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!

 

Advertisements

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!

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!

 

 

 

Keeping Novice-Low Students in the Target Language

I’m going to open up to you a little bit today. One of the hardest best practices for me to follow as a language teacher is the 90% Target Language rule. As a teacher of Spanish 1 and Spanish 2, this was far and away the most difficult battle I had to fight with myself every day. The temptation to slip into English to bond with/encourage/scaffold my students was often too great for me to overcome. The joys of teaching for me felt diminished when I spent all day as the English police, and as I taught in a district where many grammatical concepts were still emphasized and tested, sometimes English felt necessary. Those moments when inside-jokes and aha moments and student collaboration occurred in Spanish were, as I’m sure they are for all of you, always such joyous victories, but sticking to a 90% TL rule in order to make those moments happen is, well, hard for me.

I know many of you have the discipline and strength and backbone to keep everyone in the Target Language from Day One, and I worship you for it. If you are one of those heroes with a TL participation system that works for your students, this post probably will not be super helpful to you (also, tell me all your secrets please). If you’re teaching Spanish 1 or even Spanish 2, and you’re having one of those beginning-of-the-year moments where getting your students to stay out of English feels like pulling teeth, this strategy may be helpful. It’s (not-so-creatively-but-super-effectively) called “Estamos en español.”

I used this strategy in as many different classroom situations as I could muster, but I used it most of all 1) during interpersonal communication practice, and 2) when students played review games in their groups. The basic premise is pretty simple.

  1. You give kids an activity that requires TL communication. The country partners activity I wrote about last week sparked this post and would be a perfect example. You want to pick something where the entire purpose is to spark authentic communication. This could be anything from a pretend marketplace in class to a game of vocabulary review charades to a simple “here’s a list of questions, discuss in groups.” You get the idea.
  2. You tell kids they’ll be working on the activity for a set amount of time. My middle-school students usually could do this for about ten minutes before pandemonium or mental exhaustion or excessive pointing at the clock set in. I found it’s good to give them a set starting point and a strong finish line so they don’t get totally overwhelmed.
  3. You remind kids of the expectations. 100% Target Language means 100% Target Langauge. Kids CANNOT write notes, whisper, look things up, or type in English. Gestures? Definitely. Acting things out? Yes. Weird sound effects that aren’t words? Sure. Coming to the teacher for a quick “¿cómo se dice…?” NOPE. They’ve got to make do with the language they know, no matter what.
  4. Be prepared to enforce the expectation. For me, I would give kids a specific five-point formative assessment grade for staying in the TL during whatever activity it was. I would wander the room, write down the names of any kids I heard using English, and gave repeat offenders tally marks. If I hear you speak English once, you get a 4/5. If I hear you speak English twice, you get a 3/5. Kids will start to police each other on this (lots of pointing and yelling INGLES!!!), but I would only take off points if I heard it myself. It only takes posting this grade once for the kids to know the importance of staying in Spanish for these activities.
  5. Take some time for pre-game language brainstorming. I’d always make sure to ask the kids what Spanish language they thought they would need to know before the activity started. If I was getting them to review specific words and phrases (likes and dislikes, for example), I would provide a lot of language either on the board or on a dialogue sheet in front of them, but having the students generate expressions in addition to the ones I provide creates more buy-in. If we were playing a review game in Spanish, they’d request language like “my turn,” “I win,” you’re right,” “let’s go,” etc. I’d write up the words they thought they’d need on the board and then make sure to give them time to think about any other expressions/phrases that could be useful before rushing into the activity. I love this as a way to give them an opportunity to drive the learning.
  6. Use classroom cues to help students flip the Spanish switch on. In my classroom, I’d ALWAYS make them countdown and turn the lights off when we were in Spanish-only mode, and I also had a rotating disco ball that I’d turn on. (I shamelessly stole this tactic from one of my teacher heros Liz, who, shameless friend plug, runs a food blog you can check out over here). The lights-off-disco-ball-on would also help if a kid came in from the office/bathroom/late. They’d look around, look at me, and nod as if to say “okay, yes we are Spanish, I get it.” If that didn’t happen, a kid might look at them and scream “NO INGLES!!” which also always made me giggle.
  7. When time’s up, debrief. In early level classes, we usually take some time after this activity to talk about how it went and how it made them feel. At first, kids talk about how it felt like their heads were going to explode, but then we talk a lot about how it gets easier and easier to stay in Spanish the longer the lights are off. We’ve had a lot of really good metacognitive discussions about how being in Spanish-only mode forces them to take risks and produce language, and to stop worrying about it being perfect. These conversations help you to start making Spanish-only mode the norm as the kids realize how much they can actually do.
  8. NOW is the time for kids to ask the “¿cómo se dice…?” questions. As part of your debrief, go back to the board where you wrote down the expressions kids thought they would need, and ask them to add to it. What language did the kids need that they didn’t know how to say yet? Nothing forces a kid to learn a word or phrase like being in a situation where they are going CRAZY with a desire to say something they can’t yet. I love that moment where you can give the kid the phrase they wanted, and they’re like “THANK YOU THAT WAS DRIVING ME NUTS.”

