Lost in Madrid: A Story-Based Activity to Help Students Develop Interpretive Listening and Reading Skills

July 18, 2019
Leah Rogstd

As a high school Spanish teacher who teaches novices, I constantly ask myself how I can help my students develop the skills necessary to thrive in a target language country. While music videos and cooking classes spark enthusiasm for culture, I also want my students to experience the excitement and frustration of arriving to a new country and travelling on their own. No one can deny that reading a subway map, being able to respond to your host mother’s email, and chatting with a local are all essential ingredients to a successful experience abroad. However, when I thought about forcing students to do these activities as a way to develop those skills, the process seemed inauthentic and boring at best. What motivation would they have to read a subway map if it wasn’t leading anywhere?

Then I remembered last year when I went to an “Escape Room,” a story-based activity in which people pay to be locked in a room together and try to “escape.” When my friends and I arrived to the room, our host described the imminent danger of a vicious werewolf under a spell that would arrive to destroy us within the hour. The hour was filled with intense teamwork and adrenaline as we tried to navigate spellbooks, listen to songs, and search for the clues we needed to escape from the werewolf. Suddenly, a convincing story created motivation to complete the task.

Upon realizing how this story-based game sparked motivation, I decided to design an Escape Room-esque lesson in which students needed to use their interpretive reading and listening skills to survive a vacation in Madrid, Spain. Since we were in a travel unit, my students had already learned about various regions in Spain, investigated art, and explored Spanish music. However, these activities did not allow them to walk down the streets of Madrid or experience the excitement of travel. Therefore, my goals for this lesson were:

  1. Students use their interpretative reading and listening skills to gather necessary information from authentic materials in the target language that they may need to interact with while travelling.
  2. Students develop patience, attention to detail, resilience, and teamwork while working in ambiguous situations.

To design this simulation, I created a Google Site called “¡Perdido en Madrid durante las vacaciones!” that would serve as a virtual “Escape Room.” I first determined the necessary tasks a student may need to complete when travelling abroad, such as using a metro map, responding to their host family’s email, or reading soccer game schedules. I then found authentic materials, such as commercials about food festivals and Airbnb advertisements in Spanish. My favorite part of this process was discovering that I could actually embed Google Maps into the site, which meant that students could virtually walk through the Madrid airport, check out market stalls in el barrio Malasaña, and step inside El Prado to view Las Meninas.

Then game day of the lesson arrived! As I mentioned with the real Escape Room that I attended, setting and a good story is the key to success. If we want students to truly feel the excitement and frustration of travel, we must make students almost believe they are in Madrid. Therefore, before the activity started, we pretended to board a plane and I showed a YouTube video in which we flew over the Atlantic Ocean. Once the students woke up from their “flight,” they received a video of me that set the story and mission: in the video, I pretended that I had accidentally boarded a flight to Taiwan, so they would have to navigate the city alone.

After receiving the story, teams of three students each received a packet with eight sections where they had to answer questions based on the information they gathered by “wandering” the streets of Madrid. I told them they had one hour to “survive” Madrid by completing all of the tasks, and if they worked together, there would be a survival award. Students were then set free to wander! Each time a team completed a section of the packet, they came to me to check their answers. If all of the section was correct (signifying they had “survived” the task), they were given a clue. Once they had completed all eight sections as a team, the clues led to a small combination box in the hallway with a few chocolates and a note certifying they had survived.

While my students acquired some language from this activity, my main goal was working on how to cope with ambiguity and unknown spaces when travelling. I was excited to watch students struggle to read a metro map for the first time, wander a market in search of the price of octopus, and pull out the important information from a Real Madrid game schedule. More than that, I loved seeing my students’ intense focus and engagement as they worked together to complete the task. I’m not sure our school budgets will ever allow us to board the plane to Madrid for the day. However, story-based games and embedded Google Maps can spark enthusiasm and set students up for success when they finally do step off the plane in Madrid. This activity took a lot of input time to create, but I’m excited to use it across levels and for years to come. I hope it can also be of use in your classroom, and that it’s as fun for your kids as it was for mine! All of the resources necessary to use this activity in your class are below:

  1. The “¡Perdido en Madrid durante las vacaciones!” site that students use to find information.
  2. The packet they fill out as they move through the challenge. The first page has in-depth instructions for the teacher.
  3. The answer key to the packet with lots of comments to help familiarize you with where students may need to find clues.

Leah Rogstad is a high school Spanish teacher in Southern California who implements research-based methods to help her students acquire language and foster a love for Spanish. She uses C.I. and Organic World Language strategies to create the most student-centered, proficiency-based classroom that she can.

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