sábado, 30 de noviembre de 2013

Thanksgiving: Thankful for Teenagers

I have been thinking about this post for quite a while now, and I will admit it is a bit different from my usual classroom ideas, but I decided that it fits well with the Thanksgiving weekend. Today, I would like to say I am thankful for teenagers and for the enrichment that they bring to my life.

I am sure that many of you have had this experience. You meet someone new and they inevitably ask what you do for work. When you respond that you teach they comment something like "Oh little kids are so cute." When you correct them and tell them  that you teach high school, they give you a pitying look and mumble something about dealing with their teenager, or say something like "that must be interesting." I will be the first to acknowledge that teaching teens has its challenges, but often people forget about the teens who are doing amazing things. Teenagers who receive very little credit in the media.

So here is a secret, I admit that I watch (and love) The Voice, and while I am several episodes behind (I watch online), I still have to give credit to Caroline and Jackie. Two teenagers who are onstage night after night, who carry themselves with grace and poise. Two teenagers who can look adults in the face and accept critique without tears, and instead they say Thank you. And, to any who may not teach, I would like to say that all of us high school teachers receive the gift of being able to work with similar teens. I have students who are able to conduct themselves with as much control as an adult. Students who can politely ask for help, come back and give an apology, or look me in the eyes when I have asked them to correct something and say Thank you. So yes, while I teach students that can be challenging at times, it is also good to recognize the numerous teens across the country who conduct themselves more professionally day in and day out than many adults.

Today, I am thankful for teenagers (and my job!)

miércoles, 16 de octubre de 2013


Fall for most teachers is extremely busy, and I suppose that my classes have been no exception. However, I have recently been pondering pronunciation and the teaching of pronunciation. I have recently been talking to several teachers who do pronunciation drills and activities, which is very different from the approach that I take. I am not certain which method is best, but I would love to hear what others think!

For older beginner students, I actively teach them the correct vowel sounds, r, ñ, and some of the other basic pronunciation rules such as soft c's and g's when followed by i and e in Spanish. For K-5 students, this active teaching is not really necessary, as these students tend to be very quick at mimicking the correct pronunciation.

In my classes, I usually have students speak the first ten minutes or so of class. During this time, which is relatively informal, I do not ask students to correct their pronunciation of a word; however, I will recast (repeat the word with the correct pronunciation) the word for the student. Some students will notice the recast and work on pronunciation on their own, but other students seem to prefer to either ignore the correct pronunciation or actively don't want to use the correct pronunciation for fear of being seen as "trying to hard." I do not force the student to repeat the word correctly, but a few of my colleagues do take this approach. What do you think? Should a student be forced to try the word again? I do not want to embarrass the student, especially if he or she cannot say the word on the second try so I do not force students to try it (although many will on their own). I should note that the above activity is an informal assessment of the students and they are not graded so to speak, except for participation.

For oral presentations, I generally give beginning students one or two pronunciation topics in the rubric. For example, the rubric might state that the student correctly pronounces the vowel A and the letter R. The students are also told that they should actively practice and look in a mirror. For upper level students, I expect them to pronounce the majority of the words correctly. So their grading rubric is a bit different. Once again though, I do not correct students or interrupt them at all during graded oral presentations. I do not call any attention to pronunciation during the actual presentation at all. Again, I do not wish to embarrass my students. At the end of all of the presentations, I might choose one or two words that appeared in many of the presentations and was consistently incorrect that I pronounce and ask the class to practice as a whole. Do you interrupt students' presentations to correct pronunciation? What are the benefits?

Two fun things that I do to practice pronunciation without the students really knowing that we are practicing is tongue twisters and reading Dr. Seuss. I will start the class with a tongue twister on the board and give students time to practice saying it. Then, I will ask for volunteers to say it aloud for the class. Finally, we will have a little competition (volunteer participation only) to see who can say the tongue twister the fastest. Most of my freshmen love this activity, and even if they do not choose to participate in the competition they are benefitting from hearing the words pronounced correctly.

I also like to have my upper level students read Dr. Seuss books. While I fully acknowledge that these books aren't truly authentic because they have been translated, I think the benefit of trying to pronounce the rhymes and maintain a nice reading rhythm is sufficient. My students definitely benefit from trying to read aloud and maintain a decent cadence and pace. Furthermore the students love these books! So for a warm-up activity, my upper level students will each take a turn reading a page or two and then passing the book to the next person in the circle. It is a great Friday morning activity.

