Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Make lesson planning easier by designating recurring types of activities for centers/stations

EASIER LESSON PLANNING? YES, PLEASE! Every teacher faces the challenge of time-planning & prepping lessons can be a real time suck, for sure. As I've moved away from whole group for much of class time, utilizing centers/ stations and/or activity boards/baskets has been extremely helpful BUT can be time consuming as well, especially on the front end of having everything ready for the rotation/ selection. 

TO MAKE THIS EASIER, I co-opt the meal planning hack of having RECURRING TYPES of activities in the rotation- think Taco Tuesdays, you always know you are going to have tacos on Tuesdays which makes meal planning less stressful. Same idea with centers planning. 

I CURRENTLY HAVE SEVEN CENTERS OR CHOICE BASKETS that are part of any weekly rotation, based on seating-you could have less, this just works for my space. I have identified FOUR of those as recurring types or topics for activities-Read Aloud, Los números/colores, Las emociones, and La identidad. The remaining three stations are entirely theme based, so change as needed.  

I CHOSE THE FOUR TOPICS intentionally-colors, numbers, and emotions are all key content vocabulary and lend themselves really well across themes, SEL, and community work, which makes them fantastic work horses. Read alouds are a great way to get books in front of kids when I don't have time to READ ALL THE BOOKS that I want to! I especially love ones read by the author themselves (click here for lots I've saved on Pinterest!) but if I can't find one read by the author, I create a video of myself reading the book. La identidad refers to activities connected to my identity wall, ABAR work, and building belonging. For example, using @TheWokeSpanishTeacher Windows, Mirrors & Doors Resource, I prompt kids to find one image on the identity wall that is a mirror (something like them) and a window (something that is different than them). Could be people color (check out my Our hands, My hands resource!), or a celebration you engage in (or not), a language you speak, etc. Kids then use a class Ipad to take a photo of the two images they've found and/or share their choices with a classmate.

How do you make your planning easier? Share in the comments below!

And don't miss our blog post on choice baskets-click here! Lots of ideas and resources for making these happen in your classes!

Choice Baskets & Other Independent Activities for Elementary World Language Classes

OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS I have moved away from whole group instruction as my primary approach in my elementary Spanish classes, incorporating more centers and small group activities. This has been prompted by noting whole group and circle time has become increasingly difficult for kiddos to sustain and be successful in. Prior to the pandemic, I had moved away from circle entirely for third and fourth grade, having them sit in small groups at tables; primary grades started at circle for the beginning of class, then often went to tables/small groups for centers. I have written extensively in Facebook & Twitter posts about this shift and my need to adjust for changes in input, language acquisition, and feeling guilty as a world language teacher that I wasn't providing "optimal instruction". 

THE PANDEMIC, ironically, gave me permission to accept the balance in loss of direct input via whole group activities and the benefits of kids engaging in activities in small groups, giving me an opportunity to circulate and interact with individuals. My current approach is a hybrid of whole group for providing a common base, building community, and just being together, along with centers which either feature one specific activity or, more often, a choice basket with multiple activities in them for kids to exercise greater agency in their learning. 

CHOICE BASKETS are similar to choice boards in that, obviously, there is CHOICE. The difference, for me, is they are far freer in their expectations on my part, meaning there isn't a required number of activities to complete like is usually the case on a choice board. Instead, kids choose the activities they want to do and can switch out for a new one at any time. I particularly prefer choice baskets for my early elementary grades- Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade. However, this coming year I am looking to extend this into Third and Fourth Grade.

INDEPENDENCE WHEN ENGAGING IN THE CHOICE BASKETS, and centers for that matter, is crucial to me being able to circulate and interact with kids. Some activities lend themselves far better to independent engagement and learning than others; here is a list of ones that are particularly successful with my kiddos:

*PUZZLES: these are always a HUGE hit! Whether they merely need to be solved, such as the mini puzzles I have available in a number of my theme packs, or ones where there is a literacy component that taps into vocabulary practice, puzzles are perfect for kids & need little instruction for them to get started. You can find mini puzzles as part of many theme packs, including Buenos días Buenas noches Theme Pack , Emotions Activity Set , Los colores del otoño Theme Pack amongst others! The number puzzles you see below are found in our Granja Farm Theme Pack.

