Compelling and Comprehensible Reading Material for Spanish Class

My most asked questions revolve around where I found specific items in my classroom library. In this post, I will list and link each item in my library. I was lucky enough to get most of my books through donations (Donors Choose) and money from my own school.

For my comprehensible Spanish readers, most came from these sites. Many of them are also available on Amazon (which is a good option if you are looking for just one or two copies of a book).

SPANISH NOVELS

Here is a complete list (links included) of all the Spanish language learner novels that I currently have in my classroom library. I will categorize some of them by author.

Craig Klein Dexemple

Mira Canion

Carol Gaab

A.C. Quintero

Books by other authors:

MAGAZINES

  • Revista Literal – a free digital magazine that is published by Martina Bex once a month. It is created by students for students. I print off new editions and add them to my library.
  • ¿Qué tal? – a magazine designed for Spanish language learners. I just had some left over copies in my classroom from the previous teacher, but you can get an actual subscription too.

NEWS ARTICLES

  • El mundo en tus manos – a news subscription from Martina Bex. I don’t have a subscription myself, but I will print off any free articles she shares. You can also just buy single editions if there is a certain story you think kids would be interested in.
  • CI non-fiction library – this database has some free news articles in Spanish all shared in one place

READING A-Z 

I signed up for their free trial and was able to download a bunch of stories (both fiction and nonfiction) in Spanish. I like how you can search by levels and topics. This is an easy way to get a variety of texts in your library.

PICTURE BOOKS

I mentioned this before, but a lot of the picture books in my library (originally created for native Spanish speakers) were not very comprehensible to my language learners. I found a better (and cheaper) place to get picture books that my students can feel more successful with.

The Storyteller’s Corner is now my go to place for Spanish picture books. They have stories on a variety of topics so you can find what you need. I was able to get a handful of picture books for FREE. If there were ones I ended up buying, they only cost me $1 – $3. The stories are comprehensible and the pictures are high quality. Plus, you get a digital copy (obviously) which is perfect if you ever want to read the story aloud as a class. You can just project it on a big screen.

FREE RESOURCES ON TPT 

Here are free resources (that I haven’t yet mentioned) that I have found on TPT over the years. Sometimes you just don’t have any extra money to spare, so I wanted to put all the free items together.

OTHER ITEMS FROM TPT 

This list of Spanish reading material is just the start! There are many more books and resources available out there. I myself haven’t even discovered it all yet. If you are trying to build up your own Spanish library, take advantage of all the free items! There is so much out there that won’t cost you a penny. You don’t have to limit yourself to the items I mentioned here. There’s definitely more available, you just have to look for it. When I am searching for stories on TPT, I always click the “free” filter to help me find those free items. Some of the items I provided that aren’t free on TPT are not all single stories. Some of them are a big collection of stories. Some even come with lesson plans. If you have any questions about any of the items I’ve shared, please let me know!

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My Classroom Favorites

After three years in the classroom, I have developed a list of some of my favorite things to use in the classroom. These things are specific to my own classroom, so of course there may be some things that don’t work for everyone. For specific items, I will link where I got them.

1. Personal laminator – I bought myself a personal laminator my first year of teaching and I have used it so much! I recommend getting it from the store (like Target or Walmart) because it’s cheaper than online. It’s perfect for classroom posters and I have also used it for classroom games. I like that the pouches for it are really thick. You don’t even need to use card stock because it is very sturdy after it’s been laminated. You can also use dry erase markers on the items you laminate which I love to do with games.

2. Color paper – As much as a love color ink, it can be very expensive. I like to do all my printing at school and we don’t have easy access to color printing. My solution to this is printing on color paper. My favorite is Astrobrights color paper. It’s perfect for printing things like labels and bulletin board letters. It also gives some color to reading materials that I print off and add to my classroom library.

