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.





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!

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!

Are numbers a “thematic unit?”

I tweeted this yesterday and it began a discussion and some thinking!  (Good!)

A teacher is wondering, how then DO you teach numbers and what is the THEME there?

My thoughts…I often do teach numbers very explicitly in level 1.  I do this because students and parents expect this.  But that is NEVER enough.  Why?  Numbers in themselves are an abstract concept.  Numbers are symbols.  A foreign language feels like learning new symbols for the existing set of symbols in the brain anyway.  So, numbers are like symbols of new symbols!  Does that make sense?  It makes sense in my head.

Numbers are naturally embedded in so many contexts.  I think the trick is, if you are using a context to teach numbers, make sure it is really a context where you need to know numbers AND know them in the target language.  Counting is not really a context because no one in their right mind REALLY counts in their head IN their second language.  Taking inventory in not a context because that is just another form of counting.

What do I consider a real context for numbers?

  • Playing a numbers game which would naturally involve saying the numbers (not an artificial game where your teacher forces you to say the numbers).
  • Making a financial transaction.
  • Asking/saying the date or a birthday.
  • Talking about the score of a game.
  • Discussing any kind of data.
  • Discussing a budget.

The caveat?  Many times teachers take a perfectly logical context and kill it by making it into a drill or a ridiculous “information gap” activity.  At that point it ceases to be a real context and becomes a drill.

Numbers come up at random times and predictable times.  Numbers are everywhere.  Numbers should be consciously used on a very regular basis throughout all levels of language study.  If a day goes by in your class and no numbers are used I would wonder why.  In discussion, try to consciously start asking “How many?” or “How much?” or “On what date?” or “At what time?”  Students will know the numbers much more deeply this way.

If you teach a “numbers unit” I beg you to reconsider!

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!