Making the Memory Connection in the World Language Classroom

Let’s face it.  The truth.  We ask our students to retain an E-N-O-R-M-O-U-S amount of information in the world language classroom!  Vocabulary, verbs, conjugations, grammar, rules, exceptions to the rules, and the list goes on and on and on.  How can we help our students to retain all of this information that is floating around in their heads?  We have to help them make a memory connection!  What is it exactly that allows someone to retain information so that it is connected in their brain and can be retrieved at will?  Well, it’s not surprising that it may take a little something different for each of us.  That’s why I want to share with you today some of the top memory connectors that we have available to us. Some memory devices work well with vocabulary, others with grammar, others with general concepts, but each serves a purpose and helps learners to retain information in their memory.

Songs

I’ll start with my favorite!  I love songs!  Songs are fun and they make things super easy to remember.  Think about it.  That’s how we learned an incredible amount of information as children.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I still sing the alphabet song when I’m looking something up in a dictionary in order to remember the order of the letters.  I also often sing a song I learned as a child to remember how many days each month has.  Admit it.  There are songs you still sing too… maybe when no one is watching, but you know you do!  So, harness this power in the world language classroom!  There are lots of songs that correspond to just about anything you would teach.  I have been using songs for my entire teaching career (20+ years), and I have learned a couple of things.

First, my students don’t like really long songs.  They want something short and sweet that gets to the point.   I know there are tons of artists to choose from, and I’ve tried a lot of them, but my favorite that I have used for 15+ years from high schoolers to the college students that I teach now is Gale Mackey (his album Grammar Songs).  His songs are simplistic, but my students really love the irregular positive command song, and especially the irregular participle song.  I mean REALLY like this one!  I also use some of his others, but these are the ones that my students couldn’t live without.  They like them because they work!  Like everything that has a fan following, you can sample his work on YouTube here.   In fact, my teaching materials that I created for these two grammatical topics have the order of the words in his songs because I can’t live without them either!  They make my life so much easier when teaching these topics.  If you would like a full presentation of the grammar with practice worksheets, and slides with the words to be able to use these timely songs, you can find the informal commands grammar resource here and the present perfect grammar resource here.

Second, my students don’t need a recorded, fancy song to be happy.  They are thrilled with a good ‘ol ‘piggy-back’ song.  If you’re not sure what that is, I’ll explain.  This is when a popular song such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat is used with new words.  My students really like these because they already know the tune.  And don’t let them fool you… at first, they’ll act like they are too mature for a children’s song, but I guarantee you they will be humming these songs by the second day!  My students especially like my food song that is sung to the tune of ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low’.  Silly, I know… but it works, believe me!  I started writing my own piggy-back songs during my third year of teaching, and I never looked back.  If you like this concept, you can find some songs that I’ve written here.  And you can get a free one here!  Oh… and one more thing.  No, I am NOT a singer, and I don’t sing well.  Don’t ever choose NOT to use songs in class for that reason!  Not all students can sing either, and believe me, they appreciate the fact that you are singing, and it will encourage them to sing as well.

Rhymes

You can’t go wrong with a good rhyme!  And, no, I don’t mean like Humpty Dumpty.  I mean other rhymes for teaching concepts.  For example, how many of you learned this pearl of wisdom:  ‘I before E, except after C’?  Exactly!  So if you hear a good rhyme that will help your students remember something, use it now!  I have used a few over the years.  I’m not sure where I picked this one up, but I help my students to remember pronunciation by using the rhyme ‘Is and Es soften Cs and Gs’.  Sometime long ago I came up with these that also are quite handy, so feel free to use them!  The first is talking about those pesky verbs in the preterite that have the Y in the third person.  The rhyme is ‘verbs that take the Y require accents on the Is’.  The second is this one that I  came up with because I would always get asked about the gender of adjectives.  The question would go something like this:  ‘How do you know when to use the masculine or feminine for…. for example, an adjective describing the person ‘yo’ or ‘tú’ on a worksheet.  I usually explain the long version once , but after that, rather than explain the whole thing that it could go either way and it all depends upon who that person is and since we don’t know on a worksheet, that it really could be either one… whew, that’s a breath full… I find it much easier to just say, ‘If you don’t know, go with the O’ meaning the masculine ending. This also works for when students need to translate a sentence from English to Spanish and the subject pronoun is ‘they’ or ‘we’.  Again, the rhyme works perfectly…. after all if there is a group such as ‘students’, the probability would be that it is a mixed group requiring the masculine ending.

