Heritage speakers

Here are my posts that focus on teaching Spanish to heritage speakers.

Essential first steps

Language Shyness among Heritage Speakers with a link to Stephen Krashen´s short but indispensable article on the topic.

Your heritage speakers think you are weird on expanding your students language community

Contact: A Great Game for Heritage Speakers


On building a class library for heritage speakers

Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes (Embedded reading, links to two films, adapted version of original text by Gabriel García Márquez, comments about teaching vocabulary in context)

En el fondo del caño hay un negrito (description of how I taught this short story, along with several supporting activities)

El libro de los americanos desconocidos

Palabras que empiezan con H

Reading journals

Recent Acquisitions for Heritage Speakers

Compelling reading


Radio Ambulante

Two documentaries that captivated my students

Let me be frank: compelling reading had a far bigger impact on my students writing than any explicit spelling lesson. Nonetheless I am including these lessons about accents because they helped me, a non-native speaker of Spanish, develop a certain authority in the classroom. These are lessons that we do early in the year and then refer to in 5 second grammar pop-ups throughout the year, mostly as a way to draw their attention to spelling. Nonetheless I am convinced that student spelling improves through reading, not through mechanical exercises like these.

Teaching heritage speakers about accents 1

Accents, part 2


  1. Hello, I am teaching at a school where 98% of the students are heritage speakers. This is my first year at this school, which is a charter school that requires bell ringers and exit tickets. Do you have any recommendations for bell ringers? I struggle with finding ways to make them engaging for the students.
    Also, I am a cart teacher, so when class is starting I am logging into the computer (we are required to take attendance in the first ten minutes of every class period) and getting any supplies we need out.

    1. Having to log on while you kids are supposed to get started is deadly, I have been there! Long term plan is to try to get some sort of FVR library so that they spend the first 5-10 minutes reading silently. But I understand how it is… that might take a couple of years until you can get a room, get the books, make a name for yourself in this school.

      Do you do W&D at the end of class? Even heritage learners benefit, perhaps especially, because it is not new information but they are processing all of the spelling the second time round. I used to have an old projector… not one hooked up to a computer, the old style projector with transparencies. If you have one of those, make it a habit to do W&D every day and take a photo before end of class. At the end of the day copy the W&D onto a transparency so that at the beginning of class you can slap that down and have them translate the W&D from yesterday. Boom! Instant bell ringer!!

      1. Thank you! Your advice has helped a lot.
        I have another question, though.
        Next year, my school is dividing our heritage speakers into their own class (we currently have them mixed in with novice learners, which is pretty terrible). I am working on developing a curriculum for them, but I am a new teacher with very little experience planning curriculum (this is the spring of my first year teaching!). Any suggestions for where to start? My school requires the year to be broken into clearly defined units, with one assessment per month. I plan on doing a lot of reading and writing, and have been building a class library (we just passed 100 books!), but I’m struggling with how to piece everything into units.

      2. Here is an idea that will give you tons of flexibility. Take a short sample from each book in your FVR library, just the most engaging scene, and plan on reading 2-3 scenes every week as whole class book talks. Arrange them as you like, but I would resist the urge to arrange them by reading level progressing from easy to hard. Instead, arrange them loosely by theme so that if an admin type looks at what you are doing, you can tell him/her that this month your students are focusing on biographical writing, or during another “2 week unit” your students are reflecting on narrative structure with action-oriented writing, or that they are studying descriptive narrative with a unit on writing about emotions.

        Call every 2-4 weeks a “unit” and do a monthly gallery walk so that students can present on whichever books they have read during the short 10 minute pleasure reading period at the beginning of each period. The bonus is that, if you lead your writing portion of the class as a creative writing class, then your reading dictates the writing skills you’ll focus on. “Hey kids, during this unit we will examine how writers describe the emotional world of their characters, and we will use their tricks to improve our own writing about emotions. We are going to start with X book…”

        Sounds fun!

