What do graveyards and classrooms have in common?
But sometimes, however, the two become dangerously close to crossing paths.
I’m talking about those moments when you find yourself staring at ghostlike expressions of bored students, or notice an eerily silent atmosphere in class.
Never again! We’re going to keep the gravestones and spooky silences away from your Spanish classroom with some lively cartoons. Because just like adults, kids enjoy learning much more when it’s actually fun.
Channeling students’ energy into an activity in which they are genuinely interested will lead to productive learning. So in this lesson, we’ll use familiar cartoons to teach Spanish prepositions – in an entertaining way.
Why Teach Spanish Prepositions with Cartoons?
Fads dominate the interests of children, meaning they can change in mere moments. One day, they are obsessed with one animated movie, and the next day it’s “so yesterday!”
So, how does the phenomenon of passing fads relate to the world of children learning another language? Gather ‘round, readers, it’s story time.
I once decided to base an entire lesson plan on Pokémon in hopes of piquing the interest of my two young students. The moment I proudly announced the topic of their Spanish lesson, like a beaming mother of an honor student, they informed me that they no longer liked Pokémon, but rather favored some new video game I had never even heard of. So I felt completely crushed and watched every ounce of interest drain from their faces. The lesson plan I had slaved over for hours ended up being just as boring for them as the others. This little anecdote demonstrates the importance of inquiring about your students’ current interests.
Now I teach English in Japan, and at this moment, the students are – to put it mildly – completely obsessed with the Disney movie “Frozen”. So, captivating their interest, no matter how much they are messing around at the start of class, is as easy as putting the character Olaf in one of my PowerPoint presentations. The second they lay eyes on the jolly snowman, the students begin to clap and stare in wide-eyed awe at the television.
When students are interested in the activities used in class, it makes the educational process much more engaging for them. Integrating the interests of your students in your lesson plans will show that you care to make language learning a pleasant experience for them. Doing so can potentially mean the difference between a student wanting to study Spanish all the time and wanting nothing to do with it.
Thankfully, lesson plans focused on movie, video game and comic book characters are easily modified to adapt to passing trends. Furthermore, some trends are longer lasting. The love of all things related to animated films seems to be a constant among most children worldwide.
Incorporating cartoons into your lesson plans is easier than Sunday morning (or, whatever morning of the week happens to be easy in your life). You can teach adjectives (Mickey Mouse es muy alto), verb tenses (Mickey Mouse quiere comer mucho) and anything else related to Spanish – just include characters in your examples.
Below is a sample lesson plan demonstrating the ability to use cartoon characters to teach Spanish prepositions.
How to Teach Spanish Prepositions with Cartoons
Cartoon characters are useful for teaching prepositions in particular, as it is easy to demonstrate their locations. It’s simple to show where a character is located in relation to something else, and easy for students to understand. While certainly doable, trying to teach a more complex topic – like the subjunctive verb tense – may pose a bit more of a challenge.
The duration of this plan is about 50 minutes, and it is targeted to relatively young learners, but can be used for anyone learning prepositions.
I find PowerPoint presentations to be an exceptionally useful learning tool because they are so customizable, so that’s how we’ll start our Spanish preposition lesson.
1. Practice Spanish Prepositions with a PowerPoint Presentation
For the first ten minutes or so of class, show the students a PowerPoint presentation. On each slide, show a different cartoon character in a scene and write a caption describing the location of the character. Disney characters are known far and wide, so they tend to work perfectly for lessons.
For example, write “Mickey Mouse está al lado de la mesa” for a picture of Mickey next to a table.
To find images for your PowerPoint, I recommend using my good buddy Google. There are a couple of easy steps you can take to customize your search in order to avoid copyright issues. Using Google, click on the option “search tools” under the images search bar. Next, select “usage rights” followed by “labeled for reuse.” And ta-da! You can start searching now, copyright-infringement free.
Then, repeat this for as many prepositions as you like. It sounds simple, but merely including pictures of these recognizable and beloved characters is usually enough to yank students out of their distracting daydreams and make them pay attention, at least for a little while.
While presenting the slideshow to your class, keep their attention reigned in by involving them. Instead of simply telling your students where the characters are, ask them first. If this is their first time learning prepositions, they may not be able to answer, but they can always challenge themselves. If prepositions are a review, the students can test their knowledge to see what they remember. As a teacher, this can also help you see where your students need to improve.
2. Interactive Spanish Preposition Practice
After the slide show and any explanation you feel is necessary, you should do a short activity to drive the point home and check for understanding. The prime benefit of the following activity is its customizability. If your students work well in groups, it can be done in groups. If they work better on their own, that’s fine too. This activity can provide writing practice, speaking practice or both. You know your students better than most, so do what’s best for them.
For the following activity, find a picture of a room with a substantial amount of furniture. If you are going to have your students work in groups, print out one enlarged picture of the room for each group. If your students will work in pairs or alone, print enough so each pair or individual gets one.
Next, print out many small pictures of cartoon characters and cut them around the outlines. Have the students spend however much time you wish to dedicate to the activity placing the characters in different places on the printout of the room.
Then, have students practice prepositions by saying the location of the characters in relation to the furniture in the room. If you wish to give them writing practice as well, ask them to write sentences describing the locations.
It’s quite simple, but students seem to enjoy the activity, especially when they get creative. For some reason, they think it is hilarious when they say that a character is “on the ceiling.”
Other Tips for Teaching Spanish Prepositions with Cartoons
When you conduct this activity in class, there are a few things to be aware of. First, students can get so caught up in the fact that their favorite cartoon characters are involved, that they may not properly do the activity. Especially if you decide to make this activity speaking practice only, they could easily see it as friend socialization time.
Inevitably, there are always a couple of students who see Spanish class as time to catch up on gossip when they assume the teacher isn’t listening. Essentially, students can easily get distracted and end up just messing around and not using Spanish.
Therefore, I recommend having your students write down sentences. Or, after about ten minutes or so of letting the students chat amongst themselves, do a quick review and call on students, asking them to place a cartoon character on the print out and announce to the class the character’s location.
I have witnessed first hand that students respond well when their out-of-class interests are incorporated into classroom activities. The above is just one example, which will, hopefully, create an engaging learning experience for all.
And One More Thing…
If you already love the idea of teaching with bite-sized snippets of authentic Spanish content, another option is to use FluentU. We feature tons of clips—the modern, audio-visual equivalent of short stories, if you will.
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.