Change is Hard

I used to care more about Spanish, but that was last year when I learned more.  How do you respond to a comment like that? A student decided that I needed to know that after us discussing our writing for the day. I can shake things normally, but for some reason this comment hit me at the core. If you don’t know already, this is my first year at my current school. The classroom environment and the population of students and teachers is still new to me even after seven months of working there. I have been trying so hard to prove myself, but I still feel like there is something missing. Don’t get me wrong. I have some awesome colleagues (Natalia DeLaat, for one) and pretty great students and I didn’t make the wrong decision by moving schools and districts, but the standards and expectations are definitely higher so there is a little more pressure.

I attended Central States 2017 this past weekend and while hanging out with some fabulous ladies, Melanie Stilson mentioned that we should give ourselves a three-year grace period before we can see what we can really do in our classrooms and with our students. Melanie, where did you hear that again? If this is true, I have 2 years and 5 months to go! Holy Guacamole! I wonder if there is anything I can do now that will make a difference or should I continue what I am doing and start fresh next year?

Old-You-New-YouChange takes time which I understand and my wise friend and colleague, Natalia said today that students will think what they think especially when they think conjugation and not understanding the meaning IS knowing. I am new and my teaching style is new. My students are adapting and not everyone is going to be happy at first, but hopefully they will see the value in why I am doing what I am doing. We are assessing on our current unit tomorrow and Spring Break starts Saturday so here is to a break and new beginnings.  Anyone else been in a similar situation? What did you do?



What do you call that thing?

Circumlocution! Something I have been trying to push in my Spanish classes is being able to use circumlocution skills when talking with others or when trying to describe something. So often do I have students ask how to say something and usually I just give them the word or the phrase, but I have been trying really hard this year to follow up their question with questions like “How can you word around it?” “What else do you know how to say to get your point across?” At the last two Central States conference, I had the privilege of attending Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s circumlocution presentations. You can find her blog post and presentation here.  The information provided in her presentations got me thinking about what I should be doing in my classroom. I decided to start the school year by introducing some key circumlocution skills.

I began the school year with some guiding notes. I began with using  “it’s a person, place, or thing” and then added more as we went. I created a cheat sheet like you see below for those students that switched into my class at semester. I also have the main structures on my word wall.


We did a lot of different activities in order to practice. Some of the activities were:

#1: I gave them descriptions of different items. I provided them pictures so they were not pulling ideas from thin air.  A description might be something like:  

Es una persona.
Es una persona muy importante para la Navidad..
Lleva rojo y blanco.
¿Quién es?

#2: I placed pictures around the room and students had to use their new learned skills to describe the pictures. The pictures were basic and easy to describe such as a park, an insect, or a student.

#3: Students chose an item of their liking. They had to write a detailed description without saying who or what it was. We placed the descriptions around the room and I had students go around and list their guesses. Students had a good time and once the activity was done and answered had been shared, I overheard students providing details to their friends to better describe their item.

We spent about a week practicing only circumlocution skills although we use it all the time.  While my level 4 students were reading the TPRS novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha. We worked with a lot of new vocabulary. I wanted them to really understand the words we were reading so I had students create definitions using circumlocution. I then used those definitions and created a Quizlet set. I was really happy with this activity because students really understood the vocabulary being used within the book and I didn’t have to do a whole lot of pre-teaching of vocabulary after that.

Every Friday, I take the first 10 minutes or so and have students play with circumlocution cards. Kristy Placido’s circumlocution cards are amazing. You can find them here.  She has a few sets available so check them out. I have my students describe in the TL, but the other students can guess in English since they don’t know all of the words. This helps with speaking, writing, and listening in Spanish and my students always ask for more time with this activity.

With my level 3s, we are working on a medical unit and I have used circumlocution descriptions for a jigsaw activity. The students work in groups of 3 and each person has a clue. As a group, they have to read the provided clues and they have to guess either a body part, illness, or injury. I really like using this skill with the medical unit because the skill is SO applicable in the setting. I remember when a friend of mine cut her foot while we were on vacation and she used gestures and simple words to describe what happened. The doctor understood and the problem was taken care of with stitches.

