How to Revamp 5 Traditional Spanish Teaching Materials for Your Classroom

Get out your Walkman and lace up your Chuck Taylors.

It’s time to get old school.

In this post, we’re going to dive into some classic Spanish teaching materials.

Those retro resources that have been making teachers’ lives easier for decades.

They might be old, but they’re not stale. There’s plenty we can learn from old-school teaching materials—and better yet, there are always new ways to put them to use in the classroom.

Why Go Back to Basics?

It’s not my intention to downplay the importance of other teaching materials. We absolutely need internet resources. We need to bring in authentic materials that give students rich experiences in Spanish. We need movies and songs and games.

But sometimes we work so hard to add in those elements, we forget about some of the simple yet powerful tools that have been around for ages—those tried and true resources that help students retain concepts, apply what they’ve learned and evaluate their own progress.

Going back to basics also allows you to shake up your classroom without investing a huge amount of time, resources or energy into completely new teaching tools. These are the materials you learned about in your training and have always had in your back pocket—we’re just going to show you some specific new ways to put them to use.

Back to Basics: 5 Teaching Materials We Need to Remember in the Spanish Classroom

1. Anchor Charts

Why They’re Effective:

As their name indicates, these charts “anchor” students’ learning. They’re created with/by students and posted in the classroom so that students can refer to them throughout a unit of study, semester or year. They highlight specific expectations for your classroom or content, strategies and processes you’ve taught. They’re effective because they serve as reference points to help students internalize information.

If you ever doubt that anchor charts work, take one down during a test. Do you notice any students looking in the direction of where the chart was? Even if it’s no longer there, you can bet students are still visualizing the content!

Need another reason to love them? When you’re asked a question for the 1,000th time, instead of answering verbally, just point to the anchor chart on the wall. Priceless.

Ideas for the Classroom:

Create Personal Grammar Charts

Jeff Anderson highlights visual learning in his book “Mechanically Inclined” by having students create personal anchor charts for grammar rules. The rule is named and explained and the teacher provides a couple of examples of the grammar rule in use. Students can then put what they’ve learned into their charts.

If you have beginner students who may need an explanation of grammar rules in English, creating a chart that highlights some of the differences between the two languages (like capitalization, sentence structure and functions of a comma) can be a great solution that keeps their Spanish muscles engaged.

Use Students’ FAQs

Wondering what exactly to put on anchor charts? Think about the questions your students are always asking you. Questions like “How do I know when to use the subjunctive?” or “How do I conjugate a verb?” can provide very useful jumping off points for anchor charts that students will be referring back to all year.

Meanwhile, making the chart requires them to think through and articulate the process, which will help them retain it.

Get Intermediate and Advanced Students Away from Writing Simple, Boring Sentences

Even if your students have advanced beyond one-word answers and short sentences in Spanish, they might need a little help with adding description to their sentences. This chart will be used when students are writing and need help adding elements to their sentences to make them stand out.

Here’s an example of how this chart might look:

  • The chart will be titled something to the effect of: oraciones descriptivas (descriptive sentences). Start with a simple sentence: Juan come (Juan eats/is eating).
  • Write the following questions down the side of the chart, plus some potential answers.

¿Cuándo? (When?) En la mañana (in the morning), después de la escuela (after school)

¿Dónde(Where?) En la cocina (in the kitchen), en el coche (in the car)

¿Cómo? (How?) rápido (quickly), lentamente (slowly), con prisa (in a hurry)

¿Por qué? (Why?) tiene hambre (he was hungry), porque su mama se lo dijo (because his mom told him to)

¿Quién es? o ¿con quién? (Who is he? or With whom?) Juan, el hijo mayor (the eldest child) and/or con su familia (with his family), con sus amigos (with his friends)

¿Qué? (What?) una ensalada (a salad), tres tacos gigantes (three giant tacos)

  • Students piece together the components from the anchor chart to write their own sentences. Of course, they’re not required to add all of the elements! One possible example: Juan tiene mucha hambre y come tres tacos gigantes en su coche después de la escuela (Juan is really hungry and he’s eating three giant tacos in his car after school).

2. Word Walls

Why They’re Effective:

Word walls provide another way to make learning visual. A large section of the classroom wall will be dedicated to this resource, with words placed under their corresponding letter of the alphabet. This tool is used to increase spelling, reading and vocabulary skills in Spanish.

In my classroom, I also made a point to hold students accountable for the words we had learned. They weren’t allowed to spell these words incorrectly when they used them in their writing.