  2. I’m teaching a level 3 class to heritage speakers in 7th and 8th grade for the first time. I’m not a native speaker. I don’t have all the money in the world to buy books and I’m frustrated trying to follow the curriculum, use the textbook, and “review” grammatical concepts that they FAIL every time. I feel like a complete failure as they’re teacher and I’m trying to find a way to reach them but I don’t know how. Not to mention they just don’t do the work. I also struggle to find age appropriate literature. I have 2 small kids at home so I also can’t dedicate all of my evenings to work. Any suggestions?

    1. I do!

      (1) Stop teaching grammar altogether. I can cite research, but trust me here. It is rarely appropriate to teach grammar to language learners. They will acquire much faster through pleasure reading.
      (2) No homework. It is not worth the fight.
      (3) Building a reading library is going to be a five year plan. Post a request on https://www.donorschoose.org/ so that you do not have to pay for it. Start this year with EASY EASY readers from https://fluencymatters.com/ and https://tprsbooks.com/, try to get 2 copies of every book that you can. Start each class with self-selected reading— students choose the books they want.
      (4) Goal for Winter Break: Read my acquisition guide to diversify your library and read up on FVR in order to learn how to lead students to read independently. https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/building-a-class-library-for-heritage-speakers-of-spanish/ This is a 5 year plan!
      (5) I divide my class into 3 parts: (a) independent reading 10-20 minutes although when they start they may only be able to handle 5 minutes, (b) various activities… could be a game like https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/contact-a-speaking-game-for-native-speakers/ or an academic content unit about the Spanish speaking world or a notable Spanish-speaker, or kindergarten reading in which I read to them, or I tell them a story and they draw (10-20 minutes), and then the last part of the class is watching a telenovela. I always choose one from a language community that is less familiar to them… such as El Internado streamed from Netflix or one of the telenovelas on RTVE.
      (6) Have them do quick writes on any topic once a month. If they are reading, you should see gradual improvements in their writing.

  3. Hey Mike,

    I am ready to start a mini library in classroom. I found a list of books for heritage spearkers, but I can´t find any recommendation for my regular Spanish class. can you share with a list of book you suggest I buy?

    1. Start with these websites:
      and the lower level novels from the Leer en español series from Santanilla:

      That is a good start… when you have more funds start diversifying the library with children´s encyclopedias in Spanish (here is a good example from Scholastic, but I find that dealing directly with scholastic is a headache: https://www.amazon.com/Scholastic-Explora-Tu-Mundo-Rainforests/dp/0545565596/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489104543&sr=8-1&keywords=selva+tropical ), school appropriate graphic novels and manga ( here is a great example: https://www.amazon.com/Sonrie-Spanish-Raina-Telgemeier/dp/8416690235/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1489104659&sr=1-1&keywords=sonrie ) and some middle school readers like Judy Moody, Diary of a wimpy boy, etcetera

  4. This is also my first year teaching Heritage Learners and I am finding a lot of difficulty helping them with grammar, writing, spelling, and reading, even simple vocabulary.
    The books they give us for Heritage 1 start at Level 3 Spanish and Heritage 2 at Spanish Level 4 seem at times too advanced, but Spanish I level books are too easy or are they? When I expose my Heritage Kids to some simple Spanish I level material-they seem to struggle (spelling, reading time, verbs, etc). It’s as if we cannot move on smoothly, because there are so many gaps. I feel like I am glossing over topics instead of diving into them and then moving on (i.e. preterito, or ser/estar).
    They also are so confident they know everything about Spanish; they do not study and then struggle with test, quizzes, homework, etc.

    I teach high school and I find the Heritage kids very reluctant in spelling, dictation, breaking words by syllables, speaking Spanish.

    I also teach a group of non-native Spanish I students and a good majority seem catch on faster to spelling, etc better than my Heritage learners who have been exposed to the language and culture longer.

    How do I help them? Do you have any tips?

    By the way I am a native speaker, but I feel very much out of the loop in helping my Heritage students.

    Any help would be appreciated, thanks!


    1. Tamara,

      Take a look at the article on language shyness that I posted on my heritage speakers page, there is a reason that they are so reluctant to speak. I teach a heritage 1 class and 0% of their grade is based on speaking.

