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!

Top 5 Reasons why you should add Desconexión to your curriculum!

5 reasons_desconexion .png

For the past two years, my upper level Spanish class has been captured by the short film- Desconexión by  Yecid Johanan. The film tells the harrowing story of a father who tries to save his son’s life, but is challenged in doing so from a series of compounding missed step in his journey.  This of course is the surface story. The upper story points to societal vices, mindsets and other paradigms that prevent people from progressing. This film was produced by a father and son team from Bolivia. Although the film highlights stumbling blocks relevant to that society, it could be applied to any place in Latin America and abroad.

The first time I showed this 20 minute short film, one of my students got up and left the room. He was so angered by the outcome of the film-not me for showing it-but his response was cathartic in nature. The ending has a mega twist that kept my class talking for days.

I used this litany of pre and post viewing activity. The mini unit is culminated with a film critique. These documents are par of my film unit. That said, once students get to the film critique that is attached they’ve had a pretty good idea of what I am looking for in terms of the writing.

Check out this teacher’s Movie Packet. I purchased it and use it every time I watch a movie.

The Devil’s Miner is another great film that highlights Bolivia. My colleagues and I showed to our Spanish III students and it was a hit. The movie is spoken in Spanish but has English subtitles. Bolivian Spanish is so incredibly beautiful and very easy to understand. Click here for the English packet to the movies by http://cdn.itvs.org/devils_miner_discussion.pdf. Click here for the Spanish packet for the movie by http://www.todoele.net/actividades_mat/cine/DEVILS.pdf.

Cortometraje Eres

 Interpretive Mode Visual Literacy

This year I used a ton of Latin American short and long feature films associated with a particular theme. One of my favs is the short film “Eres” which, is aptly named because all the friends of the protagonist preface every interaction with  ” Eres.”  This is the second year I have used this film, available on here on Youtube.

The film is superior to touching on the Identity and even self-esteem. However, the dialogue can be difficult to understand when you add the speed of light pace of the conversations and other nuances.  To facilitate listening and to lower the filter,  I created some listening, viewing and reading activities to offset the language barrier. The cool thing is that most of the vocabulary that I have included  is in very clear sound bites through the film.

My students really loved the film because they really saw how other people form our identity. Many students think they are “themselves” but this film points out our nature to conform as well as how to preserve our own identity- at least that was the lesson I got. Please enjoy and consider giving me a rating. If you have any questions, please send me an email at profesoraquintero@gmail.com

One more thing…

The film is more of an PG-13. It is about 10 minutes and my students have liked it for the past two years (or 1.5 years). There is no nudity although there is a 5 second showing of two of the characters kissing while falling onto the bed.

Conversation circle, film interviews and debate: 7 activities to broaden students cultural knowledge through film

El niño- cartel

Spanish Cinema delivers with El Niño

Before talking about the pedagogical merits of  El Niño , I have to say that I absolutely love the protagonista (Luis Tosar) and antagonist (Jesús Castro). I have seen their work in other films and series and they are the real deal!  I have become a fan of Spanish Cinema as I find the films to be refreshingly real, costumbrista and very gutsy. This film not only delivers on action, but it does on thematic content, storyline and romance!

Te llamas el Niño, por qué te gusta jugar…

    This month I got to introduce some of my favorite short and full feature films and series from Latin American and Spain. The goal was to get students talking in Spanish much like they do in their English classes.

          El Niño is an action-packed 1 hour and 40 minutes film. ¡Ojo! it does have two scenes that I usually censure. Prior to this film, I do a mini lesson on Spanish-Africa, we watch a video on Ceuta and Melilla as the film takes place at the crossroads of the two cultures.  The film explores the themes of illegal immigration, oppressive governments, corruption, unemployment and the selling of contraband- all these things really mesh together to create the storyline.  Many students were completely unaware of the presence of Spanish Africa, the Moors and the confluence of Spanish, African and Arabian culture. The love interest and tension between the Spaniard and a muslim girl from Africa, kept them on their edge of their seats and gave us some meaty morsels for class discussion.

    One of the best activities I did associated with this was the Film Interview. We compiled a list of themes presented in the film. I called five students out randomly and facilitated a discussion with them highlighting  one of the themes. I tossed one catalyst question and they just went at it. Of the comments made, it was encouraging to hear them use their accountable talk phrases to agree, disagree and when they struggled they relied on circumlocution, much like they would in a more authentic context with native speakers.  They added  new perspective to the film that I had not even noticed (I annotated them for the following year). However, students noticed an interesting detail in the film; possessors where criminalized more than consumers of contraband. This dichotomy surfaced as those who shipped, grew and sold  contraband were relentless pursued by police, while those who topping the  “demand” aspect of the chain  aspects brillaban por su ausencia. This led to several dynamic discussions. I had to extend interviews because se calentaba la mesa de conversación.

Activities for viewing the film 

1. Conversation Circle 

To introcomunicacion-iconduce the lesson, we discussed favorite books and movies. These lively conversations inevitably led to words and ideas that would comprise our vocabulary list. I used activities such as these to engage them in the begging stages. From there I created a simple vocabulary list.  The list was used as a point of reference and also provided students with vocabulary for describing, analyzing and writing about films.  Vocabulary for Flim unit 

I’d also like to put a plug in for this amazing Movie Sheet  I got from one of the teachers on TPT. This sheet saves my life every time I am in a bind. If you ever show a movie or even a Telenovela, just have a view of these handy to avoid students annoying asking ” Do we take notes? What do we do?

