Back to Spanish Class: How to start the year with High Frequency Words

Does anyone else stress out with what to do the first weeks of Spanish class!?! I have tried many ways to start the year, but for the first time ever, I am planning to use the same way as I did last year. I do not think that I am alone in over-thinking that first week. We want everything to be perfect to set the stage for 180 wonderful days together. 

Back to Spanish Class: How to start the year with High Frequency Words - Mis Clases Locas shared on Secondary Spanish Space

Here are a few of my previous first week plans. 

As you can see, each year I have tweaked my plans to try and find that sweet spot. To be honest, they all worked well to fit the particular situation of the moment. If you are trying to incorporate more tech, moving to proficiency and a student led class, the 1st Week of Spanish - daily plans using stations would be the best fit. If you have a group of students who are new to you, my absolute favorite first day activity is Name Game Speedball. I have done it with 7th-12th graders and all you need is a ball. If you are moving towards a more comprehensible input class, focusing on high frequency verbs, keep on reading for more. 

Why high frequency verbs?

If you want your students to be able to communicate, using verbs that are common to language is a great place to start. I used to spend the first month of Spanish 1 doing the "introduction textbook chapter," which was filled with long lists of things like days of the week, numbers, months, and colors to memorize out of context. And what could they do after that month? Well my students could translate a list of words, but they could not talk about things that they cared about in Spanish. Once I moved to teaching with stories and novels, I realized my students did not know many words that kept coming up over and over like goes, wants or there is. I knew that something had to change in how I started the year.

Which words to focus on?

There are many lists out there if you consult the top words used in a language. Terry Waltz coined the popular term the Super 7 verbs (in Spanish - es, tiene, le gusta, hay, está, va a & quiere). Mike Peto expanded that to the Sweet 16, adding additional important verbs as well. With my Spanish 1, I decided to start with Super 7 in the present tense. I chose these words since they led perfectly to the first novel we read, El capibara con botas. I would backwards plan teaching high frequency verbs that are used in your end goal. 

What can I do with these words?

Honestly, if the words are commonly used in a language, you can do anything with them! Create a story with them, find very simple memes that use them in context, or ask personalized questions. What I have found works the best for me, is to do special person interviews. (To learn more about persona especial interviews, check out the blog of the creator Bryce Hedstrom). 

How can I implement personal interviews with high frequency words?

After doing this unit last year five separate times (Spanish 1 and four quarters of middle school exploratory), here is the formula that I have found works best. On day 1 of class we do Name Game Speedball and then start our first interview on day 2 (yes this can work on their second day of language class ever!). We add in 1st week logistics like syllabus, join Google classroom, etc in a stations format as we have extra time at the end of classes the first week. 

Students sit in a semi circle without anything on their laps. They do not take notes during the interviews and their job is to listen to understand and interact. I jot down notes on the whiteboard as we go. (Or you could have this as a student job). Here is how the class typically flows.

  • Introduce focus vocabulary of the day, which is written on my side board to reference. (We start with just the I, you and s/he forms, as that is what is needed in the interviews. You can add the others later).
  • I ask the special person personalized questions using that target structure in a slideshow (idea from Kara Jacobs). I use my clicker, which prompts their first person answer. The the class chorally states the information back. We circle the information until we feel comfortable to move on. 
  • Once we are done interviewing, we give the student a positive validation and do a brain break. For each target structure I have a song with many repetitions of that structure (For example with soy it is the song "Soy yo."). Here are a couple ways we have used the song:
    • Students tally the number of times they hear the word
    • Students stand up and jump every time they hear the word
    • Students raise their hand every time they hear the word
    • Students stand up every time they hear the word
  • Then students grab either a blank piece of paper or a guided notes sheet (if they need more support) and a clipboard and take down the notes over our special person that are written on the board. Or you could have students work with a partner to write down as much as they can without using any notes from the board. 
  • At that point depending on how much time is left, we may do another interview using the same questions, or go on to do a different activity. There might be some first week logistics, or other content that the teacher is required to "cover." I know some teachers have used this unit as a review or with heritage speakers, going quite quick through all questions, and interviewing many people in a day. 

What else do you do with these words?

We do a few days of interviews, and then break it up with a story using the same vocabulary in a new and fresh way. We do some activities with the story, and then return to do more interviews, ending with an assessment. Sometimes we do a mid-way assessment, where I list the students who have gone and list a few interesting facts in Spanish that they need to match up. To review for the assessments, or to come back to the vocabulary later in the year, I have a Find Someone Who to interview many people in class or just a partner, which would be perfect for a substitute plan during the unit. At the end, we do a free write, where they write everything they can about a person of their choice. 

*New High frequency Verbs Question Cards - get students up and moving while asking and answering the questions.

What about upper levels?

You could absolutely start Spanish 2 with the Super 7 unit as a review. It would help build confidence, build a positive classroom community and give everyone a solid base. I would start with more questions right away and move on as the group is ready. You could also go right into the Sweet 16, expanding even more with le da, le dice, hace, puede, pone, sabe, sale, trae, ve, oye, viene. 

For Spanish 3 and 4 you could do a similar unit to start the year in the past tense with either imperfect or preterite. Another teacher told me she has students send her pictures of themselves as kids to project and add something extra special to the past tense interviews. If you want all 3 of the Super 7 units, along with the accompanying Find Someone Who activities, the Super 7 Bundle is available. You can see in my Curriculum plan for this year that I plan to start Spanish 1 with Super 7 present, Spanish 2 with Sweet 16, Spanish 3 with imperfect and Spanish 4 with preterite. 

What if I am new to CI?

What I have found that is so great about these high frequency units is they have helped many teachers who are newer to CI techniques to feel more comfortable with doing special person interviews. The structure of having planned questions and not having to think as much on your feet is comforting to those starting out. For those with more experience, it provides a starting point, to which you can extemporaneously add more as needed. I have been amazed at what my students can write in Spanish without any notes after just a couple weeks of Spanish class. More importantly, learning about each other (while staying in Spanish!) builds a positive classroom community foundation for the rest of the year. 

Back to Spanish Class: How to start the year with High Frequency Words - Mis Clases Locas shared on Secondary Spanish Space

Update! I now have the Super 7 Unit in French too!

Need more ideas for back to school? Check out all of our SSS Back to Spanish Class posts


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