I have been having a wonderful time using the materials from Risas y Sonrisas with my students. Risas y Sonrisas is an award-winning K-5 Spanish curriculum for students in a classroom or homeschool setting. It is also excellent for after-school programs and private classes.
Risas y Sonrisas takes the best of the communicative approach to teaching language and also engages a child’s academic skills to create an effective learning experience. In games and conversations, children use Spanish to communicate real information – the most powerful motivation to speak and understand. At the same time, they learn the structures and patterns that enable them to think critically about the language. Finally, they learn lots and lots of useful words! The developers of Risas y Sonrisas understand that kids need a wide variety of vocabulary to be able to communicate.
You can find detailed descriptions of the components of Risas y Sonrisas on their website. There are also testimonials from instructors in different teaching situations. I would like to highlight a few of the features that have impressed me most.
Risas y Sonrisas is fun, fun, fun!
The activities are varied, entertaining and create a dynamic class. There are games, card activities, skits, music and more. The dozens of interactive, picture-based games encourage children to use Spanish and provide enough structure to keep them from becoming frustrated. I so appreciate that the games take almost no teacher preparation time! Risas and Sonrisas has everything you need.
All of the activities keep kids actively engaged with Spanish. Children learn vocabulary with actions, use sentence-building cards to create complete and correct sentences, sing and act out simple scenes. The quick pace is designed to keep kids laughing and learning.
Risas y Sonrisas recognizes that children are aware, critical learners.
This curriculum takes advantage of the academic skills that children have acquired. It acknowledges that they understand certain concepts and have skills in their first language that can be applied to learning Spanish. Equating words in different languages is a natural process for children acquiring a second language, and it is often the most efficient way to learn. Risas y Sonrisas understands how children learn language best and also makes the most of their critical capacity.
Risas y Sonrisas teaches LOTS of vocabulary.
Kids need many words to be able to communicate. All of the vocabulary in Risas y Sonrisas is supported with pictures and the activity workbooks and games ensure children use the words enough to master the material. Because they engage with the language, children can learn and retain the vocabulary. I love that Risas y Sonrisas does not underestimate kids! It structures the situations and gives them the tools they need to learn.
I was thrilled to see that Risas y Sonrisas actively teaches cognates! Cognates have long been neglected in second-language acquisition (if you are into academic articles, Mark Davies and Timothy L. Face address this in Vocabulary Coverage in Spanish Textbooks: How Representative is It?). Cognates are like money in the bank for second language learners – something they already have and should draw on. However, kids can not know a word is a cognate until they learn it. Risas y Sonrisas gives children the tools to use what they already know to speak Spanish.
Risas y Sonrisas teaches what is important.
Choosing what to teach is a complicated process. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and there are exceptions to every rule. In keeping with the communicative approach, Risas y Sonrisas teaches kids the structures that they will use 90% of the time. It teaches them to communicate and gives them grammar fundamentals without creating the inhibitions that come from an excessive focus on detail.
The activity workbooks provide plenty of practice.
I love the activity workbooks! It is such a challenge to give kids enough exposure and practice with a language. The workbooks have many activities for each thematic unit including drawing, choose the picture, build the word from syllables (picture-supported), scrambled words, label the picture and more. These activity sheets cover lots of material, provide plenty of support and really engage kids with the meaning of the language. In addition to helping children master the material, these activities are a very efficient way to keep exposing kids to what they have learned.
The writing journal provides the opportunity for focused production.
Writing engages students critically and deliberately with a language. The example prompts in the Teacher’s Manual show how students can use picture cards, vocabulary from the question and answer sections, and cognates to write simple sentences. Writing requires focused individual attention. That attention and the action of writing provide deep-level learning.
Online resources will be available August 2012.
Using Spanish in different formats and settings helps kids process the language more deeply. Also, kids love online games! The online resources will include the songs with lyrics and sign language, question and answer practice, skits with subtitles and, best of all, engaging games to practice vocabulary. A demo of all these resources will be available soon. I tried the demo game that is available now and I was impressed by the excellent quality of the audio and the quick pace. It is fun! Teachers will appreciate the online resources as they monitor student activity and points, and the kids will enjoy using Spanish as they play.
Risas y Sonrisas is a complete Spanish curriculum for children. It provides a positive, dynamic experience while establishing a strong, communicative base in the language. It also takes full advantage of students’ academic and first-language skills to make learning efficient and fun. There are programs for classroom or home, and many of the components are available to purchase individually too.
Most language programs at the middle school, high school and university levels continue to have a strong grammar-based component. Risas y Sonrisas prepares children for these programs and also gives them vocabulary and structures they can use to communicate in Spanish right away.
Disclosure: The company sent me this product to be able to write the article. All of the ideas and opinions are my own.