Yesterday while teaching a tiny homeschool Spanish class, 5 students grades 5-8, we had what I’m calling a spontaneous Spanish class conversation. It was one of those times when all the stars seem to align and a magical learning situation emerges. As a teacher, I bet you’ve had times like this too!

I’d like to share this one with you because:

  1. It was just so dang cool!
  2. It reminded me that this type of interaction is something that brings the students to that place of really seeing how cool it is to speak another language.
  3. It reminded me of the necessity of this type of language usage practice, even though it can be a little chaotic.
  4. It reminded me that I need to purposely try to initiate this more often.
  5. It may give others ideas on how to do this too.

So, if you’re interested, read on. I’ll lay out the series of events that lead to the Spanish conversation and share what it was like.

First in the Series of Events: Spanish Verb Dice Game

First, students were working in pairs playing the Spanish Verb Dice Game. This game is for practicing subjects, vocabulary, and conjugated verbs in sentences. Part of the game involves having 6 infinitive verbs written on the board, one for each number on the die.

As students pick up Spanish subject and vocabulary cards, they need to make sentences with one of the infinitive verbs on the board and conjugate it correctly. You can read the specifics of the activity here. For now, let’s suffice it to say the students were somewhat in “Spanish conversation mode”.

Next Event – Learning about “Tener que”

After the dice game, I left the 6 infinitives on the board and began teaching the concept of “Tener que”, how to talk about what someone “has to do”. The 6 infinitives on the board were: tener, llevar, dar, nadar, tomar, and usar.

I wrote on the board: Tengo que usar la loción protectora. And, I asked them if they could figure out what it meant. Often when I teach this concept, someone guesses the meaning. This time no one did. But, that’s ok. So, we broke it down. We talked about what each word in the sentence meant, and they figured it out.

But, then they did ask, “Doesn’t “que” mean “what”? This was great because I could show them how it means “what” when it has an accent mark. And, I could show them how sometimes words just don’t translate. It is really fun to be able to get into the nitty gritty of the inner workings of the language. It’s always fun to see how they actually get interested in it too!

We continued learning and practicing this concept like this:

  • I wrote: Tengo que llevar el traje de baño.
  • They guessed the meaning.
  • I wrote: Tengo que nadar en el mar.
  • They guessed.
  • I wrote: Tenemos que tomar la neverita.
  • They guessed.
  • I wrote: Ella tiene que nadar con José.
  • They guessed.
  • Then, I asked: ¿Cómo se dice “I have to use the bathroom?”
  • They told me, and I wrote on the board.

We continued until it was obvious they understood the concept.

But, THEN!, one of the girls pointed to a boy and said, “Tiene que pagar la cuenta!” (Helpful note: A couple weeks prior we had done an enactment of being in a restaurant using content that allowed them to order food, ask for a menu, chat while eating, etc.)

The boy understood what she said and so good-naturedly replied: “¡No, no tengo que pagar la cuenta! Tengo que salir del restaurante.”

Spontaneous Spanish Class Conversation Begins

And then the banter, the spontaneous Spanish class conversation began! It was fantástico! And it all went something like this:

  • Another girl said to the boy: ¡Sí, tienes que pagar la cuenta!
  • He said: No, no tengo dinero.
  • I said to the boy: Tienes que ir al banco y poner el dinero en el bolsillo! Y luego, tienes que pagar la cuenta.
  • He said: No, no, yo salgo del restaurante.

The banter continued and students would get creative and silly with what they said. I could see them wanting to say so much, but not yet able to. They would ask, “¿Cómo se dice____? to try to say something they didn’t yet know.

I helped them out, but only to give them a word or verb that they could use in a sentence using the skills they currently have. In my classes, whenever students ask to say something too far above their current language skill, I redirect them. I tell them to simplify what they want to say so they can say it as well as possible with their current language skills.

So, the banter continued a little more.

  • And then I said: “Él no tiene dinero. Tiene que lavar los platos.”
  • And they all chuckled.

I didn’t want the banter to continue too long on that subject, so I gently steered the conversation in a little different direction, carefully maintaining our momentum. That new direction lead into the “wrap-up” below. We only had 5 minutes left of class. Darn!

Wrap-Up Spanish Class with Scenarios

So, I told them, “Ok, now I am going to say some scenarios, and I want you to tell me what you have to do in each situation.”

First scenario was: “Estás en la playa.”

  • One student said: Tengo que usar la loción protectora.
  • Another student said: Tengo que llevar las gafas de sol.
  • Then, I asked one student: ¿Te gusta la playa?
  • He answered: Sí, me gusta la playa.
  • Then, I asked anothert: ¿Te gusta nadar en el mar?
  • She replied: Sí, me gusta.

That banter continued a little, and then I added the next scenario.

Second scenario: Estás en el sol.

  • One student said: Tengo que usar la loción protectora.
  • Another student asked: ¿Cómo se dice “under”?
  • I told her, and then she said: Tengo que estar debajo de la sombrilla de playa.
  • Then I asked: ¿Qué comes en la playa?
  • And a little spontaneous conversation continued.

We continued with scenarios and spontaneous conversation until the class ended. It was a blast! The students got silly with each other, but as long as things stayed good-natured, and they were really using their Spanish, I let it go.

I actually had another activity planned, but bypassed it because what was happening then and there was far too important and productive to cut short.

I’ve been wondering about how well spontaneous Spanish class conversation could work in larger classes. My classes are always 12 or less students. But, I have to say I’d give it a try even if it could be a little chaotic. The kids had a great time, and I could see how they really got into using the language!

If you ever try to set events in motion in your class to have spontaneous Spanish class conversation like this, drop me a note. I’d love to hear about your experience.

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