How do you teach and grade pronunciation?

martes, 3 de septiembre de 2013

Back to School:Ice Breaker Activities for Early Intermediate/Beginning Students

In my last blog post, I discussed some of my favorite first week ice breakers for Intermediate/advanced students. I do however, think that it is equally as important to get students who are just beginning the language to speak and feel comfortable in class. Again, I must stress that I think it is especially important that the teacher participates with the student to set the correct tone. Here are some of the activities that I use in the first week of school.

Circle/action Name game: I have my students sit in a circle. Then I model a few times for them, Me llamo _____ , como te llamas, and se llama ____. Then I say my name is ______ and do an action for something that I like to do. The next student will say my name is _____, and her name is ______. and will his/her name with an action for himself, and then say my name with my action. This ice breaker allows each student to say everyone's name, and allows students to move! Another added benefit is that by the end of the activity, most students have a decent grasp on mine name is___ , his/her name is___ I try to finish the game, which is a good way for me to test whether or not I have learned each student's name. I do insert gentle recasts if a student is struggling with the pronunciation.

Trainwreck or fruteria: I have heard this ice breaker called many names. It is basically like a verbal musical chairs. Remove a chair from the circle of desks (or chairs are even better). One student stands in the middle of the circle and says a mi y todos mis amigos nos gusta(n) ______. Every student who likes said object has to get up and switch chairs. Students may not just move over a chair. The student who does not get a chair, is the next person in the middle. With very beginning students, I usually write the first part of the sentence on the board "a mi y todos mis amigos nos gusta(n) _____. I will allow the very beginners to say what they like in English, but I supply the Spanish word for them. Students are often surprised (and relieved) to hear how many cognates there are in Spanish. An added benefit includes students getting early exposure to gustar.

Quien tiene?: With Middle School or upper elementary students, I will often play a game, I simply call quien tiene. This activity requires a coin or other small object. All of the students stand in a circle. One student leaves the room, and the rest of the students pass the coin around in a circle until I call para! The student who has the coin then hides it in their hand or, if the students are sitting in desks, every student places their palms flat on the desk. The student who left the room is called back into the classroom, and everyone asks in chorus Quien tiene la moneda? The student has three chances to guess. For each guess the student should say ________ tiene la moneda. If a student doesn't know another students' name, he or she is encouraged to use como te llamas?

I will sometimes also have students make lists of cognates or words that they already know if Spanish. For example, I may challenge them to make a list of US states that have Spanish or Spanish derrived names. Or, city street names (depending on where you live). Once again, the purpose is to make the foreign language not seem quite so foreign and to activate connections in students' brains.

What are your favorite ice breakers for beginning and early intermediate students?

lunes, 26 de agosto de 2013

Back to School: Ice Breaker Activities for Intermediate/Advanced Students

I like to have students speak Spanish early in my classes, as a way to reinforce to both new students and students that have had me before that speaking is an integral part of class. While not all of the activities listed here are speaking activities, I find them all useful for getting to know the students, and as an added bonus, I can get a sense of students' abilities without putting them in a high pressure situation. I also use my Six Speaking Games that Only Require a Ball as a way to set the tone and get students accustomed to using Spanish first thing in the classroom.

Before I continue to the ice breakers, I think that it is important to note that I always participate with my students. They can get to know me better, and it sets the stage for a positive relationship with them.

Ice Breakers for Intermediate/Advanced Students:
-2 Truths and a Lie: Students say three things about themselves, two of them true, one of them false, and the class guesses which is the false item
- I have never: Students sit in a circle. Everyone holds up five or ten fingers. Everyone in the circle says: I have never ______________. If a student has done said item, he or she must put down one of his fingers. If you want, you can give the students pieces of paper to toss into the center, instead of using fingers, etc. The first person to loose all of his items or put down all of his fingers is the winner!
- Hollywood: Set a timer for two-five minutes. One student stands in the middle of the circle of students, and answers random questions from classmates. You might have to give the students some examples. Such as What would your super power be? Or,  Who is your role model? Any (appropriate) question is fair game. When the two-three minutes are up, a new person is chosen for the circle. I usually start this activity with volunteers, allowing the students who are more introverted to get used to the idea of being in the spotlight prior to tossing them into the center.
- Describe a classmate. Pair students at random, and ask them to learn eight new things about their classmate. Then, without revealing who their partner was, students say what they have learned and the class guesses who they are describing.
- Silly sentences using names: Students write their own name poem using the letters of their name. You could require a sentence per letter, or require that the entire name reads as one sentence. I usually have my advanced students do the second, and I have them do both first and last names. We often hang these up in the classroom.
-Twitter Wall: My school does not allow us to use social media with students, so I use a paper version in my classroom. I place several large pieces of paper around the room with things like #First day of classes, # first impressions of teachers, #today I feel, etc. and have students go around the room and write under each of the topics. Then we read the papers aloud as a class.

