Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Recently we had a PD day in which we were assigned to a room with our colleagues. My particular room assignment was facilitated by our principal. He told us a story of a professor who was trying to kill everyone off, but had a serum that would save himself. He kept it locked in a box (at the front of the room) and had left clues in the room about how to open the three locks. Our job was to find these clues, open the locks so that we could "breakout" of the room. We had 45 minutes and could use anything at our disposal, including electronic devices.

That was my first encounter with BreakoutEDU. The more I reflected on it, the more I thought I could recreate this in my language classroom. To make it even more interesting and challenging, I could have TWO boxes with different clues, thus two different teams in the same room trying to find and open different boxes, not knowing if the clue they found was really intended for their box or the other box. mooohahaha

We had just finished reading ¡Viva el toro! in Spanish III so this would be great. There was so much information about bullfighting as well as other cultural tidbits we explore at various degrees of intensity throughout the book. Knowing that the students had to use different skills to solve the problem than it usually took to have a discussion in class, this was about to get real interesting! Some of the locks were numbers; others were words. I really thought box 2 was more difficult.

Out of the 3 groups, only one group was able to breakout. It was interesting to watch the students work in this different capacity. Another group wanted to keep trying to figure out the clues, just to open the box. The challenge was greater than the prize for them.

I learned a lot about myself as well. As a teacher, I really want to see my students succeed and feel success along the journey. It was really hard to not give them free hints along the way. I had to wait for them to turn in one of their two hint cards. Sometimes they got fixated on an object that had nothing to do with the clue or be so close to solving it, but just couldn't get it, even when it starred them in the face. Taking a back seat is really really hard for me. I wanted to push them in the right direction and guide their journey, rather than let them discover and explore. It's too bad our schedule is dictated by minutes and hours. It's a necessary evil, however.

These were the two boxes, the combination, and the clues to find the correct combinations to unlock the box. It was a great day in class and we all learned.
Box 1
Lock: Clue:
TOROS “seven arrive, but only one leaves” <black light written on bullfight picture on bulletin board
41001 address to the bullfight arena
Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 8.27.48 AM.png

Box 2
Lock: Clue:
ARTE- “The clue is in the view, Julio.” <black light written on bullfight picture on bulletin board
63085 km > miles river basin

Copy of the letter that the "secuestradora" sent to Julio. Some letters are changed to purple, which spell out a link to another clue.


Tenemos tu novia, Ana.
Todo está bien, pero necesitamos dinero.
Nos reunimos en Sevilla a la Plaza de toros a las dos de la tarde.
El paseíllo revela dónde está tu querida.
Cuando nos reunimos, podrán tomarla y estar con ella nuevamente.
La secuestradora

The Pulsera Project

A few years ago I heard about the Pulsera Project, a free-trade organization that helps provide scholarships and jobs for people of Nicaragua. After a presentation on how to make your classroom a global classroom during an PD day, a teacher asked if I would partner in this project. Absolutely!

We solicited administrative support and approval and were able to move forward with the project. After watching a couple videos from the students were very excited to help the people of the Nicaraguan village. We had the students create a commercial for the pulsera sales during conferences, lunch, and before a school music concert. We showed the commercial repeatedly during lunch to get kids excited about them, and held early sales just to the students of the two classes so that they could show their pulseras to friends. Students signed up via a signupgenius to sell the pulseras. They sold over $1000 worth of pulseras.

Finally, we had learning stations that combined all 3 sections of classes, over 50 students, to experience what life may be like for Nicaraguans. These stations included games, music, literature, food, and make your own pulsera. A final reflection piece ended the project and students commented on what they had learned. Wow, so exciting to see their minds and hearts opened to other people and cultures.


Nope, not the cereal; it's the review game.

I got this game from somewhere I don't remember over 15 years ago. I thought it would be a good to pull it out again. This can be done as a whole class with 2-4 teams, but I chose to have the students work individually, competing against each other.

They were given a copy of the game board, an individual marker board, and a marker. Their grouping was according to their marker - each group had one of each color. When they won a question, they colored in the spot on the game board. The goal is to fill in areas top to bottom, strategically blocking opponents and circumnavigating their partner's blocks. If you have a particularly competitive group, this can get a little crazy.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tape Stories

This is another reading strategy that I have used a few times in the past. A few years ago I was out garage saling in the spring and found a big box of old register tape for less than a dollar. At the time I had a daughter who loved writing stories. I thought this would be a great outlet for her to write a long of a story as she wanted to. Then I realize, hey this would be a great idea for my students in class to write stories!

We just got done reading Chapter 7 of ¡Viva el toro! They acted it out, answered lots of circling questions, among other activities. Today, with a partner, each group was identified as a writer or a drawer. As a group, they decided what to write in their summary. The writer wrote the words on the register tape and the drawer drew what was written.

