Reading non-fiction text in Spanish 4

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A group of 3 using the Fan-N-Pick Kagan structure to discuss an article

I have been really looking for ways to increase my Spanish 4 students’ ability to comprehend more types of text and gradually up their “authenticity levels” in their reading. They are awesome kids to work with, and I am looking at most likely having a Spanish 5 class next year for the first time! I have a blend of extremely proficient kids (advanced in both listening and reading on the AAPPL exam) all the way down to those who are still scoring in the novice high range on the AAPPL. Some kids just LIKE learning Spanish and stick with it even though their proficiency isn’t increasing as rapidly as some of their peers. And I am totally ok with that! I’d rather have them stay with me and make slow gains than quit and gain nothing. (On a related note, check out #nationofadvocates on Twitter!)

One of the things I have been working with in Spanish 4 is reading news articles. I often will take an article, simplify it, and make an activity with it. (By the way…if you teach Spanish 1 or 2 and want an AMAZING wealth of non-fiction CI amazingness, I highly recommend you check out Martina Bex’ El mundo en tus manos Spanish news stories for novice learners!) I really wanted to come up with an activity that students could use to process ANY non-fiction text. Plus, since I am left with only half my students in my Spanish 4 classes (our seniors finish 2 weeks early) I wanted to come up with some activities that felt like valuable work yet not a punishment. In many of their other junior/senior combined classes they are simply “done” for the year. They admitted to me that they are bored with so much free time and are tired of watching movies all day.

I’ve really been liking the content at, and they have a ton of Spanish articles. Students can select the lexile level they’d like to read, and I encourage them to select what feels comfortable to them. I told the students to get into groups of 3-4 with their chromebooks and choose an article that they ALL wanted to read. I allowed them to read silently or aloud, together or individually, and they could have open if they wanted. Their task was to make sure everyone in the group was able to understand the article.

I had made up a set of generic task cards with questions that could potentially apply to ANY non-fiction news story (I sell my printable task cards in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.). Each group was given the instructions AFTER they finished reading.

Task Cards for discussing non-fiction
Task Cards for discussing non-fiction

They were to use the Kagan structure “Fan-N-Pick.” Our school is a Reading Apprenticeship school and we have been using Kagan structures for many years. I highly recommend them!

The basic gist is this:

  • Students sit in a circle.
  • One student fans the cards out (like they are going to do a card trick “pick a card, any card!”)
  •  The student to the left of the fan selects a card and reads the question to the student on THEIR left.
  • That student answers the question.
  • If there is a 4th student in the circle, that student either adds to the answer or restates the answer.
  • Pass the fan of cards to the left and repeat.
  • I allowed my students to reference their article DURING the Fan-N-Pick activity if they needed to.
My Spanish 4 classes are tiny now that my seniors are done for the year!


I had my students put away their articles and task cards. Their task was to video record themselves having an informal “book club style” discussion about their article. They were well-prepared, knowledgeable, and I daresay they even had fun doing this!


Círculos de la literatura

lit circLiterature circles have been a staple in elementary classrooms forever, and they are a great way to introduce your world language students to a more independent way of reading novels in class. You can do literature circles at any level, but personally I find they work best in level 3 or 4, or in level 2 if you have students that are able to work well and read independently.

Materials needed:

Several sets of 4-6 novels each, at a variety of levels but not too far out of the reach of any student in the class. It is totally ok to have some “easy” reads in the mix.

I have made up a packet for my Spanish classes with descriptions of each job, a project checklist, rubric, cover sheet for each group, and job sheet for each individual job. If you want to make your own, there are lots of other examples online!


I like to start by giving a little “book talk” about each title (I am also a certified school media specialist, so I love incorporating tons of books and reading into my Spanish classes!). You can talk in English or in your target language, as long as it is comprehensible to students! Spend just 30 seconds or a minute on each title! This is just a quick little commercial!

Next, I invite every student to look through the titles and select the title they would like to read.

After all students have chosen a title, the kids with the same books become a group.

For each chapter, students must select a job, and they must equally share all of the jobs throughout the book. (There MUST be a discussion director for each chapter!) Allow the students themselves to manage the process of delegating jobs. I allow groups to decide if they like working together to read or if they prefer to read independently. I give time throughout the week for reading, and there are deadlines weekly for completing chapters and for having literature circle work completed. For each chapter, they must complete their job, participate in a group discussion which the group videotapes (Each teacher will have different ways of managing this process. Audio taping in another option, but I prefer video!), and then put all of their work together into a packet with a cover sheet.

Let the students know that you reserve the right to grade any or all of their work! But the trick is, you are not going to grade ALL of it. You can either tell the groups that you want “chapter 8” from every group, or you might tell each group to select what they think was their group’s BEST work and submit that.


I have several jobs that students must take turns with throughout the project.

  • El dueño del resumen
  • El viajero
  • Enriquecedor del vocabulario
  • Director de la discusión
  • Artista
  • Conector al mundo

For more ideas, just search online for “Literature circles.” Elementary teachers have tons of ideas that we can also use in secondary world language 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!














Chac Mool Embedded Reading

chac embeddedI am creating a unit on the supernatural for my level 3s, and I decided I really wanted to teach them the short story Chac Mool by Carlos Fuentes, which is one of my favorite short stories and super creepy! The only problem is, it is a bit over their heads!

I decided to try my hand at creating an embedded reading.

Please take a look, use it if you like, and please leave me a comment!

