20 February 2009

More interactive websites, courtesy of my students

I'm all about sharing free activities we've found on the internet as opposed to paying a ton of money for not-very-useful curriculum supplements. The internet worksheet project my Spanish 2 students are currently working on has taken them in some really fun directions. They've come up with stuff I don't know I ever would have thought of. I just had to take some time in class this week to play around with them.

New favorites this week:
Hotwheels Mexico -- fun games
Crayola Mexico -- it's better than their US site
Build-a-Bear US/Español -- the games are in English but it's fun to look around at the animals. And the ecards are in Spanish.

Try them out with your class and see what happens. You might think such sites are too kiddie for high schoolers, but I can't reiterate enough how much context children's material gives them, and how their success in understanding and fun with playing with things will motivate them to like it.

19 February 2009

A product I love

EMC Paradigm has a product out called SymTalk. The part I use is a set of 256 symbol cards that are magnetic. (I requested a magnetic board specifically to use this and my school got me both, thank you Whitefield!) The cards illustrate various concepts and words without translation. On mine, the word is there in Spanish, but it's very small at the top--you can't see it unless you're right next to it.

The cards come with a training DVD but the way EMC designed this to be taught, as a curriculum, is pretty forced in my opinion. I think for students it would get old very fast. However, as a support product it works great. For example, this morning I put up the illustrations of phrases with tiene, and also the illustrations of the phrases with está that my students learned much earlier this year. We went over what all of them meant, from tiene sed to está triste, and then my students had to look in a children's book (they each had one) to find an illustration of someone or something that showed that feeling/condition. It was a good review of está, and reinforcement of pairing tiene with concepts we use be for in English, and there was no textbook and no English involved.

Trust me--this one's worth a curriculum request!

18 February 2009

Good stories for commands

Here are a couple of good stories to use when teaching commands.

En aquel prado is a book I actually start using the first week of Spanish 1 to practice numbers, but the best use of it is for commands. The most repetition is in uds and nosotros commands, although with the first animal there is a tú command. Fun to get a little loco with and make animal noises and change your voice for the baby animals. What happens is, the mom tells the babies (in increasing numbers) to do something, and then they all say "Let's ----!" Wonderfully repetitive.

¡Muy bien, Fergus! is a good one for tú commands. Everyone can relate with trying to train a dog. There are a good 5 or 6 commands in there, at least. And it's cute. :)

Incidentally, if you can put up with RBD, their Pepsi commercial from Christmas before last also has a lot of tú commands. And telling RBD's story to teenagers is always fun & funny. Univision has a couple of good videos showing teenagers marching in protest, in tears, against their breakup. SO funny.

17 February 2009

a story for imperf. vs. pret. and subjunctive influence

Here's a book you can get for $4 on Amazon that is great for at least two things--imperfect vs. pret (which we call aba/ía verbs and sudden past verbs in my class), and subjunctive influence (which we call verbs that show something's influencing them): La Gallinita Roja. It's bilingual on Amazon, I think, but mine is monolingual--I dislike bilingual books in my classroom.

The past verb switch is beautiful--this is the way things always were, then "one morning..." and it's preterite from then on.

There's no subjunctive for influence in the book, but after I read the book to the class (with lots of motions and questions, of course), they made a six-frame comic strip, choosing 6 of the 9 things the red hen did or didn't want the friends to do. They had to put them in order and illustrate them lightly so I would know they knew the meaning. In each frame, the hen had to say "Quiero que..." or "Necesito que..." or something similar that they've had in their vocab recently, and then change the verb accordingly.

Interactive websites: practicing house/location/color vocab

If you have a way to project a webpage somewhere in your room, you've got to check out es.barbie.com. We did this in Spanish 1 today to practice house vocabulary, but you could use it for so many things. We also did the makeover part of it to practice colors. It's amazing how much they can pick up off a website just from context because they spend so much time online! Also, I have to tell you that my freshman boys were almost more involved in this than the girls. For whatever reason--because it was girls or whatever--they were calling out how her hair should be, what color eye shadow, etc. It was a lot of fun.

Remember, if we frustrate them, they'll give up, and that's the blunt truth of it.

13 February 2009

Classical education: a waste of time?

I've long been of the opinion that classical education is all well and good, but the focus on Latin is, for almost everyone, a complete waste of time. (The English teacher at my school would strongly disagree. He and his wife are fans of ancient Greek/Latin.) I am not a fan. I even wrote a paper on this for a book review in college about 10 years ago, when I first learned what classical education is, and I've not seen anything since then to change my mind. Learning a romance language will do for you anything Latin can do for you, with the added benefit that you can communicate with hundreds of millions of people, which is supposedly what we're all about. Community is one of the 5 C's, right? So where exactly is the community of Latin speakers? So whenever I come across a good example to support my opinion, I usually express it to the few people I know involved in classical schools or of that mindset.

