“All The Things Crocodiles Can’t Do” Picture Talk

I found this series of pictures that someone posted on the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook page and added a sentence using the structure “no pueden” for each one.

All The Things Crocodiles Can’t Do – Microsoft PowerPoint

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CI “Meet the Teacher Night” Presentation

back to schoolMany of us around the country have been back to school for a couple of weeks now. By the end of August, we’ve developed our routines and reinforced our classroom norms. With September comes the first home football game, spirit week, and…Back to School/Meet the Teacher night! This is a prime opportunity to explain to parents and caregivers how a CI classroom works. What you say and the way you say it tonight will carry far more weight than anything you put in your syllabus or on your class website.

I use to demonstrate a very brief story in the target language, however I never had enough time to explain the “why” behind what we do because parents rotate classrooms every 15 minutes. This is just enough time to cover the information in this presentation and answer any questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents in the audience say, “It makes sense to teach it this way!” to one another as I go through the presentation.

I chose the quote for the opening slide because just about everyone in attendance completes the sentence with some variation of the following:

                “…and all I can say is baño, taco, and gracias.”

A majority of the parents of children we’re teaching now learned through the grammar translation method. While they may have forgotten most of what they learned, they haven’t forgotten feeling lost, the drill-and-kill, and the pages of grammar notes in English. I introduce my presentation with this because it lets parents know that, a.) I recognize that there is a problem, b.) I want something more for their children, and c.) I know how to give it to them.

Parents may wonder why their children aren’t bringing home lists of words to study or verb charts to memorize. It’s just as important that parents understand the basics of CI as it is that your students do. Your students (and consequently, their results) will always be your biggest advocate, but don’t miss out on this opportunity to explain how we acquire language to those who are able to attend.

My grades are based on performance of the ACTFL Can-Do statements, so I included some examples of these. If you grade your students with an interpersonal communication or habits of mind rubric, this would be a good time to demonstrate to parents what performance at each level looks like.

Feel free to modify the presentation as you see fit. Do you have any novel ideas for explaining CI on Meet the Teacher/Back to School night? Leave a comment below!

Meet the Teacher Night Presentation – Microsoft PowerPoint


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Student Interest Questionnaire for the First Day of Class

How to Use This Surveystudent interest questionnaire

I have used this student interest and experience questionnaire more or less unchanged for the past four years. I have my students fill these out in class toward the end of our first meeting. I enjoy overhearing the kids chat enthusiastically with one another about the questions as they complete their surveys in class. For this reason, I prefer to have them complete this in class instead of taking it home. This also ensures that I receive all of them back.

Not only do I get valuable information about the students who I will be with for 90-minutes a day for the next 18 weeks, but this questionnaire also serves to put everyone at ease and reinforces my opening message that for the most part, they are the curriculum.

While I do read all the questionnaires after I get them back on the first day, this is a lot of information to process at one time. I like to re-read my students’ responses throughout the year. You’ll impress your students and yourself with how many details you’ll remember in the moment if you go through these regularly.  Once we’re a few weeks into the semester and I have a feel for who is outspoken and who is more reserved, I like to pick a few of the quieter kids and review their questionnaires. Talking to them about what they wrote or incorporating some of their responses into your lessons can often help them feel like they’re just as much a part of the class.

Have you ever had a lesson that took less time than you thought, a discussion that fizzed out, or a story that flopped? We all have had! Keep your stack of these completed surveys handy the next time this happens. Read a few items from a survey without saying who it belongs to and see if the class can guess.

Why You Should Use This Questionnaire

Obviously we want our students to know that we care about them from day one. We’ve all heard something to the tune of, “Students don’t care what you know until they know you care.” Getting a kid to buy into a class that is conducted in another language doubles or triples the truth in this statement. I have written previously about the things that your students need to hear you say on the first day of class. Whether they admit it or not, students of all ages do care that you care about what is important to them.

Asking the questions in this survey in the first several days of class establishes that we value our students’ interests. It’s also a great segue into Picture and Movie Talk because you can use the students’ responses to inform your lesson designs no matter how formal or informal you prefer to make them. If nobody in the class is in band or plays an instrument, then maybe you skip talking at length about the upcoming band concert.

I use the students’ responses just as much in class as I do outside of it. Seeing a student wearing a concert t-shirt or eating their favorite food in the cafeteria will remind me of other things that they put down on their questionnaire. We both win; we enjoy a good conversation, the student sees that their teacher is a human being, and they know that someone is interested in them enough to take the time to ask them about the things that are important to them. Every kid deserves a champion, right?

