how)

AND, HERE'S AN ORGANIZATION THAT WILL COLLECT YOUR CRAYONS, melt them down, make new crayons and donate them to kids in need! The Crayon Initiative

NOTE: Crayola will take your dry erase markers, even though they aren't their brand!!

*TURN OFF THE LIGHTS: I don't recommend you spend all day in the dark, but you probably can find some strategic moments to cut the lights- I also find the lights being off has a calming effect on my students, an added side benefit to being globally responsible!

*PAPER CONSERVATION: I find this to be a tricky one, since I can't get away from paper altogether, most specifically in the classroom.  For the littles, a couple of things I've been trying: using smaller pieces of paper (cutting paper in half, for ex) for projects, encouraging (e-hem, requiring) them to use BOTH sides of a paper before throwing it in the recycler if they aren't happy with something, gluing scrap paper over unwanted items for those kiddos who just CAN'T live with a cross out on their paper, using mini whiteboards instead of paper. I also find that MODELING responsible paper use is huge! Kids regularly see me pull paper out of the recycler to reuse, I am constantly encouraging and referencing how to save on paper use, etc.

*DELETE OLD EMAILS & DIGITAL FILES: This is far more important than many people realize, and can be a little counter intuitive. Many people believe that by simply going digital they are doing a great service to the environment-well, yes and no. In fact, everything you keep digital is stored on a server somewhere-and that server requires energy to keep running-A LOT OF ENERGY! Keeping your digital footprint as small as possible is as important as reducing paper use. Regularly delete old emails (this means actually going into the Trash file and eliminating the emails-if you don't do this extra step, the emails you delete from your mailbox will sit in the trash file until automatic deletion, which could be up to 30 days-again, just sitting on a server sucking up energy). The same goes for deleted files-get rid of them!

*GLUE STICK CARE: Like many of our materials, if not taken care of properly, glue sticks end up in the waste basket before they are completely used up. I always model how to use them (roll down BEFORE putting the cap back on!!!) before we use them, each and every time to remind my friends of proper care.

*UNPLUG CHARGER CORDS BEFORE LEAVING: I have long left my devices plugged in to charge over the weekend, which is to say they are using energy long after they are charged. Be mindful about when you need to charge devices-I have designated Thursdays as my "charge devices" night-before I leave, I plug in what needs to be charged, unplugging as soon as I arrive Friday morning. Additionally, I make every attempt to charge devices during the day so I don't even need to charge overnight. HINT: do this with your home devices, too!

*PLANTS: We all know that plants are providers of oxygen, but they are also calming & give a natural, living element to your space that connects you and your students to the greater world. Consider choosing plants that grow in the target language country if possible, or plant seeds to grow flowers,  herbs or other plants during the year. And, if you are able to to give students stewardship over the plants, you are also ingraining great values for taking care of the world around us!

Creating a GREENER Space in your Classroom

LASTLY, GET YOUR STUDENTS INVOLVED! I find the more I appeal to my students' desire to also be stewards of the earth, the better they are at being ones. Educating THEM about how they can help take care of the environment while at school is a huge step towards them being more conscious outside of school :)

Have additional ideas? Please share them below!

End of the School Year Survival Guide- Tips To Get You Through

END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR... EXHAUSTION, STRESS, WANTING TO PULL YOUR HAIR OUT, eating poorly... perhaps you experience some or all of these as the warrior teacher you are, I know I do! By the time spring hits here in Maine, which really doesn't start until mid-April, the kids are squirrelly and I am done, stick a fork in me please. Couple that with all the special events happening in and out of school, routines going haywire, and a need to just SLEEP, it most definitely is the hardest time of year, at least in my opinion. Over the years, I've tried to institute some changes to the end of the year (as in the last two months!) to make it more manageable and enjoyable for me and my students. Here are some tips that have grown out of those changes:

End of School Year Guide and Tips for Teachers Spanish and French

*STICK TO YOUR ROUTINES: This doesn't mean don't do anything special, it means maintain the routines and expectations that you have worked so hard to put in place, and that, especially if you are an elementary teacher with potentially many years with these same kids, you don't want to lose. For ex, keep the beginning of class routines in place, such as your greeting or your welcome. Continue to remind and reinforce your expectations-it's very tempting to just let them slide now that you are exhausted and the kids are bonkers. But.... this is when holding to these expectations will pay off in terms of making the last weeks positive or negative. A rowdy, chaotic class is only fun for the ones being rowdy-everyone else, including many of their classmates, are not digging it. (SIDE NOTE: I know how HARD this one is, believe me!)

*PLAN FOR LESS "ACADEMIC" CONTENT: I wasn't quite sure how to word this, but the idea is relatively simple- when planning out your year, consider putting content at the end of the year that requires less intense focus on the part of students. This doesn't mean you throw content out the window altogether and swing from the rafters, but rather take into consideration the difficulty kids have at this time of year, and intentionallycmake that part of your planning process. For ex, my last theme of Fourth Grade is traditional card and board games-over the course of six weeks, I introduce a series of 4-5 games which we play in class and/or outside if the weather is nice. I still stick to our routines, kids are participating in cultural activities in the target language, and no one is taxed to the point of losing their mind. Win-win!

