Sonrisas Spanish Blog

One of the important changes in the recent revisions of Sonrisas Level I and Sonrisas Level II is the addition of the student assessment pages in the student portfolios. They serve as valuable summative assessments for teachers and students. Combined with ongoing formative assessments, the new student assessment pages contribute to the effectiveness of the Sonrisas Curriculum. Below is an explanation of how to use the different assessment pieces while implementing the curriculum.

In the Sonrisas Curriculum, you can assess your students’ progress using both formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments are ongoing assessments that monitor student learning and guide instruction. The goals for each lesson are listed in both the Communication Objective and the Language Outcomes. Keeping these in mind while you teach can help you assess the progress your students are making in achieving these goals, both through observation and by looking at their written work.

Through the songs, games, lesson activities, shared reading, and conversations during Story Time, Art Time, and Partner Time, you can get a very clear picture of how well each student is communicating. This type of formative assessment will guide which activities need review and practice in subsequent lessons. Of course, every student is different: Some perform much better in a group environment—while they are engaged in interpersonal communication—than they do during independent activities. Observational assessments can provide you with this insight.

You can also use students’ written work in Partner Time, Art Time, and Portfolio activities as formative assessments to see how well they have retained and integrated the Language Outcomes for each lesson. This will help guide which activities need more repetition and reinforcement. If you find that students are unable to demonstrate correct usage of the Language Outcomes, you can adjust your instruction to address their needs. Language concepts that need more work can be reviewed by doing lesson activities from previous lessons during Circle Time. You can continue this review until you feel that students are proficient with the language concepts. If need be, you can also repeat Partner Time and Portfolio activities.

Summative assessments evaluate student learning using specific metrics. The Student Assessment page in the Student Portfolio is a summative assessment that covers each lesson. It contains the Communication Objective for each lesson along with “I can” statements and a check box for each Language Outcome in the lesson. The Communication Objective and the Language Outcomes provide the metrics by which you can evaluate student learning. In order to achieve the Communication Objective, students need to demonstrate correct usage of the Language Outcomes. There are three different ways to fill out the Student Assessment page: You can do it, the student can do it, or you and the student can do it together.

If you are filling out the Student Assessment page without the student, use the art projects, Partner Time activities, Portfolio activities, and your observations to complete the assessment. Depending on the age and skill level of your students, they can fill out their own assessments by reflecting on the art project, Partner Time activity, and reviewing their Portfolio Activity as evidence for the assessment. (It’s worth noting that it can be very empowering for students to realize how much Spanish they have mastered.) Choosing to fill out the assessments with your students will give you the most accurate, complete summative assessment possible. If you are able to engage your student in Spanish during this assessment and observe their proficiency of the Language Outcomes, you will have the most accurate picture of their skills.

Keep in mind that each level of the Sonrisas curriculum is designed to be repeated for a second year. Chances are, your students will not fully achieve the Communication Objective the first time, which is completely acceptable. Ideally, through the repetition of the lessons in the curriculum and the ongoing review of lesson activities, students will master the Language Outcomes that support the Communication Objectives. We recommend keeping a copy of each student’s Student Assessment, so the second time you teach the lesson, you are able to note progress between the initial summative assessment and the second summative assessment.

Along with your own observations, the Student Portfolio is your most valuable assessment tool. Here are some tips that will help students keep their portfolios organized and tidy:

  • Keep several three-hole punchers on hand so that students can add work to their portfolios as soon as it is complete.
  • Give a mini-lesson on how to use the hole punchers accurately, including paying careful
    attention to placing the holes on the left side of the page.
  • Consider a place other than students’ desks to store portfolios. This will keep them in better shape throughout the school year.
  • For younger students, consider putting work in their portfolios for them.

Another option is to purchase an individual spiral-bound hard copy of the Student Portfolio for each student. You can buy these in bulk on the Sonrisas website.

The lessons in the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum give students an opportunity to interact in all three modes of communication—interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. The three modes of communication describe how learners use and interact with language in real-world contexts. Here, we present a brief overview of these modes and the types of activities in our curriculum that engage them.

In Interpretive Communication students comprehend written, oral, or visual communication on a variety of topics without any active negotiation of meaning. In the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum students engage in this mode by listening to stories, reading brief text excerpts and viewing images in various activities, and reading instructions for portfolio activities.

In Interpersonal Communication students engage in two-way oral or written communication with active negotiation of meaning to share information, feelings, and opinions. This is the meat of the Sonrisas lessons. In every segment—Circle Time, Story Time, Art Time, and Partner Time—students have the opportunity to engage in interpersonal communication with the teacher and their classmates. Students engage in this mode by singing songs, playing games, doing lesson activities, engaging in shared reading, conversing about art projects, and completing Partner Time activities.