While I enjoy reading through my students’ responses and chatting with them about things they wrote on their surveys at the start of the semester, the real magic with this document comes later in the year. Even though I only have my kids for a semester, most of them forget that they filled this out in the fog of the first week of classes. They are amazed when I bring something up during PQA (personalized questions and answers) or Special Person Interviews. Wait until you see the look on their faces that is both shocked and flattered as they wonder how on earth their teacher knows some obscure detail about one of their interests. I find that students not only sometimes forget what they wrote down, but that their interests can change even during the course of a semester.

You probably realized the importance of relationships very early on in your transition to CI-based teaching. As teachers, it’s all too easy to get too busy to nurture them, but we would be wise to take every opportunity we can to remember how much the little positive interactions we have with our students matter. You might have only glanced for a moment at the part where the reticent freshman girl wrote about how she volunteered over summer vacation helping handicapped kids ride horses, but that student is going to remember that you cared enough to ask and will tell you so at graduation (true story).

Student Interest Questionnaire

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5 Reasons You Need to Write Your Plan for the Day on the Board

Start with “breakfast” and write out a brief summary of your activities that you have planned for the day.

Why It’s Important to Write Down Your Plan for the Day

Do you find yourself planning solid activities that deliver loads of comprehensible (and comprehended) input but get caught in the moment and forget what you’re doing next? I’m going to share with you how I help myself and help my students keep the class running smoothly with the unique way that I write down my plan of the day.

My students always confuse the names of different meals in Spanish. I got this idea from a colleague my first year of teaching and have been implementing it ever since. Start with breakfast and work your way to after-dinner dessert. It’s OK if you don’t have an activity for each “meal.” You’ll find yourself pointing to the names of the meals on a regular basis during activities like PQA and Weekend Chat. For example:

  • “Brynn, what did you eat for breakfast this morning?”
  • “Class, it’s Tuesday. What’s for lunch in the cafeteria today? That’s right! It’s chicken tender Tuesday!”
  • “Austin, I remember you telling me that The Cheesecake Factory is your favorite restaurant. What do you normally eat for dessert when you go there?”
  • “Who has a snack with them today? What is it? Is it healthy or not?”
  • “Maddie, when does your family eat dinner?”
  • “Lexi, when is your lunch period?”

1. It keeps you on track and helps you manage your time.

Some teachers are better at “winging it” than others. For example, I can’t think that fast on my feet when I’m going completely untargeted when storyasking. I expend too much conscious mental bandwidth trying to stay in bounds (not adding too much new vocabulary) and more than anything, remembering the details that my students voted on.

Even during semesters when I only had one prep and taught the same 90-minute block three times a day, I liked being able to glance over at my whiteboard to remind myself of where the lesson was going next. I’m that guy who can spend hours preparing a fun, high-speed, low-drag activity and then forget to do it until we have 10 minutes left in class! Now the activity has to wait for tomorrow and some of the novelty inevitably wears off.

2. Transitions between activities are more efficient.

Every teacher prep program stresses that poorly executed transitions can eat your classroom management for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having my plan written on the board is especially helpful on days when my activities are a bit eclectic and there’s no clear way to transition from one activity to the next. For example, if we are starting class with work in the class novel followed by Jeopardy!, I might prime the Jeopardy! game by reminding the class that there will be a category in the game specific to the character or issue that we’re discussing in the novel and tell them that the winning team can raid my treasure chest of candy. Now it’s already in the students’ heads what’s coming next so they’ll waste less time getting settled into their teams since they’re already in the competition mindset.

Novice and veterans teachers alike recognize that their transitions from one activity to the next go smoother when they take the time to intentionally plan them. I sometimes draw little symbols or use different colors of markers in between the activities on my daily agenda to guide my transitions. For example, if our final activity for the day is Two Truths and a Lie, I might draw a tiny stick figure stingray somewhere off to the side to remind myself to use one of my two “truths” that has to do with a stingray in order to introduce the activity. Without my drawing, I still could have transitioned efficiently to the activity, but the class would have missed out on an entertaining story in the target language that serves as an intriguing hook.

We don’t usually think about starting class as a transition, but it really is when you consider how much emotional and physical upshifting and downshifting students are doing as they arrive to your class. If you still don’t think it’s a transition, think about how much time you waste when you do it inefficiently. After briefly daily announcements in the target language, I start class with individual FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) four days a week. Most students see this written on the board next to the word “breakfast” as they’re walking in and grab their readers from my spinning rack that is right inside the entrance to my classroom. This helps get everyone settled down at the start of class. I estimate that this practice alone saves over an hour over the course of a semester.

