Leveling Up Language with Jenga: Low Prep, High Engagement, Total Fun!

In our first days of class at the intermediate level, I want students to become more comfortable speaking Spanish throughout the period and to feel more confident doing so.  One of the things we have been focusing on is supporting students in “leveling up” their language (resources here, here, and here). For my intermediate students, this means encouraging them to add details with language they already know, link thoughts with connective words, and to have appropriate reactions (such as rejoinders) in their toolboxes.  These simple additions are such confidence boosters!  And when we use socially interactive tasks to put these skills into practice, we build community within our classroom.

One of my favorite activities to use as a low affective filter, high engagement activity is Jenga. Back in the day I numbered each block, then would produce a series of questions for students to answer.  While good in theory, it was a challenge to come up with 50+ questions each time we played.  Enter Meredith White’s idea of color coded blocks like these.  I had several older sets of the non-color-coded variety, so I had community service students help me and after a few minutes with a set of markers, we had “upgraded” the old blocks to be compatible with the new ones.   We now have about 8 sets, so even in my largest classes we can play in groups of 4-5.  And one of the best parts?  I can prep for the activity in about five minutes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So here’s how we play:  students get into groups, and each group gets a set of blocks plus a prompt card.  The prompts are linked to our current unit, and are color coded to match the colors of the blocks.  Students select a block, say their response, then place the block back on the tower.  In this round of play, I asked students to also write their sentences down; this became a pre-writing step for a future writing task.  Students are reminded to keep adding details with all their responses, and other players in the game are encouraged to provide accountability.  One of the other features of this activity is that I get to be a facilitator, coaching students, encouraging them, and just having a joyful time in class with them.


Seamless Starts (Structures & Strategies for supporting student success and teacher sanity part 11)

Continuing the ongoing series of practices and strategies that help classes run smoothly, keep me on track, and reduce stress for everyone, this strategy is an updated version of the Dashboard Slide + warmup sheet combo.  Find out more here

In this case, I’ve updated our warmup sheet to reflect the change in my teaching assignment to all intermediate classes (Spanish 4 & AP). Some of our strategies for novice level classes–such as Puedos–are not as relevant to these classes, so they were pruned.  However, I also wanted a smooth, painless way of working in some multiple choice activities that are similar to those on the AP exam.  Enter the marvel that is Zipgrade!

Zipgrade is free for its basic version–and inexpensive for its paid edition.  It allows teachers to use their phones as a scantron-style scanner and gives instant results.  While I rarely use multiple choice questioning in my novice classes, it plays a small but important role in pre-AP and AP classes. Adding the Zipgrade answer sheet to my warmup streamlines this process significantly.  I don’t need separate copies for the answer sheet–it’s on their warmup document.  I can make the questions about anything I want and project them as part of the class warmup OR use them as an exit ticket.  The document is dated and has evidence of their progress throughout the five days it covers.  There are multiple versions of the answer form, so I have a version of my warmup sheet that has spots for 20 questions and another for 50.  Here’s another little trick: we can use the same answer sheet over the course multiple days by numbering the questions accordingly (day 1 might be 1-5, but day 2 might be 6-8, etc.)

The beauty in this system for me is its simplicity and its flexibility. Students know that class will begin with our dashboard-directed activity that will be recorded on our warmup sheets. Having the sheets already setup takes stress and prep decisions off my plate and allows us to focus on the important things: students and loving language.

Get your own copies of the sheets here–they’re free!.

Level Up Language Framework–Intermediate Edition

I’ve previously written about implementing Erin Carlson’s sentence framework as an essential tool for scaffolding student writing.  So many times our students have plenty to say–and even have the language to say it–but lack the idea spark of what else to add to their ideas.  Enter in the level up language framework.

My AP students read their choice of a book ranging from comprehension based readers to recent YA (depending on their skill level) over the summer, and we are using those books as our first project for the year.  Students have a choice of projects, and I’m introducing the framework before they build their first drafts in order to start with a better product and support them in their language expression.  This lays some of the groundwork for us to build upon when it comes to tasks like the argumentative essay.  It also serves as a confidence boost in the beginning of the year.

The handout I’ve created with Erin’s permission is available here, and is applicable to any book.  It’s designed for intermediate level students–see the post linked above for a novice example.  We walk through the formulas + examples and students use the space provided on the student to apply the formulas to their own work.  We wrap it up with practice answering a few questions pertinent to their project plus a self-evaluation of their work.  I collect it when they are done and offer feedback on the form.  Students consistently report that this process is helpful to them and are empowered by the validation that they do know a lot of language.


