Random Numbers via Dot to Dot

I have a quick novice level activity to share today that is good for multiple languages: Dot to Dot.

Numbers are used in real life in random order, and high school students (hopefully!) know how to count, so we don’t need to practice numbers in sequence, but rather in unpredictable order. To practice this in a fun way, we did dot to dot in class today. But there’s a twist: I turned it into a listening exercise. Each student receives a copy of a sheet where the sequential numbers have been replaced by random numbers. However, as I replaced the original numbers, I kept a list of the new numbers in the right order.  So instead of 1, 2, 3… the list goes 1, 75, 84… (for example)

In class I read the sequence as the students connected the dots I called.  They seemed to like it–they asked if we could do another one, and they were successful with it.  It also helped them to isolate numbers that are still problematic for them to continue to practice.

The original dot to dot is from Raisingourkids.com (I believe). The original idea is from an old French textbook, maybe Discovering French?

The file is available here: Scrambled dot to dot  The first page is the student handout, the second page has the numbers to call in the proper sequence.


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


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.


War and 99: Two high interest card games to practice numbers

We’ve now been in class for about two weeks, and things are humming along.  In my novice class, we’ve worked on numbers off and on for a few days, and it was time to give numbers a purpose greater than page numbers, age, and telling time: a couple of good, competitive games.  In addition to giving us a practical purpose, it also introduced a level of fun and novelty that was a pleasant change of pace.  While neither game is linguistically complex, I maintain that they have earned a valuable place in our lessons, and the kids loved them and wanted to answer correctly in Spanish. That, my friends, is academic gold!  I hope you will find them helpful too.  The dollar store carries decks of cards, and after stocking up once, I’ve been able to use them for many other uses too.

War (adapted for class)

Each pair of students gets a deck of cards.  One student gets all the red cards, the other all the blacks.  They turn over one card from their piles simultaneously.  In the traditional version of the game, the higher card wins.  In our version, the person who looks at the two cards and calls out the sum of them in Spanish first wins.  We also play it with multiplication instead of addition.  In the event of a tie, rock-paper-scissors is the tie breaker.



Each group of 3-5 students gets a deck of cards, and someone deals 5 cards to each student.  The remainders go face down into a pile, and the top card is turned up in a second pile.  The player who starts selects a card, lays it on the pile, and calls out the sum of the two cards.  He then draws a card from the deck before the next player makes a play–speed is part of the strategy of the game.  The second player lays down his card of choice, and again, calls out the sum of the running total of the pile plus his card.  The goal is to be the last person who can play a card without the pile total exceeding 99.  In order to make this possible, certain cards have special values:

Ace = 1

4 = resets the pile total to 0 AND reverses the direction of play

9 = automatically sets the pile total to 99

10 = -10

Jack & Queen = 10

King & Joker = 0

all other cards are at face value

A key part of the strategy is to force the other players into a position where they have nothing that they can play.  Again, the total of the collective pile can NEVER go over 99.  Therefore, if player #1 plays a 9 card and calls out 99, and player #2 doesn’t have a 4, 10, King, or Joker to bring the total down under 99, then player #2 is out.

Finally, I have a Donors Choose project going now that is about halfway funded.  However, through Sept. 7, there are matching funds available if contributors use the code INSPIRE at checkout.  Would you consider sharing this info on your networks? The project is posted at http://www.donorschoose.org/project/aventuras-ambiciosas/1315429?utm_source=dc&utm_medium=project&utm_campaign=copyURL&rf=copyURL-siteshare-2014-09-project-teacher_2169490

As always, thank you.


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



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.


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! 🙂



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?

El Mundo es un Pañuelo

Back in the mid-90’s, before I knew about things like “comprehensible input”, “authentic resources”, or really, much about language acquisition, I still had a sense that the textbook way of language learning wasn’t really working for me and my students.  This lingering, nagging feeling was the impetus for what has become an unending quest to hone this craft of language learning and teaching.  I just completed year 21 of teaching, and I continue to grow as a learner and a teacher nearly every day… and I’m not done yet.

In the late 1990’s, I had the opportunity to go to a workshop by Pam Kaatz that dealt with something that she called “Building Artificial Realities”.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, this workshop would introduce me to teaching with comprehensible input and a teaching style that promoted acquisition.  I still teach a version of the lesson over 15 years later, though it also has 15 years’ worth of refinements.  I was working on it again last week and solicited some help from my Twitter PLN to expand it even more.  In today’s post, I’ll attempt to explain this unit of study that has been so successful for me.

