Spanish Lesson Experiment

I recently started a new approach to teaching foreign language in our homeschool. Because I am bilingual and *gulp* a trained language teacher, you would think that this was my strength. Instead, I have often put it off, thinking that someday I would get to it after everything else fell into place in our schedule.

I have since learned the valuable lesson that if it important to me, I must create the space required. Learning a language is not going to fit unless I make it happen!

Charlotte Mason taught that language learning in the early years should be oral and incorporate gestures, based on the Gouin method of learning series. Nowadays this style of teaching is typically referred to as Total Physical Response, or TPR. There is a book published by Cherrydale Press that has a selection of series that can be learned in this manner, and while I own the book and appreciate the philosophy behind it, I have a hard time feeling excited to teach with it. I tried it anyway, but my kids were bored by the series, and they forgot the words even after going over them multiple times over a few weeks, even using real props and doing various related activities.

After reading Ana Lomba’s e-guide on teaching foreign language, I felt inspired. She uses classic children’s stories to teach, relying on children’s natural aptitude for language learning to help them pick up the details without drills or grammar lessons. It’s very communicative.

I chose a classic story (The Three Billy Goats Gruff) and broke it into five parts and told one part each day, using simplified and repetitive language, drawing pictures on our dry erase board and moving three little goat puppets that I printed off the Internet as I told the story. My kids loved it! They picked up a lot of new words, participated actively and asked if we can do the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” next!

I typed up the first day of our lesson to give you an idea of how it looked. If there is interest, I can type up the rest of the days’ lessons as well. It was fun for all of us, and I consider it a success because my kids were speaking Spanish at the end!

Get Ready:

  • Read the story in English.
  • Read the storyteller’s suggestions for gestures and other nonverbal cues to support the story.
  • Practice telling the story in English with nonverbal cues.
  • Read the story aloud in Spanish. Look up pronunciation of words if they are unfamiliar to you.
  • Practice telling the story in Spanish with the nonverbal cues.
  • Print or draw three goats on paper and cut them out so that you can move them around. (My kids liked to help with that part.)
  • Get a large piece of paper to draw the scene or a dry-erase board with markers.

chivos

The Three Billy Goats Gruff / Los Tres Chivos Billy Gruff

Day One:

English Version

Once upon a time there were three goats. One…Two…Three. Three goats.

One of the goats was small, very small.

One of the goats was medium. Medium. One was small and the other was medium.

One of the goats was large, very large.

There was a small goat, a medium goat and a large goat.

The goats lived on a mountain. A mountain.

On the mountain there were three trees. One…Two…Three. Three trees.

There was a small tree, a medium tree and a big tree.

On the mountain there were three flowers. One…Two…Three. Three flowers.

There was a small flower, a medium flower and a big flower.

On the mountain there were three patches of grass. One…Two…Three. Three patches of grass.

There was a small patch of grass, a medium patch of grass and a big patch of grass.

Storytelling Suggestions (AKA Foreign Language Storytelling 101)

When reading the phrase, “…there lived three goats,” hold up three fingers on the word “three.” Then, point to each goat as you count, “one…two…three.” When you say “three goats” a final time, trace a circle around all of the goats.

Point to the smallest goat and read the sentence, “One of the goats was small,” making your voice small and high-pitched on the word “small.” Pinch your fingers close together and say, “very small,” again in a higher-pitched voice.

Move your finger to the picture of the medium goat and read the sentence about him using your regular voice. Widen your fingers as if to measure him and repeat the word “medium.” Then, move your fingers back to the small goat as if to measure him and, using a high-pitched voice, say, “small”. Then, return to the medium goat, widening your fingers and using your regular voice, say, “and medium.”

Move your finger to the large goat. On the word “large”, use a deep voice and draw out the word so that it takes a little longer to say. When you add the repetition, “very large,” spread your arms out wide to indicate how big he was!

When you read, “There was a small goat, a medium goat and a large goat,” go back and measure each goat with your fingers, changing the pitch of your voice to match the size. Pause for a brief moment after each word. At this point, if they are feeling confident, the students may begin to repeat the words after you, but do not require repetition.

When you read “a hill,” trace the edges of the hill from bottom to top and back again. Repeat.

As above, when counting, take the time to point to each object and then, when giving the total, trace a circle with your finger around the group. Measure the differently-sized plants and change your voice from high-pitched to regular to deep as a way to indicate the size.

