Once upon a time, I thought I’d figured out how to teach elementary Spanish. Then, they asked me to teach preschool.
Preschool is a different sort of animal. Standing in a line is a fluid concept. Rules my son’s 3-year-old class worked on last year:
– We do not lick the wall.
– We do not lick our friends.
I kid you not. Preschool is a jungle. But it’s a precious jungle. It’s one where the kids come right out and ask me, “But can’t you talk normal?”
How do you teach Spanish in this jungle? Can you teach real Spanish in the preschool jungle? Yes. And though the sweet spot for Calico Spanish Stories Online is really from ages 5 to 9, it works quite well in preschool, too; let us take a moment to show you how.
Cut the time.
Sometimes, in Calico Spanish Stories Online Level C, for example, you’ll find a lesson plan full of rich activities that you can’t effectively accomplish in less than 30 to 40 minutes. Preschoolers cannot handle that much. You’ve got to break it down. I used to think the preschool department was crazy to give me only 15 minutes. Then I discovered 15 minutes was perfect. One problem though: I only had 15 minutes per week. My ideal schedule: 15-20 minutes every day. Maybe 10-15 minutes twice a day. Tossup as to which is better.
Move. In every single activity.
My biggest fails and most bored stares and “when is this over?” whines have happened when I tried “sit and watch the video” in my lesson plan. These children aren’t made to sit still! In every activity in the lesson plan, figure out a way they can move some part of their bodies. These are examples of tips we incorporate in our Stories Online lesson plans:
When you hear the word saltar in the video story, jump!
Play Matamoscas: a fly-swatter, running game that’s high-energy.
Walk around the room finding all the things that are a particular color, or big/small, etc.
Pass out vocabulary flash cards and ask children to listen for the word on their card and wave it (even my preliterate preschoolers can remember what word is on their card).
In short, get moving!
Ignore or adapt activity sheets.
It’s tough to find an effective “worksheet” for Spanish class at all, much less for very young children who can’t read or write. However, we’re pretty proud of the activity sheets we’ve developed for Stories Online (you can see them all and download/print them in your 7-day free trial!). But some of ours can’t be done by preliterate children, either. For the ones that aren’t adaptable, simply ignore them. However, many are achievable as they’re written, and many more are easily adapted for young preliterate learners (see a photo example on our Instagram). We actually did a separate blog post on that, and it includes a free activity sheet download.
Set and focus on SMALL goals. Then repeat.
If you don’t speak Spanish, you don’t have to be told twice that the smaller the goal, the better. But for those of us who do speak it, often we forget just how many times or how slowly we need to hear a particular word in context before we can incorporate it in communication. It’s a lot of times.
This means that all learners, and especially preschool children, need very, very small goals. To illustrate what we mean, we’ve taken some snippets of our Video Stories and put them together into a special preschool lesson. Note that this lesson isn’t an example of what’s in our Stories Online curriculum- to see that, you really need to experience your free first seven days of learning. Our Video Stories follow a comprehensible story plot, and then the lesson plans are where children are asked to focus on goals and complete them.
In this preschool lesson video, there are two goals. Only two. 1: Greet someone with “hi.” 2: Say your name. That’s it. Try it out with the young children in your life – can your learners greet someone in Spanish and answer the most frequent phrase they’ll hear when a Spanish speaker finds out they’re learning Spanish: “What’s your name?”
(Okay, it’s not scientific research, but really, this is the phrase every Spanish speaker uses to “test” my kids on whether or not they actually “speak” Spanish.)
Here’s the lesson:
What do you think – can your learners accomplish these small goals in Spanish today?
In this summary, we show how #langchat participants explored the benefits of games in the language classroom. #Langchat teachers shared their favorite classroom games and strategies for increasing students’ proficiency through in-class games.
#Langchat participants shared many ideas on how and when to implement games in the world language classroom. @rlgrandis said, “I often use games at the beginning and end of a unit – to introduce new things and review.” @BThompsonEdu added, “Review at the end of something.” On the other hand, #langchat teacher @KrisClimer uses games in the classroom all the time. “They’re fun. I think learning and school ought to be fun,” he said.
