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Strategies for Teachers in Elementary and Secondary Education

This is an excerpt from Promoting Language Through Physical Education by Luis Columna and Lauren Lieberman.


Strategies for Teachers in Elementary and Secondary Education

The possibility for collaboration between the Spanish teacher and you (the physical education teacher) may be present if students are learning a second language already, such as Spanish. This collaboration reinforces and applies what is being taught in the Spanish class into the physical education class. The same can be true for any language taught at the school (Lieberman, Columna, Martínez de la Vega Mansilla, & Taylor, 2010).

In chapter 8, words frequently used in physical education are listed in alphabetical order, and their Spanish translations are included. In chapter 9, lists of PE words are listed by themes, and their American signs are included. Organizing the words either by alphabetical order or by theme can assist you in providing students with a repertoire of words. You can select your preferred format for sharing these words with students. Following are general strategies that you can use while infusing Spanish or sign language into your classroom:

  • Use gestures and visual reinforcements.
  • Use instructional aids (pictures, flash cards, visual aids; see figure 3.1).
  • Seek support from those students who speak Spanish or use sign language. You can give them the lesson plan and meet with them outside the physical education time to discuss what words you want to incorporate into your class.
  • Scaffold the activities. That is, organize the activities in such a way that, with the knowledge the students have and your input, they will be able to complete the task at hand.
  • DVD

    On the DVD, refer to the videos of Spanish pronunciations and sign language frequently used by teachers in physical education settings.
  • Find websites that translate movement- and sport-related words from English to Spanish (and signs) and that include audio clips of their pronunciations. You can also provide students with websites that they can visit on their own and practice signs or Spanish words while at home.
  • Have daily words or signs that the students and you can learn (i.e., have a word of the day). The assignment should be relevant to the course content.
  • Learn and post basic sign language or Spanish, such as bathroom, stop, hurt, and water.
  • Be able to provide cues in sign language or Spanish, such as low, high, short, long, hard, and soft.
  • Learn positive words and formulaic expressions in sign language or Spanish (e.g., great, good job, way to go). This might help in providing feedback to the students.
  • Give words as homework to students so they can take the words (e.g., sport or skill terminology) and practice them at home with their parents. It is best that you teach one category at a time. For instance, if you plan to teach students an activity that involves colors, you would want to teach them signs about colors. This way, students are more likely to retain the information.
  • Create a sign language or Spanish club after school and teach more signs or Spanish to those students who are interested.
  • Divide the class into small groups. If bilingual students are available, assign one bilingual student to each group. That student can serve as a translator for the rest of the group. The activities can be presented in either Spanish or English, and students need to follow the instructions. This type of group activity might promote socialization among the students. Note that the groups should rotate so that Hispanic students have the opportunity to interact with other students in class.


Remember that infusing a foreign language into the curriculum requires planning and commitment from you. Following are strategies for infusing only Spanish in the curriculum:

  • Speak the language slowly, but don’t exaggerate.
  • Articulate clearly and use distinct pronunciations.
  • Use short, noncomplex sentences.
  • Rephrase things and repeat.
  • Frequently check for understanding.
  • Emphasize communication among the students (e.g., ¿Cuantos años tienes?, ¿Cuál es tu juego favorito? [How old are you? Which is your favorite game?]).
  • Use as many concrete examples and demonstrations as possible.

Another strategy that you can use in learning and teaching Spanish to classes is organizing a Hispanic Game Day. Assign a specific Spanish-speaking country to be represented that day. The students need to look for games, clothing, traditions, food, and any other characteristic of that country and have a day dedicated to the culture of the selected country. Have a map of the country with key facts in Spanish and English. Ask parents, especially Hispanic parents, for help. Although there is much enthusiasm related to infusing Spanish into physical education, you should know that there are some misconceptions about children who speak Spanish and are learning English.

Following are strategies that you can use when infusing only sign language into your physical education programs. When you are teaching American Sign Language (ASL), you are giving the students a skill that will be useful to them. It is fun to teach ASL to your classes, and it does not require using any equipment. From our experience, students enjoy learning ASL.

  • When teaching ASL to a hearing group, it may be appropriate to begin with a “what if?” scenario. You could say, “If you go to a foreign country and you do not speak their language, how will you communicate with them?” This is a good way to start a conversation that helps students learn about the Deaf culture.
  • Ask the students to think about how their lives would be if they could not hear.
  • Remind students that deaf people do not see themselves as disabled.
  • Sign language often moves quickly. Students will remember words and phrases easily if they are presented in a context. An example would be students learning their colors while playing a parachute game related to colors. Another example might be students learning of places in their neighborhood while playing a “treasure hunt” around their neighborhood. Once students have learned how to sign the selected words, you can incorporate those words into games or activities.
  • It is ideal for students not to use their voices. If they do not rely on speaking, students will be able to pick up signs more quickly. For example, teach a simple game with signs and gestures, such as a tag game using colors or animals (see chapter 5 for elementary games).

Most students love taking physical education class regardless of their race, sex, or ability. For them, entering the gym means entering a world of movement activities, challenges, and opportunities to be successful. These things are possible if you create a safe and positive learning environment for all students. You can use practically any game to learn Spanish or sign language. You just need to use some creativity to make modifications. For example, you can have a variation of the game Pictionary in which there are as many teams as you decide. One student on each team uses a predetermined locomotor skill to get to a certain place where there are flash cards with action words in Spanish or ASL signs. The student then comes back and performs the action (written on the card) in front of his team. The team needs to say the word in Spanish or make the ASL sign in order to score. This focuses on the locomotor skills as well as the language.


The assistance of a language teacher may be helpful for the physical education teacher to acquire words in any given language. According to Estrada, Gómez, and Ruiz-Escalante (2009), there are four misconceptions about teaching English language learners:

1. The most effective way to ensure that students learn English is to immerse them in English. Studies have shown that the most effective way is to teach students in both their first language and in their second language.

2. Through immersion, they will learn enough English within a year to survive academically. English language learners need five to seven years to master English well enough to work proficiently.

3. Once the students have achieved oral fluency in English, they are capable of academic learning in mainstream English-only classrooms. Grade-level cognitive proficiency in language is achieved through a student’s first language.

4. The less the students use their first language, the better. The more the students use their native language in school, building as many skills as they can in that language, the better. In other words, the most effective way to teach and meet the needs of Hispanic students is through an English–
Spanish program.

Another benefit of teaching in both languages is that the teacher and the non-Spanish-speaking students acquire proficiency in a second language.

You should acknowledge, appreciate, and respect diversity among students and plan your physical education classes accordingly. McCollum, Civalier, and Holt (2004) suggest some strategies that you can use when teaching Hispanic students in your class:

  • Use instructional strategies that foster social interactions (e.g., peer teaching and cooperative games).
  • Use a buddy system (pair a Hispanic student with a non-Hispanic student).
  • Use visual demonstrations along with verbal explanation of tasks.
  • Include activities that have a Hispanic origin when relevant to lesson objectives. For example, when using music for Go and Stop, use Latin rhythms or music with Spanish lyrics (see chapter 5 for elementary games and chapter 7 for high school games).
  • Post rules in both languages.

Read more about Promoting Language Through Physical Education.



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