Debates about bullfighting and singing the water cycle

It’s hard to believe I’ve been teaching English in Spain for 8 months! I live in a pueblo called Almendralejo, which is in the region of Extremadura next to Portugal. Lucky for me there are 11 other English teachers who live in or near Almendralejo, and I’ve made some really close friends with the other teachers.

Here’s a group of us teachers from the beginning of the year. We’re all American girls except for two British boys. We’re missing a few people in this picture though.

School Life

I work in two schools, one public and one private, in two towns nearby, and teach both elementary and high school students from ages 7 to 16. In all of my classes, there is a native Spanish teacher in the classroom with me, but I’m responsible for planning and teaching most of my classes alone.  I appreciate this freedom and I feel that these months have helped me grow a lot as a teacher.

Something I’ve been doing with all of my students recently is starting each class with meditation. I ask students to sit with their feet on the floor, and pretend a string is pulling up the top of their head, and we take 10 silent breaths together as a class. I count the breaths. There are some giggles, but I find it a good way to get everyone grounded and focused.

In my elementary classes, I’m teaching social science to energetic 7-to-11-year-olds, with topics from geography to the water cycle to world economy. I design classes to include reading, writing, speaking, and listening. We often begin by reading out loud – usually, I prefer everyone to read at the same time so everyone can participate instead of just listening to one person. If there are some problematic words – for example, they say “Eh-spain” instead of “Spain” – I’ll get everyone to repeat-after-me, and check pronunciation individually with plenty of “good jobs” and high fives. Later, I’ll ask students to copy down new vocabulary or make a mind map in their notebooks about what we’ve read, and I end every class with a game or song.

After I finish with these high-energy group, I walk across the sunny campus to a junior high class with my bilingual group studying history in English and talk with them about life in Ancient Greece, where we often do role-plays.

After a 30 minute break, where teachers drink coffee and chat and students play or socialize outside, I head to my 4th ESO high school class comprised of 16-year-old students who are extremely rowdy but also extremely intelligent. When I first enter the classroom, they often start applauding and hooting and hollering, probably just to test my reaction. I usually just smile and curtsy and play along, although at times I have had to put on my serious face and give a short lecture.

I’ve been teaching them once a week for the past 8 months. When we first started, I tried doing cultural presentations with them, such as contrasting school life or holidays in the USA versus Spain, which had been working well with other students of their age. However, they were soon bored and understimulated, and I knew I had to change something. Since I had the freedom to choose any structure and topic for the class, I decided to push students to think for themselves, and started doing debates.

First, I made a questionnaire with 50 of the most popular topics for high school debate. In one class, I passed it out, and asked students to rank their top ten individually. Then I put students into groups of 8 (4 to argue in favor of a certain topic, and 4 against) told them that next week they would be having mini-debates in front of the class, so they had to choose a topic on the list as a group and prepare for it.

The next week, I was so impressed by their debates. They had chosen to debate single-sex schools, cloning, animal testing, gender equality, gun control, and bullfighting. Each student spoke eloquently and with confidence.

In the following weeks, I decided to expand on each topic that they had selected. I started each class with a video and comprehension questions about each issue, then passed out a news article which we read in class, highlighting new words and searching for grammar structures they were studying in their other English classes, and then finally opened up the class for discussion.

I feel so lucky I get the chance to work with these kids! What would you do with a bright group of 31 16-year-old students?

Some photos from the school year:

Teaching geography to elementary school students is fun! I elected some motivated students to come up and help me label the different oceans. 
I interviewed students in my 2nd ESO (the equivalent of 7th-grade junior high school students, age 12 and 13). I enjoy thinking of fun questions to get them thinking creatively.
In addition to the job I have in the public schools, I teach private lessons. I have 4 students – 3 children and 1 adult – and I walk to their houses and teach them in the afternoon. I cater my classes to their interests. The student in this class loves Pokemon and drawing, so we play a lot of games like Pictionary.
We also invented our own Pokemon!

Thanks for reading! Any ideas or feedback are appreciated!

2 thoughts on “Debates about bullfighting and singing the water cycle

  1. Hannah Ruth

    Yay, Amber! So cool what you’re doing! Awesome that you have so much agency in your teaching now. Seems like you’re doing great things with it! ❤

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