Teaching Spanish in the Lower School

Have you ever walked down a hall in a Waldorf school while classes were in session? If you were to do so, you would get a feeling for how rich and varied the curriculum is: from one room you might hear a German song, in another you would see children knitting, yet another class would be reciting a poem in Spanish, other classes would be in eurythmy or painting or music. In your walk through the school you would be able to experience the way the day is balanced for the children between academic subjects, artistic activities, and practical work. 

The teaching of foreign languages plays an important part in Waldorf education for several reasons. 

When we think about thinking, for example, we have to admit that our thoughts, to a large extent, are formed by the language that we speak. Our thoughts being limited by our spoken language, we tend to think and feel differently from language to language, culture to culture. Consequently, people fluent in more that one language experience thinking and feeling very differently from one language to another. When we help a child to learn a different language, we are helping him to keep his thinking more alive and less set in the patterns to which his own language limits him. 

Language also forms a link between one person and another; through it we are able to express our thoughts, ideas and feelings to other people. If we have expanded our horizons to include another language, we can experience how other people may have different values, other ways of looking at life than we do. As a result we may see that the world is not as narrow a place as we might otherwise think it is. We may become more open to other people who do not think as we do or see life the same way that we do. I believe that if every person in the world could speak several languages well, the world situation would be very different from what it now is. 

Speaking several languages also makes it possible to develop a more complete picture of what a human being might become. Herbert Hahn in his book From the Wellsprings of The Soul says:

“ If one could assemble all the European languages, one could arrive at quite important conclusions concerning the nature of the human being. For each one of these languages reveals the being of man from a particular point of view. Each one is rich in one aspect and poor in another; this means that it needs to be supplemented by the others, and that all together they combine to form the picture of a greater man. “


The curriculum for language teaching calls for each class to be taught two foreign languages and for each language to be taught three times a week. These languages should represent two different origins, so that if one is a romance language the other should be Germanic, Slavic, Oriental, etc. Most schools in the United States teach either French and German, or Spanish and German. This collection of material is intended as a help for those who are teaching Spanish from Kindergarten through eighth grade in a Waldorf School. 

General teaching principles

As preparation for becoming a good Waldorf language teacher, one should strive to know as much as possible about Waldorf education in general. This broad learning gives insights into what is appropriate for each age and of how the language curriculum fits into the rest of the school day. Also, attendance at faculty meetings and studies is of great importance as well as the individual teacher’s study of the basic books on Waldorf education and anthroposophy. Courses can also be taken during the summer, as well as short courses during teacher’s conferences. Any language teacher who has not taken a training course in Waldorf Education should seriously try to attend such summer courses and conferences. This type of study helps foster the necessary enthusiasm to continue when the teaching becomes difficult. 

One thing that I have found very useful in my own teaching is to make a general lesson plan for each class at the beginning of the school year. By doing so, I am able to cover all that needs to be taught during the year. Without such a plan, I may get to the end of the year and find that not all of the curriculum has been taught. A class teacher starts the year already knowing how long each main lesson block will be and when it will be taught, and so also the language teacher must begin the year knowing what he or she needs to teach and have a realistic time frame for teaching it. In some schools the class teachers provide the special teachers with a list of their main lesson blocks before the first day of school, which is an excellent opportunity to enhance the children’s learning. The specialist teacher can find ways to compliment what the class teacher is doing in main lesson, and each learning experience will enhance the other. 

First grade

In the first grade, the foreign language is taught in a purely oral form. Since we try to teach by speaking speak as little English as possible, you might spend some time during the first lesson setting the stage for the children. You could say, 

“From now on, when you come into the room, you will all be magically transported into another country. In that country the people cannot speak English, so from now on you will be speaking only Spanish. We won’t speak any English in that country – it would not be polite.” 

Perhaps you can have a signal to signify that you have reached your destination and are no longer to speak English. It is not easy to speak only in the foreign language so you will have to think of ways to make yourself understood. You can bring objects to class, or you can draw pictures for the children. At this age they do not really want to know what each word means, but they do want to have some idea of what they are saying. 

