Sonrisas Spanish Blog

Sonrisas Feature Teacher

SunMeet Katy Harris

Katy Harris began teaching kindergarten in 1993 in Steamboat Springs, CO after attending the University of Arizona and receiving her degree in elementary education with a minor in Spanish and an endorsement in bilingual education. In 2005 Katy took a break from teaching to raise her two boys. During this time she tutored and taught Spanish to a homeschool co-op group of elementary through middle school students. When she returned to teaching in the public schools in 2012, she taught reading intervention and then landed a job teaching Spanish at Soda Creek Elementary School in Steamboat. Katy teaches grades K-5th , seeing almost 600 students once per week for fifty minutes as part of the Specials team. In her first year teaching Spanish, she traveled to the different classrooms with a cart, which was very challenging. She is now fortunate to have her own classroom where she creates a lively and immersive Spanish environment. Soda Creek Elementary recently received the John Irwin School of Excellence award given by the Colorado Department of Education.


BookHow Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Katy

Katy uses Sonrisas Level I and Level II for her K-3rd grade students, and she adapts content from those lessons for her 4th and 5th graders. She recently purchased Sonrisas Level III and is planning on diving in with that for her older students. Katy loves the literature that accompanies the lessons, and she feels that the storybooks really help her connect with her students. She says that the literature helps them to stay grounded in their Spanish—especially when she has only a limited amount of time with them. She also appreciates how the storybooks in the lessons are effective at helping students retain language concepts. In short, Katy thinks that the Sonrisas lessons really stick with her students.


lightbulb4Teaching Tips from Katy

A common practice for Katy is to have students hold on to the art projects from the lessons so that she can use them for review. She’ll have students write phrases, vocabulary, and questions from the lessons on their art projects and then review with them—often times holding on to them for weeks—before sending them home. Katy’s 1st-5th grade students have composition books in which they glue many of the art projects and write key phrases and vocabulary. Katy will then use these for review throughout the year. This also provides her students with a nice portfolio-like product that they can use for reading and review and that they can show to parents at the end of the year.

In her classroom, Katy sets up a variety of different stations for her students where they can practice their Spanish through reading, writing, games, and interacting with the many visuals in the room. Her younger students do an activity where they “write around the room”—they search for words from the various classroom visuals and write them on white boards. Katy also mentions that she likes to keep her students moving.


heart4What Inspires Katy

Katy loves the subject she teaches and believes that learning languages is fascinating. She likes that she gets to have a lot of fun with her job, and she enjoys singing, acting, and being dramatic. She loves the energy of working with children and having the opportunity to learn alongside them. She feels that teaching elementary Spanish is a great profession because she gets to grow and learn more every day. Katy really enjoys that she is able to help kids realize that learning Spanish is an attainable goal.

Circle TimeIf you would like to connect with Katy, you can do so by emailing her at


Sonrisas Feature Teacher celebrates teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum and tells their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at

SunMeet Irene Quinonez

Irene holds both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in education from Arizona State University with a minor in Spanish. After a thirty-year career as a teacher and curriculum specialist in the Mesa Unified School District, she retired and went into the mortgage business for nine years. Irene was approached by the principal at Christ the King Catholic School in Mesa, Arizona about teaching Spanish, and she accepted. She is in her sixth year of teaching there, and she teaches eleven different classes in grades K-8. When Irene started teaching Spanish, she noted that the school did not have any teaching materials that were appropriate for young children. She knew they needed something exciting, special, and engaging.

BookHow Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Irene

The Sonrisas Spanish curriculum helped reaffirm for Irene that she was going in the right direction and teaching what children needed to be taught. Because of the time frame of her classes, Irene uses the teacher’s manual to pick and choose activities that work well with her classes. She loves using the songs in her classes and appreciates how they keep her students engaged. Her students love the songs on the Sonrisas CD so much that they often sing them completely on their own. Irene tells the story of the kindergarten teacher taking her children on a field trip to the Phoenix Zoo. When the children saw the elephants, they began singing the song “Un elefante” (track #7 on the Sonrisas CD) to the elephants in their enclosure! Needless to say, the kindergarten teacher as well as visitors were surprised to hear the children singing in Spanish. Irene also utilizes the storybooks not just with her younger students, but across the grade levels.

lightbulb4Teaching Tips from Irene

Irene’s advice to teachers is to start slowly and realize that you do not have to teach your students everything right away. It is more important to take the time to determine what your students’ needs are and then do what you have to do to meet those needs. In regard to native speakers in Spanish class, Irene believes that we need to assess where they are and move forward from there. She recognizes that while many of them know how to speak Spanish, they do not know how to read or write Spanish, and they have much to gain from Spanish class.

