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Use Cognates to Unlock Language Acquisition with Garbanzo

September 20, 2023

Take your Garbanzo subscription to the next level with these creative lesson ideas to help your students use cognates to their fullest potential!

Language learners develop proficiency as they spend time in environments in which the target language is used extensively and in such a way that the learners are able to process the language they are hearing or reading. In other words, "We acquire language when we understand messages: when we understand what people tell us and when we understand what we read" (S.Krashen). 

"We acquire language when we understand messages: when we understand what people tell us and when we understand what we read."

Stephen Krashen American linguist and educator

What role do cognates play in language acquisition?

As teachers, there are many things we can do to help students understand messages. Cognates and other words that look or sound similar and have similar meaning in two languages can be a useful tool in helping language learners to interpret the meaning of language that they hear and read.

Many teachers choose to teach students about cognates and practice interpreting them at the beginning of Level 1 language courses in order to give them a fast boost in vocabulary range and a valuable interpretive tool. 

What NOT to do when teaching cognates

Before we give you some suggestions on what TO do when teaching cognates, we’d like to caution you on some practices to avoid!

Cognates what not to do

When teaching cognates to beginning language learners, do NOT: 

  • Have students work in pairs to say the TL words (that they have never heard before) to other students while partners infer the L1 meaning.
  • Play “I have, Who has?” or other oral guessing games in which students must pronounce unfamiliar words in the TL

Both of the above activities seem fun and easy, but remember that they are forced output activities. Forced output is NOT appropriate in early Level 1, and especially when students are encountering unfamiliar words without having acquired pronunciation. In fact, forcing output too early can have the reverse effect of what we are trying to do. “Negative emotions, such as anxiety, and self-doubt can majorly interfere with the process of acquiring a second language” (S. Krashen). 

On the other hand, providing low- stress classroom environments and activities will bolster student confidence and therefore, their ability to process language! 

So, what should you do with cognates?

Thankfully, the list of things that you can do with cognates is much longer than the list of things to avoid! Here are two general practices to get you started:


  • Have students read the words in both languages and match or infer meaning. 
  • Say the TL (target language) word to students and have them infer meaning.
Cognates garbanzo

Garbanzo is a perfect tool for helping students to practice interpreting cognates. In our lessons, students will read and can hear cognates pronounced, in context

Let’s take a look at a few Garbanzo lessons that would be perfect for introducing cognates to your students! We outline some different ideas for using these stories that go beyond just clicking the “assign” button! 

Cognate Lesson Idea #1: 

The first Garbanzo lesson that we recommend using for focused instruction about cognates is called “Los animales (cognados)”. This lesson features descriptions of animals that are written in Spanish and are heavy-laden with cognates.

Cognates lesson idea 1

Let’s take a closer look! 

Here is one of the slides from the 'Los animales (cognados)' lesson:

Cognates lesson idea 1 example

How many cognates can you find in just this ONE slide? 

Do you think your first year learners could understand this message? Absolutely they could!

Assigning this Garbanzo lesson to your students is just one of many ways to use it! 

Keep reading for more lesson ideas!

Cognates classroom use

Here are some easy ways that you can use this Garbanzo lesson (and others) outside of simply assigning them to your students to complete on their own time:

Whole Class

You could project the content slides to your whole class and have students identify words they recognize. 

Listening Practice

Play lesson audio to your students and have them jot down cognates they hear! Standard subscribers have audio access to Core15, Premium subscribers have access to audio for all lessons.

Bell Ringers

This is just 1 of 14 animal descriptions from this Garbanzo lesson! That gives you over two weeks of bell ringer activities!

Somos Integration

Are you a Somos user?  Add the new animals they learn to your word wall for story characters throughout the year! 

Higher-Level Extension

Have students create a simple animal profile for an animal that is not on the list by re-using vocabulary from the lesson.


Cognate Lesson Idea #2: 

Are you looking for a beginner story full of cognates to engage your students? Then this is the lesson for you! This VERY SHORT lesson only has 14 content and challenge slides and will give students a chance to practice their new cognate skills.

Cognates lesson idea 2

Let’s take a closer look at this lesson! 

Below are sample challenge and content slides.

Cognates lesson idea 2 example

Teaching Tips: 

Whole Class

If projecting this lesson to do as a whole class activity, this slide is the perfect “turn and talk” moment for your students to predict what is going on with Emma!


If you are assigning this lesson, project or write the above sentences on the board and have students make a prediction BEFORE completing the assignment. This will further engage students to read and find out if their predictions were correct!

Extension Rewrite

Have students rewrite the story but with different characters and places. They could illustrate it with story blocks!

A surprise for you!

Before you go, we have one last surprise! Hint: It’s a game!

Cognates surprise

Do your students love when you gamify your activities?  We created a Garbanzo cognate game just for you!

The lessons we mentioned above aren’t the only Garbanzo lessons that you could use to reinforce the skill of recognizing cognates while reading. In fact, cognates can be found in all of our lessons on Garbanzo. There are thousands of short stories and over 300 EMETM (El mundo en tus manos) news articles that are full of cognates and waiting to be assigned. 

 Read the instructions and find the printable below!

Cognates game

Carrera de Cognates 

This activity could be used anytime during the year with any set of lessons and it would also make a solid sub plan to leave when you are out!


Add any five (or more) Garbanzo lessons to the “Biblioteca” OR assign them to your class if you have a standard subscription. 

Have students partner up and set a timer for the length of your choosing. We recommend no more than 20 minutes. 

Have students complete the lessons in any order. While completing each lesson, students should write down any cognates they recognize along the way. 

Objective: The first team to get to __# of cognates wins OR the team who finds the most cognates in the amount of time wins! 

OJO: To ensure students are reading for comprehension (and not just collecting cognates!), you may wish to require a minimum score on the lessons to get the points!  Actual assignments will show scores on the teacher dashboard. If you are using the Biblioteca for this activity, have students save a screenshot of their scores after completing the lesson.

Click HERE to download the Carrera de Cognates! 

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