Heritage Speakers Class Curriculum: Year One

Sneak peek: Here’s the inside scoop on the year one curriculum for the Heritage Speakers class I teach.

The Heritage Speakers class at my school is offered in two sections every day. Our class length is just shy of the hour mark, at around 57 minutes. As it is such a selective elective, we only offer one level per year and it is available for 9-12th graders to take. That being said, many students will repeat the same course year after year. Our ideal scenario is to get students into a three-year content/topical calendar to ensure all students are exposed to the same content, no matter when they enter into our cycle!


You are likely putting this together, but this does indeed mean I must create brand new units for the next two years as well! With each student returning to the same class for up to three years, my curriculum must be built as a cycle to ensure it is cohesive and grounded in key aspects of a well-rounded education.

The challenge of building this curriculum from scratch was presented to me this past year, as school was winding down for the summer. Instantly, I made it my personal goal to create an organized curriculum in order to stop the trend at our school that was day-of scrambling to put a lesson together for Heritage Speakers. Let me be clear, every teacher has their own struggle in their unique teaching load with various preps, courses, and class sizes. This curriculum never got the time it needed, but not because the teacher was a slouch, it was simply her fourth prep of the day, on top of extracurricular clubs she oversaw.

I decided to take on this challenge because of my general love for organization and consistency in curriculum design, but also because I strongly believe these students deserve lessons crafted with foresight, thought, and scope tied into each one. In a way, it was as though the stars had aligned, as at the time I was in the middle of turning over one of my preps to another teacher and looking for a second to fill out my schedule. What an opportunity?! To create and speak with fluent Spanish speakers every day, two of my favorite things!

Since I knew I wouldn’t teach the same lesson for another three years, or perhaps it would be taught by someone else, I was thorough in detailing what I liked versus what I didn’t like about each lesson. Three years is a long time to go without teaching the same content, and I knew that I’d need to remember key coverages and avenues of approach for the various topics we elect to cover each year. If you are lucky enough to teach Heritage Speakers, your journal will become your friend very quickly!


So, at some point, the rubber meets the road, and with the ensuing school year drawing near my colleague and I drew up the year’s blueprints for the construction of our ideal Heritage Speakers Course Cycle. Again, the plan was to create three years of the curriculum: Heritage A, Heritage B, and Heritage C. Thinking about the curriculum in this way helped break our minds out of the confines of your typical Spanish I, Spanish II, and Spanish III offerings to which we are more accustomed.

This is a key point to understand. Each curriculum’s focus will not be to grow harder in difficulty per se, rather they repeat in a cycle so that students can take this course for three years consecutively without repeating topics. The topics change and the level of difficulty will fluctuate based on what is being discussed but growing the difficulty level is not the focal point.

(Heritage A) + (Heritage B) + (Heritage C) = A Heritage Speakers Course Cycle.

The truth is, the students in this course are at varying levels of ability, so we have to find ways to differentiate for them within each curriculum cycle. Building a free-voluntary-reading-library is on the agenda for the years to follow, but we weren’t able to acquire books for the first year, so we worked with what we had.

With that said, I thought I would outline what my Heritage A curriculum (year one) looks like. It’s divided into six main units. Each school is set up differently, so this curriculum fits with my school operating on a trimester system. These six units are spread across three trimesters. Take a look at the curriculum map here.

Heritage Speakers Curriculum A, Trimester One: La identidad & Cajas de cartón

all kinds of coffee

Before we dove straight into the Identity Unit we spent the first week getting to know one another. If you are going to grow together, you first need to feel comfortable with one another. Trust is such an integral quality to develop in a three-year curriculum cycle! 

  • I gave students a questionnaire to get to know them, but also for an informal opportunity to gauge the general writing abilities of my all-ages-in-one class offerings.
  • I showed a video (pssst…full disclosure, the video has a bit of colorful language) about the funny things resulting from being bilingual. To each their own, but I’m okay with a little bit of language if it serves the purpose of creating authenticity and perspective. If you don’t feel the same, that is completely fine!
    • Students then interacted with a handout that contained funny tweets called La lucha es real (the struggle is real).
  • Students interviewed each other with ten questions displayed on the Smartboard. They wrote down their partner’s responses and later presented their partner’s responses to a small group. This was great for building trust, in that students can’t help but care when they know about their classmates and understand them on a deeper level. This is a huge piece in building unity and solidarity.
  • Students drew their life journey on a large piece of paper. They used images to tell the story of who they are. These drawings were used as a visual aid as they presented about themselves to the rest of the class.
  • Students did a Quién soy yo (Who I am) Google Slides presentation. I gave students the project instructions and rubric and they created a presentation about themselves they later presented to the class.
  • We also started our weekly routine of writing a short journal entry according to a self-love journal prompt. I big goal of mine was to incorporate social-emotional learning into the curriculum.
hand circle fist bump

After we were more familiar with one another, we started on the identity unit. In this unit, we had a weekly discussion where we tackled topics such as:

  • What is the difference between raza y etnia (race and ethnicity)?
  • What is el español neutro (neutral Spanish)?
  • What is the difference between latino(a) e hispano(a) (Latino and Hispanic)?
identity worksheets

el prestigio del lenguaje

In this unit, students listened to four Latinos speak about identity via watching a Ted Talk while I had to be absent. Students learned about the term Latinx independently in a self-paced bilingual lesson, and then later debated from multiple vantage points in class. We learned about racism in Latin America and addressed specific issues faced by afrolatinos. Students had a list of terms and concepts they had to be able to describe and took a test on them. We also learned about Lenguas perdidas studying the rate at which indigenous languages are going extinct, how they go extinct, and how that relates to Spanish in the United States.

