Stories without words are useful tools for teaching Spanish to children. These wordless picture books engage children actively with the events on the page. Children interpret the drawings and follow the narrative by identifying characters, emotions, actions, and consequences. Simple phrases and questions in Spanish make the most of this connection and of the context created by the illustrations. In addition, teachers and parents can use Spanish at an appropriate level so that reading is fun and not frustrating.
There are many wonderful picture books without words. Libraries often have limited collections of Spanish language books for children, but most have a number of stories without words. Teachers and parents can often find stories to use with specific vocabulary or themes, and the stories can be adapted to different language levels.
Here are a few suggestions for using books without words to speak Spanish:
- Choose a book that has pictures of words that your child knows in Spanish and talk about the pictures using simple sentences. Here are a few examples of structures you can use. These are sentences that you can use with Tomie dePaola’s wordless book Pancakes for Breakfast, but you can use similar sentences with any story.
Veo una casa (el sol, mucha nieve). / I see a house ( the sun, lots of snow).
Me gusta el perro (la cama) . / I like the dog (the bed).
Hay un gato. / There is a cat.
Quiere desayunar. Quiere panqueques/hot cakes. / She wants to have breakfast. She wants pancakes. (In Mexico, pancakes are hot cakes. In other countries, they are panqueques.)
Tiene un libro. Lee la receta. / She has a book. She is reading the recipe.
Tiene harina. No hay huevos. / She has flour. There aren’t any eggs.
Va por huevos. ¡Hay muchas gallinas! / She is going to get eggs. There are a lot of chickens!
Ahora tiene huevos. / Now she has eggs.
Necesita más leche. Va por leche. / She needs more milk. She is going to get milk.
Veo una vaca. La vaca es grande. / I see a cow. The cow is big.
Ahora tiene leche. / Now she has milk.
Hace mantequilla. / She is making butter.
Ahora tiene mantequilla. / Now she has butter.
Necesita miel de maple. / She needs maple syrup.
(Miel de maple is the term used in Mexico. Maple syrup is also translated jarabe de arce. Maple syrup is not common in Spanish-speaking countries and pancakes are eaten with a variety of toppings, like honey or cajeta, depending on the country.)
Ahora tiene miel de maple. / Now she has maple syrup.
¡El perro y el gato comieron todo! / The dog and cat ate everything!
Está triste. / She is sad.
Huele algo. / She smells something.
Va a la casa de sus vecinos (amigos). / She is going to her neighbors’ house (her friends’ house).
Son sus vecinos (amigos). / They are her neighbors (friends).
Está muy contenta. / She is very happy.
Tiene sueño. Todos tienen sueño. / She is sleepy. They are all sleepy.
- Point to objects and talk about the pictures in Spanish. If you are learning Spanish, you do not have to explain the whole story to your child. If your child talks about the story in English, that is great. You can just agree in Spanish and continue.
- Repeat the same sentence structure when you can. Children learn from patterns and repetition.
- Remember that a child is more likely to be successful with questions that contain the vocabulary than questions that ask her to produce Spanish without hearing it. It is easier to answer ¿Dónde está el sol? (especially if you have mentioned and pointed to the sun on a previous page) than ¿Qué es esto?.
- Add more detail when your child is familiar with the story. Start by telling the story simply and add more vocabulary over time.
- Imagine what the characters might say. For example, in Pancakes for Breakfast, the woman might say gracias when she gets the maple syrup, ¿Qué pasó? (What happened?) when she finds that the animals have eaten everything, and buenos días when her neighbor opens the door.
- Children who are reading in Spanish can match key words or phrases to the illustrations. Read the story through completely first and talk about the pictures. Then write key words on sticky notes so that children can match the words to an appropriate page (there might be more than one page that makes sense). For example, for Pancakes for Breakfast you could use words like these for a beginning reader:
la cama – the bed
el libro – the book
las gallinas – the chickens
la vaca – the cow
la mantequilla – the butter
comprar – to buy
contenta – happy
triste – sad
los vecinos – the neighbors