Spanish Sometimes

Among foreign language teachers, students´ talking in their native language during lessons instead of practicing the subject at hand is a common frustration. At our JumpStart camp in Carrizal de León Cortés, one of the co-facilitators, Maria Gabriela, has developed a creative strategy to maximize the amount of time her kids spend listening to and using English while in class.

She's made a Spanish hat! Unless they're wearing it, everyone is supposed to speak only in English. That rule applies not just to students, but to Maria Gabriela and her co-teacher, Marielos, as well. At the beginning of class each student receives 4 tokens; any time they speak in Spanish without the coveted Spanish hat, they loose one. At the end of the day Maria Gabriela and Marielos record the number of tokens each student has left on a chart, and the student with the most tokens at the end of every week receives a small prize! The Spanish hat concept is dedicated to Maria Gabriela's cat, Oliver, who is accompanying her and her students in Carrizal throughout JumpStart. The tokens are even shaped like cat prints!

When Maria Gabriela and Marielos are explaining more complex activities and grammar concepts to their students, and adding gestures and demonstrations isn´t enough for them to get their point across in English, they put on the hat. Ocassionally, they will also let their students wear it. Whether it´s most effective to speak only in English when teaching the language to non-native speakers is a topic of considerable debate. In Carrizal, the goal isn´t to completely eliminate Spanish from the classroom. Rather, it is to better ensure that everyone makes an effort to express themselves in English first.