Spanish Civil War: Leading with Inquiry- flipping the script with experiential learning in the WL classroom

La Guerra Civil Española- PBLL Style: Comprensible Input Meets Inquiry-based Learning!

For those of you Spanish teacher history buffs, I want to say that I am totally a novice when it comes to teaching the Spanish Civil war.  Many years ago, I did a Guernica unit for my 7th-grade students (materials coming soon!), and we did not take a deep dive into the Spanish Civil war. This year, I am teaching Spanish 4, and our school is embarking on a PBLL curriculum; I choose the revive that old unit. This will be a two-part blog post; the first part lays the groundwork for the unit, building content knowledge and engagement in project-based learning, and second post dives into the Guernica and the PBL inquiry-action component, all in Español! Here is my story. 

Shifting Approach to Teaching Language

I’d like to echo Spanish Mama’s sentiment when she stated in a previous blog post that her philosophy of teaching was “evolving” )check out her post here.)  This has definitely become my story this year. With 90-minute block classes and the consistent flow of research pumping through the veins of language teaching community, it wasn’t long before I got a transfusion myself. Teaching this unit has given me more insight into language acquisition, conceptual and inquiry-based learning. Although all of those components are not covered in this post (next one for sure), I’d like to share some activities that really helped my students connect with the content through the medium of language.  
Mi granito de arena 

Now, there are many great teachers who do bang-up jobs on presenting the Spanish Civil War and Guernica. You may want to check out Kristy Plácido‘s blog, as she has some really nice stuff.  I am just adding to the corpus of work that has been done already.  That said, with this unit, I really changed the way I engaged students. 

Learning about history inquiry-based style in a CI classroom 

Instead of providing students with a reading on aspects of the Spanish Civil War, I decided to let them research these aspects on their own. It was simple: 

  • Listed 8 different topics related to the conflict 
  • Curated a few websites in English  
  • Assigned student groups 
  • Did a mini-lesson on how to research in English and convey information in basic Spanish 

Throw Reciprocal teaching into the mix!

The pictures above posters students creating posters for gaining a preliminary knowledge about the Spanish Civil War. This was my introductory activity (opposed to doing a scavenger hunt, short reading even a video- all of which are good).  The goal was to create an information highway class from which students could be informed of various causes and players of the Spanish Civil War (The PBL final component will in the next post, this is just the beginning)

 This was just an

introductory activity and they put so much

heart and soul into it!

Comprehensible Input Meets Inquiry-based Learning

Hack: Instead of giving students something to read and take notes on, they each became experts on an aspect of the war. 

  • Students presented to the class (repetition, recycling)

For the presentations, we made a list of expressions (most teachers have great lists they give to students). I noticed that each group looked at the board and chose an expression or lead-in that vibed well with their presentation. 

  • Students circulated, looked at the board and collected the information. 

Click here for the note taking document

We viewed this video in English after the introduction activity. Although this was not in the target language, I filled in gaps for students who were learning this for the first time.

Spanish Civil War in 3 minutes

Check out this video in Spanish 

Spanish Civil War Gallery and Reciprocal Teaching 

After working on the “Teaching Boards” I had students present to class. This was not for a grade, but more of a formative assessment check-in. After presenting, students displayed their boards around the class, they were given the note-taking document below, and they went around taking notes on each of the aspects of the Spanish Civil War. Again, this was their incursion into the unit. We’d begin officially after this. 

Matamoscas in pairs

Click here for resource

I have been working at my new school for about 2.5 years now. I used to teach MYP IB Spanish grades 6-8 for 10 years. Teaching at a high school was very challenging in the beginning. The 90 minute block periods- were another challenge. I share this because we don’t really have textbooks and I have had to create the curriculum from scratch. One of the challenges I have had in the past was making sure everything aligned, the vocabulary was part of the reading (I started writing my own novels and other modified informational texts to satisfy the inner writer in me). This unit, I can saw, without a shadow of a doubt, had a high degree of aligned. Having a bit of time prior to the unit, I was able to:

  • Identify resources need for the unit. For this unit, I actually wrote some material a few years ago, but since we subscribe to Mary Glasgow, I used their reading and video on the Spanish Civil War. If you go to their website, you can get up to 4 free downloads. It is an extremely well- resourced site. We based most of our curriculum off the plethora of resources.

