Using audio books when teaching a novel

I am a big fan of audio books and podcasts. They are a great way to pass time in a car or on a plane, especially for those who suffer from extreme motion sickness like me! I also love using them in Spanish class at all levels. TPRS Publishing now has audio books available for almost all of their Spanish novels and I am experimenting with ways to maximize these awesome resources! Here are some things that I have tried. Please comment with ideas that you may have!

1. Doodles

Have students listen to a chapter they have already read, or a chapter you are confident that they will be able to comprehend. As they listen, have them doodle little sketches of what they are hearing.

2. Talk to the Text

Talk to the text is a technique we have learned about at my school as part of our Reading Apprenticeship training. Basically, the gist is that you take a text that you are reading and mark it up, making your invisible thinking visible. Since in this case, the text is audio, student just write anything they want on a blank paper as they listen. They can doodle, write English or Spanish, make connections, etc. Any thought they have can be recorded.

3. Cold intro to a chapterillinoismap

Sometimes I have students listen to an audio recording before reading the chapter. I call this a “cold listen” if they have NO preparation at all. Normally I don’t like to do a completely cold listen, so I will have an intro conversation prior to the listening. I will often write things on the board and leave them up during the listening.

For instance, this week we prepared to listen to Chapter 3 of La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth. I had traced a map of Illinois on the white board and we discussed where Carlos was born (Chicago) and where he lived currently (Carlyle) and where St. Louis was located. We discussed how one would travel to Chicago from Carlyle and we also discussed the various ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago. These visuals were helpful to the kids as they listened. We then did a “cool listen” (not cold because I had them a little warmed up to the topic) and did a Talk to the text (see #2 above).

4. Post reading

I often will have students listen to a chapter the next day after we read it. Sometimes I will periodically pause the recording and ask questions while other times I will give the students an activity to complete. This is generally a really satisfying activity for them because they really understand!

5. Assessment

I like to include listening assessments on my tests. What I do is pre-select some segments of the audio CD (just mark down the track # and the time stamp where the segment begins and ends). I make up some “main ideas”


In this section of the audio book, which is the main idea:

A. A letter explaining that they have an appointment to apply for political asylum

B. Alberto is in trouble for organizing a workers’ strike

C. Aunt Tete helps Esperanza

D. Esperanza is about to cross the border at the beach

Students listen as I play the section of the audio recording and select what they believe is the main idea of that section. I usually have them listen to 5-10 segments on a test.

6. Listening for specific items

Make a list of PLAUSIBLE facts that the students may or may not hear in the audio recording. As they listen, have them mark the items that they actually hear.

7. Paper dolls

I got this idea from Cynthia Hitz and Krista Applegate. The basic idea is to use this activity when you have a chapter with a lot of movement. On a paper, make a “map” or layout of the area(s) where the movement takes place. For instance, the second half of my novel Robo en la noche really lends itself to this. For Chapters 9-10, sketch out a map of Costa Rica. Label the hacienda in Alajuela, the soda, and Curu in the Nicoya Peninsula. In Curu, make a little more detail and show the various areas where action takes place in that chapter. Copy enough of these maps for each pair of students (or for individuals if you prefer).

Now, make little stick figure “dolls” of each character. Either sketch them or trace them out of the novel. Make a little “minivan” also. Copy these figures for each pair as well.

Now, give each pair some scissors to cut out their little paper figures. As they listen to the chapter, have them move the figures around accordingly. Observe the students as they move the figures to see how well they are comprehending.

Have YOU discovered a great way to use audio books in your classes? Please share in the comments!

¡La música!

I LOVE using music in my classroom every day! It is motivating, cultural, popular, fun, and if you ask my students years later what they loved most about my class they will most likely tell you it was dressing up and acting things out and MUSIC! I’d love to share with you some of the ways I use music and hopefully you will leave a comment and let me know your favorite ways of incorporating music in your classes too!

My students receive a large music packet each semester. We spend about 1 1/2 weeks on each song. We begin class every day by listening to the song, and students are expected to have the lyrics out and follow along, cancionesand singing is ENCOURAGED but never forced. I have several words/phrases underlined that students are expected to know for the quiz we have at the end of the 1 1/2 weeks. After we listen for several days we do a practice cloze quiz (included in the packet).

