Infuse problem-based thinking in your Spanish class with this project

pic of kid with technologyHow to infuse problem-based thinking into your world language classroom

A few year back when I was teaching in an International Baccalaureate middle school, I started the year dreamy-eyed with this cool social media project.  I could not wait to implement it.  Coming off a summer of PD around the Personal Project, a design cycle research project for students, I was sure this was going to be the year that we do big things and tackle relevant themes such:

  • How do we interact with social media? 
  • What digital footprints are we leaving on the world? 
  • How to use social media thoughtfully and responsibly?

I’d walk my students step by step in the target language. Then it happened. My hopes were dashed.  This critical and awe-inspiring week was met with three challenges:

  • We had no working technology in school
  • We had no access to computers 
  • We could not use the textbook 

This was not going to work because the whole  crux of my plan was to get them to design their own websites of something of import to them; then it hit me:

  • How am I teaching them problem-solving skills when I am vexed with a problem like this? 

Limited connectivity, no problem!

Stone-Age-Man So I had this paper website idea. The idea was for students to create a futuristic social media outlet dissimilar in style and purpose from the ones we have today. Essentially, they could not rebrand Facebook.  My 6th graders had to include the normal suite of buttons such as upload, download and the like (see activities below). They also had to think of a novel idea for the media outlet and a purpose it would serve- in basic Spanish. We charted our course with these essential questions:

If I could design a website in the future, what will it look like? 
How will it be useful? 
Who will be my targeted audience

For the final product (more to come on the brainstorming sessions and planning documents), they had to include the following on their paper website all in the target language:

  • Title (creative title in Spanish)
  • About me section (Descriptive adjectives, gustar, family)20131003
  • Tabs and links (vocabulary for technology use)
  • Picture or description of service
  • Testimony (very simple) (persuasive writing)
  • Email links
  • URL


The assessment for this activity as a presentation of their website to the class. I neglected to mention that students worked in pairs.

(I will be doing this again this year, so stay tuned for the final format)

How did we prepare? 

To prepare, we work with the vocabulary beforehand. Students used something similar to this Vocabulario para la tecnología sheet to familiarize themselves with the verbs. Students used activities such as   This activity helped students to:

  • Practice core verbs needed to discuss how they use technology 
  • Familiarize themselves with core vocabulary such as redes sociales, aplicación, etc. 
  • Engage in conversation about their social media usage. 
  • Share about their favorite sites and usage. 

An expansion of these activities in all including but not limited to reading texts, debates and student experiences with social media in the target language are included in my social media school unit.   I actually spread these throughout and because this was the middle school we used only use the reading and for the short debates the story Yo no puedo vivir sin mi celular. This text is about a boy who:

  • Talks about his phone 
  • His use of technology 
  • Why cellphones should be used in school  

The second story is  “El uso de celular destruyó mi vida is more for Spanish 2 (or the end of Spanish I as it has some preterit).  This story narrates the negative side of technology, cyber bullying, and students’ insensitive behavior.

If you are interested in combing your love for technology with a crime thriller, this short story may satisfy your fancy… oh, and did I mention the Teacher’s Manual was absolutely free? 

Click here for Freedom!

Click here to enter into a labyrinth of suspense 

Infographics on the use of technology

Eres adicto al celularEres adicto al celular

This was a tesoro that I found online and I am considering using this as an interpretive assessment.  Stay tuned for more activities!

How do you infuse technology into your class? 


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.

Redefine your first weeks of Spanish 1 with these input rich activities

Primer dia de clasesHow to use input-rich videos for structuring simple activities in Spanish class

This upcoming week marks my first week of classes and I am super excited and a little anxious. Although I have taught Spanish for 11 years and counting, I have always had Spanish 1B classes. This is the second year I will teach Spanish from scratch.

So, what are my goals for the beginning of the year? My main goal this year is for my students to:

  • be involved and immersed in the language and culture from day 1

This post will feature two activities that I have created around the use of basic level 1 Spanish. I struggled with teaching the first month of Spanish so I am really digging deep to make the experience as much as enjoyable as intellectually stimulating. The activities are designed to give students exposure to a wide range of simplified input that ties into the cultures of Latin America.

Los Saludos en Español

I found this really cute video about greetings and leave-takings in Spanish. In this video they interview a host of Spanish-speakers from different parts of Latin America. These people share what a typical greeting is like in their country. They are authentic, animated and of course natural in their sharing.

This video is very chévere because it:Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.47.46 AM

  • Features people from all over
  • Has a wide range of diversity and races from Latin America
  • Is dialectically rich.

