Adapting “clock partners” for Spanish class

For the last few years I really wanted to adapt the concept of “clock partners” to the foreign language classroom, and I think I finally figured it out to relative *relative!* success last year. I’ll share how I did it below, but first, let’s review what clock partners are.

The way a “clock partners” activity works in most classrooms is you give students a sheet like this one:

clock buddies

You have students walk around the room and find a partner for each space on the clock. Kids write down each other’s names in the proper place. They’ll pick their best friends first, then slowly the activity forces them to pick someone they wouldn’t normally work with (love this for classroom environment). When the activity is done, the kids keep their partner sheet in their notebook, and then throughout the year you get to avoid the whole “are we picking our partners or are you picking our partners” drama. The kids picked their partners at the beginning of the year; you get to assign which partner they use that day. You’ll say something like “we’re working with our 2 o’clock partners today,” and the kids will move to whichever partner they picked for that “timeslot.” Win win.

I loved this idea and tried it when we were learning about telling time. I planned to have kids walk around, ask each other some personal questions I wanted them to review, play with some time language, etc. I was pretty pumped to try it out, but (spoiler alert) it was a pretty epic lesson fail. There were too many time slots; kids freaked out that there were an odd number of students and they didn’t have the right numbers; people kept confusing how to tell time in Spanish…Picture a bunch of kids wandering the room aimlessly, screaming out Spanish numbers in anguish, crumpling papers in frustration, and that’s about how that lesson went. Back to the ole drawing board.

I was scarred from trying out clock partners, so the next year when the idea was mentioned during a Professional Development session, my grumpy face turned on and in my mind I was groaning “nooooo that activity is the worsttttt.” It was like the instructor read my mind. She acknowledged the logistical difficulties of the clock partner concept and then delivered the revolutionary idea (to me anyway) that you don’t actually have to use. a. clock. You can use something that has to do with your content. As a US history teacher, she used famous landmarks. Think “go to your White House partner today; go to your Supreme Court partner today.” So it wasn’t much of a leap when I wrote COUNTRY PARTNERS!!! with fifteen underlines and exclamation points in my notebook.

To get started, I created a partner sheet for each class that had six pictures of countries on it with different questions written below each country (you can check out a similar example here). These questions were designed to gather information about their partner – something along the lines of  “¿Cómo se llama tu compañero colombiano? ¿Cuántos años tiene él/ella?¿ Qué le gusta hacer?” etc. Obviously you could vary the questions based on where they are proficiency wise, or you could make this an information gathering activity for each country “Con tu compañero, contesta las preguntas: ¿Cómo se llama la capital de Colombia? ¿Cómo es la bandera?” etc. Once you have the partner sheet prepped, the basic flow of the lesson is as follows:

Introduce the activity by asking if anyone has ever done clock partners before. Usually a few kids have, and you can get them to explain it to each other in teenager language. You might get a “you know, we did it in Mrs. Turner’s class in 6th grade” and then a chorus of “ohh yeahhhh.” From here, tell them we will be doing the Spanish version of clock partners, and we will be picking country partners. This is when you hand out the sheet.

Reiterate the expectations for using the target language during this activity. I did this as a very strict “Spanish-only” activity, which meant that they’d get a specific formative assessment grade for staying in the TL the whole time (you can read more about that strategy here). Review the key language they need to ask and answer each question. Again, you can get the kids to volunteer to help you with that part; maybe have a few volunteers act out some examples.

Set up the logistics. This is the tricky part. You will recall the terrible, horrible lack of logistics planning I did when I tried clock partners for the first time. I’m sure there are classrooms out there where you can just wind them up and let them roam, and kids will magically answer all the questions and find every single partner they need. I had one 15-person class where that plan worked, and it was the most glorious amazing thing ever. For most classrooms, though, you need to do one of the following versions of crowd control:

