In Search of Authentic Resources

June 10, 2019
Melissa Creamer

Someone recently brought me a stack of old Spanish textbooks that he found in his parents’ basement. He didn’t think they had much value, but he felt bad throwing them away. Among the stack were several from the 1930s. The textbooks were mostly grammar exercises with a few black and white photos scattered here and there. They were definitely not very interesting, and most certainly not very authentic. And although textbooks have improved over the years, they still lack that authentic experience.

The best way to get that authentic experience is through the use of authentic resources. Authentic resources are resources that haven’t been created for teaching, but are for use in daily life in the target culture. They come straight from Spain or Latin America and give us an idea of what life is like in those countries. Authentic resources include commercials, newspapers, magazines, menus, brochures, movies, songs, and advertisements.

One of my favorite things to teach is commands. I’m not sure why, maybe because they are everywhere, but nonetheless, I really enjoy them. Several years ago I took a group of 15 students to Spain for two weeks in the summer. I remember standing with them in a sandwich shop for lunch, and I noticed that there was a really cool placemat with advertisements on each of the trays that the employees were handing to the kids. Once everyone was seated I went around collecting the placemats. The kids thought I was crazy, but I showed them that the placemats had commands written on them along with food related vocabulary. My brain was already planning lessons around the commands and food.

Some of my best authentic resources are from colleagues, family, and friends. When someone I know is traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, I ask them to save me maps, brochures, newspapers, magazines, or anything easy to pack that looks interesting! If I am not going to use the resource right away, then I write down my ideas on how to use it before filing it away.

Since we are in the classroom nine months out of the year and can’t travel whenever we need resources, we have to look other places. Sometimes those places aren’t too far away. Most recently, I noticed that many of the signs at my local hardware store were now in English and Spanish. I went to the customer service desk and asked if they had any brochures or job applications in Spanish. I was handed a warranty brochure, a credit card application, and a job application all in Spanish.

One of the easiest resources I have found for commands is game instructions. My daughters have a collection of board games and the instructions are in English and Spanish. I went through the instructions in each of the games and I picked a game called “Don’t Break the Ice” to bring to school. I copied the Spanish version of the instructions and used them for several activities in class. I set up the game and asked comprehension questions about the instructions. If the student got it right, they were allowed to come up and hit a cube. Eventually, I was able to purchase seven more games when my local discount store had them on sale, so I could have one for each of the groups in my room. I rewarded them with a game day once we finished working on commands.

During a fall event at another local hardware store, my girls played some games and won some extra kits left over from children’s workshops held each month. The instructions for the kits were in English and Spanish, so I asked the workshop coordinator if she would be willing to donate a few more extra kits to my classroom so my students could build them in groups, using the Spanish instructions. She loved the idea and I picked the kits that involved very little prep work or tools. 

Local community organizations are another great resource. We are lucky to have a local organization called Esperanza, which provides mentoring, leadership building, comprehensive post-secondary support, and family support to the Hispanic students and families of Northeast Ohio. I was even luckier to have a student in class a few years ago who volunteered there with her mom. They brought me brochures, advertising flyers, and literature about housing in the area. This connection also provided an opportunity for my students to volunteer in a Spanish-speaking community as mentors and reading tutors.

I often turn to the internet to find my resources, which comes with a few challenges. If you have ever looked online for an authentic resource, then you understand those challenges. It’s very easy to spend hours, days, even weeks looking for the perfect resource. It doesn’t help when I picture in my mind exactly what I want to find, because it’s not always out there. Of course I also want it to be 100% authentic, so that adds another challenge. Then, since it’s so easy to just keep searching and clicking, I sometimes click too much and I lose a resource, which causes added frustration.        

I knew I had to do something to be more efficient and better organized. I started by creating Pinterest boards. If you have never used Pinterest, you must try it. There are thousands of resources that people have already found and organized by theme. You can follow those pinners or their boards to see what they add. You do have to be careful because a lot of the pins out there are not authentic resources and will take you to teacher generated grammar and vocabulary activities. Once you start pinning authentic resources, then more authentic resources will come as suggestions on your home feed. I organize mine by grammar topic and vocabulary theme. You can follow my Pinterest and you can follow Teacher’s Discovery.

I also started searching in the target language on Pinterest, Google, YouTube, and even social media, like Twitter. For example, I wanted to find an infographic to go with my unit on food in Spain. Instead of searching for “Spanish food” I searched for “comida española” and most of my results were authentic articles and videos. I also saw that many of the articles used the phrase “platos típicos” or the words “alimento” or “alimentación” so I added those to my search.   

Related: Voces Digital Web-Based Resources

I like to search for hashtags in Spanish to find authentic uses of vocabulary and grammar. For example, I used the hashtag #cuandoeranino on Twitter when working on a unit about childhood. I was able to find several examples of tweets that I copied and pasted into a Google Doc so I could use them in class. It’s pretty easy to find examples that are funny and that relate to students and their experiences. Just remember to read carefully to avoid copying tweets with inappropriate content.

Once you find a resource, remember to save it somewhere! File, pin, bookmark, or download it. Make some notes about how you want to use it if you are not using it right away. Once you find a few favorite go-to websites or channels, the search will become easier.

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