Sunday, January 17, 2016

Café y conversación

When reflecting on our own personal language studies, what is the number one activity that helped us learn the most? Of course: speaking and living in the native environment. So, isn't it logical that we try to bring that to our students who can't or won't travel abroad? or at minimum simulate this environment?

I find random conversation one way to help hook students into learning. When we have authentic conversation about topics that students want to talk about, they ask better questions and learn at a higher level. This is why it is so important to put students in this situation. When they will need to use the skills we are teaching them, it will likely be speaking first. Culturally, Hispanics love to talk; they will sit around at lunch for a couple hours and just socialize, they will meet someone new and talk for an extended amount of time. This creates a perfect bonding time for the students to create their own culture and safe place in class.

Living in the midwest, we see days that Mother Nature wreaks havoc on our roads so school is delayed or cancelled. These are obviously not planned so all of a sudden our schedule is interrupted and lesson plans need to be changed. This is when I call a "Día de Chocolate".

My room is always supplied with cocoa (complete with marshmallows), cappuccino, tea, and cider. There is also a coffee pot that has only ever seen water. I
replenish the supplies as needed and on our Días de Chocolate, I will bring in cookies, cinnamon rolls, bars, or some other treat as well. Often times students will bring in treats. Due to many schools having treat policies, the students usually bring in prepackaged treats, but I accept any treats anyone wants to make. This year I do have a couple students who are on a gluten-free diet so I prepare an alternative. The students choose to eat/drink; I never force or require anything.

I am also an avid weather watcher so I know days ahead if there is weather coming. I will warn students if it's obvious that there may be a late start. "Yeah, guys I hear tomorrow there is bad weather coming. Remember if we have a late start, it's a Hot Chocolate Day! This means you have to bring a mug and be willing to chat." When the call is made from the superintendent and/or we see it on TV, I send out a message to the students that it is officially a "Día de Chocolate".

Hot Cocoa Day
Most students do indeed bring their mug, but I do have a small selection of mugs for students to use as long as they wash it and return it before the end of class. Upon entering, I remind them that it's Hot Cocoa Day so they go to the counter, sanitize their hands, and prepare their beverage and snack. The desks are arranged in a circle to be more conducive to conversation. I will start the conversation off with small talk about what they did this morning with their extra two hours, how the drive in was, what they saw (cars in the ditch, etc), and other particular details of their morning. Once you get them talking, they will bring up other topics and the conversation continues throughout the class period. Some groups are more chatty than others, but I have never had a group that would just sit there and say nothing. The culture is created on day one that the expectation is 100% Spanish. They know that in order to improve their skills, they need to speak the language.

Students really do improve and they really do start asking good questions.
In the end, this is a favorite activity of nearly all students.

Student comments
In an end-of-the-course evaluation, these were a handful of the comments I received from students about what they enjoyed the most about the class.

"Keep the same open environment. I was never embarrassed to say an announcement or talk out loud in class because I knew that she would help me if I needed it."
"She should keep having hot chocolate days and bringing in treats!"
"To apply food into the class it makes learning delicious."
"I liked that your teaching style was less serious but still made us get the work done that we needed to so that mind set was nice."
"When we got in a circle and just talked in Spanish for the whole day."
"I can't think of a favorite because I liked almost everything we did in this class. I enjoyed listening to the songs, reading the books, learning tons of new vocab and eating chocolate and having fun."
"The locked box game or having hot chocolate days and talking."


  1. This is such a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing and inspiring teachers everywhere!

    1. Gracias Profa Frida. The kids really have fun with this and enjoy the laid-back approach to improving their speaking skills.

  2. Brilliant idea! Love it! Thank you for sharing :-)

  3. I love this. I have it set up for tomorrow. We are talking about the Super Bowl in Spanish, thanks to the inspiration of you and Maris Hawkins.

  4. Hi! I am a French teacher and did this a few years ago...brought in a Keurig and the kids used it all the it sits unused...I will crack this all open again and see if I can get my kids interested!
    Question - are you willing share how you used the Locked Box Game? I am familiar with Locked Boxes but am perplexed as to how to use it in World Language.

  5. I LOVE THIS!!! Do you do it with all levels? What do you do when conversation halts? Do you have go to questions?