Visuals

Anther memory connector that will help most of your students is visuals.  Statistically, according to the Social Science Research Network,  65 percent of the population consists of visual learners.  That means that when teachers just lecture, they are reaching less than half of the class!  This is why as language teachers we need to constantly relate the words to visuals.  Sometimes this is as easy as pointing to the object in class, but it’s not possible to have every object at your fingertips in the classroom.  About three years into my teaching career, I did my Master’s of Arts in Teaching Language and one of the classes that I took revolved around TPRS and story telling.  From that time, pictures ruled in my classroom!  I was constantly looking for pictures to make resource sheets for my students.  Back then it was copy and paste and ugly black and white pics.  We’ve come a long way for sure from those dark ages of teaching before the technical advances like the Internet and images that can be found there!  Sometimes I wonder how I even survived those years… are you with me veteran teachers?  Anyway, I digress… pictures… are fabulous!  They allow you to maintain the target language as much as humanly possible for a level 1 or 2 language class!  Yes, sometimes you get the kid that is difficult that wants to act like he can’t understand the meaning of the pictures… ok, if it were one or two, but ALL of them?  Yes, we have difficult students.  But, the majority of students will jump on board and love the extra resource that they have which can be used for study at home, to make flash cards, or simply to use in class when working on an activity requiring them to use those words.  It’s a time saver for me too because I don’t have to translate for every new word… pictures are self-explanatory 99% of the time.  Sometimes, yes, you must help in English if it’s more of an abstract idea or point them to the vocabulary list in the book to look it up themselves.  I love telling my students to take out their notes and seeing those pictures come out!  Every time they see the word with the picture, it reinforces the meaning IN the target language.  How great is that?  I also put these same pictures into a PowerPoint format which I use in various ways.  I use them as sort of a digital flash card set with the entire class in which I call on individuals to identify the picture with the target language.  Sometimes right before a test I’ll have the class answer chorally instead of individually.  I also sometimes put students into pairs and have them go through the slides with their partners identifying and pronouncing the words.  They can also be easily posted to my class management system and this allows the students to use them to review and practice at home.  If you don’t want to make your own, you can find the ones that I’ve created in my TPT store under the topic desired.  Here is an example of the notes and corresponding PowerPoint for house vocabulary in Spanish.

Those are my top picks for memory connectors to help students retain information.  There are lots more out there too!  Maybe you have your favorites just like me!  What would be your top three memory connectors?

Tips for Using Puzzles in the World Language Classroom

I’ve always loved using some sort of puzzle in my classroom.  It adds a little fun to an activity or exercise that could otherwise be boring if I just reviewed using a worksheet!  This is probably why language-teaching puzzles have become widely popular in the world language classroom of today!  In fact, for the last three decades they have been a regular feature in most textbooks and ancillary materials.  Unfortunately, many teachers only use them as a time filler or for substitute plans.  Is there something more to puzzles you may be wondering?  Absolutely!  But just like any technique that is used to teach, you must know how to correctly utilize puzzles in the classroom for them to be effective.  Below are some things that you should consider before using your next puzzle in the classroom.

  1. Language-teaching puzzles should be used wisely.  They should motivate and challenge students and not be used simply as time-fillers.

My momma always said, ‘too much of a good thing is nasty.’  Well, mom got that right in terms of using puzzles in the classroom!  If you use puzzles too much, they lose their special touch.  In other words, something meant to be fun and different becomes mundane and boring.  For this reason alone, you should limit your use of puzzles!  Students need to view the puzzles as though they are as much a part of the class as other activities… not just for when the teacher has an extra five minutes to ‘waste’ before the bell or when the teacher is absent and needs easy sub lesson plans.

