6 Spanish Tutoring Ideas That’ll Take Your Lessons to the Next Level
Wouldn’t it be great if all students were “cookie-cutter”?
You could plan one set of lessons and activities, and use it over and over with each student.
Don’t shake your head at me.
If you’re in education, you know you’ve thought about it!
We all know that it’d make planning lessons so much easier!
Of course, we know that the fun in teaching lies in creatively assessing and designing instruction to meet the needs of learners. We enjoy the challenge that comes with figuring out what works for a student and what it would take for them to understand the presented material.
You need lots of tools in your toolbox to reach the number of different learners you might encounter.
Whether your students are struggling with reading comprehension, verb conjugation or just expressing themselves in Spanish, we’ve got a list of six ideas that you can use to meet all their needs.
Before we get into that, here are a few things you should keep in mind for successful implementation.
General Tips for Effective Tutoring Sessions
- Get to know your students. Use a student interest inventory to find out what students find interesting and how they learn. Do they like sports? Maybe they adore music? Do they suddenly pay attention when they hear a poem?
Even knowing something as simple as whether they prefer to stand while learning or if they need a minute of quiet to process information will work to your advantage and make the delivery of a lesson much more effective.
- Create goals together. Sometimes a tutor has their own goals in mind when it comes to a session, but it’s important that students have input on setting goals. Do they have an upcoming Spanish AP test? Are they just trying to get to a conversational level or are there particular grammar structures they’re having trouble with? Making sure students articulate what they’re aiming for will increase their chances of reaching their objectives.
- Assess current skill level. This point seems obvious, but before you can begin to choose activities you have to know the skills a student already possesses. What proficiency level would they fall under according to the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) or CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)?
What level do they think they’re at? Informal and formative assessments are great ways to accurately gauge a student’s ability and to develop appropriate lessons.
- Find awesome resources for your lessons. To get you started, here’s a list of nearly 20 fantastic Spanish teaching resources to explore. Note the resources that work well for you and keep them close, as well as other Spanish websites that’ll immerse your students in the language. If you’re a fan of using authentic materials, one great option for your lessons is FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
The videos come with interactive captions that teach your students new vocabulary the way native speakers really use it. They’ll also get exercises and flashcards to help ensure they’re learning from what they’ve watched.
As an educator, you’ll appreciate the teacher tools that are built right into FluentU. You can track student progress, design your curriculum and communicate with students all from the platform. It’s also super easy to add and remove student profiles depending on your current tutoring load.
- Modify and adjust lessons and goals as needed. Assess student progress toward goals periodically and, if they’ve met them, choose others. Keep students involved in the process by allowing them to reflect on areas of strength and where they need to improve. These student self assessments are vital to increasing students’ ownership of the learning process.
6 Brilliant Spanish Tutoring Ideas to Make Your Lessons Shine
You’ve done your due diligence to set goals for your students and find great resources for your tutoring sessions. Now it’s time to implement some great activities that’ll help your students meet their goals.
1. Use Journals to Assess and Improve Comprehension
Sometimes trying to get students to articulate their thinking is tough. Are they getting it? Does the material I just presented make sense? Journals are a phenomenal way to get a glimpse of students’ comprehension.
When it comes to journals, I still love putting an actual pen to paper, so I prefer writing in a physical journal (with a really pretty pen). But if colorful stationary and writing instruments don’t get your students’ attention, take advantage of electronic platforms like Penzu. Or if you tutor a group of students, create a blog with Edublogs or Google Classroom where you can view their journal assignments online.
After you determine where students will be collecting their thoughts, what’ll they be writing about? The writing prompts below are an effective way to encourage higher-order thinking skills and assess student learning. They ask students to reflect on their learning and help them build their metacognitive muscles.
This is a fancy word, but if you’ve been in education long enough, you’ve probably heard metacognition defined as “thinking about thinking.” Maybe you sigh a little bit (like I do) because it seems to oversimplify a complex term that has such a powerful effect on student learning.
To put it another way, metacognition is when a student understands their strengths and weaknesses as a learner and knows how to implement strategies in multiple learning situations to make sense of new information.
Some prompts you might use to help students with the process of metacognition:
- What strategies did you utilize today that helped you understand the material?
- What resources are available to you to reinforce what you’ve learned today?
- What comprehension strategy did you use to understand the information today?
Note: After reading a text, I ask students to respond to the reading by writing about the strategy that was most helpful. They can write in Spanish or English (depending on their level), so I’ll have the strategies in Spanish and English available on a bookmark or small poster for them to reference.
