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.
Feb 20, 2013
I am really glad that you did a post on the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. This is a program I have been looking into for several months, and I figured I might see something about it on your blog soon.
I am a brand new Spanish teacher (as of January) at a small private school in Maryland. I have no prior experience with this age group, and researching their ability to and ways of processing a foreign language at that age has been almost a second full-time job! I came across Sonrisas and it seemed to be the epitome of modern language teaching techniques, and despite all of my efforts to find the cons of this curriculum, I cannot really find any.
This curriculum, should my school be convinced to purchase it for the upcoming school year, is a bit of an investment, and therefore I am trying to thoroughly research it before purchasing. I have only seen the two sample lesson plans from each level that are provided on the website, and am wondering if all of the lessons are as relevant, easy to implement, and– most importantly–realistic to execute in the classroom as the sample lessons were. Is this a curriculum that I would be able to almost entirely depend upon for my Kindergarten-3rd grade classes, or are there simply ideas here and there throughout the curriculum that are worthy of using?
Thanks in advance for your opinion!
Feb 20, 2013
You will love this curriculum. I honestly think that every lesson is well-designed. In fact, one thing I wanted to mention in the review, but didn’t have space for, is the amount of material. For preschool and kindergarten, depending on how often your classes meet and for how long, the curriculum could easily be used for an extra year. With my schedule, I would not be able to get to all the vocabulary and do all the activities that are included. The other thing I didn’t mention, but that is a great help, are the home reports. They are all done for you, for every lesson. They are a wonderful way of staying in touch with parents. I spend a lot of time writing home reports that look a lot like theirs. I would encourage you to get in touch with Brooks Lindner and ask any specific questions. I would also be happy to talk about the curriculum in more detail if you like. Feel free to email me at playground.spanish at gmail
Good luck with the new job!
Sep 12, 2013
I ordered the Sonrisas Cultural Curriculum in order to use it in the classroom (I am a Elementary Spanish Teacher). The tips and lessons plans are OK, and they may serve of inspiration to many teachers, I am sure. However I feel I have the moral obligation to warn people about how DREADFUL the CD is. I bought it because I needed songs in my classes, but the music is so bad I would be embarrassed to show that my students.
This is very sad and if it wasn’t totally pathetic I wouldn’t be writing this, but I feel ripped off. The songs are PATHETIC. First, the signers are not native speakers and their Spanish is absolutely terrible. They can’t pronounce “ll” or “j” or “ñ” or any other sound that is crucial to Spanish. That, I could almost forgive, but also their intonation of the words is capricious and they change it just because… So lluvia is “lluvía” so it fits the music.. I guess -to name one of many, many mispronunciations. Now, that is confusing.
If that wasn’t enough the even change the lyrics of the traditional songs. So, let’s say: Feliz Navidad, a worldwide known song that everybody knows and is able to sing. On the Sonrisas CD it goes as follows:
Feliz Navidad (X3)
Próspero año y …
Right, they don’t like that Navidad rhythms with Felicidad and so they change it!
Finally, the music sounds more amateur than anything your kids could possibly play at home or at school. Most songs have only one instrument, a background beat from a kids keyboard.
Take my advice and use REAL music from REAL musicians. The CD is lamentable.
On another note, I would like to add that I am a big fun of Spanish Playground. It is a wonderful resource and I am very appreciative for its inspiration. Let’s keep high standard.
Sep 13, 2013
I appreciate your taking to time to share your opinion of the music for the Cultural Curriculum. I reviewed Level One, and in that curriculum it says very clearly that the CD is not meant to be played for the kids, but rather they recommend you learn the songs and sing them with the class. Like you, I appreciate authentic music and songs by native speakers, but I also know that many songs are very difficult for Spanish language learners and adaptations can be useful.
I’m afraid that I can’t speak specifically to the Cultural Curriculum, but I do know that the CDs are one component of a complex curriculum. I completely understand your frustration, but my guess is that other teachers have found the music useful. Finding music at an appropriate level and coordinating it with a curriculum is not an easy task. I agree with you 100% about keeping the standards high, but unfortunately, the selection of curricula available is not extensive. Reviewing Level One, I found that Sonrisas offers a clear, structured approach based on solid methodology.
I’m glad that Spanish Playground is useful to you and I really appreciate your contributing to the discussion here.
Jul 6, 2014
Thank you for this review. I am a beginning Spanish teacher, starting this fall in a preschool and the review was helpful.
Jan 31, 2015
Thank you for these reviews!! They are very helpful. I have a 2 yr old and a 4 yr old and debating between Sonrisas Spanish and Spanish Champs. Can you provide your insight on which one you think may be best for teaching spanish at home. I am looking to use this about 2-3 times per week. I almost feel like the combination of the two is best but only want to get one. I am a native speaker and want my kids to speak fluently. Thank you!!
Jan 31, 2015
Given that you are a native speaker, you have lots of options. One would be to use the online books provided by the Mexican Government or other texts for native speakers. If you do decide to use a program for Spanish learners, of the two you mentioned, I think that Sonrisas would make more sense in your situation. You might want to also take a look at All Bilingual Press http://www.allbilingual.com/ and maybe Sing n’ Speak Spanish http://singnspeak.com/ Most important, be sure to keep reading to your kids as much as you can! Buena suerte!
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