Monday, September 15, 2014

Learning about Countries in a Business Spanish Class

It's important to note that while students were doing this activity (described below), I was not in the circle. They were talking to and listening to each other. If I could change something about it, I would have had them complete the first sentence with a few examples; that way they could have been called on by their classmates more than once.
by Ann Abbott

In this post I return to the question:

How can you use a textbook in a course in a way that does not become dry and repetitive?

I hear many people complain about textbooks today. They're too expensive. They're boring. Faculty don't actually use them in the classroom. They're heavy. Who reads? Faculty can put together their own teaching materials that are better--and free!

Those are all legitimate observations.

But they don't have to be.

Textbooks don't design your lesson plans. You do. And if you design your lessons using what we know about good teaching practices--and in our case, how students learn a second language--the textbook can be your foundation. 

I love to write curricular materials. But why would I put together materials that are already in Exito comericial? I couldn't even do it if I tried because the book is encyclopedic almost and has been built by three highly-qualified authors over many years. It's on its sixth edition, for crying out loud!

What I can do, and I what I actually enjoy doing, is taking the information and activities in Exito comercial and having students work with the book in fun, active, meaningful ways.

Here's what I did in my Business Spanish class today.


Students had to read "Una vista panorámica de España¨ and ¨Una vista panorámica de Guinea Ecuatorial¨ from chapter two of Éxito comercial.


First I wrote on the board, ¨No sabía que...¨ I told students they had three minutes to complete the sentence with information that they had read about Spain for today. I wanted them to complete the sentence with information that they found interesting, surprising, shocking, whatever. Just something that they didn´t know before they read that section before class today. 

I gave them a model. ¨Yo no sabía que el tamaño de España era dos veces el tamaño de Oregón.¨ 

(Did students actually read before coming to class? I don´t know. I do know that after today´s class they will realize that they better read!)

Then I told them to put their chairs in a circle and gave them these instructions:
  • The first person (Person 1) says what they didn´t know about Spain.
  • Then they call one of their classmate´s name.
  • That person (Person 2) has to respond to the information the previous student presented by saying, ¨Yo ya sabía que [lo que dijo la otra persona], or, "Yo tampoco sabía que [lo que dijo la otra persona].¨ In other words, they had to listen to each other, not zone out until it was their turn...because they didn´t know when their turn would be.
  • Then Person 2 had to say the name of a different classmate (Person 3).
  • Person three had to reply to Person 2´s statement by saying either ¨Yo ya sabía X,¨ or ¨Yo tampoco sabía X.¨ (Some students had studied abroad in Spain and could honestly answer that ¨ya sabían la información.¨) Then they had to finish the first sentence with their own observation ("No sabía que...) and call a classmate's name.
  • Etc.
I then talked to the students about some things I consider important about contemporary Spain that aren't mentioned in the textbook: mileuristas, nimileuristas, the housing/mortgage/foreclosure crisis, the protests and shows of solidarity that called for a more just economic, banking and financial systems.

Guinea Ecuatorial

Then we turned to the reading about Guinea Ecuatorial. I told them that I knew very little about this country (which is true), and that I wanted them to work in groups and prepare a two- to three-minute presentation to teach me the information that they thought was most important, relevant, interesting, or surprising in the reading. I gave them five minutes to prepare.
The times that are written on the board are notes to myself. When I tell students that they have five minutes (or whatever time) for an activity, I look at the clock and write down the time five minutes from now. I do this because it is very easy to forget when five minutes are up! And I do this so that they see that when I say five minutes, I really do mean five minutes. You can't chat for four minutes and scramble; you really do need to do five-minutes worth of work.
They did a great job! I sat down in the back, listened to their presentations, took notes, asked questions and noticed patterns in what they taught me. I learned a lot about the country, and they had an opportunity to really put the textbook's information to good use. I don't think that they will forget about Guinea Ecuatorial for a while!

After working with the textbook, I asked them to get out their devices, go to Google Images and search for images of Guinea Ecuatorial and the capital city. It's one thing to read about a country, and it's another thing to see what it looks like, see the beauty, see the colonial architecture, see the people, see the landscape. 
Teams getting ready for their 2- or 3-minute presentations on Guinea Ecuatorial.

I would say that most Spanish students are rarely if ever introduced to Guinea Ecuatorial as a Spanish-speaking country in Africa. My students did--because we used the textbook as the foundation for today's class but in an engaging, purposeful way. I asked students if they had learned something new today, and they all nodded yes and enthusiastically.

I hope this post helps you think about textbooks in a new way, too.

Do you think that textbooks are a waste of students' money? Do you use your textbooks in new, surprising ways? Do you, like me, depend on the textbook to do a lot of work for you...but not all the work? I'd love to hear your ideas, experiences, complaints and questions in the comments.

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