I am hoping to come up with more activities that I could help solidify this skill with my students, but I am happy with what they have accomplished. I hear them using this skill all the time and they are progressing in the target language. If you have any activities that have really helped your students, please share!


Frida! Frida! Read All About Her!

Hello?! Is this thing on? I have been absent from blogging for a LONG time. A lot has been going on…switching schools, graduating from grad school, and kids. I’ve gotten a new blog title and bought a personal website so I better start using it.

I have been all over the place this year with teaching 3 different levels- levels 2, 3, & 4. I’ve not only had to teach new units, but I’ve also had to get to know my students. We have a lot of different readers available, but I couldn’t wait anymore and had to use Frida Kahlo by Kristy Placido. I have a small (NOT!) obsession with Frida so I was super excited for my students to learn about her.

I began the book by showing students paintings by Frida Kahlo. Their task was to tell me about three things: 1) what do you LITERALLY see?, 2) what do you interpret?, and 3) what was your opinion?. A lot of students were interested, but a lot of students saw her for her looks. In order to see her for more than her looks, I began the next class period with a short biography on Frida. They read about very basic facts, found key words, and created a small timeline. With the timeline, I asked students questions to check for comprehension. They were surprised as to how hard her life was…and we hadn’t even started the book!

For some listening practice, my students watched the Zamba: Excursión al Museo de Bellas Artes – Frida Kahlo . I believe I found the link in Kara Jacob’s post on the Fluency Matters webpage. They enjoyed it and little did they know that some of her comments in the video actually have a connection to some of her famous quotes.

Once we started Frida Kahlo, we whipped through the book because I only had four weeks before the holiday break. We read two to three chapters a week. We read as a whole class, in small groups, and sometimes individually. Most of my students preferred reading in small group so we usually stuck to that method. We did various activities depending on the chapter. Some of the activities were as follows:

Chapter 1: Students drew on a map the route Guillermo took from Germany to México. Using evidence from the text, students had to answer whether or not it was a good idea to send him.  Students also wrote a postcard to Guillermo’s parents from the perspective of Guillermo.

Chapter 2:  Students created a family tree for Guillermo.

Chapter 3, Chapter 4 & Chapter 5:   Students used the comprehension questions from the Frida Kahlo’s Teacher Guide.  Find it here!

Chapter 6:  I used Cynthia Hitz’s 4-1-1 check. I LOVED this!

Chapter 9 & 10: I had students create a smash doodle. There are so many examples roaming around the web, but you can find examples here.

Chapters 11 & 12:  Students used the comprehension questions from the Frida Kahlo’s Teacher Guide.

Chapter 13 & Epilogue:  I had students go back and find specific sentences in the  two chapters.  Students then wrote the Spanish translation below the English sentences. One goal with the book was to start identifying the reasons behind using the preterite and the imperfect so this served for that purpose.  We looked at patterns and circled verbs to get an idea in our heads.

We finished the book a day before we went on break so we took a break and had fun the last day. I knew when we returned, we would be prepping for midterms which I wanted to center around the novel since we spent so much time on the book.

For the reading section of the midterm, I used Martina Bex’s weekly new summary  reading on Frida Kahlo.  You can find it here.  I asked students to complete different tasks based on the reading. Students had to find keywords (English to Spanish), significant numbers mentioned in the reading and identify the meaning behind them. The main idea, and then explain supporting details by circling information that WAS mentioned and providing evidence from the reading. I found that overall, my students did great!

For the listening section of the midterm, I did two parts. The first part was what event came first. I gave students two events at a time about Frida or from the novel, and they had to write down which event came first. The second section was a small biography of Diego Rivera. I gathered information that students did not know yet and read it to them. They had to, again, circle information that WAS mentioned. I also provided them a section to explain any other details they heard.

