update: click here to read a new essay on precisely how I teach with telenovelas
Why El Internado?
I started teaching El Internado in 2009 and experienced immediate success. The series is so compelling that my students were giving me 100% of their attention, eager to understand. It quickly became obvious, however, that the time we spend watching El Internado could be much more effective if I limited the incomprehensible noise and made this series as comprehensible as possible. Over the years I have applied techniques that I learned through many mentors and have adopted an approach that is engaging and highly effective. My students not only understand the show, they also quickly develop a micro-fluency so that they can discuss the show with impressive grammatical accuracy. By November my Spanish 1 students are effortlessly comprehending subjunctive phrases, past perfect, irregular preterit tenses and other grammatical features that, some years ago, I would have barely introduced to fourth year students. Their written and spoken production is much simpler, but even here they are impressive. I blogged about teaching El Internado to level 1 students here. Take a look at an average student´s quick write (timed 10 minutes, no resources available to consult… they just write off the top of their head). This was written by an average-ability non-heritage speaker after three months of instruction:
(insert quick write here)
In this blog post I would like to share exactly how I teach El Internado. If you have been reading my blog for some years (or even months) then you may recognize parts of this post; it is a compilation of many things that I have written before. However there
are also new parts (such as the videos of me teaching), and other techniques are explained more explicitly. You can take what you like, or leave it, and of course you are always free to use the resources that I have developed regardless of your teaching approach. Most TPRS teachers will recognize exactly what I am doing, but since my resources are gaining the attention of many non-TPRS teachers I will take the time to carefully explain why I do what I do. The techniques I demonstrate can be learned at any beginners TPRS workshop. While the series is so compelling that your students are likely to profit regardless of the methods you use, they will understand much more and ultimately enjoy the show more in a 100% comprehensible classroom.
Is it suitable for high school?
Maybe not. There are quite a few swears and some adult scenes. For this reason I have developed a resource called the teacher warning list, which lists the time stamp of every swear and questionable scene in each episode. You can find this resource on my Internado resources page; this is not worth losing your job. Another option would be to choose another show, such as Gran Hotel. There are far fewer questionable scenes and swears in Gran Hotel, and both shows are currently available on Netflix. I would recommend buying the DVDs, however, because Netflix content comes and goes. Finally, I am posting resources for both shows because I use El Internado in level 1 and Gran Hotel in my level 3 classes.
If I could communicate one thing about my approach, it would be…
Go slower than students want to go, focusing on one piece of language at a time (most TPRS teachers call them target structures) and using the video to help you teach that phrase. Do not feel tied to explaining precisely what happens in each scene: the video lures them in, but your goal is to have students process a target structure so many times that they go from processing it slowly to becoming extremely fast-processors. Little by little, while discussing something of highly compelling interest to students, these target structures form the backbone of fluency. If the teacher truly focuses on improving processing speed, then students will eventually use these target structures effortlessly, without any pause. It takes a lot of listening and reading first, though.
The other main elements to my approach
My goal over the next few weeks is to upload videos of myself teaching El Internado using key TPRS skills such as limiting vocabulary, circling questions and choral response, actors and parallel characters, low priority on speaking and writing with high emphasis on listening and reading comprehension, focus on increasing the processing speed of students by teaching target structures rather than the memorization of vocabulary, teacher writing on board to summarize, and well-designed follow-up readings that lead to deep acquisition of the key language structures.
Can I really make it 100% comprehensible?
The video, no. The teacher´s speech, yes. If you can maintain comprehensible teacher talk, then El Internado can be taught at any level. I teach the series to my level 1 students because I am careful to make my speech comprehensible. You will see that I do not shelter grammar; my level 1 students get past tenses just as well as any other student who has heard a lot of past tenses.
What is wrong with playing 10 minutes and discussing?
Your students will get a lot out of the discussion if you make sure that the discussion is 100% comprehensible, but the video itself is not comprehensible input. Have you ever been trapped on a plane and watched the film that someone nearby was playing, without being able to hear the audio. I would bet that you could follow the plot. Same with El Internado: students will understand the gist (especially through images), but a lot will slip past. And neither on a plane nor in class will simply watching images help anyone acquire a language; it is the comprehensible discussion that leads to language acquisition. Watching one minute gives just as much to discuss as watching 10 minutes, plus gives you the focus necessary to use the language structure in an effectively repetitive manner. Do not get swept up in the show; although your students will want to press ahead and get to the end of the episode, the goal of the teacher should be to take advantage of every single possibility to recycle the target structure that you want your students to acquire.