AP Simulated Conversation Practice

As we enter the home stretch for the AP Spanish Language & Culture exam, I’m focused on helping students continue to grow their language skills AND comfort level with the exam format.  Unfortunately, many of the things I would normally do at this point in the year are not viable due to our remote learning constraints.  One thing that I think will be helpful will be additional conversation practice based off of questions from the old format of this task.

When we started remote learning, students signed up to work with a conversation partner.  They have been “meeting” regularly to chat and compensate for our lack of time together in class.  Using this resource, I have assembled a paired conversation simulation from an old handout that had a bunch of these types of questions.  I don’t know the original source, but the questions are good!  They also follow a somewhat predictable format of the old conversation style tasks, so we talked about that framework as well.  While I don’t know that the format exactly mimics this year’s exam, I think that they’ll be helpful nonetheless. If you would like to see the slide show with the questions, you can view a copy here.  I hope it’s helpful for you!

Update 6 May: I’ve prepared another set of these questions for partner practice.  Also included is a slide to help students get ideas of how they might add details to their responses to show off their amazing skills!  Get the second set here.  Enjoy!


Weekend Update: Quarantine Edition

I finally finished a project that’s been rolling around in my mind for a while: an at-home edition of weekend update.  This edition has less emphasis on weekends and more on what we’ve been doing during our time at home.  You can download a copy here.

To see previous discussions of Weekend Update, check out the post here.

Filling in gaps: historical intro to La Hija del Sastre

We are about to start reading Carrie Toth’s reader La Hija del Sastre and I wanted to provide a foundation of the time period for students before we began.  As is often the case, Pablo at Dreaming Spanish had just what I needed in the form of this video.  I also wanted students to have the information available to them for reference, so I decided not to use EdPuzzle as I often do, but rather created this handout to accompany the video.  I hope you find it helpful!


Streamlined Feedback for AP FRQ (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 13)

This year I am blessed to have over 90 students in my AP classes.  Sometimes this blessing can be a bit daunting, especially when it comes to providing the timely, personalized, actionable, & effective feedback that students need in order to grow. Today I took advantage of the collective experience and generosity of my Twitter PLN to create a streamlined document tied to the cultural comparison task.  Many thanks to all who weighed in with suggestions & recommendations!  Multiple people from a variety of languages shared excellent advice in polishing the drafts of the document.  You can get a copy of the final (?) document here.

30 Circles

My Twitter #PLN is the best!  This idea originally comes from Samara Spielberg (see original tweet here) and is posted with her permission.

The idea is to use a sheet with 30 circles to spark ideas from students about their activities.  They will draw an activity in each circle, and can connect circles to create their images.  My students will then post their pics around the room and will browse them, gallery walk style.  They will use the handout provided to take notes on what they see on their classmates’ pictures.  Then we will follow up with some comparison and contrast.

In the linked document 30 circles, there are two versions of the student note-taking handout–one for past (what did you do over break?) and one for future (what will you do in the new year?).  Since most of the students who will be doing this activity in my classes are seniors, I’ll use the future version.  It also helps to remove stress for students whose break might not have been a highlight.  (Thanks to Adrienne for this reminder!) I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to say!  I’m hoping it will ease us back into speaking Spanish after a long break, and help us to look forward to what’s to come.

5 Little Things (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 12)

As we start the second half of the school year, I’d like to share a few little things that make a big impact on the positive tone in our classroom, especially when it comes to including every student in the conversation.

Cosas Buenas:  as a regular part of our class-starting routine, we have “cosas buenas” (good things).  Simply put, students share something good going on in their lives.  It commonly is shared with table groups first, then we call on a few students to share with the whole class.  In mid- upper- level classes, we do this in TL; in lower level classes it’s in L1.  Here’s what makes this activity a keeper:

  • it focuses our attention on positive things
  • it builds community as we celebrate one another
  • it gets students talking about their real lives –in TL– and organically injects relevant vocabulary & structures into our class conversations like “beca” (scholarship) and “pasantía” (internship)

Pick your favorite: We don’t do a lot of work where we are reviewing answers of an exercise, but when I do call on students, I ask them to pick their favorite question to answer.  While this often means that we do not go in sequential order, it does mean that each student who contributes is also (usually) successful. This helps to encourage more reluctant students to join in as well, as they have more control over their likelihood of getting an answer right.