For writing, I asked students beforehand to create a timeline of different events that we read about in the novel.  The only restrictions that students had were that the timeline: 1) should consist of around ten (10) main events – sentences; approximately one sentence per event, and 2) For each of the events, list up to three (3) valuable expressions that you can’t seem to avoid when talking about the event/situations.

On writing day, students were given six (6) paintings and were asked to use their timelines to describe the people and events in Frida’s life that explain why Frida might have painted the given paintings. The students had to choose 3 of the 6 paintings to describe. I was nervous a little because it was a harder task, but they did great! I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of my students.

WOW! Are you guys still there?! If you are, I only have a few more things to say. I cannot wait to read this book again, but I think next time I will plan it so that I have more time to look at more of her paintings, look more into Frida and Diego’s life, and to just be able to take our time.

Let me know if you have any questions or if you did anything else that would be great to add! Check out Kristy Placido’s site for more on Frida Kahlo.


Full Circle

Back in 2010, I interviewed for two Spanish positions within the same district. I really struggled to decide which high school to choose because I heard good things about both, but I went with my gut and I am glad I did. It was the first position where I felt like I was at home; a place where I could see myself teaching for a while. Unbeknownst to me though, my new district was going to be laying off teachers and being at the bottom of the totem pole, one could only imagine what that meant for me. During the year that I spent at that school, I met a teacher that would change my thinking and still does actually. Some of you may recognize her name or twitter handle: Natalia DeLaat or @natadel76.

One particular memory I have is seeing Natalia walking down the hall with a few students speaking in French. That probably wasn’t anything new, but what caught my attention was that the students were following along and conversing with her in…wait for it… French. It was clear and comprehensible and I was surprised. My students couldn’t do that or, at least, not like that. It got me thinking: what is she doing in her classroom that teachers students to openly converse and comprehend the conversation. I began to ask questions and prod a bit, but being a new teacher, I was too afraid to step outside the textbook. I didn’t want to rock the boat or make noticeable waves.

Four years ago, I took a position for another district. The district was and still (slightly) is to the book. The district technically still uses a textbook and has a very heavy grammar-filled curriculum guide. I knew that I wanted to do something different, but was not quite sure if I wanted to completely leave what I knew behind. Not knowing where to begin, I contacted my friend Natalia. After a lot of discussion and coffee, I left with A LOT of great information, but I was told to start with the following:

*Check out Martina Bex’s blog:

*Get on Twitter and follow:          #langchat and #sblchat

I went home and began doing my research. Starting with Martina Bex’s blog, I clicked on different blogs that she had linked to her site and WOW! So much information to go through. Why didn’t I know about this part of World Language teaching? My mind was on overload. There were so many things that I wanted to change. I wanted to change how I introduced new vocabulary, how students experienced the language, how I assessed my students, and how I graded my students.

Lets fast forward four years, and all I have to say is that I am still learning; still learning from Natalia and a long list of other amazing educators. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I am definitely glad that I am not where I was. Each year since starting, I pushed the limits a little bit more. I changed my grade book by using the categories reading, writing, listening, and speaking. I moved away from traditional assessments and long lists of vocabulary. I no longer used the textbook as my guide; I began ‘asking’ stories and doing activities around the stories for more input.

This past year has held the biggest changes for me, not only in level, but also with curriculum. Our Spanish 2 classes moved to solely using Martina Bex’s units. One of the Spanish 1 teachers used Martina’s units the previous year and was so happy with how much Spanish her students were comprehending and producing in class so we took the jump as a level. This is my first year teaching level 4 so I stayed with most of the themes that have been taught, but added a twist. I used a lot of authentic resources-pictures, news articles, blogs, different readings and a lot of material from my favorite bloggers. We also read both Esperanza and Vida y Muerte de la Mara Salvartrucha from TPRS Publishing.