Additional activities that I may or may not do for each song:

Extra cloze activity with a secret message.

Lyric line-up (put lyrics strips in order while listening – best in a small group)

Musical slap and grab with vocab picture cards

Storytelling with the song or with a music video

Connect a song to something else we are studying

Use a song to highlight a grammatical pattern

Use a song to compare cultures

Read about the artist performing the song

A reading which turns the song into a story

Use lyrics to create a “found poem”

Use to make a trivia activity based on a youtube music video example with Yerbatero by Juanes

Dance contests or flash mobs (Waka Waka is a fun song to try!)

Use a song as transition or “worktime” music or during passing time between classes.

How do YOU use music to spark learning in your classes?

Future ideas for stations

Stations are a fun alternative to traditional whole-class activities!
Stations are a fun alternative to traditional whole-class activities!

I am going to use this post to compile ideas for future stations, general or specific! Feel free to comment if you’d like to add your own ideas! – Using a reading that we would do in class, create a textivate. My station can be located in front of the big screen and use my wireless mouse and keyboard with my desktop computer! (Accountability: group takes a screen shot of completed puzzle and saves on computer at designated location.)

Commercials – Create a cloze activity, Q&A, put phrases in order, etc with any of these commercials.

Puppet Pals – Using my ipad in Guided Access mode (locks the ipad so that only the chosen app can be used until a PIN is entered by me), students create an animated video. NOTE: because ipad won’t turn off in Guided Access mode, bring a power cord! – Set up on a computer with a google doc listing several articles. Students choose an article to read together as a group and use lingro for when they need a word defined. A good introduction to this useful tool?

Jenga game / Don’t Break the Ice game – both of these games can be labeled with a permanent marker with numbers or letters. Provide the students with a list of questions or “problems” that correspond to the letters or numbers on the game. By answering the questions/completing the task/problem correctly students get to play that game piece.

Good old-fashioned flash cards. A simple idea but could make a good station!

I have a large “library” of children’s books and magazines in Spanish. I would LOVE ideas for incorporating these into stations. Currently we do Sustained Silent Reading twice a week for 5 minutes in my level 2 classes. Ideas?


Stations – What I’ll do next time

I had a great time doing stations the past two days. The absolute best part for me was the station where I sat with each group and just conversed. It was really fun and I definitely got a feel for who is really on their game and who needs a little bit of help. 

The listening stations were GREAT! The only minor problem was the audio book CD station took 9 minutes and the other stations tended to go more quickly. I will try more carefully to balance out the times. The kids really liked the 2 music stations.

The describing the scenes station was good but needed some accountability. I tried having them record but ran into a few glitches. I need to think about that one some more.

Bananagrams station was a lot of fun but some groups were more into it than others. I might offer a choice of a couple of different games. I really want to get a Jenga game to make into an activity center! (I saw a cool idea on pinterest…more later!)

The cognate station was also good, but again, could have used some accountability.

Next time I will have groups rotate IN ORDER and set a timer. By the end there were a couple of groups who didn’t get into certain stations because there was no order to the whole thing.

I ended up putting out an Apples to Apples game in Spanish as an extra “bonus” station. They actually played it! I will use games more for sure next time!

All in all it was a success and will definitely be revisited in many forms in the future!



Today I tried stations in my class for the first time! It was great! I had 7 stations (since my largest class is 34!).

Station 1: Waka Waka (the “song of the week” this week)

Waka Waka Station

I cut the lyrics of this song into strips. I also wrote a 33-letter sentence along the left side of each of the 33 strips. “Shakira is from the country of Colombia.” I plugged a Belkin 5-port headphone jack splitter into a desktop computer and attached 5 sets of headphones. Students played the music video from Vevo on the computer as many times as needed to line up the lyrics in the right order.

Station 2: Superman es ilegal (song from movie “La Misma Luna” which we are in the process of watching right now–they heard the song in the movie yesterday).