  • Design summative assessments
  • Identify words and concepts necessary for understanding the Spanish Civil War
  • Create vocabulary lists
  • Create games with the vocabulary (see my
  • Matamoscas PPT and paired activity)

Resource Central (Freebies)

Click here for the activities below!

This free packet includes:

  • Vocabulary sheet
  • Paired students interview using the vocabulary words
  • Sentence writing activity
  • Student inquiry-activity
  • Note-taking activity for “Inquiry-gallery”

Multiple Exposures to Vocabulary Promotes Acquisition 

I am reading the book Language Teacher Toolkit by Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti. It is a great book with lots of insight on strategies for teaching a world language. One of the premises of learning a language is multiple exposures, repeated exposure to vocabulary and structures. This is no secret as the Comprehensible Input theory, community, and practitioners all laud this concept. In their book, they make the case for multiple exposures and what happens on a neurological level. Repeated exposure allows the brain, as they stated (page 59) to make viable connections. Words are associated with memorable moments. The activities implemented in this activity did just that. I saw a marked improvement in vocabulary production during speaking tasks and writing task related to the unit.  


For this unit, the video provided two assessments: Listening and Writing.

This is still an ongoing unit, but I have managed to administer two assessments, both on which students performed really well. I accredit their performance to the “multiple exposure” model and the inquiry-based style of learning that hooked them from the beginning. After the initial research, they were speaking like experts and was able to build shared background knowledge (all working together). 

Additional resources for teaching Spanish Civil War:
Propoganda Lesson on the Spanish Civil War (I saw this later, looks really good).
La hija del sastre– check out fluency (we have this book, and I like it. This year, we did not get to engage due to our school’s PBL mandates).

Time in Between on Neflix (I have materials for the first episode, will be included in the next post)

The student action-inquiry PBLL product will be addressed in the next few posts. The next post to this unit will be, Guernica. 

Click here for follow up post!


Creative detective activity to practice dates, numbers, time and more!

Use this detective activity to practice dates, days of the week, numbers, time and more in Spanish 1

I  am always looking for creative ways to teach important vocabulary and grammatical points that form the ABC’s of learning Spanish.  I have become a detective in a way myself,  constantly looking for ways to spice up a lesson to deliver content that is original and fun for me as well.

I love role play, creating stories and dialogues that contextualize to such a way that students learn more than they bargain for incidentally. This method has earned many dividends over the span of my 11 year career.

This year, I have found a new twist to teaching the days of the week, dates and other ancillary but important building blocks to the language.

At my school, we do not use the Realidades series, but I happened to stumble upon the connected series Eres Tú María a few years ago; and I have shown it ever since. It can be found on Youtube and Vimeo. This series is wonderful in starting with basic Spanish and then getting more complex.

I usually show the first 10 episodes sprinkled throughout the school year as each one builds on the  other in terms of vocabulary, structures, themes and storyline. My students love when it is Maria time. At first, I was showing it as a treat more or less. After an arduous 90 minutes of class, this was a good brain break every couple of weeks. However, now that I have a better idea of how best to engage students in the first couple week of my Novice Level Spanish I class, I will use this resource to maximize and capitalize on input for listening and practicing:

  • Days of the week

  • Dates in Spanish
  • Highlighting countries
  • Greetings
  • Simple vocabulary words such as libro, periódico and some verbs to get them started.

Since Lola is a detective privada in the series, I created this investigative report/ detective activity in where students will:

  • View content with a specific purpose
  • Write for a specific purpose and have an audience in mind

In this role play activity, students are tasked with watching Lola (who is investigating a possible crime). As such the activity calls for them to:

  • Answer 7 basic questions related to the video. They actually get the information while watching the video the first or second time. The video is about 10 minutes.
  • Investigative cloze-text report template with word bank
  • Section to fill out their own information (includes writing out numbers and email)
  • Directions for filling out the report.