You also should vary the type of puzzles that you use.  If you always give word searches, for example, students will lose interest in what is meant to be a break from other class drills and exercises.  If you diversify the types of puzzles that you use, the students will look forward to the surprise of the type of puzzle that you give!

  1. Language-teaching puzzles need to be appropriate for the age, learning styles and previous learning of the students and their competence level.

It’s very obvious that age would affect your choice of which type of puzzles to use.  After all, an elementary student cannot be successful at a puzzle aimed at a secondary student.  Likewise, a puzzle targeted for an elementary student would bore a secondary student.  But you also need to consider that students in a beginning level language course  do well with more simplistic puzzles (think basic crosswords and word searches), whereas students in a more advanced language course can handle logic puzzles or rebus puzzles (puzzles in which pictures, symbols and letters represent words).  Additionally, not everyone learns the same way, so variety in your choice of puzzles not only keeps the classroom fresh, but also will reach the maximum number of students in terms of their preferred learning styles.

  1. Language-teaching puzzles need to be appropriate to the learning task.

Once you have determined what it is that you wish for the students to accomplish, you must choose the correct type of puzzle for the task.  Puzzles can be used to review, recall from memory, reinforce and sometimes to expand the language.  There are many types of language-teaching puzzles such as word searches, crosswords, anagrams or scrambled letters, jigsaw puzzles, and logic puzzles.

There are really two main categories of puzzles:  those that focus on form and those that focus on meaning.  Puzzles that focus on form are extremely useful at the elementary level of language learning because the they deal with control of spelling, vocabulary or grammar, but do not always call for very high order thinking.  And yet, they can still be challenging and are definitely fun, so you can see why they are so popular!  These work great to reinforce language that is learned as well as to provide a review of previously learned material.  Puzzles that focus on meaning, such as logic puzzles, can be useful especially for more advanced levels because students must understand how parts of the language relate to one another.

Now let’s take a closer look at some ideas for both types of puzzles  Here are my personal top 5 for classroom use!

Jigsaw Puzzles

Perhaps one of the most fun, but overlooked puzzles for language classes is the jigsaw puzzle.  Have you ever met a kid that didn’t like a jigsaw puzzle?  Well, this old-fashioned puzzle has a new twist when used to review language!  Traditionally a jigsaw puzzle has differently shaped, interlocking pieces that fit together, and that when assembled, reveals a picture.  This idea of interlocking pieces that match can be incorporated into the language classroom in a variety of ways.  When used to review language, these puzzles can mix and match words to their corresponding pictures, words to their corresponding definitions, questions to answers, words to their opposites, or a problem to its solution.  As with other puzzles, there is a limitless number of items that you can incorporate to vary the difficulty of these puzzles.  Although traditional jigsaw puzzles tend to have many pieces, in the language classroom the number of pieces will be much less as you are focusing on specific parts of the language.  Here are two examples of jigsaw puzzles that I created for my students to review question words and subject pronouns.  These were super easy and fun to make once I got going, but if you would like to get these premade, you can find them here and here.

Once I was on a roll making them, I made several versions of each puzzle so that I could vary the practice from simple identification of what the picture represents to a more difficult concept such as finding the appropriate answer to the question word or having students match the subject pronoun picture to the correct form of the verb Ser.  I like having different versions so that I can easily differentiate the lesson in class.

 Word search Puzzles

These types of puzzles can vary in difficulty depending upon how they are created.  For example, puzzles that only have words that can be read from left-to-right, right-to-left, up-down, and down-up are easier than those that also contain words that can be read horizontally up-down or down-up.

You can also easily change the difficulty level by changing the instructions for solving these puzzles.

  • You can ask students simply to locate the words that are given to them in a list. This is the most basic task because it is a simple recognition of words.
  • You can ask students to locate words, such as family members, in the puzzle, without being told which words (no list is provided).  This increases the difficulty of the task because now this becomes identification of vocabulary as opposed to simple recognition.
  • You can give students definitions or incomplete sentences for each word and then ask them to find the words in the puzzle. Now the puzzle has become a cloze activity.
  • You can give students one form of the words, and ask them to find an alternate form such as feminine vs. masculine or singular vs. plural. Students must know this grammar and pay attention to form in order to complete the puzzle.

