La Tomatina Name Game

Back-to-school time means back-to-blog time around here! I was going through my back-to-school materials this week, and one of my favorite activities from my dear Spanish 1B 7th graders jumped out. I’m sharing it here today in the hopes that someone else can enjoy it too.

This lesson started out as a very structured plan on La Tomatina, and then when we had 15 minutes of unstructured time at the end of the lesson, it evolved into a name game/paper throwing extravaganza inspired by this post from Amy Lenord. I’ll share with you how to turn this delightful improvisation into an actually great lesson for the first weeks of school.

First off, La Tomatina is such a wonderful cultural hook at the beginning of the school year. The actual festival happens in August, authentic resources are relatively easy to find, and food fights seem to be a universally engaging activity. I usually start the lesson off with this great wordless ad from Ray-Ban. It’s a beautifully shot video, and it lends itself well to your standard #authres activities. You can use it to anchor a movie talk, pause it periodically to get students to guess what’s going to happen next, or, my personal favorite with Novices, get students to write down as many words and phrases describing the video as possible. You can read more about this no-prep authentic resource activity here.

Once we get through the beautiful Ray-Ban video of La Tomatina, I’ll show a video that goes into detail about the what/when/where of the festival. This one from Tío Spanish and this one from SpanishPod101 are both pretty good. I usually have a worksheet that asks students to fill in certain details about the festival (when it is, where it is, what you wear, etc.), and we’ll watch this video a couple of times to give them the time they need to get the correct details down.

This is where it gets interesting. Once you go through the answers to the what/when/where of the festival and discuss the traditions as you please, hand out blank sheets of red (or pink) copy paper. Have each kid write down their name, two sentences that describe them, and what they’re wearing today. If this is the first day of Spanish 1, they can all write down “Me llamo _____,” and the activity will still work. Adapt what you’d like them to write based on where they are with their language level.

Once each kid has their info written down on their red/pink piece of paper, have them crumple it up (yup). Then, set some strong expectations about what happens next. Your kids are going to throw their “tomatoes.” They aren’t going to hit anyone in the head. They aren’t going to stand up to throw. They are only going to throw underhanded…Whatever you need to do to ensure that everyone in your classroom feels safe. This is when I give a very strong “don’t ruin this for everyone” look to my baseball and softball players who look ready to pounce. Once everybody agrees to the expectations, on your count, they throw their tomato anywhere in the classroom.

Once the tomatoes are on the ground (or wherever they ended up), the kids stand up to grab another student’s tomato. At this point, they have to find the person who corresponds to the tomato they picked up. This can be done in strictly Spanish-only mode by having people asking their new classmates “¿Cómo te llamas?” until they find the correct person.

You can have everybody sit down when they’ve found the right person and stay in Spanish-only mode to converse, have them ask their tomato person a series of questions that you dictate on the board, have them sign their partner’s tomato with a fact about themselves to practice their writing, you make the rules. There are many ways to adapt this for multiple language levels, have your kids practice each others’ names, and stay in the target language throughout. Repeat this process as many times as you’d like to get them interacting with more and more kids in the class.

Timely cultural authentic resources + get up and move around time + practicing get to know you language at the beginning of the school year + engaging in a crazy cultural activity = winning lesson for the beginning of school!

Have you ever tried a crumple-and-throw activity in your class? How did your kids respond to the chaos? Let me know! Good luck with your first days if you’re not back already!

 

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6-word memoirs to end the year

For those of you who have finished the year already, congrats. In Virginia, we’re still basically staring down four more weeks of school. We’re approaching what my fave principal used to call “keep the lid on it” time. It’s that delightful time of year where we’re all just trying to make some good class memories, make sure we all survive, and not be that teacher who shows movies for two weeks.

In my last post, I shared my go-to end-of-the-year PBL, la fiesta perfecta. Once the last grades are in, however, it gets a lot more challenging to get the kids motivated to do pretty much anything, and of course, we’re totally exhausted too. I loved having a couple “wind them up and watch them go” activities at the ready to end the year, and one of the most fun ones for me was the six-word memoir.

I stole this idea from a creative writing teacher, who informed me that the six-word memoir is a “thing” in the adolescent writing world. You can see some creative examples in English and read more about it here. The premise is pretty much what it sounds like: students have to write the story of their lives in exactly six words – no more, no less. You make them do this in Google Slides, Google Drawing or Adobe Spark and have them add in gorgeous images, fonts, or graphic design elements. Or, during those last weeks when the students laptops have been turned in and you need to kill time, you have them hand draw these beauties. They’ll be left with a really cool, personal keepsake from Spanish class that is 100% them. Here’s an example:

Picture1

My Spanish 1 students would have something as simple as “A mí me gustan papas fritas” with a corresponding French fry selfie. Some would have sentences about sports (“Jugar al fútbol es mi vida”) or their friends (“Nosotras hablamos, comemos, y estamos felices”). One of my Spanish 2 students one year had a picture of an ugly wall in front of a beautiful field. In the field, he wrote “La vida está aqui.” On the wall he wrote, “La tarea.” (ARE THESE KIDS BRILLIANT OR WHAT?)

