6 Top Tips for Thriving as an Elementary School Spanish Teacher
If you’ve always dreamed of teaching young children to speak Spanish, good news!
More and more schools are beginning world language programs in the elementary school years instead of waiting for middle and high school.
Teaching little kids to speak Spanish can be a blast, but it does require some different skills and techniques to be most effective.
Below we’ll look at six important tips for being an amazing elementary Spanish teacher.
Teaching Elementary School Spanish: The Most Popular Programs
Before you dive into teaching Spanish, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into! There are three main categories of Spanish programs at the elementary school level:
- FLEX: Foreign Language Exploration programs are designed to expose students to one or more languages and the cultures of the people who speak them. These programs offer only short class periods and may not meet for a full year. The goal is to get students interested in other languages and cultures while teaching some basic phrases and vocabulary.
- FLES: Foreign Language in Elementary School programs are content-based and provide regular language instruction for younger students. Though they are usually treated as “specials” like music and art, they are part of an extended language-learning program that continues through middle and high school.
- Immersion: Immersion programs usually begin in kindergarten and involve teaching students all their regular curriculum subjects—like math and art—in the target language. Sometimes there are partial immersion programs that offer half a day of certain subjects in the native language and half a day in the target language.
Certification Requirements to Teach Spanish in Elementary Schools
If you want to teach Spanish to elementary school kids, you’ll need to research the certification requirements in your state. Though each state has different requirements for teacher certification, your first step is to achieve fluency in Spanish.
Majoring in Spanish and/or studying abroad will boost your abilities if you’re not a native Spanish speaker.
You should also find a university program aimed at certifying world language teachers. While almost any teaching program will offer middle and high school certification, look for those that offer either a separate elementary Spanish certification, or minimally a K-8 teaching methods course. Teaching young students is really different from teaching high schoolers, and you want to get as much student teaching experience and practicum work as you can!
Other useful courses to focus on include linguistics, early childhood development and educational psychology. Talk to the chair of any potential education program about piloting a self-directed program for teaching elementary Spanish if the university doesn’t have a certification program in place. You can also research local models of Spanish programs and seek out mentors to help you hone your craft.
6 Top Tips for Thriving as an Elementary School Spanish Teacher
Of course, experience is the best teacher, and you’re sure to go through a whole lot of trial and error as you test out all sorts of learning activities and lessons with your elementary students. There are also some best practices to keep in mind as you start your amazing new career as an elementary Spanish teacher.
1. Collect Authentic Materials
While older students typically study Spanish from a textbook, your little guys aren’t ready for that—and you’d bore them to death if you tried it! Instead, you’ll need to gather lots of authentic children’s books in Spanish.
If you have the chance to travel, purchase whatever you can and have them shipped home. You’ll also want to fill your classroom with Spanish toys and games—both popular board games and cultural items like canicas (toy marbles) and pirinolas (teetotums).
Posters, maps, menus and anything else you can get your hands on that’s written entirely in Spanish will also be great, so don’t pass up the freebies! Don’t be shy about making a wish list of useful items and asking parents to contribute if you need help getting started.
2. Learn About Children’s Culture in Spain and Latin America
The old standbys of teaching culture to older kids aren’t going to be very interesting to elementary school students. Instead, grab their attention by teaching them popular children’s songs that kids in Spain or Mexico learn before they even get to school.
You’ll also want to explore kid-friendly topics like the native animals of Spanish-speaking countries or culturally relevant foods like snacks and desserts—bonus points for bringing in samples to taste!
3. Choose Developmentally Appropriate Topics and Activities
The best vocabulary for young Spanish learners are words that they encounter in their everyday lives. Topics like family members, pets, food, rooms in the house, colors and numbers are all things that are naturally interesting to young children.
Working on counting skills, talking about the seasons and learning to read a calendar are activities that will reinforce both age-appropriate skills and Spanish vocabulary.
Instead of “kill and drill” grammar activities or vocabulary flashcards, get creative with puppets, stuffed animals and easy-to-implement but powerful communicative games that will get your kiddos speaking Spanish in no time.
4. Break Language Goals Down into Smaller Bites
Although older students are able to sit still for 45 minutes at a time and study on their own at home to memorize whole lists of vocabulary words, elementary school students will need shorter lessons, frequent breaks for physical activity and lots of opportunities to practice what they know.
Aim for introducing just two to three new vocabulary words per lesson, but continue to use older words in new ways as you layer in new material. For example, you can continue to practice colors and numbers by asking students to count the spots on a puppy as you introduce vocabulary for pets.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that you aren’t the one doing all the talking, too. Once you introduce and model new concepts, build in a chance for students to practice by working in pairs or small groups to keep things fresh.
5. Connect Your Lessons into Thematic Units to Reinforce Connections
Your young students want more than anything to be able to use the Spanish words and phrases that they’re learning, so plan your lessons as part of a thematic unit that culminates in a fun role playing activity.
For example, you can wrap up a unit about animals with a trip to the zoo by turning your classroom into a gallery of stuffed animals or posters of the creatures they’ve learned about.
You can also finish off a unit about clothing with a fashion design projects and runway show. The more creative you are, the more fun your students will have learning Spanish!
6. Bring a Variety of Voices into Your Classroom
Finally, your students will get better at speaking Spanish when they hear lots and lots of Spanish being spoken. Do your best to use the language in the classroom to give directions and chat with students about their day and the things they like.
You can also show kid-friendly videos of native Spanish speakers or popular movie and cartoon characters dubbed in Spanish to capture their attention. FluentU has loads of videos that are just right for elementary school Spanish students, but with a few pluses.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
FluentU’s diverse and extensive library makes it easy for any educator to find fun, engaging content for students.
With these helpful tips, you’re sure to become an accomplished elementary Spanish teacher. If you live to speak Spanish and love little kids, this can be the perfect career for you!
Elizabeth Trach taught Spanish for eight years in a public elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she co-authored the district’s original K-5 Spanish curriculum. She’s also a professional writer and editor. Find out more about her work and get in touch at The Blogwright.