¡Celebrando a los países de habla hispana! (Celebrating Spanish-Speaking Countries!)

What would it be like to live in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Chile or Ecuador? Just ask Laura de Toledo’s Spanish II classes.

For a recent, multi-faceted project, the Class 9 students became enthusiastic experts on a Spanish-speaking country of their choosing. This assignment – called “Países: Pasado, presente y future” (“Countries: Past, Present and Future”) – required the students to research myriad aspects of their country, including history, culture, geography and politics. Next, the girls – working in groups of two or three – shared their findings through in-depth presentations packed with interesting information, eye-catching graphics and even videos. At the end, each group quizzed their classmates to find out how well they understood the material. And one last thing: Everything – from research to writing to public speaking – had to be conducted completely en español.

Once the research portion was complete, the students condensed and wrote up the material and designed their presentations using Google Slides. The groups then presented their reports to the class, demonstrating both an excellent command of their geographic region and the beautiful Spanish language. From broad facts (“Argentina es un país en América del sur.”*) to popular foods (“En Ecuador,la  sopa de Locro es una sopa de papa con queso y aguacate.”*) to revered wildlife (“La Vicuña es el animal nacional de Perú.”*), the presentations offered captivating profiles of many vibrant countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With Sra. de Toledo’s guidance and animated teaching style, the students were prepared and confident. In fluent Spanish, they told the story of their country, delivering their remarks with energy and, at times, humor. Their hard work and passion were unmistakable. From time to time, Sra. elaborated on a particular element of a group’s research, to correct a pronunciation or, in the case of a presentation on Argentina, to dance! As Argentine music played, she and two students clapped and twirled in time with the beat of an Argentine zamba. Watching this spontaneous performance, a visitor would be hard-pressed not to break into a smile.

Asked to share their impressions about the Countries project, the students were positive and forthcoming (For these specific questions, they were allowed to respond in English):

  • “I learned things about Perú I didn’t know before and I’m part Peruvian.”
  • “It was a challenge doing research for the history part because there was so much information. It was hard to cut it down and pick out the important parts.”
  • “This project tested my speaking skills. I wanted it to be interactive, not just talking. It was a challenge to use the correct accent.”

Following the presentations, the Class 9 students were each asked to write a reflection. For her project on the Dominican Republic, one student began with this statement:

“Lo más importante que aprendí sobre La República Dominicana es la historia. Por ejemplo, cuando yo era joven, yo aprendí que Cristóbal Colón descubrió América en 1492. Pero,  la verdad es que él navegó a la isla de Hispaniola o más específicamente; La República Dominicana.”*

Although the presentations are over and the reflections have been turned in, “Países: Pasado, presente y future” will extend into 2018, allowing for deeper inquiry. Sra. de Toledo explained: “The students will continue doing research on artists, writers, poets and musicians of their country, and present them the second week of January. During the last two weeks of January the project will evolve as a humanitarian project. Every Hispanic country has some humanitarian crisis or problematic social issue. The students will create a character who is living through that particular crisis. The goal is to come up with ways to alleviate the crisis and proactively help or give voice to their character.”

Finally, Sra. de Toledo added, “in February during ‘Our Future, our Voices’ themed International week, the students will debate about what the future looks like in their countries.”

Although they may not be traveling to Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Chile or Ecuador anytime soon, the Spanish II students in Sra. de Toledo’s classes certainly know their way around these exciting Spanish-speaking countries, thanks to the immersive undertaking that brought global awareness to the classroom.

* “Argentina is a country in South America.”

* “In Ecuador, locro soup is a potato soup with cheese and avacado.”

*“Vicuña [a relative of the llama] is the national animal of Perú.”

* The most important thing I learned about the Dominican Republic is the story. For example, when I was young, I learned that Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. But the truth is that he sailed to the island of Hispaniola or, more specifically, the Dominican Republic.”