*I learned some new one from La República Dominicana. ¿Qué es lo que?- qué tal- chévere ¿verdad?

How am I using this resource?

  • My students will watch the video once without notes (Give them a chance to take it all in)
  • Ask students what greetings did they hear, where were the people from (2 minutes)
  • Watch a second time this with this video activity.
  • Click on Video
  • Download activity here.

I went over this activity a few times as a student and I realized the first time that it would be hard pinpoint to greetings:

  • So I inserted the pictures of people next to their written text.
  • Not all the people in the video are captured because they are some repeats.
  • I also added a Banco de Palabras
  • Pero ¡Ojo! I still wanted to make it challenging so students will have to pay close attention to what the hear and see as there are palabras que sobran.

My journey this year to redefine the beginning of the year. If you have any suggestions or activity, please comment below and add your website.

Actividad# 2

¿Quién eres tú?

This year, I am bent on redefining how I teach the first few week. I was very inspired by Spanish Mama’s blog on her first two weeks of teaching Spanish. She mentioned how she was developing and formulated a new philosophy of teaching; something that I am journeying on as well.

I admit that I have not been as motivated in the past to teach the basic tenets of Spanish because I am super passionate about teaching my school unit, Agentes Secretos, my sports unit and my problem-based travel to Spain unit. But, I realize the importance of the first few weeks so this year I am committed to giving it some my best and just having fun. Here is one of the activities I created to practice the verb Ser.

This activity has four main objectives:

  • Practice the forms of the verb Ser
  • Familiarize students with Spanish speaking people (family of origin)
  • Role play
  • Identify Spanish speaking countries

Play by play

  •  There are four sets of cards each with 8 people
  • Each student receives a card with the name and picture of a Hispanic person. Since this is not my unit on professions, I limited it to a few professions. You will notice that some people were born in the U.S  but have family roots in Latin America.
  • Students will study their card for two minutes after which they will get up to introduce themselves as that person.
  • Introduce a friend from their country (using él/ell es/ somos de)

Prior learning 
I am planning on doing this activity the 4th day of class. Prior to this activity students have interacted with basic greetings and questions such as:

  • Cómo estás
  • De dónde eres tú
  • Cómo te llamas

The goal here is to practice saying where you are from. Since some countries repeat themselves, I have students from similar countries to group and introduce themselves as a group:

  • Nosotros somos de Panamá
  • De dónde son ustedes
  • De dónde son ellos

Download file here. If there is an issue with permission to this file, I will send you another link. The permissions issue seems to be corrected.

See other posts related to teaching ideas, activities and resources for teaching Spanish I

6 ways to priviledge input from the very first day

Project-based activity for Spanish I students 

Reading, writing, debating and speaking activity all in one
55 activities for teaching the school unit 

Creative Detective Activity to practice days of the week, numbers, basic verbs and more!

Turn your students into 007 agentes while reading Agentes Secretos by Mira Canion 

Check all your boxes with this speaking, reading and writing activity!

Click here for Free Activity 

Check all your boxes with this activity 

I have to say, teaching the school unit is one of my favorite units of all time. There is just so much meaty vocabulary, themes and lengthy conversations about, well… school.  Once I get through my “Getting to know you” introductory to Spanish activity and dabble into the countries with this Quién eres tú  activity, we explore the geography the countries with Señora Cruz’s country project, and then we are off to school.

This year, since I am so fixated on my school unit, I depended on my fellow teacher authors, bloggers and whoever else posts their units and sell their materials on TeachersPayTeachers, for inspiration. In order to have time to carefully craft my beloved school unit (rather than spending time developing materials around other themes), I am relying on the wisdom pulled from these three sources:

Once my students are pretty conversant, telling time, introducing themselves, I dive right into my obsession.  The school unit in general (not just my unit) has become a core sort of gateway for my students. These two activities I’d like to share help my students say that they can:

  • Identify important information in scheudule
  • Engage in a structured speaking task (differnet questions with answers for students to check and confirm)
  • Interpretive reading and choose vocabulary based on contextual/lexical features

I have been really trying to engage with more vocabulary in a semi-authentic context. This include natural conversational markers that native speakers use and idiomatic expressions. The featured dialogue mimics the  conversational banter between my sister-in-law and I when we go shopping.

I’ve realized that after they have discussed their classes, gossiped about their teachers, whined about their lunch period and the homework they have, they more equipped to handle the rigors of the Agentes Secretos Unit that we do in addition to Problem- Based Travel Project later in the year.

Featured Activity: School Unit Communication Activities 

Want to use this activity in your class? Click here and enjoy.  This unit is connected to a broader School and Global Issues Unit. For more information about that unit, you can peruse the information below.