For one thing, I was watching Braveheart the other day, and there was some scene where the person was speaking Latin, and I understood every word.

Also, a couple of nights ago on Jeopardy, there was a whole category on love words related to Latin. I answered every one correctly, including the one referring to the word 'ardent,' which none of the contestants could answer. When I asked the same question in my Spanish 3 class, some of them answered it also.

It's called a dead language because no one can speak it. As communicators let's focus on the living, shall we? And leave the dead for those whose hearts beat for ancient literature and medical/scientific terminology.

Subjunctive for doubt: Story, song, activity

One of my problems with standard curriculum is they can't provide enough variety in activities focused on one issue. They try, I'll give the writers credit for that, but there are only so many textbook/workbook exercises you can design to elicit subjunctive for doubt. And really, do we believe that those cheesy textbook videos offer enough patterned input for them to understand anything except how bad the acting is?

So I don't use a textbook. My lesson activities include stories, drawings, writing, songs, and, occasionally, a game. This is what we've been doing for subjunctive by reason of a verb following an expression of doubt.

Two students in the class were talking. A boy and a girl. Who are they? (the students decide) They aren't big though. They're small. They're not in high school. They're in preschool. It was a long time ago.
What were they talking about? Their hermanos? No. Their mamás? No. They were talking about their papás.
The boy said, "MY papá goes to China every month."
The girl said, "I doubt that your papá goes to China every month. MY papá has 15 birds in his bedroom."
And we continued with different phrases. I organized it by putting two speech bubbles beside each character on the board. The top speech bubbles were for what they said about their papás. The bottom speech bubbles were what they said to doubt the other person's statement. We used places around our area and vocab we've worked on lately, but you can make up anything. As long as it's interesting and relevant, they'll stay focused. And mine picked up the pattern by the 4th or 5th doubt statement and were able to change the verbs themselves. Our statements were:
MY papá...
...lives in Bernheim Forest
...knows President Obama
...gives me chocolates for breakfast
...dies when he eats shellfish
...can walk 15 miles
...can drive his Corvette 100mph

(At the end we added that they both said "I want your dad to come to Show n Tell" to rehash a subjunctive for influence example.)

The next day, our song was No Sé Si Pueda by Fonseca. You can listen to the song on YouTube but there's no video for it. It's a good example of subjunctive for doubt.

The day after that, we played "two truths and a lie." I divided the class in half, and each person wrote 3 statements, 2 true and 1 false, in no particular order. (I collected these afterward for a 10-point completion/effort grade.) The team got a point if the other team could not guess which one was the lie. Then, we put "dudamos que..." in front of the one the majority had thought was the lie, and they told me what else in the sentence had to change and why.

10 February 2009

A good story for 'tiene'

Usborne books has a series of books that are good to read when practicing tiene. I bought a couple to use with my baby--one is Este no es mi osito and the other is Este no es mi dinosaurio. They're touch 'n feel board books, but they work fine in a classroom too! The things that the osito and dinosaurio have are low-frequency (some I didn't know) but the statement/reason sequence of 'este no es mi osito'/'tiene' was easy enough for my Spanish 1 students to comprehend as soon as we started tiene, and the pictures make it clear what the rest of the sentence means. My targets were no es and tiene anyway, so I didn't care if they remembered how to say "shiny spines."

Incidentally, the little mouse is in a different spot on every page, so it's perfect to practice prepositions of place. I ask, "¿Dónde está el ratoncito?" and they tell me, "Debajo de la boca del dinosaurio" or whatever. Fun times!

09 February 2009

A song for subjunctive/nosotros commands

There's a really odd technopop group out of Argentina that became somewhat a suprise hit in the last two years. The band is called Miranda! and I use one of their songs--once a year only in Spanish 2 and 3--for 'we' commands. I really don't like technopop, and this song gets on my nerves like no other, and I dislike the whole hidden-love theme (although the video clears that up a bit). I'd rather listen to Enrique sing Dímelo than listen to this one. But, I've never seen anything with better lyrics to show the use of subjunctive in 'we' commands, and some of my students actually do like it. So, if you can stand it, here it is--Yo te diré by Miranda! The music video is actually quite funny; think Grease meets West Side Story meets Romeo and Juliet. Enjoy.

