A guest post by Jamie from ESL Teacher 365
If you are about to start your teaching journey in Spain, or are already there and looking for some help, this blog post will cover tips for teaching both kids and teens in the Spanish classroom. Jamie is a certified US teacher who taught in Madrid, Spain for 5 years and loves sharing ideas to help other teachers.
1. Establishing a Routine: Build Comfort and Confidence
Children between the ages of 3-8 thrive in environments where they can predict what comes next. Establishing a routine in your ESL classes provides a sense of security and helps build confidence among young learners.
Begin each class with familiar activities – a greeting, reviewing the calendar, or singing a specific song. Consistency in starting the class helps children understand what to expect and eases them into the learning process.
I always start with a hello song, weather song and a holiday/month themed song. We also have a calendar routine to start our day as well as the letter and number of the week which I incorporate into games.
Tip: Choose a “class leader” at the start of each class to assist with the routine, ensuring everyone gets a turn to be in this special role. Utilize name cards to keep track of whose turn it is to be the leader.
2. Plan Short, Sweet, and Engaging Activities
Young children have shorter attention spans which gradually get longer as they get older. Plan more activities than you think you’ll need and be ready to switch gears if you notice your students aren’t engaged with the activity.
I like to have a backup plan of flashcard games and worksheets on hand in case I need to change activities quickly. As the school year progresses, you’ll get an idea of your students’ favorite activities and can pull these out as needed.
Tip: Implement “brain breaks” between activities. These short pauses might involve dances, games, or other energetic diversions that refresh and refocus young minds. Just google “brain breaks” to find some ideas.
3. The Magical World of Songs, Chants, and Dances
Music and dance are perfect for beginning language learners. Songs, chants, and dances not only make learning enjoyable, but also assist in phonetic development as children become familiar with the sounds of English. Dance is also a huge part of the Spanish culture, so most Spanish kids are willing to get up and move.
In one of my Spanish schools we used the Jolly Phonics system which includes songs and chants for all the sounds of English.
Be aware that a lot of the teaching materials in Spain are British, so if you are American or Canadian, be prepared to teach some different sounds than you are used to.
Tip: Don’t shy away from repetition. Kids often enjoy singing the same songs and repeating chants, which also reinforces learning. It’s boring for you – and you might wake up in the middle of the night with them stuck in your head – true story – but it’s great for your students.
4. Puppets and Props: Your Teaching Assistants
Puppets and props can be your allies in maintaining engagement and managing the classroom. A puppet can serve as a model for dialogues, an enforcer of calm (puppets might “hide” when the class gets too loud), and a source of fun and imagination during lessons.
My Spanish students were OBSESSED with my puppets and loved asking them questions.
Tip: Use the puppet to demonstrate conversations, role-play scenarios, and introduce new vocabulary in a context that children can relate to. Have your students repeat after the puppet and ask it questions during Circle Time.
1. Integrating Interests: Making Lessons Relatable
As children between the ages of 9-12 begin to develop a more defined sense of self and explore various interests, integrating these elements into your ESL lessons can significantly improve engagement. Whether it’s sports, video games, or popular characters, utilizing these themes in your teaching materials and activities makes the learning process more relevant and enjoyable for the students.
Tip: An example of this would be using popular characters like Pokémon to practice comparatives and superlatives in a fun and familiar context. Spanish students really love soccer (football to them) and I recommend asking your students what their favorite tv shows, books, cartoons and characters are.
2. Pair and Group Activities: Fostering Cooperation and Social Skills
Encourage cooperative learning through pair and group activities. This not only aids in language acquisition through peer interaction but also helps develop vital social and cooperation skills. Be mindful of the competitive elements within activities, ensuring they are healthy and supportive, as children in this age group can be very sensitive to losing.
From my experience teaching in Spanish classrooms, Spanish kids LOVE to play games, compete against one another and participate in high-energy activities. While of course this may not be true of every student, in general planning large group and pair activities worked well. Do be aware that class sizes may be large and you may need permission to move desks. When the weather was nice, I often got permission to take my students outside for group activities.
