Making Authentic Resources Comprehensible – CSCTFL 2017




Creating comprehensible input with commercials

Commercials are a really great way to infuse your language classes with a short burst of authentic language, but they are also really valuable as a vehicle for storytelling and discussion. Commercials are designed to be compelling and to elicit emotions. Paired with activities designed to make them comprehensible, commercials are wonderful for cultivating an environment of acquisition.

“Natural Approach teachers help make input  comprehensible by providing extra-linguistic knowledge in the form of pictures and realia, and by modifying their speech.”
“All that is required (for acquisition to occur)  is that the activity be interesting and comprehensible.”
─Fundamentals of Language Education,
Dr. Stephen D. Krashen 1992


If there are several unfamiliar structures, you should plan to pre-teach those structures before introducing the commercial. TPR, personalized questions and answers, and storytelling are great pre-teaching techniques.

If the commercial tells a story, it is great for movie talk. Simply play the video, pausing frequently to talk about what is happening. Ask questions, using circling questions if new vocabulary/structures are being presented. Be sure to write new words on the board as well to maximize comprehension.

After pre-teaching, you might show the video itself or you might begin with still shots from the video.


A good next step after movie talk is to do a reading. Some options are to type up a description of the story in the commercial or to transcribe the commercial itself and use as a reading. During or after reading, be sure to ask questions. Ask comprehension questions, opinion questions, linking prior knowledge questions. If discussion takes over, allow it to happen.

slide4 slide2

Want to assess the activity? Some ideas…

  • Take those still screen shots, make statements and have students decide which image you are describing.
  • Provide students with a list of events in the target language and have them put them in order.
  • Have students match written statements with images.
  • Have students with more proficiency do a “retell.” Have them describe the still images from the commercial.

Handout from my ACTFL 2016 presentation

Want to give it a try? FREE “La abuela” Verizon Commercial activity



An idealist meets the real world

rainbow-436183_960_720Something I have always struggled with is the way that my own pie-in-the-sky huge teaching ideas don’t always play out in real life the way they worked in my head. I start the year with these awesome summertime ideas that are going to be SO transformative, and then I get back to school in the fall. I am bombarded by details. I have students dropping and adding my courses for 2 weeks. I have one Spanish 3 class of 20 and one of 32. I am adding a brand new prep. I need to post my daily Essential Questions, standards, and agenda. I also must type them into I must re-type them when my administrator can’t understand them in Spanish. We have handbook presentations and picture day and a bee’s nest outside our window. The first days of school are brutally hot and being a northern area we have no air conditioning. So, we do our best not to wilt and attempt to get things done. We have data to collect. Pre-test and post-test data. This data is 25% of my teacher evaluation this year which matters because tenure and seniority no longer protect me in the event of layoffs. A common department assessment will be coming all too quickly. This is the REAL WORLD.  

I’ve been a TPRS/CI teacher for 18 years now. It was such a godsend when I found it. I was using Spanish for Mastery to teach 7th and 8th graders when I went to my first Melinda Forward workshop. I later found Blaine Ray, who Melinda had learned from, and Karen Rowan (who stayed at my house and borrowed my blazer when her luggage didn’t arrive and then did an awesome workshop in spite of being in her comfy airplane pants with my blazer), and I made connections with some other Michigan teachers. A group of 5 of us from Michigan (I am the last of the group still teaching!) began e-mailing each other as kind of a “TPRS support group” and that tiny group in 1999 became the “MoreTPRS list.” Over the years, that group was a lifeline for me. It still exists, but for me personally, email groups became cumbersome and I drifted toward twitter and facebook for my professional support. It has been such an incredible journey full of growth and collegial support.

It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve never taught in a “total TPRS” department. I have, however, been really blessed to work with colleagues who have been willing to share, negotiate, and compromise. I’ve compromised some things in the name of collegiality, and I’ve compromised other things in the name of sanity. But all in all, I’ve done pretty well.

I am passionate about my students and their language acquisition. I believe wholeheartedly in doing what is best for kids. I try my hardest everyday to make what I believe in my heart and my mind match up and fit in as tightly as possible with my teaching reality.