Planning the End of the School Year for Spanish and French Class

*BLAST FROM THE PAST: This is what I call our trip down memory lane :) The last few classes of the year are a great time to bring back old favorites, such as songs, games, activities, videos, etc-I love to not just revisit those from the current year, but ones from all the years we've been together. It's awesome to hear kids say, 'I remember that song from Kindergarten!'. Because these are familiar to kids, there is less 'effort' on your part to introduce them...and the bonus is you get to recycle some great content, too!

*HOLD KIDS ACCOUNTABLE: Related to the above 'stick to your routines', hold kids to the expectations you've established. Some kids just lose it at the end of the year, thinking they can get away with disruptive, wild behaviors. It's a no go. If a kiddo can't contribute to the community in a productive way, give yourself permission to give consequences-perhaps this is some time spent in the Take a Break space while the rest of the class is playing a game, or off to the Buddy Classroom while the class goes outside... whatever makes sense for your class and school. Lose of privilege is a natural consequence that can be effective, especially if held to consistently. has some great articles about this!

*HEAD OUTSIDE: With the weather warming up, going outside is an obvious option. Choose activities that have structure, involve ALL your students (nothing like an activity where they have to take turns to devolve into mayhem and frustration), and don't require extensive instructions (you will lose them to the dandelions, rocks, and twigs if your instructions are too involved!). Scavenger hunts, chalk flags, traditional games like hopscotch, jump rope, circle games, etc are great, low prep activities for the outdoors. You could also bring out a basket of books and enjoying some reading time in the sun :) A NOTE: Going outside does require some pre-teaching, modeling and reminding of appropriate behaviors prior to heading out-don't skip this step! :)

*BE SENSITIVE TO YOUR STUDENTS: Lastly, but perhaps the most important- many of our kiddos are not excited about the end of the year, many are anxious or stressed about moving to the next grade level or building, and many students dread summer vacation which can be an absolute nightmare for them-being home for some of these kiddos is a horror show. Often, these emotions present as disruptions, explosions, melt downs and defiant or argumentative behaviors. As hard as it is, being a positive and constant adult in these kids' lives is crucial. To that end, being careful in how you reference summer and vacation is important-take into consideration that these kids won't react positively to a 'Who's excited for summer vacation?' or 'Only 23 days til vacation!'. Consider trying to frame vacation as a bridge 'We'll be seeing each again really soon!' or 'I can't wait to see you again in September!'. :)

*5 Traditional Board Games from Spanish Speaking Countries
*Reloj, a card game from Spain
*Yearbook Activity in Spanish and in French
*Doodle Pages- Draw and Share
*Make Tissue Paper Flowers
*Minute to Win It Games for Spring

How do you end the year? Let me know in the comments!

Doodle Pages Activity to Foster Language Use in Student Centered Learning

STUDENT CENTERED LEARNING is certainly very much talked about in education circles today, and no less so in world language classrooms. There are so many ways we can incorporate activities that promote students' perspectives, creativity and "showing what they know". And, we know that kids respond really well to choice driven activities, which not only is great for them but can also have a positive impact on classroom community and management. At the same time, we language teachers want to foster authentic communication in our classrooms, embedded in relevant activities.

Doodle Pages Activity for World Language Class Spanish French

A FUN ACTIVITY TO FOSTER MEANINGFUL LANGUAGE USE is a twist on the writing prompt idea-using a visual prompt instead that inspires our students to complete a drawing and then share that with someone else-you, a classmate, a small group, or even the whole class (or, if you have Seesaw or another similar app, they can share with their families!).

PERHAPS YOU HAVE SEEN DOODLE BOOKS- as someone who loves to draw myself, these books are so much fun! And, they have the added benefit that they can be completed in an infinite number of ways, making each page up to the interpretation of the student artist.

SO, HOW TO USE A DOODLE PAGE IN CLASS? Choose a page that connects in some way to a theme or content set that your students know-perhaps the page has a cloud and raindrops on it if you are interested in kids practicing weather related vocabulary, or a shirt if you are talking in the midst of talking about clothes-or any page just for fun! Instruct your students to finish the drawing started by the doodle, filling in the background and/or setting a scene. With novice students in particular, I find it's a good idea to guide their ideas towards vocabulary sets they are familiar with, giving them choice within structure so that they are able to share what they've drawn at the end. As students are drawing, you can walk around asking them questions about what they have in their pictures and encouraging them to share in the target language. Depending on your students, you could use yes/no or either/or questions to elicit a response, or a more open ended one if they are ready to do so. The great part about this is that each kiddo can share based on what they are ABLE TO DO, rather than getting stuck in what THEY CAN'T DO; your differentiation in the interaction allows this to occur naturally :)

ONCE FINISHED, students can share their drawing elements as I mentioned above. Even a simple listing of each thing is awesome for kids as they are telling about something THEY created-super motivating! You can see a cute example from one of my first grade classes here:

I'VE CREATED A SET OF 20 DOODLE PAGES for anyone who wants to try these out! They can be used at any grade or proficiency level, and with ANY LANGUAGE! Click here to grab them :)

Draw and Share Doodle Activity Pages for Spanish French class