Lesson Planning doesn’t have to be a nightmare

In my district we have been required to turn lesson plans in to our administration for about 5 years or so. It seems to have gradually become a more and more cumbersome process, but through lots of thought and discussion with my (awesome and very supportive, and unfortunately for me returning to the classroom this year!) evaluating administrator I feel like I have figured a few things out about the process. I frequently have people ask me questions at conferences and workshops about how to align a CI curriculum to standards and how to communicate our enduring understandings / daily goals / essential questions / etc. to our administrators. I am going to try to break down my own approach to lesson planning and I hope you will reply in the comments with your own tips/tricks and suggestions!

  1. Tools

Our school requires us to use Planbook.com and honestly I really like it. If your school doesn’t have a subscription, individual teachers can subscribe for only $12 per year!

Planbook allows you to share your plan with others if you choose, attach documents, and add links. It also allows you to create “templates.” Templates make my life so much easier! It means I don’t have to type the same things every day.

planbook screen shot


Notice in my template, “Assessments” and “Standards” are a link. I have created documents which explain HOW my regular-talk lesson plan aligns to my “fancy talk” standards. This way, I unpacked my standards ONCE in terms of the types of general activities I do and never need to deal with it again. My administrator is satisfied with this and my life is easier.

The “Assessments” link is a document I created which explains the way I formatively assess on an ongoing basis. For a planned summative assessment, I add that into the day’s plan as an addition under the assessments link.

Where do the links go? I have created Evernote notes for these documents and linked to them. A google document would also work beautifully. I selected Evernote for this purpose because you can attach files to the note itself for future reference.

  1. The lingo – Standards

When we first started having to align to standards our department made the choice to use the ACTFL World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (commonly referred to as the 5Cs.

I made these posters for my wall (you can download them free). If you look on the board, you will see little corresponding magnets. That is how I satisfy my admin’s desire to see my daily “meeting the standards” posted (we all know students can’t learn without that, right?).

standards posters

In my Evernote note “Standards” which I link to my Planbook lesson plan template, my administrator sees this. Feel free to copy, adapt, use in your own lessons!

Under the “Assessments” link, administrators see this.

  1. I can statements, essential questions, and enduring understandings, OH MY!

Teachers have a much harder time coming up with these types of statements with CI teaching than with grammar-based or textbook teaching. I want to share some examples of how to “talk the talk” that administrators are looking for.

Sample “CI” I can statements (these are all in my unit plan – keep reading!)

I can…

(These examples are from my unit on the novel Noches misteriosas en Granada.)

  • comprehend a level-appropriate novel
  • narrate in Spanish
  • discuss theme, plot and characters in Spanish
  • ask and answer basic questions about a novel
  • interpret basic information from authentic resources related to Spain, the Alhambra, the city of Granada
  • identify family relationships
  • comprehend and respond appropriately to questions about a story
  • interpret level-appropriate spoken Spanish
  • describe a person’s travel experience
  • explain a sequence of events
  • identify traits of different people
  • locate on a map and discuss the spatial relationships of places on the map

Sample Essential Questions / Enduring Understandings

For essential questions, I tend to focus not on linguistic topics (we all know by now that proficiency is a very unconscious and individual process, not something that students can speed up unnaturally, right?) but rather cultural and thematic issues I want students to understand as a RESULT of having comprehended everything we’ve done.

Again these examples are from Noches misteriosas en Granada.

  • How does a friendship change over time?
  • Are there times when the lines between reality and fiction can get blurry?
  • How do different people react when they are afraid?
  • How do you deal with a bully?
  • Are there differences in things like table manners in different countries?
  1. Backward Planning

Another time-saver that administrators have approved of is my unit planning. Each unit I teach has a detailed document (use a google drive folder or an evernote note) in which I gather all of my resources together and explain my plan for activities, outcomes and assessments.

This document is not pretty or polished! It is a living document that I edit each time I teach the unit. I can provide my administrator with the link and then in Plan book I can say “See unit plan for more details.”

Here is an example of a unit plan. This is my immigration unit for level 2.

Click here for More Immigration resources.

I hope this is somewhat helpful for you to see how I have tackled this problem. Please feel free to use any of my documents and adapt them for your own classroom needs.