Others added to the discussion on how classroom games add fun to the learning experience. @MlleSulewski implements games “as review of old material or when she can sense things have been too “heavy” and [there] needs to be some levity.” When students are restless, games can be a fun way to engage them in learning. Often, students may not even realize they are learning while playing a game. @ShannonRRuiz shared, “I do ‘sneak assessments’ by playing games. Games are a good way to assess those with test anxiety.” According to @VTracy7, “it’s the least painful way to get them learning. [Students] do not even realize [we teachers are] being sneaky.”
World Language Teachers shared some valuable resources by collaborating on what classroom games are the most popular among their students. The following list contains some favorite world language games.
“Celebrity (the 3-round version) but with vocab. Played in small groups, not whole class.” (@MmeBlouwolff).
“This is my variation of the unfair game” (@Marishawkins)
How to use Games as a Source of Input
If used correctly, games can provide a great source of input in the world language classroom. “The best games for input need to move beyond the word/sentence level,” said @magistertalley. @magistertalley believes that “games that incorporate a story line work well for input.” Input can be given through the repetition of target language grammar, words, phrases, and sentences in a game. @SraWienhold said, “Almost every game I use is sneaky way of input. A [target language] question or statement that I read [and] then read again with [an] answer.” On this topic, @KrisClimer believes that it all depends on the task. “If [students] are just reacting/choosing, they are intent on INPUT. [It’s] our job to make it within reach.” @kballestrini took the opportunity to remind teachers to make the game “meaningful” with “good alignment” with content goals; otherwise learners don’t transfer language from the game to a communicative purpose. In other words, games should rarely or never be simply a “time filler.”
Adapting Games to Meet Students’ Needs as their Proficiency Grows
#Langchat participants discussed how they can adapt their classroom games according to their students’ language needs and growing proficiency levels. @magistertalley stated, “Use games that can grow with the students that use simple mechanics and can be transferred into increasingly complex contexts.” @MmeFarab meets students’ language needs “by making sure the game uses vocab, etc. in context, and not in isolation.” If students are constantly using the target language, then their proficiency while talking about and describing the game will also grow. “A lot of games naturally grow as the students’ language grows” (@SraWilliams3).
Role of Gamification in Pushing Students’ Proficiency
As @kballestrini pointed out, it’s “important to understand the difference between game-based learning and gamification.” Rather than simply using games to practice content, gamification is “the application of typical elements of game playing (rules of play, point scoring, competition with others) to other areas of activity, specifically to engage users in problem solving” (source). When using games in the classroom, [students] may be “willing to take a risk in [the target language] without “sacrificing” their grade” (@PamKMarkell). Another benefit of gamification is that it can intrigue the students through competition. @nathanlutz said, “My #earlylang students play @duolingo at home – and love how competitive it is.” According to @magistertalley, “True gamification is not something you can just add into what you do now, it requires making your course a game.”
Many thanks to all #langchat participants for sharing your experiences with World Language Classroom Games. Thank you to our lead moderator, Wendy (@MmeFarab) for guiding this chat.
The first time I taught a kindergarten Spanish lesson, I thought if I read the storyLa oruga muy hambrienta (The very hungry caterpillar) enough times, kids would learn something. Right?
So, I faithfully came into my kindergarten classes, once a week for a 15-minute lesson, and read the book to them. I was animated and I pointed and gestured, but really, there wasn’t a whole lot of comprehension going on. And as for doing anything with the language? No. Mostly, that year was a waste of everyone’s time.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about comprehensible input and about teaching very young kids. In Calico Spanish Stories Online, you’ll find a lot of fun, comprehensible stories. Stories that help kids speak real Spanish to real people.
Even in kindergarten? Yes, even there.
To prove it, let us give you some free resources to try. We’ve taken some clips from our Video Stories and put them together into a lesson that’s perfect for kindergarteners. (Note that these are clips from the Video Stories and not the stories themselves, so this lesson in this video is bonus blog/YouTube content; it’s not part of the member content.)
Ready to try 100% of that member content for free? Click the red button up top.
Here’s the learning target:
I can say something about what I am like and something about what I am not like.
Try out the video, and then try out the free activity sheets below. We’d love to hear how this goes in your kindergarten classes!
Here are the activity sheets that can accompany this lesson. Each is an actual Activity Sheet taken from our Stories Online curriculum levels A and B with targets involving describing oneself and other people.
Grande & pequeño: 3 Activity Sheets to help young children describe things and people as big or small
¿Quién dice?: Children will identify which characters say, for example, “I’m big” or “I’m smart.”