In my next post, I will focus on Ice-Breakers for Beginner and Early Intermediate Students. What are your favorite first day activities that encourage students to use the language and help you get to know them?

domingo, 18 de agosto de 2013

Back to School: Meet the Parents

Almost every school has a night or evening when parents can come and meet the teacher. Here are the things that I make sure I have ready prior to this night:
- A self-introduction blurb or speech outline
- A class syllabus
- Course expectations and materials list
- Class  website
- A parent response form
- An explanation of how the parent can help their child in my class
- Any upcoming projects or professional development that is currently being done at the school
- Answers to questions commonly asked by parents
- A newspaper article on the benefits or jobs available bilinguals

Self-introduction: If you have taught at your current school for a long time, the self-introduction may be short and sweet, as many parents are probably already familiar with you. If this is your first year at the school, or you are a new teacher, a self- introduction that sets a professional yet open tone is important. Personally, I like parents to call me by my name, and so I will state this in my opening sentence. I also mention my highest degree (masters) and where it was obtained. If you have taught at other schools, this would be an excellent time to speak about where you taught and what grade levels. I also mention any recent professional development that I have recently completed. FInally, let parents know how and when they can contact you, and your average response time. For example, I tel all parents that I will respond to an email or a phone call within 24 hours.

Class syllabus, class expectations, and class materials list. I like to review these items with parents. I usually don't go into great detail about any of these items, but I do show parents a copy of each of these things on the smartboard, and I show them where to find them on the class website.  I also explain here when I will contact parents. For example, I contact parents if a child receives below a C- on a test or project, and if their child has not turned in three homework assignments. I also contact parents when their child has done something wonderful!

Class website- some schools have websites that only students can access, while others have specific codes for parents, etc. Either way, I show the website to the parents in my introduction, and if I am at a school where the parents cannot access the website, I encourage them to have their son or daughter show them the class website once a week.

Parent Response form- I ask students to fill out a half page questionaire about their child and leave it with me at the end of the session. If the parent turn-out is low, this questionaire can also be sent home with students as their first homework assignment. My questionaire is simple. It asks parents to tell me one thing about their child, One thing they hope their child will gain from my class, and any concerns they have regarding my class.

How they can help sheet or letter- Even if I don't have a meet the parents night, this letter  or handout is extremely important foreign languages. On this handout, I explain to parents of Spanish I and II students that they can best assist their son or daughter by asking what they did in Spanish class, as opposed to asking them to translate words or phrases. I also explain that language learning in the early years can seem slow just as a new musician finds it frustrating that they can only play Mary had a little lamb as opposed to Beethoven. I give parents study tips on helping their child learn vocabulary words: drawing the word, acting the word, saying it aloud together, etc. Finally, I reiterate that Spanish class is an academic class and that just as the child needs to practice math in order to improve, he or she will need to practice Spanish in order to be successful. I also remind parents to contact me if their child is taking longer than the expected forty minutes of homework a night on a consistent basis.

Upcoming projects or professional development- If my class is going to start a project in the next few weeks, I mention it to parents. Also if the school is doing new professional development, which might be evident in their students work, I talk about that as well.

Answers to questions that parents commonly ask: Does my child have to take this class? What type of Spanish do you teach? When will he/she be fluent? My child hated Spanish last year, how is this year going to be any different? Does my child really have to speak Spanish in class? etc.

Newspaper articles on learning foreign languages- I like to have these articles printed and around the classroom for parents to look at as they leave or enter the room.

What else do you have ready for parents?

domingo, 28 de julio de 2013

Back to School: Items to have ready for the first day!

Every year there are certain items that need to be ready for the first few days of school. For those teachers who have to send their copies away, it is especially important to be organized. The rest of us can procrastinate a bit more, but I prefer to avoid the copier crunch and start the year prepared. Here are the items that I want to have ready prior to the first day of school.

1) Course plan or overview for the year
2) Detailed lesson plans for the first month (brand new teachers might have to start with the first two weeks until class pacing becomes obvious)
3) Ice breaker activities for the first few days
4) Parent letters or parent presentation for the "meet the teacher" night
5) Class expectations policies, and philosophy handout
6) Requisite class materials list
7) Newspaper or internet articles about learning foreign languages
8) Classroom decor finished and hanging
9) Projects, tests, and quizzes that will be done in the first month
10) Class website (my school requires that all teachers use an in-house website. This year, the school is trying a new platform called Haiku!) I am excited to try it out and see how I can use it to make learning more effective in my class.