This project also gives you some great memories of each kid, and some first-day-of-school decor for the following school year. I’m a big fan of decorating the room at the beginning of the year with work from previous years as a way to build connections with students who know some of the kids I’ve already taught. For Spanish 2 or Spanish 3, you could have students do this during the first week of school as a get-to-know-you activity as well! I find it’s a great way to spark conversation with kids about the things that are important to them.

You can also make this activity as formal or informal as you want to, which makes it ideal for “keep the lid on it” time. I’ve got a more formal student instruction sheet with a single-point rubric available on TPT here (French version here), and I’ve done pared down versions of it as part of a stations day or as an early finisher as well. I love getting students to express themselves in the target language in fun authentic ways (don’t we all?), and this is a great way to do it. When your kids come up with brilliant 6-word works of genius, let me know!

The Ultimate Fiesta PBL

It’s getting to be the end of the year for many folks around the country, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to share my go-to end-of-the-year PBL: La fiesta perfecta.

The driving question for the PBL is “How would we celebrate a holiday from a Spanish-speaking country?” or “¿Cómo celebraríamos una fiesta hispanohablante?” With that question in mind, you divide them into groups, and give them their challenge: they are to create an authentic, safe, affordable, feasible, and fun end-of-the-year celebration based on the Hispanic holiday of their choice. They’ll need to be able to set-up, clean-up, and celebrate within one class period, and they’ll have to use materials they can either get at school or easily get at home. Once they have the idea for their celebration, they’ll present it to their classmates to have them vote on a favorite. The winners will present their proposal to a member of the school admin team (hey authentic audience!) for approval. They’ll either get approval, or modify their celebration as needed, and then they’ll get to throw a huge party with their classmates!

I love this project at the end of the year because it brings some meaning to those days after testing that seem to be hard to fill up. I’d do different versions of many of the parties that got presented, not just the winners, when I was desperate for another class period to fill. Those weirdly scheduled days during standardized testing can be a struggle, and this helps to keep it engaging and light. It can be easily scaled up or scaled down too, depending on how much time you need (i.e., some of my classes ended up with 5 extra 3-hour blocks due to testing, some with a couple of 90-minute periods; this project can be stretched or shrunk to fit the time needs!)

Okay, let’s break this PBL unit down:

Guide them through a review of holidays and celebrations from Spanish-speaking countries. Before we design a party based on a Hispanic holiday, we need to research the Hispanic holidays. I’ll usually have some sort of table they need to fill in that has a list of holidays on the y-axis and different questions about each holiday on the x-axis (when, where, why, food, clothing, music, traditions, etc.) I’ll have them review stand-bys like Día de los Muertos and Navidad, but I’ll also throw in others that don’t get as much love (Carnaval, San Fermín in Pamplona, La tomatina, El cipotegato, Las Fallas, La mercè in Barcelona, Días de independencia en varias paises, etc). I’ve done this a few different ways, from doing one holiday a class-period as a warm-up with authentic video for a few weeks, to doing a huge jigsaw activity in one 90-minute block, to having them work through all the holidays in groups with a sub. The idea is to get them thinking about different celebrations, but I don’t limit them to the ones we go through together. I’ll leave it open to them to research other holidays if they want to (why not!)

Set up the make-your-own-fiesta idea with strong boundaries. I go through a long speech when I introduce this project about how this is an opportunity for them not only to dive deep on one Hispanic holiday, but also to apply their problem-solving skills to design an entire event, on a $0 budget, with approval from the administration, that they can complete in one 90-minute block, that they’d actually ENJOY. For some of them, this is the first time they’ve taken a stab at event planning, and it’s fun to see them start to realize how much goes into planning a simple class party. I’m there as a reality check when their imaginations start running wild, and I try to help them get creative about designing something for admin approval, so that I don’t become the bad guy who shoots down dreams (i.e. “do you really think they’ll approve lighting a bonfire in the middle of the football field guys? yeah, me neither, what’s a good substitute for open flames…”) When you get enough teenagers determined to have a good time, their imaginations start doing impressive things, and those boundaries force their creative juices to start running wild.

