Learning Language through Fire

What is fire? This is the question Advanced Spanish students are focusing on as they work to improve their fluency and conversational skills. To inspire conversation, students so far this year have translated news discussing wildfires in California, watched Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, and read poems about fire by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

"The goal is the students learn to use language to speak about everything, be that what is happening politically or what is happening in their lives," says Spanish teacher Marina de McVittie. "This is elemental and is immediate. You say fire and everyone has an idea."

Marina developed the innovative curriculum three years ago, noting that one of the big difficulties in teaching modern languages is making the nuts and bolts of grammar interesting. Marina is encouraging students to gain the confidence to speak Spanish conversationally, while maintaining the proper framework and structure of the grammar. Each year, her curriculum centers on the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.

The curriculum has allowed Marina to weave her language instruction into other facets of the student's learning at Northwest. For example, her students opened this year with the element of air, and that coincided with students learning about quality of air and CO2 emissions with Jenny Cooper, Northwest's director of environmental education and stewardship. Speaking in Spanish, the advanced students made a visual presentation to 8th grade Spanish students on the scientific definition of air in understandable, terms.

"The students will focus on water next, and then finish with earth," explains Marina. "Earth is at the end because it gathers everything. The focus on earth is ecological, and I want them to start putting together all of the themes."