3. Bins, bin, bins – Is there such thing as too many bins? I don’t think so! There are so many things you can use bins for and it really helps to keep me organized. I use them for library books, student group activities, classroom supplies, and more. I needed a lot of bins and they can add up quickly. Some bins can be very expensive. I highly recommend getting your bins from Dollar Tree. They come in so many colors and sizes. They are also really sturdy. I have had mine for three years and only one has broken (a student accidentally stepped on it). There’s a lot more colors available than this picture shows. My favorite bin colors have been pink, turquoise, purple, and lime green.

Bright Plastic Locker Bins with Handles

4. Books – Books, and reading material in general, are a classroom essential for me! I did not have many books my first year of teaching and it takes time to build up your classroom library. Books can get expensive. I am very lucky and get about $200 from my school each year to spend on classroom materials. Each year so far, every single penny of that has gone towards books. It’s the only way I was able to build up my library. If you have that option, I definitely would use school money for things like that. Classroom decor is nice but books are way more important and I have made them a priority. I now have enough resources where I can finally start free reading with my classes this year. I will post more on this topic at another time. For now, I will just link my favorite places to get reading material for my students.

FVR Spanish Level 1

Websites for classroom novels:

Other reading materials for my library:

  • The Comprehensible Classroom (check out her categories “class library materials” and “daily readings”)
  • Revista Literal (free magazine for Spanish students)
  • El Mundo en Tus Manos (the full subscription is pricey but it’s really good quality news articles written in comprehensible Spanish. For me personally, I usually just buy a few articles here and there. You can buy the articles separately without the subscription)
  • Super Señorita’s Spanish Stuff (hundreds of stories written for Spanish students)
  • The Storyteller’s Corner (picture book style meant for Spanish learners)
  • Señor Jordan
  • Spanish Plans
  • Mis Clases Locas (she has a few texts available but I also love all her other things)
  • Plus I also add in my own creations. We create stories as a class and I will type those up and add them to the library.

5. Google Drive – My district only uses Google Drive and I actually am really happy about that. I have learned to really love Google Drive these past few years. It’s so easy to share everything and you never have to worry about forgetting to save your work. All of my materials are on my drive and it’s so easy to organize. Going along with that, I also love using Google Classroom with my students. I will put resources on there for them to access and it’s very easy to catch up students who were absent.

6. Individual student whiteboards – I did not have these my first year but now I don’t know how I ever went without them! I was able to get a class set through my school. Before purchasing these, or anything really, always see if your school has extra that you can have! These are one of my most used items. I use them for formative assessments. One of my favorite activities is having students listen to a sentence or two in Spanish and then having them draw a picture to show their comprehension.

Charles Leonard Dry Erase Board Class Pack - Includes 30 Each 9 x 12 Inch Lapboards, Foam/Felt Erasers and Markers (35090)

7. Resources from Teachers Pay Teachers – This may sound crazy but I didn’t really know about TPT until my second year of teaching. I love TPT because it has saved me so much time. I could make some of the items I find, but I value my time. I don’t mind paying $2 for something I don’t have to create myself and that looks way better than anything I could make anyways. I do make some of my own things now, but this is still an amazing place to find materials. Not to mention I have gotten a ton of free resources from there too. One word of caution: Don’t buy everything that you see right away. Wait until you know for sure you’re actually going to use it. I know I definitely haven gotten a little too excited when I saw a bunch of fun resources. There are some I never ended up using. So enjoy TPT but also be purposeful in your purchases if you decide to use this site.

8. Fabric – I love using fabric for my bulletin board backgrounds. I used that butcher paper the school provides my first year and it didn’t hold up well. It ripped easily and faded quickly. It also got really wrinkly (which bothered me a little). My second year I tried fabric and I love it so much more. It can be a little investment at first but it lasts for a long time. Plus you can just wash it each year. You don’t have to keep buying more. I get mine at Walmart (way cheaper than Joann Fabrics). It costs me about $2.50 a yard. I need 8 yards to cover all my boards so overall the price isn’t too bad.

7. “Persona Especial” chair – I love these stools. I only needed one for a student to sit on. I use them when I am interviewing students in Spanish. They love coming up to the front of the room and sitting on the high stool. I found a link to these on Amazon, but honestly I would save your money. Don’t buy them new if you can. Be on the lookout at thrift stores, garage sales, or sites like Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp. I found mine at the thrift store for $10.

