Roll out the red carpet! (part 1)


photo from Wikicommons

My teaching situation is unique in several ways, but one of the aspects that I like best is that my “level 1” students in the fall become my “level 2” students in the spring (we’re on a 4×4 block schedule), with very little variation.  They may change class periods, but the students basically stay the same. This means that instead of focusing on what to teach in each level, I can generally look at the year as their novice experiences and their second year (levels 3 & 4) as their intermediate experiences.  This also ties in with the exit standards of my state. 

What a liberating experience! In January, we were running out of time to do the last unit I’d planned, but because the students were so enthusiastic about the sports unit.  So what to do? Simply move the “free time” unit to “level 2”, which just meant that we’d get to it in the spring semester. Conveniently, we started a loosely themed free time unit a couple of days after the Oscar awards. Hoping to replicate our success from the sports unit and take the students a few steps further down the path to proficiency, I edited the free time theme to the language functions of expressing opinions, describing, making recommendations, and making plans. Our cultural focus was around the Spanish-speaking Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o, Alfonso Cuarón, and Emmanuel Lubetski.  Students completed a reading and vocabulary extraction activity using tweets in Spanish about the Oscars ceremony and also a listening activity based on a video interview that Nyong’o gave in Spanish. I completed our introduction to the topic by presenting biographical information about Nyong’o, Cuarón, and a few other key players in the Spanish-speaking film world.  You can download many of the introductory activities here.

One of the amazing things that I appreciate about this culture-first approach is that we can practice the necessary concepts as many times as needed without boredom or staleness. Talking about the scariest movie you’ve ever seen is a different conversation from talking about the funniest movie that you’ve ever seen, yet it employs many of the same structures.  This allows us to get the repetitions we need without losing student interest and engagement.

Recent #langchat conversations on Twitter have discussed the use of a vocabulary list. For me, a list is like a map of a place you’ve never visited before. Without some guidance from a map, you’d be lost, and it’s hard to get an image of your surroundings if you only can rely on asking others for directions. So a vocab list for my classes is like a tourist’s guide. It has some key places (phrases) that you probably don’t want to miss, as well as some general directions where you might want to go. It also has options so that you can tailor your adventure to your personal preferences. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell convinced me to give up vocabulary quizzes with this post, so now the list in my classes serves the function of a well-informed tour guide.  Students have it and are encouraged to use it, but are certainly not limited to what is on the page. We keep a running list on the board in each unit of words that they request, (such as “popcorn” for the movie unit), and I also solicit their input on the topic before I prepare the list for them.  

Since a major focus for this unit is describing, I wanted to make sure that they had a wide range of vocabulary at their disposal to describe films that they had seen. This is demonstrated on the vocab list–which also has a lot of vocab recycled from the sports unit where we were also working on giving and supporting opinions and descriptions. From there we spent the rest of the unit working on building progressively more complex descriptions and making plans to go out with friends.  I received invaluable assistance in creating these experiences for my students from Neil Jones (see his amazing blog here), Zachary Jones (see his awesomeness here), and materials from Mary Glasgow magazines. Download the unit packet here.  I was very pleased with the outcomes of the unit! I’ll describe assessment in part 2 of this post soon.

¡Paz y amistad!


7 thoughts on “Roll out the red carpet! (part 1)

  1. I love the aesthetics of your unit packet! May I ask, exactly, how you use that in class? Do you give students a vocabulary sheet like the one you posted that’s already filled out, or do they do that through activities? Also, though it is a “packet,” do you hand it out at once (traditional packet) or hand out individual pages and activities as they come up in class? Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Thanks for your feedback. What you see is what the students get–I often leave space for them to add on vocab that they request as we go, and I usually give it to them all at once. I’ve found that this really helps the kids who struggle with organization. We don’t necessarily go in the same order as the packet, but rather will skip around with intention. Since I try to have reading, writing, speaking, and listening in each class period, we often will do one activity on a page but not the rest on that day so that we can have a balance of skills over the unit.

      Another note about the vocabulary list: they are never, ever tested on it in that format. I’ll ask them to do the goals (the I can statements) and then they’ll need vocabulary from the list, but the list is to help them achieve the proficiency goals. In other words, the list is not the goal. Using relevant, rich vocabulary from the list will assist students in reaching the goal, and that’s what I’m after. 🙂

      • Thanks for the quick reply! I look forward to trying to incorporate something similar. It looks fun both to create as a teacher and for the students to receive. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Hola desde España!!!
    Me encanta tu blog, lo acabo de descubrir y esta lleno de ideas geniales para mis clases de español. Acabo de empezar la unidad didactica del tiempo libre y esto me va a venir muy bien. Gracias por compartir!

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