By the end of the story, it is appropriate to pause before counting and/or naming the sizes of the objects to give the students’ opportunities to say the words independently. If they volunteer the correct words, show a lot of enthusiasm! However, do not pressure them to say the words if they do not feel comfortable yet.

Spanish Version

Había una vez tres chivos. Uno…Dos…Tres. Tres chivos.

Un chivo era pequeño, muy pequeño.

Un chivo era mediano. Mediano. Uno era pequeño y el otro era mediano.

Un chivo era grande, muy grande.

Había un chivo pequeño, un chivo mediano y un chivo grande.

Los chivos vivían en una montaña. Una montaña.

En la montaña había tres árboles. Uno…Dos…Tres. Tres árboles.

Había un árbol pequeño, un árbol mediano y un árbol grande.

En la montaña había tres flores. Uno…Dos…Tres. Tres flores.

Había una flor pequeña, una flor mediana y una flor grande.

En la montaña había tres áreas de pasto. Uno…Dos…Tres. Tres áreas de pasto.

Había un área de pasto pequeño, un área de pasto mediano y un área de pasto grande.

Suggested Activities

  • Have a variety of stuffed animals available to play with. Find a small, medium and large stuffed animal, put them in order from smallest to largest, count them and talk about their sizes. Use as many Spanish words as you can remember! Keep a Spanish picture dictionary on hand so that students can look up animal names, numbers higher than three, etc.
  • If you have enough students, choose three students and ask the class who is small, medium and large. Count them, too!
  • Sing José Luis Orozco’s version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” (“La araña pequeñita”). Do the motions with the song, even if you can’t sing every word. The second verse tells about the big, humongous spider (“la araña grandotota”) and is a lot of fun!

Next Steps

I split the story into about four more parts, keeping the language a bit simple and repetitive. I was able to introduce basic greetings and expressions like, “How are you?”, “I’m fine,” “I’m hungry,” etc. This was a lot of fun, it took less than fifteen minutes each day, and my kids were actually speaking Spanish spontaneously during the lesson. Big win!

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7 responses to “Spanish Lesson Experiment

  1. I LOVE this! There was a point in my life where I was semi-fluent in Spanish, and it does come back to me fairly quickly when I try, but I have also put off teaching very much to my kids. We have used the Salsa videos with much success, but I haven’t moved far past that. I think it’s time though. I would love to follow your ideas as you move forward with this! Please keep sharing!

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    • Salsa Spanish uses a very similar strategy, and my kids watched the episodes with a lot of interest. I was disappointed by the later episodes because I just didn’t like how the wolf was treated, but the language learning principles behind the program seem very good! I think that I would recommend Salsa Spanish to people who would like to see and hear an example of storytelling for language learners, although in practice it can be even simpler. 🙂

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    • I bought it on her website: http://www.analomba.com . The e-guide had some great advice. As she says, it is NOT a curriculum, but an informative guide for teachers to develop their own curriculum. Her focus is on the classroom and the private teacher, so I think it ended up being overpriced for what I got out of it, but I don’t regret reading it, if that makes sense! 🙂

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  2. This is so helpful! I have that Cherrydale press book but have felt the EXACT same way all year about it so we just weren’t do anything because it wasn’t “living” for us. You described our exact experience. I decided to put it away and quit trying to use it for now a few weeks ago and switched to suggestions from Celeste at http://www.joyouslessons.blogspot.com – picture lessons, stories, songs etc and that has been way easier. It means I have to generate every week’s worth of lessons from scratch and my Spanish is good enough to at least kind of do that but my kids would really love what you’ve just described and shared. I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing each week because I’m just fumbling in the dark but it’s such a huge priority for me that we DO learn Spanish together! Thank you!

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    • Hi Sarah! I read Celeste’s blog as well a while back, and I also felt that her ideas would be more welcome and successful with my kids! I will keep throwing out ideas as I go along. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one out there who hasn’t quite found the right set of resources to make Spanish easy. My kids are definitely using Spanish a lot more since I switched approaches, so that seems like a good sign!

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  3. I have been teaching my daughter Spanish since she was two. However, my approach has been through reading, talking to her and playing cartoons in Spanish since she was little. The result has been that she understands many things, but answers back in English.

    I switched my approach a little by giving her the Spanish version of things when first exposing her to them. I know she will learn the English version soon enough.

    My wife pointed out to me that I should create a curriculum for her to learn along with my informal system. I agree. This has increased her ability to read Spanish much more.

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