8. Wireless doorbell – This is the only thing on my list that is new, but I added it because any kind of attention getter is essential for my classroom. I have heard nothing but good things about this product and I think it’s going to be great for class management. You push the button and it makes a loud chime for the whole class to hear. You can adjust the volume and pick different chimes to use. This is going to be way better than my hand claps that I’m already sick of using.

9. Fast finisher materials (ball, dice, cards, etc.) – A lot of times students or even the entire class finishes an activity faster than I expected. I have a big basket of materials for these situations. Students love playing games in Spanish that I’ve taught them with the cards and dice. They can always read a book too. If the entire class is done, that’s when I usually grab a ball. We play whole class games in Spanish with it.

Game Dice, 10-ct. Packs2-Deck Packs of Playing CardsGlobe Foam Stress Balls, 3 in.

10. Props – I do a lot with student actors in my classes. Whether it’s acting out a story that we created or doing reader’s theater, props add a lot of fun to any story. We have had a lot of really funny stories happen with the help of the props. The visual aides that come from the props helps with comprehension since the stories are told in Spanish. Some of the props I have include clothing items, stuffed animals, and miscellaneous toys. These are all things I found at the thrift store and cost me hardly anything.

11. Coffee bar – Before I explain this, I want to clarify that I don’t just fill my students up with a bunch of caffeine. They mostly just drink hot chocolate. Keep that in mind! I am very careful with this. I have what I call a coffee bar in my room. It’s nothing fancy, but I might add a little more to it this year. It’s basically a bunch of hot beverage options in powder form along with my hot water kettle. I’d like to get a Keurig or mini coffee machine for myself and other adult guests. This is by no means a classroom essential. This truly is something I have just for fun, but it’s one of my favorite things. I use it mostly for myself. However, we do use it as a class about once a quarter. I have one day where I will let students choose a beverage (hot chocolate or cappuccino mix – again it’s not very often at all). They can drink their beverage while I read a few chapters of our class novel aloud to them. After that we have a class discussion. It’s just a fun way to mix up our novel study and it’s one of their favorite days too.

12. File folders – My very first year, I struggled with all the papers coming in and out of my classroom. I quickly discovered that file folders worked great for this. I have a bunch of file folders in my filing cabinet to help me organize my class units, office papers, important documents I need to keep, etc.

There are lots of other things I love in my classroom, but those are my top items (not including basic classroom supplies like a pencil sharpener, stapler, etc.) What are some of your classroom favorites?

My Journey: From a student who did not like Spanish class to a Spanish teacher who ditched the textbook.

I wanted my first post to be an introduction to myself. I figured why not just start off by telling my story and explaining how I ended up where I am today. As you can tell by the title, it has definitely been an unexpected journey. I would not trade any of my experiences, however, because they have helped get where I am today. I will just break my story up into sections.

Middle school

This is when I took a Spanish class for the first time ever. It was required all three years of middle school. I won’t lie and say that Spanish was my favorite subject. It was not even close. In fact, I actually did not like Spanish class at all. I did not understand what was going on most of the time. It all went over my head and I felt very lost. We learned from the textbook and it was super boring. The teacher spoke pretty much all in Spanish and I had no idea what she was saying most of the time. I faked my way through it because I was good at completing worksheets and using my vocabulary lists. I could memorize things but then forget them after the test. The teacher intimidated me a lot and I never wanted to approach her for help.

