Usually, around this time of year, I have students make Christmas cards for Their parents. They have the usual Christmas-y things on them–holly, mistletoe, Santa Claus, etc. And they always say, in big colorful letters, Feliz Navidad.
Then we sing Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano.
We have fun, but I’ve always felt that this way of celebrating in Spanish class was a bit empty. The students don’t know the words for the things that they are writing about I (the Christmas words above) and they don’t retain them–if I ask them how to say any of these words, it’s a struggle to remember any of them except for navidad. On top of that, the students generally spend the time in class goofing off with friends and not hearing, speaking, or using any Spanish in any realistic sort of way. They might as well be writing gibberish on the cards and calling it Spanish.
This year is different.
As I’ve talked about before, this year I’m using storytelling as my main method of instruction. And I work in a Catholic school. I have a story that they all know and will all be able to attend to very well, the story of the first Christmas.
For the older kids, I will be telling the story and story-asking all of the facts. Then, I’ll have them rewrite the story in a free-write setting (no time limit, focus on grammar and spelling and turned in for a higher grade than the short and quick timed writing assignments). Then, they can type it up and have it for their binders. Based on their work up to this point, I imagine that this will go very well.
In the lower grades, they aren’t able to do as much writing because I don’t see them in class as much as the older kids and they don’t have the same level of writing skills. Instead of listening to the story and rewriting it, they will listen and read along with me. Then, they will draw illustrations of what we read together. Here are some examples of their work (grade 3).
The story, as you can see, is pretty basic and only hits the big points of the Nativity story. Even with this pared down version of the story, there was still a lot of new vocabulary, so I had to spend a bit of time in the beginning of class establishing meaning.
I think that the best part of it all, the master stroke, was that I didn’t tell them that we’d be reading a Christmas story at the beginning of class. It was really rewarding to be reading it with the kids and having them discover what the story was. It was great to see the surprise on their faces as they figured it out–there were a lot of gasps followed by, “hey, I know this story,” or “wait, is this the the story I think it is?”
At the end, this is a better way for treating this hectic time of year. The students will be making Christmas cards with other teachers. What I gave them today instead was an opportunity to read a text in their new language and figure out what it was themselves as they read.
My hope is that they will see this experience positively and it will encourage them to have the same amount of curiosity and love of learning for ever. That love is something that needs to be cultivated early and I hope that this little activity plays at least a little part in building it.