Superman es ilegal Station

I made a large cloze activity out of the song lyrics. Instead of writing the missing words in, the words were on little slips of paper which had to be physically placed on the space in the lyric sheet. The whole lyrics sheet was the size of 8 sheets of paper which I taped together.  I plugged a Belkin 5-port headphone jack splitter into my classroom’s Chromebook (thanks so much to @edbacker, an anonymous donor, and Hudgins Real Estate for the financial support on that!) and attached 5 sets of headphones. Students played the song from Youtube on the computer as many times as needed.

Station 3: Esperanza

Book on CD Station with Esperanza by Carol Gaab


Students listened to the next chapter of their novel, Esperanza by Carol  Gaab on the audio CD.  I plugged a Belkin 5-port headphone jack splitter into a desktop computer and attached 5 sets of headphones. I provided novels for students to use if they wanted to follow along as well.


Small group conversations with Señora Placido!










Station 4: Conversations!

I sat with students in this group and we chit-chatted en Español about their plans for that afternoon, what sports they play/watch, and the book we are reading in class. SO FUN!


La misma luna scene description station

Station 5: La Misma Luna

I made some screen shots of the DVD and printed them out. In this group, students worked together to describe their photos based on their knowledge of the movie. I started out also having them make a puppet pals video (an app I have on my ipad) but I abandoned that for lack of time after the first class.

Find the cognates in the children’s books!

Station 6: Cognates

I made a large alphabet on a huge sheet of paper. I put a sticky note next to each letter. Students searched through my large collection of children’s books trying to find at least 1 cognate for each letter, and no more than 5 for any given letter. This was pretty easy, but hopefully tricked them into finding some new books to read for SSR next week!

Station 7: Bananagrams

Students played bananagrams in Spanish!

A game makes a quick station and a nice brain break!














El Internado – Laguna Negra

El Internado – Laguna Negra

El Internado – Laguna Negra is a 7-season series from Spain set in a boarding school called Laguna Negra. It is a drama series with teen and adult romance, family drama, school problems, murder, lies, secrets, an escaped mental patient, a good healthy dose of the supernatural! Perfect for intermediate high school Spanish students to get hooked on a series and forget that they are acquiring language!

@darcypippins uses this series with her level 3-AP classes with the Spanish closed-captioning on. They earn time watching the series as a reward or staying in Spanish during class!

I am using it in class as well. I included it in my general permission slip (we view several rated PG-13 and R films [edited for some content] in level 3 and 4 so I usually do one permission slip for everything in the beginning of the year.). There are many bad words (gilipollas, coño, joder are among the favorites), some romantic situations, some violence, mild gore, a little bit of skin, and a lot of suspense. Overall I think the mild PG-13 elements are far outweighed by the interest level of this addictive series!

My level 3 students are really enjoying the series and ask to watch it every Friday. I give it 2 thumbs up, way up!

Level 4 Spanish Civil War / Art / Film unit

Recently my level 4 Spanish class finished up a study of the Spanish Civil War and Franco. It was a lengthy unit, which encompassed a novel study last semester, and then continued into the current semester with a film and art study. I was really pleased with the learning that took place, the increased ability of my students to discuss more advanced topics (these are 4th year students, but not pre-AP. Most of them are just interested in Spanish and not all are even college bound kids.), and what seems to be a genuine appreciation for the struggles of the Spanish people, the understanding of the concept of fascism, the understanding of left-wing versus right-wing, and the concept of film and art as a powerful political statement rather than simply entertainment or beauty.

I’d like to share an overview of what we did, much of which unfolded as a result of some really powerful collaboration with my colleague Carrie Toth (@senoraCMT). I am so grateful to know her and call her my friend!


La hija del sastre
García Lorca Biography Packet


Article on Spain’s Falsified Adoptions under Franco


La lengua de las mariposas

El espinazo del diablo

El laberinto del fauno


Guernica by Pablo Picasso in 3D

El Ambidiestro

Students kept journals, we did lots of discussion, and they also were told to look for imagery and especially what they believed might be symbolism. We kept track of the powerful images that were common across more than one of the items we viewed or read. Students practiced speaking about the imagery with an inside-outside circle activity.

