Conversational Spanish

Teacher: Tom Hinkle
Extra Help: Days and Room of Extra Help Here or by appointment.

Course Overview

Spring 2014 Thomas Hinkle

Spanish Dept. Extra Help Fridays or by appt.

Conversational Spanish

Objective: The goal of this class is very simple: to improve your level of  spoken Spanish, with the goal of bringing all students to a Novice High level of performance in spoken, written, and listening and reading, preparing them for Level 2 classes next year.

Method: ACTFL (The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) recommends classes aim for 90% or more instruction to be in the target language (in out case, Spanish).  Our class will aim to meet or exceed that goal, with most classes being taught 100% in Spanish.  Because we will be communicating without English, you will need to communicate using gestures, movements or drawings when you are unable to communicate in Spanish.

In order to make classes run smoothly without the use of English,  we will tend to follow the same format each day:

  • Written Practice: each day will begin with a short writing activity to enable you to get your brain going in Spanish while I take care of attendance. Often, this will be an open-ended activity: you will be given an image and asked to write about it.  If all you can do is list colors at first, that is okay, but your goal is to write as much as possible, building sentences about the things you know how to speak about, and writing questions about the things you don’t know how to talk about. This is the only time you will be at your desk for most classes.

  • Pronunciation Practice: In these practice sessions, I will take a short phrase or mini-dialog based on our written practice and have the class practice repeating this session, often with a gesture as well. Your goal is to repeat the phrase correctly both in your head and out loud,  to understand what you are saying, and to show your understanding with gestures.  The repetition of these practice  sessions is designed not just to build vocabulary, but also to build your familiarity with  the way fluid, rapid Spanish should sound.

  • Conversational Practice: In these sessions, the class will often stand or frequently move seats. Your goals are (1) to speak with a variety of different students (2) to stay in Spanish the entire time (3) to practice speaking about a variety of topics. At first, much of your speech will follow fill-in-the-blank kinds of templates or scripted dialogs, but your goal is to communicate as much as possible with partners. As the semester goes on, you should find yourself speaking more and more authentically and varying from simple memorized scripts.

  • Reflection & Charting Progress: At the end of class, you will fill out an ongoing chart of your success at speaking and understanding Spanish and review new material you’ve learned that day.

Assessments & Projects

In order to assess and document your progress, you will have  formal assessments in all major areas (Interpretation, Conversation, and Presentation) at 4 points over the semester, starting this week. On days with assessments, our normal structure will be replaced or compressed to make room for students to work on the listening, reading, writing or spoken activity.

You will be reflecting on your progress on these assessments in your digital portfolio on a regular basis. You  will be able to share a series of any of these assessments showing progress at exhibition night.

Presentation Assessments: In these assessments, you will be given three different writing tasks—  describing a picture, writing a dialog to fit into a situation, and carrying out a task in writing.  For example, you might be asked to describe a picture of a Café, to write a dialog that would take place at a restaurant, and to write a note to a friend  who was supposed to come over to your house telling them you have gone out for pizza and will be back in a half hour.

Your goal on written assessments is to use the fullest, most complete and most appropriate language you can. For these assessments, you will have access to a dictionary and time to check your work, but you will not have access to  online translators of any kind.

You will share your work with the class by reading or performing  parts of what you’ve written.

Conversational Assessments: In these assessments, you will record conversations with three different partners. Each conversation will  include two different types of interaction: one will be a simple, scripted kind of interaction (asking what the weather is, what time it is, or where the library is, for example) and the other will be open ended (asking a “Cómo es…” question or a “Describe” question).

Your goal in conversational assessments is to speak naturally but fully.  In order to  show progress toward Novice High, you need to show strong performance at novice tasks like engaging in conventional exchanges or simple dialogs or listing  and you need to show emerging performance at intermediate tasks like creating new sentences, recombining learned language, and asking questions.

Interpretation Assessments: In these assessments, you will have a listening activity, a transcription activity, and a reading activity. Your job will be to show strong comprehension of spoken and written conversation at the novice level (very simple, basic exchanges) and emerging comprehension of more advanced, complex conversations.


Students wishing to take Spanish for honors should let Mr. Hinkle know within the first three weeks of class. Honors work will require students to complete a series of extra independent work in  each of the three major areas of the class (presentation, interpretation, or conversation).

Work Habits

The most important thing you can do to further your Spanish is to (1) stay engaged  (2) speak Spanish during class (3) write down and practice vocabulary and new phrases. Work habits will be assessed every two weeks in a holistic grade  put into X2 based on my  evaluation  of your performance in class.

Below are my expectations for your work  in this class:


- Student speaks no English from the moment they enter class to the moment they leave.

- Student raises hand to volunteer multiple times each class.

- Student uses drawings and gestures to ask questions on a regular basis.

- Student speaks with a variety of peers  during conversational time.

- Student repeats actions and gestures as well as words during pronunciation and conversational practice.

- Student begins class ready to write, with paper and folder out and pen in hand.

- Student completes all homework assignments.


- Student does “A” work most, but not all, of the time.


- Student speaks in Spanish many times each day.

- Student speaks with a several different peers during class each day.

- Student is respectful and positive in interactions with peers.

- Student writes down new vocabulary as we learn it at the start and end of class.

- Student leaves class rarely and only for good reason.

A note on leaving the class

It is natural and normal for students to want to leave class when they are feeling stressed out or the work feels difficult. It is also a terrible idea. Students who leave class on a regular basis set up a feedback loop where they find themselves understanding less (because they miss class time), getting more frustrated and/or bored, and, therefore, leaving class more often. It is my job to interrupt that feedback loop by not  letting you leave class on a regular basis. Therefore, my default response to a request to leave class is to ask you to wait until the end of class.

That said, I understand  that some students will sometimes need to leave the class. If you ever need to leave class urgently you should get my attention so I know you are leaving and tell me  you need to leave class. If you are going to the nurse, you will need to first get a nurse’s pass, fill it out, and bring it to me for my signature.  

If you  are leaving for a non-emergency (e.g. to use the restroom), you should try to time your departure so it is during whole-group instruction rather than during pair or group work. When you are working in pairs or small groups is when you have the most opportunity to practice  producing Spanish, so I see that time as the most valuable and the worst to interrupt.


A Note on ACTFL Levels and Progress

This class is for novice students.  Learning a language takes a long time and is hard work — it can be helpful to have a sense of what kind or progress is realistic. and how long it takes.  Though you’ll see you can’t expect to be fluent by the end of the semester, you should expect to have real, usable language ability by the end of high school, which will enable you to interact in and survive in a Spanish-speaking culture.

Here is a quick summary of the major levels of foreign language growth. The amount of time it takes to reach each level is based on studies of highly motivated speakers learning in an immersion environment with a 4:1 student:teacher ratio.

Speaks in...



Phrases and words

Memorized dialogs

Recognize and repeat a large variety of vocabulary.

Communicate with teacher.

Intermediate (takes >240 hours)
A student beginning in high school should just reach this level.

A variety of sentences.

Survive in the target culture.

Ask basic questions.

Communicate with sympathetic people.

Advanced (takes >480 hours).

A student who takes time abroad or continues their studies into college should be able to reach this level.


Communicate in the target language.

Engage in full conversation.

Communicate with anyone.

The Sub-levels

Because it takes so long to move from Novice to Intermediate, we often talk in terms of sublevels. At each level, the “Low” level means you can just barely do what is required, the “Medium” level means you can do it comfortably, and the “High” level means you are beginning to often do what’s required of the next level. That means that to reach Novice High (which is where we begin Level 2 in the high school), the test is not how good you are at novice tasks but whether you are beginning to show success at intermediate tasks.

Here are descriptions of functions of language and at what level you should be able to complete them:

List a variety of words or phrases given a context: Novice Mid

Supply basic information on a form: Novice Mid

Engage in simple, formulaic interactions: Novice Mid

Transcribe familiar words and phrases: Novice Mid

Use memorized sentences: Novice Mid

Write short messages, notes, postcards: Novice High

Recombine phrases into a variety of new sentences: Novice High

Talk about yourself in a variety of contexts: Novice High

Keep a conversation going with a peer about a simple topic: Novice High