High school

When I got to high school I was so HAPPY that I finally didn’t have to take Spanish anymore. I did not take it in 9th grade. Later, I realized I needed to take Spanish for a couple of years so that I could get into the college I wanted. I was a little sad about that but I knew I had to do it. I signed up for Spanish 2 in 10th grade. They ended up telling me I had to go to Spanish 3 because of all the Spanish I took in middle school. So I went to Spanish 3. I cried after the first class because I did not understand anything that the teacher had said in Spanish. Over time though, something started to change. I think the biggest thing was that I really liked this teacher. I developed a really good relationship with her and that made a huge difference. She helped me a lot and made it easier for me to understand what was going on. I started trying REALLY HARD in class because I was tired of being confused. It turns out I was really good with grammar. We mostly just learned from a textbook and did grammar worksheets, but I liked the teacher so much I didn’t even care about that. I was good at memorization. Once I got the hang of it, I actually was able to memorize all the grammar rules and verb conjugations really easily. I ended up doing super well on tests and I had more confidence in myself. I had this teacher for three years. I took Spanish with her all the way to Spanish 5. At that point, I actually loved Spanish. I felt like I was  good at Spanish and wanted to do something with it. Plus I knew I wanted to travel. I loved hearing about her experiences in Spain and I wanted to travel somewhere too.

College

Once I got to college, I decided to major in elementary education with an emphasis in Spanish education. I loved Spanish and wanted to get better at it. I did really well in the classes that focused on grammar, but I really struggled with actually being able to use the language. I had studied the language for so many years at this point but I couldn’t say much spontaneously. Whenever I wanted to speak, I had to stop and really think about the rules in my head to help me. I spent a summer in Costa Rica where I lived with a family. That helped a lot being in an immersion environment. When I returned to the United States, I started practicing my Spanish with friends who spoke the language. I just kept finding ways to listen to the language and looked for opportunities to communicate with native speakers. That really helped me reach the point that I am at now.

1st year of teaching

I have been at the same school for all three years of my teaching career. Just for some background information, I teach Spanish to grades 5-8. I am the only Spanish teacher in the middle school. For my first year, I was hired only as a part-time teacher. Enrollment in Spanish was very low. I don’t know if you can ever fully be prepared for the first year of your teaching career. I am happy to say I only cried a few times! I was overwhelmed just trying to learn the names of 150 different students while figuring out what to teach. There was no curriculum guide left for me so I just went to the Spanish textbook in the classroom for ideas. I did not know what students already knew or where to even start. I struggled through that first year with the curriculum but I actually still had fun. I loved having my own classroom and I really enjoyed connecting with students. There were definitely some students who wanted nothing to do with me, but the majority of the students were kind. I definitely didn’t know what I was doing in terms of classroom management. I always had the most issues when I was doing grammar lessons… because let’s be honest, it’s straight up boring. Looking back I can’t blame those kids for tuning out or wanting to chat with their friends about something else. I still did those long grammar lessons anyway because it just seemed like the right thing to do. It’s how I was taught. It’s what was in the Spanish textbook. How else could kids learn all this grammar if I didn’t explicitly teach it to them? Of course my thinking on this changed drastically later on.

2nd year of teaching

Year two was smoother than year one. I still used the textbook, but I decided it was actually super boring even from the standpoint of a teacher. I was bored teaching it so you can imagine how my students probably felt. I decided I needed to make it more fun. I still used the VERY LONG vocabulary lists from the textbooks, but I tried to make it fun with games and other hands-on activities. I did a fashion show. We acted out skits that students memorized and performed. Students created and labeled their own house for our house unit. Students were really having fun with the vocabulary and I was feeling a lot happier. Enrollment had gone way up and my principal told me I would now be teaching full-time. I was happy and everything seemed to be going well. I was still using the textbook, but I made memorizing vocabulary fun for students.

3rd year of teaching (this past year) 

The summer after year two is when I had my light bulb moment. I did a lot of reflecting that summer and I figured some things out. As much as my students were enjoying Spanish, something still didn’t seem right. I realized the amount that they were actually retaining was very VERY minimal. It seemed like the minute we had moved on to the next unit, they barely recalled anything from the previous unit. I was frustrated until I realized it actually wasn’t their fault. It was MY fault. It took me awhile to come to this realization and to accept it. The more research I did on second language acquisition, the more I realized that the way I was teaching Spanish was actually very ineffective. Students were ‘learning’ the language, but they weren’t actually ACQUIRING the language. The more I learned, the more I needed to know. All this knowledge was my big light bulb moment where everything suddenly made sense. It made sense why students weren’t actually acquiring the language. It made sense why I personally struggled with Spanish for so many years as a student.