School and Global Issues Unit 

The goal with comprehensible School Unit and Global issues activity book was to deliver complex concepts in a simplified from. The first couple years of teaching, I wanted to engage students hearts in  compelling topics that wrestled with or discussed in their English class. I hated that they felt that they had to “dumb” everything down when coming to Spanish class. In addition to the comprehensible input novels, we read, I also wanted to give them comprehensible input on live topics; hence the creation of this activity book.  The goal was to capture the students’ energy and:

  •  Introduce to them more complex topics on a smaller scale (Global Education Piece)   
  • Contextualize their experience, the vocabulary and bring everything full circle
  • Privilege conversation 
  • Facilitate reading 
  • Promote higher order thinking skills 
  • Engage students in relevant topics such as the use of social media and bullying, but at their level 
  • Present perspectives of schooling in other countries. 

 I realized long ago that I did not have to wait until students got to a certain level of language development to teach them certain concepts. The goal with comprehensible input is to provide it within the realm of their level. I figured, if can get them to interact with similar topics and concepts they’d be expose to in other class, but at their level, I may have something there! Digging deeper and being able to talk about real issues (and some fun things too) were my main goals.

7th Grade Student Samples 

For example, my 7th graders (they were oddly more advanced then my 8th graders that year), read about plight of women in obtaining and education in the mini unit Perspectives on Education around the world.

This activity is included in the book below as well (also sold separately on TPT).  After reading about Malala and a few other girls, all in the target language, they wrote a paper comparing the experiences. Their work is attached here.

The student whose work is in the upper left hand corner was a new student. She has come from Hawaii and had been in our school a little over a year. Although both  had some errors on their final drafts, they did a great job comparing the girl’s issues in the article

We also viewed a few videos on my old blog. If you read their work you will see that they talk about a girl name Neeraj. This was one of the girls featured in the this tab.  They might have rotated the videos, but it was eye-opening. This was one of the lessons observed by my former principal and she loved it.

Technology in School Activity 

Download Free Sample Here

In addition to dialogues, conversation stimulus questions,  readings about school and materials,  I created a mini unit on social media and school. You can download a free sample of one of the activities here. I started the social media unit in the beginning of the year. This particular time we had no technology in school (how ironic, I know). So I came up with this idea of them doing paper websites (the paper website will be my next blog post). The frontloading for the project was the hardest until I got organized with these activities included in the toolbox:

  • Inquiry-based vocabulary list with verbs and nouns related to social media – guess the words 
  • Contexualize content ( I love to write, I write stories for everything). Now with the context they had to determine the meaning 
  •  Interest Inventory about social media. Here I made sure to recycle the vocabulary so students would naturally incorporate it during the speaking activity. 

After the unit the students had beautiful social media platforms. They had to come up with a concept that was not already in use for a website or social media outlet in the future. The guiding questions were:

  • How will you contribute to society in the future? 
  • How will you innovate to make an impact?
  • How can we use technology to edify and make our world a better place?  

 It was very interesting. The most interesting thing is that they were able to use the vocabulary, structures to articulate their idea. The social media paper boards was a sixth grade project, but the vocabulary can be used with any level. It can be used as a core lesson or a getting to know you with more advanced students. This year, I am repeating this project with freshmen, so stay tuned!I


Fostering dialogues and conversation at the lower rungs of the WL continuum


Flipped reading

Fomentando diálogo en la clase de Español puede ser una tarea monumental especialmente en las clases inferiores como las del Español I y II. Algunos de los impedimentos son:

El limitado uso y conocimiento de los estudiantes

– El ” hay que enseñar” tantas cosas– El gasto físico y emocional de planear y estar en todas partes y todo momento. 

Después de una lección bomba, me di cuenta que una hora más tarde que los nenes ni siquiera habían utilizado el idioma.  Yo dije “borrón y cuenta nueva” con mi planificador de lecciones. Durante el verano tuvimos una valiosísima sesión con Bryce Hedstrom acerca de incorporar las entrevistas personales al curso. Empecé con eso, unos cinco estudiantes a la vez.

Me percaté de como esta metodología había cambiando el ritmo de la clase. Los estudiantes hablan, hablan y hablan. Pues, me fui muy avariciosa con la idea y quise más.  Por bueno que fuera, no me daba tiempo con todos los estudiantes (creo que él lo hace con todos, tiene un sistema súper).  Sé que por lo visto parece ser una meta inalcanzable, estratoférica pero dije “si hay cupo para cinco, lo hay para treinta.”  Con esta actitud me fui diseñando la clase alrededor de los objetivos de comunicación y cada actividad les brindaba a los estudiantes una oportunidad de hablar y para mi la misma para evaluar. Todavía estoy trabajando en eso pero doy un ejemplo de plan de clase y que tal me fue.

