Every year we start our Spanish 1 class with a card talk activity so that, from the very first hour of class, we are immersed in the target language. No singing the alphabet, no pronunciation drills, no awkward memorization of greetings. On the first day I am already using my Sweet 16 posters to focus on the highest frequency verbs.
I am careful to steer our conversation through a sea of cognates so that student comprehension comes easily, but every year there is always someone who cannot hear the elephant in elefante. And everyone, even my superstars, occasionally have their slow processing days when the word hospital in Spanish sounds nothing like hospital in English.
Members of the CI Master Class can access my “Card Talk Database“, a list of drawing prompts based on the Sweet 16 verbs that will get your students making conversation starters about their lives that are perfect for the first few weeks of school. Still not a subscriber? Click to subscribe here.
We have come up with the perfect class routine to tune all ears to the cognates. When I say a cognate I pause, then say the Spanish word béisbol to which the entire class responds “baseball!!”. Now that they are alerted to the presence of a cognate I repeat the cognate and the students who understand (usually most of the class) shout out the word in English.
I love this little routine because students who did not instantly understand the cognate have a chance to process before I give them the answer. The students who did understand it are proud that they can demonstrate their mental agility. The quiet students who did not hear the elephant in elefante are able to comprehend without feeling humiliated and the entire routine is so quick that our class conversation is barely interrupted.
During live in-person classes I encourage students to discreetly use a hand signal to indicate that they are not understanding the conversation. Many students are so easily embarrassed that they would rather sit quietly through an incomprehensible class than stop the class for an explanation, so allowing them to discreetly call my attention is important. If you are teaching online, however, students have less options to discreetly attract your attention. In this context, you’ll need to remain proactive and use a cognate recognition routine like Béisbol Baseball!! even when you think the cognate is easy to hear.