Irene also offers this idea for teaching colors. Cover some food boxes and cans with colored paper. Then you can do a variety of the following:

  • Put the items in a grocery bag. Unpack the grocery bag, one at a time, and ask children to give you the name of the color.
  • Set out the colored items. Select one student to choose an item. Let that child say the name of the color in English. Another child then gives the Spanish word for that color.
  • Have students pack up the grocery bag. As they put each item in the bag, have them say the name of the color in Spanish.


heart4What Inspires Irene

Irene is inspired by being with children and seeing the love they have for learning. She enjoys hearing stories from her students about them being in their community—for example in a restaurant—and then telling her that they heard Spanish and were able to understand it. She is also rewarded by the love her students show her and the opportunity to give it back.

Circle TimeIf you would like to connect with Irene, you can visit her teacher page on the Christ the King School website or email her at


Sonrisas Feature Teacher celebrates teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum and tells their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at

SunMeet Rebecca Schackow

Rebecca graduated from the University of Florida in 1999 with a degree in Spanish and Education. She moved to Denver, CO where she helped create the elementary and middle school Spanish program at St. Thomas Moore Catholic School. After teaching for two years, Rebecca moved back to Florida and spent twelve years raising her children. Two years ago she was offered the opportunity to teach Spanish at Brentwood School in Gainesville. Rebecca teaches Spanish to every class at Brentwood—two year olds to 5th grade—with each level receiving one class per week ranging from 15 to 30 minutes long. She travels to the preschool classrooms, and the elementary students come to her Spanish room for class.

BookHow Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Rebecca

Rebecca started using Sonrisas Level I with all of her classes last year. The content was the same for everyone, but she differentiated the activities for age, space, and length of class time. She does not do any of the art projects with the preschoolers—instead doing a completely oral class with the songs, games, and stories. Rebecca appreciates the literature component of the Sonrisas curriculum. She remarks, “Children love books!” Rebecca values the time saved planning and trying to find good books in Spanish, with good illustrations, that fit the topics her students are studying. She says, “Sonrisas has done that research for me—what a gift!” Rebecca follows the Sonrisas curriculum pretty closely and moves at a slow and steady pace with her students. Last year she completed twelve lessons from Sonrisas Level I, and she expects to complete another twelve lessons this year. Last December Rebecca’s fourth and fifth grade classes practiced and performed the “Las Posadas” play (Lesson 32 in Sonrisas Level I) for some of the younger classes. They studied the history behind Las Posadas and practiced speaking and singing the lines of the play that is included in the curriculum. With simple costumes and props they performed the play, and it was wonderful.

lightbulb4Teaching Tips from Rebecca

Rebecca suggests that teachers need to be willing to look up something or create a new lesson plan if students show a real interest in a particular topic. For example, one of her students asked if they could learn the dance “Macarena.” Rebecca found a teaching video on YouTube, learned the dance, and taught it to her students. It was a lot of fun and a great way to get the wiggles out before class. Students learned about who wrote the song, who made the dance, where the song originated, and more. Rebecca says, “It was a great lesson—and one that I had never intended!”

heart4What Inspires Rebecca

Rebecca is inspired by learning. She loves to learn new things, and she loves to help people learn new things. She has loved studying and learning Spanish throughout her life and is thankful to be able to share what she knows with the children at Brentwood School. She finds Spanish to be a beautiful language that is fun to learn. Rebecca hopes to pass along her love of the language to her students.

Circle TimeIf you would like to connect with Rebecca you can reach her at or visit


Sonrisas Feature Teacher celebrates teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum and tells their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at


Sun  Meet Sonja Whisman

Sonja began teaching in southern California in the early 90´s where she taught primary classes in grades K-3 (one being a K-2 combo for native speakers in Spanish). In the mid 90’s she moved to Texas and then Iowa where she home-schooled her children for seven years. Sonja worked as a substitute in Iowa, and as the local school districts learned that she could speak Spanish, she was called frequently for long-term Spanish substitute teaching jobs. She found that she really enjoyed it, and she discovered that the Midwest has vibrant foreign language programs. She enjoyed teaching Spanish so much that she went back to college to earn her Spanish language teaching credential for Iowa. Sonja’s first position was at Goodrell International Baccalaureate middle school in Des Moines, Iowa. Three years ago she moved to Arizona and was hired last year to teach Spanish at Mountain View Preparatory International Baccalaureate school in Cottonwood. IB schools require a foreign language to be taught at all levels. Sonja currently teaches Spanish for grades K-8 using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She teaches the primary grades twice per week for 30 minutes and the upper grades twice per week for 40 minutes.