That summer, I decided I was no longer going to use the textbook. I wanted to teach using comprehensible input, something I had just recently discovered. Comprehensible input is a message the student receives in the target language (through listening or reading) that they are able to understand. It is a meaningful interaction in the target language and it is key for language acquisition. I have also heard CI called compelling input, which I LOVE. It’s not enough for it to just be comprehensible. Something very boring could be comprehensible! It needs to be something that engages students to the point where they are so focused on the message they don’t even think about the fact that it’s a different language. There are many different skills and strategies that can be used to make your input comprehensible (and compelling) to students. In order for students to acquire a new word, they need to be exposed to it MANY times in different contexts. The focus is all about communicating IN the target language in a way that is interesting to students. They are not learning ABOUT the language. They are acquiring the language through the messages they receive in Spanish and interacting with those messages.

I knew year three was the time for me to make a change. It turns out there is a very big community of world language teachers who teach with comprehensible input. I just hadn’t known about it until that point. I spent a lot of time that summer discovering new blogs and gathering ideas. The blogs that I relied on the most were these two:

Allison Wienhold was very helpful since she had several posts explaining her Spanish curriculum and what has worked well for her. She talked about teaching with novels and using the SOMOS curriculum from Martina Bex. I used those ideas to help me get started. I checked out Martina’s curriculum (some units are free, including the very first one) and watched Martina do a video demonstration. I was hooked and wanted to use her curriculum. Here is what Martina Bex says about the curriculum, quoted directly from her own website:

“The Spanish language is inextricably linked to the cultures of its speakers. Through comprehensible input, the SOMOS Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 curriculum from The Comprehensible Classroom teach language and culture simultaneously, allowing Spanish students the opportunity to develop cultural understanding at a depth rarely achieved in novice courses.”

I also wanted some novels for my classes. My school purchased some novels for me over the summer and I also received donations through Donors Choose.

Curriculum overview for my 3rd year

After I spent the summer getting things together, here is what I ended up doing for my third year. Even though the older students were technically “more advanced,” they were new to learning with comprehension-based methods and it was challenging for them. I decided to just start most of them on SOMOS unit one and it worked out very well!

5th grade and 6th grade

  • SOMOS units 1-3
  • Señor Wooly songs

Spanish 1 (grades 7/8) one quarter

  • SOMOS units 1-4
  • Persona especial

Spanish 2 (grades 7/8) one quarter

  • Super 7 verbs / persona especial
  • Rainforest / Ecuador / pre-teaching vocab from novel
  • Novel: El Capibara Con Botas

Spanish 3 (grades 7/8) one quarter

  • Pets / family / pre-teaching vocab from novel
  • Novel: Brandon Brown Quiere Un Perro
  • SOMOS unit 8: la comida
  • Market day / día de mercado

Student Responses 

Overall, students were very open to the changes I made. There were a couple who thoughts the stories were “stupid” and would have preferred to just memorize a million vocab words and rules. The ones who were resistant were ones who just wanted an A and couldn’t care less about actually acquiring the language. That was the exception, though. Most of the feedback was positive. All students were able to be successful in my class rather than just a few who were good at memorizing. Most students LOVED the stories we acted out from the SOMOS units. I had kids shouting “¡CIERRA LA PUERTA!” randomly months after that story was over. One student reported that Spanish was “way better this year because [she] could understand more and the book we read was fun.” I also had some students ask where I bought my books from because they wanted to buy their own and read even more books in Spanish. Win! The final response was student enrollment. I had such high interest in Spanish this year that I needed to add more classes for next year. Many students took ALL of my classes this year and needed more options so they could continue with me next year.

