miércoles, 27 de febrero de 2013

5 excuses to not use Authentic Materials

What a week it has been and its only Wednesday! The students are crazy about the upcoming spring break, I am desperately trying to get all of my grading caught-up in anticipation of the break, and on top of it all, like all teachers, I am attempting to develop good lessons.

For those that read my blog, you know that I truly believe in using authentic materials in the classroom, so this post is a bit facetious, yet, I can come-up with several excuses as to why I don't always use authentic materials in the classroom (as much as I wish that I did). So here are my top 5 excuses:

1) Time time and more time- finding authentic materials and developing appropriate tasks to accompany them is well nothing short of time consuming.

2) Appropriateness- many of the materials or songs that I think teens would love have drugs, gangs, sex, or other information that I simply cannot use or show in my classroom.

3) Language level- I can't find anything that my Spanish I and II students can realistically gain from

4) I'm Tired- yep I said it. Although every language teacher that I have ever met seems to have an incredible amount of energy, even compared to our peers who teach other subjects, sometimes, I am tired.

5) Lack of Creativity- I can't think of any new task to accompany an authentic text, and if the task isn't worthwhile then neither is the text.

These are my top five excuses. What are yours? What do you do when you have no more time or energy to find the text that you want to use?

domingo, 24 de febrero de 2013

What Can They Read?

I find this time of year challenging for many reasons in my Spanish I class. The students are anxious for some sun and exercise, and they begin to lose their enthusiasm for language class, as the novelty of the material has begun to wear off. Some of them are beginning to feel frustrated by the fact that they can't speak fluently (certainly an unrealistic goal, but one that many people in the US seem to have), and others are frustrated that they still don't understand one of the topics that we have covered. To beat some of the winter blah's I try to have my students read more. Reading authentic texts both allows them to connect with the target culture, and I find that it can create some enthusiasm as the students know that they aren't reading "baby texts."

Here are some of the items that we read in my class: menus, real estate advertisements, subtitles on commercials such as car and household appliances, where students can quickly see cognates like velocidad. Other slightly more challenging reads include: riddles, tweets and facebook posts. Then, for the students who are really certain that they can't learn Spanish and never will, I will pull in articles on teen perspective from People in español and articles from National Geographic children. Hopefully even the most reluctant student is now feeling more inspired about his or her abilities.

While I know that I am still starting small, I find that students can figure-out the majority of the meaning of each of the above items, when scaffolded and encouraged. Take riddles for example, many of them actually include rather simple vocabulary and the answer is often a simple word as well!

Articles from People and National Geographic can be more challenging. I admit that I have had greatest success with the ones from National Geographic, as I can choose articles that relate to science information that the students already know. Additionally, many scientific words are cognates in English so students can often recognize the majority of the words in a passage without needing to look-up key terms.

Once my students have read an article, obviously we need to do something with it. I find that making graphs, charts, Venn diagrams, or word webs are all realistic tasks for a level one student. Sometimes, I will have the students survey their classmates as to which product they would buy, if we read advertisements. These tasks do not ask them to produce complex language structures, nor do they need tons of vocabulary.

What do you do to beat the winter blahs? What do your students read?

miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2013


Like most Spanish teachers I imagine, I am constantly looking for new music to incorporate into my classes. I try to expose my students both to popular artists (Juanes, Shakira, Alejandro Sanz etc) as well as some lesser known artists that may be up and coming (Jesse and Joy, Banda Radial). While probably the most popular exercise to do with songs are cloze exercises, I find that for many students these exercises can take away some of the enjoyment of listening to the song in an authentic manner, which is to just listen and absorb. So, while I continue to use cloze exercises with songs, I try to only use a Cloze exercise with one in every three songs or so.

This year, I have been fortunate that my Spanish II class enjoys sappy music. Unfortunately for me, the first song I played for them this year was Qué tengo que ofrecerte by Banda Radial and they LOVED it. I say unfortunately for me because now every time that I play any song for them, they request that I play that one too. I did not use a Cloze exercise with this song, instead, I had students listen to the song twice and then based on what they heard and what they saw on the  youtube video, I had them give their opinion whether the song was happy or sad. Most of the students backed-up their opinion by using the video as evidence. However, the class was split regarding their opinion of the song. The next thing that I did was give groups of student the entire lyrics. The students read through the lyrics as a group to determine whether or not their opinion of the song changed. Then, each group shared with the class. While I did not do a cloze exercise with this song, I will admit that I strategically used it after the students had been studying Tener + que, and I listened in as students applied their grammatical knowledge to the task of reading and comprehending.

The second song that I used this year was Lolita Soledad by Alejandro Sanz. Once again, I used the official youtube video in class. With this song, I had the students watch the video and write the reflexive actions that Lolita did while preparing for the morning or evening. Then, I gave students the lyrics and had them determine the overall meaning of the song. Each student wrote a four sentence summary of the song and then a five sentences about their opinion of the song. I had different students share each of the three items with the class.

Most recently, I played Donde Estabas by Amaia Montero (the former lead singer of La Oreja de Van Gogh). I chose this song because she says the words rather clearly, it is the perfect song to hear the Spain Spanish accent, and my students have been struggling with the concept of incorporating and recognizing multiple verb tenses in a reading. Many of them are stuck in a Spanish I mentality of only using the most recently learned verb tense when reading/writing etc. For this song, I printed the lyrics for every student and then I had them identify the verbs by circling the ones in the imperfect, squaring the ones in the preterite, and starring the two commands. Additionally, I asked them to find where there was both a preterite and an imperfect verb in the same sentence and write and translate these sentences. Then I had students write five of their own sentences that could be "added" to the song. Each sentence had to use a different verb tense. While I didn't require that the students' sentences actually have any rhythm or a true place in the song, the students had fun writing and sharing a few "heart-broken" lines that allowed them to both play with Spanish and it accomplished my goal of having the students think about grammar in a more cohesive manner.

How do you incorporate songs into your classes? What songs do you find especially effective in the classroom as I am always looking for new ideas and new songs:) !