We read an excerpt from La Casa en Mango Street and did a writer’s workshop about their name.

Mi nombre writer's workshop

We studied a famous identity poem, did a digital assignment analyzing spoken word poems, and finally, my students wrote their own identity poem.

el poema de mi identidad

This project was phenomenal. I was so moved by the poems my students crafted! There were so many incredible poems. It was a difficult decision, but I chose four poems and submitted them to a creative writing contest.

We were so excited to find out that one of my students won second place! You can read her poem titled En mi piel tica here.

At the end of this project, I cut off the names of the poems and had stations where students read each other’s poems. This activity had a deep impact on our classroom culture because many students told me about how before this activity, they didn’t realize so many other people were feeling the same way they were. Again, creating unity, trust and solidarity is so important for this curriculum, and the Identity unit does that well! In this unit we also celebrated Latino culture with the song Calle 13 by Latinoamérica. Students had certain symbols they needed to use to annotate the song as they listened. I love the music video for this song! 

calle 13 latinoamerica

A great novel to transition to from our identity unit was Cajas de cartón- a memoir by Francisco Jiménez. I had students work on summary writing as we read through this novel which culminated in them creating this beautiful summary booklet.

Heritage Speakers Curriculum A, Trimester Two: Todos tienen el derecho a una educación + El círculo literario


Second trimester included two separate units. The first unit was titled Todos tienen el derecho a una educación (Everyone has the right to an education). The goal of this unit was to take a look at the access Latinos have to education across the world. Additionally, we studied the protests against injustices as it relates to Latinos in education.

To start this unit we watched the Walkout. I don’t think I have ever seen a class so interested in a movie before- it was informative and I valued the engagement that it was creating with my students! This was a great starting point piquing my students’ interest in the topic.

Classes were then divided into groups of four, and given an educational topic they would need to research, build visual aids and present to the class for our project: Profe por un momento. Students not only had to present, they also needed to create an activity for the class to interact with about their topic after their presentation. The topics I assigned were:

  • Lemon Grove Incident
  • Mendez vs Westminster
  • Tlatelolco: Mexican Student Massacre 1968
  • Ayotzinapa
  • Hoy en día student protests
  • Acceso a educación en Centroamérica
  • 2011–13 Chilean student protests
  • East L.A. Walkouts
  • English Only Laws/Bilingual Schools

During this unit, I was lucky enough to have a colleague from another department guest-speak about an indigenous school he taught at in his native Costa Rica. I highly recommend getting guest speakers as often as possible, as it adds strength to your voice as the teacher, in having some quality adult vantage points other than your own. I think it was very powerful for students to hear from someone personally explaining the lengths and distances they walked simply to attend school. 

Next, we started our literary circle. I loved this unit because it gave students a choice while providing me a rare opportunity to work with students on their writing in a one-on-one setting. This unit is great because students read, write, and then use a free online software to create a video. If you want to know more about this unit you can check out the blog post I wrote about it here.

Heritage Speakers Curriculum A, Trimester Three: La cultura por todo el mundo hispanohablante

globe in hand

This trimester we focused on learning about a collection of 21 different Spanish-speaking countries. The purpose of this unit is for students to learn geography, capital cities, flags, and popular cultural elements of the Spanish-speaking world. I created a packet for students to take notes using the same format for each country.

We learned two countries per week. The notes were created from scratch and formatted into a PDF, embedding videos in Spanish throughout each topic covered. The PDF was then uploaded to our learning management system and students took notes while watching the videos. This worked really well, especially because I have a lot of students absent in the spring for sports. Flipped classroom options such as these play really well at keeping everyone on the same page when other commitments won’t allow them to be present for each class.

We had weekly quizzes on each country covered and then at the end, a final test (a digital self-grading test… can I get a woop woop!) on the geography, capital cities, and flags of each country. My favorite bit about this unit were the guest speakers. In some instances, I even allowed students in the class to present about their country on a volunteer basis.

One student, in particular, amazed me with his maturity. He wasn’t actually a student in my class, but he was an ESL student. He would come to my classroom after school to hang out with friends. When I told him we would be learning about El Salvador the next day, he asked if he could share some things with the class. The next day he brought in a traditional dress, a national-team soccer jersey, the shoes his brother wore immigrating to the United States, pupusas, chips, and soda for everyone! He spent the night prior making all the pupusas himself. Giving students the opportunity to make a lesson their own can sometimes be a good thing and provide everyone in attendance invaluable insight!

homemade pupusas
traditional dress

There were some great stories shared in this unit and my students now have a better grasp of the important cultural themes in the Spanish speaking world.

You can grab the notes and quiz for Equatorial Guinea for free here if you want to see a sample from this unit. 

Gran Hotel

I should also mention that on Fridays throughout the year we watched episodes of the telenovela, Gran hotel (available for viewing on Netflix). There are some scenes I had to skip over, but all things considered, this is a clean series overall compared to what else is out there. You can learn more about how I use telenovelas in class here.

If you’re interested in reading more about my personal journey with teaching Spanish for Heritage Speakers for the first time, you can read that post here. You may also be interested in what I teach for year two (Heritage B curriculum) or year three (Heritage C curriculum). 

If you are overwhelmed with the prospect of teaching a new course with zero curriculum, get the support you need in the Heritage Spanish Club where you will get access to the Ascendencia curriculum.


Or pin this post for later…

heritage speakers curriculum: year one
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