Sentence stems are also great to get students started in the right direction:
- At first I thought ___, but now ___.
- I’m still confused by ___. In order to better understand this concept, I need to ___.
- In order to be prepared for the next test/assignment/tutoring session, I need to ___.
If you have multiple students in a session and are using a blogging platform, have students pose one open-ended question to the group about the lesson for that day. Students must then respond to at least two questions from the group.
If students aren’t accustomed to responding this way, it’ll take some practice at first. You might have to model it yourself a time or two, but they’ll get the hang of it! You’re teaching them an important skill that they can use in any area of life!
2. Use Creative Writing to Get Students Thinking in Spanish
A reflective prompt is great to assess where a student is and help them decide what they need to do to further their learning. But that’s not all a journal can do!
Encouraging creative writing is a great way to get students thinking in Spanish, rather than translating back and forth. They’ll need to express their own, original ideas in Spanish, which is one of the fastest ways to get them engaged with the language and motivated to keep learning.
Here are some Spanish creative writing ideas:
- Have a couple of pictures available for students to choose from (with no words), and have students create a simple Spanish dialogue. You can create a few parameters (or not) like vocabulary you’d like them to use or a sentence structure or two.
Note: I’ve found that advertisements in magazines work great and are easy to get.
- Challenge your students with a timed writing. This is a great way to incorporate and practice both sentence structures and vocabulary. Give your students a prompt or picture and tell them to write as much as they can about it in one minute. Tell them not to worry about grammar or spelling, but just keep writing.
Typically, we would “grade” every other one by marking errors for spelling, code switching or grammatical structures, but only so students can measure the number of mistakes they’re making (and hopefully see a decrease over time!). The purpose isn’t just for the students to become more fluent and confident in their writing but also to be able to take note of their own progress.
- Create a simple poem. Have students create an acrostic, name poem, cinquain or haiku that contains important vocabulary from the lesson of that day.
Tip: It’s important to respond effectively. Giving thoughtful feedback on journals can become cumbersome, even if you’re only tutoring one student. Don’t try to respond every day, but it needs to be often enough that students take the entries seriously.
If student responses are in multiple formats that include both reflections and creative writing entries, have them choose a creative writing entry, as well as a reflective entry for you to provide feedback on at a frequency you can handle.
Sometimes I also just set aside time at the end of a session for them to share what they’ve written and I can give immediate feedback.
3. Teach Vocabulary Through Storytelling
Everyone loves a good story! TPRS is a great way to expose students to vocabulary in context and control comprehensible input. TPRS stands for Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling and was developed by Blaine Ray in the 1990s as an authentic way to engage world language students in the target language.
Whether you’re tutoring a group of students or just one, this activity works well.
The three basic steps you can incorporate into your tutoring lessons are:
- Introduce the vocabulary structures to be learned. These words are written on the board and translated. The teacher also practices using these words with gestures and asks questions involving the phrases. Possible vocabulary could be tiene hambre (he/she is hungry), tiene sed (he/she is thirsty) and tiene sueño (he/she is tired).
- Create a story in which the structures are repeated various times, but students have input into where the story goes. Typically, a “skeleton” story is prepared with character names and the general direction of the story, and there are purposeful stops planned where the teacher asks questions.
The questions are either yes/no questions, questions that require the use of the structures or questions that guide the direction of the story. Here’s how one might start:
Pedro va al restaurante porque tiene hambre. ¿Por qué va al restaurante? ¿Va porque tiene hambre o tiene sueño? ¿Primero se fue a la lavanderia? ¿Por qué no? (Pedro is going to a restaurant because he’s hungry. Why is he going to the restaurant? Is he going because he’s hungry or because he’s tired? Did he stop at the laundromat first? Why not?)
- Read the story you created, or choose another text that utilizes the structures and vocabulary. I’ve always preferred to type out the story we just created together and use it at the next tutoring session because I’ve found that students are more excited about the reading and are emotionally engaged. This is an opportunity to discuss any sticky grammar points, and to ask questions.
This might seem like an activity that’s only meant for a classroom setting, however, a tutoring session offers the opportunity to really personalize the story and the way the vocabulary is presented.
These are the basic points of TPRS, but as you become more knowledgeable about the steps and benefits, you’ll see a noticeable change in student motivation and learning! If this is an activity that you’d like to incorporate, you’ll find a ton of TPRS texts available online.
4. Engage a Range of Thinking Processes
There was a marked change in my lessons after attending a workshop on a warm, sunny afternoon in the spring a few years ago. This workshop taught me some of the strategies that help students learn best and retain information by engaging them.