  • Logistics Plan A: Give kids a designated amount of time to pick and work with each country partner, one at a time. For example, after a “Ahora busca tu compañero argentino,” have them find someone, sit down next to that person, and take some time to write down the answers to the questions for that country partner. Inevitably, there will be a kid (or several) still standing up with that “I don’t have a partner I don’t have friends I hate school everything is the worst” look in their eye. That is okay! You’re there to save them! Pair these kids up with each other, or send them to create a group of three with one of the kids you know they get along with. After 5-10 minutes, get them to say adiós, then move on to a different country partner and repeat the process. I usually play Latin music as a cue that it’s time to switch. You might get some early finishers each round, but as long as they are staying in the TL, who cares.
  • Logisitcs Plan B: Give them some free reign to roam and find as many partners as possible for a designated amount of time. After this wandering conversational free-for-all, sit the whole class down and check for each partner. Give them a cue to stand up and find their “compañero colombiano,” make sure everyone has one, pair them up if they don’t, then have them switch and move to their “compañera mexicana” (or whatever partner you want to try next). I used Plan A with the kids I knew needed more structure, and Plan B with the kids who I knew were more eager to execute quickly.

Don’t forget the absent kid! There’s one in every crowd. In some classes, I was a stand-in for whomever was absent, and found a partner for them every round while I was monitoring TL use. In some classes the absent kids’ friends demanded to commandeer the paper and get “good” partners for them. In some classes I asked for volunteers to handle the absent kids’ partners. I would double check the absent kids’ papers at the end of the activity to make sure they’re covered.

Conclude the lesson by having the kids glue the piece of paper in their notebook or binder and remind them that they’ll be using it throughout the year. It also helps to have the kids apply what they’ve done by directing them to get up and find one of the partners for whatever activity is next (pick one of the early partners so they’ll be pumped to go move with their friends, or a later partner to get them to calm down, depending on the energy in the room). Then, you can get them rolling on whatever you have next, or on some sort of time-filler review game to end class (partner Kahoot! partner Quizlet live! partner exit ticket! partner work on your homework!).

Throughout the year kids will lose their sheets, but usually (hopefully) one of the partners held onto theirs and can remind their partner who they’re with. To help with this issue, it’s not a bad idea to do this activity again halfway through the year. By then, people may have new best friends, couples may have broken up, and half the class may have lost their partner sheets. It also gives you an opportunity to adapt the sheet and ask more advanced questions, use different countries, do a country focus (compañero de las Ramblas, compañero del Prado) or try a different cultural focus (compañero Frida Kahlo, compañero Salvador Dali). It’s a great activity for classroom environment, with some sneaky target language practice and cultural exposure mixed in.

Have you ever tried clock partners before? What’s your secret to making it work? If you come up with cool ways to apply this in your classroom, please share!

Hispanic Heritage Month PBL

One of my favorite times of year in Spanish class is Hispanic Heritage Month. For those of us who start class after Labor Day, September 15 marks that magical time when kids are jussssst starting to come out of their shells, when we’re starting to get into the rhythm of working and learning, and when it’s time to really start getting down to business. I love that Hispanic Heritage Month falls into this magical start-of-learning time, and maybe it’s no coincidence that I use Hispanic Heritage Month as a springboard for one of my favorite Project-Based Learning units.

A quick note on my PBL philosophy. PBL can feel like one of those flavor-of-the-week education initiatives, but this is a flavor that I always was intrinsically drawn to. One of my first blog posts was about service learning in a Nicaraguan slum and what it taught me about bringing a real audience into the classroom (or bringing your classroom to a real audience). When it’s done right, an in-depth PBL can be a magical time for a kid. It can push them to do things that stretch them outside their comfort zones, build presentational skills, solve a solution to a real problem, and create something they can be proud of.

My Hispanic Heritage Month PBL was something I jumped into at the beginning of Spanish 1B as a review unit. In my middle school, we taught Spanish 1 over the course of two years, the first half in 6th or 7th grade in Spanish 1A, and the second half in 7th or 8th grade in Spanish 1B. Spanish 1B was always my favorite class as a creative instructor (as a creative instructor, all my classes were my favorites, I promise kids!). There was so much more time in the curriculum for proficiency-based instruction, and it gave me a launching pad for some of my most creative lesson planning (I’m a nerd for creative lesson-planning, if you couldn’t tell).