Chac Mool por Carlos Fuentes embedded

TPRS Mad libs

Remember the fun of Mad Libs?

People often wonder how TPRS teachers can maintain the creativity and stamina required to use such a method.  The teacher tends to be a major source of comprehensible input for the students and it is sometimes a challenge to be cute, funny, engaging, 90% in the target language AND comprehensible!

When I first started using TPRS, I used to script out my stories, leaving room for a few personalized details.  Now, after having used the method for over 15 years, I am capable of “winging it” most of the time.  However, there are days when it falls flat or certain classes that just don’t really get into it.  I am also now mentoring a fantastic intern teacher from Michigan State University who is openly embracing the concept of teaching with comprehensible input, and I am trying to find ways of making the whole process easier for her.

In reality, the storytelling process (or “storyasking” process as it is often affectionately known by TPRS practitioners) is quite a bit like the concept of Mad Libs.  You have the skeleton of a plot and then fill in the details.  Once you start filling in those details, you “circle” the details with questions.  Here are some videos of Carol Gaab teaching with great examples of TPRS if you are interested!

Today, in Spanish 1, we literally made a Mad Lib for students to complete with a partner.  After that, we asked students to share some of their stories.  We then verbally circled those stories.  Great comprehensible input! And it was fantastic for those couple of reluctant groups to see how fun storytelling can be!

Here is a Mad Lib that I created and a second Mad Lib I created, feel free to use, adapt, steal!

Getting kids to tackle tough stuff

So, my lack of blogging might be one indication that I am having a challenging year. After 15 years of being a teacher of an “elective,” my course is now required for high school graduation. I know everyone feels super sorry for me!

But really, wow, what a change this is for me! I am daily wrapping my brain around IEPs and 504 plans and lack of motivation and court-ordered attendance and general surliness. Sure, I’ve had some of “those kids” before, but this year there are a whole bunch of them! Ay, ay,ay!

One thing that has been blowing my mind is how little stamina some kids have. How little adversity they are willing to endure. Grades don’t matter to many of them, so I can’t use that old carrot anymore. I have to find ways to get these kids to just TRY!

I have discovered that if I ask them to read anything longer than a sentence or write anything down, they shut down and say “I can’t.”

Well, I came up with an idea to trick them a bit into using some reading strategies. The results weren’t perfect, but they were so much better!


What I wanted them to read were some brief descriptions of scenes from the novel we read in class. But I knew from my prior failures that I’d get a bunch of guessing or blank papers (I’d also get lots of 100% tests but those kids will be my concern another time…).

So, I forced them to break the task down into smaller chunks by drawing pictures first, then answering the questions about the passages.

Are some of you saying “Yeah, Placido, DUH!”? Well, that is fine, but for me this was a big ah-ha moment!

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.

Sustained Silent Reading in Language Class

Raingutter bookshelves in my classroom

Do your students do any kind of free reading or sustained silent reading (SSR) in your world language classroom?  

In my classes my students spend 5-10 minutes (depending on their level and amount they enjoy the activity) twice per week reading books and magazines of their choice.  I do not tell them what to read, I only insist that it be in Spanish. I do not quiz them or assess them in any way. I simply require them to have reading material open in front of them during the reading period.

Most students actually enjoy this! Give it a try!

What about accountability?

We need to stop trying to hold everyone accountable for everything. (This could be a whole blog in itself!) Have a little faith that there exists printed material in the target language that is interesting enough to hold a teenager’s attention for at least 5 minutes. I like to point out to my students that this should be the easiest and most relaxing/enjoyable part of their day at school. Most would agree.

Sometimes I switch it up and instead of SSR we do book sharing. Students select a partner and they look at books together. They really like this and believe it or not, they stay on task pretty well.

On a related note, stop worrying about making kids read books appropriate for their lexile score or reading level. Stop putting color-coded stickers on books and telling the level 1 kids they should only read the books with the yellow sticker. I tell kids to look for books that interest them. I tell kids to grab a whole armful of books so they can cast one aside if it is not interesting to them. I tell them that if they love Twilight in English and they want to look at Twilight in Spanish to go right ahead even if it is three inches thick and they are in week three of level 1!

How to get books

How do you get the reading materials?  I started out with a grant from the NEA of $2000.  Each year I add a few more items to my library.  I purchased many of my books through Scholastic’s Club Leo.  I also purchased many from Mary Sosnowski since I see her at just about every conference I attend during the year!

I also purchase magazines whenever I am in a Spanish-speaking area or country, and my friends sometimes save magazines for me.

Another idea would be to print out interesting online content and place it in several binders or if you have technology available, open up a few cool target-language websites and allow students to browse if they choose.

How to store reading materials

Raingutter bookshelves are cheap, durable, and easy to install (get your principal’s permission first!).  I was able to use that wasted wall space under my whiteboard by having a gutter installed there. The books also really add color and style to my classroom!

You can also prop books up on the chalk/marker tray of your chalkboard or whiteboard!

I observed a really innovative Denver teacher who took advantage of the school’s recent purchase of several laptops.  She used the boxes the laptops came in as mini individual libraries. Each student simply grabs a box on his way into class and has several books to choose from!

I’ll bet YOU can think of some clever ways to integrate more reading into your classroom, too! Let me know how it goes for you!

What better use for the chalk tray of that old blackboard?
A Denver Mandarin teacher created mini individual libraries using laptop boxes!
I use the space under my whiteboard to store more books!