The premise of this unit is that students receive a new identity from a new country and then are asked questions based on that identity.  In the course of this unit (which I use early in level 1), students will be exposed to a healthy list of fundamental concepts, all in the target language:

  • several countries (Japan, Italy, Spain, England, US, Mexico, Chile, Russia, Germany, Canada, & Argentina)
  • their capitals
  • languages spoken
  • national sport
  • money used
  • typical food
  • continents
  • nationalities
  • pronunciation
  • subject pronouns
  • basic present tense conjugations of be, eat, play, live, use, visit, speak, have, want to go to
  • question words
  • basic connector words (and, but, also, neither…nor)
  • a landmark for each country
  • flag of each country
    • colors
    • numbers
    • design elements (star, stripe, symbol)

Clearly, this is a unit that takes a while!  To begin, I take my laminated flags for each of the countries and we practice pronouncing their names in Spanish. Though it might seem odd to use these countries as opposed to all Spanish-speaking countries, they are strategically chosen to introduce students to the sounds of Spanish:  ñ in España, j in Japón (and accents too!), rr in Inglaterra, x in México, g in Argentina, and all the vowels too.  We can build their language ears with sounds of Frahhhnciahhhh and Roooooosia instead of the short a’s and u’s that we use in American English.  As we go through the countries, we also talk about the flags:  what colors, what designs, quantities, and even which direction they go, all through modeling and spiraling questions.  We start with yes/no questions (“Is there white on this flag?”), followed by either/or questions (“Is this red or white on the flag?”), and then progressing into more complex questions that finally result in sentence-length answers.


Our next step is to adopt temporary new identities by country groups.  I hang the large laminated flags around the room, and give students small flag cards like the ones above to assign them a new home country.  Each country group will have 3-4 students in it.  Once there, I model how to say “I am from…” and complete it with the country of the new groups.  So I say “Yo soy de los Estados Unidos…¿de dónde eres tú?”  And we move slowly through the groups calling on people semi-randomly, ensuring that everyone understands AND gets a chance to answer.  Once we have a good handle on where we are from, I add in the languages by modeling the names of the languages and then saying “Yo soy de los Estados Unidos y yo hablo inglés y español.  ¿Cuáles lenguas hablas tú?” and we repeat the process.

Over the first few weeks we continue to spiral through the concepts, reviewing as needed, until we have worked through the topics outlined above.  The process is generally the same: picture supported modeling, followed by question and answers that spiral from yes/no up through complete sentences, and eventually to comparison and contrast.  They learn to say that they live in the capital city, they eat a typical food, visit a famous landmark, use their currency, have a passport, speak their language, what nationality they are (complete with adjective agreement), and play a particular sport.  In the course of the questioning, they also get a good foundation in several question words:  Where do you live?  What do you eat? Which do you prefer?  Who lives in Paris?

Students “adopt” a variety of countries over the unit, so they are exposed to a variety of countries; for some students, this is new material in any language. They pick up conjugation and sentence syntax through intense “real” practice.  Though we start with I/you question and answers, we quickly expand into 3rd person scenarios (he is from Spain, but they are from France) and then also wrap around to we v. they to round out the conjugations.  By the time we are done, students have a sense of enough content that we can use it as an anchor all year long.  We continue to return to these concepts over and over.  When we start working on new verbs, it’s a quick, but effective review to remind them of the patterns they learned in their country groups, and it sticks with them.  The tentacles of this lesson wind their way through most of the lessons that we do in one form or another. As a side benefit I also find that these country names, places, and content come up over and over in the non-textbook resources that we use, and this lesson pays off then too.  When we talk about vacationing in España, Alemania usually pops up again thanks to Spain’s popularity as a vacation spot.

All told, El Mundo es un Pañuelo unit takes us about 2-3 weeks to do well, but we usually do other things along with it to keep it fresh and to allow the content to sink in.  This fall I think I’ll pair it with some World Cup activities and music to kick things off with a bang! But then who knows? As I continue to read, explore, and grow this summer, the plan may well change by then, but all for the better.  Will you join me on the adventure?

Staying in the groove!

Back in the day, before I was a Spanish teacher, I was a musician.  I sang in madrigals and show choir, I played several instruments (though not particularly well), but I loved piano.  For the first year or so of playing piano, I had to walk across town to our church to have one to play because we didn’t have one at home.  I enjoyed it so much that I considered it as a major, but then I realized that I wasn’t deeply passionate enough about it to make the sacrifices that that life would require.  Oh, and killer stage fright.  THAT will do you in in that field too.

Though I’ve left music behind as a daily pursuit, I still surround myself with it nearly constantly.  I play it in my classes while students are working, and try to vary what types they will hear over the course of the year.  I also incorporate songs into nearly every unit that we study in some form or another.  Zachary Jones and Sra. Birch have made this endeavor SO much easier with their activities and databases of artists’ work to use.

