Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teaching Kids About the Structure of the Spanish Language

By Liz Armstrong, Reading Recovery and Descubriendo la Lectura Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

One of the most often overlooked sources of information that children use when they are reading is structure. If you're looking for effective ideas that help with teaching Spanish to kids, you'll want to keep reading.

Children can anticipate what comes next in a sentence using what would follow the previous words in their oral language. It is much like when you start texting someone, and your phone comes up with some possible alternatives that use linguistic algorithms to provide words that would appropriately continue a sentence. For example, if I text I am going in my cellphone, I get a few possible options that would follow the word going in oral language: to , home , and on .

Two of these options are prepositions that would start a prepositional phrase would follow I am going : I am going to the store ; I am going on vacation . The word home is an example of a noun that doesn’t need a prepositional phrase to precede it. It works just the same in Spanish. If I type “Voy a ir” on my phone, similar to English, una frase preposicional (a prepositional phrase) would follow: Voy a ir a la tienda ; voy a ir al mercado ; voy a ir con mi familia .

As texts get more complex in English and in Spanish, the language becomes more complex. Sometimes the language of the text may not match the language of a child, which gives us two options. We could deprive the child of the learning opportunity, or we could use different scaffolds:

  • Shared reading - Joining in on parts that children don’t have the language or skills for, pulling back out, echoing behind them on subsequent readings, and dropping out across the text.
  • Repeated readings - Think lap reading to your child of a favorite book that he or she doesn’t have the language for before multiple readings, but little by little takes on more and more of the language as they hear it more times.
  • Encourage kids to use language from the text in their writing - Think mentor texts and linking what they notice authors doing when they read and using literary language in their written pieces.

These types of scaffolds and this type of instruction is important for all children at some point because book language, or literate language, is different from the register of social language. It is even more important for children who are emergent bilingual students (students who receive speech and language services or English speaking students in two-way immersion programs).

The big book version of the narrative text El rey paloma offers many opportunities to show kids many complex features of the Spanish language:

Often we forget about the need to develop reading and writing in conjunction. Now think about how this might be amplified for students who need additional support with language acquisition for any number of reasons. A literacy framework and a workshop model provides the embedded opportunities for shared reading which exposes children to language above their own and with the repeated readings allows for a book that would be outside of a student’s instructional range to come into control through the scaffolded support.

El rey paloma is a fiction book for kids that is at guided reading level F/10, and the language is quite complex. Using the big book version and then having multiple copies of the guided reading leveled books would allow students to participate in the shared reading opportunity. This will also enable kids to practice reading the book in partner reading or independent reading. The workshop model provides the opportunity to use this and other Spanish books for kids as an instructional text in small group instruction during guided reading.

Weaving in similar language use and the craft of authors is a big part of writers’ workshop, and children can be scaffolded through interactive writing, modeled writing, and writing conferences. When children have strong language and writing experiences, they build anticipation of how stories and books might go, and this allows kids to access more than just the visual information in a text.

Visit our blog often to support students in your classroom, and be sure to teach with intention!

Liz Armstrong has been a Reading Recovery and Descubriendo la Lectura Teacher Leader for the past five years. Before training to be a Teacher Leader, Liz obtained her master's degree in administration with licensure as principal, director of instruction, and significant coursework toward director of special education licensure. She has been an educator since 2002 with experience as an ESL teacher, bilingual classroom teacher, bilingual literacy intervention specialist, and bilingual instructional coach. In 2011, she completed a professional development certificate program with action research on how a focus on language development impacts achievement in reading and writing in various instructional settings. Language development, using data to inform instruction, and equity/advocacy for all students have been areas of emphasis in her career as an educator.