Comodín: I learned this word while in Spain this summer, thanks to the amazing tv show Boom.  It means “wild card” or “lifeline”, and when we are reviewing or discussing and a student is stuck, I’ll offer them a comodín and come back to them.  Sometimes this means that they are able to consult with the people at their table and then answer; other times, it may mean that they review their work and try again.  In the end, the most important thing is that it emphasizes continuous effort, offers second chances, and doesn’t allow “I don’t know” to stay that way.

Puedos  this year I’ve introduced them in Spanish 4, and have been pleasantly surprised how they’ve been embraced.  One of the tasks for this unit: locate and identify on a map each of the countries for the legends we’ve read in our myths and legends unit.  While students have certainly been asked to do a maps or countries/capitals activity in previous classes, it doesn’t seem to stick long term.  However, this seems to be helping.  The best part of this time is that I am able to facilitate and respond to questions as needed–again, especially with reluctant learners–rather than let the questions linger.

Eliciting regular student feedback: Using our warmup sheet as the vehicle, every two weeks I ask students to provide me feedback about what’s going well, what would make it even better, and what they need from me for support.  By having the structure already created (on warmup sheet, questions pre-printed), it greatly improves my consistency in requesting this feedback from students, which in turn makes it more effective.  I comment on each feedback and return it to students so that they know that I’ve seen it and considered it.  There are so many issues that have been brought to my attention this way, and I truly value their input.

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Mad about Madrid #DIYAdventure

As readers may know, our family is an international affair–we have now hosted eight exchange students in our home, and they have become part of our family.  Three of the eight are from Spain, and in 2018 we reunited with everyone in Madrid for a family adventure.  During our stay in Spain that summer (my 10th, but family’s first) we did a Vuelta de España of our own, starting in Barcelona, going down the coast to Valencia, on to Jaén, up through Segovia to País Vasco, and then back to Madrid & Toledo–all DIY planning and mostly driving/train.  Recently I’ve been asked for some travel recommendations for people planning their own trips, so though Barcelona remains my most favorite, here are some of my highlights for travelers basing their adventures from Madrid.

