New Year, Recycled Plan

We go back to classes on Thursday, and due to a professional development absence in December, I will see students for the first time in over two weeks. I miss them!!

That said, I am trying to maximize my time off and use high quality materials that are already set to go when we return.  We are on an alternating day calendar, so we will go back with one group of students Thursday and the other group on Friday… and then will have a weekend off.  Therefore, we are going to ease back into the year with some modified weekend chat for the novice classes and AP, and also continue our unit on holidays for AP.

For our vacation update, I found sweet inspiration at Anne Marie Chase’s blog.  I’m going to use “Muévete si” with AP and a modified version of her “guess who” activity for the novices.  Since we live in the south (where today’s high was in the 70’s), I made a different version that asks questions that involve less snow 😉  You can find a copy of the document here: Vacation back to school guess who weekend update–print two to a page to reduce the number of copies that you need 🙂

In AP we are continuing a unit on holidays, and will start with 12 Uvas–complete with a video of my family eating the uvas with one of our Spanish daughters and her family in Spain last night and a re-enactment in class.  We’ll use the Pre-uvas article from and also the deseos activities available here. We will also look at some selections from social media about the event (see slides below).

Welcome back, everyone!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


22 Otra Vez: 1 video, 3 leveled plans

In an example of working smarter, not harder, all my classes–levels 1-AP– are working with the Spanish lottery commercials 22 Otra Vez & Justino this week.  These short films are engaging and thought-provoking, and versatile enough to be intriguing and accessible to novices as well as upper intermediate students.

If you are planning to use these videos, don’t miss the incredible materials created by Kara Jacobs (start here).  Her materials have created most of the activities for my plans this week.

I made some adaptations specific to AP that I’ll share below.  While the novice classes  and lower intermediates benefit greatly from the picture talk activities that Kara created, the AP students are on a different level.  For me, the videos serve as a springboard for conversation, especially with an eye to cultural comparison and holidays in general.  The cultural background of my students is diverse, and while these commercials connect to a “Christmas” lottery, I want the focus of our conversations to be the holidays and traditions we celebrate in our communities, not just Christmas.  We will continue this study after winter break with things like New Years’ traditions, gift giving, feast days, etc.

Here are today’s discussion questions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And here is a quick reading about the lottery: La loteria reading practice AP


Daily Dashboard (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 8)

While using a bellringer/do now/warm up has been around for a while, they had long been a struggle for me.  This year I am working very hard to be consistent while still maintaining novelty, and the daily dashboard has been very helpful for me and for my students. One of the inspirations for this was Laura at PBLintheTL–see her version here.

What’s a dashboard?  For me, it’s having consistent elements on a slide that is posted as students come in that sets the class up for success.  Since I meet students at the door every day, every period, I need a way to communicate quickly and effectively what they should do independently to start class.

Here’s a sample slide for level 2:

E2 travel.001

While the content will vary according to our needs, these things are consistent:

  • the date
  • instructions for digital devices
  • start here–first 1-3 steps for class
  • our goal (which is usually more specific than this one, but this was on assessment day)
  • photo/visual support for steps
  • assignment/reminders for the day
  • usually–a countdown timer imported from YouTube to keep us on pace

Some benefits:

  • Class starts in an organized fashion without me having to direct it
  • I get a few minutes to deal with things that pop up
  • No excuses for “I didn’t know what the assignment was”–because it’s announced at the beginning of class
  • A message that class starts when you enter
  • It coordinates beautifully with the use of the Puedos warmup sheet as described here.
  • VISUAL directions for what to do with digital devices has dramatically cut down on the interactions needed to address off-task use
    • One tip:  if we are going to use a site like Gimkit, Quizizz, etc. early in class, then one of their warmup steps will be to set their devices to the site, put them screen down, and then wait for the code.  Then, when it’s time to play, I announce the code and we are off to the races!  It has been a big help in decreasing wasted time getting everyone into the game, especially when we have to boot up laptops.