My journey has definitely come full circle. Starting in the fall, I will again be working with Natalia. I recently took a new Spanish teacher position in her district and I am so excited. I cannot wait to grow in a new district and hopefully Natalia doesn’t get sick of me because I have a lot of questions already and our rooms are next door to each other 🙂

Vida y Muerte Chapters 1-5

My Spanish 4 has started their second novel this year. They are reading Vida y Muerte de la Mara Salvatrucha after studying El Salvador Civil War for about three weeks. You can see what my class did here. With our last novel (Esperanza), students completed a choice project board via Elizabeth Dentlinger so I knew I wanted to do something similar with this book. I decided that I would do smash doodles with my students which both Martina Bex mentioned in her blog in addition to Elizabeth Dentlinger. I LOVED what Elizabeth created so I used her format and rubric. I wanted to add that students write sentences from the perspective of one of the characters so I added that portion to her rubric.

Along with the smash doodles, my students are also doing a Twitter Feed a la Carrie Toth. Students have been very creative with names. The anonymous author is referred to @fantasma (ghost) and the mom is referred to as @mamamuerta (dead mom). They take things very seriously which is great to see. I love that students are being creative and having fun with the language.

As I mentioned in my previous blog on how I began Vida y Muerte, I am not very creative in that I have been using ideas from other people’s blogs. I have the older teaching guide which offers a lot (The new, updated one should be coming out soon!), but I have mostly been referencing Carrie’s posts. What I did for each chapter so far is as follows:

Prologue: I was subbing for one of our assistant principals so I had students read the prologue and then answer comprehension questions about the different sections.

Before we read chapter one, I introduced the twitter feed assignment as well as the smash doodle project. I also had a list of vocabulary for each chapter that I gave my students. We will be filling this in as we go so we can ask questions, circle and personalize the chapters.

Chapter 1- Mi iniciación:  We went through vocabulary and I gave some practice sentences. We then went into reading chapter 1 where I asked questions throughout.  I allowed the rest of the class period to be spent working on smash doodles for chapter 1.Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.19.50 AM

Chapter 2- Mi madre:  We went through vocabulary.  We followed that by reading chapter 2 where we discussed the events of the chapter.   I allowed the rest of the class period to be spent working on smash doodles for chapter 2.Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.20.12 AM

Chapter 3- Mi padre: We went through vocabulary and jumped right into chapter 3. I started  by asking “What are characteristics of an Ideal Dad? Students posted their ideas on the white board and then we read chapter 3. After reading the chapter, the same groups listed characteristics if the author’s dad. Students compared and contrasted in their groups as well as, as a class. There was a lot of discussion on whether or not the author’s father was loving and many argued that he was because the kids knew he did. As mentioned earlier, I love watching students understand and use the language to fit their points of view. Find Carrie’s blog post for Chapter 3 here.

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Between chapter 3 and chapter 4, students listened to the song Tu cárcel performed by Los Enanitos Verdes. Crystal Barragán had an excellent activity for this which you can find here.

Chapter 4- Gustavo: I used this chapter as a reading assessment. You can find the reading assessment here. (Thanks Carrie)

As we were reading chapter 4, I noticed that my students had a lot of questions on sudden and descriptive past endings so before starting chapter 5, we took a break and did some review. I pulled sentences from the different chapters that showcased sudden past and descriptive past separately. We discussed endings and how endings convey meaning.  We spent about two full days on review.

Chapter 5- Mi primera misión: Today I had students read chapter 5 either alone or with a partner. After everyone finished reading, I placed my students into pre-planned groups. I then passed out Carrie’s Conversation Circles Sheet. Students spent the rest of the period holding three minute conversations as I walked around and took a speaking grade. It was very easy for me to listen in on conversations and not only listen to language usage, but also hear the content of the novel I will definitely be repeating this activity.

Tomorrow, I plan to use different pictures  to allow for some more discussion to also have  students create an interview with the author. (Again, you find all this great stuff on Carrie’s blog).  Students are really getting into the book and I cannot wait for them to get into the ‘juicy’ part of the novel. Stay tuned for more!

Hello. My name is Amanda and I am a Hypocrite.

