2 Unconventional Spanish Teaching Methods That Actually Work

Group activities have long been in need of a makeover.

They’ve gotten a bad rap.

In the past, announcing group work likely provoked groans from your students.

You’d always see unbalanced workloads amongst group members.

We don’t all play nice with others.

However, despite the fact that many students would prefer working alone, group activities can vastly enhance the learning experience as each group member can contribute his or her input.

Thankfully, new group teaching methods are cropping up in the educational world. These modern methods can prevent groans and complaints from your students when you announce upcoming group activities and projects. Modern group teaching techniques ensure the engagement of your students and can be used as often as you like throughout the semester or year.

2 Unconventional Spanish Teaching Methods That Actually Work

1. Cooperative Learning

Sayings about working together are oft quoted on cute motivational posters with kittens for a reason. Group work really does benefit all who embrace it. It’s not easy, however, and many dislike working with others because of the difficulties that often go hand-in-hand with cooperation.

Yet, teachers everywhere of all subjects are embracing cooperative learning more and more these days because of the benefits it can bring to students. One definition of this teaching method is, according to co-operation.org, “the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning.”

How is this different from traditional methods? In the past, competition has been valued above cooperation. When students compete, they only look out for themselves to achieve their own academic goals, for example, to get an A or to pass the grade level.

One prominent benefit of cooperative learning is that it enhances social and emotional learning. Furthermore, students who participate in cooperative learning methods look out for the needs of the other students in class as opposed to just their own learning objectives.

There are multiple ways to incorporate cooperative learning into the Spanish classroom.

  • Create long-term groups. Form these at the start of the year or semester. They’ll help each other over the long-term. If you choose this method, schedule regular time periods for the group to meet and check in with each other to ensure progress.
  • Make temporary groups. These can last for a designated period of time ranging from part of a class to an entire class period. The primary benefit of groups lasting shorter periods of time is that the students can get to know each other better and take advantage of more of their classmates’ ideas and learning strengths.

Group sizes may change throughout the semester becoming larger or smaller in relation to the instructions and goals of the teacher.

To ensure that students succeed while participating in cooperative learning, make sure they understand the importance of working together. That is to say, if one student doesn’t pull his or her weight, the entire group cannot thrive and succeed. As the saying goes, “you scratch my back, I scratch yours.”

There are certain drawbacks to working in groups, which is the reason that many people dislike doing so. For example, the amount of work done by each individual in the group can sometimes be unevenly distributed. To ensure that everyone does the same amount of work, randomly choose students to quickly summarize their group discussions. This makes each student accountable and ensures that they take tasks seriously. It also ensures that everyone in their groups is prepared to answer.

Another way to ensure every group member is doing the same amount of work and learning the material is to give out short quizzes to every student in class. Knowing that they’ll have to complete a quiz for an individual grade will emphasize the importance that they learn on their own as well.

If you need inspiration for fun group activities, try introducing your students to FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

Students can watch videos together, discuss the content and present newly-learned information to the rest of the class. You can assign them specific videos, or let them choose for themselves based on learning levels and group interests.

We’ve got tons of bite-sized clips which are perfect for quick, in-class activities or fun homework assignments. Have students practice at home with the site’s interactive flashcards and personalized vocabulary lists to really drive home key language points, or bring FluentU into the classroom to bring your lessons to life!

2. The Jigsaw Method

For those of you who have ever done a puzzle with any amount of pieces, you know the sense of dread that comes with the realization that one’s missing. This demonstrates the immeasurable importance of every single puzzle piece, which inspires the name of the jigsaw teaching method. In this analogy, the classroom is the jigsaw puzzle, and each student represents a piece of the puzzle.

The jigsaw method is just one specific example of cooperative learning which has proved to be successful in enhancing students’ learning in a multitude of ways.

There are numerous benefits to using the aforementioned approach. First, it can improve student motivation, encourage students to work together despite any race, age, class or other differences. Perhaps the aspect giving the jigsaw method its greatest successes is the fact that it makes every student’s role important in class.

The jigsaw method of teaching is relatively young. It was developed in the early 1970’s by Elliot Aronson. Despite not having had the chance to age like a fine wine, the jigsaw method has proven itself successful.

In this teaching approach, each student prepares and presents part of a lesson to the others in a group, like a piece of the puzzle. Even though they each only present a “piece,” they all receive the entire lesson because they each teach and learn from each other.

To implement the jigsaw method into your Spanish class, follow these steps.

First, divide your students into groups. Ensure that each group is as diverse as possible (in terms of gender, ethnicity, race and ability) and ideally no larger than five to six students. Second, choose a student in the group to be the leader. It could be a student who has proven him or herself to be a mature, strong student, or one who needs a little coaxing. Putting the latter in charge could lead to him or her gaining confidence over time.

Once you have groups divvied up and leaders chosen, split the lesson of the day into multiple parts. For example, if you wish to teach a lesson about a famous Spanish-speaking historical figure using a written biography, split the text into five or so sections about his or her early life, family life and multiple parts about his or her notable work.

Next, assign each student in the group to read one of the sections. Ask the students to read over their designated passage a couple of times. Once the students have had time to read their assigned passages, have them break up into different groups based on who read what passage. For example, have all of the students who read about the famous figure’s early life get together and discuss what they learned. This will lead to the most comprehensive summary of the passage. After giving them some time to share information with each other, have them rejoin their original groups.

Next, it’s presentation time and time for each jigsaw piece to connect and complete the metaphorical puzzle. Ask each student to present what he or she learned to the rest of his or her group. Encourage the others to ask questions to increase learning. While they’re presenting, wander around amongst the groups to make sure things are going well, and that students are using their Spanish.

As a quick side note, it’s a good idea to use groups as it gives them more opportunities to practice Spanish conversation and amp up their vocabulary. Classrooms that don’t embrace cooperative teaching techniques often lack the substantial time needed to practice conversation.

Finally, check that your students learned the material. This can be done with a short quiz, which is one of the best ways to ensure comprehension despite the inevitable groans it may provoke from your students. But at least you already cut down on the groans by making group work fun and effective!

More Tips to Excel At Cooperative Learning

Group work can certainly present issues to you as a teacher. Students can argue with each other and sometimes don’t get along, especially if they’re not used to working in a cooperative environment. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start using teamwork and cooperative teaching from the get-go in your classes. Let students know that cooperation is the norm for your classroom, and nothing but respectful interactions will be tolerated.

Cooperative learning is proven to benefit students in today’s learning environment, so try it in your Spanish class!

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