Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching through song

Other than the children's songs mentioned here, I also like to use more current (or at least recent) popular songs to provide examples of vocabulary and grammar in a cultural context. For example:

No Voy a Trabajar (Bermudas)
Ir + a + infinitive
Days of the week
Informal Commands

Mariposa Traicionera (MANA)
Informal Commands
Negation words

A Dios le pido (Juanes)
Indirect Object Pronouns
Subjunctive verbs

Ojalá que llueva café (Juan Luis Guerra)
Subjunctive verbs
Dominical regional food words (cultural interest)
Website with helpful grammar and vocab tips for this song

Early-morning Pronunciation Wake-ups

Having taught several early-morning classes, I've often seen my students walk into class half asleep. On such days, it can be helpful to do something to help wake up their brains (or, if nothing else, their tongues) before getting deeply into the subject material for the day.

Tongue Twisters
For focusing on a particular sound (such as rr or ñ), tongue twisters can be a productive warm-up activity. This website provides a useful selection of Spanish tongue twisters.
1. Go through the twister one short phrase at a time, with the class repeating after you.
2. Go through again, putting together somewhat longer phrases.
3. If needed due to length, repeat step 2
4. Have the class recite the tongue twister together with you in its entirety.
5. Pick out sections of the class or brave individuals (or people who come in late) to recite the tongue twister solo.

Children's Songs
With their simple vocabulary and limited vocal range (let's face it, your students won't all be singers), children's songs can be a good way to teach or reinforce some vocabulary and get the students thinking in the target language. One of my personal favorites for this is Los Pollitos Dicen (tener hambre, tener frío, the suffix -ito).

While the Three Stooges aren't exactly known for educational material, this song can be great for practicing tricky sounds and combinations of letters. I've had students tell me that this song gets stuck in their heads for days which, while potentially annoying, could also be quite helpful.

When the song is first introduced, use simple letters like B, D, K, etc. H is also a good one for early use to help students reinforce the idea that H is silent in Spanish.

Later, C and G can be used to discuss and practice the differences in pronunciation of the two depending on what vowel follows (C and G are hard before A, O and U but soft before E and I). This provides helpful scaffolding for when they later need to change between those vowels in verb conjugation (such as the formal command form: Jugar -> Juegue).

Another day, you can substitute dipthongs for the vowels to demonstrate their mono-syllabic nature.

Market Day

(Oral interactive/communicative)
This is a great activity to get students to creatively use a variety of vocabulary, have some fun and absorb a bit of culture at the same time. To set this up, you'll want to prepare (print or cut out) a series of pictures for items being sold. This can be done with food, clothing or other household objects covered in the vocab. You also select some things to set the scene - perhaps the type of music which would be heard in a marketplace in a studied area, pictures of such a marketplace, etc.

You select a few students (probably some of the students with a better grasp on the vocab) to be vendors - 1 for every 3 or so buyers - and distribute the items to be sold among them. More than one copy of each item should be available in the marketplace but not every vendor needs to have every item. If desired, vendors can also be supplied with "recommended" prices.

Each buyer is given a shopping list and a supply of "money" (preferably using pictures of the currency of a currently discussed country: Guatemalan Quetzales, Mexican Pesos, etc.). They then go to the assorted shops trying to purchase all of the items on their list. If a desired item is not available, a vendor may attempt to sell the buyer a similar item (black pants instead of dark blue pants, for example). They then haggle over the price (since many Spanish-speaking countries feature haggling as an essential part of their business practices) and complete their transaction, then move on to the next item on the list.

Prizes of some sort can be awarded for things like:
First buyer finished shopping
Buyer who most accurately fills their shopping list
Buyer who spends the least
Vendor who earns the most
Vendor who unloads the most merchandise

Sample Quiz


Identifica los muebles y cosas indicadas (identify the indicated furniture and objects), usando el artículo definido correcto (using the correct definite article). (1 × 8 = 8 puntos)

1______________________ 2______________________

3______________________ 4______________________

5______________________ 6______________________

7______________________ 8______________________


Rellena los espacios (Fill in the blanks) del siguiente párrafo (of the following paragraph) con la forma apropiada (with the appropriate form) de los verbos reflexivos. Incluye el pronombre apropiado (include the appropriate pronoun) (1 × 6 = 6 puntos)

Vestirse Levantarse Afeitarse

Peinarse Cepillarse Ducharse

III.  Gramática

Rellena los espacios (Fill in the blanks) del siguiente párrafo (of the following paragraph) con la forma apropiada (with the appropriate form) de los verbos. (6 × 1 = 6 puntos)

empezar jugar perder

almorzar pedir volver

Querido Alberto:

Estas vacaciones son fabulosas. Yo                  1 el día con un
desayuno ligero
en un café y después voy a las canchas de tenis. Como sabes,

yo                  2 al tenis bien y casi nunca                  .3 Mi hermano Roberto prefiere jugar al golf, pero viene al café y                  4 conmigo todos los días. Roberto siempre                  5 un sándwich y una ensalada. Después de las vacaciones,

nosotros                 6 a casa. ¡Nos vemos entonces!

Hasta pronto,


Oral Assessment

It can often be difficult to give detailed, individualized feedback to students about their oral skills in a class dynamic. Thus, I like to plan this activity for a slower week where some class time (as well as some office hour time) can be scheduled to meet with the students individually. This can either be done as a form of oral exam or simply as an activity to improve their oral skills.

Have the students prepare a brief conversation about a selected topic (ideally including recent vocabulary and grammatical constructs, making this part of the process a good communicative activity in and of itself). The students then call and leave you a voice mail with their conversation (Google Voice can be useful for this purpose). When you meet with the students, play back their recording and have them first evaluate themselves, giving them the important opportunity to recognize their own errors and areas of improvement. Afterwards, give the students your assessment and suggestions for improvement.

The perfect house/apartment

(interactive verbal presentation and comprehension, writing presentation)

When learning words for furniture and rooms of the house, this can be an useful and entertaining exercise which students have usually enjoyed in the past. It also has the benefit of being very communicative.

Basic setup: Place the students in small groups (2-4 people, depending on class size and dynamic) and present basic home/furniture vocabulary.

In groups, have the students plan out their ideal home. They can draw blueprints if they wish but they should discuss their future dream home in complete sentences . After discussing it, they should write down their plans and present them to the class. Students should be encouraged to be creative and as detailed as possible.

Verb conjugation game

This can be a useful tool for review, allowing students the opportunity to find out what they need to study more in terms of their verb conjugations.

Basic setup: Divide the class into 3 or 4 teams (Depending on number of students and available space). Provide each team a marker and an eraser.

Start the game simply - state a verb in the infinitive form and the currently selected team member tries to be the first to write the verb's conjugations on the board. Team member assistance can be permitted as necessary. Team members rotate after each verb.
As the game progresses (or as the class progresses), additional complications can be added such as using an image representative of the verb or putting the verb in a context so that they have to think about what the verb actually means and how it is used.