Like I alluded to earlier, this strategy was a crutch I used when 90% TL was really just failing (because, hey, sometimes I need scaffolding too). Incorporating it more and more helped me to keep trying to build my classroom up to the Target Language haven of my dreams.

What are your favorite strategies for keeping novice-low students in the target language? Teach me your ways!

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.

First Day Prep Series: Free Language Class Decor

One of the most exciting (and stressful) things about the first day of school for me is prepping classroom decorations. There’s no shortage of inspiration online, but I thought I’d share a post on what I’ve used in my classroom in the past, with a special focus on the decorations that are free (yay!).

One of the favorite things in my classroom that I love adding to and changing slightly every year is the Meme Wall. Here it is in all its glory:

iphone 7.11.17 3233

There was this very ugly piece of white plywood nailed over top of a door that used to be an exit in my trailer, and Memes were such a great way to cover it up with authentic resources (maximize what you’ve got!). I ended up bribing the teacher that runs the lamination machine in our building with candy because I felt so bad asking her to laminate all of these cute images, but it was perfect for my little classroom (#trailerlyfe).

The best part about the Meme Wall is that with the glorious world wide web at your fingertips, you have free resources for years. For a short cut, here is a link to my Spanish Meme Pinterest Board.  Since I taught Spanish 1 and Spanish 2, I tried to pick Novice level language and loved hearing kids throughout the year understand more and more of them as their proficiency level increased. I’ve found that jokes seem funnier and more satisfying when you “get” them in another language, so my middle-schoolers tended to get a kick out of it. It’s also a great idea to have kids bring the memes in themselves as part of a choice homework or participation deal. Anything to get a little bit of buy-in in your classroom is a plus, and when they feel like they’re building the environment themselves, even in the classroom decorations, they start to feel like a stronger part of your community.

Another one of my favorite ways to use Pinterest is for the theme board next to my handy dandy Scholastic Calendar. Sidenote – does anyone else use one of these pocket wall calendars? After four years, mine has a ton of numbers missing and is wearing and tearing. This is what mine looked like after I told some of my lunch kids to decorate it for the end of the year:

iphone 7.11.17 3259

Gotta love it. I think the only one available on the Internet right now is on Amazon, but I hate to say bye to the Scholastic one. Such a mainstay. ANYWAYS, I bring up the calendar because of the free stuff to put NEXT TO the calendar: authentic cultural resources. My goal in the past (which I, admittedly, have never achieved) has always been to rotate and change the bulletin board next to my calendar each month based on cultural occurrences of the season. I’ve always envisioned beautiful info-graphics and photos dealing with a holiday or an important historic event that occurred that month. Zachary Jones’ Zambombazo is a (free) goldmine for this type of thing.

In past years, I haven’t had time to pore over Pinterest each month, but this year I do! Here is a Pinterest board that has lots of fun printables and authentic resources for a beginning of the year culture board in your classroom. The themes I picked out this year were Regreso a Clases, Viva Mexico (16 de septiembre), Fiestas Patrias de Chile (18 de septiembre), and Hispanic Heritage Month (15 de septiembre). I’m sure you could find plenty more on other Central American Independence Days, but this felt like enough of a start for August/September. If there’s something else for August or September you want me to dig up for you, let me know in comments below!