Finally, after studying the painting Guernica by Picasso, students were given time to create their own art representative of what they knew about the events and consequences of the civil war for the people of Spain. Once their art was finished, we displayed it in a “gallery” (a large open unused choir room in our school!), complete with tapas (ok, popcorn, chips and oreos, but it was a nice thought!). Students were divided, each group had 10 min to circulate and talk with others, 10 minutes to stand near own art. All talking in Spanish. I circulated asking questions to help them refine their own thoughts and statements. At the end, they had to describe their art to me in Spanish (via cell phone using Google voice), and then were randomly assigned to the art of another student to describe or discuss in Spanish.

Here is a video of two of my students describing art created by their classmates.

Legends project

In Spanish 2, my students will be creating videos this week.  This is essentially going to be both a reading and listening activity.

Some background:

My students studied the legend of La Llorona, reading/viewing 2 different versions of the story.  Later in the semester, they learned the Greek myth of Athena and Arachne and we compared to the Mayan myth of how the goddess Ix Chel taught the Mayan women how to weave after she observed spiders weaving.

Now my students are going to learn 6 more myths/legends/traditional stories and create a video about ONE of them each.  First, I typed up a short and simple version of each of the stories I had chosen.

I put out a call for help on twitter as well as on the “More TPRS” Yahoo group I belong to.  As a result, I had several different native Spanish speakers volunteer to call my Google Voice number and record themselves reading one or more of the stories that I had shared via a Google Doc.

Did you know you can download Google Voice messages as mp3 files?  Oh yes!

The next steps will be:

Students will listen to all of the recordings in class and predict in writing what they think each legend is about.

Students will receive a copy of one of the legends to read individually.  They will “talk to the text” and mark it up with their thoughts, impressions, and understandings.

Students will then confer with larger groups of students who read the same legend and add to their notes.

Students will then jigsaw and share their legends with a group of students who each read different legends.

THEN, students will discover which of the six legends they have been assigned to.

Students will use the native speakers’ voice recordings as the soundtrack, and will create a video providing visual support for the soundtrack.

I will share the final video projects on youtube for all of you teachers out there to enjoy!

ACTFL Communication Standard

For most language teachers, the primary “bread and butter” of our course is Communication. This year, in my quest to be more standards-based in my instruction as well as more proficient at communicating the standards to my students and their parents, I have had several things on my mind.

First, I realize that there are now 3 modes rather than 4 skills.  How often and in how many different ways should I be assessing students in each mode?  How do you do it?

I’d really like some more ideas and to collaborate with some of you on how you assess the various modes in your classroom!

In Spanish 2, here is what my class will look like in terms of the modes:

Interpretive Listening

Song quizzes every 1 1/2 – 2 weeks.  After studying a song, students take a cloze quiz and are also asked to interpret the meaning of various words in context.

Commercials.  We will do cloze listening activities with a variety of commercials.

Myths, legends, and stories project.  Students will select from a variety of audio clips of different myths, legends, and stories.  They will use the audio as the basis of a video project in which they select or create appropriate  images for the audio.

Identifying pictures.  After learning the story of Jorge el curioso va a la fábrica de chocolate, students will view several pictures from the book, listen as I read descriptions of the pictures, and they will select the picture I am describing.

Interpretive Reading

We will read a total of 4 novels in the class.  Students will read and take quizzes recalling the information they have read.

Students will complete a “Choice board” project in which they choose from a variety of options in which they demonstrate their comprehension of the reading.

Presentational Writing

Students will write an in-class narrative based on a picture.

Presentational Speaking

Students called Google Voice and described pictures from a story we had learned in class.

Interpersonal Speaking/Listening

Students will discuss what they did over the weekend with classmates each Monday.  They will have assessments in which they use Google voice to record several of these conversations.

Students listened to a guest speaker from Perú.  They formed questions for her with a partner and asked her the questions.

Interpersonal Writing/Reading

I’d like to have my students write to our new Peruvian friend (who is an English teacher there) and ask her students some questions!