Do you ever find it difficult to get students excited about the fundamentals of Spanish?
I know I do.
Some days, teaching Spanish can sometimes feel like I’m giving students a lot of boring instructions.
And those instructions mainly involve memorizing lists of vocabulary.
So, I tried teaching familiar topics like the days of the week, months of the year and season with some creative calendar activities. They make the whole experience of learning essential vocabulary and grammar much more hands-on, relatable and grounded in context.
I even got to fold in other valuable Spanish lessons on topics like food, climate, geography, holidays, traditions and talking about yourself. And I was able to tweak these activities for a variety of skill levels by adjusting the depth of the content and the difficulty of the tasks.
Things went much better.
So, I’ve laid all of my favorite calendar activities out here so you can give them a try as well.
First, let’s talk about why and how to get creative with your Spanish calendar lessons.
Why Get Creative with Your Spanish Calendar Lessons?
- Build confidence early on and have fun with creative projects. Students always appreciate a break from lessons that are all business, especially if they’re just starting to learn Spanish.
- Students already have personal connections to dates, months and seasons. Make the most of the personal connections students will have to a birthday month or favorite season. Students can learn what they have in common with classmates, which can build rapport and enhance their Spanish classroom experience.
- Creative calendar activities offer opportunities to reinforce other Spanish learning objectives. For example, the activities below connect calendar vocabulary with geography and number and weather expressions, cultural investigations and more!
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How to Connect Calendar Activities with Spanish Lessons
- Teach numbers, both cardinal and ordinal, with calendar activities. For example, one interesting little nugget to share is that only the first day of the month uses an ordinal number in Spanish! You can not only teach this within one of these Spanish calendar activities, but you can reinforce it by practicing it naturally in conversation with your students during each activity.
- Introduce the uses of ser and estar alongside lessons about the calendar. Telling time requires the use of ser, so reinforce that grammar concept with your calendar lessons.
- Increase weather vocabulary and other expressions using the verb hacer. For details, see the activities below that concern the four seasons. You’ll get to talk about all the seasons and their various weather patterns around the Spanish-speaking world, from rain and snow to sunshine and partly-cloudy skies.
- Explore geography and climates with creative calendar activities. With these Spanish calendar activities, you’ll go way beyond teaching dates and help students learn about the different Spanish-speaking countries all over the world. What’s the weather like in all these different places? How does it affect the traditions, lifestyles and dress of the people who live in these places?
- Learn about holiday traditions and culture in Spanish-speaking countries. Make personal connections and learn new ways to celebrate with customs from Spain and Latin America. You and your students might be surprised by how much our traditions and cultures are tied to the calendar.
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5 Creative Calendar Activities for Beginning Spanish Learners
1. ¡Feliz Cumpleaños a Mí!
About this project
There’s an old joke that claims that most people are their own favorite topics of conversation. Your students are likely no different! Everyone likes to talk about themselves, their interests and what matters most to them.
And, for language students, personal topics are often the easiest things to talk about. Language students tend to learn the vocabulary and grammar to talk about themselves first. It makes sense—how else can you carry on a conversation?
This presentation project emphasizes the personal. While it works any time, you can assign this activity at the beginning of the school year to give students the opportunity to introduce themselves to you and to each other.
How to implement
Begin by organizing students into groups by their birthday months—or have them organize themselves. Call out the months in Spanish and point out where students born in that month should sit or stand.
If you’re working with beginners, distribute a list of the months in Spanish and English amongst the students in the groups. Offer them an informal opportunity to get moving while they practice their numbers in Spanish with each other and line themselves up in numerical order by date of birth. The rule is: They can only speak to each other in Spanish.
Ask students to brainstorm a list of questions in these small groups that they would like to ask each other after giving introductions. If necessary, combine smaller groups and divide up larger ones. Choose the top 10 most interesting questions, or put them to a vote for a more student-led decision. These questions will form the basis of their introduction projects. For example, questions like “what is the hardest thing about having a birthday in December?” or “what is the best thing about having a birthday in October?” can reveal some interesting sides to your students’ personalities.
Be sure to make your expectations clear. If you’d like to make this a more involved presentation project, let students know what they should provide in terms of visual aids like props, photographs and posters. Specify what type of vocabulary and grammar students should incorporate in their presentations.
If you’re using this project as a rapport-building activity, it may be best to consider it a credit/no credit assignment. A graded assignment might lead students to feel like the evaluation is about them as individuals, which can be disheartening if the grade isn’t a perfect A.
2. Word Origins: The Days of the Week in Spanish
About this project
Exploring word origins, the study of etymology, can pique a student’s natural curiosity about language.
This short and sweet research activity connecting etymology to Spanish days of the week can work as a great in-class group project or as a single homework assignment.
How to implement
Begin by explaining to students that all words, whether in English or Spanish, have a story to them. This early discussion of etymology might be exciting to students, so be prepared with some examples in English that will interest them and work as a hook to get their attention.
Students may find it interesting that Monday, or “moon day,” in English, corresponds rather closely to lunes, or día de la luna. The name of the first month, January, comes from the Roman god of gates and doorways, Janus, just like enero comes from Iano, an alternate spelling of Jano, Spanish for Janus.
Give students the list of days of the week to learn in Spanish. Ask them to learn them and come back to class with descriptions of their origins. To extend the assignment, you can include the months of the year as well. The activity can be adjusted for different levels of Spanish students by requesting that students dig deeper into the topics and get more complex with their vocabulary and grammar.
