Guernica- The Art of War- Resources for teaching Guernica


The Art of War 

The Art of War is my unit title for teaching about Guernica. I started this unit a few years ago as a middle school teacher, and now that I am at a high school, it blossomed considerably. Our finale to the Spanish Civil War unit, for which you can access information here, was this mini-unit on Guernica, which includes a PBL action component. After learning about the reasons undergirding this powerful piece of protest art, students had to dig deep and find a cause that was Guernica worthy and start the creative process of bringing awareness to their issue. Guernica was our inspiration or muse for the resultant personal projects (collages are below, but this is only the first part). You can see the planning documents and the first part of the projects below. 

Starting with Guernica

To pique students’ interest in Guernica, I used a few videos on the subject from Youtube, one being this awesome trailer of Guernica to the left. Although students had some familiarity with the topic, due to our unit on the Spanish Civil War unit, they were very interested in this trailer, and of course, they wanted to watch the movie (maybe just to pass the time in class).

Click here for Trailer 

Guernica 3D video 

Prior to the video that is highlighted below, I projected the painting of Guernica and had students jot down what they observed. Students could readily identify the following: 

  • El toro
  • Las personas
  • La luz

We discussed how the painting portrayed the atrocity of Guernica, and students responded accordingly.  I asked them to list and to add an interpretation of each of the items they pointed out.

Side note, the last time I implemented this unit, I had the Guernica Image painting enlarged. I had 15 printed and students gathered around in groups to view, more microscopically, the elements of the painting. This year, I had a different approach. I found this really nifty video on Youtube video that showed the painting three-dimensionally. The room was silent as students were so tuned-in to the slow moving pieces parading across the screen. 

 Short Expository Video about Guernica 

Click here for the video 

We watched this quick video about Guernica in Spanish. It supported the first video, because it give an interpretation of the events.  The video does not have subtitles, but I stopped periodically and asked questions such as: 

1. ¿Quién estuvo en París?  

2. ¿Qué hacía el hombre en París?

3. ¿Cuáles fueron las ciudades bombadeadas? 

4. ¿Qué significa la bombilla? 

After learning about Guernica and the causes that compelled Picasso to denounce the Fascist campaign. Students had to develop their own artistic “campaigns” that were “Guernica worthy.”  Below is the first page of the packet that recapped “el siniestro” and led-in to their project.  

Here is what followed (this was done over two 90- minute classes, I think): 

1. Students read the prompt, which discussed Guernica in Spanish (more comprehensible input).  They then paired up with a partner and thought 5 global issues that Picasso would take on, this is part of the packet. 

2. After thinking and discussing the issues, I gave them this article that I compiled and modified from sources online. It is from the #Niunamenos Campaign, decrying the violence against women in Spain. I listen to Radio National every morning, and this was central to much of the reporting.

3. Students read the article, responded to the questions (the usual). 

4. They were given the prompt below, which was a collage I put together on the issue of #Niunamenos, to give them an example of a powerful issue (this was to weed out topics such as “Call of Duty is the best game ever!). For this collage, students had to choose 6-7 powerful images that would visually depict their topic. The goal was to: 

-Create a visual portrayal of their issue, much like Picasso did

-Conduct preliminary research on their issue

-Present the collage to the teacher first, for an oral interview. 

PBLL Connection 

The collage is one of several assessments and products we are producing.  Students will eventually create a presentation of their issue to create awareness of other learners of the language (some class time was devoted to research, which was carefully scaffolded through the packet information). Stay tuned so your students can check them out!

Discussing collages 

Side note: prior to speaking about their collage, they had a quick write (best idea ever!). For this quick write, they could discuss any part of their project that choose. It was not graded but will give them feedback right in time for the next writing assignment. 

Below are some examples of student collages. Today they had their interview, where they explained their problem, causes and effects and solutions that have been attempted in solving the issue. 

Since they have been working on this for a few classes, I was really impressed with how knowledgeable students were when presenting their problems. Students who struggled with fluency in the beginning of the year had grown leaps and bounds from the structure and constantly revisiting their research. 

You’ll notice that most collages have words around them. I had the research 15 words related to their topic and post around the boards of the collage. When they had their interviews, most incorporated these words naturally into their discourse. Some of the topcis were: 

Racismo ambiental 

Matrimonios forzadas 

La pobreza entre los veteranos 

El blanqueamiento de la comunidad Latinx

(the packet they received walked them through every aspect of the research!)

Gracias for checking out my blog post!

Stay tuned for Las Sombras (sci-fish series).  


