First day of intermediate Spanish

Inspired by Sra. Spanglish, I decided to start our intermediate class today with stations.  I had several ideas that I wanted to use, and though we often use stations, this is the first time that I’ve kicked off the year with them.  My school disbanded the native speakers classes, so this year’s intermediate class is about 50% hispanohablantes, 50% anglosajones.  I need to get a feel for where my students are–some took the novice classes with me, some took them online, some have never taken a Spanish class before–so stations were a good, low stress way of doing some informal assessment and relationship building.  Students rotated as they finished each station, and I walked around coaching and troubleshooting–a nice change of pace!  We will add a few more stations tomorrow before launching into our first unit.


instructions for stations ready to go in frames from IKEA.  (Thanks Pinterest!

You can download a complete copy of the station instructions for students here.

By skills/modes, the stations were:

  • Listening:  lyrics training
  • Writing:  Top 10 reasons to take Spanish (gracias, Sra. Birch!), Shelfies (gracias, Sra. Spanglish)
  • Reading:  Shelfies
  • Speaking/interpersonal:  From a list of basic interview questions, select several and rehearse them with a partner.  Finish by recording the conversation in Sock Puppets or Puppet Pals.
  • Technology time saver:  Make/update all the accounts that we will need for the year now.  Record usernames and passwords on reminder sheet.
  • Las Pequeñitas:  I used a frequency list of the most-used words (the little words like a, por, después, etc.) in Spanish and turned them into a game based on CandyLand that was upcycled from a friend’s basement.  I created a set of cards for the game that had the little words on them in Spanish to replace the cards that came with the game; students needed to be able to explain them in English.  Though this is not a type of activity that I use often in class, it had the desired effect:  the anglosajones jotted down the Spanish words that they didn’t know, and the hispanohablantes had several questions about the differences between words that they knew, but couldn’t explain, like the difference between me & mi–some students didn’t realize that they were different words.  One of my core values for the class is that everyone can learn, and this was an activity that supported that value.  The cards are available for download here; the first four pages are color cards with no writing so that they can be adapted for other word sets.

All in all, it went pretty well.  We had some quirks with technology that were good to work out early on; I also got to work with some kids to calm their nerves about the class as a whole–key to building a program.  Last year’s class had 13 students in it; this year’s has 25!  I am looking forward to an amazing adventure!




Technology Cheat Sheet

Short, sweet, and simple today, my colleagues:  Here is a handout that I use with my students throughout the year to give them a list of sites that we use throughout our classes and their usernames/passwords for those sites. At some point in the first week of school, we have a technology lab and students set up all of their accounts for the year at once.  Since I usually have students for at least two levels consecutively, this ends up being quite a time saver from a classroom perspective, and a sanity saver for me so that I don’t have to use my time looking up information and re-setting passwords.  I copy them 2 to a page on obnoxiously colored paper so that it’s hard to lose and they put them in their binders.  Click here if you would like to see the full document.  Happy School-Eve!

tech cheat sheet screen shot for web


¿Hay Cola Cao?

The countdown to school is on! I’m trying to finish the last season of El Internado before classes start, and yet I feel like I’m going to be moving away from old friends when it’s done!  Nonetheless, I continue to learn new things from the show, and here is one (NO spoilers):  Cola Cao.  It’s a chocolatey mix like Nesquick or Ovaltine, and Fermín mentions it during breakfast service in an episode of season 7.  I pay extra attention to what Fermín says because his wit and humor are a class in themselves!

I have a friend in Spain who was an exchange student here in the US when I was little, and we found each other again on Facebook a couple of years ago. He has been a gracious tutor, instrumental in explaining things like Cola Cao.  He’s also a little surprised by the random things I ask… like “what’s cola cao?”.  He connected me with this video that I thought fellow Internado fans might appreciate:


5 Apps I love for my classroom, part 2

In part 1 of this series, I shared uses for two very helpful apps, Remind and QuickKey.  Today we will continue the series with two more:  PikMe and WordReference.  Each of these apps does something unique, and as a package they comprise a very helpful suite of services that make teaching easier.

PikMe: PikMe is essentially a random student selector and group generator.  While there are many creative tools for creating groups, sometimes I just want a random grouping, and PikMe makes this easy and puts a lot of power at my fingertips.

Getting Started:  As with other apps, you will need to setup your classes and enter your student rosters to get started, but once that is done you are ready to roll.


