Teaching strict, textbook Spanish?
That language sounds drier than a slice of toast burnt to a crisp.
Meanwhile, Spanish is a rich, delicious language.
Don’t leave your students crunching toast when they could be eating a delicious chocolate cake.
If you start teaching them all the colorful vocabulary that Spanish has to offer, your students will taste the difference.
Teaching them textbook language leaves them high and dry, using words designed for the sole purpose of having them understand a grammatical structure.
That vocabulary isn’t exactly great for real-world interactions with native Spanish speakers. It’ll leave your students scratching their heads and wondering how on Earth they’ll apply it to real life situations.
The following activities will inject some life and excitement into your lessons and show students why Spanish is extremely useful. Expanding vocabulary knowledge is especially useful for your students planning to travel, live or study abroad in Spanish speaking countries. They’ll start to taste test the immensity and variety of the Spanish language, better preparing them for the diverse words they’ll be hearing and speaking during their time abroad.
3 Vocabulicious Activities to Improve Spanish Vocabulary
1. Shopping Around
Who doesn’t love shopping? Well, people who dislike crowds, malls, standing in lines and choosing gifts. Okay, okay, that’s true.
However, running errands and buying gifts for others are things that we all must do in our lives. Therefore, teaching your students shopping-related vocabulary will provide them with the linguistic tools to thrive while shopping for just about anything in a Spanish-speaking country.
First, conduct an Internet search for advertisements in Spanish speaking countries. Finding these is easy. Simply type “Spain store advertisements” (or any other country) into the search bar of your favorite search engine. Generally, a variety of images will come up as results in the images section.
Second, print out a good selection of the images from a variety of stores. For example, choose one from a pet store, one from a toy store, one from a hardware store and so forth. Print out about 10 identical sets of the selection of ads that you choose.
In class, divide your students into about ten groups. Of course, there can be more or less groups depending on your class size. If you prefer, you can make the activity an individual activity for each student — just keep in mind that this would require printing a set of ads for each student. Also, I recommend making this a group activity to encourage students to work together and help each other.
Once the students are in their groups, ask them to make a shopping list of what they need to buy while out on their errands. Specifically, if they’re buying gifts for someone, have them write the name of the person each item is for. You can ask them to simply write the item names in a list, or write sentences using the pattern tengo que comprar (algo) para (alguien). While composing their lists, encourage students to venture out of their comfort zones and look up words they don’t know. You can require that the students write down at least five items they didn’t know before starting the activity.
Once they’ve written the list of items, have your students look through the ads and try to find the gifts they want to buy and the prices. For example, voy a comprar una muñeca para mi hermana en (store name). Se vende por cuatro Euros. If they can’t find the item, simply have them write the kind of store they must visit to find it. For example, voy a comprar un sombrero nuevo en una tienda de ropa.
This activity can be customized for use anytime. If a holiday is coming up, have your students plan a trip to buy gifts for that holiday.
This activity can also help your students learn about which currency is used in various countries around the world.
2. Cooking Up Vocab
The joys of cooking transcend every language. Knowing how to follow a recipe and shop for ingredients in Spanish will be extremely beneficial for students who travel to other countries.
Generally, textbooks tend to omit certain specific food words such as spices and baking items and lack the verbs needed for students to understand how to follow a recipe in Spanish. Most students know how to say “apple,” but not “baking soda” or “cake batter” in Spanish.
During the lesson prior to the cooking activity, ask your students to find and bring in their favorite recipes for homework. To ensure a wide variety of recipes, assign certain food categories to your students. For example, ask some students to bring in recipes for appetizers and ask others to bring in recipes for desserts or main dishes.
During the next class, introduce the main vocabulary words to your students. Give them a comprehensive worksheet listing the most common words found in recipes. This can be immensely helpful to them. I recommend writing down units of measure and useful verbs such as bake, fry, pour and mix. To go above and beyond for your students, you can make reference guides for different kinds of cooking. For example, a list of vocabulary words specifically related to baking.
This activity is also useful for teaching the command form of verbs, as instructions use this verb form. For example, “pon el molde de pasteles en el horno.”
3. Planning Your Dream Getaway
Everyone daydreams about his or her next vacation, whether it’s an escape to a tropical island or a camping adventure in a vast mountain range. Knowing how to plan trips and learning travel vocabulary in Spanish can immensely benefit your students during their future excursions abroad.
Executing a travel-related activity in class is relatively straightforward. Simply have your students write down where they’d like to go and what they’ll do while they’re there. This opens the door to learning the future tense if you haven’t had a good chance to introduce it yet. If your students know it already, have a quick review session prior to the activity. Next, ask them to write down a packing list of what they’ll need to bring to their destination. This’ll ensure that they learn useful words related to travel that they may not learn in a textbook.
Furthermore, to really amp up their vocabulary, you should teach your students useful vocabulary to ease the experience of traveling. Knowing phrases such as “yo perdí mi pasaporte” or “dónde esta el hotel? can get your students out of sticky situations they may someday encounter on their travels. Composing a list of these phrases for your students may seem a bit tedious, but can truly help them in their future endeavors.
Even though no one enjoys taking tests, it’s a good idea to check their comprehension by quizzing your students on key phrases during the next class. I highly recommend asking them the meaning of the important phrases most useful in a potential emergency situation.
Encourage Self-study to Power Boost Vocabulary
With the above three activities, you’ll equip your students with the linguistic tools to go forth and thrive in the Spanish speaking world. It’s important to remind your students that the learning doesn’t end in the classroom. Encourage your students to continue acquiring new vocabulary at home through fun activities like reading books, watching their favorite TV shows and renting movies in Spanish.
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