I started attending Comprehensible Input workshops with a fabulous teacher named Amy in Washington, DC because it was free development, and I needed to keep up with my PD hours. Amy and CI totally changed my teaching. That following school year, our department of two implemented our own rollout of CI, and my students’ proficiency BOOMED. Previously, my Spanish 4 students had struggled to write a paragraph mid-year. With CI, my confident Spanish 1’s were writing full-blown stories by December with a smattering of verbs, character descriptions and plot twists like you wouldn’t believe.
What changed? I wasn’t scared anymore. I took small steps to teach as much in Spanish as possible, and I just dove in and got started. I wouldn’t say my class was at 90% Spanish – it still isn’t, but we work through at about 80% Spanish and 20% English.
How to Use Spanish Regularly in your Instruction
Passing by my classroom, you’ll often hear a cue like: “Clase, vamos a escribir” and see me holding a pen or marker and miming writing. There’s a significant pause between clase and the next step. This tells my class to listen before I explain what we’re doing. Once I’ve got their attention, I might borrow a student’s notebook and show and tell what materials we need.
Once I see students starting to pull out notebooks, I’ll voice what I see. “Cairo tiene su cuaderno para escribir… Alexa está preparada con su boli…” This encourages hesitant students to look at their peers to see what they need. Plus, they’re all hearing the directions and seeing what they need, which builds language knowledge.
Drawings & Images
Fun Fact: I wanted to be an art teacher when I was little. I loved art class, because my teacher was so creative and fun. However, I’m a terrible artist. But I don’t let that stop me from constantly drawing on the board or using images in my slides to convey meaning. I also have students draw when I’m asking or telling stories so they can process and show understanding. Not sure where to start with storytelling? Check out this post from Srta. Spanish to get started!
I love my question words. There are tons on TpT, but I use these free question words from Martina Bex. I keep them on magnets at the top of my white board so I can quickly pull them down toward me when I’m asking questions during class. This helps my students know what kind of answer I’m looking for, because they understand the question word.
I also use my question words to support students in asking questions in Spanish. If a student starts a question, I’ll grab a few question words to see which one they want, and I’ll write their question next to the question word so they can see the full question on the board.
Question words also help my students during independent work because they can easily understand worksheet questions by checking the question words at the front of the room.
Speak Slowly and Clearly & Repeat Yourself
This one speaks for itself but it’s TRICKY! When I started teaching, I taught middle school English Language Arts (ELA) and ESL. Even as an ELA teacher, I was speaking too quickly for my English-speaking students! They were overwhelmed, and I had to learn to slow down. I learned to chunk directions, speak more slowly and clearly (which really helped as an ESL teacher too), and repeat myself when my students didn’t get the idea the first time.
Checks for Understanding
In addition to slowing down and speaking clearly, I also started checking for understanding by asking a student to explain what I’d just said. All of these ideas apply in my Spanish classroom as well, and it’s great when my students explain what I’ve said in Spanish because 1) They’ve totally got it! and 2) They’re supporting other students’ understanding. Not into having a student explain in English? That’s fine. Ask a student to show you what you want them to do. This is a non-verbal check for understanding that shows that they know what to do, and it still supports others’ understanding. To reinforce that vocabulary, you can voice over what they’re doing in Spanish.
Authenticity & Vulnerability
I saved the best for last here: BE YOURSELF! Make mistakes. Goof around. It’s totally okay to make mistakes and model that vulnerability for your students. When you make a mistake, own up to it – after all, we want our students to make mistakes.
Bonus Support: Word Walls
Another language support tool I use in my classroom is word walls. If your students are like mine and they constantly ask ¿Cómo se dice…?, word walls come in really handy because I can direct them to that resource. I have always had the top 50 Spanish words on my wall – get my copy here.
When I Use English in Spanish Class
I don’t often use English – like I said, maybe 20% of the time, but I do use English for…
- Urgent Communication
- Pop-up Grammar
- Connecting with Students
More to come about this in a future blog post – stay tuned!