Our district is going through some major changes. Our high schools are going to block schedule and are moving to having academies instead of being comprehensive high schools.  With the new changes, teachers have professional development sessions to attend over the summer. One, in particular, is Highly Effective Teaming, but when our department went to sign up, we read that all teachers should sign up EXCEPT world languages and Phy. Ed.  What? Why not? Aren’t we global within the academies? I spoke up at the department meeting asking why this is and administration didn’t know why, but would find out from the powers above.

Our department chair has done a great job advocating for us and asked us for questions that we want answered. As with any department, not all of our views align so the amount of questions being asked by any given department member go from none to LOTS. I find myself mad that some teachers had no questions. We are supposed to have questions. We are supposed to be nervous. We are supposed to share similar ideas and expectations. We are a united department, right?  As I was sitting at my desk, I was scrolling through Twitter and came upon this picture. (I do not remember who I saw it from so please let me know if it was you. I took a screen shot so I don’t have the name.)

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As I was looking at the picture, I thought to myself:  I am a hypocrite and have been for a while. When I came into my district four years ago, I was super excited to teach Spanish after a year of teaching ESL, but I was also excited to be teaching in my hometown. Because I was new, I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers so I went by the textbook and followed the curriculum guide. I would change things here and there, but for the most part, I stayed the path. Starting in my second year, I began to discover amazing blogs and CI/ TPRS practices. I learned different methods of teaching that would further my students’ proficiency in the language. Little by Little, I moved away from the textbook and created (with the help of a great friend and colleague) new materials for almost every unit that I was teaching.  In my mind, I knew that what I was doing was best for my students. The kids were responding and I couldn’t have been happier.

I began to be more vocal at department meetings and began to ask questions that pushed the thinking of our department. There was some tension in the department as methods clashed. I kept on my path and kept pushing for change, but it took the picture today and some changes to our department for me to realize that maybe I was wrong in my ways. I sat in meetings pushing for change and speaking what I thought was best for everyone, but I never listened hard enough to hear what others had to say. Although I knew that my students were improving, I never thought about how they would be in other teachers’ classes as well as how my students would do without the same information that other classes were covering. Would my students be behind?  Will they be at a disadvantage? I never considered the position that I put the other teacher in as well. I took my classroom into my own hands, but never considered anyone else’s ideas.  How can I inspire people to change if I myself haven’t been open to others and their points of view?

I came into the district hoping to be in an united department because I hadn’t been in one since I began teaching. I thought it was others who weren’t very accepting, but I am starting to see how I haven’t been either. I am hoping that with time, we can come to some type of agreement and begin to collaborate and work together for our students since they are the ones who will suffer if we don’t. How do we get there? I don’t know, but I will find my way. I have faith in that.

How I began Vida y Muerte de la Mara Salvatrucha

 Let me start by saying that I love this book. At the beginning of the year, I thought I was going to read La Guerra Sucia with my 4s, but things fell into place differently (as they often do) and I decided that Vida y Muerte might be more engaging at this point in the year.

The last time I read this novel with students was two years ago with my Spanish-speakers class and I have to say that it saved my sanity. It was a very trying class and the content this book offered was exactly what they doctor ordered. A lot of my students could relate to the main character in a lot of ways which kept them engaged.  This time around, I will be reading this book with my Spanish 4 students. I have one student that has read it before, and he keeps telling the other students that it is so good.

I knew that I wouldn’t get to the book before we went on Spring break so I planned on prepping the book with a lot of background information on El Salvador. There are so many great bloggers that have posted their activities so a lot of the activities that I used are not my own. I began looking at Kara Jacobs’ page as well as Sharon Birch’s page for ideas on essential questions and songs to use with the book.  I also printed all of Carrie Toth’s post on the book in addition to buying Kristy Placido’s materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I also asked A LOT of questions on twitter to figure out organization of materials.