In the first grade the foreign language is taught through songs, games, poems, plays and little conversations. You will need to have your material memorized so that you can be aware of the children during the lesson. You cannot establish a connection with the children if you have your eyes on a book the whole time. I have solved this problem for myself by having a notebook where I write my lesson plans. I have a sheet for first grade and on it I write down the first few words of each song and poem that I am using. I write them in the order I use them, for it is important for the form of the class to have an order that you follow. This sheet serves to remind me of what I have to do next as it is easy to get contused when you teach many different classes. 

It is very necessary for each lesson to have a form, and you will find that you have fewer problems with maintaining order when the children feel that there is form and structure in your lessons. One aspect of the form is the beginning and the end of each lesson. When you first come into a room the children should stand in order to greet you. If they are not able to be quiet right away you can start some verse that involves clapping or stamping or you can start a game of Simon Says to get their attention. The same applies for the end of the lesson. The children should stand to say goodbye to you. This can also be a time for them to learn how to greet people and how to say goodbye to them. In between the greeting and the dismissal you should have a variety of activities. You should follow the same order each time as this helps the children feel secure in the language lesson – they know what to expect next. 

Another important thing to remember is that at this age children cannot be expected to sit still for very long. There should be plenty of action during the lesson. This can take the form of stamping or clapping to a verse or of acting out some of the verses or stories that have been learned. In the source material there are several poems and songs that can be acted out in this way. One poem that has worked well for me when the children need to be active is the one that starts “En un caballito gris”. I try to alternate movement with sitting several times during the lesson so that the children do not have time to get tired of one activity before we go on to the next one. Towards the end of the lesson I allow time to play a game. 

The children at this age should repeat in a group what the teacher has said. They feel much freer to repeat if the whole group is repeating. It is easier for the class to learn new material in this way. Once the class has learned the song or verse, they can repeat along with the teacher. Since the children learn by listening to the teacher, it is very important that your speech be clear and precise. Always speak slowing and clearly for the children. 

This question of speaking as a group applies to plays also. At this level, a play should not have individual speaking parts. The play should be in verse form as this is much easier to learn than narrative. The rhythm and the rhyme help the children to memorize. The story can be recited by the class while several children act it out. Within the setting of the classroom, you can do small skits in which children have individual parts. ,. In this type of situation there is no pressure put on a child to memorize as an individual, nor is there a chance to show off. 

Now, how do you get from poems, songs and games to speaking? You can include in your lessons a time to learn some simple sentences. For example the children can learn to respond to the questions, “¿Cómo te llamas?”and “¿Cuántos años tienes?”You can also learn the names of objects around the classroom. For example you can go around the room saying and having the children repeat “Esta es la mesa. Esta es la ventana.etc.” When the children are familiar with the sentences you can start by asking the question, “¿Qué es esto?”The children then already know the answer. You can also do something similar with the parts of the body. When I do this, I first sing a song with the children that names the parts of the body. When they know the song well, I teach them the pattern sentence: “Los ojos están aquí.” “La boca está aquí”,etc. When they have learned the sentences, I can then ask the question: “¿Dónde están los ojos?” “¿Dónde está la boca?”

When playing games with children, choose games that have something in them that they have to learn. For example in the game of “Lobo”the children have to learn how to say that they are washing their hands or putting on their shirts, etc. For the game of “La Vieja Inés”they have to learn the colors. Make sure that they know the game well before you take them outside to play. Once they are outside they do not learn anything. Playing the game should be a reward for having learned it. 

Second grade

The lessons in the second grade are very much like the lessons in the first grade and they should follow the same general format. There is much new that you can add at this time. The story material in the main lesson consists of fables and this can be used in the language lessons in the form of plays. The children can also now start learning the days of the week, the months of the year and how to count to 100. They can also increase their vocabulary to include things found outside in nature. You can have them learn different foods and drinks. This is a good time to learn to say “Me gusta”or “yo quiero”.

Third grade

The lessons in the third grade remain oral, but the children are capable of learning quite a bit more at this age. The main story material in their main lesson is from the Old Testament. These stories make wonderful plays. There is also a farming block in the third grade and there are many poems and songs that have to do with farming and farm animals. 