Give them very specific guidelines and a very specific rubric. I gave them pretty strict specifications on what they needed to include in their party proposals. For me, they needed a slide on:

  • The holiday: the authentic holiday they’ll be imitating (using the same info from our pre-unit holiday dive – when, where, traditions, etc).
  • Our party activities: How will we turn traditions from the authentic holidays into a school-appropriate party? What we will actually DO at this party?
  • Set-up: What we need to do to help set-up this party beforehand the fun starts
  • Materials: What materials and supplies we need to pull this off, and how they will get them? I tell them to be VERY specific about this – Will they bring things from home? Whose home? Will they need to borrow materials from the PE department? Who will ask the PE teachers? I put as much responsibility on them as I possibly can.
  • Clothing: Do we need to wear anything that will help us celebrate the holiday more authentically?
  • Food: Will there be food? What will we eat? Who will make it and bring it in?
  • Safety: How will we ensure that this fiesta will be safe for everyone involved?
  • Clean-up: How will we clean-up after the fiesta? What will we need to clean up? Who will clean up? I remind them they’ll only have one class period to get this all done!

I also tell them they will be graded on whether their party is safe, affordable, authentic, feasible (i.e. materials are easily accessible, it’s likely to be approved by admin), time-appropriate (can you really set-up, clean-up, and have this party in one 90-minute block?), and fun (with a rubric for each category).

Give them all a chance to present and be the reality check for one another. Every single group will have a chance to present in class, and every single group will have to ask and answer questions about each party (this was an awesome interpersonal task at the end of Spanish 2). Then, classmates will vote and tally each group on the same criteria they’re getting graded on (safety, affordability, authenticity, feasibility, time, and fun). I used Google forms for this to help me easily figure out which celebration was the winning party.

Get them all to help out the chosen group for the admin presentation. While I coordinate getting a school administrator into class for the big “approval day,” they help each other brainstorm any admin concerns. Which parts of the party do they think the principal will have questions about? How are they going to address safety and clean-up thoroughly? I also have them pick who is going to translate if needed (they still have to show off present in Spanish for the admin team, but they’ll need to translate for the folks who don’t speak Spanish).

Once the party is approved, execute the plan! Once the admin team approves our celebration, now it’s time to put the plan into action. Since the kids were forced to be really specific in their presentations, hopefully this is easy. They’ve already brainstormed who is asking whom for what, and which students are bringing in which materials for set-up and clean-up. I also grade them on participation – if you said you’re on clean-up duty, you’re on clean-up duty!

Enjoy making these memories. My classes came up with some AWESOME ideas for these parties. We did a capture the flag version of running of the bulls, a huge Carnaval celebration, and a version of Las Fallas where we drew “fallas” on eggs and smashed them on a huge tarp outside to signify the Fallas bursting into flames. It was the last big hurrah for some of my 8th graders, and I loved helping them bring their nutjob ideas to life. It’s a fun one!

And there you have it. If you like this project, you can purchase a version with instructions, rubrics, and all on Teachers Pay Teachers here. Please share with me any crazy party ideas your kids come up with. I’d love to hear how this project is going in other classrooms. Good luck getting to the last day of school!

My favorite no-prep authentic resource activity

I was obsessed with the March Madness Music craze last year (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading and go here and also here). By the end of it, a handful of my students started taking over the beginning of class, unprompted, with some fake microphones and a full-on Sports-Center-ish pregame show before each match-up. It was awesome to see them hamming it up for something as simple as showing two music videos, and they loved it. I will admit that after a couple of weeks, I was craving some different activities to give them while we watched the music videos, so I thought I’d share my favorite one today in case you’re in a mid-March-Madness rut (or just need a new way to engage with authentic resources in general).

I love this activity for many reasons, not the least of which is that it requires ZERO prep. It’s designed to allow kids to produce and take risks with the language in a way that isn’t threatening or intimidating. It gives them an opportunity to express themselves authentically and power through inevitable mistakes, and it’s also great for classes that have students at varying language levels.

Basically, before I share the authentic resource (in this case, two music videos), I give them a minimum word goal. This varies by level, but for my novices, it would be around 25 words. They need to write while they watch, and come up with 25 words to describe what they hear and see. I remind them that this is an authentic resource (made by Spanish speakers, for Spanish speakers), so they aren’t going to understand many of the words. I want them to focus more on what they observe. For my Spanish 1s, I wouldn’t even demand they write sentences. A list of words or a handful of phrases will do. For example, the phrase “blanco y negro” for a black and white music video would be perfect. If they do recognize some words in the lyrics and write those down, awesome. For Spanish 2s, I’d usually encourage them to write sentences, but they didn’t need to string them together as a coherent paragraph, just list things they observe (“La chica lleva una camisa rosada;” “La cantante es divertida;” “Me encanta la canción;” etc) . Like I said, this activity is designed to be really open so that all language levels can challenge themselves.

During March Madness, we’d watch both the music videos of the day, and in addition to their observations, I’d direct them to write down which song was their favorite and why (in their best Spanish – this counted as part of their 25-word goal!). I’d also ask them if there was one song they’d like to watch again to get up to that 25-word goal, and we’d often watch at least one of them twice.