Book  How Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Sonja

Sonja appreciates the organization and natural approach of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She enjoys the songs, games, books to read, and art projects. She really loves the time that the independent projects give her to check each student’s understanding, one-on-one. She uses the curriculum suggestions for how to teach the different segments of the lessons, such as Circle Time, and she appreciates the focus on teaching to the multiple intelligences. Sonja uses Sonrisas Spanish in all grades and supplements the curriculum with additional vocabulary and grammatical concepts for her upper grades. Being a musician herself, her favorite part of the curriculum is the music, which she uses with all her classes—accompanying the class on her ukulele. She enjoys repeating the songs through the grade levels and believes that this repetition is helpful for her students. Sonja says, “Families who have siblings at our school have enjoyed the fact that their older and younger children can sing together at home and report that they frequently do (as well as reenact different lessons and activities)!” For Sonja, the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum has been fun to implement, easy to apply and easy to adapt. Her principal and the entire staff at Mountain View Preparatory have been very pleased with the results, and they are happy to have happy students of all ages enjoying Spanish.

lightbulb4  Teaching Tips from Sonja

Being a former English language Spalding-style reading teacher, Sonja feels that consistent practice in physically making the sound-symbol connection in any language is important. She includes in each day a short practice of sounding, writing, counting out (each student with a whiteboard and dry erase marker), and pronouncing current vocabulary words or sentences syllable by syllable. During the “sílabas” portion of class, students eagerly learn how to use the Spanish articles, other grammatical concepts, and new vocabulary. The entire school (460+ students) has responded very favorably to this, saying that this practice helps them very much with learning new words, understanding how Spanish words are written, and knowing what is expected from them on their independent work.

Sonja also has interpreted and incorporated many concepts and practices of Chris Biffle’s Whole Brain Teaching into her Spanish lessons, which has added another level of fun and motivation. (She says, “As if the Sonrisas Curriculum needed any more!”) These class management methods and techniques for good teaching incorporate a lot of physical movement and verbal response, keeping “teacher talk” down to around 50%.

heart4  What Inspires Sonja

Sonja loves to see children using their creative juices as they learn a foreign language because she feels that it gives them a feeling of freedom—that it is ok to try things, that it is ok to make mistakes, and that it is ok to have fun—all at the same time. She believes that barriers to learning come down as children express themselves in music, art, dramatizing the lyrics to a song, or performing skits. This seems to her to be the most natural and painless way to learn a language. She feels that learning a new language should be something like going on an interesting journey.

If you would like to connect with Sonja, you can do so by finding her on Facebook or by visiting the Mountain View Preparatory website at .


Sonrisas Feature Teacher honors exceptional teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum by telling their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at

Fehl photo2Sun  Meet Debra Fehl

Debra has been teaching elementary Spanish at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, NJ for six years. She started her career teaching literature, reading, and writing in grades 7-12. She then worked as an assistant in Pre-K at Rutgers Preparatory School where she learned all about early childhood development from the lead teacher. When the school needed a Spanish teacher, Debra stepped in to fill the position. Debra appreciates the cultural diversity at Rutgers Preparatory School and the fact that the school offers Spanish at the elementary level and five different world languages at the secondary level. Rutgers Preparatory School is the oldest independent school in New Jersey—celebrating their 250th anniversary this year! Debra teaches Spanish in grades K thru 5th with a schedule that goes from teaching twice per week for 30 minutes in the early grades to teaching three to five times per week for 45 minutes in the upper grades.

Book  How Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Debra

Debra appreciates the organization of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She likes how each lessons spells out which songs to sing, which books to read, and which projects to do. She finds it helpful that the curriculum explains how to teach the different segments of the lessons, such as Circle Time, and she likes how the curriculum connects to methodologies such as teaching to the multiple intelligences. Debra uses Sonrisas Spanish 100% for her early grades and implements different parts of the curriculum for her upper grades. Her favorite part of the curriculum is the music and the books which she uses with all her classes—she enjoys repeating the songs through all the grades and believes that this repetition is helpful for her students. For Debra, the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum has been easy to apply and easy to adapt.

lightbulb4  Teaching Tips from Debra

Debra uses puppets or stuffed animals to engage her students in conversation. For example: she will have her young students greet a puppet and introduce themselves to it using the phrase, “Hola Señor Plátano, me llamo ___.” She repeats this activity for up to six months until her students have mastered this very practical language usage. Debra also uses a mystery box to practice vocabulary with her students. They get to pull an object out of the mystery box, and then they say, “Yo tengo ___.” Debra emphasizes that she tries to keep her classes as fun as possible. She believes that speaking a new language can be intimidating for students, so she tries to make it as enjoyable and comfortable for them as she can.

heart4  What Inspires Debra

Debra is inspired by getting to watch children of all ages learn a new language through play and music. She says, “I get to set the tone for them, for years to come, that learning a new language and culture is fun and exciting, and it opens new doors for them.” Debra truly gets a lot of pleasure out of watching how much children can enjoy learning—and that inspires us.

If you would like to connect with Debra, you can do so by clicking on her social media links or by visiting the Rutgers Preparatory School websitefb  twitter  insta


Sonrisas Feature Teacher honors exceptional teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum by telling their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at