I call myself a CI teacher. Comprehensible input is based on one of Dr. Stephen Krashen’s hypotheses (The Input Hypothesis). The underlying connection between various approaches/activities that fall under the umbrella of “CI” or “TCI” is that the teacher provides input in the target language, and does what is necessary to make the input comprehensible to students.

CI teaching (also known as TCI) can include many approaches/activities such as TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), Movie Talk, discussing our weekend or weekend plans for the future, discussing an authentic photo/video/film/work of art using comprehensible language, the “Persona Especial” interview created by Bryce Hedstrom, any personalized task that leads to a comprehensible discussion, reading and discussing stories or novels, and more.

TPRS is a VERY good way to teach. It may very well be the best way to teach languages ever. I love it. I am 100% pro-TPRS. However…the real world… I am a wife and mom and I have lots of things going on outside of my work day. I am naturally an introvert. This doesn’t mean that people scare me or that I don’t like talking to people. What it means is being around people drains my energy. TPRS super-duper drains my energy. It is a very “on stage” process. It is a VERY SOCIAL process and depends heavily on give and take between students and teacher and a sense of playfulness. I mentally cannot handle using TPRS every hour every day. It burns me out. Even though I believe in it and am reasonably good at it, I need other techniques. I know many people who are both introverts and extroverts who are very good at TPRS. I know the extroverts feed off the energy of a TPRS class, while the introverts feel much more drained at the end of the day. For us introverts, it is really nice to have a tool kit of other CI techniques to use when we need a little break from the emotional intensity of TPRS. With that said…keep doing TPRS as much as you can!

I am a huge believer in the power of reading. I have written several novels. My novels are designed specifically with my own students in mind. I write them to be a compelling story and a good read, but I also fold in lots of conversation and related cultural topics to the novel that I feel the kids truly enjoy. I also like the idea of doing SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) in class. I think we can do both. I also provide my students with readings I create based on stories we co-create.

The reading you select and provide to your students, whether written by you, the teacher, or not, needs to be comprehensible and level-appropriate. A longer read, such as a novel,  is going to provide more intense, repeated exposure to a narrower group of structures. If students are frustrated and you feel the need to pre-teach 30 words before each chapter, you have not selected a level-appropriate novel. If you are trying to read a first novel with a level 1 class and they are not having fun, it is probably because they need more babystepping and input and are just not ready yet. Put the novel away, keep using TPRS, and come back to it when they have acquired more. I have a student this year in Spanish 2 who is new to me. Unsolicited, he told me yesterday that he really liked reading the Piratas novel last year (Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto by Mira Canion and Carol Gaab). He said he had been struggling with Spanish a lot but when he started reading that novel things started to click for him. He was not in a TPRS class. But his teacher taught that novel and it had been a bright spot for him. For more help on teaching novels, hop on over to CI Peek. I wrote a series of posts on that very topic!

Ideally, for class SSR, the teacher would have a vast array of diverse reading materials that are level-appropriate so as to allow SSR to truly feel like “free choice.” I have collected quite a library of children’s books, non-fiction books, YA novels, magazines, and even things I print from the internet. This takes time. You’ll get there. I like to do SSR a couple of times per week, and I try to only have them read for as long as they enjoy reading. I start with 5 minutes at a time and go up from there as their interest and stamina increases. Sometimes as the year goes on I start neglecting my SSR time. I think this is a mistake, but it is an easy trap to fall into. But the remedy is, do SSR tomorrow!

Research tells us that we can acquire languages without any curriculum or learning targets at all. All we really need is lots and lots of compelling, comprehensible input. I wish I taught in a situation where I had no curriculum, no standards, no benchmarks, no grades, no common assessments and I could just shoot the breeze all day with kids. But then I wake up from my dream, shower, and drive to school. And I realize that there ARE certain words I need to make sure they know because I have a common assessment to prepare them for. I also have to show my administrators a unit plan and daily lesson plans. Parents are going to be expecting LOTS of numbers in ParentConnect, and soon.

