Man’s Best Friend

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Do you have pets?  Are they important in your life?  Natalie, my wonder rescue dog in the photo above (with her favorite bone, of course) has been my constant companion for the last 10 years.  She’s getting up in years now, but is still my shadow almost everywhere we go.  She is very protective of us and our kids, and though she is a marshmallow at heart, she will make it clear that all unknown people and squirrels had better stay clear of her people.

Many of our students have deep attachments to their pets too, and I’m trying something new this year in my novice classes to leverage this attachment and innate interest in animals.  We are working on the structures of tengo/tienes/tiene, quiere, se llama, and tiene # años as well as introducing the concepts of physical descriptions.  This fits into the greater framework of a unit on family, with the goal of “I can describe my pets.”

I’m thinking that by starting with pets, we have something that is highly interesting, focused, and concrete to use as our things to describe before we launch into family as a whole–which can get a little messy.  Pets only come in a few colors, with a few places they can live, and a limited range of descriptors…but people bring more options!  My hope is that by doing this we will be able to work on descriptions and topics like adjective agreement in a way that makes sense to the students before turning them loose on families.

Here’s an outline of our three day mini-unit so far:

  1. I read Karen Rowan’s book El Secreto de Isabela  to students as it was projected on the screen.  At various points through the book we stopped to ask questions like:
    1. ¿Sacas muchas fotografías?  ¿Sacas fotos de animales?  ¿Sacas muchos “selfies”?
    2. ¿Tienes animales en casa?  ¿Cuántos animales tienes?  ¿Quieres animales?  ¿Cuántos animales quieres?  ¿Tienes un perro?  ¿Quieres un perro?
    3. ¿Comes helado?  ¿Cuál helado es tu favorito?
  2. We used Martina Bex’s listening/drawing dictation forms as I read three key sentences from the story to students.
  3. Drawing inspiration from this post, I narrated a slide show of 10 common pets in the US… and then talked about some common pets in other countries.  They will never look at guinea pigs the same way again!  I love this aspect of bringing in culture to this topic.
  4. Whiteboard drawing vocabulary review
  5. Fast Five activity:  After modeling the question/answer sequence of “do you have”/”Yes, I have…/No, I don’t have…”, each student interviewed five other students about whether or not they had several of the pets we had discussed.  They took notes on the answers (aka collected data!) they received.  After brief modeling of the words pero and también in sentences, students wrote a 3-5 sentence summary of the results of their surveys.
  6. We worked with Sie7e’s awesome song called Tengo tu amor with activities from the amazing Zachary Jones.  This song has 20+ repetitions of tengo/tiene and is a class favorite from last year.
  7.  Tomorrow we will start describing our pets’ coloring, place of residence, size, and name.  For students who don’t have a pet, I ask them to pick one that they had in the past, or they can temporarily “adopt” one from a friend or family member.  If they still can’t choose one, they can describe a stuffed animal that they have/had.  Students will write a brief description of their pet and submit it for editing and feedback.
  8. We will read an infographic about pet ownership & expenses.  I can’t find the original, but it was in the NY Times and I translated it to Spanish.  Later in the week we will read another brief passage about pet ownership in other countries for comparison.
  9. We will watch and enjoy 🙂  the Pollito Pío video.

 

The round up:

  • Language skills addressed:  listening, speaking, reading, writing
  • Modes addressed:  interpretive, interpersonal, presentational
  • Cultural aspects:  products and perspectives
  • Opportunities for feedback/formative assessment:  in class q&a, fast five summary, dictation, descriptions of pets

The take away:

  • This is a keeper!  Students are engaged, and are quickly absorbing some key skills that will be necessary for future units.  The cultural aspects are also very interesting to many students.

Want more ideas for using animals/pets in class?  Check out this collection from Zachary Jones.

 

¿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:

Enjoy!

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

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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.

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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! 🙂

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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?