A story for demonstratives

I've come up with a story that in both Spanish 1 and 2 has worked really well with teaching demonstratives. We've worked with those quite a bit for the past couple of weeks, and I've been amazed at how fast my students have become consistent and proficient at using them.

Side note: A couple of veteran Spanish teachers and I were talking recently, and they were remarking how 1/2 hour once per week (our middle school Spanish schedule) is a complete waste of time. I said I thought it was of some benefit, because I could see how my Spanish 1 students came in to my class after 3 years of that schedule and were advanced in their ability to use verbs like soy and estoy. One of the teachers said, "Oh, you can teach that in two days."
Yes, you can teach it in two days. But the students will not use it consistently accurately after that. They just flat won't. This is what's wrong with us--we care more about moving through material than we do about whether our students can use the material. I had a Spanish 3 student with very high aptitude write yo tiene on his blog last week and I could have smacked him. What is our goal here, finishing a book? Assigning a grade? Or enabling them to communicate with hundreds of millions of people who have something to teach them about life and the world?

Okay, so the story:

There is a girl, her name is Goldilocks, she has blond hair and she's however old the students decide (reviewing beginner phrases). She's wearing a (color) dress. Is she sad? No, she's happy. She has a friend, her friend is an animal, he's a little bear, and his name is Charlie.

(I draw these two on the left side of the board, and then draw three long arcs at about equal widths across the board to indicate space close to them, a bit farther, and farthest away.)

Goldilocks wants lots of things. Charlie has lots of things in his house. Charlie offers her these things. Goldilocks wants soup. Charlie says, 'Do you want this soup'? Does Goldilocks want this soup? No, this soup is too hot. (repeat for that soup, which is too cold) (repeat for that soup over there, which is perfect)
(repeat for spoons--we say one for each hand just so we have it plural--two are too red, two are too green, and two are perfectly yellow, the color of her hair)
(repeat for bread--one is too big, another too small, the third just right)

We just did this in Spanish 1 because we're working on kitchen/food vocabulary, but you can use anything. In Spanish 2 we were working on dropping the noun to get esto, ésos, etc, and we used gorra, pantuflas, and something else that escapes me at the moment.

Believe it or not, once you've gotten high-schoolers to accept the fact that where a second language is concerned, they're like kindergarteners, they'll tolerate just about anything--including nursery rhymes!

Rules in a communicative class

What rules should you have in your class if you want it to be communicative? What if you're teaching using TPRS?

In my class, these are my rules:
1.) Watch.
2.) Listen.
3.) Tell me when you don't understand (even if it's a hand signal, which in my class is an X made with your fingers, hands, arms, whole body, whatever).

And when we do a song, my mantra is "You can watch and listen or you can watch and sing, but you can't..." (and all the students say "NOT WATCH.")

Make your rules create an environment friendly for language acquisition.

Cause and effect

A few thoughts on what we shouldn't do, in my opinion:

If you don't want your students to translate in their heads when they speak...
DON'T include translation in your assessment. EVER. Real translation/interpretation is a very advanced skill and will come with time anyway.

If you don't want your students to run through a sequenced list of conjugations in order to come up with the "right" form...
DON'T drill conjugations. (My Spanish 1 students don't even know there is a chart of subject/verb sequences.)

If you don't want your students to be able to explain a 'g' stem-changing verb while still using "yo teno" or "ellos tenen" to communicate,
DON'T bother explaining 'g' stem-changing verbs.

If you don't want your students to think they're not "smart enough" for Spanish because they're not good at school in general,
DON'T teach or assess language as if it were history or math or science.

The bottom line is this: we're teachers and we like saying things like "past perfect subjunctive in an unreal if clause" but unless our students are going to be language teachers, such terminology will profit them nothing. There's a whole big world out there waiting to communicate with them, so let's teach them to communicate!

06 February 2009

Relating everything to English

Cross-linguistic transfer, the problem of a learner's native language interfering with the one being learned, is a big enough issue without us as teachers compounding it by constantly relating things to English. For example, giving students ways to remember words by relating them to English is not always a smart idea, in my opinion. I just got a blog post from a student who wrote "Yo soy mirror television." This is a student in his 2nd semester of Spanish 2. Someone along the way has told him to remember mirar by relating it to the English mirror so what does he remember? Mirror. Communicatively speaking, it's very possible that a native speaker would understand him, but the error still irks me. Also, this is a student who is not very motivated and I imagine I'll never see him after this semester, so that's a factor too.

