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What to Look For in Spanish Teaching Materials
There are loads of wonderful teaching materials out there. So much so, in fact, that it can feel downright overwhelming to browse online or scroll through other creative Spanish teachers’ Pinterest boards full of ideas.
It’s easy to get sidetracked by a shiny new toy or fun project, only to realize later that it doesn’t quite fit with your curriculum goals or that you just don’t have enough time to devote to playing a complex new game.
You don’t have time or money to waste on things you won’t actually use.
So what should you look for when shopping for Spanish teaching materials? Here’s a checklist:
- Linguistic Authenticity: The best materials use the Spanish language well. This may seem obvious, but there are lots of poorly translated books and materials out there. Double check to be sure that Spanish capitalization conventions are followed in titles and punctuation, and avoid materials that use English words alongside Spanish ones if possible—when your kids see the English, they’ll rely on it whenever they can instead of pushing themselves to learn Spanish.
- Cultural Relevance: If you can, stock up on books and games that are from Spanish-speaking countries. These items will give your students an authentic taste of kid culture in other countries. This is preferable to items that feature American icons like Mickey Mouse or Han Solo in translation.
- Tactile Durability: It can be tempting to go cheap when you have a limited budget, but it’s better in the long run to invest in items that are sturdily built. Strong plastic and well-built items are always preferable to paper, but you can make even paper items last longer if you have access to a laminator at your school.
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How to Get Your Hands on Spanish Teaching Materials
First, find out how much money your school or department has budgeted for supplies, and see if you can get reimbursed for new materials. If budgets are tight (they always are!), seek out garage sales for some of the more generic items that don’t feature Spanish language. You can also ask for parent donations of used toys and games to get your hands on the free stuff.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, apply for grant money to get what you need. Try setting up a project on DonorsChoose.org or browsing Edutopia’s list of grants for teachers. You might even apply for some travel grants to go on a shopping spree in Mexico or Spain to fill your suitcase with really authentic cultural artifacts and supplies!
10 Accessible, Affordable Spanish Teaching Materials for All Ages
Once you’ve figured out how to pay for some great new classroom materials, All that’s left is to make sure you choose the items that will get you the biggest bang for your buck. Here are the best materials to get your students speaking Spanish to each other—and having fun while they do it!
- Why It’s Great: Holding a toy version of the food they’re trying to learn is a great kinesthetic, sensory experience to help kids internalize new vocabulary. You can also use it to play all sorts of games and role playing activities.
- Where to Find It: These are easy to find in brick-and-mortar toy stores and online. Kaplan even has some plastic food inspired by Hispanic cuisine to add to the mix.
- How to Use It: Have students categorize foods on a floor-sized food group poster, set up a classroom grocery store and give student shopping lists and a budget, or have students do oral presentations in the style of their favorite celebrity chefs.
- Why It’s Great: Students who are reluctant to speak Spanish in front of the class often come out of their shells when they can pretend it’s the puppet talking. Puppets also let you demonstrate a conversation with ease.
- Where to Find It: These are also easy to find in toy stores and online, though if you’re strapped for cash you can have students make their own—anything from brown paper bags to socks will work. Lakeshore also has a nice set of multicultural puppets.
- How to Use It: Let students do presentations, skits and role-plays with puppets to help them relax and inject some fun into your classroom routine. You can also use puppets for listening activities to change things up—don’t be afraid to try a silly voice for your students!
- Why It’s Great: Beginning Spanish-speakers need easy reads, and no one ever really outgrows the magic of a great children’s book.
- Where to Find It: Check your local library for freebies or shop on Amazon for a wide selection. Raz-Kids has leveled Spanish readers online.
- How to Use It: Keep books available for students to browse when they finish an activity early. You can also set up sustained silent reading time or group reading. Have beginners work together to list words they recognize, even if they can’t understand the whole story.
Computer and Projector
- Why It’s Great: The Internet brings the whole world to your classroom with the touch of a button, and it’s the easiest way to share all sorts of cultural highlights with your students.
- Where to Find It: Hopefully your school has one you can use. Try the school library or media center if you don’t have one in your classroom.
- How to Use It: FluentU has a curated collection of videos in Spanish that feature native speakers. Search for ones about any vocabulary topic you like. You can also project works of art from museums around the world and play authentic Latin American music from you iPod.
Old Neckties and/or Costume Necklaces
- Why It’s Great: This is a freebie that makes using Usted more natural for students who aren’t used to addressing adults formally.
- Where to Find It: Don’t spend much on these: Thrift stores and garage sales are your friends!
- How to Use It: Have half of your students put on a necktie or necklace when they walk in the door. These students must be addressed as Usted in conversation during the class. It’s a great way to practice greetings, verb conjugations and commands in a more realistic way.
- Why It’s Great: These are quiet and don’t bounce when dropped. They also create a great tactile sensation for kids who need to fidget.
- Where to Find It: These aren’t everywhere anymore, but you can easily find them online.
- How to Use It: Toss the Koosh to the person who must answer a question in Spanish, or play a hot-potato style game where the person who is stuck with the Koosh needs to answer a question in Spanish.
- Why It’s Great: This is one of the easiest ways to inject culture into your classroom: The calendar starts on Monday instead of Sunday, days and months aren’t capitalized, and there are lots of holidays to discuss.
- Where to Find It: Teacher’s Discovery has some reusable, poster-sized versions. This is also an easy DIY project!
- How to Use It: Take five minutes on the first day of each month to review upcoming holidays, or have a student state the date in Spanish at the beginning of class each day.
Paper Dolls or Fashion Colorforms
- Why It’s Great: This is a space-saving way to have students play with clothing to learn new vocabulary. It’s also way more sanitary than having kids share a box of costumes and hats.
- Where to Find It: See if parents can donate these items or if you can buy them online. You can also let students make their own fashions with a DIY paper doll template.
- How to Use It: Give students a weather report in Spanish and have them dress dolls appropriately, or have them create outfits that are described aloud in a class presentation.
Blank Paper and Colored Pencils
- Why It’s Great: From teaching colors in Spanish to drawing pictures of vocabulary words, you can never have too many of these basic art supplies for language learners.
- Where to Find It: Hopefully your school already has these things. If not, make friends with the art teacher or ask students to bring in their own.
- How to Use It: Have students draw the definition of new vocabulary instead of writing the English translation in their notes. Give directions about how to draw a picture for practice with vocabulary and orientation words like cardinal directions and prepositions. You probably already have a ton of great ideas for art projects, too!
- Why It’s Great: This is the simplest way to inject a little suspense into your lessons by keeping secrets from your students.
- Where to Find It: Decorate and old shoe box—just be sure to wrap the lid separately from the box so you’ll be able to remove it.
- How to Use It: Hide and object in the box and give your students clues about what it could be by describing the mystery object in Spanish. This is a great way to review colors, numbers and many other adjectives while practicing new vocabulary. It’s a great daily warm-up, and you’ll keep your students guessing all year long!
These top 10 Spanish teaching materials are guaranteed to get your students engaged in speaking and listening to Spanish. Once you add these materials to your arsenal, there’s only one question left to answer: What great new lesson will you design next with these fun new supplies?
Elizabeth Trach teaches Spanish in a public elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she co-authored the district’s original K-5 Spanish curriculum. She’s also a professional writer and editor. Find out more about her work and get in touch at The Blogwright.
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