Ideas for the Classroom:

Organize the Words in Different Ways

Categorize words by color to distinguish them and help students remember which words come from the same groups. Some ideas for categories include nouns, verbs, adjectives, cognates and false cognates.

Add Words Frequently

Aim to add two to three words a day or five a week. Make sure students are involved in the process by (briefly) discussing why a given word should be added and when they’re ready for certain words to be removed. Words that have been removed can be placed on a key ring and kept somewhere the students can access them, if need be.

Play Review Games with the Word Wall

Some fun, effective games include:

  • Students create analogies: Example: enojado (angry) is to estar (to be) as alto (tall) is to _____ (es) (is).
  • Students create categories: Students find inventive ways to group the words differently like “words that make me feel sad” (one of my students came up with this one).
  • Vocabulary around the world: A student gets up and stands behind the next seated student. The teacher gives the definition or description of a word from the word wall and the first student to answer with the correct word moves on.

(It’s a good idea to have the definition or description prepared in advance. Sometimes it’s difficult thinking on the spot!)

  • Like/not like: Students use the basic sentence structure _____ is like _____ because _____. _____ isn’t like _____ because _____. Example: Escuchar (to listen) is like cantar (to sing) because they are both regular verbs. Comer (to eat) isn’t like ir (to go) because ir (to go) is irregular.
  • Students create a product: With a partner or individually, students create songs, simple repetitive books, poems or comic strips using five to ten of the words from the wall.

3. Blank Pieces of Paper

Why They’re Effective:

Worksheets Don′t Grow Dendrites: 20 Instructional Strategies That Engage the Brain

Dr. Leo Gómez, co-creator of the Gómez and Gómez Dual Language Enrichment Model, says many times in his national workshops that the best thing to give a child is a blank sheet of paper. So many times students are given worksheet after worksheet with fill-in-the-blanks instead of organizing information or creating a product to show understanding. As Marcia Tate would say, “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites!”

Ideas for the Classroom:

Write Every Day

As a language teacher, you already know that writing is one of the tenets of language-learning and in order for students to become more fluent in a target language, they need to write regularly and often.

Of course, writing in a second language is difficult, so to prevent writer’s block, you might start the activity with Think-Pair-Share, a popular Kagan strategy. Students are allowed to brainstorm a question or prompt and discuss it before writing. Then, students begin to answer the prompt and after a few minutes of writing, students trade papers with their partners.

The partners have to add on to what was already written and then papers are given back to their owners. Have students use different colored pens to distinguish the different authors. This could be in the form of a journal entry with a sentence stem like:

Si yo tuviera $100,000, yo _____.” (If I had $100,000, I _____.)

Mi superhéroe favorito es _____ porque _____.” (My favorite superhero is _____ because _____.)

Generate Lists

I would do this as a partner activity or as a warmup to a new unit. The prompt would be something like, “write as many verbs as you can think of in one minute,” or “write words that you associate with Spanish cuisine.”

Allow students to go back to the list and add, delete or edit during or after the unit with a partner, and you’ll get good insights into what students have taken away. Some of the conversations I’ve overheard have been eye-opening!

Play Pictionary with a Partner

For this activity, I typically choose words from the classroom word wall or vocabulary terms from a given unit. Partner A gives Partner B a clue by indicating what category the word falls under, and then begins to draw the word while Partner B has to guess it. It’s a much more engaging way to get students interacting with new vocabulary than a plain old worksheet.

Create Graphic Organizers

  • T-Chart: Compare characteristics of different characters in books when teaching adjectives.
  • Vocabulary chart (personal word wall): Students take a piece of paper and divide it into individual alphabet boxes and give it a unit title. During that unit, students write as many words as they think are necessary. They don’t need to be the same words on the shared classroom word wall.

Dividing the personal word wall into units helps students with context. For example, perhaps you do a unit on food and a student puts durazno (peach) on their wall. They might not immediately remember exactly what the word means the next time they see it, but they’ll remember that it has to do with food.

  • Bridge map: Students identify relationships between words by stating a relating factor like “is a type of” and creating multiple analogous pairs, such as apple/fruit and carrot/vegetable. In the end, they should be able to read it as a sentence: An apple is a type of fruit like a carrot is a type of vegetable.

This can be done with vocabulary terms, historical events, grammar functions, etc. The list is endless! As long as the relating factor is the same, the map can be extended beyond two words. You can assess students’ understanding by making sure they can read what they’ve written in complete sentences.

4. Portfolios

Why They’re Effective:

Portfolios are collections of students’ work—often creative—that are built up over the course of a unit, semester, year or sometimes even longer. They are excellent ways to gauge progress in a student’s Spanish learning journey.

