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La historia de mi vida: A Project & Icebreaker for Heritage Speaker Class

Sneak peek: A three-day community-building project & icebreaker your students will love!

I have the BEST icebreaker for your heritage speaker class that also doubles as a project.  Better yet, the activity provides a bit of a brain break for both students and teacher, and is a ready-made sub-plan to have on hand!

Are you ready for this!?

Well, before we dive in, I would like to thank Jenna Cushing-Leubner and Jennifer Eik Diggs for the inspiration for this project because they had us draw our life journey on paper as an icebreaker at the Carla Institute when I attended their course on Critical Approaches to Heritage Language Education. 

Okay, now we are ready! 

So, I call this lesson La historia de mi vida because students draw out the story of their life on a single sheet of 11 x 13 paper. We spend 2-3 class periods drawing and listening to music (after our 10 minutes of FVR of course)! This activity is relaxing and therapeutic for students and I loved seeing how focused and participatory they were when given the opportunity to express themselves artistically. 

Coloring and drawing are NOT beyond your high school students. I mean, adult coloring books have become all the rage lately. There is something about coloring that allows you to quiet your thoughts, while simultaneously giving your hands something to keep busy on. Plus, I think students were so into this because who doesn’t love talking about yourself?

A bonus perk of this activity: two days of student’s drawing time also serves as a much needed break for the teacher to get some grading done! 

Once your students have completed their drawings, now comes the magical part: community building! Number your students off into groups of three, so they can tell their life story to their peers using their drawings for support.

In my project instructions, I emphasize that students should not include anything that they don’t feel comfortable sharing. This activity is meant to help students come out of their shell, and we do not want them to include or share anything they don’t want to.

After about five minutes, number students off again so that they are in a new group of three. Repeat this on loop a few times, so that most of the class has had the opportunity to share with most of the class. 

An alternative way of doing this activity is to have students stand in two lines across from each other “speed dating” style. Set a timer for 3 minutes and have them use their drawings to talk about their life story to the person across from them. Both should have time to share. 

When the timer goes off, have just one line rotate so that everyone has a new person standing in front of them. I highly recommend including yourself in the rotation so you can build connections with your students! As a visual learner myself, I love learning about my students in this way because the drawings help me commit the anecdotes about each student to memory. And as teachers in general, it can be difficult to build opportunities where we deeply connect with our students into our busy class schedules, meetings and administrative tasks.

Another wrinkle you can make a decision on, to add an additional layer to the educational aspect of the project is whether or not you want to require that students only speak Spanish for this activity. For me, the purpose of this activity was more so centered on them expressing themselves and getting to know new classmates, so I didn’t want to add pressure by forcing them to speak only in Spanish. I encouraged them to speak Spanish, but did not correct them if they were speaking in English. Entirely your call to make!

This is a lesson we did at the start of the year in my Identity unit, so the focus was really about reflecting on their own life experiences and learning about the life experiences of their classmates. Establishing commonalities can be community building and contribute to a safe environment for students to learn and grow within.

I did not grade them on their speaking and I did not grade their drawings. I just gave them completion points for completing the assignment and turning it in. Again, the point of this activity was to reflect on identity and life experiences and to build community. 

This took my students about four days to complete, in total, because they spent about three class periods drawing and coloring, and then one class period sharing their drawings with their classmates. When I first planned this lesson, I did not expect to need to give them so much time for their drawings, but after one day it was clear they needed more time. 

You will likely have some students that finish sooner, so if you prefer you could cut it a day shorter, and have students finish it as homework if they want more time. 

When you collect the storyboards from your students, I suggest displaying them on the wall in your classroom or in the hallways! Your students will love to see their hard work displayed!

I can’t wait to see what your students come up with! Tag me on Instagram @profenygaard if you do this activity so I can see their amazing drawings!

This lesson would work well in other classes as well. I could see this being great for ELL classes or L2 classes, because the drawings give students guided support for their speaking practice. So, pencil this into next week’s lesson plans! Doing this activity will give you both the time you need to catch up, catch your breath and get to know your classes on a deeper level.

If you would like the project instructions for this lesson you can get it here for free in both Spanish and English. I hope you and your students get lots of value out of this lesson!


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Do you need ideas for the first week of school with heritage speakers class? Check out this blog post here.

You may also be interested in this blog post about five icebreakers for starting the year in heritage Spanish class.

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