Friday, August 24, 2012


Foreign Language teachers are always looking for relevant materials in the target language to share with their students, and as Spanish teachers in the U.S. we have so much at our disposal!!  As many of you probably know, Spanish is the second most used language in our country and there are countless materials out there in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking American public.  Besides radio and tv channels in Spanish, there are also national publications of magazines and newspapers along with local newspapers.  People Magazine ( has a Spanish publication that only costs $20 for a two year subscription!  That is a fabulous deal for 22 issues of Spanish articles and advertisements about hot topic issues and current stars that our students are already talking about.  People en Español and Vanidades ( are also available at my local Walmart and Target stores because I live near a large Spanish speaking population. There are many other magazines available too, these are just the two I'm using right now - though I have to look into finding something more targeted towards the boys in my classes, like a sports magazine.

These magazines have wonderful full page ads in Spanish that I cut out and lament to use with my lower level Spanish students.  I hand out the ads to the students and ask them to fill out a questionnaire about the ad.  I include questions like "What is this ad for?"  "What type of product is it?" "Where can you get the product?" "Who would buy this product?" etc.  Depending on the level of the class, the questions can be asked in English or in Spanish.  Also, if the ads we use are harder for them to understand, I let them work with a partner or in small groups.  For my more advanced students, I do the same, but with short articles.  Sometimes the variety of articles we use makes it hard to have a universal questionnaire, so I ask them to write a summary of the article in Spanish and present it to the class (or to a small group if we are short on time - Jigsaw style). 

I don't let the rest of the magazine go to waste either!  I save the leftover magazines after I've cut things out to use in class posters or other crafty projects.  The students use the old magazines I have to illustrate cartoon strips they make or to illustrate any other visual project I ask them to make.  For instance, they can cut out two people talking and invent a dialogue between them focusing on the grammar point we are studying at the time, or they can cut out the face of someone and label the parts of the body (eye, ear, nose).  Any time I ask them to draw something, I give them the option of cutting it out if they don't want to draw.  That way, even the least artistic student can make something they don't mind sharing with his or her peers. 

~ La profesora

Thursday, August 23, 2012

El mercado

I am very lucky to travel in the Spanish-speaking world on a regular basis. I have been to Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic. My husband is Dominican, so we go back to visit his family and friends regularly. All of this travel allows me to connect more with Spanish-speaking culture and help students see my first-hand experiences.

In a recent trip to DR, my husband and I went to the local market and I decided to give up on trying to "fit in" and be a total tourista americana by taking pictures of what I saw to share with my class. These photos have more meaning for them because I can say that I personally took them, I really bought my food this way while I was there, and I can answer any questions they have. They also love to see the tropical food and ingredients that they know I use when cooking at home with my husband. 

 I strongly encourage any language teachers to take advantage when you are in a target language country.  Take photos, even if you feel foolish doing so.  I went to this market on a regular basis when I lived in San Pedro and by the time I was taking these photos, I knew many of the vendors and they knew me, and even though it felt strange to be photographing my daily grocery shopping, I have seen how wonderful these are to show my students.  Take photos of every day events.  Take photos of the food.  Take photos of the people and places you visit.  Besides actually bringing your students into the culture, sharing your experiences with them is the best you can do to make it feel "real" to them. 

 ~ La profesora

Music for Kindergarten

I always joke with my Spanish 1 students that they are like kindergartners.  Some of them may have learned a bit of Spanish before (like kids who have gone to pre-school before kindergarten) but some have never learned any of this before and are starting from scratch.  They usually laugh about the comparison, but I can also see them breath a sigh of relief.  Though kindergarten was a long time ago for them, most of them have memories of a safe and fun learning setting where they didn't feel too much pressure and they didn't feel judged.  Yes, they are high school students, and yes, they will be evaluated and graded in Spanish 1, but the expectation is not as high as they fear.  No one expects them to be fluent after one year of class, and no one will judge them if they aren't. 

Besides the pedagogical reasons I tell them they are like kindergartners, the comparison also allows me to have a little fun in the first few days.  I have found two great children's videos on YouTube that teach greetings.  They are designed to appeal to young children, but after telling my students that they are like kindergartners, they don't complain when I show them the videos.


Both of these songs have great vocabulary that they students need to memorize in the first few days.  The second one goes beyond the first few days and helps the students learn words in context that won't be vocabulary for a few more weeks.  The first time I showed them, I was nervous that the kids would be horrified that I brought such baby songs to their class, but in fact, the opposite was true.  They love them!  They sing them along with the video after a few repetitions and were sad when I told them we didn't need to watch them in class anymore because we were moving on.  Even at the end of the year, they remembered them and could sing along. 

Music appeals to auditory and musical learners.  I know I am both of these and I can clearly remember the Spanish song that my 2nd grade teacher taught me.  I didn't know what the song said until years later when I learned Spanish formally, but I was able to translate it because I remembered the sounds of the lyrics even though I didn't know the words.  Though not ever student will have as powerful of a memory with a song as I did, some will, and learning these silly songs helps introduce the students to vocabulary and Spanish language sounds while also setting up a tone for the class which will continue to use music and YouTube videos from time to time, even if they are really for kindergartners.

