I love using readers in my class but feel it is so important to provide students with opportunities for movement and interaction with the material. At the end of the school year we read Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos in my high school level 3 class and although they loved the reader, it was the end of the year and they were squirrely! I have found the best way to combat the squirreliness is high energy/competitive activities. Here are three different activities I did with Bianca Nieves (but quite honestly, these activities could work with any text). They are some of my favorite go-to activities and some of my students favorites as well!
The first is called Vocabulary Pyramid and I got the idea originally from the French teacher at my school. It is an activity that I love to do with my students to reinforce important structures or key vocabulary terms. It also builds their confidence in interpersonal communication as well as circumlocution in the target language. I also love that this activity utilizes almost every bit of a 50 minute period with close to 100% engagement!
I begin by explaining the game set-up in the target language. I explain that there should be groups of 3 and I physically show them how to set up their desks (or chairs if you are deskless). Then we discuss the objective which is to correctly identify all the terms on the the pyramid. It is key that students understand that they must start at the bottom of the pyramid and work their way up to the top. Students may not skip around from level to level. They must guess all terms on level 1 in order to move on to level 2. We then talk about the three roles: Clue giver, Guesser, and Judge. I explain that the Clue Giver can only speak in the target language, may NOT act, and may NOT use proper nouns. The role of the Guesser is to correctly identify the term, and lastly the Judge has an important multifaceted role. She is responsible for keeping track of where the team is on the pyramid, insuring that the other members are following the rules, and lastly if the Clue giver is stuck and needs help, they are allowed to jump in and help provide clues (but this is not their primary role). Lastly the Judge is the time keeper (I generally have them set a timer on their phone for 1 minute).
Once everyone is clear on the rules of game play, we begin what I call “practice rounds.” I like to do at least 3-4 practice rounds so that everyone has an opportunity to try every role. After I feel that they have had ample time to practice, I tell them to find their “power positions.” By this, I mean position yourself in the role that you feel most confident. Once they are set in their power positions, we begin the competition. I ask for a volunteer group, and almost always have a ton of hands shoot up. I start with the first group and everyone sets their timers and watches the first group perform. I NEVER have issues with side conversations or people talking…they are so competitive with each other and want to listen very carefully to make sure the group is following the rules! I usually have about 5 groups total in my classes and once everyone has gone, we end up with a winner. I very often get requests for a round two of the competition, and oblige them if there is time. One idea for an extension if there is extra time is to share the template with the class and allow each group to create their own pyramid of terms. It could be an “anything goes” or targeted specifically to what you are working on. Lastly, as a closing activity, I sometimes project one of the pyramids on the screen and tell them to choose 3 terms from the pyramid to describe in Spanish.
Another activity that is a ton of fun is called Lockdown. I begin by asking students to create true or false statements about the text we have just read (or often I will create the statements). Then I have students line up in a single file line in the middle of the hallway. In our hallway we have red lockers on one side and blue lockers on the other. I explain that the red lockers represent “false” and the blue lockers represent “true”. The first time I did this, I taped signs on the lockers to designate true/false in the target language. We have played this game a lot and no longer need the signs. Once students are ready, I begin the activity by stating a true or a false statement. Students race to the appropriate side and hit the correct locker. The last one to touch the locker is “out”. Once I have a couple of students “out” I explain that they are the judges and must watch carefully to determine the next person who is out. I often call on them as well to contribute true/false statements. I find that even though you amass quite a large number of students who are “out”, they are completely engaged and listening and watching carefully. They also know that I may call on them to contribute a sentence or make a judgement call. My students BEG for this game!
Race to Erase
Lastly this has been a favorite activity of mine for years and one that students really get into. I call it Race to Erase. The first step is to create index cards with target structures or vocabulary terms on them. I write the English on one side and the Spanish on the other. I make at least enough so that every student has at least one card. If you have a really small class, you might give each student 2-3 cards. I pass out all the cards and give students students a couple minutes to warm up with the cards. I put the students in pairs and they quiz each other with their card and then pass their cards off to the next group. Once Students end up with their original cards, I ask them to write their term in English and in Spanish on the whiteboard. I stress to them that the word and its meaning should not be written side by side. They can, however, write the word really small, really big, backwards…whatever floats their boat! Once all words are on the board, they hand me their card and get into 2 single file lines. At this point I shout out one of the terms in english or in Spanish. They must RACE TO ERASE the opposite of what I say. So for instance if I shout out “La Puerta!” They search for “The Door” and erase it. It is a high energy and fast paced game so I recommend having a scorekeeper for both teams (keeps them honest). I stress to students that they are not allowed to have side conversations in English while in line, but they are encouraged to help their teammate who is up at the board searching for the term. They are allowed to shout out directions in the target language: up, down, to the left, to the right, center, hot or cold. Before the game play starts we always spend a little time talking about expectations and how to communicate those directions. Once all the terms have been erased, you will have a winner!
Jenny Robbins is a Spanish teacher from Indiana with 13 years of experience. She teaches high school levels 2-5 in a rural community outside of Indianapolis. She can be found on Twitter @JENTXIN.