Monday, June 13, 2016

La hija del sastre BreakoutEDU

Many people have contacted me in the past month to post about my Breakout sessions that I've done in class. Here is an explanation of one that I've done in class with the novel La Hija del sastre by Carrie Toth.

Why a BreakoutEDU?
   There are many reasons! To name a few:
It addresses most Universal Constructs - problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration
It's a change of pace for students
It's a new way to review the events of a novel
Students are using the target language in a different way
It creates leaders that ordinarily aren't leaders in class
It's fun!

Preparation - what do you need?
There are few things you need to do this particular BreakoutEDU:

Scrabble letters that spell out "mentiras" and another set that spells out "Lérida to Toulouse"

Black light and an "invisible" marker that can only be read by the black light.

Of course two Breakout boxes.

Six locks: one directional, three letter, two number

Map of Spain/France with the route from Lérida to Toulouse marked in invisible ink.

Map of Spain/France with the route from Lérida to Toulouse marked by arrows to indicate the route taken by Ignacio and Emilia's family: west north, east, north

QR code of a picture of a basement

2 hint cards

2 Breakout success sheets

online stop watch for recording time

 Cards to denote box 1 and box 2

QR code to wikipedia site of Franco to note his death: 20/11/75

Copy of the rules

Copy of the letter (below) to present to each group to get them started with their clue seeking.

The letter to get them started

Mi querida Emilia,
Yo soy un mentiroso. No trabajo en el banco ni soy un hombre bueno. Soy un soldado fascista y soy un hombre enamorado, enamorado de ti. La verdad es que el ejército me había contratado para conseguir información acerca de tu padre. Quería dejar la misión pero no podía sin ponerte en peligro a ti y a mí mismo también…
Estoy entre la espada y la pared No tengo otro remedio si yo no le cuento tu secreto al coronel, otros soldados van a forzarlas a revelar el secreto.
Escápense a Francia. Huyan. La vida de toda tu familia está en peligro. Sigan al norte donde se encuentren un mapa. Es un mapa de una ruta segura. Si Uds siguen la ruta marcada, pueden escapar a Francia.
Emilia, te pido perdón. Si me puedes perdonar, quiero casarme contigo. Seguiré la misma ruta a Francia y los buscaré. Podemos ir a Francia con tu familia y cuando lleguemos podremos casarnos. Puedo ayudar a escapar a tu familia. Espérame, Emilia. Por favor perdóname.
                                            Siempre tuyo, Ignacio

Now for the clues!
Box 1

Clue #1: scrabble letters spell out "Lérida to Toulouse"
Problem solving: The distance from Lérida to Toulouse is 323.1 km
Code for lock: 3231

Clue #2: QR code that leads to a picture of a basement
Problem solving: Who spent so much time in the basement?
Code for lock: papá or sastre

Clue #3: Map with directional arrows of northern Spain/southern France
Problem solving: Why is this map important? Where are the arrow pointing?
Code for lock: left, up, right, up [west, north, east, north]

Box 2

Clue #1: Black light on Spain/France map, marking Lérida to Toulouse
Problem solving: The distance from Lérida to Toulouse is 323.1 km
Code for lock: 3231

Clue #2: QR code leading to wikipedia page about Franco
Problem solving: With all the statistics presented, which is most important? When did Franco die? Dates in Spanish are written "backwards"
Code for lock: 201175

Clue #3: Scrabble letters that spell out "mentira"
Problem solving: there are many lies presented in the book.
Code for lock: LIES

Playing the game
At first this seems rather easy to figure out. However it is very interesting to watch students problem-solve their way through the clues and codes. These are not nearly as obvious as they look. First, they need to find the clues around the room. One clue may lead to another clue, similar to a riddle. Understanding the context of the story helps them figure out what is important and how to open the locks. Typically it's the quiet kid in the back who is most creative in the problem-solving of the clues. The kid who is not as academic will rise to the occasion in this game.

Sometimes there is frustration over not being able to find clues or not being able to figure out the clues. Some groups need lots of encouragement to persevere. Some groups run with the clues and love the challenge to open all the locks, or even continue beyond the allotted time just to see if they can break into the box. No matter the groups or combination of learning styles or personalities, the excitement of opening the first lock provides more motivation than anything research-based strategy out there!

