Sonrisas Spanish Blog

You probably are without even realizing it, because it just makes sense. In her book, Beyond Bilingualism: Multilingualism and Multilingual Education, Myriam Met describes what content-based language instruction looks like. Content-based language instruction reflects the real-life language needs of students.1 This is consistent with a focus on communicative language as opposed to language skills in isolation. It provides students with the opportunity to use language as it functions in the real world. Content-based instruction allows the teacher to communicate authentic meanings, for authentic purposes, and to accomplish authentic tasks. A teacher takes a thematic and a problem-solving approach to curriculum design, creating real or simulated real-life tasks.2 Vocabulary and grammar are taught in clusters related to the given content, but meaning is always the focus of instruction, experiences, and tasks.

Ideally an elementary Spanish curriculum allows for a deep level of cognitive engagement that is appropriate to the language proficiency level of the students. In order to be effective, students must have the language proficiency needed to meet the demands of the content instruction. For example, determining the kinds of houses most appropriate to different climates is significantly more cognitively demanding than simply looking out the window to describe today’s weather, or describing one’s ideal house.3 However, looking out the window every day to describe weather and drawing one’s ideal house are development activities that help foster a level of language proficiency needed to reach the higher cognitive demands of determining the type of house appropriate for different climates.

When teaching limited-proficiency students, it is important to choose content that is connected to concrete experiences. This means that instruction includes lots of visual aids and hands-on activities that allow for comprehensible input.4 For example, a science experiment or demonstration often allows for meaning to be conveyed through the experience itself. Well-illustrated literature, either fiction or non-fiction, provides comprehensible input by conveying the meaning of the text through the pictures in the story.

For the youngest language learners (preK-1), content-based instruction means exchanging information about personal needs, wants, and preferences, and the ability to talk about the world around them. If we look at early elementary content taught in other subject areas, we can create Spanish language lessons that enforce developing skills in math, colors, days of the week, months of the year, families, homes of people and animals, and community.5 Furthermore, we can use the language classroom to support physical education, gross and fine-motor skills, music education, rhythm, awareness of self, culture and community, geography, civics and service, fine arts, performing arts, and physical and emotional health.

There is a broad spectrum of content-based language curricula. On one end of the spectrum is content-driven instruction. This is found primarily in immersion programs where 50-100% of a student’s school day is conducted in the second language. On the other end of the spectrum is language-driven, content-based instruction. This is most commonly found in FLES programs, where a teacher has designated periods throughout the week to teach the second language.6 In these classrooms, language instruction reinforces content, but students receive primary content instruction in English. These language programs are also referred to as content-related programs. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum can be considered a language-driven, content-related program.

Even though a FLES teacher may not be required to teach content from the core subjects, this doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t. Language teachers are able to teach content that classroom teachers may not feel they have time to teach. Content such as global and social awareness, cultural tolerance, gross and fine motor skills, music, and art are extremely valuable for developing children, These subjects lend themselves perfectly to language instruction, and meet the content-based definition of communicating authentic meaning, for authentic purposes, to accomplish authentic tasks.

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[1] Met, Myriam. “Curriculum Decision-Making in Content-based Language Teaching.” Ed. Cenoz, Jasone, and Fred Genesee. Beyond Bilingualism: Multilingualism and Multilingual Education. (Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1998) 36.

2 Met, 36.

3 Met, 38.

4 Met, 42-43.

5 Met, 43.

6 Met, p. 40


We have all heard about the importance and need for collaboration among educators. Grade-level teachers should collaborate to align outcomes. Within content areas, teachers should collaborate to align standards and instructional practices. Administrators should collaborate to become better instructional coaches. What about preschool and elementary Spanish teachers? Many of us work alone, with no other foreign language teachers on our campus. Many of us don’t even have a classroom. Most of our colleagues don’t understand foreign language education. Even though all of this may be true, the fact is that elementary and preschool teachers should collaborate too.

The benefits of collaboration in education are widely-recognized. Teachers experience greater job satisfaction. Instruction becomes more efficient and effective. Student achievement increases. The challenge for preschool and elementary Spanish teachers is that we often work alone, in a subject that is not understood by most, and we may not feel a real connection to the staff in our schools. That being said, there are ways to overcome these obstacles and engage in meaningful collaboration that will benefit you and your students.