You can research the Spanish word origins here with an online Spanish etymological resource and translate the meanings in Spanish for your classroom.
3. The 4 Seasons Around the Spanish-speaking World
About this project
Seasons are different in different parts of the world. So, why not combine calendar vocabulary with geography, map skills and even weather expressions? Make this activity as brief or as involved as suits your classroom and curriculum goals.
How to implement
Decide first how complex you would like this activity to be and then plan accordingly.
A basic assignment could invite students to mix and match the seasons with various Spanish-speaking countries around the world. For example, a student can select “spring” from the list of seasons, and “Chile” from the list of countries. Spinning wheels and hats filled with snippets of paper are both great ways to randomly delegate seasons and countries.
Have students write a brief description (in Spanish) of the weather conditions at this time of year in the particular country as a homework assignment. In class the following day, ask for volunteers to share their findings with the rest of the class. Both writing and speaking skills will get a bit of practice this way.
Encourage students to use a map for this assignment so that they can develop an appreciation for the variety of conditions that can impact different countries and regions in any given season. In Chile, for example, springtime on the central coast can be a lot warmer than in the mountains of Patagonia in the south.
You can even get creative with vocabulary building by asking students to describe the weather conditions and the corresponding items of clothing someone might wear at this time of year, or the corresponding activities people might do. Beginner learners can offer these descriptions in phrases, while more experienced students can write in complete sentences.
If you would like to extend the assignment into a research project or an extra credit activity, incorporate more in-depth requests about geography and map-reading to encourage students to learn more about specific Spanish-speaking regions. This assignment works well as a group presentation project as well, but just make sure individual students in each group know the tasks they’re responsible for before they get started.
4. ¡Fiesta! Traditions and Holidays on the Spanish Calendar
About this project
This in-class guided research activity explores the cultural side of Spanish calendars with an introduction to Spain and Latin America’s most important religious and secular holidays.
Depending on how you design the project, students can learn about the role of Catholicism in Spanish-speaking cultures or the significance of folklore and myth—or even a combination of the two!
How to implement
First of all, some schools may be more open to talks about religion than others, so be sure you know what kinds of conversations are most appropriate for your students.
If it makes sense for you, introduce this activity with an explanation of the difference between religious calendar events and secular ones, or ask students to talk about holidays and customs that they enjoy personally. You could also choose to lead the way with a basic introduction to world religions and philosophies.
Then, assign each student a calendar month and ask them to select a holiday from that month that interests them. Christmas Day, Easter and Day of the Dead in any Spanish-speaking country are obvious choices, but what about Mexican Independence Day every September? Other interesting holidays like San Juan’s Bonfires in Alicante, Spain (June), the Andean New Year in Bolivia (June) and San Martin’s Day in Argentina (August)?
Give students a handout you’ve created with general questions about holidays and customs to fill out after they’ve selected a particular holiday in their particular month to learn about. This handout will be collected at the end of the activity.
Example questions might include:
- What special activities do people do on this day?
- What special foods do they eat?
- Where in the Spanish-speaking world do they celebrate this day?
These handouts will serve as a way for the students to document what they learn from their research while giving you a way to evaluate their participation.
Students who may enjoy more independence while learning can come up with their own topics to research once they have selected a holiday. Give these students clear guidelines on the end result you are expecting for a successful experience. No matter how you go about it, the Spanish calendar will become more relevant as students explore examples of celebrations that interest them personally.
5. Food for Thought: What to Eat and When?
About this project
Who doesn’t love food?
To seriously excite your students, connect your calendar lessons with food vocabulary.
This activity takes a closer look at growing seasons, climate and agriculture in Spanish-speaking countries. If you want to make this activity truly memorable, have students prepare and share their recipes and enjoy the food together in the classroom.
How to implement
Before bringing this activity to class, count up your students and prepare a list of fruits and vegetables that grow in Spanish-speaking countries beforehand. Also take note of the growing seasons so that you have that information ready for the students.
Start by asking students to take a look at the calendar. Assess prior knowledge with a few questions about vegetable gardens and fruit trees:
- What can you grow in each season and month?
- What climates does each type of produce need to grow well?
- What are the typical foods grown in each country in the Spanish-speaking world?
Ensure interest by asking students to list favorite vegetables and fruits and corresponding recipe, or by asking if anyone has any experience growing their own food.
Announce at this point that everyone will be contributing a recipe to a classroom calendar cookbook.
To begin the activity, assign each student a vegetable or fruit, its corresponding Spanish-speaking country and its growing season. Then, ask students to think about food they have enjoyed that contains that vegetable or fruit, and ask students to create a recipe for that food for homework.
For example, the fall growing season in Mexico produces marvelous tomatillos, ready for a green salsa, while the summer growing season in Peru works best for corn and homemade corn tortillas. In Spain, wintertime is the best time to plant garlic, a delicious savory seasoning for many Spanish recipes, while summer is ideal for tomatoes that are perfect for gazpacho.
Suggest they get help from family members and friends, and other pre-approved resources like encyclopedias and cookbooks. Once the written recipe is complete, encourage the students to use their artistic flair and color when rewriting and illustrating their recipes, complete with its country and growing season, so they can be posted on a bulletin board in the classroom or compiled into a lovely book.
Who would have thought Spanish students could have so much fun learning about the calendar?
The calendar is so much more than a bunch of squares with numbers squiggled on it.
It’s a gateway to language, culture, climate and geography lessons—and now it’s yours to own in Spanish class!
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