What items have I forgotten? What else needs to be done before students walk through the doors of the classroom?

In my next blog, I will discuss the items that I put in my meet the parent night presentation.

lunes, 22 de julio de 2013


I haven't updated this blog much throughout the summer, but I just want you to know that starting next week I will be posting a back to school series!

In the meantime, I have been taking most of the summer to relax, spend time with family, exercise, and work on my TPT store.  One new product in my store that I am excited to use for my Spanish II, III; and IV students is the present tense review packet. This packet goes through all of the different types of irregular present tense verbs, and is a good resource for students who need to quickly double-check an irregular present tense verb.

I have also been scouring the web for some new blogs and resources. Hopefully, I will be able to reference some of these at a later date.

I hope that your summer is going well, and that you are feeling refreshed, as many will soon be heading back to work!

lunes, 6 de mayo de 2013

Textbooks and Authentic materials

On several of the blogs that I follow, the teachers have specifically stated that they don't use textbooks and many don't use vocabulary lists of any kind. While I have to admit, I love teaching without a textbook, and I had the freedom to do so at my previous school; however, I think it is important to recognize that many of us simply don't have that freedom at our school as extreme curriculum consistency is demanded of us. So, what to do if you have to follow a prescribed or semi-rigid curriculum that is dictated by the school, colleagues, district, state etc.? Here are some of the things that I do to appease both the prescribed curriculum, and keep my class as authentic or semi-authentic as possible.

1) I spend tons of time looking for articles, websites, and songs that coincide with the vocabulary or grammar that is being taught in the chapter.

2) I devise projects that require the students to use the prescribed grammar and vocabulary, yet give the students the freedom to choose how to complete and design their project. Note, I use projects in addition to the paper/pencil tests that are dictated by the school.

3) I try to ask questions during the speaking portion of the class that uses the vocabulary. I will admit sometimes it is hard to make the text wholly relevant, but I do my best. For example, for the health care unit, I asked my students to talk and write about an injury that they or a family member have had vs. using the textbook exercises involving fictitious characters hurting themselves.

4) I ask the students to find internet articles, songs, etc. that are relevant to the topic and I give them extra credit for bringing authentic texts into the classroom and sharing them with me. Sometimes, I will assign this as homework, and then the students will share the information that they found with each other.

5) I try to use the cultural blurbs in the chapter as the focal point, as opposed to a side-note that is hardly or barely mentioned in class. I will teach my students about the cultural aspect presented in the chapter, and then if possible look for authentic materials that both involve the focus country and the grammar or vocabulary being covered.

6) I make my students use the vocabulary words in sentences that they create on their quizzes and tests so they are not simply translating or matching, and  I hold them accountable for previously learned vocabulary words.

How do you keep your class as authentic as possible while using a mandated textbook?

domingo, 5 de mayo de 2013

K-5 Giveaway!

I am participating in a second giveaway that is for elementary school teachers. There are over 75 different TPT stores participating in this Giveaway! You can find it by going to this blog: http://curriculumtothecore.blogspot.com/2013/04/100-follower-giveaway.html

Good luck to all who enter the giveaways!

viernes, 3 de mayo de 2013

Super Secondary Giveaway

Super Secondary TpT Giveaway! Just in time for Teachers Appreciation Week. 40 Prizes from TpT's Top Secondary Teacher Stores. ONE Grand Prize Winner. Scroll down below and enter to Win...

Enter May 1st to May 6th! 

This week, I am participating in 2 giveaways! For the secondary giveaway, I am donating my Por y  para all in Spanish handout. If you are interested in this giveaway, just go to either of the blog links below! 

viernes, 26 de abril de 2013

Rewards in the Secondary Classroom?

I play a number of games in my classroom, or at minimum incorporate numerous game-like activities, and as a result, I do not use or give my students rewards for "winning." However, recently I have been wondering if using rewards on the occasion would be beneficial. Here are the reasons I have for not using rewards in the classroom:

- I want my students to partake in my classroom activities or games with the understanding that the reward is solidifying and learning the material, while being happily engaged in class.

- I would prefer that the activity is about the information and not the competition (although, here I must add that plenty of the games or game-like activities that I use are not super competitive).

- I don't want students to play/participate only because they are expecting a reward at the end.