Hace tiempo…

This year I’m tackling another new challenge: only teaching intermediate students.  For the past few years I’ve had the beginners & AP, but this year I’m working with level 4 and AP only.  I’m also working on continuing to restructure our curriculum in a way that supports proficiency growth and comprehensible input.

One of the functional chunks that I’ve noticed was missing in my intermediate students’ toolbox is the concept of expressing how long ago/for how long they had been doing something.  This is a natural follow up question to the personalized interviewing that we have been doing to build community in our classroom at the start of the year.

Fonseca’s song Hace Tiempo is a fun introduction into this topic, with music and culture too.  I created a slide show to introduce students to who he is and a bit about Colombia with connections to other artists we’ve studied, a Quizlet set to support newer vocabulary, as well as some song activities and quick practice of the structure.  We capped off this phase of the lesson with Kitroduce Yourself on Gimkit.  Students wrote 3 truths & 1 lie about themselves, all including phrasing of “how long” in their statements.  We wrapped things up with dancing along with a zumba video of the song that sparked joy & wonder 🙂   All in all, a great first week!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Go! Vive a tu Manera

Go! Vive a tu Manera is a Netflix show from Argentina that I would describe as High School Musical meets Mean Girls.  I’ve seen three episodes, and to my delight, there is nothing so far that would prevent it from being used in any middle school or higher classes.

Several of my colleagues/collaborators have already been at work on materials to comprehensify the show for their classes:

And now I have some to add too!  Here are two free resources that can be used with any level class–continuing the theme of working smarter, not harder.

  • To kick things off: a guide to the principal characters on the show
  • And once students are familiar with the characters in the show, try playing Guess Who with this activity.  This can be scaled down for beginning students by focusing on physical traits like in the original board game, or scale it up for more advanced students by using questions that are based on knowing information about the characters themselves.

More to come soon!

Let’s Eat!

Though I’d love to take all my students abroad to experience life in other cultures, the more realistic option is to bring the world to our classroom.  I’ve written before about using restaurant resources as the foundation of a novice level food unit–find the Subway menu activities for free here.

Having had the opportunity to travel recently, I have added a new activity to the collection: an interpretive and cultural activity pack around going to Five Guys in Madrid.  You can find it here.  While we work with iconic foods in Spanish-speaking countries throughout the unit, this activity is a fun, strong hook for a food/dining unit for novices.  Enjoy!

Many Hands Make Light Work (Structures & Strategies for supporting student success and teacher sanity part 10)

One of my favorite professional activities is collaborating with thought leaders who challenge me and push me to grow.  Meredith White (@prhsspanish on Twitter) is one of those educators, and I’m grateful for her collaboration.  Today we would like to share some resources that are the fruit of some of our ongoing work that:

  1. provides structure for classroom management
  2. maintains a focus on proficiency-driven language learning
  3. is flexible and can be used in a variety of levels and units
  4. reduces teacher workload and decision fatigue

Over the last few years we have both been working on streamlining some of our repetitive planning and tasks in a way that maintains high quality and engagement, but also adds an element of consistency.  This has lead to the creation of a collection of documents that are easily adapted from one unit or level to the next, and merely require tweaking for the unit at hand.  Generally, these documents include:

  • a sheet to track daily warmups and performance task practice
  • a partner signup sheet per unit
  • vocab reference (in print or on Quizlet–my favorite!)
  • vocab organizer
  • roster-based interpersonal interview template
  • Puedos (find out more here and here)

Meredith has compiled most of these documents for her first unit of level 1  into one packet, available here.

Here’s my latest version of the Daily warmup sheet that includes a Zipgrade answer sheet.  This year I’ll be teaching only pre- AP and AP, so this provides us with an easy way to do some quick AP-test style practice without having to prep yet another document.  Meredith uses the same idea in a different format to help prep students for district assessments.

And here’s a set of partner sign ups using flags of the Spanish-speaking world.

Finally, here’s a look at my current set of Puedos looks like for level 1, unit 1.  In Meredith’s packet you will see the general template; this document is what I would give to students.  One tip that cam from my students is to copy a page of the partner sign ups onto the back of the Puedos.  It makes finding their assigned partners for the day so much easier!