~ La profesora

Monday, August 20, 2012


I believe that a teacher's classroom defines a lot about the class and teacher.  When students walk in, especially on the first day, they will make a lot of assumptions about the class based on how it looks.  In my department, there are 4 other Spanish teachers, and each of us have a different style of teaching and a different style of decorating our classroom.  Students automatically assume that the teacher with couches instead of desks is more laid-back and fun.  They assume that the teacher with perfect rows of desks, few wall decorations, and a grey color scheme is strict and traditional.  These assumptions stick, and their views of the teacher and the class are linked to how they view the room. 

I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to decorate, because it is a reflection of your teaching.  But I do believe that you should think about the setting you want to create.

I am changing classrooms right now, so I am re-evaluating what worked in my room last year and what did not.  I am able to take a step-back, reflect, and re-design.  There are some things I think work very well for setting the tone of my class, and somethings that I am questioning.

As you can see in these pictures, my class has a lot of color and a lot going on.  I want to keep that feel in my new room.  I want the students to feel like my class is exciting.  I don't want them to feel like every day is the same-old same-old.  I don't just want to use color for the sake of color, though.  The dress in this first picture was hand-stitched by the mother of one of my roommates when I studied abroad in Mexico and given to me as a present.  It is a traditional design from the southern state Chiapas.  I also have two paintings from the Dominican Republic that hang above my whiteboard.  They are replicas of traditional Dominican art which is very colorful and vibrant.  They are perfect for adding a happy touch while also representing a culture that we learn about in class. 

My bulletin board that holds all the required information like Emergency Protocol, Dress Code Regulations, Fire Exit Plan, class schedules, and a school calendar could be a very dull place, but I like to make it fit our classroom by using a Day of the Dead fabric as the background.  This fabric, which a friend of mine bought me at JoAnn's Fabric when she saw it on sale, has a fanciful scene of dancing skeletons at a party.  It is a perfect example of how Mexicans celebrate and embrace death, instead of fearing it and treating it as a sad or depressing part of life. 

I have a few country flags, but I want more!  I would love to have flags from all the Spanish speaking countries of the world to display.  Right now I only have flags from the countries I have visited. 

My posters are what I am currently re-evaluating.  I some that I have found at teaching stores in the US which include grammar lessons and vocabulary and I have others that show pictures and vocabulary that I bought in the education section of a department store in Dominican Republic.  They are designed for small children learning about food (fruit and vegetables), numbers, the alphabet and animals, similar to what would be found in a kindergarten or pre-school classroom here, but they work well for vocabulary for my students.  Though these posters are fabulous teaching tools, I have noticed that my students rely on them too much when they are always on the wall.  Instead of memorizing the words, they just look up to copy them off that wall.  Even my more advanced students would rely too much on the posters in their writing.  I found that especially with the weaker students, instead of coming up with ideas for free-writes, they would often the themes of the posters and the vocabulary on the posters.  I know I will have my posters on-hand to use in lessons throughout the year, but I am going to be more selective about which ones get a permanent home on the wall.

The best part about my new room is that I have a huge wall-length bulletin board that I will be able to use to display student work.  Last year we stuck work on the lower-wall, but it wasn't very organized or accessible.  Now, I will be able to create theme displays of their work and rotate the work on a regular basis, making their additions to the classroom relevant and helpful instead of just tacking it up behind them where it was rarely seen again.  My mind is already spinning with themes we can focus on throughout the year. 

As we start out the new school year, take a minute to look around your room.  Sit at one of the desks and see what the students see.  What kind of tone are you setting?  What does your room say about your teaching and your class? 

~ La profesora



Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Dominican Republic

Welcome to my Spanish Teaching Blog.  I am in my second year teaching Advanced Honors Spanish to Heritage Learners at a public exam school in New England.  Previously, I have taught Spanish for 7 years at  private schools in New England, English as a Foreign Language to elementary school kids up through adults in Dominican Republic, English as a Foreign Language to middle school kids in Mexico, and Spanish to high school kids with learning disabilities (including many who were told they were incapable of learning a second language) in New England. 

I teach all lower levels of Advance Honors high school Spanish.  This upcoming school year I will be teaching Advanced Honors Spanish 1, Advanced Honors Spanish 2, and Advanced Honors Heritage Speaker Spanish.  We also offer Pre-AP Spanish and AP Spanish Language and Culture and AP Spanish Literature in my department.

With this Blog I hope to enter into conversations and idea sharing with other Language Teachers.  I have some fun ideas, but I know there are many, many more out there, and the best way for us to continue to grow in our teaching is to talk, share, and brainstorm.  Please feel free to leave any comments or e-mail me. 

~ La profesora de la Cruz

Citas rapidas - Hablamos

Getting students to talk (in the target language) is a challenge in all Foreign Language classes.  There are many different tricks to get th...