This langchat discussion focused on the benefits of teaching without a textbook. Although it may seem challenging to some, many #langchat teachers believe teaching without a textbook increases student engagement and allows proficiency in the target language to become more attainable.

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How to Begin to Transition Away from the Textbook

The transition away from using a textbook may seem daunting for some World Language teachers, however, the benefits can be great. @magisterb480 shared, “When textbook stories get dull, when grammar drills are boring your students, when what used to work doesn’t work anymore,” that’s when it is important to step away from the textbook.  #Langchat participants shared how they began this process. @Mmeshep said,choose themes and start looking for authentic resources for the theme you have chosen.” @CourtneysClase shared her experience and said, “I started with the textbook objectives and vocab as an outline, but created my own activities, movie talks, and stories to do.” “View the textbook as a guide/resource but remember you as the teacher are the language expert in the room, not the textbook” (@silvius_toda).

Reassuring Those Worried about Loss of Rigor and/or Support

#Langchat teachers shared how they reassure parents and colleagues alike that teaching without a textbook can still be full of rigor and worthy of support.

  •   @jaybeekay518I said, “show them how aligning instruction to authentic resources has the potential to be WAY more rigorous than textbook exercises!”
  •   @SraWilliams3 shared, “show them the results and the higher engagement levels.”
  •   @CatherineKU72 said “rigorous is not how I would define a textbook. Watered down units on household chore? Or use AP themes & social justice?”
  •   @Oraib_Mango believes “following proficiency standards while motivating students and using meaningful resources does not require textbooks.”
  •   @magisterb480 shared, “Students learn at their own pace about things that interest them. We use compelling topics to build more ‘rigorous’ content.”

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Working Smarter and Not Harder Without Textbooks

Ditching the textbook may seem like creating more work for the teacher. However, scheduling prep-time, assigning certain tasks to certain days and [adding] it to a calendar” cuts back on distractions (@tmsauel). @MartinaBex suggested “plan the same activity for all classes, and just change the content.” Of course, using resources can help #langchat teachers work smarter. “Divide the work and SHARE SHARE SHARE! Be vulnerable to colleagues you trust! And trust YOURSELF!” said @PRHSspanish. @silvius_toda also shared, “collaborate with other like-minded teachers, read blogs, attend presentations on the topic, share your victories/failures.” Collaboration is key. @magistertalley finds, “using info provided by students to create input for future listening/reading/writing activities” to be helpful.

Using the Textbook as a Positive Supporting Role in the Curriculum

Textbooks can have positive supporting role in curriculum. They can be used “as reference for grammar, culture, and vocab. [There is] no reason students can’t use it as they wish” (@Magistertalley). Textbooks can provide “thematic organization. Pull relevant activities as you can. Some have differentiated assessments which helps if you have IEPs,” shared @madamednmichael. @dkcrump1299 said, “It is supplemental and can spark ideas for creating your own activities.” @Elisabeth13 explained how she was able to transition from the textbook; “we designed our units/themes FIRST, then dug through books to find what supported them.”

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Student Results

The best way that #langchat teachers advocated for teaching without the textbook was by sharing their students’ results. For example, @Mmeshep said, “I’m amazed at what my students can do. Not having to cover a [textbook] allows my [students] to spend all of our time using the [language] to [communicate].” Without relying on a textbook, “students start to believe this is real life instead of a class. Classes end. Relationships change but can endure” (@SECottrell). @ogmsespanol praised this new way of teaching and said, “I can’t even begin: [level 1 students] are reading independently, writing in multi tenses, and joking in [the target language]. Incredible, never happened before!” Simply put, “More authentic=more interesting=more retention! It melts the teacher’s heart!” (@MmeGoodenough).

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Thank you

Thank you to all who participated in this engaging conversation on Teaching without the Textbook in a World Language Classroom. A special thank you to our moderator for the week, Meredith (@PRHSspanish) for her efforts in leading the group.


How can we help our kindergarten learners be successful in their Spanish language journey?  In this post, we offer some tips from the trenches of that sunny-yet-conflicted zone called kindergarten.

1. Establish successful routines.

5 tips for Successful kindergarten SpanishAll elementary children thrive on routine, but we’ve especially seen this in kindergarten.  These learners have moved from a primarily play-to-learn environment in preschool or at home into a more structured learning environment.  Sometimes it’s the first time they’re wearing a uniform.  Sometimes it’s the first time they’re required to stand in a line.  It’s a new world, and children can feel anxious about all the changes.  Accordingly, the best kindergarten teachers incorporate specific routines to help learners know what to expect and when.  World language class is no different.

In addition to helping children feel comfortable, routines help you as the teacher stay in the target language.  The first time you institute a routine like a conversation circle, you may need to give instructions in English and act out what you’d like children to do.  After that, however, you’ll quickly be able to request that learners get ready to accomplish the activity or task in the target language, all the time.

