“¡Rin, rin, teléfono!”: A Vocabulary-building Classroom Activity

The ACIE Newsletter, Feburary 2007, Vol. 10, No. 2

By Luisa J. Quintanilla, First Grade Teacher, Amigos Two-way Immersion School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

As an immersion teacher I’m often faced with the challenge of how to best engage my students in meaningful and interactive activities that will foster acquisition of the language needed to participate in class. One important first step is to create an articulated language and content learning program. To successfully achieve this, I make sure that the language and content objectives are aligned. This requires not only looking at the curricula in all subject areas to plan for relevant vocabulary but also analyzing the function of language and the grammatical structures needed for the specific activities (Gibbons, 2002). Once my content and language objectives have been comprehensively integrated, as an immersion teacher I am able to shift focus to designing and implementing interactive activities. These activities supplement the content lessons and further stretch development of the targeted language. 
One of the more popular interactive vocabulary activities that I implement in my first grade Spanish-English two-way immersion classroom is Teléfono, a modified version of the well-known children’s game “Telephone” or El teléfono descompuesto. This game can be played either with the whole class or during learning centers. The vocabulary for this game is also used for the biweekly vocabulary test and includes words and phrases that have been selected from the integrated curricula. 

How does this activity benefit my students?

The game Teléfono invites student rehearsal of both content vocabulary and grammatical structures and facilitates students’ ability to make use of this language while participating actively in future class discussions. Teléfono promotes vocabulary learning because it utilizes visual and auditory aides in a fun, engaging manner. (Pictures with written words are the visual aides in this game.) It also provides students with another opportunity to practice the vocabulary for the biweekly test.
As a two-way immersion teacher, I need to consider whether an activity can also benefit my Spanish-dominant learners. For these students Teléfono reinforces vocabulary skills by introducing regionalisms which are very important in the United States since we have a culturally diverse Spanish-speaking population. At a sociocultural level these students become more aware that there are many ways to say the same thing. In addition, Spanish-speaking students become more confident in exercising their unique language skills.
What materials are needed?
I use store-bought picture cards and enlarged clip art from AppleWorks under which I write the words or phrases. To acknowledge regional and dialectical differences in Spanish, I write two or three words for some of the pictures. I make three sets of the vocabulary cards. I display the set in color on a clothesline and I use the black and white sets for daily vocabulary review as well as for the Teléfono centers. The words of the black and white sets are covered with post-it notes (flap-style) so the students are not able to read the words before making an attempt to remember the vocabulary. For durability purposes, I laminate the pictures or insert them in clear protective sheets.

How is this activity structured?

Preparing to Play:
The teacher shows the picture cards, says the names of each picture and students repeat each word. Then the teacher says the word again as she claps its syllables and students do the same. (Clapping the words into syllables enables the students to hear the words better and it strengthens their ability to notice the distinct sounds that make up the words.) Next the teacher says each word another time and students repeat it. 

Playing the Game: Teacher-directed Option
The students sit on the rug forming a U-shape.  Spanish-dominant students sit at each end of the U-shape and in between English-dominant students. As English-dominant students acquire the vocabulary the seating becomes flexible. The teacher first shows the picture and says, “¡Rin, rin, teléfono!” The student who knows the word raises his or her hand to answer the phone and the teacher says, “_____, contesta el télefono por favor.” [____, answer the phone please.]. Then the student whispers it to the person sitting next to him or her. If students aren’t able to make out what their peers have whispered they are encouraged to request repetition with the following words or phrases: “¿Cómo?” ¿Mande?” “Dime otra vez, por favor,” or “Repítelo, por favor.”  The student at the end of the U-shape whispers the word to the teacher. Then the teacher counts to three with his/her fingers, the entire class shouts the word in unison, and the teacher lifts the flap to verify the answer. If the class is correct they receive one point, if not, the teacher is given a point.

Playing “Teléfono” at a Center: Student-directed Option
After students have had a good amount of whole class practice with this game, a telephone icon is added on the Work Board to represent the Teléfono center. This indicates that the activity can be chosen during center time and played without teacher participation. To begin, five to eight students sit in a circle and each one takes a picture from the pile. They decide as a group who will go first and in what direction the circle will move to take turns showing the picture. In order to negotiate the logistics the students use the following phrases: ¿Puedo ser el primero/la primera? [Can I be the first one?] Después de (student’s name) va (student’s name). [After (student’s name) goes (student’s name)]. To help students acquire the phrases to negotiate the logistics, they are introduced to the ordinal numbers during math activities and then the phrases are practiced in context as they line up to go to lunch. Once all the logistics have been settled the student whose role is to lead the activity by showing others the picture says, “¡Rin, rin, teléfono!” Then the student who knows the word raises his or her hand to answer the phone and the leader holding the picture says, “_____, contesta el télefono por favor.” After students have finished whispering the word to a peer, the group leader holding the picture counts to three with his or her fingers and the remaining group members shout the answer in unison. Finally, the leader lifts the flap to verify the answer. If the students are correct they place the picture face down, if not, they leave it face up. The competitive, point-awarding aspect described earlier is not present at this time because they are not playing against the teacher. Fostering peer collaboration is valuable in a two-way immersion setting because students learn to support each other to negotiate meaning using their language skills in order to reach a common goal as a learning community. During this game students are interdependent for vocabulary input and output and in a supportive manner they give each other feedback on pronunciation and simple grammatical rules, e.g., gender agreement.


My students have fun playing this game and while playing also get excited about learning Spanish. For many of my students playing Teléfono has helped develop their ability to be resourceful as they read and, on occasion, use the words that are hung on the clothesline during Writers’ Workshop or during the game itself.  Teléfono has enhanced my students’ ability to increase their Spanish vocabulary across the curriculum.





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