By Cierra Gillard, Middle School Spanish Teacher
Learning a new language, at its root, is about communicating with others. Sure, vocabulary and grammar are essential, but unless there is a communicative purpose, it can be difficult to truly connect with the language. Students often cite their reason for learning Spanish as being the ability to communicate with Spanish-speakers in work, study, and travel, which are fantastic goals! As I spoke with a former colleague at the Steward School in Richmond, VA about our students' need for interpersonal communication in Spanish in real-life and meaningful contexts, we decided to have our 8th grade Spanish 1B students support each other in their learning journey by being pen pals with one another for the school year.
By engaging in this project, students meaningfully communicate with their pen pals in both written and spoken Spanish. Evan D. notes, "[This project] is good for my conversational Spanish and helps with my skills relaying messages." Not only do students practice their productive skills, they also have the opportunity to gauge how their Spanish compares with that of other learners at the same point on their Spanish journey.
Topics covered in the letters have included: favorite travels, school life, clothing items, homes, weekend activities, and holidays. Students have been interested to learn about the lives of teens their age in another part of the country. Through this project, students have learned new vocabulary and noted differences in Spanish dialect, zeroed in on grammatical concepts, and gained confidence in their own level of Spanish. Student Rebecca S. says, "It's cool to see what they know versus what we know. It's a more fun way to learn." With the real-life context of their letters, students have been able to circle back to past learning topics and see that they know more than they may have believed. Justin L. said, "It's a great project because we are contacting new people and using Spanish to learn about them. We also can learn new vocabulary from them and use the vocabulary we learn in class."
My 8th Grade Brentwood students impress me daily with their ability to grasp concepts, connect ideas, and use humor in their new language. It is wonderful to see them notice just how much they really do know!