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!

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Four reasons I’m doing summer PD abroad


As I write this, I’m hoping the passenger next to me can’t hear that I’m blasting Adele through my headphones to drown out the conversations on an airplane destined for San Jose, Costa Rica. I’m headed on a Spanish immersion trip for teachers with Common Ground International and so far they’ve done a phenomenal job answering all of my anal questions and preparing us for an unforgettable experience. I’ll be staying with host families for three weeks, one in Granada, Nicaragua, and two in Santo Domingo, a suburb of San Jose. 

Like most teachers, I’m a pretty dedicated list-maker, and all about “keeping the end in mind.” So of course, before I actually embark upon this almost-month-long Central American excursion, I need to outline my goals for this trip. 

1) Improve MY Spanish. This was priority number one for booking this trip in the first place. This upcoming school year, I’ll be going for my National Board Certification, and as a world language teacher I have to achieve an Advanced proficiency level in Spanish on the ACTFL written and oral exams. After a few years of teaching Spanish 1 & 2 and using adequate Spanish with my patient native-speaking colleagues, my Spanish needs a boost. I’ve never been able to achieve ACTFL advanced, so I’m hoping three weeks of one on one Spanish classes and living with a host family will give my language the push it needs. I’m going to commit myself to spending as much time with native speakers as possible, which is different from my times abroad in earlier years, when my priorities swung more towards adventuring with my new interesting ex-pat friends. Now that my boyfriend and I have turned each other into homebodies and teaching has turned me into a person who unapologetically goes to bed a 830pm, I feel like my urge to get in on the backpacker scene has all but evaporated. If I’m going to make friends in-country, it will be through my host family, not through the folks staying at the hostel down the street, which is going to help my Spanish immensely. 

2) Find opportunities for my students. I’m sure the connections I’m building on this trip will help me create more authentic experiences in the classroom for my students, and I’m hoping to build relationships in the countries that my students may be able to benefit from. I work at one of the best public middle-schools in the area that draws from a relatively high-ses community. I would love to find a way on this trip for them to give back to students who are less fortunate than them, though it might be a tricky thing to accomplish. This year our school is also transitioning to PBL-based instruction, so building relationships with other teachers in the country can only help with bringing Spanish to life for my students.

3) Aprovechar. I want to lean in to this experience abroad and really take advantage of it for all its worth. I’ve definitely been guilty of going abroad and spending hours in an Internet cafe talking to my friends at home. I am committing to staying in touch with my loved ones, but I want to try not to spend a ton of time thinking about what I’m missing (which is a lot, sorry family, I love you). I am going to be asking my host family to spend time with them and act on their suggestions for adventures, which I’m sure they will happily provide. 

4) Grow my PLN. I save this goal for last, since part of my goal is going to be to unplug from my phone, but one of my summer projects is to get more involved with other teachers online. I’m going to use this experience to share with them and grow that PLN that my principal keeps bugging us about. There’s not much of a better way to test out the waters online than to shamelessly share travel photos. Maybe I’ll finally download Instagram too (omg!).

I’m excited about this opportunity to grow as a Spanish teacher and will try to post on how I’m coming in achieving my PD goals. Have you ever spent time abroad as part of your summer professional development? What were your goals before you left? Did you accomplish them? Let me know in the comments below 🙂