Stealing from the English Department


by Melisa Lopez

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When choosing a reader, I always have my English-teaching mind on overdrive. I originally wanted to teach English Language Arts, but through some twists and turns teaching Spanish is where my path landed! However, I never let that keep me from using some of the techniques I used in creating materials when I taught English! One of my favorite ways to get my students talking to each other is through the use of socratic seminars. If you’re not familiar with socratic seminars, students are essentially becoming the teacher by using open-ended questions to incite deep conversations amongst the class.

Using Carrie Toth and Carol Gaab’s reader, La hija del sastre, I chose themes that would be seen throughout the story, such as secrets and betrayal. We also had topics that dealt specifically with the Spanish Civil War like dictatorships and rebellions. Because this is such an intensive study, I want to be able to expose them to as much of the historical references from the reader as possible.

With each topic, they needed to find either an image or a quote about that topic. Some of the quotes they chose weren’t related to the Spanish Civil War, but they did correspond to the personal connections that I wanted my students to make to the characters.  

After they found an image or a quote, they were required to come up with at least 3 open-ended questions relating back to what they found. This is sometimes a challenge since sometimes students don’t always knows how to ask questions that could have multiple answers! They are great at asking questions about what they’ve read or facts, but they struggle with coming up with discussion questions that I would maybe ask them. Depending on the group of students I have, sometimes I need to model what it is I want them to do. This is really where it’s important to just know your students and their strengths.

I’ve done socratic seminars in two different ways: live in class and through FlipGrid. Last year, I had really big classes, so I would separate them into small groups for discussion purposes. They did a really great job of staying on task and giving everyone a voice. This year, my super small sections struggle with speaking. They get nervous and worry about making too many mistakes despite my constant praising! I also wanted to make sure that I was able to hear from everyone, so this year we used FlipGrid. This was great for building up listening skills as well because instead of having written questions on a slideshow, they had to listen to the presenters speakers and respond appropriately.

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The presenter was in charge of making sure that their video was uploaded before class. During class time, the rest of the class would respond to their questions. While the class worked on their responses, the presenter could work on re-reading a chapter, free reading or having a conference with me about their class work. The presenter was also in charge of writing up a summary of how the discussion went and how the class responded to their questions.

By the end of the unit, my students surprised themselves with how comfortable they got with interacting with each other in the target language. They are always great about interacting with me, but they were always missing that piece of interaction among peers!

This is an activity that’s easily adaptable for any upper-level reader, and it’s great for critical thinking skills! It also really helped my students gain their confidence in speaking and listening skills. My plan is to add this component to other readers as well!

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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