How to make a dashboard:

It’s a slide with a consistent layout & elements.  That’s it.  Mine is made in Keynote, but Google Slides and PowerPoint will work just fine too.  The colored shapes help to focus attention and keep my instructions short.  They are simply color-filled shapes pushed to the back with text boxes on top.

When I work with new teachers–especially on classroom management–one of my key questions is “what do you want your start of class to look like?”  We visualize it, discuss it, and then build a plan to work toward making it happen.  Because classroom management is much, much more than discipline, the dashboard can be an important tool in a teacher’s tool chest to bringing this vision into reality.

Do you dashboard?  Please share examples in the comments!



La Leyenda de Olentzero

Do you know the story of Olentzero?  He’s a mythical character from Basque tradition that delivers presents to kids at Christmas time, and I learned about him from our Basque exchange student who spent the year with our family.  This summer I got the chance to explore his story a little more, and am planning to use it in class this year.  I prepared an activity pack containing pre-reading activities, a one page reading, slide show of photos, and a cultural comparison activity.  It’s available on TPT here.  Be sure to check out the awesome Christmas activities created by Kara Jacobs and Arianne Dowd too!

Level Up Language Framework (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 7)

My cyberamiga Amy Pento (@amypento) recently put into words something that’s been on my mind a lot in the last few years:  “most teachers were not taught how to teach reading & writing, only how to assign it.”  I know this is definitely the case for me, and I am still learning how to teach the art and craft of reading and writing to my students.   Erin Carlson’s article in the March/April 2016 issue of The Language Educator that has been a great resource to help me accomplish more complex writing in my upper novice & lower intermediate courses. You can find the article here, compliments of Erin.

Students need to add more depth, details, and elaboration to their work, but frequently were stumped for what they could add that was within their current skill level.  I took Erin’s ideas and changed them into a student-friendly handout and have seen excellent results in students’ writing and confidence levels. You can see a copy of one of the handouts here: Level up sentence framework travel E2

Here are some sample unedited student responses using the framework.  These are level 2 students in the first unit of the year, responding to the question “What kind of movie do you not like at all?”IMG_2946.jpgIMG_2932.jpg


Perfect? No.  But they communicate the authors’ ideas with support and depth.  When this is viewed as assessment that can inform instruction, I identified some things that will be worked into the next class story so that we see them more.

This framework has become one of the structures that is now woven into each unit.  The responses above came from a unit on entertainment; it’s an easy edit to make a version of this handout applied to each new unit.  After we walk through each step of sample sentences, I have students respond to one of the questions on the back and we enter a feedback loop.  They peer review work with a checklist that asks them to look for things like a variety of sentence starters, support for sentences, and connecting words.  Students then have an opportunity to edit their work before submitting it to me.  I rate them on the rubric included and provide some feedback on what they can do to improve.  After returning the work to them, they review the feedback and have the opportunity to ask questions before we complete the second question.

We are currently working on a unit about World Heritage Sites and travel.  I added a step to our feedback loop: showing exemplary student work (without names) and narrating what made it so good.  Here are three examples:



This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I lightly edited these examples to correct grammar, spelling, etc., because I want students to see accurate language.  However, this is still student work.  I added highlighting and animation so that we saw the text first, and then the colors came in.

  • gold: variety of sentence starters & expressions
  • turquoise: adding support for opinions
  • red: level up vocabulary like connectors
  • red numbers: showing multiple examples of support for opinions
  • purple: adding a related tangent that lends more support to the main idea

Student response to these strategy has been very positive.  I’ve seen boosts not only in students’ written expression, but in their confidence and willingness to try new things.  The feedback loop is a safety net where they know that the goal is growth, and where they won’t be penalized for errors.  That combination has been a game changer!

Edit 12/3/18:  My colleague from across the hall has made a German version of a level up sheet.  You can find it here: Level Up Document_German Version  Gracias, Will!