The next problem is I start realizing how boring I actually am. Maybe I am a horrible conversationalist, but I do need to think of things to talk about ahead of time. I cannot totally be organic, free flow, willy nilly. It is just not in my nature. I used to teach with Blaine Ray’s Look! I Can Talk! It has a lot of cute and silly stories in it. I still like it. But back then, there weren’t many “ancillary” items with it. I needed some structure. I needed DAILY structure or I just felt like I was going crazy. By basing my vocabulary and cultural teaching around a novel each quarter, I feel so much more at ease. The funny thing is, the more I prepare, the easier it is to actually let go of my own “uptight-ness” and have a fun discussion or story. I cannot allow myself to go to school feeling stressed out every single day. I know there are teachers who can simply show up and make awesome things happen. I applaud them, I really do, but I just don’t think everyone works that way. And I think it is ok for us to not all be the same. Guess what? It really is ok. You’ll be ok. The kids will be ok. They will be ok in spite of the million mistakes you make. They will be ok in spite of the research you ignored when you did that speaking activity.

Every now and then I find myself playing the dangerous game of comparing. Comparing myself to others. Holding myself up to impossible standards. Feeling like I should change everything because I just read a really revolutionary blog post. Wondering “what if?” What if they could have acquired more? What if I hadn’t skipped SSR all last month? What if I hadn’t been so lazy and stayed more in the target language instead of telling them another story about my family? What can I do? I live in the real world. It isn’t a race. It isn’t a competition. It is just a journey to be a little better tomorrow than I was today. And maybe be a little kinder to myself too.


Back to School Raffle Winners!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

We have our lucky 3 winners!

The winner of any one item from my Teachers Pay Teachers store is Maino Graham!

The winner of a $25 Gift Card is Jenna Keller Bryant!

The winner of a $50 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift card is Jessica Counts!

Thank you so much for entering the raffle and for all of your wonderful comments! Winners, please contact me via facebook message, twitter, or email placidok at gmail dot com to claim your prize!

raffle winners announcement

Attend #iFLT16 online!

Great training opportunities coming your way!

The Comprehensible Classroom

Whether you couldn’t get funding for #iFLT16, couldn’t fit it in your schedule, or couldn’t register before the conference filled up, you will be SO glad to read this news!

The #iFLT16 Tuesday morning Keynote with Bill VanPatten and the Tuesday afternoon Roundtable with Stephen Krashen will be LIVE STREAMED! Join us Tues., July 19 at 8:50a.m. & 1:15p.m. EST To join remotely, go to Scroll down past the iFLT announcement and click on CSAS Broadcasting. It is not possible to stream the entire conference, and we are so grateful that the host school, Chattanooga School of Arts & Sciences, has gone out of their way to make it possible for the conference sponsors to live stream these important sessions and make them available gratis to the general public!


Want even MORE great news?? Three teacher-authors have teamed up to offer a series of three 1-hour webinars tackling the question…

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Shameless plug! 20% off everything April 30!

Teaching in Target is having a one-day sale! 20% off entire store today!

Visit Teaching in Target and have a look!

ALSO! Did you know that when a seller updates a resource you can download it again at no cost? I have several resources that I have expanded and updated. Some of them even have a higher price now! But if you bought them in the past, you can still re-download at no additional cost even if the price is higher than what you paid! How cool is that?

And since the resources I sell are really things I use with my own students, odds are pretty good that they will be updated and expanded in the future as I use them and have new ideas.

Another tip is to click the green star and “like” my Teachers Pay Teachers store. That way, you will get little updates every 1-2 months from me and will also get a notification in your TPT account inbox if I have updated a resource!

Check out my free items too! I have 12 freebies and I hope to add more soon! Thanks!

Kinesthetic activities for reading

I am preparing my students to test over the novel “Robo en la noche” this week. We have read it in the past tense in my level 2 classes and they will take a test that involves listening to passages of the audio book and reading passages and answering questions about them. I have many students who just do not get enough repetition to acquire the language JUST from reading the chapters of the book. They need discussion, reading new things with similar structures, more discussion, and many of them still study vocabulary with flashcards or Quizlet. I am certainly intrigued by the teachers who are having success with JUST free voluntary reading, but honestly my 8th and 9th graders seem to do better with a little more structure and accountability.

I really wanted to make sure my students had a ton of repetitions of the key structures, but the key is varying the way the input is delivered so that is feels novel and fun. During the reading of the novel, I really like to act out scenes, discuss lots of things, and personalize discussions. At the end of the novel I wanted to make sure the students had a really good handle on the plot and the characters in addition to the language structures. I also wanted to make sure they could process language IN CONTEXT!

I wanted to write about some of the activities we did that I thought were really helpful.