La lección- La clase/ La escuela (como la quiera llamar)

Nótese que con cada actividad estoy enfocando en un estudiante distinto. Si la actividad es por 5 minutos, alcanzo interactuar con uno o dos estudiantes.

Actividades comunicativas a continuación (una lección que hice el otro día practicando este modelo- 90 minutos de clase). 

1. El calentamiento (Bellringer)- esta parte de la lección es crucial. Yo siempre empiezo la clase con un estímulo de qué hablar ya que sea una foto o una pregunta. Durante este momento pesco 3 estudiantes. Les hago preguntas a veces básicas o espontáneas (de carácter básico o de desafío). Ya puedo tener un perfil de tres de mis estudiantes.

2. La preguntadera-La práctica de los verbos-Ar. Los estudiantes ya tenían conocimiento de las preguntas interrogativas.  Les mostré como construir las preguntas y empezamos a hablar. Les hice preguntas sencillas como – Tú bailas en la casa o en la escuela- siempre pidiéndoles más información Las pregunticas tonticas como éstas son muy divertidas y los estudiantes hablan, hablan y hablan. Cuando ya hayan cogido la  confianza, ellos empiezan a hacerse preguntas los unos a los otros (proporcionando una oportunidad más).  Por fin,  les pregunto en clase, generalmente hablo con cinco estudiantes. Cuando ya están en grupos hablo con 4-5 estudiantes.

3.  Silla caliente–  Ya que lo hemos practicado, les pido un tributo (para valerme de la terminología distópica) para la silla caliente. Aquí puedo evaluar tanto el estudiante que responde como sus interrogadores.

5. Actividad Audiovisual- Usé este video ” Turn it up– Los materiales escolares .  Aviso, la chica en este video tiene mucha energía y es muy caliente. Algunos de mis estudiantes varones ya han inscrito en su página. Les enseño el video dos veces y después hablan de él. Yo les hago preguntas como:

1. ¿Cuáles son los materiales escolares que ella tiene?

2. ¿Son diferentes o similares a los que tú tienes?

3.¿ Te gusta el video?

4. ¿Qué pasa en el video?- Aquí los estudiantes usan los verbos en tercera persona para describir lo que hace ella.

5. Describe a ella

6. Describe su personalidad

7. ¿Crees que ella puede tener muchos amigos aquí en …….?

Actividad de extension

Otra actividad que me encanta para practicar los materiales escolares es “Qué tienes y qué hace con ello?

La clase se divide en dos grupos. Un grupo saca todos sus materiales escolares inclusive el teléfono. Como si estuvieran en un mercado los estudiantes curiosean por los pupitres preguntándoles ‘

Qué es..

Qué hace con ….

Para qué clase necesita…

A qué es la clase…

Quién es el profe….

Puede ser un poco cursi al principio pero los chicos hablan y usan el español limitado que tienen.


Authentic Back to school Commercials and activities for Spanish class!


  Get students talking at every interval!

I love my Spanish class, but I have to admit, It would be difficult to get the conversation going without sounding contrived or sacrificing free form for a more formulaic model. Year after year I am always exploring ways to get the students talking. This year, I took a slightly different approach.  I decided to include more visual stimuli while expanding the opportunity for more  comprehensible input. If you do not know what comprehensible input is, please click on this link comprehensible input as it may explain why students have a difficult time grasping language- it did for me.  In a nutshell it is providing students with rich, varied and slightly challenging language input before they are expected to output. I was recently at the ACTFL conference and I heard one of the presenters give the analogy of a sponge (recycling from a teacher at her school). The sponge soaks up the water, and then when you wring it out, it produces!  

Now that we are in the school unit of our curriculum, I am have amassed a few resources that I use with students for them to practice their vocabulary and also structures in the interpersonal mode. Using these resources have transformed my lesson and I have to say, I am truly impressed with the results- videos coming soon!

Argentine School Supplies Video 

I found this really cool video on Pinterest. It is an Argentine commercial about school supplies. It is rebonito and the kids loved itArgentine School Supplies Video . Here is with my students: 

1. Watch the video through without taking notes. 

     First, I had students view the video without their notes- remember input is king here! This may be a no-brainer to most teachers but usually I have student take notes on everything!  This time I thought about how distracting taking notes could be and how much more they’d be able to withdraw from their “language ATM.  In addition, taking notes the first watch precludes students from watching the video as a whole, spikes up their affective filter and is overall not beneficial to the language learner.  

