What makes a language learner an intermediate on the proficiency scale? Hmm, well, they create original sentences, string them together, use connector words, and it’s easy to understand.

Today as I was grading my students’ final writing assessments, I was thinking about comprehensibility. What made this student’s writing so easy to understand, and the other was not? They both used appropriate vocabulary and covered the topics. Then I realized that it was the little words (to, at, the, my, of, but, that, etc)! So little, but so important!

Throughout the year we have used the “Palabritas” (little words). About 2 years ago Megan showed me a list of 100 words that make up 50% of a conversation. This list is from a book called ‘Using your Memory’ by Tony Buzan. (You can Google it!) Then I broke that list into three sets (Novice, Novice High, Intermediate) on brightly colored paper. During the year, the students used the lists to add to their writings. We have played a few games with them of course! They have looked for the words in magazine ads being used in context. I have used them in the “Phrase of the Week.” For absent students, I have asked them to write Spanish sentences with 10 of the words. I have given them quizzes to check if they are learning them on their own or from class activities. They monitor their own progress. I offer a free Subway lunch to anyone who can memorize all 100 by the end of the trimester (Thanks for that idea Megan!). I know that memorizing is not the best way to acquire a language, but I have found that these words tremendously help the students progress if they know them well. I want to create an activity that uses these words as an “any time” sub plan (Pick 10 words you don’t know/Create a picture dictionary/Include a picture and sentence). I even used the list in Germany when I went this past summer and I successfully got around! Es das gut??

Here’s a free download of the Palabritas (little words) in Spanish.

This formatting/fonts may be slightly off since I used Pages to create it.

What techniques do you have to help them learn these “little words?” How do you help your students become intermediate speakers/writers?