In Presentational Communication students present spoken or written information that is prepared for an audience. In the Sonrisas lessons students present completed art projects, they share information from Partner Time activities, and they present written work from portfolio activities.

Obviously, beginner students are not going to be able to read long texts, engage in complex conversations, or present large amounts of information. The activities in the Sonrisas lessons are designed so that students are taught language concepts that enable them to interact in the three modes at an age-appropriate level. Through routine, repetition, and spiraling of content, students develop their Spanish so that they are able to communicate effectively in order to function in a variety of age-appropriate situations and for multiple purposes.

Sonrisas Spanish is going through a big transition right now. We have completely revised our Level II Curriculum, and we have changed what is included with our Level I and Level II curricula. These changes are the culmination of over a year’s worth of research and development, and they represent an effort to make our curriculum more user-friendly and complete for teachers and more effective for students.

What is included with the curriculum now?

We heard from many of customers that they wanted workbook activities for their students. We listened, and we developed our Student Portfolio for Levels I and II (we will write about the difference between a workbook and a portfolio in future blogs). Each level now includes the Student Portfolio in both a hard copy and a digital version, and the portfolio is fully reproducible. The Level I Student Portfolio contains portfolio activities, student assessment pages, and home reports. The portfolio activities correspond to each lesson in the curriculum and give students practice with the language concepts for the lesson. The portfolio activities also help to develop independent reading and writing skills in Spanish. The student assessment pages give teachers a tool to evaluate student learning, and the home reports let parents know what their child is learning in Spanish.

The Level II Student Portfolio contains portfolio activities, Partner Time activities, student assessment pages, and home reports. Partner Time activities correspond to each lesson and give students the opportunity to engage in conversation with their peers as they use their Spanish to complete a task. During Partner Time, students use all three modes of communication—interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. Partner Time has greatly enhanced the learning experience for students in the Level II lessons.

Level I and Level II also now include a resource CD. The resource CD contains visual aids for the lessons as well as a digital version of the Student Portfolio. Many of the activities in the Sonrisas lessons require teachers to show students images to introduce a concept. These images are now included on the resource CD. Likewise, many of the art projects require teachers to show the students a model of a finished project. Now, a teacher can print out a model of a finished art project instead of having to create it herself.

How has Level II been revised?

The first thing to note about the new Level II is that it has more than doubled in content. We added 17 new lessons, for a total of 37. With Partner Time and the portfolio activities, each lesson can now be implemented for up to four class sessions (up from two in the old curriculum). The Student Portfolio alone has added 74 Partner Time and portfolio activities that give students more practice with the language concepts for each lesson.

Another positive change is that Level II is now organized around seven thematic units: Seasons; My School; Numbers; My Family and Friends; Food, Water, and Shelter; A Global Perspective; and Celebrating Diversity. Each unit comes with an unit overview that guides teachers on how to make the unit a comprehensive, connected, and effective experience for students. Many of the unit lessons connect to the core subjects of mathematics, social studies, geography, science, and reading and writing. The lessons also begin to lay the foundation for more explicit grammar instruction with students developing skills related to use of adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, interrogative words, and verb conjugation. The correlation to grammatical concepts can be seen in a revised Level II scope and sequence.

We tweaked the lesson format and some of the terminology to make lessons more clear and easier to use for teachers. On the Lesson Overview page, we changed the name of the Performance Guidelines to Language Outcomes. The Language Outcomes are the language skills that students learn in the lesson in order to achieve the Communication Objective. Also on the overview page, the Circle Time box now highlights the Lesson Activity which introduces the language concepts for the lesson. On the Lesson Procedure page, the required resource CD images for the lesson are listed, and the Standard Correlations are now listed at the end of each procedure as opposed to throughout the lesson. Each lesson now also has a Partner Time page which guides teachers through the partner time activity, step-by-step. Click here to see a sample of one of the new Level II lessons. These formatting changes have been made to the Level I lessons as well.

Finally, both Levels I and II have been greatly improved by making it easier for teachers to assess students’ learning. The new student portfolios give teachers the opportunity to use both formative and summative assessments (more on these in future blogs) to monitor and evaluate student learning. This allows teachers to be able to adjust their teaching if need be, and to judge the outcome of their classes. The retooling of the assessment portion of the Sonrisas lessons has made them more effective than ever.

All of these changes build on the strengths of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum and reinforce our goal of creating life-long language learners by providing students with a positive foreign language experience in which they acquire and develop language naturally and easily.

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.


[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.