How to use Telenovelas in Heritage Spanish Class

Sneak peek: Which telenovelas I show in heritage Spanish class and what activities we do with them.

watching a telenovela in heritage Spanish class

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Have you ever shown a telenovela in heritage Spanish class? I like to use telenovelas in heritage class as a fun Friday-brain-break. By putting both the audio and subtitles in Spanish, students actually get quite a bit of exposure to aural, contextual and written language.

A byproduct of watching a telenovela, is that telenovelas give us a common storyline and characters to work with in extension activities. For example, when I teach my literary analysis unit we do literature circles, where students read different novels. In order to talk about identifying different character types, we use the characters from a telenovela like Alta Mar for instance, to discuss as a class and to complete a worksheet about tipos de personajes so that it makes sense for everyone. 

personajes worksheet for Alta Mar
characters alta mar worksheet


The two telenovelas I chose to use with my students are Gran Hotel and Alta Mar. I use them because there are minimal scenes I need to remember to skip (due to adult or inappropriate material) and neither show includes much swearing. The dialect of both shows is Spanish from Spain, so one benefit is the exposure of my students to a different variation of Spanish. This proved to be helpful during our unit on Los acentos y dialectos en el mundo hispanohablante because they were already familiar with the Spanish accent due to watching the telenovela in class. Both of these shows are period-set dramas with a murder mystery bent. Gran Hotel is set in an opulent, posh hotel in the early twentieth century, while Alta Mar is set in the late 1940’s on a luxury transatlantic cruise ship. Both of these shows are made by the same media company so I have noticed subtle character references in Alta Mar that refer to Gran Hotel.


When we watch Alta Mar in my Year Three Curriculum cycle, I show about twenty minutes every Friday followed by a 5-question multiple choice quiz. You can grab my quizzes for season one for free here. They are available for you in both PDF and Google Forms. I love the autograding feature of digital quizzes but if you do them on paper you could just grade together as a class, with red pens in order to save you time. I ask students to place their pencils on the floor and then give them a red pen to correct their own paper. Then, I monitor to make sure no one reaches for a pencil to change their answers. These short quizzes hold them accountable for paying attention during the episode and it also provides them the opportunity for written input, as all the questions are in Spanish.

Alta mar quizzes

Summary writing

We watch Gran Hotel on Fridays in my Year Two Curriculum cycle. This particular show is copyrighted by Edunovela as they sell resources to go along with the telenovela, so sadly, I am not able to share any of the tests I have created for this series. One thing I do with this telenovela that is really easy for anyone to implement, is a class-created written summary for each episode. When we finish an episode we come up with a summary together as a class. 

Students have a simple packet consisting of a header: “Episode #” followed by a text box. They use the available lines to copy the quick summary of the episode we generate together as a class and they are able to use the packets on the tests I give. Usually, there is a test every five episodes. Summary writing has multiple benefits because students learn how to extract the most important events and the nuances of character development in order to summarize and they also copy down Spanish sentences that are spelled correctly which adds to the repetition of them being exposed to not only words, but correct punctuation for the various sentence structures composing our summary. 

First, students brainstorm the most important events they noticed in the episode and I put those on the whiteboard in bulleted form. Then, we develop that list into a summary. They copy down the final version of the summary that I write on the Smartboard, into their packet. I think the practice of them spelling out words correctly and seeing how sentences are structured is great language exposure and having these summaries helps us keep all the plot points straight, week after week (keeping in mind that we only watch a half-episode every week). Grab a free copy of the template I use here.

Gran hotel resumen


Another form of developing written skill in my students is done through dictados with Gran Hotel. What do dictados look like? I choose five sentences to say aloud, or dictate, for students. These sentences are going to be about the episode we just watched, and students must write down on their paper how they think those spoken sentences they just heard should be written. It is a work in rapid comprehension and shifting the mind from the ears, to the hands. Then we go over each sentence as a class, and they make any necessary corrections on their paper. There are lots of other writing activities you could implement, like having students write an alternate ending to an episode or adding in a new character to the plot and breaking down how this character’s addition to the plot would add to the complexity of the show. 

Where to Stream

Alta Mar is available for streaming on Netflix at the time of writing this blog post. Gran Hotel used to be on Netflix, but now I pay for a subscription to Atresplayer so that I can stream it for my class. It is $5/month for access. I actually love that my students can’t access it outside of class on Netflix because no one is able to watch ahead. You can also find the Gran Hotel DVDs for purchase on Amazon if you prefer to show it that way.

Potential Obstacles

Just like any activity, you will find that some students are more into it than others. Some students just won’t enjoy dramas and don’t get that excited about the plot, while others are looking forward to watching every Friday. 

One thing I’ve found and highly recommend is pausing to explain major plot points that occur. Take some time to break down major elements of the show, or to have them identify key character developments in order to guide students and keep them up to date with what is going on in the show. They lose interest when they start to lose track of what is happening. 

You may also run into issues streaming the shows if your school blocks Netflix.

Have you used telenovelas in your heritage speaker class before?

I am still on the hunt for a telenovela to use on Fridays in my Year One Curriculum cycle, so comment below if you have a good one in mind! I’m hoping to find one that is not from Spain in order to expose my students to a different dialect.

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