- I don't want a student to hesitate to participate for fear of making his/her team lose out on a reward.

- I personally don't want the pressure of determining, keeping track of, and paying for the rewards.

- I want my students to learn to take joy in the classroom activities without needing an extrinsic motivator to make it worth their while.

What about you? Do you use rewards in your language classroom? What are the pros and cons in your opinion?

lunes, 15 de abril de 2013


I think that along with having students as engaged in class as possible, movement can and should play a large role in the language classroom. I am not necessarily saying that one must be a TPRS expert in order have a great language classroom because I am certainly not an expert in this area, but opportunities should be created for students to move and interact. Here are some of the ways that I have students move (and often speak) in my classroom.

Inside/outside circle- I have also heard this format called a choo choo train or a wheel and spoke format.  Half of the class is assigned to different spots in the room and the other half faces the outer circle. For my beginning Spanish students, I give an easy speaking prompt: tell your partner five things that you did yesterday; describe yourself in 20 words; describe a movie or a book that you saw/read recently; say what you ate for breakfast; talk about your favorite activities in elementary school. etc.

With older students, the prompts can become more complex: compare the school's recycling program to your habits at home; describe the ideal candidate for student council; describe your ideal prom date; compare your study habits with your partner's; describe your ideal college; etc.

Cocktail Party- Once again, there are many activities that can be run in cocktail party style. Some ideas include: putting a word, celebrity, famous painting, building, etc. on the student's back and have them survey their classmates at random until they are able to guess the item on their back. Another option, is to have advanced students write their own questions about a topic that has been studied, and conduct an informal survey of their classmates that is then reported back to the class. For example, in the environmental unit, I asked my upper level students to write their own questions regarding their interactions with the environment, living green, time spent in nature, etc.

Role Play/Improvisation: I will often create a series of conversation cards that pertain to the unit that we are studying, then at the beginning or ending of class, a few students will be selected to choose a card at random and act out the conversation. Later in the year, I ask the students to create their own conversation task cards and the conversations often become much more exciting!

Fun elementary school activities that involve movement:
Scavenger hunt- Spring is a great time for students to do a scavenger hunt inside the school building, outside during recess (if permitted), or even just in the classroom.  I will ask students to look for letter sounds, specific vocabulary words, or different patterns.

Duck Duck Goose (or grey duck) Everyone seems to love this game, and it can be modified for lots of different vocabulary practices. For example, once students know colors, they could have to say different animals for each person, or any other series of vocabulary words, as long as the "trigger" for running has been previously established.

What time is it Mr. Fox? Once again, a favorite game that can easily be converted into Spanish, and played in the classroom. If students have already learned time, they can ask the fox other questions. What color are you wearing? and advance a step for each question asked.

The possibilities are endless for connecting movement and learning! What do you do in your classroom?

jueves, 14 de marzo de 2013

Projects in Spanish I

While my school leans towards the more traditional paper/pencil tests, I try to incorporate projects for our major themes, as I think that they are extremely valuable for students on a number of levels. First, I fully get to be the "guide on the side," as opposed to the "sage on the stage," which is a philosophy that I completely agree with. Second, students often push themselves to use new words or grammatical structures in order to accomplish the task, and that is part of learning how to learn a language, and third, students consolidate and use the information that they have learned in a meaningful way. So, this year in Spanish I, we have completed the following projects:

1) Fashion show and fashion blogger to accompany our clothing unit. The students "fashion blogged" about trends and pictures that they found on the internet. I encouraged my male students to look at their favorite sports stars. A plus to this project is that students were really excited to learn adjectives such as gross, or amazing. 

2) Ideal house project (the guide and rubric are on my TPT store). Students write about and create their ideal house using house, place, and preposition vocabulary. 

3) Create a restaurant and commercial projects. The students made a commercial on healthy living and created their own restaurant. 

4) Ideal student or ideal athlete project. Students described what the ideal student or ideal athlete "has to do" in order to maintain their abilities. 

In the upcoming weeks, we will start the preterit tense, so I am contemplating having the students create a "day in the life of a ____ student" video. The narration could all be in the past tense, and my students would most certainly enjoy the excuse to use their phones at school! 

What are your favorite projects? 

miércoles, 27 de febrero de 2013

5 excuses to not use Authentic Materials

What a week it has been and its only Wednesday! The students are crazy about the upcoming spring break, I am desperately trying to get all of my grading caught-up in anticipation of the break, and on top of it all, like all teachers, I am attempting to develop good lessons.