Post viewing student engagement activities 

After watching the view, they describe the characters and any words they might have heard. 

2. Watch the video for a second time and then use the note taking sheet. 

3. Students then draw from their notes and discuss the video.  

4. Class discussion- after students have written elements of the video they have seen.  We have a class discussion about the video. Since we learned interrogative words, they use those words to ask questions and follow up questions of other students. I ask them a ton of questions about the video in addition to allowing them to ask each other.  I sit back with my “ACTFL” modified class rubric and take notes on their language abilities. I am not grading them but collecting soft data. 

Notes: Students also were exposed to the verb gustar so they talked about the boy in the video liking the girl, the pen with the flower (we had just wrapped up our Day of the Dead Altars). 

How to extend this video activity?

This year, I will add the following activities to my lesson (this was done at the beginning of last year)  

– True and false  activity

-Match activity for the vocabulary 

-Have students create a mini/simple back story.

Viewing with a purpose- Detective work 

The second video I showed students was one I also found on Pinterest. It may be part of a text book program. Again, I followed the same protocol as above with one variation- the students had to watch the video a third time and take the role of a detective to report the students whereabouts. This activity was sooo fun!!!  

School in Spain Video- School in Spain

1. Watch the video through without taking notes. 

2. Watch the video for a second time and then respond to questions in groups. Click here for activity Video Worksheet- School in Spain.

3.  Discuss the video as a class with the worksheet. I usually give the Writing for a Purpose Activity as an exit slip. 

While students are talking in groups or individually, I usually circle around with my board to take notes on their communicative proficiency and competence.

Let me know how it goes!

5 Engaging activities to accompany reading in the TL: hitting all the targets.

With a little scaffolding, Spanish 1 intermediate learners are able to grasp big concepts in basic language.

This was the truth I discovered towards the end of the semester. I used this text La vida sana and its accompanying activities with my Spanish I students at the end of the year, this could also be used with Spanish 2 as well (I did this with my IB MYP 8th graders at my former school).  They thoroughly loved the challenged of being able to digest a text of this caliber in Spanish. Honestly, I purposely chock full the text with familiar cognates and structures with which we are used to in English such as “En este caso.”

We have block periods in my school so I did this over 1.5 blocks with adds up to 135 minutes.

Here is how it all went down!

Priming those brains

I did the pre-reading activities first, the vocabulary matching, looking up verbs and then using then in cloze-text sentences. This gave them confidence in approaching the text.

Group talk: Next students got into groups of 3 and responded to the task cards. Each student had to respond.

Partner up: They partnered up and read the text to each other and then took notes. This part was particularly interestingly because I heard some students arguing over what was an important notation versus what’s not. It was a very spirited discussion.

Spit it out: They then generated questions- this is also outlined below. You can also click  Amy Lenord’s Conversation Circle below for a more direct instructions on how to implement this in your class. As a language coach she has some very good rubrics and structures for keeping students in the target language. I highly recommend checking our her stuff.

Amy Lenord Conversation Circle 

I modified this slightly, at least from my understanding of how to use it.  I had students write down 3-4 people from the other side of the room or in the class to ask. This facilitated the conversation better and there was less drag and they seemed to be more into it. They do get excited so I have to develop some traffic control signals, but all in all it’s very fun.

Poker face: For homework they had to read and annotate the article again. I told them they were going to have a reading comprehension test and would not be able to use the notes- and I did it. Test with no notes. They did pretty well.

The very next class they completed the reading comprehension and then the writing task. I have a very simplified rubric for what I was looking for, it is also included in the 15-page  packet.

The suite includes: 

Click here to get the text with activities outline below: La vida sana 

1. La vida es Sana text- article about Teen sleeping habits affect them in a number of ways.

2. Pre-reading activities such as vocabulary matching, verb definition and cloze-text activity with the goal of making the text more approachable and comprehensible.

3. 8 Task cards regarding the habits of Teens (pre-reading).

4. Note-taking document- yes, my Spanish 1 students had to read and take notes just like they do in English class! I had them work together on this. It was really fun and they were proud of themselves at the end.

5. The notes include a space where they have to come up with basic, intermediate and advanced questions. We did this when I taught in an IB school and it works well especially in getting them to ask good questions. I had to do a mini lesson on the difference, but I included the question stem-types.

6. We use the questions for a whole class conversation or Amy’s conversation circle. They ask the questions and I sit back and grade. More information on Conversation Circle can be found on Pinterest.

7. Post comprehension questions (I usually give this as an assessment)

8. Writing prompt- Since this unit is done in conjugation with learning about reflexives, they complete a writing sample at the end.