  • Even though there may not be other foreign language teachers at your school, you can still gain insights into instructional practices and classroom management from other content-area teachers. Make the time to talk to other teachers at your school. You may not share planning time with other teachers, so seek them out during their planning time or go to the teachers’ lounge during lunch time. Have specific questions for them. Most teachers are happy to share knowledge and experience.
  • Seek out other foreign language teachers in your district and find a time to meet with them regularly. Even if you do this just once a semester, it will help you.
  • Join a professional organization such as NNELL or ACTFL. Both of these organizations have a wealth of resources for foreign language teachers. Sonrisas Spanish also offers the Sonrisas Spanish Community Forum where you can share tips, ask questions, and read articles related to using the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum.
  • Do some professional reading.
  • Talk to the principal of your school. Increasingly, administrators are being asked to take on the role of instructional leaders. Take advantage of this. Many principals have a background as a classroom teacher, and their insights can be of great value.

The amazing thing about collaboration is that often the simple act of sharing your ideas and listening to others’ ideas can change your perspective and give you new energy and direction.

During the recent break for the holidays, Blue and I were talking about one of the most overlooked and valuable strategies for teachers — reflection. Reflection gives you the opportunity to ask yourself, “What is working in my teaching? What is not working? What do I need to change and how can I do it? What do I want my students to come away with when they are finished with my class?” These are important questions, but while we are in the thick of planning, prepping, and teaching it is challenging to find the time to address them. When you reflect on your teaching you come face-to-face with what I feel is one of the joys of teaching — the intellectual challenge of constant improvement. It is all too easy to fall into a teaching routine where things are going ok, but you are not really striving to improve. Because teaching is such a complex and dynamic endeavor there is always opportunity for change and improvement, but this requires reflection. It requires the intellectual effort to ask meaningful questions and take specific actions to improve. If you can carve out the time to do this—whether it is once a week, once a month, or once a semester—your teaching will be more effective, and your students will benefit.

Sonrisas Spanish creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based Spanish lessons for children.

Here at Sonrisas Spanish we are big fans of good books, and by “good books” we mean books that are effective at teaching Spanish to children. Quiero a los Animales, by Flora McDonnell, is a good book. It includes two important elements of an effective teaching book: illustrations that convey the meaning of the text and clear, thematic vocabulary that allows for multiple teaching opportunities.

Quiero a los animales has huge, gorgeous illustrations. The sheer size of each one, covering both the left and right-hand pages of the book, engages children’s imagination and draws them into the story. The illustrations are not only beautiful, but they are also effective teaching tools because they explicitly convey the meaning of the text on each page and enable multiple teaching opportunities. Take this page for example:

There is a simplicity to the illustrations that at the same time captures a vibrancy and vivaciousness of the animals that are portrayed. Part of this feeling comes from the expressions on the animals’ faces.

The vocabulary in Quiero a los animales is focused around the theme of animals, me gusta, and me encanta. Either of these themes is an obvious choice to teach using this book, but each page contains multiple teaching opportunities. After reading the this page to students, a teacher can draw students into the story and work with multiple language chunks such as:

—     Me gusta la cabra. ¿Te gusta la cabra a ti?

—     Mira la cara de la cabra. ¿Cómo está la cabra?

—     Mira el pelo de la cabra. ¿De qué color es? (los cuernos, los ojos, la nariz, etc.)

—     ¿La cabra camina, o la cabra corre?

—     Mira la correa de la cabra. ¿Está rota?

It is this combination of great illustrations, simplicity of text, and depth of teaching opportunities that makes Quiero a los animales so wonderful. I would highly recommend it if you are in need of a good book. Quiero a los animales is now available in the Sonrisas Bookstore.

Our new Level I Student Workbooks provide students with fun activities that help to strengthen their comprehension, reading, and writing skills. The workbooks can also be used as a valuable assessment tool for teachers. As mentioned in the previous post, the workbook activities directly support the performance guidelines and communication objectives for each lesson. As a result, teachers are able to use the work that students do as a formative assessment for each lesson.

The assessment rubrics that accompany the Sonrisas Spanish lessons include the communication objective as the goal while the performance guidelines serve as a baseline measure for “Meets expectations,” “Does not meet expectations,” and “Exceeds expectations.” The purpose of the assessment is to show that a student demonstrates useful and meaningful language skills, as measured by the performance guidelines, in order to achieve the communication objectives.

