I don’t know about you, but when I was in college, my professors encouraged us to use authentic resources as much as possible. It’s been a while, but I remember thinking it would be easy. No problem, I could totally use authentic resources. It would be so easy, I could do it every day!
Then I started teaching. It was not so easy, I discovered, to use authentic resources all the time. I leaned heavily on thematic grammar and vocabulary, relying on teacher-made or textbook-based resources instead of authentic materials. I just wasn’t sure how to make authentic materials accessible in Spanish class.
What & When
What are Authentic Resources?
Authentic materials are texts, videos, and other resources that are intended for native speakers. Imagine all the input you interact with on a daily basis in your native language. News articles, web pages, videos, social media… Those are all authentic resources, and there are TONS of these resources floating around the internet and just around the corner in our local communities (seriously, have you seen how many advertisements, caution signs, and informational bulletins are out there in Spanish?). I used to offer an extra credit assignment for students to find “Spanish in the wild” and write about it for class.
The thing is, most of these resources are difficult for our students to access. It’s important to know how to make authentic materials accessible in Spanish class so that all of our students can take advantage of this huge number of resources.
When to use Authentic Materials
Now that I’ve learned more about authentic materials, I better understand when to use them. I use authentic videos, texts, and other resources to reinforce concepts I’ve taught in class. For example, I teach this lesson about routines using a video made for students (not an authentic resource). Since it’s the first time my students see routines, I don’t use an authentic resource. I don’t think they’re ready for it yet. On the other hand, this sports lesson, designed to review or introduce sports based on students’ prior knowledge, encourages teachers to have students use Wikipedia to find information about sports. Wikipedia in Spanish is totally an authentic resource.
At the beginning of a new concept, I don’t think my students are ready to tackle an authentic resource. They need a little bit of input so that they’re ready to access an authentic resource. Once they’ve got the basics, they’re ready for the bigger concepts. It’s just about making them accessible.
How to Make Authentic Materials Accessible for Students
Break It Up
Sometimes, I look at a text and think “Woah. That’s a lot of Spanish.” And I’ve been studying Spanish since 2003 and living in Spain since 2018! Imagine what it’s like for a tween or teen who’s been studying for a few months or just a few years!
Especially in foreign language, students do better with shorter, accessible texts. With a reading passage, this might mean breaking it into reasonable chunks with questions or comprehension activities afterwards, or even pulling out the unnecessary information so students are only reading the most valuable pieces. It might also mean breaking a longer text into a stations day with different comprehension-based activities at each station.
We can do the same with video; show a part of a video and pause to check for understanding, or make it into a movie talk. Read more about movie talk here. Video is so easy these days – you can turn on subtitles on MOST videos, and you can slow your videos down to support student understanding. I recommend 0.75 for slowed videos, anything slower is too garbled to understand.
Show What You Know
In order to help them succeed, I encourage my students to show what they know. This means focusing on what they can identify instead of what they don’t understand.
When they’re reading, that means marking cognates and familiar words before they even start reading. I encourage students to circle cognates (words that look like English) and underline familiar words BEFORE they even read. Often, students can tell me the premise of the text just by marking these two things. Marking the words they know makes the text more accessible and less intimidating. Instead of thinking about all the gaps, they’re off to a strong start in trying to understand the text. The next step is for me to read the text aloud, so students can hear any words that didn’t “click” when they were skimming the text. Hearing a word might help them realize it’s familiar, even if they missed it while underlining earlier.
If my students are listening, I tell them to write down or sketch anything they hear and understand, in any language. We sometimes hear and process before we realize it, and we’ve forgotten the original word or phrase that we heard. So if a student writes a quick note in English while listening in Spanish, that’s okay because I know they understood (as long as their notes are accurate).
Use Other Tools
Who said you can’t use other tools to make something accessible? I encourage my students to use their resources, because it’s a life skill. My assessments are open-notes, open-slides, open-Jamboards, ask for help – use whatever you’ve got (except Google translate). Why? Because, in the real world, when will you ever be totally on your own without any help at all?
My favorite tools for accessing authentic materials are:
- Captions on youtube videos
- Slowing youtube videos down (recommend: 0.75 speed)
My Favorite Things to do with Authentic Materials
Introduce New Vocabulary
I introduce new vocabulary with videos and texts ALL the time. For example, we watched a video about Tejo, a Latin American sport originating in Colombia, when learning how to explain games and rules. Tejo doesn’t have a lot of rules, but the reporter asked questions using the vocabulary I wanted my students to use in their assignments.
Another great example.: When my students learned about class names and scheduling, we looked at a high school website for a school here in Spain where I had worked previously, and my students identified what was similar and different about their class schedules before acquiring new vocabulary connected to the class names. This, in my opinion, is way more interesting than giving students a vocabulary list.
Model Assignment Expectations
My students do a lot of video assignments, and showing them another video helps to model the expectations for a task. I try to find videos of students close to their ages or younger to demonstrate what they could talk about in an assignment. For example, I recently taught a Spanish 3 unit about volunteering, and used this video of two kids organizing their volunteer project to launch my own student task where students planned and mapped out their own public service ideas.