Everyday We Work On The Alphabet

A student asked me a couple weeks into the school year, "When are we going to learn the alphabet?". Fair question. (Although it seemed to be asked with a bit of resentment that we were not doing Spanish class as she had expected it to look.)

My response: We learn the alphabet daily over the course of the year. Perhaps not what she wanted to hear right then, but an answer that has yielded pleasing results.

Same goes for colors, numbers (ordinal and cardinal), weather expressions, articles of clothing, foods, modal verbs, circumlocution, different tenses, rooms in the house, etc etc etc. "Teach for June", as goes the TPRS adage popularized by Scott Benedict.

What does a mini-alphabet lesson look like in a typical class? Here are a few examples:

1. The word for "bacon" comes into the story. (In TL) I say "Sam, write the word 'tocino' on the board". I spell it for him in the TL. I try to choose more confident students for this type of task. After a hearty applause for this brave student, I will read aloud the letters again while they listen and look.

2. The word for "bowl" comes up, and I ask (in TL), "Class, how do you write the word 'tazón'?" Students will shout out the letters needed to spell this word. I try to pace them by moving my marker hand slowly and deliberately. There's always a couple louder kids who stand out, but if the expectation is that everyone responds, you will hear a nice chorus of voices trying to spell the word.

3. In classic TPR style, I tell the kids to write a word or two or three (in the air, on their desk, with their head) while I spell it for them.

4. On the rare occasion, Hangman. They may want to know how to say a word like "snacks", so they try guessing at the correct letters without me finishing the man's body. Or I might just use any old word they know. Of course it's always a decent option if you've run out of things to do and there are a couple minutes left in class.

Invariably in my Spanish classes, certain letters (g, h, j, z, y, x) take longer for kids to pick up. For some of these less common letters, I will spice them up with my voice and/or add an exaggerated gesture of the letter. For example, with the letter "g", I sometimes say it extra throaty. There are always a few kids that cannot resist joining in making this fun sound.

Still in May I've got first-year kids who don't have them all down yet. I believe that's ok. Knowing the alphabet is not crucial. In fact, it's inconsequential in the great majority of communicational situations students may find themselves in. Nevertheless, there are real moments when we should need to use it and so I find it valuable to incorporate.

So, How much time per class do I actually spend working on the alphabet in the ways described above?Thirty seconds, tops. (Except for Hangman, which takes a minute or two. Add that up over the course of the year, and it equates to about one class period.


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