Incorporating Grammar and/or Textbooks


Our district's world languages curriculum includes a heavy load of grammar, and I do explicit grammar instruction every block. In general I try not to introduce a new grammar topic unless my students have already been seeing or hearing it in context. Fortunately, with my skits they are almost always being exposed to multiple types of grammar constructions in context, from level 1A on, so that when we sit down with a grammar worksheet, they have some background knowledge or framework to "hang" the grammar rules on. It just makes more sense to them that way in my experience.

I try not to spend a huge amount of time on grammar in any given class period if I can help it. I try to make it seem like grammar's not a big deal; I tell them conjugating is easy if you recognize some of the basic patterns of Spanish verbs. I make or find worksheets by piecing together exercises I like for each grammar topic from grammar workbooks I found in our department's storage room or bought online. (See my blog post on Grammar Resources for a list of grammar workbooks I recommend.) In any case, you may want to use your textbook resources, AMSCO materials, or find grammar worksheets in commercial workbooks like I do. (Important: put a little marker at the bottom right-hand corner of your grammar worksheet masters that say what level/what lesson it goes with, such as "3A L4." That way you can file it in the hanging-files-by-lesson system I described in my article on Getting Started With My Lessons, and it will be there ready for you when you need it next year.)

My basic grammar-instruction sequence goes like this:
  1. In levels 3 and 4, students fill in notes on their copy of my Spanish Grammar Notes Big List (only in levels 3 and 4) for the new topic. This is kept in their binder for their own notes and reference (and accountability for what they are supposed to know.)
  2. We do a worksheet together on the grammar topic. I like to project mine with my document camera. I do some of each exercise with them as we talk our way through it, then set a timer and have them try to do the remainder of the exercise on their own before we go over it together. While they are working alone, I circulate to make sure they are on task and offer help to students who look stumped or distracted.
  3. When the worksheet is finished, I grab my clipboard of seating chart copies, walk around to see if they filled in all the blanks on the worksheet, and check their name/seat that they did it and assign points for completion. They keep their grammar worksheets in the Grammar section of their Spanish binders so they have something to study for the test. Absent students make them up by copying mine that I filled out under the document camera. Hopefully they will at least pay some attention to what they are copying, but the main point is that they have a copy of the notes for that grammar topic and can be held accountable for studying/knowing it.
  4. I assign homework related to the grammar topic.
  5. The next class period that grammar topic pops up again on the warm-up quiz.
  6. We usually go over the homework before they turn it in. I don't really want to grade it individually, and I don't think that grade-and-pass-back feedback is as useful as them going over their own and correcting it.
  7. They are tested on the grammar topics on the Mini-pruebas and the Midterm in a very straight-forward, multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank way. I try to make tests that won't kill their grade if they miss a lot of the grammar answers, but I do want to hold them at least somewhat accountable for learning grammar.
Makeup Work
Absent student: "What did I miss? Can I get my makeup work?" You: "Uhh..." because you have no idea what they missed without looking up 1) the date(s) they missed; 2) your lesson plans for those dates; and 3) scrambling around in your files or piles of paper looking for the grammar worksheets that go with that lesson.

I know there are a lot of systems for dealing with this problem, but here's the one that works best for me. I have a plastic file crate (purchased at Staples I think) that holds hanging files. I have a couple of hanging files in it for each prep, labeled with the plastic hanging file tabs, that I put all my extra copies for the day in along with my worksheet notes (the ones that I did under the document camera,) paperclipped together. These groups of copies are in the hanging file more or less in the order we did them in class, so I can usually figure out what a person missed by simply showing them the last group of worksheets and homework assignments in the hanging file for their class. Once they see the one that doesn't look familiar to them, I give them one of the extra worksheet copies, my notes to copy, and the homework assignment that went with it (which is also in the crate.) And for the vocab they missed, I tell them to ask a neighbor if they can copy it from their vocab list at their desks. Done!

Incorporating Your Textbook

You may have a Spanish textbook you really like, or you may be required to use a textbook as at least part of your Spanish curriculum. I get it. Here is what I recommend:

1. Textbook Vocab. If you need to follow a specific chapter sequence in your textbook, look at my master vocab list in the back of each of my lesson plan books and align it with your textbook's order of vocab themes. You can then pick and choose the order of my skits you tell to better match the vocab sequence in your textbook. I would guess that your Spanish textbook is probably not all that different from mine (Good old Expr√©sate,) and you should be able to align at least a good 75 - 95% of my skits with your textbook. (You can check my vocab lists now by clicking on the level you want from my Books page here. From there, click on the level of books you're interested in and then follow the "vocab list" links on that book's page.)

If you have textbook activities you like that either introduce or practice the chapter's vocab, throw 'em in! You could introduce a textbook chapter's vocab with the textbook, then go to my lessons and teach a relevant skit or two, then go back to the textbook for some reinforcement/speaking/writing/reading activities to go with it.

2. Textbook Grammar. This is an even more obvious area to incorporate your textbook, if you like the grammar presentation and exercises in your textbook. Most textbooks come with a host of ancillary materials that you can use, so if you have some parts or pieces you like, like the student workbook, go for it. There's no reason you have to teach grammar in exactly the same order that I do in my lesson plan books, so for grammar, just teach it in the order your textbook does. In most cases, it will probably align with what I do fairly closely anyway (present tense in level 1, preterit and imperfect in level 2, subjunctive, future, and conditional in level 3, and so on.)

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