IMG_1545Choose a class, and then your roster will appear.  From there, you can click on an individual student.  You can add student photos to replace the generic silhouette.  My favorite part of the screen is the stars at the bottom.  They mean what you want them to mean, so one of the uses is a discreet way to informally assess students.  As they are working on a speaking activity in pairs/groups, I can listen to them and rate their performance. While I use a detailed rubric to evaluate their performance for a grade, this can help me collect data and reminders about who I need to chat with later.  There is also an attendance-taking feature.  I don’t use it regularly, but it’s a great tool for fire drills!


IMG_1574The true beauty of this app, though, is the group maker.  In a matter of seconds, you can create groups based on the number of students or on the number of groups that you need, and the app will separate them for you. You merely “spin” the selection wheel with a swipe of your finger.  Extras, as in the 25th student when you have 6 groups of 4, are evenly distributed through the other groups when possible.  You can also email the list to yourself, which is incredibly helpful for multi-day projects when students were absent.  It also makes it easy to display the groups on a projector to limit the “what group am I in?” questions from students.  I’ll also take this opportunity to adjust some groups as needed for absences, personalities, and student strengths and weaknesses.

IMG_1546           IMG_1547







The app has a few quirks, but it what it does, it does well.

WordReference:  Word Reference is a multilingual digital dictionary. Not only does it work as an English/TL dictionary, it also offers Spanish-French and Spanish-Portuguese.  I’m a novice French speaker, but often find that the words I look up in Spanish stick with me better than the ones I look up in my native English, so I like that feature.  The two aspects that I like best about WR are its availability and its forum.  It’s available as an app  as well as a web-based site, which makes it possible for every student to have access to a good quality dictionary for free.  I teach in a high poverty school, and I like that Word Reference helps to even the playing field for my students.  If they don’t have a smartphone, I have paper dictionaries that I can lend them for use at home.  But it also means that everyone has quick access to dictionaries as needed both in class and at home.


The Spanish edition actually is two dictionaries in one!  The greatest benefit of WR for me is the forum section.  Once on the entry like the one above, the user can scroll down to see if the sought term has been discussed in the forums.  These discussion forums are treasure troves of commentary on idioms, regionalisms, and related terms, and are replete with helpful information.    Students have indicated that the forum often has what they wanted to say in the sense that they wanted, rather than having to piece it together or use a translator.

As an added bonus, they are even helpful to me as I continue to grow my language skills.   I’ve relied on them extensively in the past few months to help me understand El Internado better, especially Fermín’s delightfully witty dialogue.  I screen shot the new words, put them in an album on my phone, and then I have a mini-dictionary for reference when the same terms pop up again. By doing this, I’ve discovered a theme in the gaps in my vocabulary–I have added new depth to my vocabulary for being angry, in love, and witty comebacks.  Not bad for a free app and a TV show, huh?

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series for my favorite app of all: Evernote!

Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

5 Apps I love for my classroom, part 1

We go back to school in 9 short days. I’m struggling to make peace with the things on my summer list that may not get done, but I’m also excited about the prospect of a new year and new school supplies!  Confess now–I know some of you also find new markers, new notebooks, and shiny new colorful things to be nearly irresistible!

One of the things on my docket in the first week of school is to set up the apps that I use on a regular basis in class.  They serve very different purposes, but each of them is now an invaluable tool for our classroom.  Today I’ll tell you about Remind (formerly Remind 101), and Quick Key.  We’ll talk about PikMe, Word Reference, and Evernote in future posts.  All are available as apps for iPhone/iPad, and I believe that all (except Pikme?) are available for Android as well.

Remind:  Remind is a safe, one way messaging platform that provides a way to communicate via text with students and parents.  They can see messages that you send out, but cannot reply.  This means that you can send a message from your phone but they can’t see your number.  You can also log in to the Remind site and send a message that way.  Messages can be scheduled, too, so it’s easy to set up recurring reminders as well as to set up several days’ messages all at once.


Getting started:  sign up for an account linked to your school email.  Then create as many groups as you would like.  You could use one group per class, and then set up subgroups.  We also have used it to communicate with teams and clubs as well.  Remind will provide you with a code that you give to the people who should enroll in the group.  Once they have the code, they self-enroll via text message, and you are good to go!  You can send messages to whole classes, or to small groups, as long as you have at least three people in the group.

Remind has recently gone through some significant upgrades–you can now attach files and send links in your messages.  Makes it easy to send missing work to a student and his parents!

