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Mi Casa: Spanish-Language Students Use Design Thinking to Facilitate Role-Play and Develop Speaking Skills

By David Hutchings

An overarching goal for teaching Spanish is putting students in positions where they can use language as authentically as possible. We can watch videos, read articles and short stories, and develop conversations about the world around us. A challenge has always been how to create a context where students can talk or write about something or someone who cannot come to class. When studying family life and the home in my Spanish 1A class, for example. we’ve looked for ways to have students talk about their homes in a realistic way without the rest of the class knowing the layout of their home.

This year, my Spanish 1A classes were able to overcome this challenge by collaborating in the Middle School Makerspace under the guidance of Mrs. Vande Berg. Students used the design thinking process to interview another group in Spanish and build a model home using cardboard boxes, construction paper and other Makerspace items. In addition to using new vocabulary for family and the home, students were able to practice using different verbs to describe locations (estar) and the characteristics of each room (ser). They were also able to share preferences for “extras” in the house such as a pool, library or gym. Students then sketched and developed prototypes for their fellow members.

The process of designing and building the model homes helped students get to know the houses inside and out. When we returned to the Spanish classroom, students spent time asking and answering questions about their houses. These questions included asking about the location of rooms, activities in the house, favorite spaces, description of rooms and furniture, and likes and dislikes in the house. In order to make the experience as authentic as possible, students were partnered with someone who was not in their original groups and given a short period of time to write questions about their partner’s home. Next, students interviewed each other about their houses. The final role-play represented the first time each student had answered that question from that person. Using their model homes as a guide allowed students to ground their responses and descriptions in reality and helped the rest of the class relate to and enjoy the role-play. With a real house in the room, it was easier to present and enjoy the exercise.

The presentations were comfortable and confident. Even for those students who had less time to practice in class, having deep knowledge of their model home allowed them to show what they had learned. Each role play was as unique as the house it described. Adaptations and quirks in the design process became charming rooms where the imaginary family gathered for activities, and creative models of furniture became focal points in any given room. I hope the experience can easily transfer to my students’ actual lives and homes. These skills and knowledge should set them up well if they ever find themselves in homestay in a Spanish-speaking country.

Here is what a few of my students said about the project:

“It was an interactive way of learning, so while you were writing and speaking, you got to visualize it. You could physically interact and see words and phrases in your house. Instead of just learning a term, you understood it.”  — Olivia Meyers ’24

“You got to be creative in building a house and picking the furniture. You got to really choose what you wanted to talk about.” — Alex Miller ’24

“It was easier to understand how to use the vocabulary when you were making the house.” — J.J. Mitchell ’24

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