One of the reasons that I choose readers in my classes is because they really help to anchor a unit of study. By giving a story, students feel connected to this abstract topic that they might never experience for themselves. My first year of teaching level 2 Spanish, I knew that I wanted to them to learn about Costa Rica. I had taken older students there the previous summer, so I had a lot to share with the younger ones!

I chose Kristy Placido’s reader Robo en la noche because I loved the idea of the main character, Makenna, was moving from her home in Michigan to Costa Rica. She was a character that my students could somewhat relate to because she’s from the United States. I teach in a small town in Southern Illinois, and I know that many of my students will never get the opportunity to study abroad or visit other countries. Kristy does a great job of incorporating cultural aspects of Costa Rica through the eyes of Makenna, and of course, my students love the idea of having a crime to solve when the birds are stolen!

Before I begin a reader, I scour the Teacher’s Guide and choose the activities that I want my students to do. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that you can teach a reader to death, so don’t ever feel like you have to do all the activities! Know your students and know what would keep their attention. I also search my favorite bloggers for ideas on how to personalize the study. Some of my favorite bloggers include Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth, Maris Hawkins, and Sharon Birch. Sharon had a wonderful post about how she took her students to the National Aquarium in Baltimore to complete a scavenger hunt. I loved how she was really able to give her students an up-close look at animals who originated from the rainforest!

Our school is about an hour away from the St. Louis Zoo, and while it doesn’t have the extensive exhibits that the aquarium in Baltimore does, I was able to come up with a scavenger hunt that allowed my students to explore the zoo searching for animals from Latin America and just general information about the zoo itself. Those students who went with me also had to tweet me their favorite animals that they found at the zoo! This field trip was an optional excursion as we were in the middle of spring sports season and many of my students had to stay behind. They did a virtual study of Costa Rica using parts of Carrie Toth’s biodiversity and conservation unit.

Like Sharon, I chose to wait until we were done with the reader before we went on the field trip. I wanted to build up the anticipation along with allowing them opportunities to full invest in the study of the rainforest and the issues in Costa Rica regarding the illegal bird trade. My students were so excited, and they were able to find even more animals from the rainforest than I had anticipated! Even if you aren’t near a zoo, try taking a virtual trip! When students are allowed to discover more about a topic on their own, they truly enjoy it more and feel like they are becoming experts themselves!

Melisa Lopez has been teaching Spanish at Centralia High School in Illinois since 2011. She holds a Masters degree in Spanish from New Mexico State University. She enjoys collaborating and networking with other teachers and looks forward to continuing to bring the world to her students through classroom experiences and travel!

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