They are also powerful tools for student self-assessment. In his book “Visible Learning,” John Hattie synthesized over 800 meta-analyses on factors that contribute to student achievement. The number one factor is self-reported grading, or the ability to accurately calibrate progress and know how to exceed expectations.

A portfolio isn’t just a way for you to see students’ improvement over time, but it’s also a way for them to become better at tracking their own progress and understanding their own strengths and weaknesses.

Ideas for the Classroom:

Put Students in Charge of Their Portfolios

Students can keep poems, essays, copies of past writing assessments, past quizzes, out-of-class creative work, etc. You can decide on some necessities, but allow students to have a degree of ownership by letting them choose what else goes in the portfolio.

Portfolios don’t have to be physical. With platforms such as Seesaw, Pinterest or even just Google Docs, students can upload pictures, links and other creations. They can also share work with one another and parents.

Assign a Portfolio Self-assessment

In order to really hit on “self-reported grading” as mentioned above, have students look back at their work before the next grading period or test. Ask them to complete the following sentence stem: “Based on _____ and _____, I expect to perform _____ on the next exam. In order to exceed these expectations, I need to _____.”

Have the students put a plan of action in place and give them time to complete those action steps. You’ll be surprised about what they say. Some examples of responses I’ve collected include, “I need to watch Video X again,” “I need more practice with _____,” or “I need Mrs. W. to explain _____ again.” Not only will this help them in class, but you’re teaching a valuable life skill!

5. Labels

Why They’re Effective:

Second language learners know that labeling things around the house helps increase vocabulary and facilitates thinking in the target language. When you consider that in the early years of our learning, an average young student learns about 3,000 words a year (in his or her native tongue), we have a lot of catching up to do in the second language.

Any way we can indirectly, yet authentically, teach vocabulary will speed up the process. Vocabulary labels are an awesome way to do this.

Looking for a snazzy new-school upgrade to this old-school tool? Vocabulary Stickers offers small but eye-catching labels with foreign language words that you can stick on practically anything. They’re color coded, which helps for retention. They’re also pretty durable, so don’t worry about using them with young students.

Ideas for the Classroom:

Include Synonyms

If there are multiple (common) words for an item, don’t just pick one—write them all! If plumas (pens) are also called bolígrafos (pens), why not label the pen drawer with both?

Give Students Sentence Stems They Can Imitate

I remember how my Spanish teacher in high school didn’t let us go to the bathroom if we couldn’t say ¿Puedo ir al baño, por favor? (May I go to the bathroom, please?) And even though I left high school with little to no Spanish (I learned it in college), that phrase always stuck with me.

Create a chart with common phrases associated with the vocabulary labels in your classroom, and hold students accountable for using them. Knowing these simple phrases allows students to create so many more sentences! Examples include:

No tengo papel. (I don’t have any paper.)

¿Me prestas un lápiz? (Can you lend me a pencil?)

No veo el pizarrón. (I can’t see the board.)

¿Podemos abrir las ventanas, por favor? (Can we open the windows, please?)

Necesito usar el sacapuntas. (I need to use the pencil sharpener.)

Dejé mi tarea en el casillero. (I left my homework in my locker.)

Play Games with the Words

  • Bingo: Students create their own bingo boards and choose words from the labels. Instead of just calling out the word, you describe the word or give the students a fill-in-the-blank: ¿Dónde está la biblioteca? Necesito otro _____. (Where is the library? I need another _____.)
  • En mi mochila (In my backpack): Student 1 says En mi mochila tengo un/a _____. (In my backpack, I have a _____.) Student 2 repeats what Student 1 said and adds a classroom object. The sentence becomes: En mi mochila tengo un/a _____ y un/a _____. (In my backpack I have a _____ and a _____.)

The game continues with each student repeating what the previous student said and adding an object. Players lose when they forget what the other students have said and the game ends when there’s only one person left.

  • I Spy (Veo,Veo): Start this game off with the dialogue below, and then award points to the first person to guess what you “spy.” Play as many rounds as time allows.

Teacher: Veo veo… (I see…)

Students: ¿Qué ves? (What do you see?)

Teacher: Una cosita… (Something…)

Students: ¿Y qué cosita es? (And what is it?)

Teacher: Algo que… (Something that…)


No matter the resource, it’s only effective if teachers show students how to use it and refer to it often. Otherwise, anchor charts become nothing but posters and portfolios become dead weight in students’ backpacks. If teachers were to take advantage of these basic resources, they would see a significant growth of students’ understanding and achievement. Best of luck!

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