To bring us all together for a discussion, I’d direct the kids to pick the favorite sentence or phrase they wrote, and share it with the people sitting close to them. In my class, they sat in tables of four kids, so they’d all share their best sentence/phrase with their table. After that, I’d direct the group of four to pick the best sentence from their group to share with the class, and they’d send one person to write that sentence on the board at the front of the room. This sharing not only ups the quality of their work (some of them love the opportunity to show-off), but it also sparks discussion, gives them some accountability, and helps them learn from the other sentences in the room.

Once we have every group’s best work on the board, a representative from each table has to stand up and read their group’s sentence out loud. This representative can’t be the same person who wrote on the board (which forces more of them to participate). I take the time to repeat each sentence/phrase and VERY informally correct any errors. Usually I’ll just vocally rephrase the sentence emphasizing the correction. This does the trick without discouraging them from taking language risks. We also always give a little applause to each group when they present.

And that’s it! From there, you can dive into more discussion about the resource, or get ready to roll into the lesson for the day. It’s a simple idea, but it was my go-to to get some discussions going around authentic resources, and a great warm-up activity.

If you’re looking for more March Madness ideas, I loved this post from Martina Bex. It’s chock-full of ways to mix it up week to week. Otherwise enjoy la Locura de Marzo!

Updating the Label-A-House Project

I spend some time volunteering as a mentor with a great group of kids downtown, and oftentimes we end up chatting about whatever is going on in school. One of our kiddos was lamenting this week about a project she had to do for French class – it sounded like a combo of a million standard Level Two projects in one go. She had to plan a vacation (travel unit) with her family (family unit) and describe the house they’d stay in (house unit).

As she described the project, my little teacher heart flew back to a flurry of INSANE houses that I got to experience the last time I did a dream house project with my middle-school kids. There was a trampoline house and a spaceship house and a Hogwarts house and a candy house and a sports-mania house. I had a kid spend HOURS designing a haunted house using Scratch and then uploading a video of it to Youtube. I had kids stringing together Snapchat videos touring friends’ houses and describing the rooms in delightfully filtered Spanish. It was a-mazing.

My poor mentor kid, however, was not encouraged to go as crazy with her dream vacation house, and at the end, the project just made her feel, well, bored. I had one of those teacher moments where I was like “omg, bored language student?? NOT ON MY WATCH” and then dove in with her to brainstorm how to combine her love of art and weirdness to produce a fun project that was more HER and less lets-go-to-pretend-France-with-your-boring-fake-family.

My language teacher heart was so broken by this bored child, that I felt inspired to write a blog post about the ways I like to make standard Novice-level Spanish projects more engaging. In this post, I’m using the word “project” pretty loosely (on the spectrum of let’s-make-a-poster to public-audience-infused-multi-week-bonanza, we’re closer to the poster end). If you’re a PBL/differentiation/student-choice-and-voice nerd like me, you probably already do a ton of these things, but maybe you can cull a few new ideas to throw out to your kids. Since my interaction mostly centered about the standard draw-and-label-a-house project, I’ll walk you through my process on jazzing up this pretty standard summative assessment.

Start with very specific language goals. When you get into the land of differentiated projects, students are likely to create products and outcomes that all look very different from one another. This is good; this is where creativity and imagination and engagement happen. BUT you want to make sure that within all of those bells and whistles, your kids are all meeting appropriate language goals. The easiest way for me to keep this straight (and keep it straight with my students) is to tie the language goal to an I Can statement. For our label-a-house project, our I Can is “I can describe my home and other people’s homes.” Love that I Can statement. Embrace it. Because at the end of the day, within all the excitement and creativity, the I Can statement is all that really matters.

Dig deeper into those language outcomes. Okay, so I have my target I Can statement in my head. The next question is, how are kids going to demonstrate mastery of that goal? For our house unit, we had a school-division-mandated vocabulary list (we can debate the merits of using vocab lists another day, okay? okay). I knew that I wanted to tap into my kids’ ability to use this vocabulary, both discretely AND organically for their own communicative purposes.

To meet the discrete goal, I required that they label a certain number of rooms and pieces of furniture in the house. I don’t require them to use every single word because I want them to pick and choose the words they’d actually need (communicative purpose), but I do give them a vocab word requirement since they’ve got to be responsible for the vocab list for exam purposes. For the house project I’ll require them to give me 8 labelled rooms and 12 pieces of furniture in Spanish. They can (and are encouraged to) use words from outside of our vocab list if they want to (we like to drive organic language learning here), BUT it won’t count as their required 8 rooms/12 pieces of furniture (to ensure we hit that required vocab).

To meet the communicative goal, I also require the kids to write a ten sentence description of their house. This makes sure that they’re stringing the words together to express themselves appropriately. This is also tapping into that presentational mode and getting them to stretch their output muscles. Additionally, it gets us towards that ultimate I Can statement: “I can describe my home and other people’s homes.”

