05 November 2012

Piñatas in the target language

Real world application: Spanish I
coming in handy for my son's 5th
birthday party
I have become the Spanish teacher that lets her class make piñatas. We spend a total of nearly two weeks on them. I should be ashamed, shouldn't I?

But what if I told you that this  mini-project came about as a result not only of student choice but a step toward a project that will engage children from the community with the target language? And that it easily addresses no fewer than 8 essential standards from the Common Core curriculum*, on Novice
Low alone! Furthermore, it is organized around an authentic text, a video to teach native speakers to make piñatas, thus engaging the interpretive mode of communication, and that the process toward completion involved engaging the interpersonal as well for making a decision. And it all culminated not only in gorgeous, culturally appropriate crafts to be busted apart, but also in a collaborative presentational demonstration!

I broke down the video below into 5 parts (well, 4 and 2 "halves"):

  1. 0:00-2:01 Gathering materials and covering the balloon
  2. 2:02-3:48 Making the cones
  3. 3:49-7:01 Attaching the cones
  4. 7:01-9:26 Decorating the cones
  5. Jigsaw sections: 9:26-9:55 style 1; 9:56-10:50 style 2

I prepared the standard powerpoint of pictures with words to introduce necessary vocabulary without resorting to English. Some of the words came from lists students themselves compiled of materials they would need to execute activities they planned for our Children's Day celebration. 

We did a little online collaborative contextual practice with some of them, as we discussed how many/much we'd need of each supply and researching how much it would cost to compile on a Google Doc presentation. 

We also had "sorting cards" that students made with the Spanish words on one side and drawings on the other, so they could group and regroup the words according to their own semantic connections.

Another idea is to have students watch the whole video through at some point, just listening for numbers for review's sake.

For each section of the first 4 sections of video, I then made both a cloze reading for students to fill in while listening and then a scrambled steps page for them to cut apart and put in the right order after watching at least 3 times and filling out the cloze. 
The idea was for them to gather context clues and get a feel for the order of things to anticipate from the images in the video the first time watching, listen for familiar words the second time, and fill in missing pieces the third time. 
Then they would use the words they did know to analyze what went where. It was cool to hear them saying things like, "That says scissors, and the cutting didn't happen until the end."
After they showed they could figure out the order, I figured that showed they were ready to put the steps into action, and they completed those steps with the time remaining.
  1. Have students make a list of supplies they'll need from the first 45 seconds of the video to reinforce vocabulary and prepare for what is coming.
  2. Emphasize that they really do need at LEAST 3-4 layers of newspaper when papier-macheing the balloon, ESPECIALLY near the hole at the top! (I made a piñata from this video for my son's birthday party, and we basically had to beat it open after it fell...oops.)
  3. Emphasize marking and measuring the cones so they have enough cone to make the tabs for attaching them to the body and they can all come out even(ish) and the size they actually wanted.
  4. I recommend taping cones on with masking tape rather than using the flour paste and newspaper for two reasons: it's less time consuming and less threatening to the structure of your piñatas!
  5. Allow at least two hours for the final decorating.

I used WeVideo.com to make an excerpt for each style of piñata described in the video, but you could also use these YouTube breaks for Part 1 and Part 2, though this way there's nothing stopping Part 1 from "cheating" and seeing Part 2's design.Rather than the usual cloze or ordering activity, I created a little evaluation half-sheet to help students break down the elements and qualities of the style they observed to they could report back to their partners. The partners then had to decide which style to go with and why after reporting their observations and discussing their evaluations.

After the piñatas were finished and displayed for the enjoyment of all, we reviewed the steps together, first with photos I took along the way, then with stills I snapped from the video. They outlined the steps with our photos and then paraphrased specific steps to go with each visual, collaborating on a single Voicethread to write out and speak each step.

And there you have it, my guide to making making piñatas an immersion experience. If you would like to re-create some part of this lesson, feel free to download the cloze pages, scrambled steps, vocabulary powerpoint, and step-by-step powerpoint from the Google Doc folder here!

* And these are just the Novice Low  standards!
NL.CLL.1.1 Use single words and simple, memorized phrases to express needs, preferences, and feelings.
NL.CLL.2.1 Understand the meaning of simple, spoken greetings, words, and phrases, when accompanied by visual clues and/or prompts, as needed.
NL.CLL.2.3 Identify written words and phrases that are similar to words and phrases in the students’ language.
NL.CLL.2.4 Interpret phrases, commands, simple questions and descriptions that are presented with accompanying gestures, intonations, and other visual and auditory clues.
NL.CLL.4.3 Recognize examples of cognates and loan words.
NL.COD.1.2 Use single words and simple, memorized phrases to express classroom needs, preferences, and feelings.
NL.COD.2.1 Understand how to respond to simple, memorized questions in the target language that focus on key concepts in classroom activities and different content areas.


  1. We love making piñatas :) we do it every year for Cinco de Mayo. Thanks a ton for the video.

  2. I've been cycling through these plans with all three levels I teach- love them! My threes went from complaining about the speed of speech on the video to mimicking it perfectly - success! Thanks so much for sharing :)