First-week reflection, Spanish I and IV – Using “persona especial” and “card talk” to build community.

This year I am teaching Spanish I and IV. I usually put a large emphasis on building classroom community in the first couple of weeks. This also helps norm the classroom and reinforces rules I have for participation. These are adapted from Tina Hargaaden’s rules from “A natural Approach to Year One”:

  1. Listen with the intent to understand
  2. Do your 50%
  3. One person speaks at a time
  4. Support the flow of conversation

These rules do well in combination with card talk and special person interviews to create expectations.

For Spanish IV, I have been doing special person interviews for years as a way to give students confidence at the beginning of the year and connect with each other.  You can get an explanation of the special person interview and its benefits over at Byrce Hedstrom’s website.

First, I present information about myself on the first day and have students interview me with questions from the website above or from their own minds.

After we put together a paragraph about me, reviewing details along the way and emphasizing the use of cohesive devices and connectors to enhance their language.

Over the next couple weeks, one or two students are interviewed each day.  Students learn about each other, make connections and, practice empathy.  Meanwhile, you hold them to the rules of participation.  I test the students on each other after everyone has presented.

In Spanish I, we do a simplified version, known as card talk.  Somewhere to Share  has a great overview of a card talk.  With this plan, there are games to play to review and there is a final project as well.

In the end, I always end up learning a ton about students and use that information as the year goes on.  The students get great practice with high frequency verbs and get their mojo back.

La noche boca arriba – Exploring magical realism in Spanish IV.

Last year, during a unit on the city, I was looking for a piece of literature that would work well in this unit.

I landed on the short story La noche boca arriba as it not only has some elements of city vocabulary but is in the past tense.

Furthermore, I like that it explores magical realism and I can juxtapose that style with social realism which we touch on with a part of the unit about Diego Rivera’s murals.

In addition, I can connect the story to our discussion of the Aztecs, sacrifice and the flower wars.

For resources I have used the embedded reading by Kristy Placido, available for free on TPT.

I start the unit with a ton of vocab review with games on quizlet and blooket to prepare the students.

From this story, I want students to get an understanding of the elements of magical realism. Reading in and of itself will be an interpretive activity, so the end game is to have a group discussion about this as an interpersonal activity. Presentationally, they will work in groups to finish a story report/reflection.

I created a basic presentational group assignment a year ago: here.

This year I created a book report type group assignment, using a template from google docs: here.

This year’s group work features sections on:

  • the author with questions,
  • describing the setting and inserting pictures,
  • organizing the events of the story,
  • and picking out the elements of magical realism

As we read the story and work in groups to complete the story report, we also watch a great animated video that goes with the story as well. Perfect for movie talk using vocabulary learned.

Memes and Mexico City

As I explore Mexico City and life there with my students, I have come to find that the Meme can offer insights into city living and certain aspects of the city that deserve illustration.

The Meme can also offer the personal perspective of a person from the city.

I see them as a great way to introduce a topic about the city before we dive deeper with readings, videos or presentations.

It can serve as an interpretive activity as well as interpersonal one that offers some comprehensible input as well.

We can explore the history of the city:

and some of the issues it faces:

Hopefully, these will help spark a conversation.

First class of 2021

Starting the year virtually, I will be having my students in break out rooms in pairs, doing a speed dating activity asking each other about their time off and their plans for 2021. See my template here.

Otherwise, to start the new year I plan on playing 2020 Bingo to recap some of the odd things that may have happened to my students last year.

Bingo squares are filled with preterite verbs.

Here is my example:

Here is the website to help you make a Bingo board which you can print out or play on a web page:

Great youtube video – Los origines de MS-13 – The origins of MS-13

Even before beginning the novel or reading the prologue of the novel, which explains the origins of the gang, the class and I went through this documentary from Univision.

Great video to accompany prologue of Vida y Muerte

This video touches on all the points that the prologue does:

  • the civil war in El Salvador
  • the number of displaced refugees and where they fled to (LA)
  • the different gangs in LA, the problems the Salvodoraneans dealt with
  • how the gang first formed and why
  • mass deportations back to El Salvador and the how the gang expanded influence

Great visuals and stats supplement the all Spanish narration.  A good place to use movie talk and start discussions on essential questions.




Vida y muerte en la mara salvatrucha link list

I am teaching the TPRS novel Vida y muerte en la mara salvatrucha by Fluency Matters for the second time.

I am extremely grateful to other bloggers who have shared ideas and content related to the book.