Creative Language Class has a few resources that I’ve used in the past that are free and beautiful and useful in the classroom. If you haven’t seen their question word posters, print them out today. When I walk into a Spanish classroom that uses them I automatically smile because I know I’m in a teacher’s room that loves the same blogs I do. This year they’ve also released some awesome greetings posters and “how are you” emoji posters that are free and functional as well. Sidenote: I love using emojis in instruction because they’re fun and kids get them, but the language nerd in me sees them as a universal form of expression which I think is SO cool and fits nicely into the conversations we have with our students on guessing meaning by facial expressions, using context clues etc. Someone write a dissertation on the emoji in language learning; get on that please!

I’ve also stolen a page from Creative Language Class and created a proficiency scale in previous years that I hung at the top of one classroom wall as a reference for everyone throughout the year. Mine was an adaptation of ACTFL language that I brought to life using different colored masking tapes, much like the one featured in this post. I honestly didn’t use it as a reference too much once the year got rolling, but every year my goal was to use it more and more. I start out every year with a big talk on proficiency as a concept (a post on that soon), and in previous years that theme has been buried beneath a pile of mandated curriculum materials, but I hope to share more proficiency-based activities this year so that you can be a better teacher than I have been in the past.

Beyond that, I also created my own “key classroom phrases” using Piktochart; you can steal them here. Those phrases are the ones my students used the most, but this packet is also a free and useful set of posters that you could get kids to color as a brainbreak, early finisher, or stations activity to give them ownership of the decorations on the wall.

The rest of the decor in my classroom changed based on whatever we had recently studied, but I LOVED using twine and clothespins to show off their most recent work. At the beginning of the year, I use this section to post advice from previous students, which is an excellent filler activity on those days at the end of the year when everyone is just totally over it. My new students often get excited when they see their friends’/siblings’ advice, so it’s a fun thing to put on the wall at the start of the year to build relationships in a small way.  Here’s a picture of what it looks like with some novice low comic strips:

iphone 7.11.17 3235

The only other resource I’ll mention is this beauty on Teachers Pay Teachers from Brooke Hahn. It’s only $3 if you want to buy hers, but you can easily make your own version of this with words that you think kids will need. I posted mine on the ceiling as a very generous way to give kids those key conjunctions and linking words they need to climb up the proficiency scale. Yes, this meant that they spent testing blocks staring at the ceiling hoping the word they wanted was up there, BUT I saw no problem with that. In my view, it gives them an opportunity to learn while they test, and eventually they’ll remember the word and won’t need to agonize at the list above their heads.

Whew! Good luck to those of you who are already getting your classrooms ready. If there’s a particular resource or theme you want me to gather for an October culture board, please let me know!


For more in the First Day Prep Series, check out my intro postinfographic syllabus, and fave First Day stations.

Why Study Spanish: A Lesson Plan

Every year for the last three years, I’ve completely devoted my second day of school to the topic “but why are we even learning Spanish.” Since I teach middle-schoolers in an area where there aren’t a ton of native speakers around, sometimes it’s hard for the kids to think outside of their bubble and understand that Spanish has real world importance, relevance, and benefits to them. My second day of school is all about getting them to buy into the fact that learning Spanish is a skill that will help them in their real lives outside the classroom.

I love this lesson the first week of school not only because it’s important to talk about why we’re doing what we’re doing, but also because it’s super easy to update every year (an easy prep for me)! Since it’s a very learner-driven lesson, it lets me stay in the 90% Target Language zone to give instructions, even though the meat of the lesson and the students will be mostly in English. If we’re going to have a lesson in English, at least I can stay in Spanish myself the whole time.

After our warm-up, I start class off by explaining to students that it is very important to me that they are able to answer the question “why are you taking Spanish,” beyond a default “because my mom is making me.” I emphasize that I teach Spanish because I think it’s fun, but I also teach Spanish because I think it will greatly improve and enrich their lives. I usually have to use a little bit of English here in my Level 1 classes, but not my Level 2s. I point to the blank bulletin board at the back of the room that says “¿Por qué estudias español?” on it, and tell them we’re going to be filling it up today. While I’m talking, I hand out a blank chart with a list of resources on the x-axis and two columns on the y-axis that say “Three reasons to study Spanish presented” and “Best reason to study Spanish presented.” This paper is the anchor of our lesson for the day (preview an example here).

The first resource listed is always a video. The past few years I’ve used Lindsay Does Language’s “9 Reasons to Learn Spanish.” It’s modern, quirky, and pretty funny, and I can always give them some solid input in Spanish beforehand to set it up (she is a girl from England and she’s funny but she talks really fast, etc). This is a good opportunity to introduce “escribir” and “mirar” as well when giving kids instructions.