  • While we wanted to have an adventure of a lifetime, budget mattered too–especially for a group of 2 adults + 6 high school/college students.  We stayed in an AirBnb near Atocha that was near bus/train stations, grocery stores, and had a kitchen.  We grocery shopped and went to the local bakeries for breakfast, ate lunch out and about, and then cooked dinner at home late at night.
  • Interested in art and history?  The museums are top notch. My favorites are the Prado, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen-Bournemisza.  There’s a pass that you can buy that allows admission to all, and other passes that allow you to access other museums around the city as well.  While the temptation may be to take advantage of the free days, the lines are long and the rooms are crowded on those days.  The pass was well worth it to bypass the lines and crowds.  My husband and son really enjoyed the Archeological Museum, which can be included on one of the museum passes.  We also found that we didn’t need a pass for each person.  Since not everyone wanted to do ALL the museums, we bought a few and shared them.
  • Take a walking tour of the city with a local guide from SpainFred.  They were fantastic!  While it was hard to choose just one, we did the Medieval Madrid tour in English to accommodate the interests of the people in our group.
  • I finally made it to the Royal Palace, and they offer a teacher’s discount for admission.  They don’t, however, allow hardly any photography inside 😦
  • Sports fans–be sure to take the tours at Bernabéu & Wanda Metropolitano–depending on your allegiances.  I wasn’t able to go, but several of the kids went and raved about it.
  • The Casa de Ratoncito Pérez is adorable!  It’s easy to miss–it’s on Arenal street in a nondescript multi office building.  If you have little kids who speak Spanish, you don’t want to miss this stop.
  • Take the Teleférico for an exquisite view of the Royal Palace and watch the sunset at Templo de Debod.  If you are a fan of Mi Vida Loca, you will nerd out about this leg of the journey.
    • Here’s a mistake we made:  we took the Metro out to Casa de Campo and thought we’d take a stroll to the teleférico station.  Not a good idea in July.  It was hot, not well marked, a looooooong walk, and we had to climb the hill to the station.  A BIG hill.  This is the one time on the trip where we nearly had a mutiny.
    • Here’s how to make it better:  take the round trip from the station near Templo de Debod.  Bring snacks for the sightseeing/people watching at Debod upon your return.  Find a spot among the locals and wait for the sun to set.  It’s gorgeous! Then go get dinner 🙂
  • A picnic &/or bike ride through Parque Retiro is pretty cool.  Great spot for some family photos too!
  • Speaking of eating (keeping in mind we ate at “home” most days):
    • 100 Montaditos is Spain’s answer to fast-ish food.  Montaditos are like mini sub sandwiches, but with Spanish flavors.  Everyone can find something that makes them happy here–a plus when traveling with kids.  Plus every Sunday and Wednesday are 1€ days–each montadito or tinto de verano is only 1€.  Again, when traveling with hungry kids, this was a budget-friendly, happy family find.  (They also have gluten free options)
    • Five Guys was a hoot too!  Our Euro kids fell in love with it while in the US, and were thrilled to have it again while in Madrid.  The line out the door was insane!  Plus, no leg of our trip was immune from being turned into an activity for class, and this didn’t disappoint.  🙂
  • Day trips
    • Toledo.  Hands down my second favorite city in Spain.  It’s only about a 40 minute train trip from Atocha, but there’s so much to see and do that I recommend renting another apartment in Toledo and staying there for a few nights.  It can get crushingly busy with day trip tourists, especially during the summer, but in the evening it can be sublime when they are all gone.  Somehow it seems that the whole city is uphill. How this is possible, I just don’t know, but be prepared to hike.  Accommodations were significantly less in Toledo than in Madrid as well.  Things to see & do:
      • the El Greco Museum, which is right across the street from…
      • El Museo Sefardí
      • La Sinagoga de Santa María
      • the cathedral that puts the “holy” in “Holy Toledo”.  The kids strongly recommended the trip up the bell tower. I skipped it in favor of soaking in every ounce of the Spanish audio tour commentary.
      • take the little tourist train (our Spanish girls referred to it as the “tren chu chu”) from Plaza Zacodover to get an easy ride up to the vistas above the old city.  Another great place for family photos
      • Santo Tomé church to see El Greco’s masterpiece of El entierro del Conde Orgaz
    • Valle de los Caídos & El Escorial–it’s been several years since I’ve been to these locations, but history fans may love them.  For some contemporary context to Valle de los Caídos, consider this film.
    • Segovia & Ávila are pretty easy day trips from Madrid and are cool to wander. However, if I had to choose between a longer stay in Toledo v. a quick trip out to these two cities, I’d go with Toledo.  Segovia has the aqueduct, Ávila has the walled city + Santa Teresa, but Toledo still wins.
    • Salamanca is pretty cool too–that’s another post though 🙂
  • The daily daily–logistical stuff that made extended stay more pleasant:
    • Grocery shopping
      • Neighborhood Mercadonas and Carrefours are my most favorites, but it was easier to find familiar ingredients in El Corte Inglés.  Our Euro kids wanted me to make some of their favorite US meals while we were there, and Corte Inglés had the widest options–but also the highest prices.
    • Carrefour and Target are twins that have never met.  Anything that would be on the Target list here at home was on the Carrefour list in Spain.
    • 10 ride metro tickets are less expensive than 10 individual tickets and can be shared. Scan the pass, go through the gate, hand it back to the family member behind you, repeat.  Have it handy to scan again when you exit.
    • Re-read is a sweet used bookstore chain!  Carrefour and La Casa del Libro also have good selections of books and classroom treasures.
    • Bring back lots of postcards to send to students with encouraging notes over the course of the year!