…with liberty and justice for all

My intermediate level class begins each day with the whole school recitation of the US Pledge of Allegiance.  Over the last few weeks, the words “with liberty and justice for all” have been particularly poignant as we have been exploring some social justice issues linked to La Guerra Sucia in Argentina and Chile, as well as Guatemala.  To me, one of the most important things I can teach my students is to think critically and with empathy for others. Along the way we will learn a lot of Spanish, but I want my students to be better citizens as a result of our studies as well.

In the course of this unit we incorporated music, film, reading, tweeting with another class, and a live Skype conversation, and I have seen impressive growth in my students’ skills as a result.  Here’s how we did it:

  1. Pinterest:  It’s important to me that students see the beauty of the places that we study as well as the struggles.  We introduced the topic by having students look for information on Argentina and Chile and pin photos to their Pinterest accounts.  They shared them with each other in class, narrating what they were showing and why it interested them.
  2. I was greatly assisted by Kara Jacobs’ work here.
  3. Stations for exploring the theme:  We collaborated with Kristy Placido’s class, completing her stations activities.  More information is here.
  4. the movie Cautiva:  Again in conjunction with Kristy Placido, we watched the film Cautiva.  The 800 mile gap between our schools disappeared through the magic of technology and our students discussed the film at various stopping points.  The characters in Cautiva continued to weave through our studies as we talked about events being similar to what had happened to Sofia and her friends and family.
  5. TPRS Publishing’s La Guerra Sucia:  I love this book because it is compelling–I had to remind the kids who read ahead to not spoil it for the others–and is just enough of a challenge to help students grow in their language.  Like the film, it also gives us a framework around which we can base the study of other materials.
  6. Maria Hinojosa’s interviews of Robert Cox (as recommended by the TPRS teacher’s guide) and Mercedes Doretti.  Doretti’s organization is working world wide to identify remains of people who were victims of mass killings and genocide, including in Guatemala.  Though these interviews were in English, I believe that their worth lies in further connecting students to the story.
  7. What Happened at Dos Erres:  This story from This American Life has haunted me since the day I heard it, and I instantly knew that I wanted to find a way to use it in class.  There is a Spanish print edition of the story here, but we simply did not have enough time to work through this and do the other things that I wanted to include.  I also recognize that it is beyond these students’  i+1 reading level. Maybe next time?  The story is also available as an eBook in Spanish or English here.
  8. Music: Maná’s “Desapariciones“; Sting’s “Ellas Danzan Solas“; Bono’s “Homenaje a las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo“.  These songs ended up leading us on a lengthy conversation about music in the 80’s and 90’s, because my students didn’t know who Sting, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, or the Police were… so I had to teach them that too.  (Thank you YouTube!).  I’ve wanted to teach this unit since hearing Ellas Danzan Solas several years ago, so this was a dream come true moment.
  9. Google Earth:  We “visited” several of the places from the book via Google Earth on the projection screen, and discovered that from La Casa Rosada, the pictures were taken at night if you head in one direction and in the day in the other directions!
  10. Skype!:  We had the pleasure of a Skype conversation in Spanish with the amazing Brittany Peterson who told of her travels, study, and journalistic work in Argentina and Chile, including this story, this one,  and especially this one.  Brittany started her Spanish studies as a sophomore in another high school in our district, and I loved the aspect of students seeing someone “like them” using the language.  By the way, Brittany was in Chile and on the ground during the Chilean spring student uprising, and covered the topic extensively.  If you are teaching this topic, search out her coverage–it is excellent!  One of my favorite questions from the students was when they asked if she had watched El Internado–they were so nervous to talk throughout the Skype call, but forgot their nervousness when it came to this topic due to their passion for it.
  11. Assessment:  We used Amy Lenord’s Conversation Circle for assessing speaking skills. This is hands-down one of my favorite tools  for intermediate classes.  Our written assessment has some music interpretation with writing and a writing from TPRS Publishing’s teacher’s guide for the novel.
  12. Grammar:  Oh, yes, there was some grammar too.  We wove perfect tenses and subjunctive throughout the unit.