QuickKey:  QuickKey turns your phone or iPad into a scantron scanner and disaggregates the data for you.  Simple and sweet, it allows me to get instantaneous feedback about my students’ performance on right/wrong types of questions.  Though I don’t use much of this type of assessment for the upper levels, it is a valuable type of formative assessment for the lower level classes.  Anything that can be turned into a/b/c/d/e answers can be graded this way, and it literally takes seconds to scan once your classes are set up.  Some examples that I’ve used have been listening prompts where students match a picture to the descriptions they hear, multiple choice reading comprehension, and even “which one of these is not like the other” vocabulary practice.  Since there is such a demand for “data” in our classes, this allows me to collect data that can be helpful for redirecting instruction even in a CI-oriented classroom.  See the screenshot below:  which questions do we need to revisit NOW?


Getting started:  Sign up for an account here.  Create your classes and add your roster.  Print the roster!  Each student will receive an unique ID # that they will need to fill in on the answer sheet, and experience has shown that they don’t remember it.  Download the answer sheet here, then print it and make copies.  You can also copy/paste it into other documents, embedding it in handouts and assignments for students.  (See an example here.)  Outside of the app, make your assessment.  Return to the app and create the answer key.  Administer the assessment–have students use black pen or marker to complete the answer sheet for best scanning success.  When you are ready to scan, open the app, select the class/assessment, and scan away!  You will have an entire class’ results within seconds.

Though it is generally intended for formative assessment, I used QuickKey to grade the listening assessment portion of our final exam last semester.  We had a very fast turnaround time for finals, and using QuickKey was very helpful in delivering results quickly and reducing stress.  It can also be a good tool for pre-testing to direct instruction.  No need to review all of level 2 with my incoming level 3 class–QuickKey gives me another tool to strategically assess some of our key concepts to see what things we can highlight and which things we might need to reteach.

I hope that these apps will help you as much as they have helped me.  Stay tuned for part 2!


I LOVE summer: World Cup/Cromos/Rainy Day edition



While life on the blog has been pretty quiet, the opposite is true for life away from it.  We have had an absolute blast this summer!  We were World Cup crazy through June and early July, even going so far as to stream a game on the ESPN app on my phone as we drove through the backwoods of Wisconsin because Argentina was playing.  I have the absolute delight of spending significant amounts of time with a sports-crazed 5 year old during the summer, and in addition to watching for Messi’s magic, we have extended World Cup mania through our cromos albums, and they have been amazing for a rainy day activity.  Tiny guy’s level of engagement in this activity is what we seek in our classrooms–it’s intense, and it has given me some ideas of how to use this resource in class.


But before we get to that, here’s my true confession:  I had never heard of cromos until this summer, and now I’m almost as hooked as the little guy.  My first introduction was through a blog written by a friend of a friend, talking about her Spanish husband’s obsession with the album.  Then when Zachary Jones did a series of posts on it, I decided to give it a whirl.  So while I started with a few cromos and an album via Amazon, when the little guy showed his fascination with it too, we’ve gone a little nuts.  Basically, the cromos are sold in packs of 7, and they are stickers with numbers on the back.  The numbers correspond to a position in the album, and you peel the stickers and put them in at their designated point.  There are player pictures as well as team photos and logos, and also photos of the stadiums.  Each pack has a variety, and part of the fun is in not knowing quite what you might find.  The boy about pops every time we open a new pack! 🙂



We are now trading back and forth (he has an ASTOUNDING memory for what he already has) and are talking about so many things along the way.  Where is he from?  Where is that country?  Is it near the US, or far away?  What colors are in his flag?  Who is your favorite player?  Who is your favorite team?  How do you say those things in Spanish?  He is fascinated by it, and since it rains almost every day at some point, it has become our go-to activity in the afternoon.

From a classroom application standpoint, here are ideas that are rolling around in my mind:

  • Use the extras/duplicates to make mini Guess Who boards with a cultural context to practice basics of physical description and spelling names.  Guess Who with names like “Iker Casillas” and “Andrés Iniesta” is inherently more interesting for many kids than made up characters like “Jorge” and “Mario”.
  • Use the extras to review geography
  • Use the collection and articles such as this and videos such as this for reading and listening comprehension practice with rich cultural content.
  • Compare experiences curating collections as kids (state quarters in the US, Pokemon, Yugioh) with this practice

What else can you think of?  Oh, and can you spare a Messi?