Saturday, September 19, 2015

The first few weeks of Spanish 1

Spanish 1 is an exciting class to teach. The high school where I teach is a regional school, so my incoming freshmen are from different towns and schools where language learning begins at different grades. Therefore, I spend the first few days trying to figure out what my students already know!

In this post I'll talk about what I find to be the most important activities for a Spanish 1 classroom in the first few weeks of school. They can be summarized with:

1) establishing classroom routines
2) introduction to the necessary technologies
3) figuring out what students already know
4) learning the importance of speaking Spanish
5) gaining an awareness of the Spanish-speaking population outside and inside the United States
6) learning Spanish letter sounds
7) learning the basics (months, days of the week, colors, numbers 0-10)
8) learning basic conversational phrases
9) learning about context clues and how they help us choose the correct answer

First off, I start the school year by establishing classroom routines. I explain to students that they are expected to come to class prepared (with a pencil, binder, Spanish workbook). Along those lines, I show them the participation rubric on which they will be graded each week. I point out important parts of the room like the "daily objectives" and "homework" bulletin board, the "missing student work" hanging folders, the cell phone jail, and more.

Next, my school requires each students to have parents sign off on an internet access form prior to receiving computer log-ins and passwords. I take my students to the library where the librarian speaks to them about internet safety and students hand in the signed

parent form. We take a trip to the computer lab (essential in my Spanish classroom!) where students view my class website and see where to view the daily class activities and the homework. I show them my favorite Spanish websites including,,, and Google Drive. We set up Google Drive so the rest of the year's activities are ready to go. Most importantly, I have students fill out a quick "demographics" form through Google Forms to see how many years of Spanish they have taken, whether or not they have internet access at home, which devices they can bring to the classroom, and more. I want to make sure I know my student population well.

As mentioned earlier, since my freshmen are all entering the classroom with different Spanish abilities, I give an entrance exam one day that is ungraded but allows me to see what students already know. Within this entrance exam I include a basic English grammar section where students identify parts of speech. I find this helps me identify students who need help right off the bat - if a student struggles with finding the verb or subject of a sentence, I know that remedial help is needed. This can be as simple as an extra meeting with me to discuss parts of speech or a session with a student tutor.

Next, I want my students to understand the value of speaking Spanish in the real world. Often time students are not dedicated to the subject matter if they don't understand its worth. Therefore, I have my students complete a webquest for where they look up available jobs in the United States, types of jobs (sales, education, science, etc.), quantity of jobs, requirements, and more. We have a follow-up discussion and students write paragraphs in English explaining how speaking Spanish will help their future jobs and how their perception of speaking Spanish in the workplace has changed after completing the webquest.

Similarly, I want students to realize that Spanish is spoken within their own town and state - they do NOT have to leave the United States to find speaking Spanish useful! We talk about the heavily-populated Spanish communities within our own state and the US in general. We talk about why states like Florida and Texas have lots of Spanish-speaking - we learn geography is an important part of language evolution. We fill out a map of Spanish-speaking countries and view maps of those regions and continents. Students realize that countries in Central and South American speak Spanish due to the Spanish conquistadores, and that countries like Haiti and Brazil speak French and Portuguese respectively because the French and Portuguese invaded them back in the day.

Once students begin to grasp the importance of speaking Spanish and an awareness of the Spanish-speaking communities around them, we start to learn the very basics of the Spanish language. We begin with vowel sounds - ah, ay, ee, oh, oo. We learn and review the days of the week with a quirky song to the tune of the Addams Family, numbers 0-10, months of the year, and writing the date. Before learning many of these topics, students complete quick pre-tests so I know how much they already know, and then they complete quiz quizzes after a few days of review.

I want students to start speaking conversational Spanish as soon as possible. The very first day of school we learn the phrases "¿Cómo te llamas?", "Me llamo ________," "¿Cómo se llama?" and "Se llama ______________." Next, we learn the differences between "tú" and "usted" so we can use phrases like "¿Cómo estas?" and "¿Cómo esta usted?" To tie in the Spanish-speaking countries and map activity, we complete an interactive lesson on "¿De dónde eres?" where each student receives a Spanish-speaking country card and interview classmates asking, "¿De dónde eres?" This enables students to interact with classmates, practice the question with "ser," and practice pronouncing the Spanish-speaking countries. We learn basic greetings and good-byes such as "Buenos días" and "Hasta luego." We practice all of these basic phrases by tossing around Carlos the Beaver and asking classmates.

Finally, we do a lesson on context clues in Spanish and how small details in the sentence, such as indefinite and definite articles, gender, and number, can help us eliminate incorrect answers and choose the correct answer. This is an important lesson to complete prior to any multiple choice-style assessments.

Overall, the start of the year in Spanish 1 is a lot of fun! I enjoy getting to know my students and really hooking them on the importance of learning Spanish. By having clear expectations, establishing class routines and engaging in interactive activities with classmates, the year is off to a great start!

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Happy teaching :)

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