Starting the school year in a way that doesn’t suck

I saw this meme of facebook recently, and realized how much this really resonates with me and so many other teachers! Going back to school is a really emotionally-charged experience for kids (and teachers).

For kids, they feel most or all of the following:

  • Nervous about everything unknown
  • Fearful about whether their teachers will like them
  • Anxious about whether they have “changed” over summer and whether this will finally be “their year” to become cool/popular/smart/accepted (think about all the “teen” movies where the hero somehow gets transformed and gains social acceptance).
  • Grieving over their lost freedom
  • Depressed about their own social situation or relationship status
  • Overwhelmed at the huge task looming of “getting through” a whole school year
  • Hopeful that they will like their classes/teachers/activities
  • Worried that they won’t do well or that they will look stupid in front of teachers/peers
  • Resolved to make positive changes for the new year
  • Dreading the feeling of being forced to comply with rules they don’t like/agree with
  • Tired at the very thought of getting up at 6am for the next 180 school days
  • Excited about returning to the place where they get to see their friends everyday in person instead of just over Snapchat!

As teachers, we feel many of these same emotions. We need to be really cognizant of the high-intensity emotional situation we are all in as we head back!

Personally, I think we can find some ways to establish relationships and become comfortable with Spanish class without awkward ice breakers. I’d like to share some things I’ve tried that have worked well in the past as well as how I plan to begin this year.

  1. Circling with balls

I know. It sounds dirty. It is NOT! Ben Slavic came up with this term to describe how his novice classes operate during the first couple weeks of school. The “balls” refer to the various sports that kids enjoy playing or watching. In reality you can also discuss video games, dance, rapping, movies, or whatever kids in your class feel passionate about. I highly recommend you learn about this process directly from the man himself by clicking here!

I find that this activity is a great way to learn some really basic high-frequency language structures, but even better, it immediately puts the focus on the students in a very positive way. It feels more like genuine “getting to know each other” and less like an icebreaker. I used this faithfully in Spanish 1 for years. Unfortunately I don’t teach Spanish 1 anymore, but you can still make this type of discussion technique work in any level.

I frequently type up short readings based on the things we have learned about each other in class. We review each day about the sports/activity knowledge we gain from each member of the class and at the end of the couple of weeks it takes to get through everyone I give a comprehension test about the discussions we’ve had.

2.Teach like a Pirate: Play Doh!

L-R Teri Wiechart, Leslie Davison, Dave Burgess, Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth making our best pirate hooks and faces in San Diego in 2013

I had the honor of meeting Dave Burgess and watching him “perform” as he taught world language teachers how to teach like pirates at iFLT 2013 (and he returned in 2014 which was also awesome!).

One of the many cool tricks Dave shared was his “Play doh” lesson to begin classes for the year. Basically the way it translated into my class was very similar to the “circling with balls” unit. I bought a big multi-pack of play dough and gave each kid a can of dough and a plastic plate to work on. I instructed them to create a sculpture that represented themselves, their summer, their passions, or anything that they wanted to represent themself out of the play doh. I gave them about 5-7 minutes. At first I wanted to be super controlling and limit them to one color and keep them from making a mess, but I realized that would defeat the whole purpose so I stopped being like that.

After they made their creations, I asked a LOT of questions, using Spanish, keeping it simple, writing lots on the board, using cognates, etc. I did MOST of the talking. Caveat: If you want to talk about EVERY kid, it will take more than one class period. You will need a place to store their sculptures and enough play doh so that all kids can make a sculpture if the earlier classes aren’t putting theirs back in the can! Sp think about this ahead of time!

The next year I went to using chenille stems (aka pipe cleaners). It was still pretty fun, but you cannot deny the novelty of high schoolers getting to use play doh!

Cecile Laine blogged about this activity here.