At this age you can feel more free to call on individual children to speak in class. When doing a play, you can give a small group of children a part to speak together or even short parts that the individual child can say alone. The play for third grade in the section of plays is an example of how this can be done.  

Something new that can be used in the third grade is songs in rounds. This should come towards the end of the year and not at the beginning. There are several rounds included in the source material.

Although the children still need movement by third grade they do not need to be as active as they did in first and second grade. It is now possible to have them spend more time in their chairs. They can learn many new things now. The seasons, the weather, numbers to 1000, descriptions, prepositions, etc. You can do little skits that involve setting the table, ordering food, or going for a walk with a friend, etc. 

Fourth grade

The fourth grade is an exciting year in the language lessons. The children are now ready to start learning to read and write and to learn the grammar of the language. This is also the time when they first begin to keep a Spanish book that is similar to a main lesson book. 

In fourth grade the children have a main lesson block on Man and Animal. It is a good year to introduce poems, songs and stories about animals. 

With the introduction of reading, grammar and writing, the form of the lesson becomes a little different. The lesson should still start by having the children stand to greet the teacher. The order of my lessons from fourth grade on is as follows: poem, song, grammar and oral work, dictation, reading, and writing. After the children have greeted me and recited a poem, they sit down and we sing a song. We then spend some time learning grammar. At this time the children answer questions and make sentences where they must use the grammar point that they are studying. After this I take a few minutes either for a short dictation or for a vocabulary review of words that they are learning – either in the story we are reading, the poem or song we are learning or the grammar we are studying. After this we spend some time on the story we are reading. The last 10 or 15 minutes of the class are spent writing in their Spanish books. When the lesson is over, I ask the children to stand to be dismissed. 

As you can see, not much time is spent on anyone aspect of the lesson. It is important not to allow yourself to get bogged down at anyone point. Do not feel that the children have to learn one thing before they can go on to the next. What they do not grasp in one day they will eventually learn. The important thing is to keep coming back to the same points without letting them become boring. 

It is very easy to learn to read in Spanish, and this does not usually present a problem for the children. I usually start by telling the children that the vowels always say their name. So we learn the names of the vowels as well as learning to recite the alphabet. Then, taking one vowel at a time I start by dictating simple words. (For example: cama, taza) When we have covered all the vowels, and this might take as long as three weeks, I allow them to write in their books a poem that they already know fairly well. It helps them develop confidence in their ability to read if they can start by reading something that they already know. 

For the few consonants that are different in Spanish, I usually make up a little story to help the children remember what sound they make. 

The curriculum calls for the present tense to be taught in the fourth grade. You will find that if your grammar lessons concentrate on the verbs, the children will be able to understand and speak the language more quickly than if they start with some other part of speech. 

Since you will be reciting the verb conjugations, the children will need to learn the subject pronouns first. I emphasize for them the idea that there are two different ways to address people in Spanish. So from the beginning they learn that I will address them as “tú” but they have to address me as “usted”.I find that I have to remind them many times that there are four ways to say “you” in Spanish. 

After they have learned the pronouns, the verbs can be learned by reciting the conjugations in a rhythmic way. I explain to the children that in English the verb is always the same, but in Spanish it is always changing. So when we -say “yo”the verb is said one way and when we say “tú”it is said differently. I usually start by introducing five verbs that are essential for Spanish: “Llamarse, ser, estar, irand tener”.I find that if the students can’ learn these verbs well they are well on their way towards learning the language. I start with the verb “llamarse”myself. It is the easiest to learn and the children already know it in part from first, second and third grade. (I have found that if the children learn to use “llamarse”in fourth grade, it is easier for them to learn other reflexive verbs later on in seventh and eighth grades.) We repeat it rhythmically and make sentences with it for several weeks. By the time the children are ready to start writing in their books, they are ready to write this first verb down. They write the conjugation and then at the bottom of the page they write some words that’ they can use to make sentences with that verb. For example, under “llamarse”they can write members of the family: “madre, padre, hermano, abuelo, etc.” As soon as they have written “llamarse”into their books, I start teaching them the verb “ser”.