Music is one of the most effective ways to build fun routine into the class period.  Here are some examples of how we’ve used music to built successful routines into our curriculum (Classic for Schools in particular):

  • Children begin class with “Hola a todos.”
  • Transitions between activities happen with “Señor Reloj.”
  • The song “A limpiar” gets children cleaning up after an activity.

2. Change activities frequently.

When high school teachers talk about working their Spanish curriculum and lesson plans into 90-minute block schedules, they talk about changing activities.  What they usually mean is scheduling 2-3 separate tasks or activities in that 90 minutes to break up the block.  In kindergarten, that pace of change is a recipe for disaster.

You almost cannot change activities frequently enough for kindergarteners.  Any one task or activity should occupy no more than 7 or 8 minutes in class.  In a 60-minute class period (yes, some elementary teachers DO get them that long!) we’re talking 10-15 separate tasks or activities for a successful lesson schedule.  Here’s a sample sequence of activities in one 20- to 30-minute class period from Level B of Stories Online:

  1. Use the flash cards for jugar and correr to ask children whether they like to play and run.
  2. Watch and do the motions to the music video “Vengan ya.”
  3. Watch the Video Story “En el parque con los abuelos” and prompt children to run when they hear a form of correr and to play patty-cake when they hear a form of jugar.
  4. Help children describe the video by saying that the characters corren en el parque and juegan en el parque.
  5. Show the Diálogo portion of the Video Story and use the actions to show comprehension of jugar and correr again.
  6. Show pictures from picture books and ask children to point to someone who is showing either jugar or correr.

That’s six separate activities for a 20- to 30-minute class period.  All of our lesson plans are written this way, because this frequency of change is what the little ones need.

3. Embrace the (structured) chaos.

Just to keep it real, rare is the kindergarten child who loves to sit and be quiet.  And that is okay.  There is perhaps a bit too much of “sit and be quiet” told to our kindergarteners.  Sure, it’s going to be a little chaotic, but embrace who these little guys are.  Of course we need structure and consistent expectations for successful learning, but consider these tips for integrating their natural inclination to move into class:

  • Vary seating (carpet squares vs. desks vs. tables).
  • Plan standing activities (or do one spontaneously on extra jumpy days).
  • Got a child who seems to need to always be tapping something? Let him/her tap a leg instead of the table.  This respects their movement without so much noise.
  • Stage conversation activities in which children walk around asking each other a question such as “¿Qué tiempo hace?
  • Incorporate movement into games.  (Stories Online incorporates games like “Matamoscas” and “Doña Ana” to reinforce key concepts with movement.)

4. Use a mantra (or three).

Even with frequent changes in activity, holding kindergarten children’s attention is a challenge.  Consider using a mantra like “We learn Spanish with our eyes and ears” to consistently bring back children’s attention.  Drop the words “eyes” and “ears” and ask children to fill them in for you.  You’ll regain their attention while reminding them why you need it- so they can be successful on this journey.

5. Choose worksheets wisely.

In kindergarten Spanish, art projects should support language goals.

Art projects in Spanish class? Make them count for language!

This heading can be subtitled “Spanish minutes are not Art minutes.”  That’s not to say there’s no overlap or no value in incorporating artistic projects into Spanish class.  Classic for Schools includes a suggested art piece in each chapter.  The point is that teachers have a limited amount of time to provide rich, comprehensible input to their learners, and if the art piece is taking away those precious minutes, it needs adapting, or even eliminating.  Consider what directions can be used and repeated in the process, or what learners can listen to during the activity.  Too many kindergarten Spanish learners are handed a paper that involves nothing more than something along the lines of “Dog in Spanish is perro. Color the perro,” and that is “Spanish class.”  There are worksheets, and then there are successful worksheets.

For tips on how to adapt worksheets for preliterate learners, with a free download of one of our Stories Online Activity Sheets, see this blog post, as well as our Instagram feed.

What other tips have helped your kindergarten Spanish learners succeed?

Answer: They’ve changed.

All three of these are examples of language changes in recent years, at least in Spanish.  Thus, they’re the three biggest changes we made in our recent rather significant update to Calico Spanish Classic for Schools, our beginner level for elementary Spanish teachers.

Alphabet changes

In 2010, the RAE made some changes to the alphabet.  This concept is a bit foreign, to be punny, to English speakers, because we don’t have an academic body that meets to decide what is English and what is not, or whether it’s time for the alphabet to change.  But Spanish does.  And in 2010, the Real Academia Española decided to make the following changes to the official Spanish alphabet:

  • The letters ch and ll were removed; they are now considered “digraphs.”
  • The new name of “y” is ye.
  • The only name for “B” is be.
  • The only name for “V” is uve.
  • The only name for “W” is uve doble.