This PBL could also be used as a review unit in Spanish 2, or in any high Novice-low, low Novice-mid classroom. It assumes that you can meet a few Novice Low indicators about describing people’s appearances and personalities, so theoretically you could also use it in a Spanish 1 class towards the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is over October 15.

The basic premise of this PBL is that students are in charge of raising awareness for Hispanic Heritage Month in their school. A friendly administrator is key for this, which was NEVER a problem for me (I had the number one principal in the universe, no big deal), but mention “cultural awareness,” “project-based learning,” and “21st century skills” enough times, and I’m sure your principal will nod approvingly.

The basic flow of the unit is as follows: you start off with some authentic resources about Hispanic Heritage month (here’s a link to a Pinterest board of my faves). Introduce some comprehension and discussion questions to get kids to figure out what Hispanic Heritage Month actually is. This is also a great time to talk about the difference and importance of the words “Hispanic” versus “Latino” versus “Spanish.”

After kids start to get a feel for what Hispanic Heritage Month is all about, start to brainstorm famous people they know with Hispanic Heritage. A good start is by asking if anyone in the room celebrates some form of Hispanic Heritage (hello, building real connections). I love brainstorming lists like this in groups or partners on paper or with whiteboards. You give kids a fixed amount of time to work with their group or partner to think of as many famous Hispanic people as possible, and write the list down. Then you have each group meet with another group to circle the names they have in common and add the names that the other group has that are different from theirs. You can do this exchange a few times to get the most complete list.

After this you introduce the project. Tell kids that they will be working with a partner (or alone, up to you, I just love love love student collaboration) on one particular Hispanic celebrity and will be using that person as a springboard to bring awareness of Hispanic Heritage Month to their school. This turns into your pretty standard “create a presentation describing a famous person” project, but you’re way too cool for that, so you’re going to add a few elements of technology and authentic audience to the deal.

  1. Students will be making a shareable presentation on Google Slides (or any other shareable digital platform like Prezi) about their person. Pretty standard.
  2. Students will be making a poster of their person to post around the school, and link their poster to their digital presentation with a QR code (oooooo).
  3. Students will come up with a few sentences about their person to share on the morning announcements during Hispanic Heritage Month. I did this English, but if you have a ton of native speakers at your school (or your kids want to show off) you could do both English and Spanish. If you have too many students or too many pairs to cover the school days in Hispanic Heritage Month, you could ask for volunteers and draw names out of a sombrero to get the right number of announcements for September 15 – October 15.
  4. Students will write a Tweet to their famous person (in Spanish of course) with a link to their presentation, that you will then use your teacher Twitter account to ACTUALLY TWEET TO THE FAMOUS PERSON (omggggg). I was disappointed that no famous people responded to my kids last year (come on, famous people!!!), but this is still a really fun thing to do. Obviously, some famous people don’t have Twitter, or your kids could even have chosen a dead famous Hispanic celebrity. I had a couple girls last year that Tweeted their project on Roberto Clemente to the Pittsburgh Pirates account – you can get creative.
  5. For super fun bonus points, have your students find a picture of their celebrity to add themselves to. This was one of the coolest cross curricular  things we’ve ever done with our librarians (they are rockstars). The kids used the library green screen to photoshop pictures of themselves into pictures of the celebrities they studied. It was SO. COOL. I had a group of kids in Messi jerseys and Barca scarves posing as part of the audience next to Messi in Camp Nou. SO great. We added these pictures into their tweets to celebrities too. I understand not everyone has a green screen and amazing librarians at their school, so you can also try your hand at creating your own using one of the cheaper green screen apps out there.

There you have it! This is one of my favorite projects ever, and I hope you can steal some of it and make it yours. If you want to save a few hours of your life, I spent some time putting together a packet that includes rubrics, worksheets, celeb lists, and instruction sheets, available for purchase here (or if you like this project, but aren’t celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month yet, there’s a more generic celebrity PBL here). This is one of my fave lessons, so please tweet me your kids’ work if you end up stealing any of these ideas on Twitter @SraErwin. I am obsessed with this project and would love to see how you use it in your classroom. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!