In the past, I have used this in a variety of ways: they have to include x number of structures, sentences, feet of paper, etc. Sometimes it's a competition to see who can use the most paper. This usually results in students writing larger than normal with bigger spacing, however. With this activity this week we just showed off how long our chapter summaries were.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Literature Circles

We have been working on reading strategies in Spanish III, using an embedded reading and an Anticipation Guide and citing evidence from the text to support the statements. For the final reading, the students did an activity called Lit Circles. This goes back to the days of cooperative learning, but also gives a purpose for their reading.

The students had been through the first 2 versions of the embedded reading text and we had done lots of circling of the information with it. They were divided into 4 groups according to what they felt were their strongest skills or learning styles: Director, Dibujante, Diccionario, Resumen (sorry I couldn't get another D word in there lol). All the directores were in one group; all the dibujantes were in another group, etc. As they read through the final version, they used the filter of their job to read. The directors were the strongest students who felt like they really had a grasp on the chapter. The dibujantes did a pictorial summary of what was happening in the chapter. They diccionarios understood every word of the chapter, looking up any vocabulary or structures they didn't know or were unsure of. The resumenes were similar to the Dibujantes, but did a written summary of the chapter.

After doing a "cold read" of the full chapter with their group members, one person from each was reassigned to a new group so that there was only director, one dibujante, one diccionario, and one resumen in each group. They then read through it again, collaborating with their new partners. Moohaha, I just snuck in another repetition! As a whole group, I added yet additional reps by doing a Q/A a la Carol Gaab style.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Anticipation Guide to Reading

Spanish III is about to dive into the next chapter of the book, ¡Viva el toro! There were mixed reviews with the embedded reading the last time we did it so I wanted to engage them a bit deeper. They were also struggling with the vocabulary as there were many interruptions to the schedule this week and kids were affected by these changes in routine.

This strategy has been around for a long time, but I pulled it out again this week. The Anticipation Guide is a strategy that is revisited multiple times during a reading. The first time using this, students identify their opinion on what they think will happen in the chapter by marking "Sí" or "No" in the antes column. There is no right or wrong answer. Discussion can take place as to why they think these events will happen.

Frase del capítulo
El Sr. de Marco trabajaba a la plaza de toros.
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Carmen no habló más con Ana
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Pedro y Ana son novios
  Sí         No
  Sí        No

Ana era acostumbrada a todo ahora
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Ana quería ver a Julio Barquero nuevamente
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Ana y Julio estudiaban juntos
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Ana era experta en la Guerra Civil Española
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Julio conoció a unos presidentes, como Washington, Clinton, y Lincoln
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Ana fue a una corrida con Julio.
  Sí         No
  Sí         No
Ana y Julio se casarán
  Sí         No
  Sí         No

After doing the first version of the embedded reading, students identify which comment can be verified in the text. Using the después column, students verify with textual evidence what is accurate or what is not. Keep in mind that to make this effective, only reveal a few facts when you choose to what to include in each version. This keeps the students wanting to read more; it keeps the versions novel and interesting. Having them identify textual evidence makes them really interact and read more analytically throughout each version. It also gives them purpose for what they are reading.

What other strategies do you use to engage students with a reading?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Yellow Brick Road Discussion

I caught a glimpse of someone's blog post that referred to an activity called the yellow brick road. I think it was Grant Boulanger; correct me someone if you've read it and I'm wrong. There were yellow papers on the floor and students were discussing. Unfortunately I didn't read closely enough about that activity but it did spur an alternate idea for discussion.

We were about to embark on a new reading, albeit brief. I also wanted to go back and review the "Super Seven" verbs and the "Sweet 16" verbs. These became the focus of our review in Spanish I yesterday. The reading had a picture of two women meeting at a street corner. I copied this to the center of yellow paper bookended it with a verb. I placed these up and down the aisles of desks and directed students to stand, with a partner, at each paper. They had to discuss the picture on the paper for 2 minutes with their partner, focusing on the verb given on the paper. They then moved one brick to the right, one to the left, to find a new verb and discussion partner. They continued the descriptions of the same two women, but using different verbs.

There were other activities that were included in this lesson, but I loved this one as it gave them a different way to achieve the same goals. Speaking of goals, I wanted the students to:
1) communicate in Spanish
2) negotiate meaning with a partner
3) review the core verbs
4) front load what may happen in the story to better anticipate what will be coming
5) have fun

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

We're in Kahoot reviewing

There have been so many teachers using Kahoot. I dragged my feet resisting this site for a long time. I thought this was a slow process of quizzing students that I could do much more quickly in a traditional way, leaving time for more communicative activities.

Yesterday I thought, ok I'll bite. I set up an account to review chapter 5 of ¡Viva el toro! What I assumed was that only one question could be asked at a time. I pleasantly discovered that I could put a whole list of questions into one kahoot. My students are highly competitive so the leader boards are a great way to keep them motivated and engaged. Speaking of engagement, in a traditional setting, kids can hang back and not participate. With Kahoot, it won't go on until all students have entered a score. At least, it waits a predetermined amount of time before answering a question.