Edit 5/8/19:  Rebecca Blouwoulff created a French edition of the level up sheet.  Find it here: French Level up sentence framework



Vidas Impactantes

In my classes we make a point to read every day.  Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more… sometimes it’s a dive into authentic resources, and other times it’s working with extended reading in the form of comprehension-based readers or even novels (depending on the level of the class and the student).  One of the resources that has become invaluable in my classes is comprehension-based readers like Vidas Impactantes from Fluency Matters.

I have a class set of Vidas and have used them two different ways so far–once as a quick and easy read with my AP students and as a self-selected reading for intermediate students’ book club.  Later this year we will read it in level 2 as a key piece of our final unit that centers on biographies of world changers.  Fluency Matters provided the first set of books for me to try out and we liked it so much that we bought another set.  The opinions here are my own.

There are so many things that I like about this book!  It is a collection of brief biographies  of six influential hispanohablantes from across the globe:

  • Roberto Clemente (baseball & humanitarian, Puerto Rico)
  • Azucena Villaflor (activist, founder of Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Argentina)
  • Celia Cruz (cultural icon, singer, Cuba)
  • Julio Iglesias (singer, Real Madrid player, Enrique’s dad, Spain)
  • Luis Urzúa (miner trapped in Chile–credited with being the leader of the group & contributing to their survival)
  • María Reiche (German born Peruvian mathematician, researcher of Nazca lines)

From sports to music to science, there is something here to connect with a wide variety of students.

I learned a lot from reading the book myself. I had no idea about Julio’s soccer past, and knew nothing about María Reiche.  I love the idea that there is a balance of women and men, and that we get to touch on six different places while exploring the stories.  I appreciate that there are contemporary connections present here–students may not know much about Julio but they are aware of Enrique. The story of the trapped miners is compelling and recent, and learning more about Luis Urzúa makes it even more so. In my level 2 classes we are wrapping up a unit around travel and exploring World Heritage Sites, and Nazca Lines were one of the sites we “visited” virtually and intrigued many students.  I am looking forward to sharing María Reiche’s story with them a little later in the year to reconnect with their enthusiasm on the topic.

One of the other things I appreciate about this book is its flexibility.  You can read it all… or you can read it in segments because the biographies are separate chapters. It follows a fairly predictable format that improves its readability and provides an easy segue into comparisons between the subjects. It has enough content to be interesting and engaging, but the vocabulary is controlled enough so as not to overwhelm upper novice-lower intermediate learners. It’s an easy read for upper intermediate learners and an excellent tool for fostering discussion among them.  I plan on leveraging that flexibility later this year when I’ll have students in groups to working on sections of the book & presenting to each other.  More on that to come!

In short, Vidas Impactantes by Kristy Placido is a must have for your collection.  Its flexibility, engagement level, and positive approach to diversity make it an excellent use of limited funds for novice and intermediate classrooms alike.  A special note to teachers new to comprehension-based readers:  this is a good one to start with.  Don’t miss the teachers’ guide either–Fluency Matters’ guides are top notch!   You can find all the materials for this excellent book here.


Two new resource packs: Pets & Thanksgiving

I’ve been editing and streamlining some resources into more cohesive activity packs.  Today I wrapped up two of them, both for novice learners:  Pets and Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving activity pack is an IPA-style activity to lead students through reading and chatting about Thanksgiving history and traditions in the US.  It is designed for novice high-intermediate low range language learners, and is available for purchase here.

The pets IPA-style activity pack combines a class-sourced Mascota Especial activity, interviews, listening comprehension based on a trailer for The Secret Life of Pets, and a community-action oriented presentational writing task about pets available for adoption in local shelters.  I use these activities in level one before working on family because we get practice with high frequency topics (name, age, description, likes/dislikes) but with fewer options–so more reps.  You can download this pack from my TPT store here.