Here are some more ideas:

  • You can give students pictures which represent the words that they must find.
  • You can give students pictures which represent the opposite of the words that they must find.
  • You can give students words, and have them locate words of the opposite meaning in the puzzle.
  • You can give students a ‘secret message’ by having the letters not used in the puzzle be a special word or phrase that they must decode.

The number of ways that you can vary the instructions for these puzzles is limitless!  Be creative and see what you can come up with!  There are numerous free word search generators online such as http://tools.atozteacherstuff.com/word-search-maker/wordsearch.php that you can use.  But if you’re like me, you want a quick go to puzzle that is premade.  I love these word searches by Señora Lee for the Love of Spanish because she has puzzles for just about anything you could ever need!Spanish, Word Search, Puzzles

Crossword Puzzles

Like the word search puzzles, these puzzles can also vary in difficulty depending upon how they are created.  Here are some different ideas of how to use a crossword puzzle:

  • Give a word bank along with the clues.
  • Give picture clues instead of word clues.
  • Give definitions, descriptions, synonyms or antonyms as clues.
  • Give a dialogue, story or sentences in which students must fill the blank with words that correspond to the puzzle.
  • Give students a ‘secret message’ by highlighting some of the letters in the puzzle which students must rearrange to decode.

You can also turn these puzzles into a communicative activity.  For example, you can give each student a puzzle with half of the clues missing.  In pairs, each partner has half of the clues and reads the clues aloud to their partner who is lacking those clues.  In this way, you can incorporate an oral practice as well as a listening practice.

Another novel idea for crossword puzzles is to have students find the answers by looking for them in a reading context or visual representation.  Global Guy Ink has mastered this concept by having his students find fun and interesting cultural facts from posters that he places around his classroom.  Each poster represents a different Spanish-Speaking nation so students learn about the Hispanic world as they search for the answers found in the images… plus students get to move around the classroom as they ‘visit’ each country.  What’s not to love about that?  And did I mention that the pictures in the posters are breathtaking?  Take a look for yourself…Spanish, Puzzle, Crossword, Posters

If you are ready to try your hand at creating a crossword puzzle for your class, there are countless free online generators for these puzzles as well such as https://worksheets.theteacherscorner.net/make-your-own/crossword/

Anagrams

Most people are not as familiar with anagrams as they are with the previous three types of puzzles.  Anagrams are a form of word play in which letters of a word or phrase are rearranged in such a way that a new word or phrase is formed.  In fact, anagrams are formed by using exactly the same letters of the original word or phrase but with a different arrangement.  You might have heard them called simply ‘scrambled letters’.  For example, in English ‘stop’ is an anagram for ‘pots’ or ‘sink’ is an anagram of ‘skin’.  In Spanish ‘padre’ is an anagram for ‘pared’.  These puzzles are a wonderful review of vocabulary since the students see a vocabulary word in Spanish and then must find another vocabulary word in Spanish using the same letters!  This type of puzzle can be more difficult to create even with an online anagram generator such as  http://www.a2zwordfinder.com/anagram_solver.html.  Although not an anagram in the purist sense of the word, it is much easier to create a partial anagram is which a word can be found within another word, without the use of every letter.  Or a group of letters can be given and students asked to find as many words as possible by rearranging the letters.  This is sometimes called a ‘Scrabble’ puzzle.  Personally, I love to use these puzzles, but I hate to create them!  I stumbled upon this TPT store the other day and was blown away by the sheer amount of puzzles that I found.  This has become one of my new go-to puzzle stores!  If you’re looking for these types of puzzles, check out Speak More Spanish.