  1. Word Cloud Sharon Birch shared LOTS of activities she created for teaching Robo en la Noche. This year, I tried her word cloud activity. She made a word cloud of names of characters in the novel. She even included “criminales” and MINAE. The word cloud was shaped adorably like a bird also. The students got into groups of 2-3. The students took turns stating something they knew about any character they wanted and then colored in the name on the word cloud. They kept going until I stopped them. It was a fun and different way of getting them to recall information!IMG_2484.JPG
  2. Ahora…En el futuro Prediction activity After reading Chapter 10, I had students use a graphic organizer to show what happened and what they thought WOULD happen in the future.IMG_2485
  3. Students create the review I wrote some events from the book in a graphic organizer I made. I didn’t copy them from the book, but rather wrote them in comprehensible language in my own words. (Ok since I wrote the book they are all my own words, but I want kids to READ rather than just memorize.) On one side they see the description of the event and on the other side there is a space for them to draw what they read.IMG_2486
  4. Matching competition I used all of the drawings my students created in #3. I had a couple of early finishers on another assignment pair the best of each drawing with the appropriate passage. Then, I made several sets of matching “puzzles.” Students had to work in teams to match each picture with each passage and then put them all in order. I gave them a sheet to track their answers.

The sheet is shown below. Pink, yellow and green were all the same type of activity. I had 6 slips of paper with events from the book. Students had to put them in order. Each slip of paper had a colored dot and a letter on it. So, students copied the order of the letters onto their sheet.

The other colors had 2 parts. They had to match each drawing to a passage and then put them all in order. Each set ha a color. The drawings had letters and the text had numbers. They copied the number sequence and corresponding letter sequence onto their sheet.

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I gave a prize to the winning team that got the most answers right. The prize? I had a bunch of those plastic “packing pillows” from a shipping box and the winning team got to pop them. It was VERY popular!

If you like the idea of using graphic organizers, I have a few that I sell on Teachers Pay Teachers. It is also really easy to make your own or just search online for them, there are lots of ideas!

Beating the Pre-Spring Break Blahs

I have NINE school days left before Spring Break, and I know many of you have 15 days left to go! These are trying times in the life of a teacher! We can do this! I am giving a test in Spanish 2 this Thursday, and then I have 5 school days to inspire those restless kiddos!

I wanted to share a few ideas for you if you have just a handful of days to plan for and need to up your game a bit to hold their attention.

1. Try a short, compelling reading. There are lots of interesting topics you can focus on. I like to find an interesting news story, cultural tidbit, or current event and type it up in comprehensible Spanish. Read it together or as a class, then discuss. Compare it to a situation that is familiar, make it silly, or act it out! You can ask your upper-level students to find cool stories for you, type them up in Spanish, and add cool photos. Then all you have to do is spiff up their errors, print, and use with the lower levels!

I wrote up a funny news story about the Dominican baseball team who was on a big winning streak a few years ago. One of the pitchers kept a banana in the pocket of his uniform pants! The team began to think it was their key to success. It is a funny story and funny to discuss! For added input, make up a kahoot or a quizizz about the story!

2. Music is a great way to spice up a class that has hit the doldrums! I recommend finding a song that has an upbeat rhythm, some great vocab and a cool video. Enrique Iglesias and Juan Luis Guerra perform Cuando Me Enamoro together and it has a series of “love story” vignettes in the video. Each one is a little story! Make the video into a movie talk and discuss! Take screen shots of the video (hit the print screen button on your computer) and paste into PowerPoint or a google slide show. Then, use those slideshows to discuss the “story” in the video.

I have several “movie talk” songs and I even sell a bundle of 3 songs that lend themselves to movie talk (I sell them separately too). There are lyrics, activities and readings for each.

3. Speaking of movie talk, it is a really fun way to feel creative even when you are ready for a break! The storytelling aspect has already been done for you, all you have to do is provide the input. I recommend the film short Alma if you like a really creepy doll story, La Historia de un Oso is great on its own but also has an amazing story behind it that relates to Southern Cone dictatorships, and the Zoo Ave organization produces awesome commercials with environmental messages!

Search online for “movie talk” and the language you teach. There are lots of teachers who have already done the hard work for you!