After we watch the video twice, students write down their favorite three reasons to study Spanish from the video in the middle column, and then pick their favorite out of the three for the last column. I emphasize to them that the last column (the personal favorite column) will be different for each person and will depend on each person’s life experiences and goals. Starting with the video is great since we review the first resource as a class and can work the kinks out together. After the video, the real fun begins.

The meat of the lesson centers around a jigsaw activity. If you’re not familiar with a jigsaw activity, it generally goes like this:

  1. Students are divided into groups. Each group receives a different resource, and that group becomes “experts” in their resource. In this case, each “expert” group receives a different article or infographic about why learning a language is important. Since my students are seated at tables in groups of four, I generally will take one person from each table and divide the class into four bigger groups (so they’re all in groups with no one who sits at their normal table). Then, I give each group one of four resources (this year I used Why Learn Another Language When You Already Speak English?, The Benefits of Learning Languages Infographic6 Reasons Why Everyone Should Really Learn Spanish, and Why Learn Spanish? 10 Great reasons)
  2. Students become “experts” in their resource. In this case, I give students 2 minutes to silently read through their article or infographic and decide individually (silently!!) which three reasons to study Spanish presented in their article are the best ones. After two silent minutes, they must come to a consensus in their expert group about which reasons are the best. I like making them come to a consensus because it forces them to argue with each other about which reasons to study Spanish are more important (love it).
  3. Once each expert group has reached a consensus about the most important points of their resource, they have to go back to their original tables and report on what they read about. Again, none of the kids at their original tables have the same resource, so the students depend on each other to be able to complete their chart for each article. If you have a slacker in an expert group, his or her table group suffers, which forces everybody to participate (peer pressure!!).
  4. Before they start presenting to their original groups, I instruct them to stand up and present their ideas formally to their tablemates, NOT to just switch papers and copy down each other’s answers. I do this to start getting students used to talking with their peers, and also to get them used to standing up and presenting. Spanish is not a class where you can sit quietly the entire year, so I think it’s important that they get a chance to stand up and talk during the first week (even though it is in English). I love that they’re only presenting to their tables, not the whole class. This reduces anxiety, since there’s so much noise while everyone is presenting at the same time, and eases them into the scary idea of talking in front of the class.
  5. Each kid fills out their paper based on what their classmates present, but they also have to grapple with the material a bit individually when they think about which reason presented in that article is most important TO THEM in that third column. To complete their table, they have to pick out the reasons from each presentation that are most relevant to their lives, so the activity stays very personal.

Once the jigsaw activity is over, I bring the whole class back together and show one last video. I love this one because it’s short; it makes them think, and it makes a bunch of really great points about language learning in general that can be applied to Spanish. After they’ve filled out their tables based on the last video, the students have about 18 different reasons to study Spanish that they’ve gotten from videos, articles, and each other (NOT from me, which I love). The last row that students have to fill out asks them to list their top three reasons for studying Spanish, and at this point they can add their own if their reason to take Spanish hasn’t been presented that day.

Their exit ticket is that they have to write down their number one reason for learning Spanish. On small cut-out pieces of paper, and I also ask them to write down their goal for learning the language. I tell them that this isn’t a class goal (I don’t want a million papers that say “my goal is to get an A”), but this is a language-learning goal for life (like “I want to be able to have a conversation with my aunt from Puerto Rico,” or “I want to be able to talk to my friend in Spanish and not have people understand us in the hallway”). I’m always surprised by the quality answers some of the students come up with.


My favorite part of the lesson is that I staple the exit tickets to the bulletin board at the back of class, and that is where they stay all year. I love that we have that constant reminder of why Spanish is important, and a constant reminder of a real world goal for learning language. The best thing of all about that reminder is that it comes from the students themselves, not from me.

I’m really excited to be finishing up the first week of school and to dive into the Spanish learning next week, but I do also always love starting the year off with big picture reflection on why we’re spending time together in Spanish class. If you’d like to use this lesson in your classroom, but don’t want to go through the work of putting it all together, you can purchase it on Teachers Pay Teachers here.

Do you spend time on “why Spanish is important” at the beginning of the year? How do you get your classes to buy into 36 weeks of language learning? Let me know 🙂