Color changes

What about pink and orange?  This isn’t an issue of the RAE, really, but rather how people talk.  As Spanish teachers, we often learned vocabulary from textbooks that told us the word for pink is rosado and the word for orange is anaranjado.  As I collected children’s books for my children, though, I started to notice some of them used rosa and naranja for these colors.  Had the word changed?  What did users actually use?

As we continue to develop Calico Spanish Stories Online Level D (“I Like the Farm”), which features a new pig character as well as a mother-daughter Monarch butterfly team, our color focus is pink and orange.  So, it was time to investigate exactly which words to use.  Wow, has this usage changed.  I was so surprised.

Songs and children’s books are all over the map on this, including our own popular Colores, colores,” which uses anaranjado (but does not include pink).  The WordReference forums muddy the waters even more, giving the “old” usage of rosa as the color as a noun, and rosado is the adjective, varying from country to country.

So, I went to my source of all things frequency related: I hit Google.


Here’s what I found on pink:

  • vestido de color rosa: 735,000
  • vestido rosa: 408,000
  • vestido rosado: 350,000

That’s right.  The usage we all learned in school, vestido rosado, is actually the least common.  In fact, the Spanish online shopping site Zalando offers vestido rosa and vestido de color rosa but not vestido rosado at all.

But this isn’t even consistent across nouns, not even across masculine nouns.  See what happened when I changed it to “pig”:

  • cerdo rosado: 90,000
  • cerdo rosa: 40,000
  • cerdo de color rosa: 28,000


Now, what about orange?  Here’s what happened with mariposa:

  • mariposa naranja: 35,000
  • mariposa de color naranja: 32,000
  • mariposa anaranjada: >20,000

Again, the phrase I would’ve used based on what I learned in school is least common.

With gorra the phrase gorra de color naranja comes out on top by a significant margine.  Here’s how significant that margin is with vestido:

  • vestido de color naranja: 600,000
  • vestido naranja: 300,000
  • vestido anaranjado: 17,000

It seems like rosado has always really meant “pinkish” and anaranjado has always meant “orangeish,” and now usage is really reflecting that.
In case you’re curious about what we decided to do with these colors in Level D:

Es un cerdo rosado.

César es un cerdo rosado.

Ofelia tiene una gorra rosa.

Mía es una mariposa negra y naranja.

César tiene una bufanda de color naranja.

Our updates

Curious as to how these changes play out in our new version of Classic?

We want to be up-to-date on language usage!

  • Before: Each chapter introduced one letter of the traditional alphabet, including ch and ll.  Because there were only 15 chapters, this meant only A-M were included in the curriculum chapters.  Lessons for N-Z were added in an appendix.
    Now: Each chapter includes lessons for 1 or 2 letters of the current, 2010 RAE alphabet, and lessons for all letters appear within the chapters and their scope and sequence plans.  Optional lessons for ch and ll are in an appendix.
  • Before: flash cards, posters, and lesson plans referred to pink as rosado and orange as anaranjado with outdated language notes for anaranjado.
    Now: Flash cards, posters, and lesson plans give preference to rosade color rosa, naranja, and de color naranja with language notes on how these uses have changed and the current usage of rosado and anaranjado.

And guess what? We’ve even updated our alphabet song to reflect the 2010 alphabet.  (That release will be announced in a separate post.)

We want to provide you with the very best in elementary Spanish curriculum options, and when we see a significant language change, we see an opportunity to improve.  We hope you’ll agree.

Is comparison part of your process for shopping for a homeschool curriculum for any given subject?

It is part of mine!  As a homeschool mom, I have two go-to strategies when I’m hunting new material:

  1. Ask other moms in online communities, and
  2. read reviews.

Homeschool Spanish curriculum comparisonIn homeschool parent groups online, I often see questions about Spanish curricula for children, sometimes a general request for information, and often a request along the lines of,

“How does X compare to Y?”

But let’s be honest, how many of us have time for that?  I can think of only a few pieces of curriculum I’ve looked at in enough depth to give a useful comparison.

So, we did it for you.

We’ve just launched our Homeschool Comparisons page, where we spent hours combing through various options you have for Spanish learning at home and determining exactly what was different in approaches and philosophies.  On the page, you can see in-depth comparisons of Calico Spanish Stories Online with some of the options you may have been exploring, including:

– Risas y Sonrisas
– Rosetta Stone
– Duolingo & Babbel
– Foreign Languages For Kids By Kids
– Middlebury Interactive
– Whistlefritz

Ready to compare? Click here.

Side note:

Remember my second strategy for finding good curriculum?  It was reading reviews.  You can check out real reviews on Calico Spanish by heading over to our reviews page.

Whether or not you choose Calico Spanish for your Spanish learning journey, we hope our work on these comparisons helps you make a more informed and effective choice for your family.

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Language learning is a lifelong journey.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a map?  We did that: you want your children to speak real Spanish to real people, and we want to help.