5 Things to Remember in Early Elementary FL Classes

Hi everyone, it’s been a while. I have been away from the blog for a little while starting with the rush to get trimester 1 grades in and then getting ready for Thanksgiving and all the things in between. This is the craziest part of the year (until the last few days, that is) and it feels like everything was getting away from me. But now I’m back on track and ready to write again.

And I have something to write about.

I recently received a comment from a reader asking for tips with K-3 storytelling and to be perfectly honest, that is the level that I struggle with the most. I have the least amount of experience teaching them and the least amount of time with them per week. So I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting and throwing ideas and methods against the wall to see what sticks.

Here’s what I have learned so far:

  1. Each group is different, we can’t just have one plan for all the groups at the same grade level

The individual differences of the kids’ personalities are so much more pronounced in the early grades, probably because they don’t have the ability to contain all their thoughts and emotions like older kids can. When they get older, they can reel in some of their habits that aren’t conducive to the learning environment, but early on, those habits are all out there for you to see.

This makes it difficult sometimes to plan for one grade. One group of first graders might be loud and wild, another might be quiet and unwilling to participate, another might be right in the middle. I have found that for some classes, I can get away with having activities where they sit still the whole 30 minutes, but others need to be up and moving. The biggest challenge has been figuring out how to get the same content in to the same grade level in different ways.

  1. For the most part, they want to be active

Especially the youngest ones-they want to be up and moving around. They love and really respond to TPR activities and to songs that have dances that go with them. And when songs don’t have dances, you can make up your own moves that will help them to get moving and focused. Remember that the goal is for them to be internalizing language. They won’t be producing much (if anything) in Kindergarten and 1st grade, so it’s ok for them to just listen and participate (especially if you only have a very short amount of time)

  1. The students can sit still and be quiet, but they need to have something in front of them 

This is why I used to rely on coloring sheets. They were “under control” when they had something in front of them and I didn’t have to constantly keep them on task. Some teachers and bloggers are against using coloring sheets in language classes at this level, but I think that they can be useful, if you are using them thoughtfully.

There are benefits to having the kids sitting quietly and focusing on something. There is only one benchmark every activity needs to reach: Does it help the students acquire? Are they getting good input in the TL?

If it is just a plain jane coloring sheet that you give them to do as busy work, then it’s probably not going to help them acquire much. If, on the other hand, you can have them working on something that forces them to listen to and comprehend the TL, then they will be acquiring the TL. It may seem difficult, but with a little thought and experimentation, you can adapt any activity to make it input-rich.

For example, I had great success with a reading and coloring activity that we did in class: I broke up the TPRS story that they heard in class into 6 boxes and they had to read it with me and then draw a picture of what was in each box. I read it with them and drew with them for the first two boxes so they understood what to do and then I just read to them and they drew their own pictures for the last 4 boxes. It worked really well—they were engaged, reading, and showing comprehension through drawing.

  1. The students might not seem to be paying attention, but they’re acquiring, so don’t stop talking in the TL

Sometimes the kids who seem like they are focusing the least are picking up the language right in front of you but you can’t see it. All of the sudden, one day a student who has been interrupting and disrupting class will start talking in the TL. It has happened to me several times and each time I’m still amazed. Even though it seemed like the student wasn’t interested at all, they heard everything I said and understood it and processed it and eventually acquired it.

Speak in the TL as much as possible and always have faith that it’s getting through to them. They will pick up a lot more than it seems.

  1. We can’t linger too long on one activity, no matter how compelling, interesting, or “good” it is

The activity needs to constantly change—I need to stay ahead of their attention spans and keep them hooked. They will get bored otherwise. And bored students are disruptive students.

This is why doing all the different songs at the beginning works well – they get to sing each song and then take a quick break, then sing another and do completely different actions (first song-“Buenos días”-has hand motions, cómo estás has faces to make, and then the students get out of their seats for linguacafé-style conversations)

In the past, after singing songs I would expect the students to be able to sit in their seats and quietly listen and participate for 25 minutes. I had great stories and great question and answer activities, but they took a really long time. I don’t know why I expected the kids to sit through it, though. Everything I have seen in my experience as a Spanish teacher has told me otherwise. If you look at what I just wrote above and think about why the songs work so well and keep the students so engaged, you’ll see that it is precisely because they have to keep moving and doing different things. Instead of just doing a chunk of activity at one time, I instead have started to keep the action going throughout the classroom by sprinkling in brain breaks and activities that get the kids up and moving.

The only requirement is for them to listening to and comprehending the language, so why can’t that be done while they are standing? Or dancing? Or jumping? Or spinning?

Sample Plan

Here’s a sample lesson plan (not the whole thing, just the list of activities that I will do in the 30 minutes) to give you an idea of what I have found to work in the youngest grades. Remember: the idea is to keep them peppy, moving, and loud (sure their grade-level teachers might not like that, but if you want them to acquire, they have to be engaged)!

I hope that this helps and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know!

