Connecting vocabulary to our students

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?

Who and what are your students interested in?

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.



About spanishplans

Spanish Teacher in Chicago. Have studied or traveled to Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Uruguay. Have taught level 1 at middle and high school levels. Degree in Spanish and Master's in Teaching and Leadership. Blogger
This entry was posted in Discussion/Methodology, Vocabulary and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Connecting vocabulary to our students

  1. Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t of agree more!! My students immediately took some interest when we described and use the likes and dislikes of One Direction, Pretty Little Liars, Chicago Bears, Kermit the Frog and Superheroes!! I’ve gotten their attention from day one because I don’t really care and they don’t really care about what “Juan” likes or what he looks like.

  2. Kara says:

    I told a curriculum guy this past weekend that I would never teach chores again. No más! He said ok and reminded me it is more important to connect to the students. Great post! I’m glad I’m not alone. 🙂

  3. Cristina Zimmerman says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I couldn’t agree with you more. (And heard myself saying the exact same thing about staying in the TL to my students.)

  4. Jordan Y says:

    I do agree that teaching chores is always a bit mind numbing and some vocabulary isn’t immediately relevant

    However, to play the devil’s advocate… if we only teach words that are immediately relevant to students and interesting to them, how will they be able to eventually understand texts/audio that are not at all familiar? I guess I’m thinking in the long term here since I teach all levels of Spanish in my high school, but in upper level classes I certainly see words like ajedrez and patinar pop up in readings. I don’t think there’s such thing as an unnecessary word.

    On an even bigger scale though, I teach ajedrez every year and have success with it. First, there are students who play chess and enjoy it. They’re just not the ones who are going to say that they do. But even more, teaching the word ajedrez also gives me the opportunity to teach a slew of other negative words and phrases like aburrido, me aburre, no me gusta, etc. Who says they only have to talk about things they like? Let them bash on ajedrez all they like, but at least it will be meaningful language use! If students are only talking about things they like, I don’t think they would have as many opportunities to practice these phrases.

    At any rate, I think it’s very important to make things engaging for students. Chores, I honestly have no idea how to teach those in an interesting way, but at the same time students need to know common words such as limpiar, lavar, recoger… but perhaps we could do away with sacudir and aspirar. Who knows… I’ve always hated teaching those words!

    Awesome post! I really liked the ideas you presented!

    • Anonymous says:

      I definitely agree about the need for relevant vocabulary and I like what you said, Jordan, about letting kids talk about what they don’t do or don’t like. We carved out a place for limited chores in our district Level 1 curriculum by using them as reasons for negotiating plans- “Do you want to go to the movies at 6:30?” –“Well, I have to wash my clothes and clean the kitchen. Can we go at 7:30?”
      I like to call this type of curricular editing “grilling up a sacred cow” based on the quote, “Sacred cows make the best steaks.” It has been tough for some colleagues to let go of teaching body parts (Hello, this is my elbow–nope, not much of a conversation starter) and (gasp!) the hotel/train station units. The upshot is that now there is time to talk about more interesting things, such as stereotypes and what people do for fun in different TL locations. It’s good to have some company at the “sacred cow BBQ”. Cheers!

  5. Diego Ojeda says:

    I agree with both, the article’s writer and with Jordan Is just about finding balance.

  6. Ann Marie Lahti says:

    I agree that there are often words on the word lists that students are about as likely to use as I am to use the English word “defenistrate” in daily conversation. My issue is that there are several of us that teach the same levels at my school, and some insist that “these” words must be taught and will be on their tests throughout the year. Our students change classes, and often teachers, at semester, so if we aren’t teaching the same words, the kids will have to work doubly hard to cram for their test in a different class (’cause that’s what most of them do) because one teacher wants to connect to the kids. I guess you’ve got to balance things in light of your circumstances.

  7. Michelle says:

    I totally agree with the whole concept of this article. no middle schooler or high schooler could give a crap. then again, when i lived with host mothers in Spain and Mexico there were MANY discussions about chores and “their ways” of doing things. e.g. In Spain they iron everything–even underwear; In Mexico they don’t have carpet to vacuum (etc.). It was a good cultural connection–maybe something not so applicable in a classroom but a very relevant learning experience studying abroad and living with a host family of a different culture.

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