¡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.


Everything you can imagine is real.

This quote from Picasso is such fun to consider, and is a refrain in my planning when working with art.  I LOVE art, and even more than that, I love connecting kids who think that they don’t like art with art that they like 🙂

While I have several art-related things in progress at the moment, this art analysis chat mat/graphic organizer for upper level students is updated & ready to roll.  It is designed to support them and scaffold thinking and speaking, as well as giving them points to consider when talking about art.  I do not expect them to memorize all the things on the chart, but I do expect that they will be able to provide details when describing art works that they do–and don’t–like.  We are heading to the art museum soon, and will certainly use the guide there, but we also use it throughout the year as we discuss a variety of works of art linked to our units.

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!

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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.