Having two boxes presents more of a challenge for students as the clues around the room may be for their box or their opponent's box. Sometimes one clue serves for both boxes. During a recent BreakoutEDU activity, students learned that if they found a clue, it was really important! They actually started "stealing" the clues and negotiations began to get clues back. WOW, I didn't see that one coming! It was a very unique make-up of students and learning styles in that class. In the end they decided it would be best to all work together to open both boxes so they did end up sharing the clues, trying passwords on both boxes.


So we broke out, now what?
¡Qué chido! ¡Enhorabuena!
Take a photo of the group(s) that broke out, post it on twitter with the school or class hashtag, post on other social media to give yourself and the students some positive PR and marketing.
Of course no game would be complete without a tasty prize. :)


This is an important part of the game. Having students understand why something was difficult or easy, who had good leadership skills and why, what helped get things moving, how they had to work together as a team and collaborate on their strengths are all important in the learning process.

I also help students process the clues at the end, giving us one more journey through the book. For example:
-Explain some of the lies that happened in the novel. Why did they have to have these lies to stay alive? What if they told the truth about that information?
-Who was Franco? What was his role in the novel? How did the fascistas view him? republicanos? his soldados?
- Why was the map important? Why did they have to get to France? What was the importance of Toulouse? Who was there?
- What was the importance of the basement? Who was there? Why? Why couldn't he escape? What happened in the basement?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Storytelling via Movietalk

La broma: Ay Vamos

Storytelling is at the heart of TPRS: learn vocabulary structures in context that is comprehensible to the learner and they will acquire language more quickly.

Sometimes kids need to have a change up in routine to keep things novel and interesting. I found this awesome song that has been at the top of the Latin charts for awhile and found the video to be awesome. There is so much we can talk about in here. Many of the words are words that they already know, but we are putting a twist to it with the past perfect tense. We focused on those structures and told the story of Ay Vamos.

I used the slideshow below to front load the story and vocabulary. I paused the actual music video and took some screenshots to focus on certain scenes. We added some details and minor circling to reinforce it. After, we watched the video in its entirety and sang the song throughout the week. They had a new connection to it and really got into the pranking that happened in the storyline. 

After the presentation, they were more easily able to use the present perfect to understand the next story's vocabulary and we flew right through it! 

End-of-the-year Evaluation

The end of the year is a time of reflection and planning for the following year. While it is important to self-reflect and assess throughout the year, the end of the year brings a different type of evaluation. I have seen many versions of course evaluations, have tweaked my own over the years and have found this one to be most effective in getting the feedback I am looking for.

Often throughout the year and the end-of-the-year evaluations give me great feedback that I use to incorporate in the future. Student input and using that feedback empowers students, giving them a voice in their learning. This feedback has also developed who I am as a teacher and made me better at what I do in the classroom.

What do you include on your evaluation? Is there a district-directed form that is used? How have you tweaked it over the years?

La hija del sastre: Cartas colaborativas

After reading La hija del sastre I hooked up with one of my colleagues in another district who was also reading the book with her students and a few chapters from the end of the book. I wanted to get the kids to think outside the box a bit and use what they knew about the novel in a different way. 

- Retell the events of the novel La hija del sastre
- Write using quality sentences and structures in Spanish
- Use technology to correspond with other students outside of own classroom in Spanish

- Connect with a character in the novel on a personal level

I created a google doc that listed the group number, name and email, and a list of characters in the book. Students logged in signed up to be a character by writing their name and email next to their chosen character. The partner school students then logged on to sign up for a character they were writing to along with their name and email.

Once the groups were chosen, they created a private google doc to share with each other and the their teachers. They had to show evidence of having read and understood the story by including the character's thoughts, hopes, worries about certain events, as well as questions for the receiving character. As you can tell, we were trying to get the students to use the subjunctive mood. We gave them some suggestions to use:
    1. Ayer…
    2. Después de entrar al taller un hombre guapo…
    3. Me siento…
    4. Me preocupo que…
    5. Espero que...

The characters had to interact at least three times. These types of collaborative projects are great because they make the students think a little differently and also "up the ante" with accountability. They make the students more responsible for their learning, giving it a purpose for why they are doing this. It is also fun to experience language skills of other students and give them confidence that they are doing better than they may have originally thought.

What are ways that you reach outside your classroom to give students experiences through the 5th C?

