Agentes Secretos by Mira Canon (see it on Amazon) is one of my favorite CI novels of all time. I started teaching this novel while teaching a middle school Spanish course at an IB school. After the second go around, I was hooked (my good friend Rachel introduced me to it while we were in Colombia!).
Now that I am working at a different school with slightly older students, I was compelled to take a fresh look at the teaching possibilities with this TPRS classic. I changed a few ways in which I had approached the novel. Instead of the usual run of the mill, get into to groups, make predictions, highlight cognates and so forth (these are good pre-reading/ building excitement exercises), I wanted to bring in the novel with a bang!
Priming students for the unit- Franco and Guernica
- Text on Franco and his rise to power (super simple text, footnoted)
- Pre-and post-reading vocabulary activities
- Comprehension question (could totally be an assessment)
- Guernica text/ with blurb on Picasso
- Writing assignment- connected to Guernica.
Making the unit title a mystery and Music Please!
This year, I did not tell students the book we were going to read. Instead, when they came into the room they had spy pictures and gadgets scattered about. As my students entered the room during the first day of my unit, they were met by the ambiance of Secret Agent Man (all these years I thought it said something else!). Not only was the music saturating the atmosphere, but I had made the classroom into a gallery of secret agent themed paraphernalia that would represent the book.
The activity sheet instructs them to: write down the object, even in English, go back to their seats.
- Write down the object- even in English
- Go back to their seats and look up words
- Write full sentences using “yo veo” and the items
- Try to figure out the theme
student desks they viewed pictures, products, and gadgets making a list of them in their notebooks. Below is a list of several items used:
- Picture of James Bond
- Picture of special suitcase
- Spy watch
I printed pictures from the internet in color and then placed them in plastic sleeves. Students were not allowed to speak during this activity but had to walk around, observe, list to the musical trope and jot down what they saw. They loved it! This was their first mission.
Mission # 2
Afterward the initial silent gallery walk, students had a chance to go back to their seats, look up words and share with the class and complete this activity sheet. While looking up the word, I emphasized making sure they included both the definite and indefinite article. This lesson is always needed no matter what the level!
Mission # 3
On my iPhone I had also created an Agentes Secretos Playlist. Secret Agent Man, Skyfall by Adele and theme music for Mission Impossible filled the class during these types of activities.
Thought-provoking at the novice-level
Rigor, Rigor, and Rigor. In the past few years, this five lettered word has been drilled into us as educators. One of my favorite activities is this cognitive priming activity where students get a list of discussion questions, which would be input +2 at first, but through modeling and conversation, it becomes challenging but doable.
The first thing I do is the take one of the questions, have them lean on their prior knowledge and then I model how to respond to the question using a circumlocution. The results were amazing. The discussion was rich and robust. My students got a lot from this activity, they definitely felt the stretch. My principal loved it as well. Check out the protocol and sample questions below.
Protocol for this activity
One of the tasks I found extremely useful this time around teaching Agentes Secretos is engaging students into thinking about espionage.
1. They do in groups in discuss the questions and how to respond.
2. They maximize their limited vocabulary by responding to questions with as much vocabulary and thought as possible- they got tons of circumlocution mileage out of this activity
- ¿Qué es un agente secreto? ¿Qué hace un agente secreto?
- Menciona una organización secreta en los Estados Unidos (U.S.)
- ¿Cómo debe ser la personalidad o perfil, de un agente secreto?
For the first question, students would use very basic vocabulary such as:
“Un agente secreto es una persona que trabaja en una organización secreta... “
Students could put their own twist on this. For the question about the typical profile and gender, students really had a lot to say. The circumlocution was the highest because they were so impassioned to speak.
Death to Franco
Okay, I did not tell them Death to Franco, but this headliner activity was truly revealing. It allowed me to assess their prior knowledge, productive vocabulary output while allowing them to use logos and pathos in unprecedented ways at the novice level.
Here is how it all went down (this was the second or third day).
- First, we read the first chapter of Agente Secretos (see it on Amazon)
- Students made predictions about who he was based on the text.
- Students voted on if they’d side with him or not based on what they learned in the first chapter (I had a few franquistas here- it was troubling at first).
- Read the text on Franco, it has so many cognates and understandable vocabulary that it took them about 20 minutes to read in groups.
After the short contextualized activity on Franco activity, we came back to the question about Franco and they were stunned.
But I could not leave it there. I wanted to capture this emotion so I had them put themselves in the shoes of journalist during the Spanish Civil War. The eres un periodista activity encouraged them to do perspective-taking by assuming role of a periodista from the times of Franco. They had to create a headline for Franco based on what they had read. To be fair, they could choose either side; and they did. There was a good debate, to say the least. Again, they used very simple terms but powerful. Here are some examples (I will scan and get the originals):
Novice Semester II Spanish I students:
Franco mata a las personas de España.
El Nuevo Hitler (okay, one kid pointed out that they were contemporaries, so this isn’t valid, but good start).
El Dictador Cruel