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!

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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!

#oneword

I’m behind the times on the #oneword trend (if you’re in the same boat, you can read some great posts here, here, and here). I love the idea, and know there are a TON of things you could do with it in a language class. I am a huge fan of the six-word memoir to end the year (a post on that another time), but starting with #oneword seems like such a fabulous idea for the start of school, or even as a solid January resolution goal after Christmas break. I can see it as a way for kids to really dig deep to find that one Spanish word that describes them, or that one Spanish word that they want to describe their year. You could have them make a poster or a Slide or a Google Drawing or a photo project or a even turn it into a coding animation project on Scratch (hello, cross curriculum). Sure, #oneword doesn’t present a good opening in itself for interpersonal/interpretive/presentational practice. I mean, it’s ONE word. But what if kids have to write and react to blog posts about their word and their classmates’. Or have a Spanish-only convo about their word in their tables. Or present their word to me or the class. There seriously are a ton of possibilities; I’m getting excited.

ANYWAYS, beyond the applications of #oneword for the language classroom, it obviously has been such a useful tool for so many reflective teachers. Take a moment to hop on Twitter and search #onewordedu, or #oneword and #langchat together (so many hastags). People in our community are coming up with some good stuff to hone in on for the year, and it’s inspirational to get that extra energy from other people’s goals.

I didn’t have to put much thought into my One Word for this school year. It’s “Focus.” As I’ve shared previously, my 2016-2017 was marked by a lot of exciting personal change. Wedding, new house, new job – all of the happiest stressful things at once. As I enter Month Two of newlywed life, and a new passion project for turning my teacher resources into shareable materials, my focus for this school year needs to be, well, to focus.

Cult of Pedagogy had a great post recently on “Decision Fatigue,” the basic premise of which is that all the hundreds and thousands of little decisions you have to make every hour as a teacher really wear you out. The post is about finding your routine, and planning so that you don’t have to stress about every little warm-up every single class or how you’re going to spend your precious planning periods every day or even what you’re going to wear. I know I’ve had so many days when that planning period hit and I was so worn out that I would dive into mindless scrolling on my phone and look up and half my only allotted productive time of the day would be gone.

My goal for this year is to plan that time better. So that I can eventually focus on the task at hand, and ONLY at the task at hand. To put my phone in my bag and focus only on developing a lesson. To check my e-mail only at certain times a day instead of losing a line of productive thinking when that notification turns on. To have quality conversations with my co-workers and friends instead of half-hearted catch-ups while I’m working and trying to do a million other things. In the classroom, this would manifest itself as focusing on the kids in the room, instead of losing my mind behind my laptop prepping that PERFECT document to print in the five minutes I have between classes to sprint to the copier and have the right amount of copies for next block (we’ve all been there…right?). Because by focusing more in the time we have to work, we can focus more on the things we love to get home to after work, and focus more on the people and students and work we love in front of us, and do so guilt free.

There’s no answer to the eternal teacher problem of never having enough time. But this year, my approach is to, in the words of the great Laura Sexton, take a chill pill, and focus on the tasks and projects and people in front of me that really matter. Have you found any good #oneword posts? What’s yours? Would love to hear what’s going to inspire you this year.

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.

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 🙂