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Have you ever felt defeated teaching writing in Spanish? Have you tried all the tricks in the book to get your students excited to practice Spanish writing, only to realize they are just not into it? Trust me, I have been there, and I know how frustrating it can be. But teaching writing in Spanish doesn’t have to feel this way! There are some simple things you can do to encourage your students to practice writing in Spanish and actually enjoy it.
In my fourth-grade classroom, we spend a lot of time working on our writing. I love the writing workshop framework, which has students coming up with their own topics and moving through the entire writing process, from brainstorming to publishing. However, since most of my students are just learning to write in Spanish, that whole process can seem very intimidating. Oftentimes, my students would feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Now, we all know what can happen in the classroom when a student starts to feel like that. I knew that I needed to brainstorm ways to get my students to continue to practice writing in Spanish without killing their joy for writing.
Practice writing paragraphs in Spanish first
In the upper elementary grades, we are working on “big kid writing.” We are working on pieces of writing with multiple paragraphs. But for a student who is just learning to write in Spanish, that can be too much. That is why I like to break things down into paragraphs first. Allowing students to practice writing paragraphs in Spanish before we tackle longer writing pieces will help them develop their ideas more clearly within that paragraph.
By reducing the amount of work students have to do, they can spend more time focusing on that one small piece of writing. This does not mean we were not following the workshop model. We were still brainstorming ideas for our writing. We were still talking about writing strong topic sentences. We were still supporting those topic sentences with supporting details. We were still working on word choice to make our writing more descriptive. We were still applying what we learned in grammar to edit our writing. We were still publishing our best possible work. Students were still producing quality writing but on a smaller scale.
Use sentence stems in Spanish
Another way to help students to practice Spanish writing is by providing sentence stems. Sentence stems give students a starting point. I like to use sentence stems in Spanish because it helps students organize their writing a little bit better. Not every student will need the sentence stems, and that’s ok. That is why I teach my students to only use it if they need it.
Sentence stems are especially helpful while students practice writing in Spanish on their own during literacy centers or morning work. In my classroom, we always start the day with writing prompts in Spanish (we will talk more about that in a little bit.) Providing sentence stems for independent writing allows me to set my students up for success when I can’t help them immediately.
Use writing prompts in Spanish
I am not a huge fan of writing prompts! There, I said it! We must teach students to come up with their own topics and write about things that are interesting to them. Besides, in the real world, they won’t be given a prompt every time they have to write something. Having said that, writing prompts do have their place in the classroom.
How I use writing prompts in Spanish in my classroom
As I mentioned earlier, in my classroom, we always start our day with these Spanish writing prompts. I want students to come in and start to think in Spanish. Most of them don’t speak Spanish at home, so it is important to help them make that switch in their brain. Besides, I want to make sure that my students practice Spanish writing every single day. During our writing workshop, our language of instruction changes. Sometimes, we are working on a piece of writing in Spanish. Other times, we are working on a piece of writing in English. Assigning writing prompts in Spanish during our morning work (or literacy station) helps me “squeeze” in some extra writing time.
The main reason why I use Spanish writing prompts during morning work or literacy centers is because they allow me to provide linguistic supports even when I can’t come to my students right away. If everyone is writing about the same topic, I can provide sentence stems, a bank of words, a glossary… anything that I think will benefit my students, ahead of time. I can anticipate what their questions will be and plan accordingly.
Prompts are also perfect when you don’t have a lot of time. Literacy center activities and morning work should not take more than twenty minutes to complete. I don’t want students to spend fifteen of those twenty minutes coming up with a topic. By giving them an engaging topic to write about, I can make sure my students start writing right away.
Assign fun writing activities in Spanish from time to time
As I said before, I like to use the writing workshop model to teach writing. We focus on units of study that correlate to the genre that we are learning about in reading. So if we are spending six weeks learning about fiction in reading, we will also spend six weeks writing a fictional story. This may seem like a lot of time, but I like to dive deep during our writing block. We spend a lot of time learning about and developing each component of the writing process. In the end, every student has a masterpiece they are proud to share with the class.
Although my students love writing workshops just as much as I do (no joke, they are obsessed!), writing a masterpiece is a long and arduous process. I often like to reward their hard work with a fun writing activity in Spanish. This gives students a chance to take a deep breath before we embark on our next unit.
Why are these activities always in Spanish? Because this is just another chance to practice writing in Spanish in a fun and engaging way. It is also a great activity to display on our bulletin boards or for students to take home and share with their families.