 

Logic Puzzles

This type of puzzle requires students to find logical relationships between and among parts of the language.  These puzzles are more difficult due to the higher level of thought required, and are not only challenging to the students, but also entertaining.  Within these puzzles there is some type of ‘problem’ that must be solved by creatively using and relating the language pieces.  Some examples of logic puzzles for language learning are sudoku-type puzzles with words instead of numbers.  Students must fill the squares with words filling each row horizontally and vertically with a certain number of given words which cannot be repeated within each row or column.  Students must figure out how to fit all of the words by determining their relationship to each other.  Here is a great example of this provided by LaProfesoraFrida in which back-to-school words are used.Spanish, puzzles, matching squareAnother type of logic puzzle would be matching square puzzles.  In this type of puzzle students have square puzzle pieces that they must arrange into a logical patterned square using the relationship between the language on each piece.  This could be as simple as Spanish words matched to their English translations, words matched to their opposites, or even words matched to pictures!  The sky is really the limit on what you can use.  If you’re not familiar with these super fun puzzles, take a look at this one (also by LaProfesoraFrida), in which students must match the days of the week and months of the year in Spanish with their English translations.   Spanish puzzle, Spanish days of the week, Spanish months of the year, matching squareNo matter what type of puzzles you choose, they will help to create a positive and fun environment in your classroom, if you utilize them correctly.  Remember, like any activity that you choose for your students, it must be appropriate to their age and skill level.  Along with other kinds of practice and activities that you use, puzzles play an important role in language development and are extremely versatile.  In fact, there are so many types of puzzles that I’ve only just scratched the puzzle surface here!

What is your favorite type of puzzle to use in the classroom?

 

 

Spanish Conjugation Bracelets

Spanish, Spanish homework, Spanish 1, Spanish class

Let’s face it… nobody likes homework.  Not the students who many times view it at busy work.  Not the  teachers because homework means more grading.  And not some parents who think homework has gotten way out of hand and lament the fact that their children spend hours on it every night.  The problem is that as Spanish teachers, we need for our students to practice the language outside of class because we are limited in the time we have with them, and they need the exposure.  Hmm.  I wanted to find something that encouraged the students to practice what they had learned in class that they could use not just at home but throughout the school day.  Then I thought about eggs! 

What do eggs have to do with Spanish you might ask.  Well, they are what gave me the idea that I want to share with you today!  When I was teaching at the high school level, I can remember that time of year when the eggs came.  You know… the egg babies.  The students had the assignment in their home economics class of caring for these egg babies.  They had to carry them to every class and have every teacher sign off that they had them on those days!  The funny thing is that the students really seemed to enjoy this!  They dressed up their egg babies, gave them names, took them home… some complaining out loud, yet with that twinkle in their eye that we as teachers know means they are really enjoying it, but can’t let anyone else know.

Spanish homework, Spanish, Spanish 1, Spanish class

So, I thought… how can a Spanish teacher harness this same enjoyment for Spanish homework?  Then I had an idea!  Conjugation bracelets!  Yes… Spanish that you wear.  Here’s how it works:  Once you have covered a particular grammar conjugation in class, you have your students wear the bracelet that corresponds… regular present tense, irregular YO verbs, preterite tense, etc.

Spanish, Spanish homework, Spanish 1, Spanish class

Here are all of the supplies that you will need:

By the way, it sure is a LOT easier to use double sided tape!

Spanish, Spanish homework, Spanish 1, Spanish class

I made a template in PowerPoint big enough to fit around any wrist, added my verb conjugations, printed them out in different colors, cut them out, and then created the sign off list that the students would use throughout the day as evidence that they participated.   If you would like to try this homework activity, you can find a pre-made set for purchase in my store on TPT.  

It’s fun to let the students decorate their bracelets and it only takes a few minutes of class time for them to personalize them.  Some students like to draw a picture of the verb, others just like to doodle or some may just prefer to leave it as is.

Spanish, Spanish class, Spanish homework, Spanish 1

Then you explain what they have to do with the bracelets.  Students have to wear their bracelets all day, and the catch is that each time they get a signature, they have to explain what a conjugation is and use the bracelet to conjugate a verb for the listener.