3. This year, I am going to do circling with balls with my new level 2s (freshmen; they don’t know me and will be new to “CI”). I addition, I will play “human bingo” with them, toward the end of week 1 after we have bonded a bit. Human bingo is a more traditional icebreaker, but it is quick enough to hold their interest and non-personal enough to alleviate anxiety.The TRICK to this activity is after you use it, you discuss the results. For example, one of the bingo squares is “listens to country music.” The teacher can ask after the activity, “How many of you do listen to country music?” (This is always taking place in the TL, with lots of support and comprehension checking, adding new words to the board, pointing at new words when you use them again.) “Ohhhhh, Connor, I see that you listen to country music. Do you like Eric Church? Yes? Ohhhhh, class, Connor likes to listen to Eric Church. Are there any other fans of Eric Church here in my class? What is your favorite song by Eric Church?” You can use these discussion techniques for virtually ANY of the questions on the bingo survey.

Human Bingo Icebreaker for Novice Learners

In level 3, most of them know me and we know each other, so the ice has been broken. We will do the play doh activity for fun, and we will also be doing a survey activity about our pets and our personalities. (Spanish 2 will also do this activity but i will save it for week 2!) This activity involves a little more independent reading (which they are totally ready for!) and it will allow me to really “milk” the discussion with them and get them immersed in that sweet sweet Spanish CI that they’ve been missing all summer! In addition, as part of our “discussion time” I am going to have them answer some questions using my 4-corners posters. I have these posters up around the room all the time which allows me to do really quick little “surveys” where students vote with their feet.

For example, I can say (in Spanish), “Using the ORANGE posters…I agree / I disagree…Do you agree with this: ‘I am an adventurous person.’ [students move to the posters] Now…the non-adventurous people move over to the side of the room. Of the people who say ‘I am adventurous’ how do you react to this? ‘I have a cat.’ ”

The article we have already read at this point says that people with cats are more adventurous.So we can now use this as a discussion point about whether the article was accurate or not in that regard.

mascotas4 Corners Posters (4 options! 24 posters!)

In Spanish 5, they love two activities A LOT: playing Mafia and playing “Would you rather.” I will probably not indulge them with a game of mafia right away, but we will begin our adventures by playing “¿Cuál Preferirías?” with a twist. We will play using the agree/disagree posters and add lots of discussion to the game. There are questions such as “Would you rather never brush your teeth or never wash your hair?” So, you can get out your agree / disagree posters (you don’t have to BUY these posters by the way. Take a marker and write agree/disagree on 2 pieces of paper and tape them to the wall!) and say in the TL “Who agrees that if the choice is never brush teeth or never wash hair that you would rather never brush your teeth?” Then you can ask WHY questions. And you can get really complex if it is level 4 or 5! Think of questions such as “If you were going on a date with someone super good-looking, and could ONLY do one thing…brush your teeth or wash your hair, which would you choose?”

Later in the week, we will also play “Circumlocution.” In this game, students are given pictures of items they probably do not know the name of an they must describe in the TL what the item is. Their partner guesses in English. If their partner can’t guess, the opposing team/pair gets to guess. A really fun way to let them do some output and also to drive home the point that communication skills beat vocabulary every time.

So, how do YOU start the year in your CI class? By the way, please like my facebook page! I try to share things of interest primarily for Spanish teachers, and I am going to offer a couple of giveaways there for my followers during the month of August!

¿Cuál Preferirías? Would you rather? Spanish Task Cards                               Circumlocution Game






My Spanish 3 Curriculum – Semester 2

Quarter 3:

Novel: Noche de oro

I follow the teacher’s guide quite closely for this unit since I wrote it!
I also do some extra study of Costa Rica and the environment.
I use this activity after Chapter 4
"¿Cómo se contamina el agua?" Authentic video activity and
A great video to watch and discuss:
Producir agua del aire: Peru
For the “salsa dancing” chapter in the book I invite some student dancers to give salsa lessons to the class and we do a “dance off.” SUPER FUN!
We discuss food in Costa Rica and we do several of these activities:
Spanish Commercials: Comidas
My all-time favorite part of this unit is this video activity!
Tortugas Marinas/Sea Turtles Authentic Reading + ONLINE IN

Quarter 4:

Novel: La Calaca Alegre

This novel is part of my “Lo Sobrenatural” Unit.

PART 1: When Objects Come to Life!

Chac Mool
 Chac Mool Embedded Reading
I begin with some “20 second responses” in which students just talk freely to their partner for 20 seconds each on the following topics:
  • los miedos
  • un mal compañero de cuarto
  • como cuidar un objeto precioso
Short story – La Casa Tomada – embedded readings adapted by Carrie Toth
Alma - reading based on the short film
More resources for ALMA!