Ignite students’ passions about The Thing They Are Creating. Laura wrote a while back about waiting for “The Gleam,” that moment when something changes in a kid’s eyes and you can tell you’ve tapped into something they’re passionate about. I love this idea because it puts into words something I also wait to see with my students, and I relentlessly pursue that sparkle in their eyes when introducing these types of assessments. I do this in two ways, and the first is getting students excited about The Thing They Are Creating. More specifically, in this case I wanted them excited about The House. I would encourage them to unleash any passion or interest or world that excites them when coming up with this house they are going to label. It could be based on something fictional; it could be based on something real; it could be based on some weird dream they had last night. My favorite line when I was trying to get kids excited about The Thing was a “anything goes as long as it’s school appropriate!” That line was usually met by lots of eye rolls and throwing of hands into the air, but was also usually followed by a barrage of questions about what they could try to invent. Any suggestion they threw out was met with an enthusiastic “YES, I LOVE IT” or a “YES I LOVE THE ENTHUSIASM but is that school appropriate?” This is where kids start thinking about fun things like designing a house built for mutant superhero fish or drawing up the house from The Simpsons. When you can tap into their interests, they start to light up.

Ignite students’ passions about The Way They Are Creating It. Now that you have the kids’ creative juices flowing, tap into another side of their brains. Not only can they invent any house they want, but they can create it and show it off ANY WAY THEY WANT TO. I usually give out two or three standard examples of what types of products they could produce. In this case, I would tell them they can draw a house on a poster board and label it, or they can make a Slideshow online with a slide for each house. These are ideas they’ve done and seen a million times. Where you get excitement is when you encourage them to think outside the box. You can use Prezi or Google Draw or Slides, but you can also make a video describing your house a la MTV cribs; you can build a house out of shoe boxes; you can use a floorplanner or Snapchat or whatever other medium you can think of that meets the demands of the project. Your artists will love you for this. Your tech nerds will love you for this. Your social butterfly vloggers will love you for this. Every year, there’s some new tech tool that kids throw out that they’d love to use; I always tell them to run it by me before they get started, and then usually I let them spread their wings and fly.

Connect it to some real world culture. I love these types of projects because it gets kids going crazy about something they love and drives some real communicative purpose, but of course it helps to put a project like this into context with cultural activities in class, usually outside of the scope of the project. For something like the house unit, I’d encourage them to take a stroll in a Spanish-speaking city on Google Maps Street View and take screen shots of houses they’d like to live in. They could use one of those houses as an inspiration for their dream house. I also love using House Hunters International once during this unit (yes, that show on HGTV), and tell them they can use one of those homes as their inspiration as well. I know, I know, House Hunters is in English and there’s no input, but there is SO MUCH CULTURE. I also usually have an episode guide/questionnaire that they have to read and fill out in Spanish to keep them honest (sometimes you can find free episodes of HHI here, you can buy them here, and you can check out a sample episode guide here). I don’t like to use culture as a limitation on projects like this, but I do like to use it as a springboard for comparison’s sake, and I like to find ways that they can fit it into our project if they want to.

Design your rubric to be flexible on those passions, but not on those language outcomes. Grading these projects can be intimidating, of course, because so many of the finished products are going to look very differently from one another. For me, this was never really an issue, because at the end of the day, you’re really only grading for the stated language outcomes. Everything else is just, well, 5 creativity points worth of fun. For the house project, you check that they have the right amount of labelled rooms and furniture, and then you grade their presented written descriptions like you would any other proficiency-based piece of writing. After that, you’re just giving feedback encouraging that creativity and communicating your excitement about their finished products. To help my sanity during the grading piece of these projects, I also was sure to be very clear about how the projects were to be turned in. If it’s a physical product, it’s placed in a designated spot in the classroom. If it’s a digital file, it must be turned in properly on Google Classroom. If you’re making a video, you have to include a written description. But after that, the grading’s gravy.

If you’re feeling crazy, take it a step further and invite in an audience. The PBL gods wouldn’t quite be satisfied with a project like this, because it’s lacking in a few areas, one of them being “authentic audience” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can read a little bit more here). There are a million ways you can try to infuse authentic audience into projects, but for one like this, I’d probably turn it into a competition. Have the kids present their projects to each other, compete for the best dream house, and vote on the top three in each class. After you’ve narrowed it down to the top few, invite in someone’s parent who is a real estate agent (or an administrator, or another teacher) and have them pick a winner from the final candidates. Ideally, this person would have some familiarity with Spanish, or you could have the kids present in Spanish and translate for each other. For an off-the-walls creative project like this one, it helps to pick an audience who would be open to picking from off-the-walls options (preferably someone who could believably say something like “yes, the aesthetic in your donut palace would be ideal for the market right now”). I find getting an outsider into class keeps things SO much more interesting, and that level of competition gets the kids elevating their projects to another level if you have the space in the curriculum to add it in!

