Is your Spanish class as boring as a beanless burrito?
In other words, have your Spanish lessons grown monotonous?
As language teachers, it’s easy to let ourselves fall into the same ol’ routine.
This might be a routine we learned while learning to teach or something we’ve acquired over time.
Whatever the case, overreliance on the same routine is definitely not a good practice for language teachers and a sure recipe for student—and teacher—boredom. Walk in, greet the students, do some exercises from the textbook. Call on whomever raises their hand or speaks first. Give them homework for the next day. Do it again. And again. And again. And again.
Considering the fact that most language classes meet numerous times during a semester, repeating a routine on a daily basis for sixteen weeks or so can be painful. For all parties involved.
Some further ways Spanish teachers tend to cultivate classroom monotony include:
- Providing students with a never-ending supply of fill-in-the-blank verb worksheets (we’re all guilty of this) or using activities that do not allow students to be creative with the language (for example, “read the definitions and choose the vocabulary word that best corresponds”)
- Always falling back on the same types of activities (perhaps rote verb conjugation exercises)
- Always calling on the same students (the smarty pants who sits in the front row and always raises her hand)
- Allowing students to always work with the same group members (or worse, providing no opportunities at all for students to work in groups)
- Providing activities that are too long (for language learners whose attention span is around five to eight minutes, think “Sesame Street”)
- And last, but not worst: Providing predictable responses and reactions to student interactions: “Muy bien, Jaime, excelente. Muy bien, Melissa, excelente. Muy bien, Sandra, excelente. Excelente, Javier. Muy bien.”
What “Too Much of the Same Ol’…” Can Mean for Students
Really, too much monotony in the language classroom can mean more than just class being so predictable and unvarying that students feel as if they could have learned just as much from staying home and clicking through digital verb conjugation charts in their pajamas.
It can also mean instant apathy, loss of any and all interest in learning the language, loss of student motivation to perform their best and increased behavior issues (I’m not sure why these exist in the first place, but they do and boring classes can make them worse).
In sum, monotonous classes can mean the difference between a major in language and a major language dropout.
7 Tips for Teaching Exciting Spanish Classes That Totally Break the Mold
So, how can you deal with monotony in the classroom?
How can you give your students the vim and vigor needed to actually want to come to class every day and to (imagine!) actually want to do the work and to learn Spanish?
How can you “shake up” your classroom so that every class meeting does not consist of the typical roll call and activities laundry list, the same-thing-on-the-menu-as-always type stuff?
1. Vary Your Activities
One thing we can do as Spanish teachers is to make sure we’re providing a good variety of activities.
Activities that only come from the textbook can be very boring for students and oftentimes answers to them are already located in the back of the book anyway. So, why would students want to bother working on them in class?
Also, many book activities are designed to be done at home, where no interaction with anyone else is needed to complete them. In class, activities that are better suited for group or pair work provide students with more opportunities for speaking and for being creative with the language.
If you don’t have time to design your own supplementary activities from scratch, there’s a plethora of them just waiting for you online. These don’t have to take the form of worksheets, either. Some very legit activities require very little material or preparation. But, they’ve still got spunk and students will love them. You might check out, for instance, these vocabulary games or these grammar games that are sure to get students excited about learning or this jazzy assortment of speaking activities.
There are also good activities to be found in other textbooks (not just your own) as well. You can always photocopy a page (or two) of them as handouts.
2. Let Students Express Themselves
Students are students (of course), not robots. Give students a variety of activities that allow them to express their ideas freely, not just rote (and boring) fill-in-the-blanks with the conjugated verb or correct vocabulary item.
Make sure you’re including activities that allow them to practice speaking, listening, reading and writing. You’ll also want to bring in activities that introduce them to cultural aspects of Spanish too. It’s hard to cover each and every one of these points every single day (especially when pressed for time to cover whatever comes next on the syllabus) but these elements should all find their way into the classroom as often as possible.
Using authentic materials is also a sure way to pique students’ curiosity. If you aren’t good at locating authentic materials or haven’t traveled to Salamanca recently to replenish your stash, you can find a fast and friendly way to gather these here (Latin Americanists, adapt accordingly or click here for more ideas).
3. Get Everyone Involved
Avoid calling on the first student to raise his or her hand. Don’t end up allowing the same students to always provide answers just because they’re the first ones to speak up. Sometimes the first students to volunteer just enjoy being the center of attention, have friends that speak the language or have more study abroad experience than others.
After posing a question, give it the ten second rule. Count to ten and then find someone to call on. This will give other students more time to formulate their answers. You’ll be surprised by how many hands have shot up after taking a short pause.
4. Mix Up Groups
Group work has become more common in recent years because it gives students a chance to actually practice speaking in the language, enhance their listening skills and interact with others to negotiate meaning. Group work can become monotonous, however, when students choose to work with the same groups day in and day out (oh, and they will!)
When groups of more than two are allowed to remain the same, it’s likely that they’ll assume a pattern where one student does all the talking, one student does all the writing and one just steals glances at his or her iPhone the whole time. The solution?
Encourage students to choose different group members. Consider requiring each student to work with someone they’ve never spoken to before from time to time. Assign the groups yourself every so often and see what happens. Students usually dislike changing groups once they’ve been established, but if you stress to them the importance of working with new group members, it’s likely that this will be met with less resistance.
5. Have Fun with Teaching
Allow yourself to be as natural and spontaneous as you are outside of the classroom. Don’t just go through each class as if it were part of the same script as the rest.
Remember to let your personality show. Tell some jokes, begin or end the class a different way each time or just start improvising. Get feedback from students on what they want to see more of. You’ll find that students will welcome this shakeup and be more spontaneous and creative themselves!
6. Teach Something “Just Because!”
Don’t be afraid to share something you just discovered or find particularly cool that you think students might be interested in knowing. Even if it’s not directly related to what students are studying in class, it could do wonders for their interest level.
Taking five minutes to tell students about a cool video game you found in Spanish and showing them a few bits of gameplay footage could help keep them interested in the subject, especially if you yourself are enthused about it.
7. Keep an Eye Out
Finally, always be on the lookout for new ways to shake up your Spanish classes. Talk to colleagues about what they do to add variety to their classes or ask if you can use an activity or two from their repertoire.
Attend professional workshops and conferences to get new ideas and learn about new learning products and teaching strategies that have worked particularly well for others (plus, you often get free stuff at teaching conferences! Yay, free stuff!) Read articles about teaching Spanish (like this one!) from time to time. Check out some new textbooks, websites or language learning apps whenever you feel things are getting a little stale.
Increasing variety in your classroom isn’t difficult, but it is essential. Whenever your class is feeling wound down, be sure to shake them up!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you’re excited to mix things up and have fun with your students, then you’ll love FluentU.
How can video clips aid Spanish teachers in class? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Spanish videos that people in the Spanish-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles. If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly. This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “quiz” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In quiz mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Use FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store or for your Android device from Google Play!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.