4. Another great way to kill, er, I mean enrich your students for a couple of days is with a quality film that provides a great social message. 2 of my favorite immigration films are La Misma Luna and Una Vida Mejor. Don’t just SHOW the films, stop and discuss as well! I have created readings for every film I show in class, and we don’t just passively watch, but rather we watch, discuss, read, and describe! Once again, take screen shots of the movies and use those to discuss!

Another favorite pre-Spring Break movie is Cinco Amigas. It is set in Argentina and is just a really FUN movie to watch. I have created a reading and some activities for that movie as well.

5. Play a game! My students are currently huge fans of the game Mafia. I learned about Mafia from Martina Bex, and she has promised we can play it in person this summer at the iFLT conference!

Here is a link to a free Internado-themed Mafia game I created!

So, here’s to surviving until Spring Break! I know we can do it!


spring break blahs

El Internado “Mafia”


I’ve been wanting to try the game Mafia in class for a really long time! Martina Bex wrote a great post about it and she even has a free downloadable packet for Spanish teachers!

We played in Spanish 4. I am REALLY bad at learning new games and I am even worse at teaching people how to play games. I am much better at just teaching language! But fortunately several of my students knew the game (yay church camp!) already.

I decided to put an El Internado spin on the game since my students and I are all obsessed with the show.

Here is a little summary of how we played, based on Martina’s packet:

We got in a big circle. I have 19 students in each Spanish 4 class. So I had 3 Aces, “Los Malos” (the bad guys…because we know who some of the bad guys are now in season 4 but don’t yet know what to call them!), 3 kings, “La Guardia Civil,” 1 Queen, “Fermin,” (on second thought I should make him a jack since queen is kind of feminine!), and the rest were number cards, “Alumnos.”

I explained all of the directions in Spanish and asked the kids to stop if they needed clarification. They understood everything and it was super awesome real-life language! A true real-life skill since I have indeed learned to play card games in Spanish before! (Next time I need to bring a baraja española!)

We played the game, and as I got better it went faster and got more fun. I was the narrator, and it was mostly telling people to wake up or go to sleep. But the really FUN part is describing what the bad guy did to the “alumno.”

THIS is where the game gets super magical! The kids all want to hear who the victim was and if Fermin saved them! So they actually enjoy listening to how the person got murdered or attempted murdered! I know it sounds morbid but you can be super silly about it too. You can even just make the person get kidnapped or something if you don’t want to be too terrible.

Example (en español of course!):

This poor victim was a student at Laguna Negra…the person was walking in the woods. It was nightime. The person knew that being in the woods had a punishment of a week in the stables or even expulsion, but the person was looking for a good-looking person to go to the movies with this weekend. As the person was walking, suddenly an owl flew out of a tree. It was not a kind owl. It was a very bad devil owl. It flew directly at the person and began to hit the person between the eyes with its beak. There was so much blood everywhere…and owl feathers. It was so gruesome. Fortunately, Fermin arrived and shot the owl and took it back to the Internado to cook it for dinner. (If the victim had not been saved by Fermin I would have had to say the owl killed the victim and then that person is “dead” and leaves the circle.) Thankfully “Billy Bob” is safe…but…what you need to know is this was no normal owl. It was trained by one of the “Bad Guys” to kill. Do you want to accuse someone?

Here is a fun little free Internado Themed Mafia game for you! Includes a Mafia “cheat sheet” for any language!

By 6th hour, the migraine I was working on developing all day had blossomed and I ended up having a colleague watch my class so I could head home and get some proper meds. I felt so bummed that I couldn’t finish the game! But the kids kept right on playing without me!

I highly recommend this game if you have not tried it! Thanks Martina!

Ideas needed for Microlending project!

I want to ask my online colleagues for ideas about my Kiva project.

Students choose a small business from and create a commercial advertising that person’s business. Then we vote for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place commercials. My prize last time was I made a loan of $100, $75 and $25 respectively to those businesses. However the problem was that by the time the kids finished their projects and we voted, their person’s loan was already fully funded (in almost every case the loan got funded before we could lend to them!). I told them to select a different person for me to lend to. However it felt like I was giving them additional work! Any ideas for how I can make this contest feel more fun and like they are actually winning a prize? It was a great project in my opinion and the kids put a lot into it, I just think it was a let down for the kids when their person didn’t actually get my money!