What I do in each of my classes

I received this in an e-mail recently and thought it might be useful for others so I decided to blog about it:

I have been reading the more TPRS site regularly now for about a year and I see you posting often and I can usually relate to your comments.

Therefore, I was wondering if you could share for each level you teach, the major units you do to help the kids achieve fluency.  For example, you mentioned that in level 2 your focus is on novels, culture, etc.

Can you list the novels you have been using most recently in the order you do them?  Also for the other levels, which movies are standard and about how long do you study them?  I am fine with knowing which grammar pop ups to highlight and can figure out the most important vocab, but I struggle with knowing the most interesting and effective units to teach and would love to know what has worked for you.

So, here is what I do in a nutshell which I do change from year-to-year as well as adjust according to who else is teaching the same course at my school and what we decide together:

Level 1:

I begin the year by spending a couple of weeks teaching basic sports and activities and build fun, personal, totally TL class discussions about the students in the class and what they do.  I integrate tons of adjectives, adverbs, some family vocab, girl/boy, friend/gf/bf, etc.  Maybe some animals.  It is not structured and totally student-driven.  Even the assessments are based on their knowledge of each other.  I make up little readings early on based on what they tell me about themselves.  My favorite and most magical time of my teaching process.

I use anywhere from 2-4 chapters of Cuéntame Más (spread out over the course of the whole year).  After all that personalized comprehensible input they are ready for the stories from this book.  I continue to HIGHLY personalize and have lots of fun!

By about October, they are ready for some heavier reading than just a little paragraph a day that I type up (we also read from the Mini-lecturas that go with Cuéntame Más.).  We read 3-4 novels throughout the year.  Last year, we read:

El nuevo Houdini

Noches misteriosas en Granada

Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto

Robo en la noche 

For each of the novels I use the Teacher Resource guides available at www.tprstorytelling.com.  The resource guides essentially turn the novel into a complete cultural unit.  I also have my students listen to the audio books and they actually really enjoy this!

I also teach a new song about every 1-2 weeks.  The students get the lyrics, the English translation, some assigned vocab to learn, we do cloze listening, and finally a cloze quiz with some vocabulary matching.  They love learning the songs, the quizzes are easy for them, and many download the music on their ipods!  Check out my youtube channel for a sample of the songs we learn.  We also learn a lot of Justo Lamas songs and have fun with the karaoke on his website.

Another fun resource to use is the BBC’s Mi Vida Loca.  There are 22 episodes of an adventure/mystery filmed in Spain and it is wonderful!  The kids really like it!

Level 2:


Esperanza (I show the film La misma luna with this)

Los Baker van a Perú

La maldición de la cabeza reducida

Problemas en paraíso

For each of the novels I use the Teacher Resource guides available at www.tprstorytelling.com.  The resource guides essentially turn the novel into a complete cultural unit.

Video series:

Extr@! Available through Discovery Education streaming or on DVD from Discovery Education.  We watch episodes 1-4.  I have made packets up of the transcripts and some little readings/questions for each episode.

Aventuras Vascas Available through Discovery Education streaming or on DVD through Amazon.com (currently unavailable).

I teach a couple of mini-units also.  In 1st semester, we do myths and legends, and in 2nd semester we learn about Frida Kahlo and Mexican exvotos as artwork.  I sometimes do a larger art unit as well if I have time.  (See my handout from ACTFL 2011 for some info about these.)

Check out my youtube channel for a sample of the songs we learn in level 2.

Levels 3-4:

I have not taught these classes enough to say I have a “set curriculum.” However, I have tended to focus heavily on “social justice” issues and global awareness.

We still do tons of songs (Check out my youtube channel for a sample of the songs we learn in level 3-4.) and lots of class discussions.  They do more independent reading at these levels and we incorporate more non-fiction at this point too.


Esperanza, Cajas de cartón

Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha

La Guerra Sucia

I am going to pilot a new unpublished novel this year which is set during the Spanish Civil War.


Al otro lado; El norte (with Esperanza)

Viva la causa (from Teaching Tolerance)

Voces inocentes; Sin nombre (with Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha)

La historia oficial, Cautiva (with La Guerra Sucia)

La lengua de las mariposas, El laberinto del fauno (during study of Spanish Civil War)


In addition to popular music, we often study songs that are related to a unit we study.  For example, when we watch Voces Inocentes we also learn the song “Casas de cartón.”  When we study the Spanish Civil War, we learn some period songs and discuss which point of view is represented.