Which brings us to this week:  the week before finals.  Here in the southeastern part of the US, we are in a sweet zone where the sun is out, the pools are open, the bugs are really out, and the humidity hasn’t arrived yet.  Not exactly a prime environment for focus, motivation, and ambition in our last days of school–for the students or for the teachers!

In my novice class, we need to review/practice some key concepts more, like telling what happened in the past and stating/supporting opinions.  I also want them to read some more in the target language and interpret the main ideas and key details from what they have read.  I also want them engaged in class without having to be a babysitter in these last days!

From all of this is born a mini project about well-known musical artists who sing in Spanish. After introducing them to my favorite, Juanes, and modeling a presentation for them, students chose an artist to study from a list compiled with help from my twitter peeps, or they could suggest one that they already knew.  Next, they will construct a poster with a basic timeline of key events of the artist’s career and life, a picture, and other pertinent details by using Wikipedia in Spanish.  They are also being asked to listen to several songs by the artist and to comment on their opinion of the music.  On presentation day, students will play their favorite musical clip as they present their posters in small groups.  They will also be prepared to answer questions from their group members about their artists.

Their reaction was priceless!  I had to hold them back when it was time to sign up for their artists, and they were instantly engaged in the research.  Some students asked for recommendations based on their personal tastes, and for the most part I think we were able to match them with someone that they liked.  They are actually engaged in trying to get preterit conjugations and preterit v. imperfect right because they have a reason to want to get it right.  Add in the cultural aspects and inquiry, and I think we have a winner!  They will work on their posters more tomorrow and present on Friday.  I’m actually looking forward to what they put together!


If you would like a copy of the student assignment sheet, click here.  Our artist list is below–feel free to suggest more in the comments!

  1. Juanes
  2. Shakira
  3. Calle 13
  4. Celia Cruz
  5. Juan Luis Guerra
  6. Aleks Syntek
  7. Marc Anthony
  8. Carlos Vives
  9. Café Tacuba
  10. La Santa Cecilia
  11. Draco Rosa
  12. Bruno Mars
  13. Laura Pausini
  14. Olga Tañón
  15. Alejandro Sanz
  16. Jarabe de Palo
  17. Peewee
  18. Pitbull
  19. Jesse y Joy
  20. Leslie Grace
  21. Carlos Baute
  22. David Bisbal
  23. Maná
  24. Aventura
  25. RBD
  26. Julieta Venegas
  27. Enrique Iglesias
  28. Ricky Martin
  29. Chino y Nacho
  30. Kany García
  31. Tego Calderón (similar to Daddy Yankee)
  32. Daddy Yankee
  33. Juan Cirerol
  34. Orishas
  35. Camila/Samo
  36. Rubén Blades
  37. Reik
  38. Sie7e
  39. Wisin y Yandel
  40. Diego Torres

Back in the day…

I’m sure I’m not alone in this week’s struggle:  AP testing is decimating my classes.  Since exams are scheduled during the school day, I am missing up to 50% of my students in each of my classes, depending on which test is being administered.  On top of that, it is gorgeous here in NC–the birds are singing, the sun is out, there’s not much humidity, and we all want to be outside.

All of these forces work against the fact that there is still teaching and learning that needs to go on.  While it would be tempting to relax a little, I believe it’s time to bring out my best game like teams do in the playoffs.  If ever there was a sprint to the final championship, we are in it now!

Student choice is one of the best tools in my arsenal.  Nothing hooks a student’s attention and energy like something that they have selected for themselves.  My job is to arm them with the tools they need and then act as the guardrails on their journey.  I coach them, cajole them, rein them in when needed, but what I don’t have to do is micromanage them.  It’s so refreshing–for all of us!  I will have the pleasure of presenting a different version of student choice at ACTFL this fall with the amazing Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell and Laura Sexton.

Since our classes will be so disjointed for the next few days, I’m asking students to choose what activities they will complete from a menu of options.  Not only will it allow them to have input into their learning, it will also shift the responsibility for learning and completing assignments completely to them.  Students who are gone don’t have to worry about having “missed” something; they will just have lost the opportunity to work on their projects.  In addition, students who were here are already tutoring their friends who were gone to help catch them up on missed content.

Our current theme is “back in the day”, centering on childhood and using the imperfect tense to contrast with present times.  Students were given options to choose from two categories, and need to complete one option in each category.  The first is “formation”, where they are working with how to form the imperfect.  In addition to modeling in class and some whole group practice, I showed them this video from my colleague down the road…

They have three choices provided for them:  hidden pictures linked to conjugation, conjuguemos, or writing a Kahoot quiz for our class.  One group decided that they didn’t really like the options and that they wanted to do their own video… so that’s what they are doing!