I learned that the more areas of the brain a teacher can engage during an activity, the more likely the students will grasp a concept. Try to get your students to interact with Spanish in ways that require different types of thinking processes, such as creating linguistic connections or visually representing new language concepts.
Okay, so what does this actually look like in a lesson? Here are a few Spanish activities that I’ve used over the years that incorporate these ideas:
- Create similes, metaphors and analogies. Studies show the importance of linking and connecting new ideas to prior knowledge. This can be used to connect cultural knowledge, grammar structures and so much more. For example:
Compare wide reaching concepts: Subjunctive is to ___ as indicative is to ___ because ___.
Compare cultural facts: Franco is to Spain as ___ is to ___ because ___.
Practice adjectives: ___ (Student’s name) is as ___ (adjective) as a ___ and as ___ (another adjective) as a ___.
- Create a meme. Students use a website that generates memes and create one that reflects their own learning experience or highlights a concept. Depending on the student’s level, allow them to do it in Spanish or English. Be sure to have examples ready to show! Another idea is to allow them to translate memes and jokes written in Spanish.
- Utilize graphic organizers. Stimulating multiple parts of the brain, graphic organizers are visual representations that help students categorize and organize information. These are essential tools in the world language classroom.
5. Play Games with Them!
You’re accustomed to using games in your classroom. But if you only tutor one or two students, you’re probably wondering if it’s possible to make a game fun with only a couple of folks. It is! I might not play a game every session, but I’ve found them to be extremely effective in reviewing material.
Here are some I’ve had the most success with:
- Which word doesn’t belong? This is a great way to review a concept. Have flashcards ready with vocabulary you’ve been studying. Choose four of those words, three that are closely related and one that just doesn’t fit and place them in front of the students.
The students will have to guess which word doesn’t belong and say why. Do this three to five times and you can even add an extra element of drama by timing students.
Note: I’ve found it’s best to have the words chosen beforehand. Time is so valuable, so it’s best to be prepared.
- Categories: Similar to the game above, students are shown a list of words and concepts they’ve learned over a long period of time. Students then need to create two or three categories with the words.
- Flyswatter: Write important words on flashcards (about 10 to 20) and lay them out on the table. Give a student the flyswatter and set a timer to two minutes. Describe the word in the target language and the student has to swat the correct word. See how many the student can get correct in two minutes.
6. Focus on “Acceleration”
For a long time, tutoring has been seen as a method of remediation (going over past concepts that students didn’t understand), but recent studies have shown that if teachers were to use the tutoring sessions to “accelerate” learning instead of to remediate, it’d be much more beneficial to student learning.
Typically, tutoring sessions are designed for those students who are considerably behind the others in terms of their mastery of the material. So tutors would spend a great deal of time looking back and reviewing previously-covered material (remediation). Instead, acceleration asks tutors to look ahead at what’s coming up in class and give these students that are typically behind a “sneak peek” at what they’ll be seeing.
You’ll still focus on past concepts they haven’t mastered, but only those they’ll need in order to understand the upcoming skill (so you’ll need a student’s syllabus or a basic idea of the next concept they’ll be encountering).
The idea is that these students will receive additional time with a concept, giving them a confidence boost and successfully “accelerating” their learning. The activities you do during these sessions should be interactive and fun, and should build upon past skills that they’ll need to be successful and hit the major concepts they’ll see when the topic is presented in class.
Dive deeper into the process of acceleration with a book by Suzy Rollins, “Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put All Students on the Road to Academic Success,” but here are the basic steps:
- Begin with an engaging activity that encompasses the concept they’ll be learning.
- State the learning goal and expectation.
- Practice the essential prerequisite skills. This is when you’ll “fill in the gaps” of the information they’ll need in order to understand the new concept.
- Introduce new vocabulary and review previously-taught vocabulary.
- Dive into the new concept.
- Frequently assess.
For me, the biggest obstacle has been finding engaging activities for the first step. Here are a few I’ve had success with:
- Play “Yo tengo… ¿Quién tiene…?” (I have…Who has…?) with irregular verbs.
- Copy pages of a children’s book and have students put the text in order.
- Have pictures with short, descriptive sentences prepared on separate pieces of paper. Students put the sentences together with the correct picture.
There you go! Though a tutoring group might have a limited number of students, there’s no limit to the number of engaging activities you can do with them!
Take advantage of the small group size of a tutoring session to personalize lessons and activities. Stay away from dull worksheets and take students deeper in their learning with activities like these that’ll make your lessons memorable!