Preliminary input and interest 

2.  To get students excited about the unit in addition to providing them with resources they could view on their own beyond the four walls of the class,  I featured a few trailers of Spanish-speaking series. Most of the series are from Spain (I have A3series- a new channel offered on RCN).  However, it also highlights Spain’s dominance in this particular market. Series such as Gran Hotel and El Internado are also popularly viewed by both Spanish-Speaking and non Spanish-Speaking audiences. Since we had been working on the subjunctive in this particular class, I organized activities to include that grammatical point. This activity Hoja de actividad worked the vocabulary and grammar.

Trailers o Avances to the series. 

El principe 


El barco 


El Mar plastico 


3. As we begin to discuss how to analyze film. we looked at camera angles and shots in terms of their importance in bringing the story alive.  Here is the activity with the video that I used to help students get a sense of the language used to describe angles in addition to their importance. This is the second year I’ve included the angle shots. The first year I had introduced them was disastrous as I assumed that students had some familiarity with photography (we have AP Photo at my school). Lesson learned! This year we covered all but only emphasized a few.

Film shots in Spanish (the url of the video is embedded in the document).


4.  Film Carrousel

This was something different I did this year. We have 90 minute block periods so this worked perfectly for one class. I selected three films. The vocabulary as well as questions front loading some the films content and themes were included in the anticipatory set prior to seeing the film (see the PPT).  The order was as follows:

– Complete previewing activities

– View cortometraje and jot down new vocabulary words

– Turn to a partner to discuss the themes, characters, plot and overall impression of the film (next year I will include the camera shots)

– Engage in a class discussion about themes.

Power Point used to launch the film carrousel activity


Activity sheets for students


Useful websites

Film Vocabulary in Spanish




!Más actividades por delante! Please share your favorite films!  

Join the ACTFL Cinema SIG page on Facebook where we discuss and share film ideas!

Keeping students in the Target Language


 How to flip your class into a productively themed-based “chatty classroom.”

 I have had days where after teaching what I thought to be a dynamic-pat-myself on the back lesson, only to realize the student had not uttered a word or communicated substantively with other students. This was my conundrum early in the school year and I sought to solve it with turning every activity into a communicative focused one. I thought this was going to be a challenge in my novice-level class, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, a lot o noise and a lot of learning.

I know for many it can be a challenge to speak the duration of class due to the limited language ability of of super green- novice speakers.  However, despite the challenges I committed myself  to providing a whole language experience to all my students regardless of level. The goal early this year, I wanted to test the “stay 100% in the target language in Spanish I.”

In order to accomplish this goal, I had to relax some of my rules (respira y cuenta hasta 10).   I allowed my lower levels to Speak “Spanglish” in the beginning due to their limited scope and depth of the language. My new model has adjusted to this reality of baby’s first words and thusly I charged them with  “say what you can in Spanish” and we’ll work with the rest. One of my students put this into practice right away.   After my little spiel about staying in the TL he continued his conversation about basketball describing  one of the players for the previous night’s game he said “Él es un point guard.” Well, it made me think that Spanishglish  is also a strategies for circumlocution- when used correctly of course.

I divided my 90 minute block period into, what I have call language carousel. This has enabled me to have interaction with every students in the class, perform quick dipstick assessments and get production skill data in a manner of seconds.  If you have 45 minute block periods, you will have to adjust this plan, but this is what I am working on now. Here is a sample layout of my language carrousel.

Unit: Vamos a la escuela- Speaking carrousel

-up/ Calentamiento

– View a picture and write 5 verbs associated with the picture (well, writing is a catalyst for speaking)

– Interview students about what they see (extemporaneous speech) and students interview each other. Here, I taught using TPR some sentence stems that they used with their vocabulary. Such as “Yo veo” pointing to my eye.  This was a great opportunity for them to use definite and indefinite articles as well. They also had to say what they did not see, which helped to expand their vocabulary, while having fun.

–  After the warm up, I was introducing the first episode of Eres Tú María.  I love this series because each episode builds progressively on the vocabulary. I believe this is connected with a textbook, but the videos are in Youtube. Click here for the series.

-Introduce pre-viewing activity for video with vocabulary words. 

– Show students a screenshot of the video/ have them make predictions going beyond the visual stimuli and the vocabulary words. Students can also use basic questioning techniques to ask other students questions. This is always a winner. 

–  Students interview other students about predictions

– Show video once- interview students about what they say (present tense) to make connections

– Show video a second time/ interview students asking them visual interpretations questions about the video.

– Students get into groups to discuss comprehension question. I have some questions that are not on the sheet that are reserved for my student interview.

Please note that each speaking task is with a different student and that during this time, I have a clipboard with my attendance chart. At the bottom of my attendance chart I have an novice-mid quick rubric to assessing students as they speak (picture forthcoming). This has helped me formatively assess my students, tweak my lessons daily and formulate better summative assessments more commiserate with their growth and stretch goal.  Not to mention many of my students will have an opportunity to speak thus building the confidence that is a necessary precursor to

The only drawback I have encountered with the method is that after the third student, the other students get a bit restless. I am going to try incorporating this while other students are working and not oblige them to listen to the conversation. I will keep you posted!!