The work that students do in the workbooks activities can provide evidence for many of the performance guidelines in the assessment rubrics. Teachers can use the rubric to determine which performance guidelines are addressed in each workbook activity. They can then check student work to see if it “meets expectations”, “does not meet expectations”, or “exceeds expectations” and record the outcome in the correct column of the rubric. In this way, the workbooks provide teachers with one more piece that helps them to assess their students’ language acquisition. Ideally, teachers use anecdotal observation, oral assessments during art projects, and examples from student work in the workbooks to complete the assessment rubric.

Sonrisas Spanish creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based Spanish lessons for children.

As mentioned in our previous post, we did not want to create student workbooks that merely provided busy-work for students. The activities in our new Level I Student Workbooks provide students with an opportunity to do independent work that develops their comprehension, reading, and writing skills in Spanish. The workbook activities engage students in the interpretive mode of communication. Students are required to read text, answer information, interpret questions, and demonstrate comprehension by completing a task or writing.

Each workbook activity corresponds directly with each lesson in Sonrisas Level I. Each lesson has a Communication Objective and Performance Guidelines. The Performance Guidelines indicate what students can do with the language to achieve the Communication Objective. The activities in the workbook give students practice with the performance guidelines in the context of doing a “worksheet” type of activity. Students have to read the directions for each activity, then complete the task. While directions are in both Spanish and English, all tasks are completed in Spanish. The workbooks also include lots of fun illustrations that students can color. Here are some examples of what students can do with the workbooks.

  • In the workbook activity for Lesson 2, Hola y adiós , students recall the meaning of hola and adiós and then write them appropriately in the depicted scenario.
  • In the workbook activity for Lesson 10, Mi cuerpo , students read the words for the different body parts and then demonstrate comprehension by labeling the body parts correctly.
  • In the workbook activity for Lesson 24, Yo veo , students read questions and then demonstrate comprehension by writing an answer using the given vocabulary.

In our next post we’ll explore how teachers can use the workbooks as a valuable assessment tool.

Sonrisas Spanish creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based Spanish lessons for children.

For many years, the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum has not included student workbooks. Our lessons provide a very dynamic and comprehensive learning experience for students. The structure of our lessons with Circle Time, Story Time and Art Time gives students plenty to do and plenty to learn—immersing them in all three modes of communication—interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. We always felt that if the curriculum were implemented thoroughly and effectively that there was no great need for student workbooks. Most of the workbooks that we researched seemed to promote rote learning and provide mostly busy work for students. This was a trap we did not want to fall into.

Eventually we came to realize that student workbooks could be a benefit to the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. Most teachers want material that they can assign as independent student work, so we began with the idea of creating workbook activities that students could do independently. We wanted the activities to reinforce the communication objectives for each lesson, and we wanted the content to be fun and engaging for students. We also wanted the activities to give the students an opportunity to show what they could do with the language. These were the driving ideas behind our new student workbooks. Level I Student Workbooks are now available, and we are developing workbooks for Level II. In our next post we will go into detail about what students can do with the workbooks.

Blogs come in many different forms and styles. What we have tried to accomplish with the Sonrisas Spanish Blog is to provide you with a source of information to learn more about teaching Spanish to preschool and elementary children. We have been doing this for over four years now, and there are 79 posts in this blog. That’s a lot of information. We wanted to remind you—from posts that you can use as advocacy for foreign language learning to book reviews to tips on teaching—there’s a lot to learn here! The category links at the right can help you find the information you need. You can also search this blog for specific topics. We are also always available by phone if you ever would like to talk to us in person about any of the information that you find here.

Sonrisas Spanish creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based Spanish lessons for children.

Being a teacher is so interesting and challenging. Teachers need to master many different skills, possess broad knowledge in many subjects, and have deep knowledge in their content area. Classroom management is one of the most important skills a teacher must have. Even the most focused and knowledgeable teacher will not be effective if she is not able to manage her class well. For teachers of preschool and elementary Spanish, there are some very simple and effective techniques that you can use to make your class run smoothly and keep your students engaged.