For those that read my blog, you know that I truly believe in using authentic materials in the classroom, so this post is a bit facetious, yet, I can come-up with several excuses as to why I don't always use authentic materials in the classroom (as much as I wish that I did). So here are my top 5 excuses:

1) Time time and more time- finding authentic materials and developing appropriate tasks to accompany them is well nothing short of time consuming.

2) Appropriateness- many of the materials or songs that I think teens would love have drugs, gangs, sex, or other information that I simply cannot use or show in my classroom.

3) Language level- I can't find anything that my Spanish I and II students can realistically gain from

4) I'm Tired- yep I said it. Although every language teacher that I have ever met seems to have an incredible amount of energy, even compared to our peers who teach other subjects, sometimes, I am tired.

5) Lack of Creativity- I can't think of any new task to accompany an authentic text, and if the task isn't worthwhile then neither is the text.

These are my top five excuses. What are yours? What do you do when you have no more time or energy to find the text that you want to use?

domingo, 24 de febrero de 2013

What Can They Read?

I find this time of year challenging for many reasons in my Spanish I class. The students are anxious for some sun and exercise, and they begin to lose their enthusiasm for language class, as the novelty of the material has begun to wear off. Some of them are beginning to feel frustrated by the fact that they can't speak fluently (certainly an unrealistic goal, but one that many people in the US seem to have), and others are frustrated that they still don't understand one of the topics that we have covered. To beat some of the winter blah's I try to have my students read more. Reading authentic texts both allows them to connect with the target culture, and I find that it can create some enthusiasm as the students know that they aren't reading "baby texts."

Here are some of the items that we read in my class: menus, real estate advertisements, subtitles on commercials such as car and household appliances, where students can quickly see cognates like velocidad. Other slightly more challenging reads include: riddles, tweets and facebook posts. Then, for the students who are really certain that they can't learn Spanish and never will, I will pull in articles on teen perspective from People in español and articles from National Geographic children. Hopefully even the most reluctant student is now feeling more inspired about his or her abilities.

While I know that I am still starting small, I find that students can figure-out the majority of the meaning of each of the above items, when scaffolded and encouraged. Take riddles for example, many of them actually include rather simple vocabulary and the answer is often a simple word as well!

Articles from People and National Geographic can be more challenging. I admit that I have had greatest success with the ones from National Geographic, as I can choose articles that relate to science information that the students already know. Additionally, many scientific words are cognates in English so students can often recognize the majority of the words in a passage without needing to look-up key terms.

Once my students have read an article, obviously we need to do something with it. I find that making graphs, charts, Venn diagrams, or word webs are all realistic tasks for a level one student. Sometimes, I will have the students survey their classmates as to which product they would buy, if we read advertisements. These tasks do not ask them to produce complex language structures, nor do they need tons of vocabulary.

What do you do to beat the winter blahs? What do your students read?

miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2013


Like most Spanish teachers I imagine, I am constantly looking for new music to incorporate into my classes. I try to expose my students both to popular artists (Juanes, Shakira, Alejandro Sanz etc) as well as some lesser known artists that may be up and coming (Jesse and Joy, Banda Radial). While probably the most popular exercise to do with songs are cloze exercises, I find that for many students these exercises can take away some of the enjoyment of listening to the song in an authentic manner, which is to just listen and absorb. So, while I continue to use cloze exercises with songs, I try to only use a Cloze exercise with one in every three songs or so.

This year, I have been fortunate that my Spanish II class enjoys sappy music. Unfortunately for me, the first song I played for them this year was Qué tengo que ofrecerte by Banda Radial and they LOVED it. I say unfortunately for me because now every time that I play any song for them, they request that I play that one too. I did not use a Cloze exercise with this song, instead, I had students listen to the song twice and then based on what they heard and what they saw on the  youtube video, I had them give their opinion whether the song was happy or sad. Most of the students backed-up their opinion by using the video as evidence. However, the class was split regarding their opinion of the song. The next thing that I did was give groups of student the entire lyrics. The students read through the lyrics as a group to determine whether or not their opinion of the song changed. Then, each group shared with the class. While I did not do a cloze exercise with this song, I will admit that I strategically used it after the students had been studying Tener + que, and I listened in as students applied their grammatical knowledge to the task of reading and comprehending.

The second song that I used this year was Lolita Soledad by Alejandro Sanz. Once again, I used the official youtube video in class. With this song, I had the students watch the video and write the reflexive actions that Lolita did while preparing for the morning or evening. Then, I gave students the lyrics and had them determine the overall meaning of the song. Each student wrote a four sentence summary of the song and then a five sentences about their opinion of the song. I had different students share each of the three items with the class.

