For the last few months I have had the pleasure of getting to know the Sonrisas Spanish School Preschool and Elementary Curriculum. This beautifully designed, standards-based elementary Spanish curriculum is recognized by language teachers as an effective, engaging program. For over 16 years it has been used throughout the country in schools, after-school programs and for home schooling.
The Spanish curriculum is designed for preschool through third grade, but certainly could be used as the initial program with older grades. It has two levels and each level has material for two years of instruction.
Sonrisas comes with detailed lesson plans, CDs with songs and rhymes, reproducibles for art projects and rubrics for assessment. There is also a clear presentation of the curriculum and how to teach it effectively. The lessons are designed for classes meeting twice a week for 45-60 minutes, but can be adapted to other schedules.
The Sonrisas website explains their curriculum in detail and I encourage you to take time to read about their approach to teaching and their materials. Here, I will highlight what impresses me most as an experienced language teacher.
The philosophy behind the lesson plans
These plans are more than a list of instructions. Built into the structure of the lessons is an approach to interacting with children and teaching language that values connection and interaction. I believe this is the best way to teach a language.
The focused content and detailed lesson plans
If you are an experienced teacher, there is a good chance that you will recognize features of your best lessons in the materials. If you are new to teaching, the Sonrisas lessons will teach you how to teach. These lesson plans are years of experience condensed, organized and neatly served. They are so doable and effective that it would be easy to have the impression that they are simple. Do not be misled. The choices and structure are complex; they have been defined and refined in the plans you see.
The lesson structure
Each Sonrisas lesson has circle time, story time and art time. A consistent routine frees children to engage completely with the content rather than processing the logistics of what is happening next. It enhances learning and makes the most of our short time with our students. Of course, the materials include many songs and activities to introduce and review language during circle time and a wide variety of stories and art projects.
The presentation of the lesson plans
These plans are laid out so that busy teachers can see at a glance exactly what to do and what they need. The explanations are clear with plenty of examples, but there is no unnecessary clutter.
The helpful hints
This little section follows the instructions for each lesson and art project. These are a kind of “heads-up,” and they are right on target. When I found myself thinking, for example, that preschoolers would have a hard time cutting out part of an art project, it would be addressed in the helpful hints, so that teachers could do it ahead of time.
The art projects are carefully designed to support the language in the lessons. They provide an opportunity to use the vocabulary and structures in class and also give families a way to use the language at home. The projects are simple, inexpensive and require little preparation time.
Children’s literature is a key part of the Sonrisas elementary Spanish curriculum. Picture books provide language in context and are an invaluable source of comprehensible input. The books included in the Sonrisas lessons have been carefully selected to support the language that the children are learning. Of course, stories are important exposure to new vocabulary and structures as well.
The picture books are purchased separately. Although they are an investment initially, these pictures books are by far the easiest and most effective way to re-enter the vocabulary and structures the children have been taught. This is important because as children learn more, it is very difficult to provide the necessary repetition in the time we have available. Reading stories is the best insurance that your hard work, and the students’ efforts, will be retained and provide a foundation for continued learning.
The culture component
Sonrisas integrates culture into the lessons with traditional songs and rhymes. These are carefully selected to be accessible to Spanish language learners. In addition, the curriculum includes a complete set of holiday lessons for teachers to include at the appropriate time of year. Sonrisas also has a cultural curriculum that can be combined with Level II and introduces children to the culture and geography of different Spanish-speaking countries.
Sonrisas is an extensive curriculum, providing teachers with more than enough material and making it easy to teach. This curriculum is based in the fundamental principles of language acquisition and every component is carefully designed to contribute to that goal – acquiring the ability to communicate in Spanish.
You may also be interested in this post: Spanish for Kids – Ideas, Information and Inspiration from the Sonrisas Blog
Disclosure: The company sent me a copy of this product to be able to write the article. All of the ideas and opinions are my own.