Some ideas for fun writing activities in Spanish
- Helping a turkey write a persuasive letter to the farmer, so he won’t become Thanksgiving meal;
- a haiku about fall;
- a fictional story about a time they were stuck in a snowglobe;
- a cinquain poem about spring (perfect to review parts of speech!)
- a diamante poem about winter (another great activity to review parts of speech)
If you would like to learn more about these activities, you can visit my TpT store and check them out by clicking here.
Make it special and memorable!
Another way to get your students excited to practice Spanish writing is to make it special and memorable! I love to commemorate a piece of writing with some sort of writing celebration. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be anything big. It just has to make students feel like their hard work is being appreciated and valued. Some ideas are:
- Create a special bulletin board to display their writing;
- Display their writing outside and invite other classes to come and read it;
- Have students record themselves reading their writing and share it with others using a QR code;
- Host a good old author’s chair day (don’t forget to bring some snacks for the class);
- Set up a camp day and let students share their stories by the campfire;
- Choose a couple of students who did an exceptional job and ask the principal to read their stories to the whole school.
You can read about some of these ideas in detail in this blog post.
As teachers, we are always worried about grades. And we should be! It is part of our job to grade our students’ work in an attempt to “measure” their learning. I have some very strong opinions about grading, but for today all I want to say is that not everything needs to be graded. It is ok to finish a piece of writing and provide constructive feedback without attaching a number to it. In fact, that type of feedback can positively impact their performance in the future.
Research on grades and feedback has shown that students benefit much more from specific, constructive feedback than a letter or number grade. So if we want our students who struggle to write in Spanish to continue to practice writing in Spanish, we may want to reconsider what type of feedback we give them.
I am a big proponent of using rubrics to “grade” writing. Rubrics allow us to be fair across the board, focus on areas of strength and areas of development, and give students actionable feedback that they can use in the future to improve their writing. Rubrics can also be shared with students before they submit their writing, so they can self-assess or assess a peer. Most importantly, we can use a rubric to show students where they are in their writing journey without adding a grade to it.
Tools to the rescue!
What would you do if you had to say something in another language but didn’t know how? I don’t know about you, but I would use some type of translator to help me. If I can do that, why can’t my students do that?
Most teachers probably disagree with me on this one, so take it with a grain of salt. In my classroom, I allow my students to use digital translators (in moderation) to help them practice writing in Spanish.
The word moderation is important here! I DO NOT allow my students to use translators all the time. For example, during reading, I teach my students to use context clues and morphology to figure out the meaning of unknown words. But when they are writing, those skills won’t help them! I encourage students to find ways to say what they want to say using the words they know, but if they are stuck, I allow them to take out their laptops and use a translator.
Some warning before you give this a try
1. Your students WILL try to translate whole sentences!
This is a big NO-NO in my class. My students are only allowed to look up individual words, and only if not knowing that word is preventing them from moving on with their writing.
2. Model, model, and model
Anytime you introduce something new to your students, you will have to model it. Using a translator is no different. Show students when and how they are allowed to use it by modeling it first – multiple times!
3. Set boundaries!
My students know they can only use translators as a last resort. I teach them to find other ways to say what they want to say. They can also ask a friend before using the translator.
4. Let them know you know!
If my students try to use a translator throughout their entire writing, I let them know that I know. It is easy to spot the students who are typing whole sentences on Google translator and copying them down. If I see that they are doing that, we have a private conversation, and they fix their work.
5. Monitor them!
When I first teach my students how to use this resource, I monitor them closely to make sure they are not abusing it. Usually, as the year progresses, my students learn to use it responsibly.
Don’t forget: Practice Makes Perfect!
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that practice makes perfect. These tips will not get your students to become proficient writers in Spanish. Instead, these tips will make your students want to practice writing in Spanish. The goal is to get them to write, not to get them to write perfectly! That will come with time.
Remember to give yourself and your students some grace. You are not a failure because your students still need to use translators and sentence stems to write. You are an amazing teacher because, at the end of the day, that student who dared not pick up the pencil before walking into your class is now trying. No, he is not perfect! Yes, he still needs lots of support! But he is trying! And he can only go up from there.
There you have it! Seven ways to motivate your students to practice writing in Spanish. If teaching writing in Spanish has felt overwhelming to you, I hope these tips will help. Which one will you be trying first in your classroom?