Saturday, February 18, 2012

¿Dónde está el estinguidor? Authentic language learning

In my Spanish II class, we are learning what I call the "accidental" tense (se me olvidó el nombre). For all you non-Spanish speakers, it is basically a specific use of object pronouns in the preterit (past) tense that lets you say  the equivalent of "my book was forgotten!" instead of "I forgot my book". We just finished up a unit reviewing imperatives as well.
I happen to also be on our school's Safety Committee. We are currently in the process of making sure that everything in our dear (and very old) school is up to code. Things like adding lamps to paths, checking for asbestos and upgrading alarm systems. I thought, hey, maybe my students could help with some of this. The "accidental" tense and commands totally go with safety. So I asked our coordinator and lo and behold! she had a few ideas up her sleeve.
I offered them to the students and they jumped on it. Instead of wanting to do one of her ideas, my kids decided that they were going to do all three options...and they quickly added some more details to make it up to par.
One of her requests was to make a database of all of the fire extinguishers on campus. Earlier this week, on one of our rare rainless days we went on a scavenger hunt. The students wrote up the phrases  they would need to know and then scoured the campus asking and answering the following questions both out load and on a spreadsheet:

¿Dónde está el extinguidor? (Where is the extinguisher?)
¿Qué es la fecha de inspección? (What is the inspection date?)
¿Cuál tipo de extinguidor es? (Which type of extinguisher is it?)

The kids typed up the spreadsheet that night and, technically, they had finished what our Safety Director had asked for. The students, however, thought it was silly if only the Safety Director had the extinguisher information. So yesterday in class we took a map of the school and marked the location of every extinguisher on campus. Then, they put red "You are here" dots on each map and write a location-specific note on each map, stating the location of the nearest Spanish and in English. 
X marks the spot (of the fire extinguishers, that is).
Everything in Spanish and English. All generated by Span II students.
I was worried about how much Spanish we would be covering. However, it turns out that we are not only learning all of the safety related vocabulary -- the kids jokingly told me they will never forget the word "el extinguidor" -- but we are also reviewing prepositions of location and the different uses of ser and estar. 

Furthermore, we are all so pumped up by the project that I'm ok if it isn't the most intense Spanish activity they'll ever have. They're working as a unit, sharing information, brainstorming and executing ideas and (!!) enjoying it. 

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