Still, I try to point out when things are not like English as much as possible to convince them that they cannot try to force Spanish to be that way. When we listened to Aleks Syntek perform Intocable on the 2007 Latin Grammys, we talked about how looking up the words 'move' and 'on' will never get you to 'debo seguir adelante,' which is what he sings in the song. Today in Spanish 1 when we watched Belinda and the Cheetah Girls sing A la Nanita Nana, we talked about the phrase tiene sueño and why we'd never say it that way in English but we're just focusing on that being the phrase (chunking it, if you will) so we can work on not writing things like estoy sueño and worse, soy sueño. Same thing with yesterday's clip of Los pollitos and the phrases tienen hambre and tienen frío.

Remember, we're supposed to be fighting cross-linguistic transfer, not encouraging it.

03 February 2009

A correction on La Frase Tonta

For my commentary on the song "La frase tonta de la semana," look here.

Sometimes the music videos I link to are a violation of copyright. Sorry 'bout that--I'm a real stickler for copyright law. Just ask my students how often I tell them I won't burn music for them and I disapprove of linewire or whatever it is they're using these days to steal music. Turns out that the video of "La frase tonta" violated copyright, and fortunately YouTube (or the copyright owner) is pretty good about finding those and pulling them. A positive note: 5a Estación's label is Sony BMG and they normally put their music videos up themselves after a certain amount of time. So keep looking--it should show up fully under Sony's rights soon.

In the meantime, here's a video of the same song, actually performed as a duet between Natalia of La 5a Estación and Alex Ubago (why don't they have more of his music on Amazon?!?!). I hope it's not a copyright violation too!

Side note: Just found out that the third member of 5a Estación split from the group, and that both Natalia and the guitarist Ángel are Spaniards, which clears something up for me. I thought they were Mexican because while accepting their Latin Grammy in 2007 Natalia said of Mexico that "ella es nuestra casa." So I couldn't understand the free variation of the 'th' pronunciation of intervocalic 's' sounds in her singing. Her Spanish roots explain the pronunciation, and her relocation to Mexico several years ago explains the free variation! Whew, a private mystery solved lol. I'm such a linguistic nerd.

Equipping and informing, for free

It greatly bothers me how history books, history classes, and the daily news sources largely ignore Latin America. Car bombings and such in Iraq make headline news all the time because we're involved and that somehow makes them more important than such things that have become commonplace in Colombia because of a more than 40-year civil war waged by terrorists. That magnificent rescue of Betancourt and the other hostages in July--how many people even heard about that, much less could carry on a conversation about it?

My students can, especially my Spanish 3 students. They could talk to you intelligently (well, most of them, lol) about who Betancourt was, when she was kidnapped, the events leading up to the rescue and the rescue itself. They can discuss the relationships among Bush, Uribe, and Chávez.

Ah, Chávez. One of our favorite topics. My Spanish 3 students call him Mr. Danger because of this video. PBS recently did a quite good, relatively unbiased documentary on him called the Chavez Show (for Frontline). And guess what-- thank you PBS, it's available free online, in Spanish! I got a catalog yesterday for documentaries related to the Spanish world, and most of them are between $800-2000, or at least $100 per episode, sometimes as short as 15 minutes each. I don't know about you, but even if my school had that kind of money to throw around, I'd rather they spent it buying me a Smart board or more children's books in Spanish. So go watch El Show de Chávez and show it to your students. Let's do what the newspeople aren't doing and equip them to face the ENTIRE world around them.

A project based on motivation

Here in Kentucky we're still digging out from last week's ice storm. Yesterday I was able to get online for the first time in a week, so today, it's back to blogging!

If you've taught from a textbook for very long, you've found that they're just not motivating to students who aren't already self-motivated, and motivation is absolutely the key to success. Anyone without a brain defect that inhibits language can acquire another language if motivated enough. I'm convinced that our biggest task is finding ways for our students to interact with the language in ways that are 1) meaningful to them and 2) meaningful in light of the world around them, because that's motivating.

A project I came across seems to be especially good for this, because they get to pick the topic of their interaction, in the highly visual and auditory format of the internet (and isn't this generation visual!). I talked about my Spanish 2 students completing last years' best internet worksheets in this post. You can read the entire project description and requirements in this document.

It amazes me the sites they come up with for this--usually something they're really in to that I wouldn't even think of. Some of the best ones I've seen are Coke Costa Rica and McDonald's Mexico. I also had students do Nestle's cooking site and Louis Vuitton handbags. Disney and Nike are always favorites. There are a million choices out there, anything from the Dominican Republic's official baseball league to Warner Bros to Pantene, the White House, the art museum El Prado (careful with that one, some of the art is, well, nude), and Nintendo Wii. The limit is only their imagination!
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