Saturday, October 27, 2012

La Bolsa Fea - Negotiating Meaning

This is my Bolsa Fea. Two or three times a semester, if I have ten minutes remaining during a Spanish 3, 4, or 5 class, I pull the "Bolsa Fea" out of my closet for a listening activity.

The Bolsa Fea is filled with random words on small slips of paper. First I put the students in groups of 3 and give each group a mini whiteboard. I define and explain the word in Spanish, wait a minute for the students to discuss among themselves, and then they write the word on their whiteboards.  Most of the words are not ones they know in the target language so they write the answer in English.  Some examples of the words are: roadblock, soundproof room, and boar.  

The purpose of the activity is for the students to listen for meaning, not to learn the obscure words that are not high frequency words.  Two or three times a month, I visit my friend from the Dominican Republic to chat with her in Spanish. Talking with her gives me the opportunity to listen to a native speaker and to listen for meaning around some words she uses that I don't know.  Students need to realize that if they talk with a native speaker or read a text that wasn't written specifically for a 2nd language learner, and they don't understand every single word, they can still understand what they hear or read from looking at how the words are used in context and using those context clues to find meaning.  

The students enjoy this activity, so I'm careful not to overuse it.

A side note: I don't think the purse is "ugly" per say, but it certainly is not my style. I called it "Bolsa Fea" one time and it stuck.  

Click HERE for the list of words that I currently have in la Bolsa Fea.  There are some words that students may already know in Spanish but I don't discard those words because it is still a good word to describe to them in Spanish.  If you teach lower levels and describing these words are too challenging, make a list of more basic words, even many that students know, and the activity will work just as well.


  1. Very fun! It's like backward Balderdash!

  2. Any chance you have the list of the words you have in la bolsa fea to share with the world? I really want to do this!!

  3. Sure - no problem. The big question here is: do YOU have a Bolsa Fea? You know it only works with a bolsa fea. :)

  4. I have played a game with my students called "The Circumlocution game" (need to come up with a better name) but I have a list of words in English that they need to describe in Spanish, but the other student may guess in English. Students are seated in desks in a circle and it is played much like Catch Phrase. Every other student plays on a team, two teams. They each get a stack of words such as Barbie, freckles, Bank Account, shotgun (sitting in car), thimble, athlete's foot, yo-yo, hammer. etc.... I am going to add your list to the game!

    1. Your Circumlocution Game sounds basically like Bolsa Fea - different name and different grouping, but both FUN!

  5. Replies
    1. That sounds like a better name than Bolsa Fea. :-)