Getting to the roots of language and power with Chalk Talk for heritage learners

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The first unit in my Spanish Language Arts curriculum is about Spanish as a world language.  We look at different dialects of Spanish, learn what the Real Academia Española is and argue whether or not there should be a body governing the Spanish language.

As we are talking about these issues an activity I like to do is a chalk talk.  There are a number of variations, but at a basic level students are expected to jot down their responses to a question (usually an opinion question) on a big sheet of paper and interact with other students as they do so.  It’s a nice way to make sure all students are participating and a good way to scaffold a whole group discussion.  I tell my students the idea is for them to build on other students’ ideas to amplify their own.

The six questions I asked were:

¿Cuál era el idioma más poderoso o importante en el pasado?  (What was the most powerful or important language in the past?)

¿Cuál es el idioma más poderoso o importante ahora?  ¿Por qué?  (What is the most powerful or important language now?  Why?)


With these two questions students see that the popularity of languages ebbs and flows and is not only related to the sheer number of speakers.  They are often surprised to see statistics on how many more native speakers of Chinese there are than English or Spanish.

¿Qué país tiene el inglés más “correcto” o prestigioso?  (Which country has the most “correct” or prestigious Spanish?)

¿Qué país tiene el español más “correcto” o prestigioso? (Which country has the most “correct” or prestigious English?)

Here the answers are usually England and Spain and we take a look at why there is still the feeling that the “original” versions are somehow better.  We look at the fact that there are more speakers of US English and Mexican Spanish than the British or Spanish versions but for some reason they are still seen as inferior.  I always bring up my personal experience as an assistant in Spain when I was asked to say things the British way (Have you got a rubber?) instead of the way I would naturally say them (Do you have an eraser?) because they didn’t want the students picking up my American accent or grammar for the standardized test.

¿Cuál versión o dialecto del español debemos enseñar en nuestra escuela? (Which dialect of Spanish should we teach in our school?) 

It’s always interesting to see what students think should be taught.  Some argue the American version, some Mexico because a majority of our students have Mexican heritage, a couple Puerto Rican because it’s their heritage, others say Spain because it’s the most prestigious.  This year I was surprised to see that most students put “todos”.  Yay!

I threw this in because any chance I get I like to reiterate the importance of accents and spelling, since it’s a big focus for heritage learners.  This year they again came up with some good examples of why, for example the famous ¿Cómo está papá? v. Como esta papa (How are you dad v. I eat this potato).

There are a few variations for this activity, depending on what is best for your students.  You can put the paper on the wall have the students walk around individually.  Another way is to have them in groups of four or five and rotate from paper to paper or, for classes that would have a hard time with that much movement, pass the papers from group to group but have students talk about the answers they are writing.

Do you do something similar with your classes?  Comment below and let me know what!

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