As soon as “ser”is written in the book, I introduce the verb “estar”.When they are ready to write “estar”into the book, I have them make a list of words under “¿Cómo?”that includes “bien, enfermo, etc.”also a list under “¿Dónde?”the includes “en la casa, en la escuela, en el trabajo, etc.”With“ir” I include places to go to such as “al bosque”and with “tener”I include some of the idioms used with tener: “hambre, sed, frío, calor, sueño, suerte, años, razón, miedo, prisa”.

As they learn each verb, they also learn to ask and answer questions with them. For example with “ser”the question might be: “¿Cómo es tu padre?”to which they can make any number of answers: “Él es alto; él es bueno; él es inteligente; etc.”Or you can ask: “¿De dónde es tu madre?”or “¿Qué eres tú?” They should not write down answers to specific questions, but be free to make new answers each time. Sometimes they might even want to make up silly answers.

After these verbs have been more or less mastered, usually around the end of March, I introduce regular verbs. When I introduce regular verbs, I start by having the children give me action words in English. I write them: on the board in Spanish until the whole board is covered by the verbs they have thought of. I then ask the children to look at all the words that are on the board and find something special about them. It is never very long before someone will notice that they all end in “r”. It usually takes a little longer for someone to notice that they all end in either “ar”, “er” or “ir”. Using verbs that they have learned from the stories we have read, they learn the endings of regular verbs by reciting them in a rhythmic way. They can then start making sentences of their own with the vocabulary that they know. For example: “Yo canto en la casa. Usted canta en la clase. Nosotros cantamos en la escuela.”

It would be appropriate at this age to give the students a reader. Since I have not found a book that I am truly happy with, I type out stories for the class and include them at the back of their books. These stories are used to read, learn vocabulary, and to learn to answer questions and retell the stories. 

A word about the children’s books. I put the books together myself before the school year starts. I divide each book into sections with small tabs. The first section is for poems, the second is for songs, the third is for grammar, the fourth is for dictations, and the last section is for stories. In this way the book is kept in order and it is easy to find each page. During each lesson we go through the book in the order in which it is written. This saves much time as the children do not have to look through their whole book to find the appropriate page. 

Fifth grade

The form of the lesson is very much like that of the fourth grade. The main lesson curriculum calls for a block in botany and it is a good time to bring in poems about plants, trees or butterflies. 

The foreign language curriculum for the fifth grade calls for the children to learn the past tense. In Spanish there are two past tenses and they are equally important. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to speak in the past tense without using both tenses. For this reason, I try to introduce the class to both the preterit and the imperfect tenses. I do not try to explain when one is used and when the other is used. I simply, have them learn both and let them experience both in the stories that they read. 

Since there are always a number of children who are new in the class, I start the year with a complete review of the grammar that was learned in the fourth grade. I make sure that in writing the five verbs they leave room on the opposite side of the page for writing them in the past tenses. This review usually takes until the end of January. When reviewing the work from fourth grade it is good to introduce something new into the review so that the children who were quick to learn the material in fourth grade do not loose interest in what you are doing. When they have learned to conjugate in the past tenses, you might play a game where one person makes up a sentence in the present tense and the next person has to put it into one of the past tenses. 

The work with stories, songs, poems and dictations continues as in fourth grade. 

Sixth grade

The curriculum for main lesson in the sixth grade is rich and varied, and it is effective at this time to use poems that relate to what the children are learning in the main lesson. For example, during the lesson on acoustics I use the poem “El arpa”,and while they are learning about light and the colors, I use “El arcoiris”.There are also blocks on astronomy and geology. The history lessons are about Rome and it is then possible to introduce into the Spanish lesson an essay on the Roman conquest of Spain. I have also included in the source material a shortened version of the play “Numancia”by Cervantes. 

The sixth grade language curriculum calls for the future tense to be introduced. Since this is a very simple tense in Spanish and is very easy to learn, I start in this year to introduce some of the more complicated aspects of the grammar. For example they can now learn verbs that are irregular in the first person. They can also start to learn the changes that take place in the stem changing verbs. Since they have learned the verb “llamarse”they have a good basis for learning reflexive verbs. It is also during this year that I first have the students write the rules for when you use “ser”and when you use “estar”.All these grammar points are rather difficult for them to learn, and I do not really expect them to master them in sixth grade, but if they are introduced to them at this time, they find them easier to learn when they come to them again in the seventh and eighth grades. 