Click here to grab our Granja Theme Pack!

*MEMORY GAMES: another popular activity is Memory! An easy game for kids to play in small groups or with a partner, there are endless ways to incorporate and practice vocabulary.

*WORD/ LETTER WORK: Magnetic letters and word cards for spelling are a great literacy building activity! I have a number of sets of these, with picture cards connected to the spelling activities, providing opportunities for kids to match the word and the image together as part of each card completion. You can find the ones shown below in our Venezuela Centers Pack We also have them as part of our Las Frutas Centers Pack and our Buenos días Buenas noches Theme Pack

Click here to grab our Venezuela Centers Pack!

*ACROSTIC PUZZLES: Another take on puzzles, these are great for upper elementary students! I make sure that images are included in my acrostic puzzles so that there is an additional component of not just solving the words, but matching an image to the word for comprehension. The one shown in the photo below is part of our Olivia hace salsa Theme Pack which you can find here ; our Pepita lee sobre Nina Gualinga Theme Pack also has one connected to the book La selva de Zonia by Juana Martinez Neal and features rainforest animals. And don't miss the word building acrostic in our Emotions Activity Set!

Grab our Olivia hace salsa Theme Pack here!

*I SEE I WONDER ACTIVITIES: Exploration with authentic realia, items from nature, photos, and/or other objects is another great way for kids to independently follow their curiosity-providing word cards, talking bubbles, or other written prompts to aid and support an incorporation of the target language fosters a bilingual approach. For example, having color word cards available while a student is looking at feathers and a nest can encourage them to "label" the items as they look at them-as you circulate, you can also use the cards when you are interacting with the student, prompting them in the moment to choose cards that connect with the items they are exploring. The word wall cards included in the non fiction issues of our magazine, Mira el Mundo Jr are great for this, such as in El quetzal Abril 2020!

*COLOR BY NUMBER: these are always popular with kids and are perfect for color word practice-you can find several in my 15 Activities for Upper Elementary Pack which feature cultural elements of a variety of places. 

*READ ALOUDS: I try to always have a read aloud available on an Ipad for kids to listen to/watch-whether I create a recording myself of a book or use one found on Youtube, these are a wonderful way for kids to hear a book you might not have time to read in class. When looking for read alouds on Youtube, I only choose those which are either read by the author or have been sanctioned by the publisher so that copyright isn't infringed upon. I have collected a bunch of links on my Pinterest here so you don't have to do the searching! Click on the section "Read Alouds" to find bunches!

There are so many more activities, but I hope this gives you a great start! What would you add? Share in the comments below!

And don't miss my post on Choice Boards-click here to read!

Isabel and her colores go to school by Alexandra Alessandri

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL by Alexandra Alessandri and illustrated by Courtney Dawson is a beautiful book focusing on first day jitters for a little girl who speaks little English. While the title, and various points in text, highlight colors, it is the addressing of themes such as belonging, friendship, and being different/unique, that make this a wonderful entry point to conversations with kids about first days, identity markers such as language and bilingualism, and emotions. 

Click here to download

READING THIS BOOK INTERACTIVELY, meaning asking questions & providing prompts during the reading, has allowed me to get to these themes within the context both of the book AND my students' own experiences. Questions such as 'Have you ever felt nervous on the first day of school?', 'Have you ever felt nervous coming to Spanish class, knowing a lot of English but perhaps only a little bit of Spanish?', 'How do we make classmates feel welcome in our space?' and 'How does it feel to belong?'... are just a few which foster reflection and connection with Isabel, Sarah, and ourselves. YES, I ask these questions in English (our common language in class). While reading the story, I incorporate a fair amount of Spanish, though I don't read it entirely bilingually; but the questions/prompts are in English. This allows us to dig deeper :) 

AS A FOLLOW UP ACTIVITY, and to reinforce how we can brighten, welcome and foster a sense of belonging, kids create a picture just as Isabel did in the book-either drawing a friend we already have or one we would like to invite as a friend. This is then given to the new/old friend as an action step in creating community. You can download the activity page FREE here! It has both a Spanish version & an English version :) 

How do you teach this book in your class? Please share in the comments below!

