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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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Would you rather…?


IMG_3186My Spanish 4 classes have been acquiring Spanish with comprehensible input methods all along, and they are GOOD. They are PROFICIENT. And guess what? We are not done. Just as I myself continue flooding my own free time with target language to increase/maintain my proficiency, they need a constant push to acquire more. However, they can communicate! And they enjoy using their acquired language to communicate. It is fun and satisfying! Output has a role and to me, this is it!

Continuing my quest to promote an environment of fun and productivity in Spanish 4 classes that have dwindled down to only a few juniors, today we played “Would you rather…?” In Spanish I called it “¿Preferirías…?”

I gave each small group a set of cards that I created with “Would you rather…?” questions. Students placed the cards faced down and took turns drawing a card. After they read the question, they gave their answer, then as a group they discussed their opinions and decided if certain conditions would determine their answer. This is a GREAT way to practice speaking in the conditional, and it is also just plain fun.

My 6th hour class is sometimes a little tiny bit more in need of “management,” so I gave them a carrot to keep them in Spanish. I set a 20 minute timer. I told them that if I heard ANY English, I would reset the timer. I needed to hear 20 minutes of “Would you rather…?” in Spanish and then we would watch El Internado for the remainder of class.

Not only did they completely hold it together and speak all in Spanish, but they were good at it, and we all had a lot of fun. We only had 3 small groups and I was able to circulate around to each group and participate with them (HEY–INPUT!). At the end one group said they wished we could just keep playing. One student said “You should make more cards and let us play this all hour some day!” So, this activity is a keeper, and yes Rachel, I will work on making more cards for you for Spanish 5 next year!

You can make your own questions, or get mine here!

We can still use Spanish to communicate even though half the class has graduated!


Reading non-fiction text in Spanish 4

IMG_3170_censored (1)
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!


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!

Establishing meaning with Quizlet Live

quizlet liveHave you tried Quizlet’s new “Live” feature yet? I’ve always been a fan of Quizlet but with Live, they have taken online fun to another level. I have not seen such a strong response by students since Kahoot came along!

The way it works is students visit the site The teacher brings up a quizlet set that either they have already created or that someone else created. Click the “Live” icon (a purple rectangle). This will generate a code which students use to join the game. What sets Quizlet live apart is students are then automatically placed into teams. Each team has the name of an animal, which appear in your target language if the Quizlet set is in the target language. When gameplay begins, each student on the team will see a word on the top of their screen and 4 possible translations of the word. Their teammates also each have 4 possible translations. However, team members don’t know what options their teammates have. If a student answers incorrectly, their team is penalized by 3 seconds. Students quickly learn to communicate with each other!

I’m seeing students that normally don’t care actually getting competitive and trying to help their team win! I also shuffle the teams each round so they have to work with various people.

I’m not big on teaching with “drills,” but with Quizlet Live, I’ve discovered that students can play without any prior knowledge of the vocabulary. Because the words come up multiple times, student begin to recognize them as they play. It also goes really fast so you can play several rounds in just five minutes.

The way I am using Quizlet Live currently is “establishing meaning” or pre-teaching vocabulary before my students tackle a reading passage or chapter. Rather than using it to memorize vocabulary in isolation or as a review tool, I am finding that this is a great way to quickly and efficiently get words into students’ short-term memory (or more accurately, working memory) so that acquisition begins to occur as I activate the words through reading and discussion.

Give Quizlet Live a try. Your students will love it. And I think you will find that reading/listening will be more productive and less frustrating if students have the vocabulary in their working memory prior to beginning the reading or listening process.


Tasks for Communication


Have you been listening to Tea with BVP? You need to. It is hosted by the self-proclaimed “diva of second language acquisition” Dr. Bill Van Patten and co-hosted by Dr. Angelika Kraemer and Dr. Walter Hopkins, of my alma mater, Michigan State University. What I really like about this show is that it is fun, funny, I learn new things, and I feel challenged by it. Today, the topic was “The nature of tasks.” Bill really spends a LOT of time talking about being communicative and having a purpose for the things we communicate about. These ideas are really challenging my thinking right now. I am not sure I buy in completely, but I am for sure thinking about this a lot lately.