Most recently, I played Donde Estabas by Amaia Montero (the former lead singer of La Oreja de Van Gogh). I chose this song because she says the words rather clearly, it is the perfect song to hear the Spain Spanish accent, and my students have been struggling with the concept of incorporating and recognizing multiple verb tenses in a reading. Many of them are stuck in a Spanish I mentality of only using the most recently learned verb tense when reading/writing etc. For this song, I printed the lyrics for every student and then I had them identify the verbs by circling the ones in the imperfect, squaring the ones in the preterite, and starring the two commands. Additionally, I asked them to find where there was both a preterite and an imperfect verb in the same sentence and write and translate these sentences. Then I had students write five of their own sentences that could be "added" to the song. Each sentence had to use a different verb tense. While I didn't require that the students' sentences actually have any rhythm or a true place in the song, the students had fun writing and sharing a few "heart-broken" lines that allowed them to both play with Spanish and it accomplished my goal of having the students think about grammar in a more cohesive manner.

How do you incorporate songs into your classes? What songs do you find especially effective in the classroom as I am always looking for new ideas and new songs:) !

domingo, 27 de enero de 2013

Literature circles

I really think that it is important that Spanish students begin reading real authentic works as soon as possible. As a result, with my eleventh grade students (A class that would mostly equate with an advanced level three or regular level four class), I developed a very intentional reading curriculum. During the first term, I used newspaper articles and current events with the students. At some point in the near future, I will post on using current events in the classroom. However, in the second term, I focus on literary works. While my students have access to the book Abriendo Paso, and we read many of the stories from this text, I also like to incorporate some element of choice. Therefore, I decided to use literature circles, much like teachers in elementary and middle school English classes. I made a list of the works that students could choose from and I created a series of worksheets which could accompany any literary work, as I knew that it would be important for my students to perceive the amount of homework as fair. The worksheets can be found at my TPT store, which is linked to the lower right hand corner of the blog. While the purpose of this post is not to promote the worksheets, I hope to give other teacher's ideas as to how literature circles can be completed without the seeming "unfair" component of different homework assignments.

Here is how I set-up the literary circles. In the class, I have informed the students that over the next twelve weeks, we will be reading six works (a work every other week). Upon the completion of the work, students will turn in the literary question worksheet, along with a personal reaction to the work that they read. The reaction specifications include items such as not summarizing the work because it is important to me that students personalize the story to their own lives. While the worksheets are all different, they contain similar elements. Some items that are included on the worksheets are asking students to find different verb tenses in the stories, or asking students to make word webs, or writing discussion questions for their literature circles. While I recognize that a two page worksheet is not overly long, I also count reading the work as part of their homework or class work, so I do not want to overload students too much as we will be continuing with grammar as well. Two days a week, students will meet with their literature circles to meet as a group and to discuss the work, their questions, items that they might write about for their reaction etc. Some days, I encourage the students to read the work together, especially in the beginning as they start new stories. Additionally. Every month, or after we have read two works, students will complete a project on one of the two works that they have read. Once again, the students are provided with numerous project ideas as to how they can both convey their knowledge of the work and add their own elements to the project.

I am generally fortunate in that my students are motivated to learn and practice speaking in Spanish, so I do not have to do too much reminding for them to try to use the target language; however, I have in the past, simply asked students to fill-out a small participation form in which students rank their use of Spanish in the class in the following manner.
4: I both stayed on task and spoke only Spanish
3: I spoke in English, but it was relevant to class and on task
2: I mostly stayed on task and mostly spoke Spanish
1: I had difficulty staying on task and speaking in Spanish

I found that having students rank themselves a few days in a row, quickly brought their conversations back into Spanish.

While I certainly recognize that a downside to completing literary circles is that students may not fully comprehend a work without a full class discussion to clarify certain elements. I generally find that students' enthusiasm for reading increases throughout the term, as they view their classmates projects and then are curious to read the story for themselves. Additionally, weaker students learn to ask me questions during the two days that they meet in-class with their groups, once they have received negative feedback on an early reaction or from the first worksheet being graded. Upon the completion of the term last year, most students viewed the literary circles positively when asked to complete an anonymous survey about the term.

domingo, 13 de enero de 2013

K-5 Giveaway

I usually create materials for the classes that I am currently teaching. However, upon seeing so much beautiful Valentine's Day clipart and spending time with my kinder and pre-school aged nieces and nephews during the holidays,  I decided to create a product for elementary Spanish students for Valentine's day. I have to admit, there are some days when I miss teaching the elementary kiddos. Additionally, I have donated both products to a flash drive giveaway that is being held by Rocking Teaching Materials. You can find the giveaway here. The unique thing about this particular giveaway is that there are great resources for each grade K-5, plus cute flash drives :).