And for more teaching ideas with picture books, see my blog posts:

Activities with Animal Props in World Language Classes

ANIMAL PROPS, like food props, are a fun, hands on way to bring imaginative play, content based learning, and more to world language classes. Not only that, but printable props allow us, as teachers, to inexpensively make multiples of beloved animals and those that are not so familiar to kids! Here are some ideas to use my printable animal props in class:

Click here to grab our Animals of the Caribbean!

*SORTING/CATEGORIZING: One of the easiest ways to use animal props, and gives you multiple lessons!, is to have kids sort them-they can be sorted by color, size, how they move, where they live (either place or habitat), what they eat, whether they are a mammal, bird, fish, etc-you get the idea! What I love about this is this provides opportunities for kids to work on the category words, which often are more high frequency (though not always!) than the names of the animals. So, for example, sorting by color or size focuses on those category words-you don’t need to know how to say animal names to place the animals beneath category cards with color words on them. This can also be a great activity for heritage learners, especially with categories that tap into science based information, such as herbivore/carnivore/ omnivore, or mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, etc. 

And don’t forget you can get out a big map of the world and place them where they live right on the continent or region!

Click here to grab our Galápagos Islands Set!

*LIST THEIR ATTRIBUTES: novice learners are working at the one-word/ short phrase stage, so listing is right at their proficiency level. Choose an animal yourself, or have kids choose one, and then list words that relate to the animal-this could be colors, size words, etc. This makes a great centers activity, too!

*SHAPE POEMS: I love these poems for all age groups! Students choose an animal, draw the outline (and color if they want to) and write words/ phrases/ sentences around the outside of the drawing, in the shape of the animal. For heritage learners and kids with greater proficiency, they could do some short research on the animal they choose to be able to add more information to their shape poem, such as where it lives, what it eats, etc.

*MAKE AN ‘I SPY’ ACTIVITY: Again, working with those category and action words, put a bunch of animals up on the board and play ‘I spy’-to avoid having to teach the names of unfamiliar animals, give your kids a pointer to show what animal they think is the one being ‘spied’-this is a great listening activity with an element of surprise and mystery!

*PLAY TINGO TINGO TANGO: My rainforest props are PERFECT for playing the authentic Colombian game Tingo Tingo Tango! Click here to watch a video with instructions.

Click here to grab our Rainforest Props!

*BULLETIN BOARD DISPLAYS: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, of course, these props are also fantastic for bulletin board displays, whether to showcase a particular habitat or region, add connections to culture, or just for fun!

Grab all our sets!

Evolving Teaching Language to Be Responsive to Kids' Needs

I HAVE LONG BEEN A RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM TEACHER, an approach which proactively seeks to build community and positive learning environments for kids. A key tenet of this approach is the language we use when reminding and redirecting, with the goal of choosing language that fosters independence, reflection, and responsibility. Over the years, I've found that, along with these, there is a need to evolve our language to ensure it is based in an understanding of specific neurodiverse perspectives, such as autism and ADHD. Here are some ways I have been re-framing my teaching language:

*One of the things I learned about kiddos w ADHD is the real difficulty in stopping something they are working on before it’s finished... many other kids experience this as well. I started shifting my language last year from ‘its time to stop doing something’ to ‘we are going to pause this activity until next class’- what a difference! So many of my kids sense the difference in pausing an activity, which seems to evade the finality of ‘stopping’, which can be extremely frustrating for some children. I also use 'pause' instead of stop when I am giving them a time check, need to give additional instructions, etc. 

