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First Days of Spanish Part 3: Get Students Moving, Speaking, and Understanding Spanish

In this series about the first days of Spanish class, I’ve talked about getting to know your students and going over rules and procedures.  Today I want to talk about ways to get students talking and understanding in target language right away using TPR Vocabulary.  TPR stands for Total Physical Response.  It is basically a language acquisition method that uses movements to relate to words.

On the first or second day of class, I give students a vocabulary list with several commands that they will frequently hear in class.  {I like giving students vocabulary lists because I’ve seen them copy words incorrectly from their textbook or the board and then they are studying the incorrect meanings.  I print their lists on colored paper or cardstock.  Later in the year if they ask for the meaning of a word, I can say “Está en la lista azul.”}  I give them both the tú command and the ustedes command because they will hear both in class.  I choose commands that students will need to understand in class.  Here are some examples:
siéntate / siéntense
levántate / levántense
da una vuelta / den una vuelta
mira / miren
escucha / escuchen

I also add a few extra words that they will need to know right away.  For example:
el cuaderno
el nombre
el papel
la mano

Here’s an example vocabulary list:

To define the words I use a Word Wall PowerPoint.  It has the vocabulary word on the top and a photo to define the word.  I also print and laminate them to hang from a clothesline with clothespins as my word wall.

I show students the slide, they fill in the definition on the list and we practice pronouncing the word.  With the commands, I will also give them a movement to go along with each word.  So they will sit when they hear siéntate and open their hands when they hear abre, etc.  Usually I would go over and practice just commands one day and then add in the extra vocabulary the next day.
Now it’s time to practice!  I have students stand up and then I call out various commands to them.  They then perform the movement for the command.  After some practice, you can also have them close their eyes so that they aren’t just copying what their classmates are doing.
For a warmup, you can have students make a list of 15 commands using the words from their vocabulary list.  Ex.  saca el papel, toca la cabeza, abre el cuaderno.  Then they can get into pairs and read their commands for their partner to act out.
I also use these task card sets for students to practice in groups or pairs.  They can start by drawing a card from the stack, reading it, and then performing the movement.  Then they can have one student draw a card and read it out loud for their partner or group members to perform. The teacher can also use the task cards to call out commands to the class.
One of my students’ favorite games is Matamoscas!  To play matamoscas you can mix up the vocabulary words on a paper or on the board.  For class play, split the class into two teams, have a member from each team come up to the board and give them each a flyswatter .  Call out the English word and have the 2 players swat the correct Spanish word with the flyswatter. Whoever finds it first, gets a point for their team.  You can also play in pairs by giving each pair a page with the words and whoever puts their finger on the word first gets a point.
Finally, you can assess students’ comprehension of the commands after a week or so of practicing them.  You can do a matching quiz and/or a performance assessment.  For my classes, I did a performance assessment where they pretended to play Simon Says in Colombia.  Students worked on independent work while I called students one at a time.  I would say 5 commands (one at a time) and they would perform them for a quiz grade.  As long as they could do each of the 5 commands without me saying it more than twice, they earned 100%.
The goal of introducing these commands is to be able to conduct basic classroom procedures all in Spanish right from the start.  Even though these activities are great for level 1 Spanish, you can also use them in upper levels.  Students may have already learned some of the verbs but they may not know the commands yet.  Once they learn them, it will also help as they learn how to form commands later in the year.
If you’d like to learn more about the TPR activities I used, you can check them out here:
Also, check out this blog post about using TPR circling questions to practice and learn student names!  This is another great idea for the first days of Spanish!

Hi, I'm Katherine!

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