Do You Spend Enough Time Teaching Spanish Colors?
Pop quiz: What are the most fun words for Spanish students to learn?
Learning colors reminds students of the sense of playfulness that they used to have about learning.
For a little while, they get permission to feel like little kids again as they practice something that most toddlers who are native Spanish speakers can do effortlessly.
Too often, though, we feel pressured to rush through the words that—from a developmental standpoint—come first in language development (think colors, numbers, family members and farm animals, etc.).
Instead, we’re itching to get to the “meat” of the language: classroom vocabulary and grammar, common conversation starters and (of course!) verb conjugations.
Surely, given the time constraints, a day to pronounce the colors and practice them in class will be enough?
No way! Here’s why:
Why You Should Spend More Than a Day Teaching Colors in Spanish
Students make connections to new vocabulary
When students have mastered their colors, they can use colors to describe new vocabulary items as you teach them. For example, you can introduce new clothing vocabulary by labeling a visual, then immediately get students pronouncing and using the new words by describing what color their clothes are.
Connecting new vocabulary to words students already know also helps build neural pathways and makes learning the language easier than it would be to memorize a list of words in isolation. Because colors are so visual, they’re a natural way to build connections.
Helps your classroom remain Spanish-only
Colors are also very useful for circumlocution, as students can ask a question like, “¿Cómo se dice la cosa amarilla?” (How do you say the yellow thing?) to remain in the target language even when they’re not sure how to say something.
Makes learning fun
If you’re not totally convinced that you should take some extra time to teach colors at the beginning of the school year, consider this: Starting out with something fun will engage your students and give you a chance to get to know them in a low-key way.
Playing games that tap into the joy of learning is a great way to do some team building while still learning Spanish. When your students feel comfortable, they’ll approach Spanish with lower inhibitions and be willing to take more risks—a crucial trait that gets kids using the target language without worrying about making a mistake or sounding silly.
You can also capitalize on your students’ good will to get them to do some pronunciation exercises with the colors to work on their accents (a notoriously difficult thing to get middle and high schoolers to do!).
Teaching Spanish Colors for Mastery: You Need to Hit All the Modes
A great way to make sure your students really master their colors—so they’re able to use them when it counts—is to incorporate all three modes of communication into your lesson plans. In case you’ve forgotten these standards from your student teaching days, here’s a quick reminder:
- Interpretive: Students can understand colors when they hear or read them. Interpretive activities include having students follow oral or written directions, listen to a story or play a game following rules that incorporate the target language. These are usually pretty easy to incorporate into your classroom, since you’re used to talking and your students are used to listening.
- Presentational: Students can use the colors in a rehearsed situation. These activities can include making a PowerPoint or poster, giving a memorized (or semi-memorized!) speech, and role playing as part of a scripted activity. Presentational language includes both speaking and writing, and tends to make students nervous if you haven’t created a comfortable learning space.
- Interpersonal: Students can use colors to communicate with one another in spontaneous ways—not following a memorized script. Rather than performing a rehearsed skit, interpersonal activities ask students to gather information from each other, give each other directions and interact in authentic ways. These are the most important types of activities to get students really using the language, but they can be the most challenging to design.
To get students to master the colors, be sure to include activities from all three modes in your color unit. Check out the ideas below to get your students talking about the whole arco iris (rainbow).
8 Vibrant Activities for Teaching Spanish Colors
Teaching Spanish Colors in the Interpretive Mode
Once you’ve presented the colors and practiced pronouncing them, your students are ready to build their interpretive skills to get lightning fast at recognizing the colors.
Try these fun activities to give your students the practice they need to internalize this new vocabulary:
1. Color bingo
Make your bingo boards do double-duty by printing out cards with different colored numbers or shapes (like these). You can call out colors now, and save the numbers or shapes for later.
To differentiate instruction (and save your voice!), invite confident students to be the callers when they are ready. This also gives you a chance to work your way around the room to assess how well your students understand the colors being named.
2. TV time
Inject a dose of culture and fun into your lesson by showing your students authentic videos in Spanish!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
You can pause the scene in any video and ask students to circle the names of the colors they see on a printed list you provide.
3. Art projects
A great way to get students to follow directions using colors is to talk them through a simple art project. You can give directions in Spanish for coloring in a picture and have students follow along with the colors you name. (Bonus points for using flags of Spanish speaking countries for this project!)
As students learn the names for more classroom materials, you can also add cutting and folding into the mix for more complex art projects.
Teaching Spanish Colors in the Presentational Mode
Now that your students have confidence in following directions using color words, it’s time to get them talking. Have them do short presentations to show off their new skills. (Pro tip: Doing mini-presentations in small groups saves valuable class time and takes the pressure off of nervous students.)
Try these presentational activities to keep things fun:
4. Point and describe
Using artwork they made while following your directions during an interpretive activity, students can point to various parts and name the colors they used. It’s fast, it’s easy and it gets them talking. If they’re nervous, encourage them to practice the night before.
5. Label maker
For extra spelling practice, have students trade their coloring page or artwork with a partner and neatly label the colors they see. This can add a small element of surprise if each student’s art project is slightly different and will require a bit of flexibility—a valuable skill to develop when learning a new language.
6. Gallery walk
Inject some culture and art history into your color lessons by having students find and print out a painting by a famous Spanish-speaking artist (think Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí).
Hang them around the room and have half the class stroll the room to enjoy the art while the other half acts as a docent who describes the use of color in the paintings. Switch roles at the halfway point so everyone gets a chance to explore the artwork.
Teaching Spanish Colors in the Interpersonal Mode
Getting your students to move from rehearsed use of the language to spontaneous production is one of the major challenges of encouraging Spanish fluency. The best way to do this is to create games that force students to ask each other for a hidden piece of information. This gives them incentive to use the language to complete the task, offers a more “real” experience and forces them to think flexibly and creatively.
Try these easy games to get students talking to each other in new ways:
7. Guess who?
Have students sit in a circle and pair them up. One partner will choose a persona secreta (secret person) in the circle and describe him or her by naming the colors that person is wearing. The partner will guess the name of the persona secreta based on the clues.
If incorrect, the first student needs to give an additional color clue, and play continues until the second student guesses the persona secreta correctly. You can easily revisit this game as you add clothing and physical characteristics to your lessons.
8. Arte secreto
To play this game, provide pairs of students with a grid of nine numbered squares. One partner should sit with his or her back to the teacher; the other needs to sit facing both the teacher and partner.
As the teacher, you will reveal a grid that is already colored in (a different color in each numbered box). The student who can see you needs to describe how his or her partner should color in the grid by naming colors and numbers.
Because one student is flying blind, this activity forces students to use the target language to solve problems. Don’t forget to let them switch roles and try a new grid!
Taking Colors to the Next Level
As you can see, each of these games can be modified to incorporate all kinds of new vocabulary as your students become more advanced in the language. Colors can always be a part of the game as a warm-up and a way to differentiate your instruction to give everyone an avenue to success as the language becomes more challenging.
You can also revisit colors as you begin to teach the ins and outs of noun-adjective agreement in Spanish. Using colors as their first adjectives will make focusing on changing those endings a snap.
Now only one question remains: Which of these fun color activities will you try first?
Elizabeth Trach teaches Spanish in a public elementary school in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she co-authored the district’s original K-5 Spanish curriculum. In her spare time, she sings in a band and grows her own food. You can read about all her adventures at Port Potager.