My students got a special treat on Friday. My mom, who is visiting from Southern Illinois this week, came to spend the day in my classroom. A Luther College graduate, she taught secondary Spanish for 31 years. She’s recently retired.

The presence of another adult changes the dynamic. It gives greater purpose to the target language in the only real way it can – by using it to interact authentically with a real human being.

In each class, I had the class greeter introduce him/herself and ask the name of our visitor. Now, this is a ritual we do often. I’ve had 4 or 5 visitors in the last month. But, the class reaction when she gave her first and last name was priceless.

She fielded several follow up questions from my students including some basics:

¿Qué te gusta hacer?

¿De dónde eres?

¿Dónde vives?

These questions weren’t met with much enthusiasm. They produce fairly mundane answers. Then, someone with a twinkle in his eye asked, “¿Cuántos años tienes?” This prompted some good, spontaneous language and number use.

“¿Tienes un talento especial?” prompted good conversation about favorite activities and family. Her talents include playing music and being a good grandma, which she very much is. My students responded spontaneously with expressions in the target langauge – Me too! You don’t say! Me neither! That’s cool! All of these spontaneous outbursts closed the communication loop, letting me know they were understanding and interpreting the language they were hearing. It also provided opportunities to explore tangents on a theme. Who else plays piano? How often do you go to church? In what ways do you like to help others?

Then, after all the routine questions had been asked, more creative questions came out. ¿Cuántos hijos tienes? prompted dialogue about my four brothers and me. We discussed twins, colors of hair, eyes, relative shapes and sizes, characteristics of oldest and youngest children and more. I used my own family as the point of departure, but reached out to the students to see who else was a middle child or the baby of the family.

Then came “¿Quién es tu hijo favorito?” And before she could even answer, several students shouted, “¡Es obvio!”

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The Sweetest of Visits

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