In the first few days and weeks of my new classes, my goal is to find out the students' abilities and comfort levels with Spanish before building on that foundation. In Spanish 2 I often have the students sketch something the do well, something they wished they did well, or something they liked.
For Spanish 4, I wanted to have a more personalized format for the questions and answers. Last Thursday, four days before the first day of school, I individually emailed the students in Spanish 4 and their parents, asking them to send me a photo of something they did this summer, vacations, sports, reunions, short trips, work, crafts, etc.
I checked my email throughout the next few days, but there were no messages with photos. Finally, on Sunday evening, the photos started trickling in. I put the photos on a PowerPoint presentation, one photo per slide, along with their name. I started class on Monday projecting the powerpoint and talking about each photo for 10 minutes.
The benefit to this method was twofold:
1. The students (and I) are learning about their classmates by seeing a glimpse of their lives outside of school.
2. The photos enabled me to make the conversation engaging (because the students were the ones that chose the photos) and comprehensible because the photos were perfect visuals and I could point out different things in the photos as I talked about them.
After two days, we have talked about 8 of the students and their photos and we should be able to complete the other 8 in the next two days. I have a clearer picture of the students' abilities and what they have acquired in previous levels.
A bonus is that the students see how certain words, the High Frequency Words, keep popping up in normal conversation about the photos and the students' activities during the summer. Some HFW are predictable, but others, such as quedarse (to stay, remain), and acercarse (to approach, to come close to) are surprisingly more common than what the students may have thought.