Julia Thomas, OFLA Early Language Chair
Spanish Teacher, Oberlin City Schools
When I was in elementary school, I would ask my mom to let me use her iMac so that I could play JumpStart games that came on a CD-ROM. Twenty years later, I see my elementary school students ask to watch these 15-60 second videos coupled with a pop song on a telephone that gets its signal from outer space! Yes, I am talking about the famous TikTok. Maybe you cringe or maybe you smile at the mention. I myself had said that I would never get on TikTok and that it was just one more social media platform that I did not need. Then came pandemic teaching.
It started one day while I was teaching a virtual lesson about food to first graders. The lesson went wonderfully; students were engaged, producing in the target language, and they absolutely adored the “food song” that I always introduce when we discover how to say “I like” and “I don’t like”. But at the end of the class, a student who had been rather quiet throughout the lesson started singing, “Chicken wing, chicken wing, hot dog and baloney” and then about three more students joined her chorus, singing “Chicken and macaroni–chillin’ with my homies”. After the class ended, my student teaching assistant (a college student who is much more knowledgeable about trends) informed me that they were singing an extremely popular TikTok song and wondered how we could incorporate their interest in TikTok into the next class. She had noted that another student was wearing a TikTok sweatshirt and was dancing as the song was being sung. I honestly had no clue of what to do next. As we all have been or maybe still are, I was exhausted and burnt out. There were no creative juices flowing. Thankfully, I work with a group of college students who had a plethora of ideas, the most obvious of which being, “Let’s make our own TikToks in Spanish!”
Now, as I previously said, TikTok was not on my list of social media platforms to access, but I have gleaned so much inspiration from my students, and I base my curriculum on their interests. So, one of the warmer Saturday afternoons this spring was spent making an account, watching Spanish TikToks, and eventually making two of my own with the help of the college students. By doing that, and having a lot of fun in the process, I realized that I was going to be able to connect with my students and at least make them laugh as much as I did while making the TikToks.
After editing and posting the videos, I started to incorporate them into classes. With the 4th and 5th graders, we had been discussing what they did over the weekend, so I said, “Who likes TikTok? Who watched a TikTok this weekend? Who made a TikTok this weekend?” Many students said yes to all three questions. I casually slipped in, “Yo también hice un TikTok este fin de semana.” The class went wild with shouts of, “PROFE made a TikTok?!” and, “Show us!” They have now seen the Tú Puedes (You Can) video multiple times in the context of a lesson about what activities they can and can’t do during the pandemic. With the younger students, I have shown the Salta Rana (Leap Frog) video when they have talked about animals. With both TikToks, I have pulled out questions for students to answer depending on level, like “Who is in the video?,” “What can a (fill in name of person or animal) do?” Students have laughed and developed their language skills by answering the questions and saying things like “¡Qué chévere!”–how cool. And I have added one more thing to my teaching toolkit.
I never would have thought that I would be using TikTok to reach my students, but here we are, in 2021, and it happened. I am so thankful to those cool kids in first grade who inspired me to try something new and to have fun with it as I seek to connect with the students in creative ways. I highly recommend you to try finding or even making TikToks in the target language! You never know what great things can come from an open mind and a creative streak!