Don't kill the interest with grammar

By Martha Hayden posted 08-23-2010 09:22

Hi Karen:
I teach high school Spanish and I begin my year with a unit in geography. I don't assign names, I don't test , I don't do any type of grammatical evaluation. We have fun with geography and blank maps. I do it with my lower level classes and also my higher level classes. It really does not matter.  

I start with South America and when they know the location of the countries and the capitals really well I move on to Central and North America and the Caribbean.  I teach them all the capitals, the most important rivers, lakes, mountain ranges,  and natural resources as well as names of the conquistadores and the liberators. We work with maps, we play games and we have fun and we speak absolutely no English in class ever! Only spanish. They  color the maps at home and fill them everyday with the new information they have learned in class. For homework I assign them a country and they have to find interesting information about it which they have to share with a partner in class and then share it with the rest of the class.  That makes them start the class speaking in Spanish.They also have to write a paragraph about an assigned country describe the country, explain location without mentioning the country and the class has to guess which country they are talking about. I throw a ball around to test them on the capitals, we learn songs about the countries and after 7 days they know everything and are all able to name all the capitals and the countries. I make puzzles from cut up maps with the names and without them and they have to put them together with a partner. They love it and I have fun with it  and so do I. I have kids that were my students come back from college and tell me how useful this was and how it really helps them understand history better.

Don't start with diagnostics or grammar because you will turn them off. Make them interested in the culture and you will have students engaged and enthusiastic about speaking Spanish. You want a fun year where the kids will start to think Spanish is incidental because they will be learning so many interesting things about the Spanish culture. Like I tell my kids nobody is going to ask you to conjugate the verb to be when you get off the plane. Have them use the language in meaningful ways otherwise it will go in one ear and out the other and your year will amount to nothing.