Once I figured out my plan, I started by giving my students a set of questions created by Kara Jacob. The questions were the following:

  1. ¿Cuáles fueron las causas detrás de la guerra civil en El Salvador?
  2. ¿Cuáles fueron los dos lados opuestos en la guerra civil en El Salvador?
  3. ¿Cuáles son las repercusiones de una guerra así (con niños soldados)?
  4. ¿Qué pasó a las personas ordinarias que vivían en el medio del conflicto durante la guerra civil?

I told my students that before we begin the novel, they will be able to answer these questions in depth. I wanted them to understand why so many people left El Salvador to come to the United States.

Once the students wrote down their questions,  we did a Gallery Walk using the PPT slides created by Kara Jacobs. I had students organize their a page in their notebooks by sections: La Historia de El Salvador, La Guerra Civil, FMLN, Los niños soldados, El Apoyo de los EEUU, El Arzobispo Óscar Romero, y Diverso (for the miscellaneous details). Students read the many slides that were scattered around the room and pulled information that they felt could answer the essential questions.

The following activity that my students did was read about Óscar Romero. Kristy Placido created an adapted reading on him that was very comprehensible to my students.  The next day, students listened to the song El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andres. Using the activity created by Kristy, students drew out the lyrics provided to them in chunks. Students had to then order the song while listening to the song. They were confused with the lyrics, but once they listened to the song in its entirety, thoughts fell into place.

The following day I was in Columbus, OH for #csctfl16 so I had students glue a Venn Diagram into their notebooks that compared Óscar Romero and El Padre Antonio. Considering it was a Friday and students had a sub, they wrote a lot down. We reviewed the information when I returned.

Before we began watching Voces Inocentes. (The movie is rated R so I had parents sign a permission slip, but Kristy also has a reading of the movie available). I had my students read the Derechos Humanos Universales that Kristy adapted. I told my students that we would be looking at how people’s rights were abused or violated throughout the movie.

The day we began the movie, I had students read the poem Ascensión by Alfredo Espino. I am sounding like a parrot, but Kristy has three versions of the poem depending on the levels of the students. I ended up shrinking the poems and putting all three on one page. I told my students that they should be a little uncomfortable reading so to not go straight for the easier version. I had a lot of students work through the harder version because they wanted to push themselves.

We watched the movie for about 3.5 class periods. Students had comprehension questions to answer throughout the movie. After each day of viewing, we reviewed the questions that were answered and I also answered any other questions that students had. They were like zombies with the movie. They kept on saying, Sra. you are giving me the ‘feels’ with this movie.  They really enjoyed the movie.

We followed the movie with listening to Casas de Carton. Students filled in lyrics and then we discussed as a class why this song might have been prohibited. Some compared it to the Hunger Games and people putting up their three fingers to show support to Katniss. I love where their minds go!

This week was a short week and I felt like I was pressed for time. I hate that feeling, but I decided to have students read the Los Niños Soldados article that was adapted by Kristy Placido. A lot of these materials come in a bundle so you can access all these if you buy her materials from her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

We ended the week by revisiting the Derechos Humanos Universales. Students described three scenes from the movie that showed how people’s rights were abused. They had to justify their answers by explaining why. It was an early release day and the day before break and they were working like it was any other day. I like how passionate they seem to be about the topic we have been studying.

My plan for when we return on April 4th is to read one more article on the Massacre of Mozote adapted by…Can you guess? Yes, Kristy Placido. After we review all the different resources that we have used,  I will be assessing them by asking them to answer our essential questions. I have created a writing for them where I will let them use all the materials that we have gathered and used in class.

Two years ago, I was just excited to use this novel that all I did was read it with them and use the materials provided in the Teacher’s Guide (a new TG is coming out soon- CANNOT WAIT), but I am so happy with starting Vida y Muerte this way so students learn the reasons behind why people immigrate as well as learn a different perspective on war and people involved.

Please check out the others’ sites. I would probably still be just reading the novel with students if I hadn’t found such great material.  Stay tuned for future posts for when I actually start the novel. Thanks for reading.