When talking to a colleague about how my students were reading novels and studying the country’s geography (of where the novel takes place), I was met with, “In Spanish?” Of course it’s in Spanish!
I will confess that my first two years teaching, I would have thought it impossible myself. I tended to switch to English – maybe because I wasn’t sure of all the terms myself or maybe because I thought I had too many countries to cover. However, after reading Esperanza by TPRS Publishing and completing this Guatemala geography activity by Martina Bex, I realized it was not only doable but necessary!
Here is how I teach the basics (borders, capitals, major waters) in the target language:
1. I prepare a sheet that has a large, blank version of the country up top and then a smaller, blank map down below of the continent it is on. In the bottom right corner is a compass in Spanish.
2. On the first day, I project the same map onto the whiteboard so I can draw on it.
3. I first circle the name of the country (i.e., Costa Rica) and the vocabulary word for country (so, “el país” in Spanish). I begin including names of familiar cities and cognate countries and asking to identify if the new places are countries or not. This allows me to introduce the vocabulary term for city (so, “la ciudad” in Spanish).
4. Once students have these terms well enough, I move on and we add the capital by adding a star and writing it’s name on the map. Again, I’m circling the pronunciation of the capital, the country and new vocabulary.
5. If there is another important city in the novel I add this.
6. Now, I introduce the idea of oceans and seas simply as water. Lucky enough, the word ocean is a Spanish cognate so it’s a gradual progression to ocean. A few, however, have a “sea” or “gulf” instead. For these I just write the translation. Again I circle.
7. I begin asking location questions. For example, “Is the ocean to the east or west of the capital?” I can narrow in further because the students have the compass on their sheet, and ask, “Is the ocean northeast or southeast?” if the geography allows.
8. Last, I write the word for border on the map and draw a line where the border would be. I describe it as where two countries touch, because now they know the term for country and we have already learned “touch.” I begin circling by asking if it is north, south, etc. compared to the country we are studying. I ask if the other country has borders with additional countries and where those new borders are. I ask how many borders our country has.
9. To end, I ask the class 5 open ended questions. For example, “How many borders does Costa Rica have?” or “Where is the ocean in relation to Costa Rica?”
10. Our warm-ups throughout the week review the geography. The first day, I have a sentence about the geography and at some point students pick one of two words that correctly finishes the sentence. For example, “Located to the south of Costa Rica is a (border/ocean) with Panama.” The next day, I give true or false sentences and students have to correct the false sentences. The third day, all of the questions are open-ended. I also send students home with a blank map to fill in the night before the quiz.
11. For the quiz, students need to be able to label all of the places we identified the first day. For young students, I give them the terms in Spanish. For older levels, I give the English term and students need to know what it is in Spanish (I’m currently debating about if I actually like that or not!). Students also have to correctly find the country on the continent. Lastly, they are required to write 5 sentences in Spanish about the geography.
Costa Rica Map Quiz that has the first handout my Spanish 1 students received for Costa Rica as well as the quiz they took. Is there room for improvement? Probably! But my students and I are so proud that they are able to do this in Spanish! Plus, this provides us with some really good bones to expand on our geography knowledge later. All it takes is about 20 minutes or less of labeling and circling, and 5 minutes or less on warm-ups for the week.