All in all, this was a long unit, but a good one.  Students are reporting that they feel more confident in their skills, and it shows when they write and speak.  They loved the Conversation Circle and Skype, and have asked for specific topics to be addressed that they recognize as weaknesses/breakdown points.  They are clearly making connections with other classes–one of the threads in a recent conversation was comparing themes in Orwell’s 1984 with politics and society in our studied countries.  They were also shocked to hear that while I had read it, it was still futuristic when I did.  They brought up comparisons to the Holocaust and visits to the Holocaust Memorial when they saw the slogan “Nunca más” on Madres de la Plaza de Mayo materials.

…con libertad y justicia para todos.  I have no doubt that this phrase has taken on new meaning for this group of students, and I’m honored to have been on this journey with them.

Roll out the red carpet! (part 1)

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photo from Wikicommons

My teaching situation is unique in several ways, but one of the aspects that I like best is that my “level 1” students in the fall become my “level 2” students in the spring (we’re on a 4×4 block schedule), with very little variation.  They may change class periods, but the students basically stay the same. This means that instead of focusing on what to teach in each level, I can generally look at the year as their novice experiences and their second year (levels 3 & 4) as their intermediate experiences.  This also ties in with the exit standards of my state. 

What a liberating experience! In January, we were running out of time to do the last unit I’d planned, but because the students were so enthusiastic about the sports unit.  So what to do? Simply move the “free time” unit to “level 2”, which just meant that we’d get to it in the spring semester. Conveniently, we started a loosely themed free time unit a couple of days after the Oscar awards. Hoping to replicate our success from the sports unit and take the students a few steps further down the path to proficiency, I edited the free time theme to the language functions of expressing opinions, describing, making recommendations, and making plans. Our cultural focus was around the Spanish-speaking Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o, Alfonso Cuarón, and Emmanuel Lubetski.  Students completed a reading and vocabulary extraction activity using tweets in Spanish about the Oscars ceremony and also a listening activity based on a video interview that Nyong’o gave in Spanish. I completed our introduction to the topic by presenting biographical information about Nyong’o, Cuarón, and a few other key players in the Spanish-speaking film world.  You can download many of the introductory activities here.

One of the amazing things that I appreciate about this culture-first approach is that we can practice the necessary concepts as many times as needed without boredom or staleness. Talking about the scariest movie you’ve ever seen is a different conversation from talking about the funniest movie that you’ve ever seen, yet it employs many of the same structures.  This allows us to get the repetitions we need without losing student interest and engagement.

Recent #langchat conversations on Twitter have discussed the use of a vocabulary list. For me, a list is like a map of a place you’ve never visited before. Without some guidance from a map, you’d be lost, and it’s hard to get an image of your surroundings if you only can rely on asking others for directions. So a vocab list for my classes is like a tourist’s guide. It has some key places (phrases) that you probably don’t want to miss, as well as some general directions where you might want to go. It also has options so that you can tailor your adventure to your personal preferences. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell convinced me to give up vocabulary quizzes with this post, so now the list in my classes serves the function of a well-informed tour guide.  Students have it and are encouraged to use it, but are certainly not limited to what is on the page. We keep a running list on the board in each unit of words that they request, (such as “popcorn” for the movie unit), and I also solicit their input on the topic before I prepare the list for them.  

Since a major focus for this unit is describing, I wanted to make sure that they had a wide range of vocabulary at their disposal to describe films that they had seen. This is demonstrated on the vocab list–which also has a lot of vocab recycled from the sports unit where we were also working on giving and supporting opinions and descriptions. From there we spent the rest of the unit working on building progressively more complex descriptions and making plans to go out with friends.  I received invaluable assistance in creating these experiences for my students from Neil Jones (see his amazing blog here), Zachary Jones (see his awesomeness here), and materials from Mary Glasgow magazines. Download the unit packet here.  I was very pleased with the outcomes of the unit! I’ll describe assessment in part 2 of this post soon.

¡Paz y amistad!