6 Ways to privilege Input from the very first day of class. Easy-peasy-cognate-laden-intuitive reading (interview) activity for Spanish class!

How to get students talking in the target language the first day of class: A new twist on a routine strategy. 

The first week of school is always exciting for freshmen students, especially those who have not taken a Spanish as a second language. From the very first day, I encourage students to speak only in the target language. Like most teachers, I start my stating my name in the language as a model and then by asking them to state theirs. We go around until we get the hang of it. Please note that this activity has been extended. 

During the first week, I usually engage students in this About Me activity, which is all in the target language.  The activity is loaded with simple at a glance cognates that really require no front loading.  It is also a great activity for ESL students who would benefit from compound words and Latin roots. 


Output Rich Activity play by play 

1. First, students look a list of words, mostly cognates but some, such as película are not as familiar. 
2. The most important thing is that students cannot use a dictionary!  This helps them engage in incidental learning. Students read over the cognate vocabulary words and decide what they mean. 
3. They complete a short warm-up cloze-text activity that gives them a sneak peak into the meaning of most words. 

4. Here is the kicker- they read a simple interview about a Spanish girl who discusses her interests. Her interview contextualizes most of the vocabulary. 

From the basic answers she provides to the questions,  students then glean the meaning of the words. Also, don’t worry about overloading then.  The questions and answers are really simple.  

5.  After reading the interview, students use it as a guide to complete their own questions. These questions and vocabulary words are provided in this About Me activity demo.  
5. The questions are split into two section and students engage in a paired interpersonal activity after reading. 

6. Complete a compare and contrast activity using their information and that of the girl interviewed. 

This activity could be great for engaging students in inquiry, allowing them to learn basic vocabulary, cognates, interrogative words, sentence structure without a formal lesson!  
Some modeling suggestions

       To maximize and optimize input, teachers could also consider answering the questions for themselves prior to the interview. Research indicates that  it takes interacting with a word 20 times before it becomes a part of our lexicon, so answering the questions beforehand gives them additional experience with the word. I usually answer the questions for myself to give them an example of how it’s done. For example, the question: Cuál es tu programa favorito, I’d respond by saying  mi programa favorito es el Internado. Then I’d ask them cuál es mi programa favorito. This sets up the stage for me to then ask them their favorite program.  After going over my questions and asking a few students, they can work on the Interview.  I try to get as much bang as possible out of this buck. 

I like to move it, move it!

After students have finished their activity (I have moved around class to make sure we are all on board), I have them engage in a little speed-dating activity, also included in the About Me activity document.  This takes about 5-10 minutes of class time. They move around and interview one person or they could get into pairs. They begin by  asking them one (or 7) of the questions. At this point they would also be practicing simple greetings such as hello, how are you, what is your name, goodbye, etc. 

Not done yet!

After this activity students are of course excited to share about their one person. After this, I ask for a few volunteers to sit in the Hot Seat. Various students in the class ask them the same questions from the list.  My the end of the period the students have acquired new vocabulary, incidentally learned something about the structure of the language,  heard keywords several times in addition to being introduced to their year-long roommates! 

Check out these 7 Free activities with the verb Gustar 

If you have any questions, you respond to this post or email me at: 

Turn your students into 007 Agents with the novel Agentes Secretos

Agentes  Secretos

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

Last year, when I taught this unit, students were very curious about Guernica and Franco. During chapter three of the book, I had them perform a Guernica -basic analysis activity. I had also created an activity in which students created headlines about Franco (you can see some examples at the bottom of the page). As a result, they were curious about the history. To satisfy that sweet tooth, I created the resource below, which delves into Franco, the Spanish Civil War and Guernica- all in basic Spanish! Skipping on the history? Now problem, see the Free pre-reading starter kit below!

Spanish 1+ Reading, Franco, and Guernica- 10 activities!


  • 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!


Click here for the free pre-reading starter kit!

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.

Johnny rivers .png

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
 We have parliamentary style seating so as students walked through the long columns of

student desks they viewed pictures, products, and gadgets making a list of them in their notebooks. Below is a list of several items used:

Mission #1

  1. Picture of James Bond
  2. Picture of special suitcase
  3. Glasses
  4. Spy watch
  5. Binoculars

 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 


  1. ¿Qué es un agente secreto?  ¿Qué hace un agente secreto? 
  2. Menciona una organización secreta en los Estados Unidos (U.S.)
  3. ¿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

¿Franco, tu peor pesadilla!

¿Es Franco cruel? Pregunta a Guernica (this was a good one!)

There were plenty of headliners that really surprised me.
What are activities you do in class to promote literacy? Do you use Agentes Secretos?  Please share!