I base my teaching on fundamental principles of language learning. Whether I am working one-on-one or with a class, these components are essential to every unit and lesson I plan. You can find the same ideas expressed in other ways and in much more technical language. This list is how I think about effective teaching as I plan and apply the concepts to my preschool classes.
1. Keep their attention.
To hold the attention of a group of three-year olds, there has to be a certain level of energy in the class. You need a variety of activities and each one can only last a short time. I wrap up an activity while the kids are still engaged and move to the next one.
2. Give them something to hold or touch.
As often as possible, I give my students something to hold to support the language. It can be a paper cut-out or an object like an apple. If it is impossible for everyone to have the object, I do activities where I pass it to one child and then another. Here is one group reciting and acting out Yo soy un árbol, a rhyme I wrote for autumn. As you can guess, those leaves are going to fall.
Movement enhances language learning tremendously. In addition to fingerplays, songs with actions and acting out words, you can add movement in other ways. It can be as simple as each child standing up as you count them (touch their head) and sitting down when you count again. You can also play more complicated games. Here are a few examples of activities with movement:
Fingerplays – The Itsy Bitsy Spider in Spanish, Saco una manito
Songs with actions – Tengo una casita, Yo me muevo
4. Tell them stories.
Stories provide children with comprehensible input (Spanish they understand through pictures, objects, actions or context). The stories can be picture books if there is a close text-to-picture correspondence and you clarify with gestures and your voice. You can also act out stories or use puppets. This is often easier than being tied to a text and kids love it. The stories do not have to be long or complicated. Use repetition and patterns; they help children understand and predict. Children will not, and should not, understand every word of the story. The goal is for them to understand key words and derive meaning from context and clues. That is how they will learn Spanish.
5. Help them talk and sing.
Provide opportunities for children to produce the language. Give them lots of support so they can be successful. Have them repeat words after you and help them by clapping out the number of syllables as you say a word. Sing “echo” songs and teach rhymes and songs they can memorize. Music is a wonderful way for children to begin to produce Spanish. Also, let them play with the sounds of the language by teaching rhyming silly phrases. Phrase questions so that children can answer them successfully. If a child is just learning words for animals, for example, it is much easier to answer ¿Es un perro? than ¿Qué es esto? where she has to produce the word without support.
These are posts about my favorite music for teaching Spanish to preschoolers:
From Spanish Together – Hands on Spanish and Favorite songs from Spanish Together now on iTunes.
From SingALingo – Spanish Songs to Brighten Every Day – SingALingo
This is a page with information about structured speaking activities using photographs and links to the activities: Learn Spanish with Pictures
6. Use and teach sentences instead of words.
Words need to relate to each other to convey even a simple idea. It is important for teachers and parents to use and teach complete sentences rather than isolated words. Handing a child an apple and saying La manzana es roja is more effective language modeling than pointing at different colors and naming them. Teaching children to pronounce individual words is important, but that should be a starting point, not an ending point.
You can find lots of examples of how to use sentences instead of words in this post: How to Use a Spanish Vocabulary Worksheet with Pictures
7. Repeat and spiral material.
It takes repeated exposure to really learn language. Within a class and a unit and a school year, children need to hear and use the same words and structures over and over. Vary activities, but be sure to repeat material. Here are some suggestions for repeating material if you are teaching your children Spanish at home: Taking it Easy – Consistency and Repetition in Teaching Kids Spanish
You are teaching, but the children are playing, so play with them. If they think it is funny to whisper a new phrase, let them whisper it to each other. If they laugh at the story you are acting out, do the funny part again. Stay engaged. Have fun. Play all the time.
9. Tune in to children as individuals and as a group.
During a lesson, it is important to be aware of the group’s mood and level of attention.
Children have good days and bad days, both as individuals and as a class. Learning is hard work and it is easy to get ahead of them. Stay aware of how they are handling the material and adjust accordingly. You can provide security with familiar activities and give them time to process new information.
10. Do what works.
Follow the children’s lead. If they are most interested in one type of activity, incorporate it more often. If they have a favorite game, play it. If they have a favorite song, sing it. These preferences will change, so take advantage of their interest and need to learn a certain way. Of course you need a plan, but be sure to keep the plan flexible enough to capitalize on the natural dynamics of the class.