The first product that I donated is for kindergarden or first grade. I wrote a cute counting story to accompany the precious penguin clipart. I mentioned that over the holiday break one of the things that I did was spend time with my nieces and nephews, and my niece in particular is working on counting, grouping, and learning about the numerical relationships. I wanted her to have a cute Spanish Valentine's activity that would continue her number practice.

The second Valentine's Day product, focuses much more on learning the vocabulary words associated with Valentine's Day. I have added this product to the third grade giveaway, but really it could work for any grade 3-6. In this packet, there are numerous vocabulary activities, including a matching the words to the pictures activity, a set of cards that could be printed on card stock, laminated, and used for mata moscas or memory. Additionally, I have had my elementary students (back when I taught K-5) use the cards for a cut and paste matching activities. This way, I could assist the classroom teachers by focusing on developing these types of skills. Finally, both packets contain a valentine that could be given in class to a special friend or given to parents, siblings etc.

Both of these activities should be useful for the elementary Spanish teacher, or for any teacher who would like to incorporate a bit of Spanish in his or her Valentine's day lessons. Given that this blog and the majority of my products are for the middle school and high school student, I do want to mention that I have also created a Valentine's Day packet for Spanish I students, which also involves some verb work in addition to learning the holiday vocabulary, and I am excited to be able to use it in my Spanish I class this year.

martes, 8 de enero de 2013

Fishbowl interviews: Scaffolding for spontaneous speech

I find that creating situations for students to speak spontaneously about a desired topic can be difficult. Additionally, even once the situation has been explained to the students, many of them lack the skill or vocabulary necessary to effectively communicate the message that they wish to convey. Additionally, many students struggle to speak without using some sort of written dialogue as a crutch. For this reason, I have developed a speaking activity that I call "fishbowl interviews." The nice thing about this activity is that it can be used for language learners at all levels, provided that there is a good interview topic, and it allows students to semi-prepare for the spontaneous speech event so they are able to feel confident when it is their turn to speak. I will give more suggestions as to the type of topics I use later in this blog post.

I generally use fishbowl interviews over a two day period. Unless the topic is extremely complicated, I usually give my students 20 minutes to work on the first day. Students know ahead of time that they may not use their question or answer sheet on day two, but they can write whatever they want on the first day to prepare for the next day. On day one, I assign the topic to students, and I assign them their partner for the day. The students then draft the interview. In my Spanish 1 and 2 class, it is not uncommon for the students to actually write out the dialogue. I encourage them to brainstorm as many questions and answers that relate to the topic as possible. In my upper level classes, the students usually brainstorm question types, vocabulary that they might need, and grammatical structures that could be useful. Students are encouraged to use the internet, dictionaries, etc. to assist them with this task. For their homework, I tell my students that they should practice both the questions and answers at least five times (obviously, some of my students will end-up practicing more and some will practice less).

So, I certainly understand that at this point, you may be thinking that this does not sound like a spontaneous or semi-spontaneous speech event at all. However, it becomes a spontaneous speech event when the students are paired at random to conduct the interviews. So, on day two, every student puts his/her name on two pieces of papers. These papers go into two tins-one marked interviewer, the other interviewee. Then, someone in the class draws two random names, one from each tin. These two people must assume their proper roles and perform the interview in front of the class (or in the center of the circle of desks). They may not use any papers or notes, and their conversation must make sense (i.e. the interviewee must actually answer the question posed by the interviewer). Every student goes twice, once as the interviewee and once as the interviewer. I will often require that students speak for a set period of time. With my advanced students, I may ask them to speak two to five minutes. I usually have my beginning students speak one to three minutes. Everyone claps and supports their classmates at the end of each interview.

I have generally felt that my goals of allowing for more spontaneous speaking opportunities that aren't overwhelming for students are attained through this activity. Additionally, it is an excellent way for students to focus on form.

Some of the topics that I use for beginning students include: personal interviews, famous person interviews, and character interviews.

Some of the topics that I use for advanced students include environmental topics, radio shows, running for student office, talking about an important political topic, and other topics that relate to our cultural studies.

What are some of your ideas for scaffolding spontaneous speech that includes more complicated topics in the language classroom?