I used this activity to assess the interpersonal mode (conversation circle) and the interpretive mode (reading and comprehension).

What resources do you recommend for discussing routines and healthy living?  I’d love to accompany this activity with an audiovisual task. If you have suggestions, yo soy toda oídos

Resilience and perservance- Gianfranco Conti- Let them struggle!


Are you fostering a growth mindset in your class? 

The article that I reposted below with permission from the author (Conti)  is a critical piece so central to teaching language. Our goal last year i our department and school was helping students to develop a growth mindset, which in our school context meant allowing students to make mistakes, growth from them as well as other  re- other mind-expanding practices. Being a growth mindset type of gal, I did not have to change much… so I thought…until I read the article below. It opened my mind to a different way of viewing and designing a thinking class.

Last semester I had an Aha moment when I noticed being in situations where my upper level students wanted me to, what Conti calls below ” spoon-feed” them. At some point they had become vegetables in their own learning process and I was there “intravenously” supplying them with all their nutrients. Then it hit me. How am I helping them to grow if I continue to pump knowledge into them? How will they be self-sufficient in the class and beyond?  I did not quite know what the sickness was until I read the symptoms of the text below. It was my M.O, and I had no idea (although kudos to me for knowing something wasn’t right).  They did not want to struggle, but the needed to.   The article below helped me rethink my instruction and engagement for this year. I will be stepping back more and allowing them to struggle, fail forward and harness a growth mindset shift.

Resilience and perseverance in the foreign language classroom – Inhibitors and catalysts

Please note: this post was written in collaboration with my colleagues Dylan Viñales andLouise Miller as part of the Garden International School PLA’s (personal reflection afternoons) 

Academic resilience is defined as the ability to effectively deal with setback, stress or pressure in the academic setting. Resilience is related to the notion of Perseverance, the persistence in a course of action; the ability, that is, to stay on course despite adversities. These are two of the core generic life-long learning skills that many educators rightly posit as fundamental for academic success, across all subject areas, including languages. Yet, in my experience, as I will argue below, a lot of the language teaching carried out in many MFL classrooms works against the development of these pivotal skills. Why?

The main reason is the spoon-feeding that a lot of MFL teachers do in their classrooms, afraid as they are that their  students might get bored or lose motivation. Lots of modelling, lots of scaffolding, lots of support material, lots of word-lists, lots of praise, lots of rewards. What about developing learner resourcefulness, one of the most important attributes of a resilient autonomous language learner?

Another reason is the over-‘gamification’ of language learning. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for games and ludic activities in MFL learning, but there is a marked tendency, in many settings, to gamify everything, to make every learning activity into a game. This has the danger of creating a perception of the MFL classroom as a place to go to in order to have fun and play games; of language learning as a ‘playful’ less ‘serious’ or less ‘academic’ subject.

And what about the over ‘cartoonization’ of language learning? The overuse of cliparts, cartoons and animations in the illustration of the target language items on posters, PPTs, websites, iMovies, etc.? This, in my view, does contribute to a small extent in terms of engagement, but much more so serves as a distraction, thus often ending up hindering learning.

Finally, the misuse of emerging technologies by some MFL practitioners has made things worse in a number of important respects. Firstly, the use of apps like Tellagami, Yakit kids, Chatterpix which are basically the digital version of old school colouring and drawing on paper, with juvenile voice-over; more acceptable for some teachers because associated with the digitally-assisted-learning hype. Secondly, the overuse of websites which not only gamify learning but also, in our opinion, tragically unambitiously focus on the ‘easy’ bits of language learning: word level learning (e.g. Thirdly, the general focus on the ‘wow’ effect that a lot of digitally assisted learning involves in order to grab student attention; such an approach, when overdone, does create wow-dependent engagement that is too ephemeral to result in a strong life-long learning ethos.

Getting our learners used to this kind of spoon-fed, ludic, gamified, fun, wow-mongering type of learning since a very early age can result in creating a generation of overly reliant language learners who lack the two very skills this post is about, perseverance and resilience, for the obvious reason that these skills do need to be practised in order to be learned. In order to learn to stay on task in the face of adversities one has to practise overcoming obstacles, such as boredom, task complexity, mistakes, cognitive deficits and failure in general.

Therefore, exposing our learners to the boring, dull and ‘painful’ aspects of language learning becomes a must; and it is our duty as teachers to equip students with the metacognitive, cognitive and affective strategies which will help them cope.