I recently had a chance to go to MSU’s campus and observe Bill teaching his Spanish 342 class. Some things I observed:

  • He taught almost 100% in Spanish.
  • He did clarify what some words meant by saying them in English. I would say he did this 4-5 times during the 80 minute class.
  • He engaged with the students A LOT. He joked with them, asked them questions, and exchanged information. They seemed to understand for the most part and seemed to really enjoy the interaction.
  • He had students engage with / process the same information in multiple ways. Reading followed by conversation, or viewing a film clip followed by reading.

At one point he showed the students a slide with a little overview of the formation of the present perfect. I thought A-HA! I caught him teaching explicit grammar! But no, not at all. It was just a quick little overview and then he had the students do a mixer activity in which they had to seek people who could sign their name as having done certain things. Examples of the things people HAVE done (they were in Spanish for the students):

  • Have you offended someone?
  • Have you broken a rule?
  • Have you broken someone’s heart?

After the students found other students who had done the various things, Bill had them return to their seats and he then began a discussion with them. It was VERY much like what TPRS practitioners would call PQA (personalized questions and answers).

The way I saw it, the activity was helpful because it got the students moving a little and it generated some new and novel things to want to communicate about. BUT the real GOLD in this task was not the task itself. It was the information it generated which then allowed the instructor to weave the whole experience together in a lovely web of compelling comprehensible input.

I got to thinking about TASKS again as I listened to the Tea with BVP podcast. I believe that comprehensible input is where language acquisition happens. I am 100% on board with that idea. I think that the amount of CI available in these types of communicative tasks is negligible at best, and therefore are not a driving force in language acquisition. However, we can exploit these types of tasks and create fodder for more CI. The fact that the students get to mill around for a couple of minutes and feel like something is being accomplished provides a little brain break for them. These types of tasks (at the novice level especially) serve the same purpose in my view as authentic resources. They are not inherently promoting language acquisition (except in perhaps negligible amounts), but they provide new material to be discussed and give a sense of purpose to the lesson.

One of my favorite communicative activities is the 4 corners activity (or in some cases you may need more than 4 locations!).

Grab a marker and write on some paper. Write something like agree/disagree (in the TL) or like, like a lot, dislike, hate. Tape them up. Talk to the students. Have them go to the poster that best matches their feeling, belief or opinion. Then TALK with the students about the results of the survey. It is fun, it is interesting, it is kinesthetic, and it is FODDER for your CI agenda!

If you don’t feel like writing on paper with a marker, I have some cute posters I made for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers. Either way will yield the same result!

4 corners SQUARE COVER


Differentiation and choice in my language classroom

Today on #langchat, I mentioned that I like to offer options to students as a way of differentiating. I needed a little more space than twitter affords to explain!

1.Options, options, and options within the options. Teenagers LOVE to feel in control and have choices. We do a LOT of reading of novels in class. I like to offer students options. I allow them to choose between:

  • independent reading
  • pair reading (they can choose to just read quietly next to each other, they can read aloud in Spanish together, or they can decode to English [loose translation] together)
  • small group reading (same options as pair reading)
  • read with me (I decode to English, pausing frequently for students to chorally fill in the next word they see. For unmotivated groups I have been known to fling candy at participators as though they were seals at a zoo getting fish!)choice

2. #AUTHRES As much as I go on about comprehensible input, I do really love using authentic resources in class, especially in level 2 and up. The trick for me is to keep it quick, keep it fun, allow the task to be simple enough as to not frustrate, and then EXPLOIT the authentic resource as a vehicle for providing MORE comprehensible input, either verbally or with a modified reading.