Enjoy the ride. Every year and every class will bring new fun ideas that you can share with the classes who are not quite excited about a label-a-house project. Every year and every project, you’ll get that initial “okay, what’s the minimum I have to do to get an A,” but the challenge is pushing past that apathy to get to The Gleam (trademark Laura Sexton). Communicate the expectations, but use the strengths and interests you know about your kids to suggest something they can get excited about. It makes the whole process so much more engaging for everyone involved.

If you want to see how I normally present a project like this to my students, I’ve posted the simple version on Teachers Pay Teachers here (for French class here). You can purchase it or click on the Preview file to see how you’d adapt it to fit your needs. Enjoy!!

Attacking the Vocab List: Slap Review

Following best practices in language acquisition while also satisfying a curriculum that demands memorization of huge vocabulary lists can be a STRUGGLE. One of the ways I tried to get around it and reach a good balance was through Spanish-only review games. Teaching middle school taught me that engagement would be way higher if there was some sort of game involved, ideally a Spanish-only game where kids had an opportunity to move around and let out some of their energy in those endless 90-minute blocks. Today I’m going to share one of my vehicles for achieving competition, movement, acquiring new vocab, and immersion all at the same time, and that method is called Slap Review.

You can use and adapt Slap Review in a variety of contexts and conditions, but it was my go-to when we were tackling one of those huge, long, division-mandated vocabulary lists. The kids use the vocab list as an anchor for any variation of the slap review framework. Today I’m going to talk about Slap Charades and Slap Pictionary.

You can play charades and Pictionary as a whole class by dividing everyone into teams and having each team guess for points, but I found that when you play review games this way, it gives students too much opportunity to disengage. You get your kids that are SUPER into it overshadowing the kids who would rather curl up into the fetal position than compete in front of the whole class. It’s good as a reward or a time-filler to play a whole class game like this, but when you really want to make sure every kid is participating and learning, it’s not the most ideal format. This is how Slap Review was born.

During Slap Review, kids compete individually against their classmates in groups of 4-6. I usually had students sitting in tables of four, so I just had them play against the people sitting at their tables. First, you get the group to elect one kid to both participate AND keep score for their table. Usually there’s one kid in every group who really wants do this, but a solid game of rock-paper-scissors is always what I went with when no one/too many people wanted to keep score. Sidenote – does anyone else use rock-paper-scissors to resolve virtually every disagreement in their classroom? Such a lifesaver.

Once you have your scorekeeper, you get the kids in Spanish-only mode. You can read more about that strategy here, but basically you tell kids that for the duration of the game, you will be very strictly monitoring their language use, and there can be NO English. You also ask the students what words and phrases they’ll need to play the game so that they’re driving the learning. Mine always asked for things like “I win,” “Your turn,” “Cheater,” etc. Usually at one point during the year my entire class devolved into yelling “tramposo” at each other, but somehow watching them yell at each other in Spanish was kind of okay.

Once the kids are in Spanish-only mode, Slap Review begins. It can take place in many forms, but to promote associating word meanings with actions and pictures, I usually went with Slap Charades or Slap Pictionary.

Slap Charades asks that each kid at the table take a turn acting out one of the words on the vocab list for their group.  It works best with lists that are pretty verb/activity heavy. Students can do anything but write or talk when they’re acting, so kids that need to get some energy out will run around and go nuts acting things out, and kids that aren’t so into it can get away with lazily pointing from their chairs. Their group of 4-6 will watch them, then slap the table if they think they know the word being acted out. The actor determines who slapped first, points to that person, and then the person has to say the correct Spanish word from our new vocab list. If they get it right, they get a point; if they get it wrong, another person has the chance to slap. The scorekeeper allocates points the whole time this is happening (while also taking a turn to participate themselves for maximum engagement).

Slap Pictionary is the same idea, except that you give each group a small whiteboard and a dry erase marker. Slap Pictionary works better with lists that are more noun/object-heavy. One kid in each small group takes turns drawing a vocab word (no writing allowed!). Students display the board while they draw, so that if someone in their group figures out where they’re going with the drawing, they can slap quickly. This keeps the game going instead of the lull that arises when your artists try to perfect their masterpieces while their group waits for them to finish. Same as charades, the artist will determine who slapped first and call on them. If the slapper gets it right, the slapper gets a point. If the slapper gets it wrong, someone else gets to guess. The scorekeeper will participate and also keep track of points while all of these artists are competing.

At the end of an allotted amount of time (I’d say 10-15 minutes), you call time and have all the winners from each table stand up. I’d give the winners a sticker for their efforts (teenagers love stickers too), and then get the class together for a debrief. I’d get their thoughts on the new list, words that are challenging, words that are easy, and any language that they needed during the game that they didn’t know how to say while they were playing (you might get things like “hurry up” or “my turn,” etc.)