Why things worked so well for my classes 

That year I noticed huge changes in student motivation and they were able to do more with the language than before. Why did things work so well with comprehensible input? Here is what I noticed with my own students:

  • It was much easier to teach the class in Spanish. SOMOS and the novels made it so easy for me to stay in Spanish. Without the grammar lessons and the insane vocab lists, it was easier to make the Spanish comprehensible to students.
  • Students were successful with the language because actually understood it and gained confidence.
  • I had less issues with classroom management. Students felt very successful and enjoyed Spanish which kept them more focused during class time.
  • Less vocabulary, more impact: Students had less vocabulary yet they were able to do more with the language than ever before. This is because the vocabulary was broken up into smaller chunks, taught in meaningful context and the words were actually incredibly useful. Students were exposed to some of the highest frequency verbs right away, rather than learning them later on. Instead of learning words like “roof” and “eyebrow” (words from the textbook lists), we focused on words like “wants”, “goes”, “has”, “is”, “likes”, “plays”, “says”, “sees”, “makes/does” etc. I’m sure you can guess which words are initially more useful for communication when you are first starting out in a new language.
  • It’s all about the students: Instead of feeling tied down to a textbook unit, I was able to make it all about the students. Rather than learning about clothing or body parts, we learned about the students in our class. I did interviews in Spanish so that we could focus on a new student each day.
  • Communication felt more genuine and natural: Some of those practice questions in the textbook were so awkward sounding and very forced. Kids don’t want to talk about how many rooms are in their house. They don’t want to tell us what clothing items they wear when it’s raining outside. Instead, our conversations felt more natural. I asked them questions that I genuinely wanted to know the answer to and they sensed that. Do you have any pets? What kind of pets? What is your favorite animal? Do you play any instruments or sports? What’s your favorite TV show? Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? (Their favorite question!) What do you like to do at home? What do you want for your birthday? These are the kind of things kids actually want to talk about. We didn’t have to wait for the textbook unit on hobbies to show up. We just talked about anything that interested them right away.
  • Reading: Honestly, students did not do much reading in Spanish my first two years as a teacher. The only “reading” we did was reading sentences as we completed assignments from the textbook. Reading has a huge impact on second language acquisition because it is another way for students to receive input. A quote that I have hanging up in my classroom library: “Picking up word meaning by reading is ten times faster than intensive vocabulary instruction.” (Stephen Krashen). Stories are memorable. We connect with stories. We tell and listen to stories on a daily basis in conversation. We need stories. In fact, we ARE stories.
  • More input, less forced output: Students received so much more input that year through listening and reading stories. This allowed them to take in more Spanish and internalize it. We did a lot more input activities than output. I stopped doing the fashion show and memorized skits because they were not helping students acquire the language. Practicing output does not lead to more/better output. What students need is more input as research shows us.

This past year was a huge success for me. I had so much fun with my students and I learned a lot. There are some things I know that I want to change for next year so that things can be even better.

  • More comprehensible input – I want to provide my students with even more input, and that means using less English. My goal is 100% Spanish but I know it will take time to learn how to effectively do this with novice learners. I want 100% Spanish that is comprehensible to my beginners. If they can’t understand the message, then it’s just noise to them.
  • Deskless – I’m working on this situation right now.  I want to get rid of the desks in my room and just have chairs.
  • Brain breaks and movement – Listening to the target language for an entire class period is very rigorous for students and they need lots of brain breaks. Being deskless would make movement and breaks much easier.
  • Student jobs – I’ll say more on this later, but students jobs can help class run more smoothly and keep us in Spanish. Plus it gives students a specific role in our classroom community that they are responsible for.
  • Passwords and more persona especial interviews – these are two ideas that I have gotten from Bryce Hedstrom and I have also seen done by other teachers.
  • Free reading time – Students choose a book from my class library that they are interested in and can mostly understand. Reading time is short in the beginning, maybe only like 5 minutes each class period.  Reading is another form of input and we know students need lots of input to acquire a language.

That is my story! It took awhile for me to get to where I am right now but that is okay. I am happy with where I am and I have so much support from other world language teachers in this community. Please let me know if you have any questions! I’d love to help out in any way that I can!

Thank you for reading!

¡Mil gracias!

Cassie