Tip: Begin to integrate more reading and writing activities at this age, utilizing printed words or sentences that they can manipulate and engage with during activities. I like using Canva to print out words, sentences and pictures and most of my schools had a way to laminate these papers so they would last longer. Just ask your secretary or school admin!
3. Realia: Bringing the Real World into the Classroom
Incorporate realia – real objects and materials – into your lessons to make the English language more tangible and relatable for students. Utilizing newspapers, advertisements, everyday objects, and songs not only enriches the learning experience but also provides a practical context for language use. This also allows students to learn through their 5 senses.
Tip: When teaching abroad, bring items from your home country to share with your students, offering them a glimpse into different cultures and lifestyles. One of my favorite units was the clothing unit. I always brought in some clothes and students had a fashion show where they had to create a look and critique other looks using phrases we had previously practiced. Get creative!
4. Celebrate Progress: The Power of Praise
Maintaining motivation can be challenging as children grow, so it’s important to celebrate their progress and efforts. Provide positive feedback and ensure that the learning environment is one where making mistakes is seen as an opportunity to learn.
Tip: Regularly acknowledge and praise students’ efforts and achievements, reinforcing their motivation to learn and participate.
1. Respect and Relevance: Acknowledging the Emerging Adult
Teens are navigating a pivotal time in their development, exploring their identity, and forming their points of view. Ensure that your ESL teaching approach respects their growing autonomy and seeks to make lessons relevant to their experiences, interests, and future aspirations.
At some of the Spanish schools I worked at, teen students were preparing Cambridge and Trinity English examinations. I pulled out small groups of students to work on the speaking part of the test and in these exams they are often asked to give opinions and answer questions. Some may feel overwhelmed when answering these questions because they haven’t developed their own opinions yet, so provide opportunities in class to develop this.
Tip: Debates and activities where students make choices based on different scenarios allow your students not only to practice their language skills, but also to develop their own values and opinions.
2. Empower Students Through Responsibility
Provide opportunities for teens to take on responsibilities within the class, such as leading activities, peer teaching, or managing certain aspects of the class. This not only empowers them, but also fosters leadership and organizational skills.
When appropriate, you can pair weaker and stronger students together, but I don’t recommend doing this all the time.
Tip: Assign different roles during group activities, jigsaw readings, debates and projects. Rotate these roles so everyone has a chance to be a leader.
3. Project-based Learning
In Spanish schools, you may be teaching other subjects such as Physical Education, Art, Science, Social Studies or even Philosophy – just in English. This creates opportunities to improve your students’ language skills through content-based projects.
Science projects were a huge hit with this age group and they didn’t even seem to notice that they were communicating in English with one another.
Tip: Teaching isn’t one size fits all. Offer students the option to complete projects in pairs, small groups or independently.
4. Encourage Self-Expression
Create a safe and supportive environment where teens feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas in English. To create this kind of environment, you need to get to know your students on an individual level and show them that it’s ok to make mistakes.
I like to pull out my students one at a time each quarter to have an informal chat about how they are liking my classes and their learning goals. You can have the rest of the class work on a reading, etc. while you conduct interviews.
Tip: If you notice that a student is feeling or acting “off” during a lesson, pull them aside after class to chat. Do not do this during class as it can be embarrassing for the student. If you are teaching in Spain as a language assistant, work with your co-teacher to address any issues.
Teaching ESL to kids and teens in Spain involves understanding the distinct needs, interests, and challenges of each age group. If you are a new teacher, ask if you can observe a veteran teacher at your school.
Teaching in Spain means teaching in a different education system and culture. Bring some of your own experience and ideas into your classroom, but remember to be open-minded and flexible. Happy teaching!
About the author:
Jamie Gajewski is a US educator who taught in three different schools in Madrid, Spain between 2010-2016. She currently teaches online from Australia and helps TEFL teachers start their own teaching journeys. You can check out her YouTube channel ESL Teacher 365 for more resources and tips for TEFL teachers.