 

When they come back to class, they simply turn in the page of teacher signatures (which are easy to verify since all of the students will have the same teachers more or less) plus a parent signature.  Virtually nothing to grade for the teacher, yet plenty of practice for the students!  That’s 7-8 times during the day (less if you’re on the block schedule) that your Spanish students are practicing Spanish!  One important thing to remember is that you will be seeing some students in 1st period and others in 6th period so it’s important to emphasize that they have to wear their bracelets back to class the next day.  Yes, they will need to take them off to shower and re-tape the next day so that they can get any signatures that they missed in their earlier classes.

Wait… you might be thinking, but that’s GRAMMAR not language.  Well, grammar is part of language and a necessary part at that.  If you are teaching using comprehensible input in the classroom and using your class time for meaningful dialogue, then a little extra grammar practice in a fun way is a pretty good thing!  This is an easy way to get your students practicing and learning those conjugation endings and irregular verbs.

What do you do with the bracelets when the students finish?  The next day, when they return with their bracelets, you can have them all tape or staple the bracelets onto a sheet of paper that is kept in their notebook.

Spanish, Spanish class, Spanish homework, Spanish 1, Interactive Notebooks

They will be able to use this when it comes time to review before the end of the semester test.  You can even count this as a grade to motivate them.

Do you have any eggstra fun ideas that you’ve come up with for homework?  I’d love to hear about them!

2017 Spanish ebook, free Spanish lesson plans, games, activities, and teaching tips

 

Whether you’re new teacher or a veteran teacher, the 2017 Spanish ebook, is a definite must-have for your school year.

 

What is the Spanish ebook you ask?  It’s a downloadable document with teaching tips and free resources from 25 top teacher authors.

 

Yes, you heard that right!  You get 25 free Spanish resources for your classroom.  And trust me – these lesson plans are really good!  We created 2 versions, one for K-5 Spanish teachers and one for Grades 6-12.

Grades K-5 Free Spanish lesson plans, games, and activities:

*Take Home Binder Labels
*Los sonidos iniciales
*Llama coloring sheet
*Back to School Pennant in Spanish
*Trabajo de palabras
*La araña pequeñita
*Scoot Numbers to 5
*Los Pescaditos Poem
*Colombia Minibook
*Adivina Quién Game
*Los días de la semana reader
*Transition Video
*Repaso de sonidos
*Goal Planning Worksheets
*Back to School Games Sampler
*Unit 1 Los Pollitos Dicen

Grades 6-12 Free Spanish lesson plans, games, and activities:

*Scavenger Hunt Activity
*Present Tense Summary Chart
*Interactive Notebook Flash Cards
*School Supplies Vocabulary Puzzles
*All About Me Infographic Activity
*Reward Coupons
*Imperfect Tense Task Cards
*Readings for MovieTalk Extension
*”Fotografía” Song Activities
*Student Profile Sheet
*Para Empezar Daily Bell Ringers
*Transition Video
*Interactive Reading Activity for Hispanic Heritage Month
*Categories Game
*50 Culture Project Ideas
*Clothing Google Drive Activity
*Preterite vs. Imperfect Graphic Organizer
*Interactive Activities for September
*Todo acerca de mi Build-a-Book
*Spanish Adjective Bingo
*Comic Strip Activity
*Instagram Activity
*”Paraíso” Song Activities
*Digital Breakout Activity
*Conjugation Game for -AR Verbs
*Classroom Management Strategy

 

Not only do you get the free resources, but each of these veteran Spanish teachers shares a pro teaching tip.  Even though I’ve taught for many years, I always learn so much when I read these.

Our K-5 2016 ebook and Grades 6-12 2015 ebook and 2016 ebooks have been downloaded over 14,000 times.  And guess what?

Each of them has additional teaching tips and free Spanish resources.  Triple the fun!

So you can get 80 free Spanish games, activities, teaching tips, and lesson plans for your class.  Amazing!

Still not sure?  Here’s a sneak peek at my page.  You’ll need to download the actual ebook to be able to click on the resources.

Spanish fall 2017 ebookY

And for those of you who also teach French, be sure to check out the French ebook.

Hope that all these tips, tricks, and resources help you have the best year ever!