The last #langchat of the 2016/2017 school year was all about reflection. I don’t remember for which question I shared this, but at some point I shared that I had used stuffed animals in my Spanish classes this year. Another participant asked me to share how I used stuffed animals in my classroom – hence this post!
I began collecting stuffed animals while thrift shopping while I was in Bemidji, MN for my Master’s program two summers ago. I was walking through the aisles when I saw a stick horse propped up next to the shelves. I instantly thought it would be a great addition to my bullfighting unit for when we acted out a bullfight. My toreros could ride horses instead of my broom! As I picked it up, I glanced over and saw a large stuffed reindeer that I knew would be perfect for the Christmas-carol Rodolfo el reno. I slowly kept collecting stuffed animals that fit into the units I taught and I also began bringing stuffed animals that I had received as gifts and didn’t want taking up space at home. A girl can only have so many stuffed dachshunds without looking crazy, am I right?
Here is my current collection:
- Stick horses and stuffed horses: used during my bullfighting unit; also in Robo en la noche for Makenna’s horse
- Reindeer: used with Rodolfo el reno carol and when I teach students Christmas-time vocabulary
- Donkey: used with El burrito sabanero carol at Christmas time
- Snowman: used for Christmas-time vocabulary
- Baby dolls: used with my lucha libre unit to teach my students nació (s/he was born) when learning about El Santo
- Pig: used around Halloween
- Elf on a Shelf: used as described in these posts
- Where’s Waldo: my newest addition, I plan to use him earlier in the year like Elf on a Shelf while teaching important vocabulary in the class and so all my stuffed friends aren’t Christmas-time heavy
- Dogs: used in stories
- Cats: used in stories
- Pig: used in stories
- Finger puppets: used for puppet shows and special retells
My students knew I had these stuffed animals two years ago, but it was this year that they became really popular. I decided to go all out for Halloween this year. I dressed as La llorona for my costume, brought in pan de muerto for all classes to try, handed out candy after teaching my kids truco o trato, and played spooky ghost music during passing time. When talking about everything I was going to do for Halloween with my colleague, he brought over a pig that’s dressed as a vampire and that sings The Adams Family song when you push its paw or squeels when you pull its tail. It was an instantaneous hit! The kids wanted to name it (that’s how Alberto el cerdo was born), include it in their stories, and bring it with them to other classes. I really knew it was successful when kids who were not in Spanish were asking me about Alberto.
Here’s how I’ve used stuffed animals in my classroom:
- as characters in stories
- as class mascots
- for students to practice presenting to in order to eliminate distractions
- in activities like Sana Sana Colita de Rana from Spanish Playground to teach body parts, commands, etc.
- rewards – students who do something I want to encourage (hold door open, help a friend, etc.) can choose one to sit with for the day
- in exchange for pillows during reading time to make it a little extra special
Why should you start a stuffed animal collection in your Spanish (or French, or Italian, etc.) class? Here are a few reasons why:
- My students learned more animal vocabulary this year than ever before, even though I don’t officially teach animals.
- They’re great for teaching students names in the target language (TL). I don’t give my students names in the TL because when I went to Spain every called me Elisabet instead of Isabel like in Spanish class. Personally, I try to pronounce their names with a Spanish accent. However, the previous year I noted that students struggled when presented with names in the TL. Naming our stuffed animals really helped!
- Shy students were more comfortable pretending to be an animal in stories than another human character because the audience’s attention was on the stuffed animal.
- It makes your class unique if you’re a middle school or high school teacher!
Stuffed animals may not work for each teacher or with each group of students, but what worked for me was making them very special in the beginning with limited appearances and then capitalizing on them by including them in activities – but with a purpose.