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Texteando con estudiantes

Yep, I've got your attention now. So, it was a little white lie. I have strong feelings against texting students (outside of We did learn how to text in Spanish, however, to give students a way to use their skills outside of class.

To get started
I set up a google doc and students logged in and we together we read through the overview and step-by-step instructions. There was some proverbial hand-holding, but for the most part, my Spanish II students were able to understand what they were being asked to do in the language.

Start texting!
Once students entered the conversation, got their initial post going, they started "texting" like crazy! It was fun to see what they had posted and the conversations that they had. Some were, well, not so interesting. Others were in groups that had inside stories and they thought were totally hilarious. I didn't care what they were writing, just that they were communicating in Spanish, using the texting phrases, and having fun.

After about 30 minutes of texting, they connected the idea that if they were on their phones, it would be through snapchat. This started the flood of pictures being posted. Teacher editing had to begin and opened a good impromptu lesson on "time and place" and also digital citizenship. Overall the students were very polite and respectful and enjoyed a change of pace from the usual storytelling and reading.

How much did you learn?
After the students had an opportunity to play with the language, it was time to see how much they learned. Working in their conversation groups, I showed one shortcut at a time and the groups wrote on an individual marker board what the it meant either in English or in Spanish. What was most interesting was the conversations that took place. "Hey you had that one in your response to me!" "Remember when you were talking about [X] you used that one."

What would you add?
Now's your turn to help me out - what are other phrases that you know that could be added to the list?

FVR: Battle of the Books

Confession: I'm a book junkie! I just love books and have thus accumulated a rather large library of books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, comic books, and other reading material of various levels. Whenever I travel, I usually bring back authentic reading material. When I first heard about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) you can imagine how excited I got!!
This year I implemented a FVR project in my Spanish III classes during the fall semester. We did various accountability activities such as recording what you read and reactions to that reading, book reports and the like. This spring, I turned it up a notched and we did a Battle of the Books competition. I pretty much have a copy of all the TPRS books so this seemed logical to use these. I knew they would be at the students' reading level and that they had read a few of them in previous classes.

I set up a document for them to start with, make a copy and share with their team. I checked off the books that should have read in their previous levels of Spanish according to the curriculum set at the district. Students were given 10-20 minutes to read 2-3 times each week. We even had a "Read and Feed" a couple of times.

After a semester of FVR, the team assembled and battled it out! As usual Battle of the Books style, some teams were more successful than others, but we all had fun.

I wrote questions for each book. After the initial round, I tried to pair them up according to the number of questions they got right, hoping this would make for a good, friendly competition. Teams were given 30 seconds to answer. A correct answer was awarded 5 points. If they were incorrect, the question went to the other team who had a chance to steal it for 3 points. Winners moved along the bracket to the championship round. It was a fun way to end a semester of FVR!



The Amazing Race

It's the end of the year and I needed an activity that was engaging, yet made kids think in the language. I also wanted to combine a CBE element so I created this Amazing Race-style activity. It took about a week of brainstorming and planning, but I have it all here for you to set up.

As I stated earlier, I wanted to add an element of Competency-Based Education so I looked first at the teachers who had a prep period during my class and tried to link it to either the Spanish language or culture. This became the stops along the way.

Initial route card
To begin the game, the students received a sealed envelope with scrabble letters that spelled out "lider". They had to tell me who our leader was [superintendent's name] to get their next route card. Little did I anticipate that they were in country groups so they were trying to get the name of the political leader, the mayor of the town, president Obama, or even the principal's name. I really only anticipated they would do the principal's name, not a political leader. Duh, why didn't I think of that? too obvious? ha, so they were off to the next clue with their route card.

I wanted the students to make a connection with the superintendent and he appears to be a fun guy so I asked him if he would be willing to help with our activity. I wanted to send the kids to him first so as not to interrupt his time too much. The students, as a team, had to take a selfie with him and post it to our school hashtag #nevadacubpride This also served as marketing/publicity for our department. After posting the selfie, they received their next route card. One problem was the one group was still looking for the superintendent's office when other groups were nearly done. This was a good education for everyone. :)

Social Studies
On staff we have a Global Insights course taught by one of our social studies teachers so I found a picture of a street corner in the neighborhood La Boca in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They had to find where that was and the clue on their route card directed them to the teacher and they had to either identify the neighborhood or the city/country, which then gave them their next route card.