The second category is “demonstration of mastery”.  In this category, students have 5 options for oral presentations about when they were young.

  • Option 1 is to do a presentation like I did for them where they narrate several pictures from their lives when they were young.
  • Option 2 is kind of a play on #tbt and the photos like the ones here. People are taking photos from their childhood and re-enacting them.  Students will do this with a few of their photos and narrate the contrasts.
  • Option 3 was inspired by @SraSpanglish and @tandiosa from twitter with some comic help from Jimmy Fallon.  Students will briefly retell a few favorite stories about themselves from their parents’ point of view.  Jimmy Fallon’s video of #iusedtothink tweets was a good, humorous introduction into this idea–especially the one about the * key and Santa.
  • Option 4 is talking about a few of their favorite things.
  • Option 5 is student choice–they are encouraged to create their own oral presentation project that meets our goals and show their skills.

Students completed a short survey to tell me what they planned to work on and what resources they felt that they would need.  This frees me up during the class period to just assist them in achieving their goals.  Kinda cool, huh?

This is the first time I’ve done this particular project–it’s another Aventura Nueva.  So far, so good!

What are ways that you’ve incorporated student choice into your classes?  What benefits and challenges have you experienced as a result?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Back in the day…

Today we started one of my favorite units in my novice class:  “when I was little…”.  While this unit could definitely use some love in the culture department (working on that this year), it is a unit that interests students and keeps them engaged.  Since the weather here in the mid-Atlantic has turned gorgeous, this is definitely a plus!

In a change of sequence from how I was taught–and was taught to teach–I introduce the concept of past tenses with the imperfect rather than the preterit.  Why?  It’s easy to use, and early success helps to keep the momentum going.  It’s easy to compare and contrast with present tense within the framework of “when I was little” too.   Finally, within this framework it helps to solidify the idea that imperfect is the tense that we use to express things that we used to do.  That solid anchor helps so much when we move on to talk about the preterit!

Last week I asked students to list some of their favorite things from when they were kids–things like tv shows, movies, toys, foods, etc.  I’ll incorporate their answers into our prompts and examples throughout the unit.  They love to see their input coming back to them!

We started class with the Pollito Pío video and worksheet from Zachary Jones–always a fun way to begin class!  Now that I had them laughing and had their attention, I gave each student a small tub of Play Doh and asked them to sculpt the answer to the question  “¿Cuál animal era tu favorito cuando eras pequeño? (What was your favorite animal when you were little?), which was projected on the screen.  After a couple of minutes, we worked our way how to answer the question…and oh, yeah, what does era mean?  This was the first formal introduction to any past tense, and they just pick it up naturally.  I modeled for them, then they practiced answering the question with their partners, and volunteers shared with the whole class.

My mom loves this unit too, because she got to help me prepare for the input phase.   After Playdoh  animals, I told them that we were going to talk about life “back in the day”–a great southern expression for exactly this topic!  Thanks to Mom, I showed a series of slides like these:

Image   Image

 (Yes, that’s me.  Back in the day!!)  Each slide had a photo and a simple caption in Spanish.  There were several of me and my life, but also slides that compared technology like computers and cell phones–and even microwaves–from then v. now.  I narrated and checked for understanding, but never really talked about “The Imperfect” along the way.  I gave them a comprehension check true/false quiz at the end, but this was mostly to get them to read a little more in Spanish–the score didn’t count.

We clicked through these slides one more time, and I asked students to extract what they thought the rules for past tense might be.  Some chose to use Play Doh to express their answers:

Image Image

…while others chose more traditional means of recording their thoughts.  Not bad, though, huh?  We still hadn’t talked about the structure of any of the imperfect, and yet they were picking it up.

To close class, I showed them a second series of slides, this time with things they had chosen as their favorites.  I asked them either/or questions like ¿Cuál cereal comías más:  Cheerios o Lucky Charms?, assisted by photo prompts on the screen.  I modeled answers for the first few, but they didn’t need that help as we progressed through the later questions.

Today’s success reinforces why I left my old ways of memorize-the-vocab-drill-the-grammar-and-hope-they-can-use-it behind.  In less than an hour, students were using the imperfect appropriately, albeit in a limited fashion, were talking about their childhoods, and were excited about what is to come.  They even asked if they could do a presentation like my introduction.  Hmmm, sounds like an opportunity for some student choice projects!

The adventure is often a challenge, but it is also worth it.  Join me again soon for part 2 of this series!

PS–any ideas for cultural topics to include?  I have a few ideas, but would love more if you would leave them in the comments!

Roll Out the Red Carpet! (part 2)


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?


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!