First, and we have written about this before in this blog, it really helps to have a consistent routine and structure to your class. This is so helpful when children are learning a second language. Once they are accustomed to a routine it makes it easier to use the target language with comprehension. Students also become more receptive to learning when they feel comfortable and know what to expect. The consistent structure of Circle Time, Story Time, and Art Time is one of the strengths of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum.

What about students that act out in class? With young students, this can usually be handled quite easily with positive reinforcement of desired behavior. Young children are eager to please, and you can use this to your advantage. Many times you can preempt undesired behavior in this simple way: when you see positive, desired behavior in your students, point it out and praise those students. For example: “I see Miguel and Katrina are sitting quietly waiting for our lesson to begin. I like how they are keeping their body in their own space. Thank you Miguel and Katrina.” You might even go one step further and give an external reward such as a sticker to students that are demonstrating proper behavior.

What about staying in the target language? Some teachers find it difficult to keep students in the target language. Much of this has to do with setting expectations for your students. Let them know when you want them to use Spanish and why it is important. You can convey the wonder and excitement of using another language to communicate and get things done. You can use positive reinforcement when students stay in the target language. For some teachers it helps to have a sign or a signal for students that indicates when they are to speak Spanish and when it is ok to speak English. This can be effective, although I would encourage teachers to set the expectation that Spanish is used for the majority of the time in class.

It’s worth noting that classroom management has a lot to do with the individual teacher’s style. Some teachers need more focus and order while they teach, some need less. The important thing is that you are aligning your style to your management techniques and that your students are learning within that context. The beauty of teaching young children is their enthusiasm and joy for learning and experiencing new things. This usually makes classroom management easier than it might be with older students. Given this, it is still important that you intentionally plan for your classroom management. Your lessons will be more effective, and you and your students will be happier.

Sonrisas Spanish creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based Spanish lessons for children.

It goes without saying that a big contributor to the success of your preschool or elementary Spanish class is how well you plan for your lesson. Sometimes, when you are following a curriculum like the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum, it is easy to get into a rut of thinking that all your planning is done for you. While we have written detailed lessons for you and outlined the steps for each lesson, there is still planning that you need to do to make the lessons run smoothly. Here are some reminders that will insure that your Sonrisas lesson is effective.

  1. Read the lesson overview and the lesson procedure page thoroughly. Make sure you understand the Communication Objective and the Performance Guidelines. The Performance Guidelines give you a focus for the “chunks” of language that you want your students to come away with for the lesson. The lesson procedure page includes the sequence and steps for the lesson as well as helpful hints that will make your lesson run smoothly.
  2. Think through the songs, games, and activities that you are going to do in Circle Time. Remember that the Sonrisas and Canciones Culturales CDs are meant to be used as a resource for you to learn the songs and then sing them yourself with your students. All of the songs have movement and gestures that go along with them which are printed in the song lists in your curriculum book. You want to make sure that you know how you will perform these.  Read through the game/activity for Circle Time and visualize how it will go in your class. Try to anticipate any classroom management challenges you may have for a particular game or activity and have a plan for how you will deal with them. Many times the helpful hints address these potential issues.
  3. Review the book you are going to read for Story Time. Reading to you students is such an effective language-learning tool—especially when you read the story in a fun, fluent, and engaging manner. Read through the book before your class. Think about how you will tell the story and how you will engage your students in the story. It is a good idea to review the section on shared reading on pages 25 and 26 of the Sonrisas Introduction.
  4. Pick which art project you will do, read through the art project procedure page, and prep all your art materials. Most lessons include more than one art project so that you can have a choice for what you think will work best for your class. The art project procedure pages also include helpful hints to make the art project go well. Some art projects will require you to plan ahead for the necessary materials.
  5. Have a plan for your review games and activities. One of the strengths of Sonrisas is the opportunity to consistently review previously-learned vocabulary and phrases through the different games and activities in Circle Time. Throughout the year you can weave the different games and activities in and out of your lessons as you see fit. Make a plan for how you will do this.

The main reason for planning well for your lesson is that your students are going to benefit so much more than if you are putting things together on the fly or last minute. Hopefully you can establish a rhythm to your planning so that it just becomes part of your routine for each class. In doing so, you will enjoy the benefits of a smooth class, and your students will enjoy the benefits of increased language acquisition. Remember: if you ever have any questions about the implementation of the Sonrisas lessons, we are always available to talk with you. Call or email us anytime.