PART 2: Hambre por sangre

Watch THIS VIDEO (Vampires Crown) and ask many, many questions about it.
Read more here: http://palmyraspanish1.blogspot.com/2013/01/short-films-ci-el-vampiro-y-la-dentista.html

Discuss the leyenda of El Chupacabras
El Chupacabras Reading
I’d like to use the short story “El almohadon de plumas” but I cut it out to save time.

PART 3: Los fantasmas y los monstruos

Novel – La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth

Film short “Mamá” movie talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRqS6pBC42w

El Monstruo del Armario Reading/Movie Talk

Full film – El orfanato




My Spanish 3 Curriculum – Semester 1

IMG_4855I am revamping what I teach in Spanish 3 this year! We have moved some novels around and also some new novels have come out that I wanted to teach! People always ask “What do YOU teach?” so I try to keep up-to-date with it on my blog for people who either need a little guidance or for those who are just plain curious!

We have 2 18 week semesters and meet for 55 minutes each day. Each of my semesters contains two major units anchored by a novel.

I started my Teachers Pay Teachers store last year, and I didn’t have a level 3 class. Look for lots of new items to be added to my store this year that I will be using with Spanish 3!  If I reference it in this post, you will be seeing it in my TPT store this year! Everything I sell is something I have used with my own students. I know I could make money selling lots of other items but I want to keep it real, and besides, I don’t have time to waste making materials I don’t plan to use myself!

NOTE: In addition to the novel and culture units listed here, we also watch El Internado on Fridays as well as do many activities with our “song of the week.”

Quarter 1:

Novel: Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos

Thematic songs/videos/films: Te dejo Madrid by Shakira, Blood Brothers documentary, Blancanieves (various videos), Blancanieves feature film.

Overview: I begin by teaching the story of Snow White TPRS-style. I teach the story, we do lots of acting, and I movie talk a short Snow White video. We watch the film Blancanieves which I movie talk several scenes from and do several readings based on the film (with all films, PREVIEW first. There is one scene I cut.). During the film we begin discussing bullfighting terms. I also use the video for “Te dejo Madrid” by Shakira as a movie talk and further discuss bullfighting.

I also teach the story of Ferdinand.

We then read Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos by Carrie Toth. I follow the teacher’s guide for the novel.

Kara Jacobs has an awesome blog post about teaching this novel here!

Quarter 2:

Novel: La Llorona de Mazatlan

I rely quite a bit on the teacher’s guide for this novel.

Spanish Commercials: Deportes

CH 1
CH 2 
Coca-Cola Futbol commercial
CH 3 
CH 4 
CH 5 
CH 6 
La copa mundial
Diego Maradona – quién es? por qué es importante a la gente de Argentina? qué momentos de su carrera eran los más memorables?
Diego Maradona “La mano de Dios” – 2 videos showing his 2 famous goals against England 1986
(Modeling an interview asking questions of a famous athlete)
Reader’s theater
CH 8 
Music video “Te veo” – Laney va a salir con Luis? Habrá consequencias?
Te Veo Song Packet
CH 9 
Cristiano Ronaldo jugará en el Real Madrid (con audio y lectura) http://es.maryglasgowplus.com/students/features/25579
CH 10
CH 11
Reader’s theater activity
CH 12
Ulama: deporte antiguo de los Mayas! http://es.maryglasgowplus.com/students/features/23834
Use with Jesse y Joy song Corazón de Campeón http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_8G_rH2MKI
CH 13
View clips from show “Grimm” to intro La llorona legend [Grimm Season 2 episode “La llorona” (on Hulu) (first few moments are great! don’t need to watch whole episode! –and in Spanish! Then show very end also)]

Embedded Reading “La Llorona” from Brycehedstrom.com

El exvoto – porqué los padres y los abuelos dirían esa leyenda a los jóvenes?
CH 14
Reader’s theater
Compare and contrast the current US obsession with zombies with the legend of La Llorona
Canción – Nino zombi
Dirt Devil vacuum commercial Movie Talk "El exorcismo" + R