Dear Teachers,

I hope these teaching tips help you deliver a dynamic Spanish class where you enjoy teaching and your students learn a lot and can't wait to come back to the next class! Even with a great curriculum, you have to know how to teach it well.

Take the time to go through each tip below.  They go over some key reasons for learning Spanish, how to evaluate a curriculum, and some key models used today to teach foreign languages (Tips 1 – 3).  Tips 4 – 8 lay out numerous idea and techniques for making the class dynamic and effective. Tips 6 – 8 have links to training videos for three important techniques that require some practice to be effective.  Click on each Teaching Tip below to view the contents of each tip.


Julia Burnier

Teaching Tips for the Spanish Classroom

Tip 1: Why Learn Spanish?

Spanish is a part of our multicultural world, and language is a key that opens the door to a world with some 30 million native Spanish speakers in our own society and another 500 million in the 20 or so countries of Latin America and Spain.  For this reason, learning how to speak Spanish is a lifelong skill with many tangible benefits.

Elementary aged children are at their linguistic best and will never again learn a new language as fast, as well, or as easily.  When exposed to a foreign language early in life, your child develops a bilingual frame of mind, laying the foundation for advanced learning and fluency. 

Numerous studies show that learning a foreign language is good for brain development. Students who study a foreign language early in life tend to score higher on standardized tests, increase achievement in all subject areas, develop better reading skills, enhanced vocabulary, and improved problem-solving abilities. 

Many jobs in today’s competitive work environment require bilingual skills, so learning Spanish early gives your child an edge later on in the workplace. 

Finally, and so importantly, learning to speak Spanish helps broaden the world for our children, giving them a tool to both accept and appreciate cultural diversity and richness as they communicate with our Spanish speaking neighbors right here in the United States and in other countries.

Tip 2: Evaluating Spanish Curricula

You are looking for the magic recipe:  fun + retainment.  If learning isn’t fun, your child won’t want to continue.  And if she doesn’t retain anything, it is a waste of time and money.  Let’s look at the key qualities of a strong Spanish curriculum.

A good curriculum should be as fun to teach with as it is to learn from. Children learn best when they are having fun. Since language learning involves a lot of repetition which can be boring, a good Spanish curriculum delivers the repetition needed with variety, drama, and a lot of humor.  It should include many colorful funny visuals aids, thematic songs, and a many different activities, games, and stories.

Connecting gestures with words and phrases is a powerful tool for recalling vocabulary. Look for a Spanish curriculum that uses gestures extensively to introduce vocabulary, build sentences, play games, and teach songs. In the foreign language world, this is called TPR (total physical response).

Thematic songs are a component of any good language program for kids.  The songs need to be catchy so kids will sing them over and over - giving them the repetition they need for long term retention.

A good curriculum for children should be highly interactive so kids get a lot of opportunity to speak Spanish in the classroom.  For example, the use of interactive puppetry (Tip 8) is magical in getting children to speak.

A well thought out curriculum includes a student workbook that reinforces in written form what children have learned in the classroom.

The Sing ‘n Speak Spanish curriculum has all these features and more. 

Tip 3: Models for Teaching Spanish

To make a good decision on what Spanish curriculum is best for your child or your students, you should be aware of three key foreign language teaching models.

In Spanish classes using a Total Immersion model, the language of instruction is completely in Spanish. This develops the ear quickly and is a good model for very young children who spend many hours a day immersed in the new language.  The main challenge with this model is the initial steep learning curve where kids get frustrated with lack of understanding. This model is found in some schools, but most elementary schools do not have this option for parents.  

With Spanish classes using a Dual Immersion model, class time in all academic subjects is split between the student’s native language and the foreign language being learned. Many more school districts are identifying a portion of their schools to be taught with this model.  And almost all of them have waiting lists as parents try to seize the opportunity.

In Spanish classes using a Comprehensible Input model (such as Sing ‘n Speak Spanish), the teacher uses some English and gestures to aid in comprehension.  When input is comprehensible, the transition to a learned phrase is easier for students.  In this model, the teacher speaks Spanish most of the time, only relying on English to ensure that students understand. This model is particularly useful when the contact time with the student is very limited, such as in after school enrichment classes.