We have a phenomenal PE teacher who is Greek and totally loves kids and their health. Fortunately he was one that had a prep and was game for anything! When they arrived to him, after clue connected to soccer, he had the students do an activity like run stairs or make baskets for their next clue.

This clue went to one of the math teachers in the end. The students had to scan a google doc that directed them to a youtube video and a maya math problem. The video explained how to decipher the maya math numbers, then they had to figure out what the number was and that became the clue to the next route card. One glitch is that I should never be a math teacher as my math was incorrect! I had one group explain the number to me and after adding with them, realized their clue was not correct. ugh. Quick fix, but it slowed a couple of groups as they really did have the correct number! On to the next route card.

The final route card led them back to the Spanish room where they had to proclaim ¡Ya estamos listos! and present all the route cards and detour cards.

I also needed some "detours" so connected these to other things, but still within the language.

I placed 1-3 colored cups outside every classroom, upside down, with a piece of chocolate under some of them. Those with the chocolate also had a QR code inside that needed to be scanned for a secret word. The students had to bring the piece of chocolate to me with the secret word. This worked better than I thought in that some students just tried to bring a secret word (because they didn't find a chocolate or heard from another group) or just bring the chocolate without the secret word.

Battle of the Books
We did this activity the previous week so it was all fresh in their minds. We had a competition earlier in the week in which the students battled out the top knowledge of all the TPRS FVR books in the classroom. I kept the questions and when they came to me with this detour they had to answer at least one question correctly! Yes, some had 2-3 questions before they could answer correctly. Hey, it slowed them down as they weren't prepared and had to wait for another question, right?

So, all the route cards and detour cards were planned. Now I had to prepare the school, teacher helpers, and the print the necessary resources.
1) Set out the cups in front of doors with QR codes and chocolates. My younger children helped me with this the morning of the activity.
2) Print QR codes for all classroom doors, office doors, and library doors. I first put all "¡incorrecto!" QR codes on all the doors to be sure everyone had a case I forgot one accidentally. Then, went back to the ones I needed and replaced them with a "se permite entrar" QR code. Students were required to scan the QR code before entering anywhere as they were not allowed to enter all areas of the building to disrupt the regular learning environment of classes. It was kind of like in the movies when they scan their hand print or eye to gain access to a secure area. Yeah, we were that cool in this game!
3) Email all staff and students to notify them this was happening and ask for their support in not disturbing the cups, QR codes, and other things they saw in the hallways. I promised to clean it all up after class!
4) Take the route cards to the assisting teachers. I first placed them in a manilla envelope with their name on the front and the "password" on the back so when they reached in the envelope the password was facing them and not the students. I handed the envelope to the teachers the day before so that they could still commit to the activity and ask questions if they needed.
5) Either hand out or post the detour cards. My assistant principal was very eager to help with the activity so I gave him one of the detour cards to hand out randomly to groups when he saw them. OMG he had such a blast with this! The other detour card set I taped to the window on the door to the library so that the students would find it as they were walking the hallways.
6) Of course I had to print the route cards and detour cards on card stock (although regular printer paper would work), cut them and organize them into manilla folders and deliver them to the necessary teachers. See the slide show below for the cards I used. They were printed horizontally 2 to a page and cut in half.
7) The students were in groups that were named countries so I printed off colored flags and randomly handed them to students as they walked into the room that day, instructing them to find 2 more "soldiers" to add to their country's "army". Their flag became their hallway pass as everyone knew what they were doing and when it was happening.
8) Find a picture of La Boca in Argentina. Ironically, they saw a picture of the Argentinian flag on the building and got their clue from that. Hmmm, might have to find a different picture next time.

Amazing Race
The day of the activity was so much fun and so much excitement brewing among the students. They knew I was planning something, but didn't know exactly what it was. As stated in number 7 above, they were directed to find their group.

We went through the rules and I handed them the envelope with the scrabble letters in it and they got started right away! Some left the room, forgetting that they needed to tell me the clue to get the next route card. They were back soon. lol

The whole activity went quicker than I thought it would. I really had no idea how much time I needed, however I was glad that we were on a block schedule and had that "buffer" of time. This activity could easily be modified to one less route stop and be done, rushed, in a 40ish minute time frame.

The Amazing Winners!

Ironically, due to block scheduling, students can double up on their courses so there are two sophomores in with two seniors in this group so they were the youngest group in Spanish IV, and they were the winners!