Have it your way

**Updated 23 Jan. to correct a link in the handout.**

Our next unit in the novice classes is based around food and hunger when we resume classes on Wednesday.   Though we are technically beginning new classes, the vast majority of my students were also in my class in the fall, so we lose very little time to the transition, and will start with new material on day one.  Our first goal will be “I can say what I want on my sandwich.”

Over the course of the unit we will discuss popular foods from around the world, but to begin I wanted to start with something that is familiar to students.  In the town where our school is located, there are two national chain restaurants:  Subway and McDonalds.  We have a significant Spanish-speaking community, so using Spanish in Subway is not a stretch of the imagination.  We also get to talk about several ingredients that then we can mix and match when we look at menus from restaurants around the world.

So without further ado, here is what we will be doing on our first couple of days in class.  Students will use iPads to access Subway sites in Argentina and Mexico, and will use the content there to interpret key words and concepts.  Students will answer personalized questions about their preferences as they work through the activities.  I did a version of this activity last year and it was well-recieved.  Students were excited by the “I can actually do this!” notion, and we are hoping for a repeat this year.  I hope that you will find these activities helpful in your classroom as well.  🙂

 

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.

 

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 2)

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In the previous post, I described some of the activities that I used with my students to work through describing our favorite movies. To me, though the proof was in the pudding when we got to the end of the unit as evidenced by their assessments.  Our goals in the form of “I can” statements for this unit were:

  • I can describe the activities that I do in my spare time.
  • I can describe movies and shows that I’ve seen.
  • I can ask and understand about movies and shows that others have seen.
  • I can make plans to go out with friends.

The assessments for this unit took on four forms: informal listening assessment with feedback provided, reading assessment based on authentic resources, and presentational assessment about an impressive film, and an interpersonal assessment in the form of a guided, but improvised conversation.  More details follow…

presentational assessment

Students were asked to select a film that was meaningful to them, and to present about it.  I borrowed a template from Crystal Barragán, and developed questions that walked students through the basic skeleton of a movie review.   You can download it here.  Students started a first draft in class, were asked to finish it overnight if it needed more work, and then submitted it for feedback. I handed it back and we spent some time revising and answering their questions.

Next they received the assignment of presenting their film in class a couple of days later, but I still had one more trick up my sleeve.  They would only be able to use a symbolic notecard for their presentations; that is, a notecard with no words other than names. Instead, they can draw symbols, stick figures, etc. to represent what they want to say, but cannot read directly from the card.  I have found this technique to be very helpful in providing notes for students as they create increasingly complex presentations but yet requiring them to know their content instead of just reading the card to us.  Here’s a sample of a card from a student–can you guess which film he was describing?

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Finally came presentation day, and we tried a new technique that was a real winner!  Martina Bex had written about simultaneous presentations, and I decided to try it out.  Overall, students loved it. Their comments after the assessment indicated that it reduced their anxiety about presenting and that it gave them additional practice, and this was evident in their body language.  They were relaxed and chatting, not stressed and fretting.  This process also resulted in the first time all year that all students met the proficiency target on the first attempt.  It has been a long journey getting to this point and we’ve had many obstacles to overcome.  Now it’s time to build on our progress!

interpretive assessment/interpersonal assessment

1.  Students completed a brief reading assessment based on reading information about a theater in Madrid as well as movie offerings.   2.   One of the other major objectives of this unit was to work on asking original questions of others. Amy Lenord’s questions workshop was very helpful in developing an approach to doing this successfully. After completing the reading assessment, students wrote out some questions they might ask in order to invite another person to see one of those films.These questions were not graded, but served as a security blanket for students who wanted it on their oral interpersonal assessment.  I called students back in pairs and asked one of them to invite the other to a movie on the reading assessment page and another activity (like going to eat), including other arrangements like time, place, and my favorite original contribution:  who’s driving.

Next up: we complete our free time unit with the topic of tv–especially the concept of binge watching a series at a time.  We’ll pull some things that still need work from the movie unit into some targeted practice in this unit to see if maybe we can’t clean ’em up a little.

Until then: happy adventuring! Only 9 school Mondays left!