Tip 4: Keeping the Class Lively

Classroom maintenance problems often arise when students are restless or bored. As a dynamic teacher, you need to switch activities often so students don’t have a chance to get bored. Students should struggle just a bit to keep up with you.

A typical one hour class should include about eight different activities – an average of 7 – 8 minutes per activity. This is just a guideline, as some activities take longer than others. Be careful not to spend too much time on one particular activity.

Be jealous of your time! Do not allow students to sidetrack you (no storytelling by the students) and be keenly aware of how long you are spending on each activity. During lesson preparation, you might mark approximately where you think you should be halfway through the class. Check the time when you see this mark and see if you are close to where you need to be. Speed up or slow down appropriately.

Be willing to switch to another activity if it is taking too long or the students are losing focus.

Tip 5: Keeping Students Involved

To keep students engaged and maximize learning, minimize activities where the focus is on an individual student. Split the class into teams to play games so each student is involved in the play as often as possible. Team members can help one another. When drilling the new vocabulary with TPR sentences, first state the sentence in English with TPR gestures, then have the entire group state the sentence in Spanish with you. Hesitate after each gesture so students get a chance to come up with the words before you do. With TPR sentences and TPR singing, insist on participation from all students.

The motto for the Sing 'n Speak Spanish program is to engage most of the children most of the time.

Tip 6: Teaching Vocabulary with TPR

The introduction of new vocabulary with flash cards is an important part of the Spanish lesson. It is effective and lots of fun when you use the following method:

1. Students listen and pronounce the new word several times as they associate the picture on the card with the new word. Have fun with the new word by saying it loud or soft, fast or slow, in a high or low pitch, a whisper, or with a voice that implies a feeling (angry, sweet, loving, etc.). You can even sing the word! Use your imagination. The students’ job is to mimic you.

2. Put the flash card down and repeat the word once or twice, creating a TPR gesture that the student can then associate with that word.

3. Use the new word in several sentences. First, say a sentence in English using the new word with grammar and vocabulary from previous lessons. Next, together with the students, say the sentence in Spanish using TPR gestures. Do this slowly, hesitating slightly to give students a chance to volunteer the words. Students enjoy stringing words together to make sentences, especially if they are humorous.

Click HERE to view a training video on this technique:

Tip 7: Teaching songs with TPR

The memorization of songs is an effective and enjoyable component of the Sing ‘n Speak Spanish program. If melodies are catchy, students will sing the songs repeatedly, giving them the repetition they need for long term vocabulary retention.

TPR singing is an effective way to teach songs. It helps students comprehend the meaning of the words, gets them moving, and keeps them challenged as they follow along. It also helps you know who is paying attention if you insist on participation.

In this technique, sing each line with TPR, first alone in English and then twice in Spanish with student participation. Each time you introduce a new line, sing the entire verse up to that point in Spanish before moving on to the next line. Once you have introduced the entire verse, then you can play the music CD and sing the entire verse together as a class. Teach each verse in this manner until you have taught the entire song.

Click HERE to view a training video on this technique:

Tip 8: Interactive Puppetry

Interactive puppetry is a magical part of the Sing ‘n Speak Spanish program as it helps children overcome shyness and converse in Spanish.  The puppet skits are usually a child’s favorite part of the lesson and they always want more!  The Year 1 and Year 2 Spanish lessons include numeraous humorous and interactive puppet skits.

Many teachers are unfamiliar with the use of puppets and are not comfortable using them. Don’t fret!  It is easy to learn a few basic techniques on handling the puppets and making the skits interactive.  It just takes a little practice.  Even though the lesson plans include detailed puppet skits, don’t memorize them.  Become familiar with the story/skit and understand what vocabulary you are trying to reinforce with the skit.  Rehearse the skits out loud in front of a mirror or with other children outside the classroom. Give the puppet its own name, voice, and personality. Make eye contact with the puppet when you are speaking to it.  Be creative, have fun, and “ham it up.”  Click HERE to view a traning video on how to make the skits interactive.

Once you are having more fun than your students, it will become the favorite part of the lesson for you and your students.