Slap Review is one of those easy methods that the kids get quickly, so if you want to adapt it for something else you can. I had kids write out descriptions of characters from a video, and later they played Slap Review by reading their sentences to their group and having their classmates slap to guess who they were describing. You could have them write out Spanish definitions to words on the list, and then have their classmates slap to guess what word they were defining. You could even try out La Maestra Loca’s Backwards Charades. There are a lot of possibilities with this format.

I’d also give kids the element of choice sometimes too. After we’d played Slap Charades or Slap Pictionary a few times, I’d let each table pick whether they wanted to play Charades or Pictionary. Some of the quieter groups would play Pictionary while some of the energetic groups would play Charades at the same time with the same list. They’re all staying in Spanish and practicing their vocab, so I had no problem letting them choose their destiny when we were in Slap Review mode.

There you have it! I hope next time you’re tired of playing Quizlet Live or Matamoscas, you try out some small-group Slap Review. Happy Halloween everyone!

 

 

 

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!

First Day Prep Series: Stations

I know most people are back-to-school or at least back-to-teacher-work-week (GOOD LUCK). If you’re not quite back yet, or you’re in the middle of first-day-over-prep syndrome, here’s some fuel for your lesson-idea fire. I’m going to talk you through my favorite First Day stations. I am a HUGE fan of using stations in class throughout the year. There are so many opportunities to work in reading, listening, speaking, writing, culture, and it gives those antsy teenagers a chance to get up and move as soon as their attention span on a given task starts to wane. The stations below are all about ten-to-fifteen-minute activities that you could use as stations or as a brainbreak/closing activity throughout the first couple of weeks of class to build classroom environment.

Last year was my first year I jumped immediately into stations on the first day of class. I had taught an overwhelming majority of my students the year before, so I felt brave, and wanted to do something a liiiiittle different with my kids besides your standard get-to-know-each-other/read-the-syllabus kind of day. The stations worked well in classes where I already knew all the kids and our environment was pretty well-established AND in classes where everyone was new to me and new to Spanish. I would definitely recommend giving them a try.

First, a word about how I do stations. In my classroom, I have assigned seats at tables, so it’s relatively easy to put kids into station groups based on where they sit. On the first day of school, people are mostly still figuring each other out, so you don’t have to stress too much about grouping people perfectly. I had 90 minute blocks, which meant with 5-10 minutes of warm-up and 5-10 minutes of clean-up and conclusion, so about five or six stations of ten to twelve minutes each was ideal. At the end of each ten to twelve minute time block, I’d play some popular Latin music (last year it was Soy Yo) to cue that it was time to rotate to the next activity.

The key with stations is to make sure each activity is SUUUUPER easy to figure out without much teacher guidance. Nothing is worse than spending five minutes explaining an activity to one group while another group is waiting for you to get over to them and keep them on task. Usually it works best when you can just wind them up and set them loose. That’s why having written directions at each station is key.

For the first day of school, my goals were always that students would understand their ownership in the classroom and its environment, that they would be held accountable for their behavior and work in class, and that they would be supported on the intimidating mistake-filled journey of language learning. Proficiency, setting language goals, and the importance of studying Spanish were saved for the second day of class. So my first day of school stations dealt a lot with the social-emotional sides of language learning and with the decorations I had in the room, so that students started the year off associating meaning with what was in front of them on the walls and buying in to the classroom environment.

My stations were as follows:

  • At station one, I gave them a worksheet that listed a lot of the words and phrases posted around the room, and asked them to work with the people in their group to write down as many meanings in English as they could guess or remember. Each of these words and phrases (question words, which you can find here, and classroom expressions, which you can steal here) is written in Spanish with a picture next to it, so even students with zero Spanish experience could potentially try to make a guess at meaning. I like that they have the support of their new classmates for this activity as well. I also gave them the freedom to get up and look closer at each picture if they wanted to (movement in middle school is a good thing).
  • At station two, I gave them the answers to station one (except for the kids who started at this station, obviously), and gave them their syllabus. Their task at this station was to read through the syllabus and write down three or more questions about the class, me, or learning Spanish. This task usually doesn’t take a full ten minutes, so I’d also give out their student surveys at this station, which I usually give as homework on the first day of class (yes, I’m evil, but whatever kids like talking about themselves).
  • At station three, students would sit down and chat with me. This was my FAVORITE. They’d arrive at the conversation station with questions they’d prepared in the syllabus station, and after that conversation ran dry, I got a chance to get to know kids and chat with them about their summers. Student relationships are the best, so this was a fun one for me last year. If something comes up at a different station that you have to tend to, the kids also can work on their survey homework while they wait for you to bounce back to them, which is also a good deal.
  • Station four was supposed to be a “silent” station, but I had a hard time enforcing this from where I was sitting at station three. At station four, I had written down the six activities from our syllabus that are essential to learning Spanish. I stole some of these from La Maestra Loca last year and tried out a version of her “chalk talk” idea for this station. I cut out titles of the activities and glued them to butcher paper on the wall. I asked students to write or draw pictures about what each activity meant to them close to each title. I left these up for the first couple of weeks as a reminder too.
  • I directed students to my handy dandy Meme wall for station number five. Basically I had them read through the Memes and write down the meanings for as many as they could. This was a great activity in Spanish 1B and Spanish 2, but resulted in some blank stares in Spanish 1. I didn’t quite have enough scaffolding about cognates before this activity for my Spanish 1s, which made this my weakest station for them. You could do a similar activity with whatever posters or cultural materials you have in your room for upper levels.
  • Station six directed the kids to a series of maps. The goal of this activity was to get them immersed in culture and get them thinking about the concept that language is different everywhere. I listed a few countries, then had them fill in what continent each country is on, what the capital is, and how you say “cool” in that country. I thought about using this bro map as well, but the language on there is pretty strong for middle school. Overall, I loved this station as a review/introduction to the variety in the Spanish-speaking world.
  • I know a moment ago I said five or six stations were ideal, but I also used a seventh station in a couple of my classes, or as a conclusion activity depending on time and the number of kids in the class. The last station was to come up with a class “silent signal” to use in our class when we transition from group activity to silent activities. Each group would propose a signal and then the class would vote on their favorite. They’ve used the silent awkward turtle, the silent llama, and a “live long and prosper” butterfly in previous classes (middle school is the best), but some classes like making up clap rhythms too. It’s a fun team-building exercise that you can use or change as the year continues. I just love giving them that extra additional ownership in the classroom routines.

Whew! These are a lot of different activities for the first day of class, but I hope you can steal something fun. I love group work like this to start the year and build some strong community from Day One, since it’s so necessary to that risky, brave process of language-learning. Let me know if you use anything! Good luck with your first week!


For more in the First Day Prep Series, check out my intro post, free decoration ideas, and infographic syllabus.

First Day Prep Series: The Infographic Syllabus

While I know many of you are already back to school this week (omggggg), we’re still holding it down until after Labor Day in Virginia, so this is the time of year I usually reexamine my class syllabus. I totally bought into the Infographic Syllabus craze a couple of years ago, and I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve found the past three years I used mine. 


  1. The kids tend to view it positively. I think they get a little excited about seeing a syllabus that is catchy and exciting, and while it is full of the same information they’re getting from every other teacher on the first day of school, it’s a different way to get the information, which signals to them immediately that your class is different.

  2. The parents tend to not be AS excited about it. I only ever received compliments about the infographic syllabus, but I definitely had people look at the piece of paper full of weird symbols and colors on back to school night, eyes glazed over, and then say “This is so neat! Can I have your supply list?” I ended up making a “parent-friendly” copy of my syllabus that was just straight text with supplies and grading information on it, as that is what they were used to, and what they tended to care about the most on back to school night. My syllabus for the kids usually focused more on the welcoming environment of the classroom, so I’d give the more “fun” copy to the students.

  3. It backs up the interpretive skills we emphasize in language learning. This is a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. I think that having pictures associated with our words on the very document that explains the class starts to expose kids to the different tools we use to interpret meaning – think of how many times you tell your kids to use “context clues.” If you’ve got visuals on your syllabus, it gets them started on the first day getting used to associating meaning with something besides the written word.

  4. It’s helpful to back up the syllabus with a signature sheet, either on paper or on a Google form. I love using Google forms for parent and student information surveys at the beginning of the year, and use that form to also make sure that parents and students check a box on important policies like grading, homework, absences, testing retakes, etc, so that if there is ever an argument, you can gently remind people about the policies they signed that they understood in September. (This is what we refer to in the biz as a CYA move: Cover Your Bum!)

  5. It’s (selfishly) a fun August ritual for me. I love revisiting the syllabus every year to tweak it and make it relevant for the kids and courses I’ll be teaching. The first time I made it, it took HOURS, but now I have a version ready to go that I can easily switch up. Every year I make mine more and more simple, as most of the kids don’t remember the intricacies of every policy until they apply to them anyway (see: the first time a kid bombs a test and loses her mind with joy when her classmate reminds her about the retake policy).

I’ve loved the infographic syllabus, and while I’m not entering the classroom this year, it still makes me smile to look at it. Like most people, I created mine using Piktochart (don’t fret, it’s free). You can check it out below:

syllabus

If you’re interested in an editable version of my syllabus, it’s available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers here (in French too!).  What have you experienced after a few years with the infographic syllabus? Similar experiences? Different ones? Let me know!


For more in the First Day Prep Series, check out my intro post, free decoration ideas, and fave First Day stations.