I love that students can use either their phones or their laptops to do this. It gives a purpose for them using their phones in class. Because it is interactive, engaging, and appropriately competitive, students are not texting, emailing, or off task at the same time. There was no boredom as the activity went on and everyone was checking their status - "I'm 857 points behind Pablo!" "Rebeca, I'm going to knock you out of first place; I'm coming after you!" In the end, there is also a final scoreboard posted.

Since I can write the questions, they are comprehensible to the students. After each question, we also discussed why the other answers were not accurate, addressing any misconceptions in their understanding of the chapter.

I typically don't condone any specific website or tool, but this was pretty great seeing how this activity unfolded in class. How do you use this, or similar tool in class?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Affirmation Cards

At my school we have affirmation cards that we send to our peers, admin, and students. These are cards (could be any piece of paper or something you design) that one person writes to another affirming something they did. For example, "I really appreciate how you helped me with ____ project yesterday. I was having problems understanding it and you made so clear." ....or perhaps.... "Thank you for your patience when I was trying to figure out my anuncio. I appreciate how you asked me questions to guide me to the answer."

You can give them starter phrases the first few times. After that it will become more natural. 
Thank you for...
I appreciate that...
You really made my day when...
It was a cool thing that you....

I have found that even the most hard-core kids will cherish these cards because they don't feel like they are wanted/needed/belong/care. You do have to emphasize sincerity. You may want to filter them before they send them along as a few of students may make bullying-type comments. Some teachers will have "mailboxes" for students to give each other affirmation cards at anytime. I don't see this as feasible when you have 100+ kids.

I will also have them do these right before we switch seating chart. They have to write an affirmation card to the person on their right and on their left. If they are at the end of the row maybe in front/behind. This assures that everyone receives at least one card. They can also write one to any other person they want in the room that they feel moved to affirm that day. I try to keep them to no more than 5 or you will take all period writing these! If they want to write to more, I give them as many as they want and tell them to write them and bring them back tomorrow and I'll be sure the recipient gets them. For the most part, they are genuine in writing these. For some odd reason I had a student who didn't get one and another students stepped up and said he would write one for her. That prompted other students to write one, too. It really catches on. Kids know what it feels like to get one and they want others to have that feeling as well.

I have also printed off grades and wrote affirmations on every grade report. Yes, some are harder than others, but I really try to find something positive for everyone. They really enjoy getting these.

With the change of seating chart, it's a good time to do it. Some teachers will change their seating chart every 2 weeks! Personally, I don't like rewriting the seating chart this much, but I will change a couple times in an quarter. So, it doesn't have to be often, just enough that they don't get bored with it so that it's still novel, and yet it still means something to them.

Berto y sus buenas ideas

My Spanish I kids have been asking for a project to do. Of course it comes with lots of stipulations like:
a) it can't be stupid
b) it can't take a lot of time
c) it has to be fun
d) it can't be worth a lot of points
e) etc

So, we are reading the book Berto y sus buenas ideas. We are getting into the last chapter. Spoiler alert: Berto really does decide he likes school and goes back. Sorry everyone.

To summarize the book after reading the last chapter, students will write 5 sentences to talk about why he doesn't like escuela, who he met at the estadio, what he saw in the Museo del Prado, what he ate at the pastelería, and what happened in lake at the Parque Retiro.

Using the basic Berto shape below, students will write their summaries on Berto. Additional items can be added if wanted. Each appendage will be a different chapter in the book. However, the middle heart, what he realizes in the end, is that he really loves school. The heart will be chapter 6 summary.

Below is an example I made to show the students. There are examples of writing directly on the appendages (arms, legs, head) and also on the other items that represent each place he went. The curly hair pieces each have a summarizing statement, the lines in the pastry have summarizing statements, and the hexagons in the soccer ball have summarizing statements.

Once they are done creating their Berto, they will match up, and with partner 1 read their summary to chapter 1. With partner 2, read summary to chapter 2. With partner 3, read summary to chapter 3, and so on. They will listen to their partner each time, being sure that they are using correct structures and accurate summary.

After reading the book, summarizing the chapters, writing, reading and listening to summarizing sentences, students will do a proficiency write - 100 words in 5 minutes. I can't wait to see the results! We will be posting these in the room. Hopefully I remember to post a picture of our Bertos when they are done. This lesson has so many ACTFL standards it's exciting to see how it will turn out.


As a great review game, and a way to get in more reps as well as work on comprehensible input and writing, we play the game ¡Caramba! Inspired by srjordan's blog post, this can be a fast-paced, intense game of strategy.

Students are in groups of 3-5 with one student at the front with an individual marker board and marker. The teacher give a structure, sentence, or comprehension question from a reading. The students rapidly write down the translation or the answer. When finished, they hold up their board for evaluation from the teacher. The student who is correct first, without lowering or editing the answer, wins for their team. This means that the next slide in the ¡Caramba! slideshow is advanced. It could be a point value, which will be added to the team total, or a ¡Caramba!, which erases all points earned. Students never know how many points will be earned or if they will lose all their points. Some groups will strategically answer or not answer a question based on how long ago a caramba has shown up. They also try to guess the order so I mix up the order of the points and carambas each time.