I realized something important this week while going over our unit’s vocabulary. The vocabulary is “household chores”, part of the “House Unit”. After the initial vocab introduction, we started talking about what chores students do. I quickly realized that most of my students don’t do any chores at all. So it’s difficult to “say what chores my siblings and I have to do” and “how often” as our objectives would require.
During one oral activity when students were to walk around the room and ask their classmates questions, I had to interject to keep them in the target language. I reminded them the point of the activity was not to get every line filled with an answer, but rather to be practicing their communication. In doing so, I made a comment that left me questioning the purpose of the unit. I said “Do you really care if Johnny washes the dishes and how often he does it? No, of course not. That’s not the point. The point is to be communicating.”
But how can we expect children to want to speak in the target language if they are talking about something they have no interest in. Let’s be realistic; Nobody cares about what chores their classmates do. How engaging is talking about chores? Why are we even teaching these words?! How often is Johnny going to encounter a Spanish speaker and tell them that he rarely vacuums the floor?
Sure, eventually, in order to become fluent, knowing specific vocabulary like household chores would be useful. But if we want to keep our beginning levels students interested in the language, we have to make the learning both USEFUL and INTERESTING. You can bet that is the last time I will be teaching vocabulario de los quehaceres.
I did a quick, informal survey with my students today and asked them what activities they do at home and what topics they wanted to learn in Spanish. Some of the more popular responses were in regards to Sports, TV, Celebrities, and using the Computer. So why are we wasting our time with teaching such words like “ajedrez” and “patinar” if our students really don’t do those activities. Instead we should be teaching “mandar un texto”, “ver un video por Youtube”, “comentar en facebook” and activities that are students are interested in. Don’t just stick with the vocabulary that is in your textbook. Remember, words are not part of your curriculum. I doubt your curriculum says to teach “patinar” with “me gusta”, but rather states to “talk about likes and dislikes”, so let’s actually give students the words for the activities they really like to do.
And when it comes to the textbook, do your students really want to describe a picture of some guy named “Juan” on page 25 of some textbook or would they rather describe the members of One Direction or characters from their favorite TV show or movie? We must connect with our students if we want them to connect with the language.
I brought in some teen magazines I had purchased in Argentina and immediately my students were interested in picking them up and looking through them. Have them read about “Pobre Ana” and ask yourself “Why would they care?”
Here are 2 teen magazines online that have articles your students are going to WANT to read. Click on the image to be taken to the website.