Birthdays Unit

That first level 1 unit traditionally includes greetings, names, ages, numbers 0-100, months, dates, alphabet, weather, and “¿Puedo ir al baño?” It took so long to teach all of that! I still want to cover those, but not all at once. Here’s my unit that I used to teach some of those basics in a cultural context.

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Birthdays! Now there is a reason to talk about ages and dates. Plus think about this: Instead of learning one huge long list about one topic, they can cover a variety of topics with related vocabulary (places, colors, family, making plans, activities, decorations, gifts). For example, places will be good here but they will only need a few, not every place in the city. So where would a birthday party happen? House, church, restaurant, pool, etc. They can learn these places in this context and another unit will cover another set of places. I’ve found that the vocabulary “sticks” so much faster and longer this way and tends to be recycled throughout the year. Now to plan out all 5 C’s.

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Let’s start with the exciting part: CULTURE!  This plans out some of the experiences that your students will have. I prefer for the target culture be the focus of the unit and students make comparisons to their own life at the end. This is the #1 way that I increased engagement. They wanted to have experiences and to see real products. Inviting in guest speakers, watching YouTube videos, visiting local stores and looking at real photos did just that. I didn’t need fancy tech, games or activities that took me hours to prep.

I picked the above culture goals based on the fact that I taught mostly freshmen and sophomore students. When I was at an all girls’ school, the quinceañera took the lead on this unit. For younger students, I suggest focusing on birthdays for that age group. Imagine the little ones describing colors, shapes and animals in a Papel Picado or Piñata. Too cute! And they are seeing culture.

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And on to COMMUNICATION. I chose realistic communicative goals that can be accomplished at different proficiency levels in case there are native speakers or misplaced level 1 students. This gives them all a chance to shine!

This unit provides lots of comprehensible input when used with authentic resources. Invitations and infographics have tons of visuals. The traditional unit seemed to be more “Let’s memorize the alphabet, and now spell your name. Go!” I like that they get more time seeing and hearing the language before they have to produce.

To accommodate intermediate learners, I can add some TL articles that cover some debatable topics like how Quinces are getting out of control. This really helped me when I had mixed-level classes so we can all learn the same topic.

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A cultural focus makes it easier to find authentic resources!

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Don’t forget to to plan for the COMMUNITY, COMPARISONS, & CONNECTIONS. If I take time to plan for it, I’m more likely to include it. These are ideas from over the years. I didn’t do every one that I listed here at one time; although, I’d love it if I could get it to work out to have all of them. Here was the part that students remembered most: They made piñatas from watching YouTube How-To videos in Spanish. Then they investigated what to put inside (next time I’ll add that they visit the local Hispanic store to find the answers). They learned the chants/songs that are traditionally sung while busting them. Finally, they took them to a daycare, taught the kids the chant and let them whack the piñatas! This was so great to see them share this experience with another group.


Once this was planned out, I was so excited to teach it! It was organized and easy to plan out. I knew where we were heading. This unit was geared to a novice level class. Next we will share an intermediate one.

Let’s keep rethinking the curriculum together!


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Published on July 7, 2016

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