Here is an example of an activity I made with a Coca-Cola commercial. Students get the entire sheet, and THEY select whether they want to do the advanced or beginner segment. Following the activity, we can then do a comprehensible discussion about what kinds of gifts an elf could make, what they wish for for a gift, or what are some examples of non-material gifts they would like to give or receive.

coca cola comm differentiated 3. Embedded readings. I often will offer students an embedded reading with 2-5 different levels included. I allow students a choice about which level they start on (I intervene gently if they are choosing poorly…sometimes a student will try to start out on the highest level just to speed through!).

Here is an example of an embedded reading I made for the story Chac Mool for Spanish 3 that is free to download.

You will notice that in the lower levels of the reading I use clip art or gloss some of the vocabulary. Using visuals is a great way to lend support to students whether you are speaking to them or reading.

4. Layer upon layer and lots of connections. It is important to spiral and recycle and always be focusing most heavily on high-frequency vocabulary. Keeping the topics relevant and high-interest is also key. I am always looking for things in the world that might spark some excitement with my students. This is how I came across the story of the organization Amigos de las Aves and the Flor de Mayo bird refuge in Costa Rica that inspired me to write Robo en la Noche. 3 years later the movie Río came out and it was a perfect fit to blend together a unit! That led me to want to know more about the inspiration for the movie and I discovered the story of Presley! These are all unique and interesting stories yet they connect to the theme of wildlife poaching. By bringing them all into my classroom we are then able to make comparisons and re-use that same set of vocabulary and same language structures to discuss new scenarios. We can then personalize by talking about our own pets. Did you know “felangérido de azúcar”? Well, I do now!

Felángerido de azúcar Photo by OberonNightSeer CC BY-SA 3.0

5. Adapt expectations. I have one Spanish 2 class that just plain struggles. Many of them have failed at least one semester of Spanish previously, most of them don’t really consider being bilingual a priority, and many of them just hate school plain-and-simple. I invest LOTS of time getting to know them and just trying to relate to them as people. The sugar-glider girl is in this class. She loves to listen and understands IF I CAN ENGAGE HER. If it feels too “schooly” she and many of her peers tune right out. For this class, I often try to make them feel like they are “getting a deal.” I will say things like “How about if you guys give me the next 10 minutes of good eye contact and respond to all my questions we can listen to your favorite Spanish songs for the last 10 minutes of class?” They will go for it AND they will sing along with the songs to boot. Win-win. Or “How about instead of taking this quiz we do a Kahoot instead?” Same questions, but they buy in. “On this 10 question quiz, you only have to answer 8 correctly to get an A.” Make them feel like they just got a great deal.

How do YOU differentiate and provide choices to your students? Let me know in the comments!

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

Spanish Civil War Unit in Spanish 4 – Instagram Imagery

guerra civil insta SQUARE COVERI really love the concept of #instagramELE and I also love the idea of tying social media into lessons from history. Since I am home on my 3rd snow day in the last 4 school days, I am getting tons of work done! Too bad I didn’t bring home my stack of week-old quizzes to correct!

We have so far completed our Timeline Activity and we have watched the movie Butterfly. By the way, I only teach Spanish 4 every other year, and I realized that my movie only had English subtitles. I am going to have to get one with only Spanish subtitles because since we have been using El Internado weekly in class, my students really don’t need English subtitles! But Spanish closed-captioning is very helpful!  We are moving toward our final project which is creating an art gallery, but first we have a novel, some additional readings, 2 more films, Guernica, and the film short El Ambidiestro to study!

Since our culminating project focuses on imagery, I thought bringing Instagram into the mix might be a great way to get kids connecting their learning to images.

I created this project, which I am happy to share with you (It is a FREE resource). You may need to create your own calendar, but it provides a model for you of how you can implement the project.

I also have a couple of other items that you might find useful if you are teaching about the Spanish Civil War. I have a reading activity about the Niños Robados of Spain (FREE resource). I also have a packet I created with a mini-biography of Federico García Lorca and comprehension activity which I sell.

I will continue to update on how my unit is going in Spanish 4…if the snow ever stops! Happy Spring!