Hence, from the very early days instruction ought to include:

  1. Inductive learning;
  2. Challenge and risk-taking in a safe and non-judgmental environment (see point 6, below)
  3. Activities fostering autonomy and resourcefulness;
  4. Awareness-raising of the rationale for each learning activity – especially the boring and dull ones; that is, how it can enhance learning;
  5. Praise for each observed instance of resilience and perseverance;
  6. A positive attitude to error-making – students must be made to accept error as a necessary and valuable by-product of learning which propels language acquisition further; not something to be afraid of. A lot of care must be taken in order to ensure that corrections are perceived by the students as non-judgmental as possible
  7. Self-efficacy enhancement (see my post on self-efficacy for this) – teachers must develop ways to heighten their learners’ expectancy of success, i.e. their sense of being able to succeed at specific language tasks and at MFL learning in general.
  8. Cognitive and affective coaching by the teacher– students must feel that their teacher is going to support them every step of the way should they get ‘stuck’; not by doing the work for them, of course, but by pointing them in the right direction through effective questioning and/or cueing;
  9. Role-modelling – research on resilience shows the importance of the input of ‘charismatic adults’ in developing young learner resilience. If the teacher or other adult in the classroom is perceived as a resilient and tenacious individual, this may inspire their student to follow in their footsteps. Older students, too, may serve as role-models if the target pupils can identify with them across a range of attributes (e.g. gender, age, sub-culture, ability range. family circumstances, etc.); the fact that someone perceived as similar to them was successful, may enhance their perseverance and resilience.
  10. The establishment of a culture of empathy and mutual respect and support in the classroom, so that when students do make mistakes or experience setbacks, they will have empathetic peers who will provide affective scaffolding.
  11. Affective strategies modelling – strategies like inner talk or self-relaxing techniques can be modelled to the students through think-aloud techniques or videos to help them enhance their coping skill. Modelling the use of motivational quotes (like the ones that you will have posted on your classroom walls) as a strategy to ‘push’ oneself forward when feeling down can be of a great help, too.
  12. Last but not least: some ‘boring’ activities (e.g. old-fashioned translation, verb drills and conjugations), provided that the students are told why they are important and relevant to their learning.

In conclusion, MFL language learning (in the classroom) should be an enjoyable and stimulating experience. However, if we do want to forge perseverant and resilient learners we must be mindful of the effect of overly spoon-feeding and entertaining them with games, wow-inducing app-smashing and other gimmicks which encourage a misconception of what language learning is really about. In order to become resilient our students must be made aware of and experience the challenges and inevitable setbacks that language learning entails whilst feeling part of a safe, supportive and empathetic learning environment where errors are tolerated or even encouraged.

El Internado: Using Spanish-language Series in class to increase input and creative output!

¿Quieres increase input, output and “enchular” tu clase de Español! Sigue estos pasos con  una serie que vale de pena!

El Internado Series is now available on Netflix!

The Internado is back on Netflix!!!!

       I am a true Telenovelera y de pura cepa. Despite having a packed schedule and busy life like most of my fellow soldiers out in the  trenches of academia, I still make time for my most beloved pastime- Telenovelas. While washing dishes or preparing meals, I have my iPad tuned to Netflix where I have access to the vast array of drama-land. Consistent with the Comprehensible Input theory, 

I realized that watching these 40 minute drama-drenched conundrums my vocabulary had improved both dramatically and incidentally. I learned a host of new expressions from other countries and now I am “weird” one speaking at home (Spanish is my second language but my husband’s family is from Colombia).  I often have slip ups of rarely used word and phrases and I am puzzled as to “where did that come from”. So, this got me to thinking more seriously about the relationship between the use of media and one’s receptive and productive vocabularies. Furthermore, if these content rich series have produced this native-like outpouring of language in my own life, couldn’t the result be same for my students?   I put this theory to the test!


Everyone is watching El Internado and so should you!
       Every one is watching the Internado nowadays. If you are not, then you should be! The boarding school series laced with drama was hook, line and sinker for my Spanish 4s this past year. I actually stumbled upon it on Pinterest and decided to check it out the summer before presenting and then- I was hopelessly hooked. I was going to bed thinking “Pobrecitos, que serán de Marcos y su hermana.” This series had me on the edge.  I started showing it in class, having given students a peep at the Gran Hotel the semester before. They were immediately enamored with the plot and its Ronan like twists and turns. However, I did not know quite what to do with this.  I swam in the vast ocean of the internet and found some very promising blogs. To my surprise, there where other Internado life forms out in the blogosphere. I’d like to share a few blogs I consulted and then one way in which I have totally absorb this new resource into my curriculum.

