Spanish Stories

I teach four second-year Spanish classes at North Charleston High School ( North Charleston, South Carolina), grades 10 to 12. That’s a rough total of 95 students. Because learning a foreign language requires plenty of practice in a relaxed setting conducive to participation, I often try to involve my students in fun projects where they can apply “real life” language skills. Luckily we have sixteen computers in our classroom, enabling me to integrate software into the curriculum.

Recently, I divided each class into groups of four students. Because smaller groups seem less intimidating to the students, most find it easier to speak the language. I gave each group the task of describing an accident or injury and its aftermath—perhaps someone sprains an ankle while playing soccer and is rushed to the hospital emergency room, receives treatment, stops at a pharmacy to pick up medicine on the way home, and so on.

To make the exercise more "real," I asked the students to use a school camera to take digital photographs that could illustrate their stories. (No photos of accidents or injuries! Rather, I instructed them to photograph buildings, ball fields, stop signs, and other everyday things.) Finally, I asked them to describe their stories in a storyboard format—complete with audio accompaniment, of course.

Macromedia Captivate software was the logical choice for this assignment because of its easy storyboarding and editing capabilities. I wanted my students to be able to add audio to each slide without having to save separate files. After they had taken all the photographs they needed, I showed them how to transfer pictures from the camera into Captivate and then assemble a slide show. It took just a few minutes, so my students stayed focused on making a movie using the new software.

Under my direction, each student group then began using Captivate to storyboard their projects. First, they placed the pictures in the desired order. The pictures helped them plan what they wanted to say, and of course they had time to collect their ideas before recording the audio. The students wrote the audio script into the storyboard, which helped them focus on using the language successfully.

Adding the audio portion to their movies was easy. I placed a microphone on each computer running Captivate. Then, from the Captivate toolbar, students simply clicked the audio icon and followed the instructions. If students stumbled over some words, or forgot in mid-sentence what they wanted to say, Captivate let them easily edit and even re-record the audio at any time.

My students further enriched their Captivate movies with Microsoft PowerPoint slides, which they included in the storyboard and used for title and credits pages. Captivate can make text pages, but I wanted my students to see how PowerPoint and Captivate could work together. They used Captivate to add audio to the PowerPoint slides.

Then we published each group's effort as Macromedia Flash movies and, as a class, sat down to enjoy the shows. This part of the activity enabled my students to increase their listening skills. They learned they sometimes speak Spanish incorrectly. Hearing their mistakes allowed them to make corrections—and heightened their awareness when using the language.

As a group, the students took pride in their ability to tell a story in Spanish. Their confidence improved and they grew more eager to learn the language. They also had fun. Using Captivate, my students were able to speak a foreign language without the pressure that comes from being in front of a class. And because everyone is part of a team, each student tried hard to make her/his group successful.

One student, who was repeating the class, said, "I liked this assignment over all of the others. Using Captivate was fun and different. I felt like we were doing a real movie." Another student said, "Learning becomes more hands on and interactive." A third said, "Captivate allowed us to learn and have fun at the same time."

As a final exercise, I combined the movies of each class into one movie. Then I placed it on a server so we could share it with students in Ecuador and Colombia. This experience helped my students realize they could communicate with native Spanish speakers—and it motivated them to continue learning the language so they could do even better next time.

Email: Thane Williams