I hope this helps!  Airfare is very low from some cities right now, so we are considering going again in a few months.  I’ll update when/if we do.  What are your favorite hidden gems in the city?

¡Mucha Lucha! #ACTFL19

Masks, mystery, and language proficiency!  It’s a combination that has brought us delight and joy to share with our session participants at ACTFL this year.

Find our presentation with linked resources here.

Thanks for joining us on this leg of our language journey!

–Fantasía del Futuro (Bethanie) & Chile de Goma (Karen)

ACTFL 2019, Here we come!

The ACTFL annual conference is in about two weeks, and I’m taking some time this weekend to prepare.  I’ll be presenting on Saturday at 5:30 with Karen Goering on how Lucha Libre can be the foundation for Comprehensible Input driven units from level 1 on up.  I’d love to see you there!  It’s the last session of the night, but we have some awesome things planned for our participants.

As I’m preparing, I’m reminded of how intense and overwhelming this conference can be, even for experienced attendees.  However, careful planning and some tips can make it an amazing experience.  Here are some things that have come to mind:

For Presenters:

  • proofread your presentations
  • look at your *projected* presentation and make sure that the visual effects like color contrast and font size are well designed
  • have a plan for sharing content easily, especially for those who are unable to attend your session.  Need a spot to share? Contact me about guest posting here.
  • bring speakers, dongles, clickers, all the toys 🙂

For Attendees:

  • ACTFL is like Disney World.  It’s big, shiny, totally awesome, and if you don’t pace yourself everyone gets cranky!
  • Use the app to plan your schedule
  • Be sure to plan time to relax and grab a cup of coffee with your professional friends 🙂  Some of my best conference moments have taken place outside the context of the session rooms.  Come say hi!
  • Spend time in the exhibition hall with amazing vendors!
  • There will often be several sessions you want to attend all at once.  Having a squad of friends with similar interests can allow you to divide and conquer.
  • Wear comfortable clothes in layers, and pack light.  The convention center is BIG.
  • ENJOY DC! While there are many famous locations to visit in the city, I’ve prepared a list of places to consider that are a little off the beaten path that my family and I enjoy.  We live about 4 hours away, but go to the city a few times a year.
    • National Museum of African American History & Culture:  one of the newest museums on the mall.  You could spend days here and not see it all.  The basement galleries are intense and not to be missed.  The music section–including Celia Cruz artifacts (top floor) and sports galleries are really cool. Passes sometimes needed–check ahead.
    • Newseum–a museum to the First Amendment.  Closing at the end of the year 😦  Get passes in advance.
    • The monuments on the mall.  The Vietnam, Lincoln, MLK, and Korean War monuments are clustered fairly closely together and it’s easy to walk between them. These four–especially the Korean War monument–are especially fascinating at night, and will have smaller crowds then.  There are restrooms open at night in the base of the Lincoln. The FDR monument is also super cool if the fountains are on, but they haven’t been the last several times we’ve been there.  The WWII monument is often being visited by veterans during the day.
    • Getting around: Metro is easy and inexpensive, and navigates just like the ones in Madrid & Barcelona.  Capital Bikeshare is also a good option–download their app.
    • Dining: any restaurant by José Andrés like Jaleo or China Chilcano. Another family fave: take an Uber out by Gallaudet University to Union Market, a food hall + market and take a little culinary trip around the world.
    • The National Cathedral–take a guided tour, attend an organ recital, soak in the architectural beauty, and see if you can find the Darth Vader grotesque carved on the outside of the building.
    • The view from the Washington Monument is awesome, but it is currently closed to visitors.
    • The American Veterans Disabled for Life memorial is beautiful, touching, and inspires deep appreciation for the sacrifice of so many.
    • The Library of Congress–get your library reader card while you’re there.
    • Many of the museums have teacher/educator centers.  Check them out for lots of resources while you’re in town.