If you have many new students that come in at this age, it is good to divide the class into two different classes, beginning and advanced. If this is out of the question, perhaps you can have a special class at some time in which to help catch up new students. It is very difficult to make progress in a language program if you always need to hold the class back in order to allow the new students to catch up. You will also find that if you do not keep the old students challenged, they will loose interest and become very disruptive. 

In the story material you can start to introduce some history and biographies. You can also use legends from Spanish speaking countries. In the history and biographies specific anecdotes will be of the most interest to the children. It will then be more like a story of something that really happened. 

Seventh grade

During the grammar part of the lessons I do a quick review of the tenses that they have already learned to make sure that they remember them. One can then introduce as new material the progressive tenses. During this year I also introduce constructions using two verbs. I teach “tener que, ir a, aprender a, enseñar a, acabar de, deber, poder, etc.” I review again the stem changing and reflexive verbs as well as the verbs irregular in the first person. This is also a good year to write down the rules about articles, nouns and adjectives. 

For the story material you might try a longer short story. It is easier to interest them in a funny story or in something with an unusual twist to it. After they have had a geography lesson on Europe, you might do a geography lesson on Spain. You could follow that with an antidote having to do with the Moorish conquest of Spain. There are many possibilities for story material here. 

The seventh grade main lesson curriculum calls for a renaissance history block and this is something that can be worked into the Spanish curriculum. One might have a few lessons devoted to the renaissance in Spain or an anecdote from that period to use as story material. 

Eight grade

The eighth grade in their history block studies modern history. Sometime in 7th or 8th grades they will have a main lesson geography block on South America. In the Spanish lesson there is much that can be done with the battle for independence in the Latin American countries and one can introduce them to such men as Bolívar and Juárez. This is also a good year to have geography lessons on Mexico and South America. 

In the area of grammar I try to have a thorough and complete review of all the grammar that they have learned up to this point. They can also learn direct and indirect object pronouns, the pronouns that follow prepositions and the possessive adjectives. This is a very full plan, but it is easier to get it all in if you start off the year with a plan of how long you will spend on each point. 

Using story material

The teaching through use of stories is useful in many ways. I try to plan most of my lesson around the story that the class is reading — vocabulary being· learned is from the story, reading lessons are made from it, as well as grammar. The story itself helps break the monotony of the grammar lessons. 

Trying to work studies of grammar into the story at hand is difficult, but is possible with a little preplanning. Occasionally I change the wording in the story in order to bring out the grammar points that I wish to make. Of course there is no reason why you couldn’t compose your own stories to make certain points in grammar. 

Stories can also be used to present new vocabulary, to help the children learn to answer questions and to construct sentences of their own. To this end, I will ask questions in Spanish after the class has read a story, or in the older grades a part of one. In the fourth grade I ask simple questions that need only to be turned around to make an answer; for example: “¿Vive en el campo el hombre? El hombre vive en el campo.” The first few times I ask the question I write it on the board with the answer under it. The next step is to write the question only. The next step is to ask the question without writing it on the board. In the fifth grade the questions become more complicated; for example, instead of asking the question as above, I would ask: “¿Dónde vive el hombre?”Toward the end of fifth grade you can also go from asking questions to retelling the story without you having to ask them the questions first. This is not easy for the children, and you will find that you first have to start by giving them some idea of how they can do it. As the students get older it becomes easier for them to do this. 

In conclusion let me say that I have purposely avoided giving specific lesson plans or saying that this or that material should be used in this or that grade. Much depends -of the creativity of the teacher. I have only tried to give some indications of the language curriculum and to put together some of the material that I use in my own classes because I realize that it is very difficult to find material in Spanish that is appropriate to use in Waldorf Schools. There: is much else that can be done. Do write your own plays and skits, invent new games, and follow your creative ideas. Do use your skills, imagination and unique personality to make the learning of language a live and human experience! 

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