Evolving teaching language, a blog post. Replacing 'let's stop' with the phrase 'let's pause'

*This has been a big one for me-& one Ive been working a lot on as advocacy in my own district. I spoke to this in my presentation at @CT_COLT on #ADHD The idea that children choose ‘bad behavior’ (& I have a lot of issues w this phrase too!) belies the reality that, especially if the gap between thought & action is only a few seconds, you are not, in fact, choosing to not follow an expectation or instruction. You might see on a behavior chart something like ‘I chose not to be safe in line’… This sends the message that a kid is choosing to ‘be bad’ (& again, I hate this phrasing)-imagine how that feels, especially if the kid hears it over & over again. This negative messaging is extremely harmful to the neurodiverse brain (& really all kids). What is known about impulsive actions is that they often seem like good ideas in the moment, but frequently do not turn out the way a child expects them to. Moving towards phrasing that acknowledges the unexpected nature of an action, eliminates condemnation & can defuse some big feelings that are associated w unexpected outcomes from impulsive actions.

Blog post on evolving teaching language from 'you chose' to 'that wasn't what you expected'

*Understanding & acknowledging that some kids make sounds beyond their control is the first step in realizing that asking kids ‘to be quiet’ when you need their attention doesn’t take into account neurodiversity & isn’t inclusive of kids who make vocalizaciones, need to tap, hum, etc.
I’ve shifted to saying ‘let’s turn off those noises we can control’ in a move to be more aware & welcoming to all students. This also sends a message to all kids that some noises are just part of who we are & they are just as welcome as other sounds.

Blog post on evolving teaching language with 'let's turn off the sounds we can control'

*I have long loathed the word ‘behavior’ to describe what kids do in our classrooms, but struggled to find an alternative I felt worked better until this year. For me, ‘behavior’ most definitely has taken on a negative connotation, especially when we are talking to a kiddo; inevitably it is about something they’ve done “wrong” (which opens up a whole other conversation I’ll take on another time!). 
Instead, thinking about ‘actions’ kids take has the flexibility of talking about all things kids do, both the helpful to community, as well as those which aren’t. 
So, I might say something like “wow, that action really helped us clean up our space!” or I might say, “that action didn’t make your table partners feel comfortable “. Changing phrasing can be powerful, right?

*"You can do better" is a common teacher phrase that honestly is quite judgmental. Whether we realize it or not, what we are really saying is 'what you've done here isn't very good and you need to improve'. The impact of this statement can be a huge blow to kiddos who struggle with self confidence, self worth, and regulation. I can confess that it took a family member to point this out to me; in my mind, saying you/we can do better was merely a call to improve without any value or judgment attached BUT for many with neurodiversity and run into issues on the daily/hourly with being a successful student as defined by school, this statement can be highly charged. Shifting to a non-judgmental phrase like 'let's see what else you can do' or 'This is a great start, let's see what we can add to it' can make a hug difference in supporting a child.

*Many of us use a bell or other instrument to get kids' attention when we need to give instructions, transition to a new activity, signal clean up time, etc. Mostly effective, with modeling & practice, there is always that moment when kids ignore it, or truly do not hear it.

Poems & Poetry in the World Language Classroom

POEMS & POETRY ARE A POWERFUL WAY TO INCLUDE AUTHENTIC LANGUAGE and activities in the world language classroom; I have long used them in my elementary Spanish classes as both a way to include culture and provide authentic opportunities for kids to create with Spanish. I wrote an email newsletter in 2018 on this topic; the text is below!

Photo of email newsletter for poetry in the world language classroom

5 Types of poetry that work well in the world language classroom-concrete, cinquain, acrostic, diamante, couplet

Tips for using poetry in the world language classroom

For our FREEBIE download of a diamante poetry page in FIVE LANGUAGES, click here! And don't miss our Spanish Poem Props, which include three traditional children's poems, props, and activity pages; grab them here!

Spanish Poem Props resource to purchase on Tpt