Introduction activities – 4-6 minutes

  • TPR actions (stand up, sit down, jump up and down, breathe in, breathe out—I add some funny sound effects to this part, spin around, repeat nonsense words, etc)
    • These actions get them up and moving and get their blood flowing and get them into the mood for listening to and responding to the TL
  • Songs – with words and actions
    • Standard “Buenos días” song (to the tune of Frere Jacques) and I invented some hand motions (waving, shrugging, thumbs up, etc)
    • “Cómo Estás” adapted from a Basho and Friends video I found on Youtube called Cómo estás?
  • Conversations to get them out of their chairs and talking with their friends in the TL
    • (como estas and answers that they practiced for a few months with the song mentioned above)

Vocabulary review – 5-8 minutes

  • Back to the seats and stand up for TPR actions for adjective review (tall/short, fast/slow, etc)

Reading/Storytelling – 8-10 minutes

  • Then students sit in their morning meeting spots for story time – then we read “Perro grande…Perro pequeño” translated from the PD Eastman book
    • Lots of story-asking throughout the book
    • Editing the text of the book as I read it to make it more comprehensible
    • “Getting it wrong!”

Review story – 5-10 minutes

  • Students draw pictures of their favorite scenes
  • Or
  • Students tell the story to a partner in English
  • Or
  • Students draw a comic strip of the story (more for the older students)

Ending “Sponge” Activities (a term one of my professors taught me about the activities used to “soak up” the extra time in class and keep it all in the TL) – 3-4 minutes

  • If time after reading, students will play a game (veo veo or simon says – something to keep their brains working in Spanish and their production level low so that they don’t feel any pressure to produce until they are ready)


  1. Activities where students have to show comprehension through drawing and coloring always work for me! I think these activities are a very easy way to boost students’ creativity and to engage students with a strong visual intelligence. Me encanta todo lo que haces con el storytelling en clase, ¡gracias por compartir!


  2. Thank you very much! I have been reading your blogs for the past three hours and I find them very inspiring and helpful, Thanks for sharing your reflections in your blogs. I feel like I am listening to the mentor or coworker I never had nor will have 🙂 I create my own power points for all of my classes and use the images and slides as my “guides” for the day’s lesson. It also provides scaffolding / visual cues to students so I can stay longer in the target language. Research shows that images are very powerful and help connect the words to the image in the student’s brains. The powerpoints take me hours to make as I think about all the possible scenarios and I click on my remote clicker so I can be circulating the room or by the smart board and as I interact with them the images or words /etc come up – it’s a lot of whole class interaction. I would like to use CI and TPRS but have never been trained on this nor have I ever had a mentor and I am the only person in the school teaching “exploratory Spanish” . Once a week for 40 to 45 minutes k-2 and three times a week for 3rd to 6th grade but ONLY for a quarter a year and I have new students each year in every level. (I am “part time” who created this program in the school at first as an almost volunteer as they did not have a language program and my daughter was a student there (now a senior in HS) I am a certified PK-3rd grade teacher but not a graduate from a Spanish teaching program. I am a native speaker who came to US when I was 31 years old. and now teach with a non tax certificate .
    Since you know more people? Do you know of anyone who does videos to show themselves teaching to PK , k 1st, 2nd, 3rd and or 4th grade students in the target language? or someone who blogs with specific ideas of activities and interactions for k- 3rd? Do you know of a good seminar I might be able to benefit from for someone who does not know any CI nor TPRS but focused on early language learners such as PK – 4th grade?

    Any information whenever you or some of your blog readers have some time would be greatly appreciated!!
    Gracias anticipadas por cualquier cooperación que pueda brindar! DS


    1. There are several teachers who film things for and from their classrooms, one that will be super helpful will be Señor Howard (https://www.youtube.com/user/senorhoward) and another blogger who has lots of videos and helpful blog posts (not specifically for elementary, but a lot of her things have worked for me in elementary) is La Maestra Loca (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJQxKIyg5Ko8cGt1PTSWwwQ).

      You might want to consider joining the National Network for Early Language Learners (https://nnell.org/) and/or the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (https://www.actfl.org/). Both have many resources for teachers and many opportunities for networking with other teachers.

      The other thing to do is to join Twitter (if you aren’t already on it) and join in on foreign language teacher chats, specifically #langchat and #earlylang. These are both vibrant conversations that happen 2x a month and have lots of teachers from all kinds of backgrounds and languages who share ideas about lots of topics.

      In an exploratory setting, I think that TPRS would be beneficial because the kids can feel like they can participate and understand from day 1. If you can find and attend a workshop near you, I highly recommend it, especially for 2nd – 4th grades (https://www.tprsbooks.com/workshops/). I have had trouble with TPRS stories with k and 1 because they need to be more active and moving around the room. For the youngest students, I find that a highly structured class helps keep them focused and builds their fluency in the basics. Every time I see them (once a week) we do our “me llamo” song, a “como estas” song, a counting chant, and a color recitation activity (getting it wrong – I ask students what the color is in Spanish, then I act like I forgot and say the wrong thing and they love correcting me). Then, that leaves about 15 minutes for new material, which is enough to introduce 2-3 new vocabulary words or to practice with words we have learned in previous classes.

      I hope this helps out and if you have any more questions, please feel free to comment or to email me at senorfernie@gmail.com.
      ¡Hasta luego y buena suerte!


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