As others have, I started the novel with a 2 week unit on the civil war in El Salvador:

  • Great resources and ideas for organization from Kristy Placido

Here are some links I have found useful for the book:

Top Resources: The Mexican Revolution

In considering how to teach the history of the Mexican Revolution I started here:

1. PBS Learning Media (search “The Storm that Swept Mexico)

  • Revolutionary Women
  • Revolutionary Leaders
  • Revolutionary Art

2.  The University of New Mexico (unit outline, plans, resources)

3.  UTEP Center for History Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Planning in Foreign Language

Tons has been written on the subject.  Here I am, to sum it up for myself again:


Assessment is meant to measure our progress towards a goal.  In order to determine which assessment to use we must think backwards and start with our goals.

The Ohio Department of Education has many great resources for planning and assessment, start with Backwards Design!

As such, one must ask:  what do our pupils need to know?

In planning, first, think about the big picture, then determine your tools for assessment that go along with those big-picture goals.  Break overarching goals into objectives later to help build your activities.

When developing assessments, keep the following in mind (according to Baldwin, Keating, and Bachman, Teaching In Secondary Schools, Pearson 2006):

  • The interest of the student is paramount (do they understand why they are being assessed, are they reflecting on learning
  • Assessment is meant to improve teaching and learning
  • Assessment must allow for critical inquiry through writing, debate, and discussion
  • Assessment must be fair
  • The consequences of assessment determine validity – any assessment procedure which does not contribute to teaching and learning and does not promote inquiry or critical thinking should not be used.
  • The teacher is the most important agent of assessment and should be transparent in its process and product, constantly enhancing measures of understanding for students.
  • Formative assessments to assess factual info, concepts, discrete skills necessary to build understanding
  • Summative assessment involves analysis, synthesis, or evaluation of info in order to make judgments, form opinions, explain concepts

Once the assessments have been selected, one can move onto planning daily activities and exercises that will be measured by your tests, quizzes, etc.




Student Discipline

Here is what I wrote on a recent job application.

My philosophy on Student Discipline:

Classroom management skills are critical to effective instruction. As such, a teacher needs to be competent in a number of skills that aid in student discipline. A teacher must establish routines and norms in the classroom that create an atmosphere of clear expectations. At the same time, students must be treated in an equitable fashion that makes them feel comfortable and respected. Creating trust in the classroom not only means knowing the students in the class but planning activities that are tailored to their abilities and interests. A teacher’s efficacy in the classroom often depends on the ability to discipline students.

From the first time that students enter a classroom they make judgments about their surroundings and the classroom in front of them. If a classroom is not set up for success in terms of organization and appearance students will assume a certain level of control on their own. Because of this, it is the teacher’s job to establish routines and procedures from the outset. These norms help establish expectations for the classroom and provide students with a structured environment which they crave. Students must be trained and practice these routines so they know what to expect.

Expectations and rules ensure that students are treated equally and consistently. Having rules posted in the classroom is important as the teacher can reference the rules as students learn and memorize them. In this way the teacher can address problems by referencing the rules and norms. By referring to the rules and having students know them the teacher can make students assume responsibility for their actions. Consequences must also be posted in the classroom and enforced consistently. All efforts must be made to avoid dehumanizing students in order maintain mutual respect.

When students trust a teacher and are aware of the rules and procedures of the classroom they are more likely to respect the teacher and cooperate. Students must also know that the teacher cares about them. Because of this student discipline extends beyond the classroom. A teacher can display an interest in their students by incorporating their interests into lesson plans, and also by attending extracurricular activities. Outside the class, contact with parents and guardians on a regular basis will also help maintain student discipline.

The art of teaching cannot do without good student discipline and classroom management. One of the main purposes of education is to grow our students as learners. Yet, we must also grow them as people and citizens. In order to do so each classroom must use a system that everyone is familiar with and agrees to participate in. in the end, the way that educators relate to and control their pupils in school can determine the relative success or failure of these objectives.

Embedded Reading in Spanish

Having just learned about embedded reading from Laurie Clarq at the most recent Central Ohio TCI meeting I encourage anyone interested in improving reading comprehension in their students to visit:

Here is my take:

Teaching reading skills in a foreign language can be tricky.  We are wont to teach students and expect them to use task-based strategies that include finding keywords and using context clues to break apart the text.  I agree that these skills aid students and help with comprehension of particular parts of the text.

Unfortunately, students with lower level reading skills are often intimidated by big chunks of text and often shut down in the face of a paragraph.  Our job is to build the confidence of the student and task-based strategies often undermine our attempts to do so with struggling readers.

Enter embedded reading.  By working with a text from the bottom up, starting with basic phrases and building a story, we can meanwhile fortify our student’s confidence and scaffold them to success.



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