South Orangetown Central School District

Throughout the school year, students in World Language teacher Claudia Arietta’s Spanish V classes debate topics relating to current events, which have included immigration policy, the death penalty and the Second Amendment.

“We must give students a voice to express their opinions respectfully and to listen to the perspectives of others who have different views,” Arietta noted. “In my class, the main thing is that students must speak in Spanish. We work on the real conversations that people have about what is in the news. An unintentional benefit is that having to take the time to express themselves in another language helps take some of the heat and reactivity out of exchanges on issues that students feel passionately about.”

The class debate is a five-day project covering new vocabulary, advanced grammar (the Second Amendment discussion targeted imperfect subjunctive conditional clauses), in-depth reading of news articles and opinion pieces from various Spanish-language sources and reflective essay-writing based on the texts. Day four is devoted to “speed debates”: students are paired up and assigned to argue for or against the week’s topic for five-minute rounds. At the end of each round, students form new pairs and new viewpoint assignments. For the culminating large group debate, students argue their personal viewpoints and seek to persuade others with points they have developed as part of their preparatory work. When all students are on the same side of an issue, Arietta will argue the opposing view to facilitate the debate.

“I really like the conversation. I was born in a Spanish-speaking country but didn’t learn to speak the language until middle school. This helps improve my conversational skills with topics that are big and real world. It also gives everyone a chance to participate,” noted Michael G., a student in Arietta’s first period class.

Katherine S. agreed. “What’s really important is that we have the opportunity to speak about these topics in Spanish. We have a whole period just for discussion and it is amazing.”

“Ms. Arietta does an excellent job with giving students an opportunity to explore different issues while practicing their Spanish speaking and listening skills,” noted Principal Rudy Arietta. “Most importantly, students trust her and know that she has created an environment in her classroom where they are able to express themselves. She stresses the importance of listening to each other, especially when you may disagree about a particular issue. These skills are important for our seniors to have whether they are using them in Spanish, English or any other language.”

Students discuss timely topics in Spanish V class