Walls of Success



One of the things that people comment on when entering our classroom for the first time is that the walls are purple.  Yup, purple.  I inherited them, and have even grown to like them, especially when compared with institutional beige in my previous rooms.  One of the next things that happens is they start engaging with our walls.  Inspired by Martina Bex (see files here), I have turned our walls into a living tool for helping students to be successful.  The back of the classroom, as seen in the photo above, started with Martina’s word wall posters and then grew over time to include more things that kids wanted to say.  Since I teach levels 1-4, the wall has things that are more applicable to some levels than others, but they are all there.  That kid who wants to know more “advanced” stuff?  He can use the wall.  The kid who still struggles to remember what the question words mean?  She can use the wall.  Kids who need some additional visual reinforcement of tough concepts like conjugation have a color-coded chart to help them get it right.  It’s equal opportunity, but differentiated, support for the language learners, and I love it.

Last year my principal asked if the wall was decoration, or if kids really used it.  Then he observed us working on a writing assignment and saw it in action and talked about it at our next staff meeting.  I was reminded of how helpful it can be when used intentionally today in my novice class.  Continuing with our theme of house/home, students wrote several sentences yesterday explaining which home on House Hunters was the best for their “client”.  They handed this in, and I offered feedback with the assistance of Amy Lenord’s Quick Write form.  Our goal is that they would be able to write at a level 4 as described on the form (novice high), especially with the support of their notes that they took while watching.  Overall, most did well, but they only met the criteria of a level 3.  So today we talked about how to use the word wall to take the work that they were already doing and move it up the proficiency scale. Instead of just rewriting the same description, today’s task was to explain why they didn’t choose the other two houses.  Suddenly phrases like aunque, sin embargo, primero, antes, and many more are not only attainable (because they are on the wall), they are relevant.  “I like house number 2” and “it’s far from town” can now become “I like house number 2 even though it’s far from town” just by adding aunque.  Add in sin embargo and por eso and we can quickly achieve a passage that says “I like house number 2 although it’s far from town.  Nonetheless, it has lots of natural light and as a result it is the best house for them.”


Now that, my friends, is progress! We had several “lightbulb moments” among the classes where suddenly they could see the difference in quality…and that they really could do it.  The struggling students could see that even they could add simple things like también or como to beef up their work; the highly curious could connect some other dots and run with it.

Have you used word walls?  How do you use them to support your students’ learning?  I’d love to see your ideas in the comments.

image source:  http://www.giftstogive.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/original_345330_p87t6rbh4umouluiusn19l77x.jpg

Pick a house… any house.

We have almost made it! Five more days until a two week break for the holidays, and then when we return we only have 3-4 days before exams begin. We’ve been talking about life at home, and this week we are going to continue by doing some simulated house hunting activities available here. (Link & file updated on 12/15/14.)  Though the corresponding video from House Hunters International is in English, students will complete activities in Spanish to accompany their viewing and to introduce/use vocabulary.  Later in the week we will work with ideas from Amy Lenord’s blog using Extreme Makeover Home Edition Argentina to close out the unit and the year.

Happy holidays!

Extreme Writing Makeover

I’m in my second year of using El Internado in my intermediate classes, and it has started me thinking.  (This is why–after 20+ years of teaching–lesson planning still is a work in progress!)  The time had come for us to talk about subjunctive in more concrete terms, so this year I am teaching subjunctive through El Internado, and the process has been the most smooth I’ve seen yet.  Instead of talking about what fulano or your mom wants, having the tangible characters of Paula and Marcos wanting their parents to come back or María wanting (spoiler) to know that he is her (spoiler) has just made the whole thing make a lot more sense.  Because they care about the characters, they are focused on expressing ideas rather than obsessing about which rule of usage applies.  But also because they care about the characters, they want to get it right.

This is what was running in the back of my mind when I stumbled upon some photo-based writing prompts from the writeabout.com.  Designed for English classes, they have a ton of creative, interesting writing prompts that will get students thinking, caring, and wanting to get it right like what has been going on for us with El Internado.  While most are going to be intermediate-advanced level prompts/story starters as written, there are some that are adaptable to an upper novice level such as:


Here’s one I’m planning to use when we talk about commands in the intermediate class:


One for an art unit:


And then one that might just be in a collection of student choice options:



The first thing that resonates with me is how much student choice is inherently embedded in the topics. They are specific enough to inspire creativity and thought, yet they open a wide world of options in choosing which direction to take. I think that even students who don’t like to write will find something to say about them.  This is what I have found with El Internado too: their desire to express their ideas overwhelms their hesitations about using Spanish to do so.  Motivation and choice is powerful–powerful enough to overcome fear.

Writeabout is a publishing platform too, but I haven’t investigated it yet.  At this point I’m planning to put the questions in Spanish and use them periodically as writing assignments/assessments.  There are over 100 of the prompts on their Facebook page.

How do you inspire students to invest in their learning process? Please chime in in the comments!



I Can Be Your Hero, Baby!

One of the catalysts in my growth as a teacher in the last few years was this post from the amazingly creative Kara Parker and Meghan Smith.  It was what lit the lightbulb of how I might be able to make comprehensible work in my class.  I knew why, but without having seen models, the how was difficult to grasp.  It resulted in teaching the “activities” unit of my novice class a lot differently.  Instead of naming sports, we instead started talking about them–all in Spanish.  Since the sports’ names are almost all cognates, they are easy.  But when we started learning about sports through famous athletes, well that was an a-ha! moment.

Students researched a famous Hispanic athlete to report back on.  While most chose mainstream US sports like basketball and baseball, there was a group–that group–of boys who are totally not into school, let alone Spanish.  But when they were given the opportunity to talk about Rey Mysterio and other lucha libre, oh my tortilla!  They were all over it.   And thus, Lucha Libre Day was born.

Students completed this assignment:

1.  Ve al sitio:  http://goo.gl/MUXBxd   ¿Cuál es tu nombre de luchador?

2.  Inventa una personalidad como luchador.  ¿Dónde vives?  ¿Cómo es tu personalidad como luchador?

3.  ¿Luchas por el equipo técnico (bueno) o el equipo rudo (malo)?

4.  Diseña y colorea tu máscara de luchador.

And they made their own lucha libre masks–for those who didn’t own one already.;)


Now, confession time:  I didn’t know anything about this world when we started this journey.  But my students were enthusiastic about teaching me, and that got me exploring on my own.  There is a collection of resources at the bottom of this post that you might find helpful in building your own Lucha Libre day!

For the intermediate classes, I’ve also done a different version–superhero day.  It might be easy to dismiss all of this as fluff, but it is an engaging topic with real meat to it.  We can compare superheroes that they already know with characters like Chapulín Colorado (played by the recently deceased Chesperito).  We do some activities with film (Los Increíbles), music, and it’s a great way to work on advanced grammar concepts like imperfect subjunctive/conditional tenses with questions like, “if you could have one superpower, what would it be?”, “what would your costume be?”, “what would your secret hideout be like?”, and “who would be your sidekick?”.  This also opens up into a potential PBL project: “If you could solve one world problem, what would it be?  Why?  How?”, etc. and let them fly.


Superhéroes latinos article from Veinte Mundos

Superhero resources

PBS documentary on Lucha Libre

Dhani Tackles the Globe–episode on Mexico (available on iTunes)

Get the party going with this groovy song from Mexican Institute of Sound

Jasmin Garsd’s story on las LuchadorAs–women in the lucha libre ring

Zachary Jones (of course) has some resources here