      The bigger problem, and I say this with kindness and lots of love for my fellow language teachers, is the approach. Studying grammar, vocabulary lists, breaking words into syllables, spelling quizzes… these are all things that have disappeared from English for native-speakers classes because those methods do not foster language acquisition. My brother, who is a 4th grade teacher, spends a lot of class time reading to his kids, discussing the readings together and allowing them time to read on their own.

      Among language teachers we look to people like Stephen Krashen, whose work is the foundation of successful, research-based approaches to second language acquisition. Read one of his books on the power of reading to inspire you to create a heritage speakers program that will engage students and will actually get them to spell correctly. I honestly do not personally know a single teacher who still uses a textbook; almost every major textbook that I am familiar with is organized by a so-called common sense approach of thematic vocabulary lists and grammar units that would seem very, very old-fashioned in an English class. Please read my essay about the grammar syllabus: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/the-grammar-syllabus-is-worth-fighting-against/

      This is a huge change, so do not feel bad if you cannot change everything all at once. The more easy reading they do, however, the better their language skills will become. 🙂

      1. Thanks, I read it, I am also reading the rest of your blog. Sorry if I came across as if I am book dependent. This is my second year teaching Spanish in a new school. With a new department, we are all under the pressure of having to follow the curriculum to a T, which is hard to do, especially on block schedule. So if let’s say we are required to cover la escuela unit lesson 1 in 6 days. I have to give kids two quizzes (voc/grammar) and one test. Then move on to next half of the unit and do the same thing again. It has become monotonous and un-inspiring. I feel I should be allowed to move at my student’s pace and we should be allowed to enjoy the language not rushed through. When I state that we are not going to finish on time, I get a mean look and I am told I have to finish no matter what.

        I just found your blog, because I am desperate to make thing more meaningful and interesting to my Heritage and beginning Spanish students.


      2. And I am sorry if I made you feel bad about the teaching situation that you are in. It sounds like your department chair is not well-informed, and really your first priority is to keep your job!!! I would recommend that whatever changes you make in your classroom, be quiet and unassuming. See if you can find an ally in your department, but avoid directly challenging the people who are in charge.

        It sounds like you have to give a set of common quizzes, but if you can make your own quizzes you might be able to follow their rules while making it more student.friendly. When I was in your situation the first thing I did was limit vocabulary… for instance, when I did do “la escuela” vocab in 6 days I focused on the 5 most important phrases first and gave a matching Spanish to English quiz for the rest (that kids had to study at home). The kids knew that they learned one way for the matching quiz, but then we played with the other words quite a bit so that they really mastered them.

        You really are a blessing to your students. If anyone in your administration is keen enough to recognize how important it is to have a teacher who pays closer attention to her kids needs than the needs of the canned curriculum, then you will be honored as you should be. Until then, keep your job and keep working to bring joy to your students lives.

        Good luck!

  5. I just found your blog a few weeks ago. I’m teaching Spanish for Native Speakers 1 this year, so I’m really happy to find so many great ideas. I recently began a reading program and it’s going really well! I’m planning on adding a reading journal in January when we start back up again.

    My district has had a native speakers program for many years, but the curriculum is in *desperate* need of an overhaul! Would you be able to send me the curriculum you’re currently using for your heritage speaker classes? I’d really like for us to have some concrete ideas to look at when we work on this project over the summer.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. How can I say this without feeling like a fraud… I do not really have a curriculum in the way that educators think of them, with a scope & sequence. This is partly because I have had to hobble something together out of nothing (or nothing that was of any use), but it is also a result of the huge disparities in reading & writing abilities among my students. On one hand, my classes can be radically differentiated. With the independent reading program kids are reading where they feel comfortable. We also do a lot of whole class read-alouds of authors like Matute & García Márquez, but I try to minimize the impact of that on their grade because how can you blame a kid reading at a 1st grade level if he doesn´t follow the story well (although I have a third of the class that needs to be exposed to that kind of literature in well-structured lesson). We have 2 years of heritage speakers and 1 year of AP language; I teach level 1 heritage and I often send about 30% of my kids straight to AP Language after 1 year with me, maybe 50% continue on to Span 2 heritage and the remaining 20% are placed in non-heritage classes. The formula that I have been following thus far goes something like this:

      (1) Independent reading most days, even if only for 10 minutes. Students choose books based on interest, assessment based on participation only (journals read for my information, but as long as they read they get full credit)
      (2) Whole class read-alouds ranging from easy TPRS readers to more complex literature (short stories). Almost always read aloud, lots of oral comprehension checks before written assessments that are comprehension based.
      (3) Weekly writing prompts are graded based upon completion, but these are what I use to track whether the large amount of reading that we are doing has had an impact on their writing. You will see the impact gradually, within months (not weeks), but by the end of the year it is striking that so many common spelling errors have vanished. I save these to justify the assessment-free independent reading program; I believe that it is the simple reading that has the biggest impact on common spelling issues such as b & v, h, using hacer instead of a ser, etcetera.
      (4) A weekly ten minute academic presentation on themes relevant to the Spanish-speaking world. I usually simplify these from lessons I created for AP, but sometimes they come from the news. Comprehension quizzes.
      (5) Listening, such as Radio Ambulante & novelas such as El Internado. Watching El Internado in the last 15 minutes of class has created so much goodwill and buy-in that I do not dare assess it. Barbara Davis has posted wonderful listening guides to Radio Ambulante on Teachers Pay Teachers (I will write about these more in a future blog post). I use these to judge a students processing speed & roughly determine whether they can skip straight ahead to AP or whether they need at least another year in the heritage speakers program.

      1. Oh, I should clarify that the weekly academic-ish presentation (#4) is given by ME, not by students. While I want kids to speak Spanish in class I purposely do not include it within the grading structure of the class. Why? Please see the article by Krashen on Language Shyness (above).

      2. I know! I was in complete agreement with that idea even before I saw Krashen’s article. I see it with my students all the time. Have you had any issues with any of your students being completely or almost completely illiterate? (in any language) Do you have any thoughts or ideas to share? Those kids seem to be increasing in number.

      3. Yeah!! If they can hear the language I try to keep them with the heritage speakers for at least level 1… it is amazing that sometimes things just come together (and then I realize that there was probably more affective interference in my initial assessment of their reading abilities than I originally thought). Nonetheless I have made the mistake of keeping kids in the program who just want to be with their friends, and then I realize in October that they really do not understand I thing… one parent was particularly unpleasant as she “asked” how I could have ever mistaken her daughter for a heritage speaker. But really I try to take anyone who can understand, and then I exit out several kids each year because they just cannot read. Within the school year I try to scaffold the readings with a lot of oral comprehension checks.

  6. I just started using TPRs in my classes. It really works great on my regular Spanish classes but I have many questions regarding Spanish Speakers. Do you still use the regular strategies used in TPRs to teach Spanish Speakers?

    Elena de Hoyos

    1. I have a separate class for heritage speakers, and in that class I rarely use TPRS (although I do teach some CI content lessons). My heritage curriculum, which is something I am constantly working on, is really about reading, reading, reading. We start the class with independent reading (FVR), then I often read something to students, we play a brief game in Spanish and then end the class with a telenovela like El Internado that has the subtitles on to get a little more reading into the class.

      There are heritage speakers in my normal classes as well, but I teach it as a straight TPRS class and don´t differentiate. I don´t have time.

  7. Do you have a class for heritage speakers? Or do you incorporate these kind of activities into your regular language classrooms?

    1. I have one section of Spanish 1 for heritage speakers. I basically take everyone regardless of reading level as long as they can read the very lowest TPRS readers and can understand my spoken Spanish. There is a lot of independent reading in class; after a year maybe a third of the class bounces straight up to AP while the rest go on to a level 2 heritage speakers class. Very few need to go through Spanish 3 so we don´t have the numbers to have a separate section of Spanish 3 for heritage speakers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.