Building Community through Partner Conversations in Heritage Spanish Class

How can we create a safe, family-like classroom community in heritage Spanish class? Community is a core component of the Ascendencia curriculum. Heritage Spanish class is a sacred time of day for Latino students, as they get to be in the same room with students who have many similar and shared experiences. Oftentimes they are in the class with siblings or friends, but that isn’t always the case. Regardless, this class is important for educational reasons, as it quickly becomes a safe haven for our Spanish speaking students. 

Building a positive environment where all students feel respected and safe is extremely important. Many studies have been conducted that highlight the enhanced ability to learn in a safe environment where one feels at home. It’s hard for anyone to learn with a flared hippocampus, in the worst case scenarios; but a more common situation I’ve encountered…is that it’s also difficult to learn in environments where you can’t figure out whether or not you belong. 

white shoes teenagers forming a circle

In order to help all students feel connected to one another, you can facilitate regular partnered conversations. These conversations foster community in a major way. In a secondary sense, conducting partnered conversations ensures every student knows they have interacted with someone in class on a next-level basis, and are more likely to feel understood.

Language Shyness

Language shyness shows up differently for each of our heritage students. All in the same class you will have students that are confident in their speaking abilities, alongside students who understand Spanish perfectly, but aren’t quite ready to produce the language. That’s just the speaking, listening and responding elements of the educational experience. It breaks down further when you add in elements of comfort in written expression, and ability to read written text. Reading and retention are core educational concepts across the globe.

Differentiation then becomes the name of the game in heritage Spanish classes because language abilities are so diverse. I’ve found that many of my students had a decent verbal and auditory language exposure. But these same students wouldn’t necessarily have the same exposures in reading and writing in their heritage language. It became a mission of mine to ensure that my students were prepared educationally across all four sectors of language acquisition: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Course Offerings

In larger school districts it’s possible to have a levels-based course offering for high school heritage Spanish classes. That to say, it’s possible to see an offering for Heritage 1, 2, and 3.

In small schools, however, we often see one section offered for 9-12 graders alike. Various ages and abilities are mixed into the same class, regardless of ability. While this isn’t ideal, it is certainly better than having no heritage Spanish class at all! It’s something to work with, and while differentiating for such a wide range can be daunting, teaching a class just like this has been some of my most meaningful and cherished moments in the classroom.

If you are new to teaching heritage Spanish, the best advice I can give you is to take a deep breath, know that you will have what it takes, and approach the class offering with curiosity. Don’t assume that your students are confident in speaking Spanish out loud, or better yet, make no assumptions at all! Your students play a direct role in guiding you to best guide and grow their abilities in the language.

Structured Speaking Tasks

As a teacher, you are an expert at making magic happen, regardless of the situation or resources provided. When you have students in class that are shy when it comes to speaking, one way to tackle their verbal anxiety is to provide support and structure for the speaking task in the form of games. 

When the mind is at ease and having fun, retention grows exponentially, so here are a few examples of structured speaking tasks embedded in some very fun games:

Juegos de mesa

One way to provide an opportunity for a structured speaking task is playing Juegos de mesa. 

This game in particular involves a global cult classic: Rock, Paper, Scissors, with a fun twist! In this particular rendition, students play Rock, Paper, Scissors combined with a game board. As they play, students answer the question they land on. If they land on certain spaces, they must go back to the beginning. The first one to reach the end wins.

You can have students switch partners in order to play multiple rounds.

This activity has students…

  • highly engaged
  • interacting with one another
  • speaking in Spanish
  • playing!

Here’s what teachers are saying about this resource:

“Great, easy prep game that keeps kids in the Target Language” 

-Dawn T.

“It happened, I needed a sub and I hadn’t found the time to play during class. It went so well with the substitute that my students were asking to play it again when I returned a few days later.” 

-Kiplinn S.

Purchase more of these activities here:
Juego de mesa – conversaciones de invierno- Winter Conversation Game Board
Juego de mesa – conversaciones de navidad – Christmas Conversation game board
Juego de mesa- conversaciones de la suerte para Día de San Patricio
Juego de mesa- conversaciones de otoño- Conversation Game Icebreaker
Juego de mesa- conversaciones de San Valentín- Valentine’s Conversation Game



Another structured speaking game is Dados de conversación. This is an icebreaker activity… or should I say DICEBREAKER that can be done in partners or small groups. If you don’t have physical dice in your classroom, no problem! Students can use the Google online dice roller.

Students roll dice to determine which conversation question from a particular section they need to respond to. There are a total of five sections (30 potential conversation questions). Students can simply converse or you can require them to write responses to also practice their writing skills. 

Here’s what teachers are saying about this resource:

“This was a great activity for my Heritage 1 class! It combines community building, speaking, and writing all in one. My students are in groups and they are did so great with this activity! Gracias!”

-Esmeralda L.

“I used this as bellwork. My students enjoyed practicing their conversations.”

-Jimmy A.

“Great ice breakers for my spanish heritage students. These are fun little activities for the beginning of class.”

-Kristine W.

“I have always used dice in my language classroom. This was a fun twist for my students. Excellent and engaging. Once students understand it, it can be used when there are 10 extra minutes to fill. Almost no prep necessary if you have the dice!”

-Kimberly T.

Plug and Play

The great thing about these conversation games is that you can have them in your back pocket for whenever you need to fill class time. Don’t you hate those days where your lesson goes too quickly and then you are left staring at a bunch of teenagers scrambling to come up with something on the fly to fill the last twenty minutes of class? Having these lessons printed and ready to go gives you an extra confidence boost you need to sink in and teach your class. Peace of mind in knowing you always have a fun activity locked and loaded is a beautiful thing.

Free Download:

Dados de conversación


Purchase more of these activities here:

Dados de conversación #1 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #2 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #3 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #4 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #5 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #6 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #7 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #8 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #9 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación #10 Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker
Dados de conversación Bundle- Advanced Spanish Conversation Dice Icebreaker


Equipped with these structured speaking tasks, you’re sure to feel more prepared for the curveballs life can toss your way. Additionally, your students having the game’s rules and boundaries clearly communicated to them, they will feel more secure with knowing what is expected of them during the activity. 

It will be much less stressful and awkward because these speaking tasks are disguised as games. I’ve found, the more you do the same type of activity, the more routine it becomes for your students. And we know that young people absolutely thrive on routine! 

Gain access to hundreds of resources for heritage Spanish by joining the Heritage Spanish Membership. 

Need more icebreaker ideas? Here is a post you will like!

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Latina student talking with another Latino student building community in heritage Spanish class