We study some Pablo Neruda, his work is pretty accessible for intermediate learners.

We also look at some Machado and García Lorca when we talk about the Spanish Civil War.

Video Series:

We watch episodes 5-13 during Spanish 3-4 of Extr@!  In level 3 the kids make a parody video of the series as well which is really fun.

It is important to note that the main thread that runs through all of my teaching is Comprehensible Input.  The work of Stephen Krashen is the most important work ever done to advance the acquisition of languages and the eradication of monolingualism.  If you are a language teacher you need to become more familiar with his work and rely less on the ineffective ways in which you were “taught.”  Languages are not learned; they are acquired.

The missing link for me in Krashen’s work was TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.).  Even though I don’t teach a lot of “silly stories,” I use TPRS methodology to promote language acquisition in my classes.  Pre-teaching key structures and vocabulary, personalization, repetition in novel and fun ways,  and asking circling questions are key elements in all of what I do.

I hope you found this post useful!  Please leave me your comments!


  1. You mentioned Mi Vida Loca by the BBC. My students love it too! The series really shelters the vocabulary and the cliffhangers are great. I created illustrated worksheets to go with each episode and posted them on teacherspayteachers.com. I am also in the process of posting the lesson plans and TPRS stories I use to teach the series. The lesson plans are basically lots of games, recipes, activities, and conversations designed to get lots of repetitions in. Other teachers have posted Mi Vida Loca materials there too! So, if any of your readers are using Mi Vida Loca, or considering it, I humbly recommend checking out teacherspayteachers.com for supplemental materials!

  2. I am hoping that you still see these comments! I was wondering if you could direct me to the link for the video for Station 3: Comparación de fotos since the link is no longer working. Thank you!

  3. Any chance you’d be willing to share your packet for Extr@? That would be so awesome! If not, no big deal!! Thank you!!!

  4. So how do you go about reading the novels? I can’t even get through two novels. This might be also to the fact that I have common assessment that are textbook based that I must dabble in. Any help is appreciated.

    1. Sometimes we have to speed-read one without doing a lot of extension activities, but on the other hand I have no textbook, so the novels are the foundation of my curriculum. Now that I am teaching Spanish 1 and 2 as required classes for everyone, I am finding that it goes a lot slower. I am probably going to have to re-think the 2 novels per semester thing except in the college prep sections.

  5. Have you ever recorded your teaching during the first few weeks of your class Level 1 class? What you describe sounds fascinating but I’m just not sure how to go about doing it.

  6. This was definitely helpful. I have only a small amount of TPRS but enough to know it’s far superior than the old textbook teaching method. I’ve been trying to convince my dept. about TPRS and finally, last week, after visiting a neighboring school that uses TPRS, the majority of them are ready to give it a try. Tuesday we meet with a district administrator about TPRS and your list of what you cover in each level will be a nice guideline.

    (I am like Rita in that I am jealous of your 175 contact hours a year. Sad to say, we have just over 100. )

  7. Thank you Kristy. This information is extremely helpful – I’ve always felt bad that the first couple months of the year are “less structured” learning, but reading that you think this is the most magical teaching time affirms what I am doing too! I also appreciate these outlines for each level – I’ve been working on my own and marveling at how it takes a few years (I’m a 3rd year teacher) to figure it all out. Gracias!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. I also struggle with creating silly stories day after day. I think I do a better jub with novels than with the vocabulary storytelling units.

  9. I’m curious to know how many contact hours you have each year. It sounds like you do much more than I can squeeze into my 110 (if I’m lucky) hours/year.

    1. We have the usual 175 student days, an hour each day per class. In level 1 last year we did a 4th novel so we only did one chapter of Cuentame Mas…so there is some flexibility there. If I run out of time we do sometimes just read a novel without doing a big cultural unit with it. Lots of juggling usually! 🙂

      1. No wonder I can’t do everything I read that others are doing. I’m jealous of your 175 contact hours. I’m sure it doesn’t feel like enough, but compared to my 100-110… (Yes, this is high school). OK, time to prioritize.

  10. What helped me was your point about NOT doing so many silly stories….but staying comprehensible…this is my 9th yr with TPRS and I am evolving in that direction. But sometimes I struggle with guilt when I read about the creative, inventive stories that people pull out of the kids. Thank you for your posting!!!

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