Internado- This Is How I roll 

So to fully integrate the Internado into my class, I made sure to align the episode with our thematic lessons and grammar focus for the unit.  Here is the run down:

1. First I show them this PPT of the main characters. We talk about where they live and the students make predictions of that they think the show is going to be about. I got this PPT online at some point, but cannot remember where. Since I start in the beginning of the year, this is a pivotal time to lightly review descriptive adjectives and all of the indicative tenses. There is a lot here you can do in the first viewing of the characters:

– Compare and contrast the groups of friends with your group

-Compare and contrast the school setting with yours

-Judge a book by its cover- based on the character’s appearance determine a list of personality traits.

Reparto del Internado

2. Then I pass out this Character Grid for watching the Trailer. It has the main reparto of characters. I cooked this up really quickly before one of my classes. As students watch they have to make annotations about the relationships between the characters. They use this as we view the trailer. Click here for the Internado trailer.

Character grid.

After whetting their appetites with the  Internado trailer, I have them get into small groups and discuss the questions below (after the few ideas):

Few ideas to do with the questions: 

  • Students can respond individually and then get into groups
  • Place questions throughout the class and have students walk around. When the music stops they have to sit and speak with a partner.
  • Chat Stations- I got this idea in general from the Cult of Pedagogy.  I type out the questions 1 by 1 in 70 size font. I print those copies and then each one is taped to a  8X16 piece of construction paper and spread throughout the room.
  • Power Point- I also just enlarge the questions and flip through the PPT. They can move around or sit in a group and discuss. At the end, I also cut the questions (regular size additional copy) into strips and then these are exit tickets. Each student has a different question.

Internado Preliminary Questions 

1. ¿Te gustaría vivir en un Internado?  

2. ¿Cuáles son las ventajas o desventajas de vivir en un Internado?  ¿Para los estudiantes? ¿Para los profesores?

3. ¿Cómo serían las relaciones entre los estudiantes y profesores en un Internado?

4. ¿Por qué crees que los padres ponen(ingresan) sus hijos en los Internados? ¿Crees que son familias con medios o personas de clase media?  

5. ¿Cómo serían las relaciones entre los estudiantes?

6. ¿Por qué crees que los Internados son muy apartados de la sociedad?

7. ¿Cuáles son algunas situaciones locas que podrían pasar en Internado que no podría pasar en una escuela regular?

8. Las drogas hoy en día es un gran problema en las preparatorias y las universidades. ¿Crees que este problema sería más controlado en un Internado?

Critical Thinking and Making Predictions 

Questions and those similar to these get students to think about implications of attending a boarding school and prepares them for the input.

I’d love to have a whole year dedicated to watching and analyzing El Internado as the content definitively stretches. One of the most important things I do is to bend its content to fit with our thematic unit. This makes watching a movie fun. It also helps them to make connections.  During the first viewing, we were working on our Las Relaciones unit so naturally, the first two episodes centered on Relaciones.  We used the content of the Internado to:

1. Describe relationships and people

2. Discuss love and relationships

3. Jealousy (Ivan and Marcos)

The grammar point emphasized throughout this unit was the present subjunctive so many of the questions and how they engaged gave them an opportunity to use this language function. This  language function was a good fit.  I created this contextualized activity for chapter 2.

Part of the chapter 2 activity
Students use the subjunctive to describe how everyone wants life to be.

The use impersonal phrases as well.

Students used the questions in groups. Although the activity is in the form of a worksheet, I usually write the questions in big form, spread them throughout the room and students engage in a 1 minute speed dating activity. This last class loved it. They could not wait to get to the Internado. In fact, I had one students who had missed a unit assessment. The only day she could take it was the day we’d watch El Internado and she decided to come after school. She said “There is no way I am missing the Internado.” I thought her priorities were interesting, but this series will do that to you!

Looking to use the Internado Long term, check out Mike’s work around the themes: it is exhaustive!

The Internado Specialist 

My Generation of Polygots a fellow educator, Mike Peto, has spent quite a lot of time crafting activities the first season of the Internado. The vocabulary along with other worthwhile activities can be found on TeacherPayTeachers.  Although the bundle is approximately $7, it is totally worth it for the first episode as it sets the tone and primes students to engaging in this cultural phenomena. Click here to see his product.  He has up to season 4. Interested in Mike’s insights about the series, you can also click here for his blog.

*Please note that  I will be uploading more bits and pieces throughout the year. The bulk of the content created really came later in the year once I realized its potential. I am still formatting (to enhance the quality) the vocabulary lists, expressions list, PPT and dynamic Chat Stations that revolutionize my class and my relationship with my students.

Check out the series. It is available on Netflix. Until we meet again!

 More to come- stay tuned!

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: