The feel of sculpting clay between the fingers.
Pushing hard on Cray-pas to make thick, colorful lines.
Feeling calm while painting with watercolors.
Art is associated with positive, creative feelings.
I mean, have you ever met someone who didn’t like art class in school?
It’s almost an inherently enjoyable activity.
So want to make Spanish just as popular?
Spice up your lessons by mixing Spanish with art!
Teaching Spanish culture and language through the context of art will get students truly engaged in the material, plus there are tons of additional learning benefits.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Teaching Spanish Culture and Language Through Art
The best way to keep our students excited about Spanish is to give them something different, creative and hands-on from time to time.
There’s also no better way to learn languages than by taking our students away from the ordinary. Set aside their regular grammar and vocabulary lessons every now and then, and bring some creativity and real-life experiences into the classroom.
Actually, the most popular language teaching strategies aim to introduce Spanish in a completely different context, be it storytelling (TPRS), music, immersion opportunities or by teaching languages through art.
Today, we are going to have a look at this last one, and all the benefits that come from getting all arty while learning Spanish.
Why Teach Spanish Language and Culture Through Art?
So, why should we consider teaching languages through art?
- It’s engaging. Students spend the majority of their day sitting down in a classroom, in silence, working on mathematical problems, essay writing and tests. Get the colors, paint, card and glue out there and you will have already won them over!
- It allows students to discover the culture of the countries that speak the language. Doing some artistic work is not just drawing on a piece of paper; it could be creating a brochure for a monument, a poster for an Almodovar film or recreating the Guernica (Pablo Picasso). These projects help our students experience a side of language learning that will make them more and more excited about pursuing Spanish in the future.
- It enables us to review key vocabulary and grammatical structures in a more natural environment. For example, something as obvious as “colors” will help us revisit adjective agreement (i.e. la pintura roja, el lapicero rojo).
- Art projects involve instructions. Giving instructions in Spanish is fabulous way to develop your students’ listening skills while providing them with an immersion opportunity, as is randomly speaking Spanish around the room while they work on these projects. You’ll be surprised to see how positively students react to the language in this sort of environment.
My 11-year-old students have been studying Spanish now for nearly a year, and sometimes get frustrated when I speak in Spanish because they want to understand everything I say instead of trying to decode my message. Normally their minds are focused, one hundred percent, on figuring out what I’m saying—so just guessing a few words doesn’t feel good enough to them.
However, when they were concentrated in creating a costume for the Carnavales and I commented on their designs, their mind picked out the key words to understand my message (perfecto, precioso, muy bien, qué bonito), even though what I actually said was much longer. They smiled, said “gracias” and got on with their work.
Being able to decode a message when you are not even trying is such a feel-good factor, it swifts their frustration towards language learning to real excitement.
3 Creative Spanish Art Projects to Win Your Students Over
Teaching Spanish through art seems like a long lost dream that no teacher can fulfill. With so much grammar, content and vocabulary to go through, how can I go all artsy and bohemian?
Including a project every few months or after every topic is a great way to get the benefits of this technique without compromising any of the rest. Some projects are very easily linked to a certain topic or a specific date, and help reinforce vocabulary and structures.
If you’re looking for ready-made lesson plans to give art a go, read on and explore these three projects that will help you bring some color into your class!
1. Día de los Muertos
The Día de los Muertos is certainly one of those traditions that get students excited about Spanish, and shows the huge cultural differences between Latin American countries and other places in the world.
Why celebrate Halloween in Spanish class? Let’s make the Día de los Muertos a tradition in your school by decorating the class for the occasion!
Ice breaker: The best way to introduce your class to the Día de los Muertos is to actually show them what the celebration looks like. This video from YouTube has subtitles in English and gives the general information.
Then, introduce the basic vocabulary, using some of the resources below to help you. Words like altar, calavera, velas, flores or máscaras are key, but don’t forget to reinforce opinions by asking your students how they feel about the celebration.
Creating the decorations: Once your students have learned everything about the Día de los Muertos, let the fun begin! The main aim is to create an altar in the class, so you will need to get a range of decorations ready.
Divide your students in groups and give each one a specific project. One group could create the altar, decorating some boxes with cloth, colored paper or paint. It doesn’t need to be massive, but it needs to be really colorful.
A second group can create lanterns with plastic cups to symbolize the candles, while a third group works on creating decorative skulls with card and paper plates. A fourth group can make masks, while group five can create flowers with tissue paper to make the altar look just as a Mexican one would!
A top tip is to make your students ask for the materials in Spanish. You can put all of the materials on top of a table and label each so students know what to ask for. Also be sure to walk around and comment in Spanish throughout the whole lesson. The key is to make sure your students are exposed to Spanish without even noticing, so just babble away even if they don’t have a clue what you’re saying.
Plenary: The other wonderful thing about this project is that it’s a cooperative piece of work; each and every one of your students plays an important role in creating the altar. They’ll love the opportunity to put everything together at the end of the lesson, and it will be a fantastic way to revisit the vocabulary learned at the beginning.
Resources: The following websites contain easy guides for creating the crafts. Check them out first and make sure you make a list of the materials needed. You can ask your students to bring paper plates, boxes and plastic cups from home, but you might need to plan ahead for things like tissue paper or construction paper.
- Video – Día de los Muertos
- Power Point and vocabulary introduction
- The altar – Example
- Lanterns – Tutorial
- Masks – Tutorial
- Paper flowers – Tutorial
- Some other ideas on Pinterest
The Guernica is one of the most famous pictures in Spain’s history. The story behind it represents the cruelty of a period that has had a huge influence in what Spain is now.
Ice breaker: Put up a picture of the Guernica on the board and give students a minute to brainstorm any words that come to mind. It could be animals, body parts or adjectives. They can then share their words in groups or with the class, to come up with some of the vocabulary that will ultimately be the key words of the lesson.
Ask the students about the picture: How does it make them feel? What does it represent? You can tell them a bit of the story behind it and have them write some opinions about the picture to practice some writing.
Creating your own Guernica: There is a range of artistic approaches to this lesson, depending on the age of your students and the amount of time you have. The aim is to recreate the Guernica. You can choose to do this by giving each student a section of the Guernica to recreate and maybe even reinvent, with new colors and details. If you have less time, you could print out a template for students to color in.
Then, ask them to justify their choices—in Spanish. Provide your students with sentences starters (He elegido, Creo que, En mi opinión) and other key words like simboliza, representa or muestra.
You can even model some sentences for them using the vocabulary provided, like “He elegido el color rojo porque simboliza el fuego de las bombas.”
Plenary: Finally, have your students present their adaptations to the class and then use them to decorate your Spanish classroom. It will be just like walking into the Reina Sofia Museum!
3. Dalí Clocks
Hands up if you dread teaching the time to your students! My hand would shoot straight up, I promise. The topic itself is boring, and then you have to face all those students who actually struggle to tell the time in their own language.
So, how can you spice things up and review telling time at the same time? Using Dalí’s famous picture, of course!
Ice breaker: Display Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory” and ask your students to write down the time from the clock on the table in their notebooks or on min- whiteboards. You can also ask your students if they can figure out the time on any of the other two clocks.
Tell students about Dalí’s work and ask them if they have seen the clocks before. There are some great examples out there of handmade Dalí clocks you can use to do some more practice on the time if you need to. Just check out Google Images or Pinterest and print some out.
Tell the time with Dalí’s clocks: Give each of your students a piece of paper with a time on it. You can write it in Spanish and ask them to figure out what time it is, or do it the other way around. There is great scope for differentiation here, as you can give challenging times to very confident students and easier times to those who struggle.
Then with some construction paper and markers, have your students create a Dalí clock with the time you have given them. You could also do this on paper plates and cut them out afterwards.
While your students are working on with their artistic project, go around questioning them in a much more relaxed environment. Ask your students what time it is on their clock, and get them to answer in Spanish. Again, remember that the key is for your students to be exposed to the language.
Plenary: Once everyone has their work ready, ask your students to walk around and show each other the clocks, asking others to tell them the time it shows. This authentic activity is a much better way to practice telling time than using your regular textbook exercises!
- Telling the Time with Dalí – Not free, but you can have a look for inspiration
- Dalí’s “The Persistence of Time”
- Dalí clocks on Pinterest
Where to Find More Great Ideas for Fun Spanish Art Projects
A great place to start is Pinterest, where you can find plenty of ideas to try in lessons. Use keywords like “spanish class project” or “spanish class draft” and prepare to be amazed with all of the ideas teachers out there have already tried out!
There are tons of great crafts that can be used in Spanish class too, for example:
- These paper bags piñatas for when we are learning about birthdays
- Cute little bailarinas to give our music topic a twist
- Creating massive poster-style family trees
- Filling your class with Spanish Christmas decorations
Whatever topic you are covering, there is always a great idea out there to turn your Spanish class into artistic heaven!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you already love the idea of teaching with creative, bite-sized snippets of authentic Spanish content, another option is to use FluentU.
How can video clips aid Spanish teachers in class? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Spanish videos that people in the Spanish-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles. If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly. This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “learn” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In learn mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Use FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store. The Android App is coming soon!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.