It’s so important to teach (or remind) students about cognates during the first weeks of a language class. The meaning of these words seem obvious to us (since we have been exposed to the language for a significant amount of time), but recognizing cognates is a skill that can be improved on with practice.
I introduce cognates as simple as this: words that sound or look alike in different languages (coming from the same origin). I usually start by reading a short paragraph from a Hispanic newspaper or magazine. When my students hear a cognate they snap their fingers two times. It is a little quiet at first, but then they start recognizing more and more words.
Next, every student gets a Spanish language magazine (or handout, computer, or iPad) and 5 slips of paper. Their job is to find 5 cognates and write each one on a slip of paper. Then they get up and post it under it’s first letter on the back wall.
By the next day, you’ll have hundreds of cognates on your wall and you can send students on a walk around the room. Have them count how many words they can recognize. This is powerful! My level 1 newbies will count up to 50 words they know. Instead of leaving class feeling frustrated or defeated the first few days, they walk out the door energized and confident that they are learning!
P.S. if you’re looking for a great way to fill up a boring wall, leave these words up as big cognate dictionary! Students can add new words when they learn them.