3. Your students function better and are more at ease when they know what’s on the agenda.

It’s easy to forget what it feels like to be a student, especially in a class conducted in a language that is still very new to you. This is particularly problematic in our discipline because even low-grade anxiety about what is going to happen in class that day can really spike our students’ affective filters and cause them to shut down. Even a first-year language teacher has had thousands and thousands of hours of input, while most of our students have between zero and several hundred if they stick with the program to the end.

If it’s Monday and you’re going to lead off with Weekend Chat, write it down in the “breakfast” spot so your students have a second to think about something interesting they could talk about or answer questions about from their weekend. Just like with our L1, there is a difference between needing time to think of something to say and needing time to think how to say it. The former is fine, however we want to keep the latter process in our students’ subconscious minds since we are teaching for proficiency (unrehearsed, extemporaneous production of speech on a somewhat familiar topic performed in a culturally competent manner).

Even your students who don’t outwardly appear excited about being there still want to know what to expect on any given day in your class. I’ve always been surprised by how many questions (often in L2 at that!) that I’ll get from students who are curious about one of the activities in the couple of minutes that we have before I start class. This happens most often when they recognize the Animal of the Week and have a funny story to tell me about it.

4. It makes it easy for administrators to get a general idea of what you’re doing in class that day.

Do I think that you need to have your learning objectives or the state standards written down on your board if the children are going to have any chance of learning that day? Of course not. Neither do your administrators. They were teachers too not that long ago, too. Assume positive intent in others.

Put yourself in your administrator’s shoes for a second. How would you ensure that the district and building initiatives that you are responsible for carrying out are being implemented in the classroom if you rarely stepped foot into a class apart from when you are required to by the state for official observations?

Administrators are responsible for ensuring that classroom environments are conducive to learning and that teachers are employing pedagogically sound practices. A large part of this is verifying that teachers are being professionals and coming to class prepared. Regardless of how targeted your instruction is, you should have something written down both in your planner and somewhere in the classroom that is visible to students.

If we’re teaching in the target language 90% of the time as we should be, then we will want to make it a point to walk over to our written plan of the day and explain (in L1 or slow, comprehensible L2 with gestures) so that they know what they’re seeing. You’ll get bonus points for doing it in L2 and your students will love watching their principal have that “a-ha” moment.

5. It helps students who arrive late and leave early.

In an ideal world, students would never be absent and they would be in our room from bell to bell. The reality is that braces need tightened, college campuses need visited, and driver license exams need taken.

Having your plan written on the board in the same space every day puts the responsibility on the student on days when he or she is not present the entire class. Students who need to sign out early can know in advance what they need to do independently at home. They can ask me for a copy of handouts or readings at the beginning of class since they already know in a general sense what they will be missing and will avoid interrupting my lesson when they arrive or get up to leave.

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The Best Jeopardy! Game Ever For The Classroom

I searched the web far and wide for an editable Jeopardy! game that is functional, looks good, and makes the questions disappear after they’ve been taken. I couldn’t find one, so I made one. I incorporated the original sounds, colors, and fonts from the television show. Just like the real deal, there are two Daily Doubles. There is Final Jeopardy!, but I don’t do a Double Jeopardy! round because the game already takes quite a bit of time.

My students love playing this. We use it to review class novels, current events, and notes from Special Person Interviews. Answering Jeopardy! questions is a fun way for students to ask questions in the language. Hopefully you have your question words posted somewhere conspicuous.

How to Play

Give each group (3 or 4 students) a mini-whiteboard, dry erase marker, and an eraser. Here’s a set of 30 white boards, markers, and erasers that ships with Amazon Prime. 

All teams attempt to answer each question on their whiteboard, so there is no buzzing in like in the traditional format of the game. This helps keep the whole class engaged. All teams that correctly answer the question receive the money for the question. Teams that answer incorrectly or provide an answer that you feel is incomprehensible lose the dollar amount for that question.

Groups wait to flip over their whiteboard until I call for the answer to prevent groups copying one another’s answers.

If the group that picked the question got it right and at least one team did not, then the group that picked the question gets to also choose the next question. If the team that picked the question got it wrong, then the next group in the rotation that got it correct gets to pick the next question. If all the teams answered the question correctly then I go to the next team in the rotation to change it up.

I have teams keep a running account of their money in a corner of their whiteboards, but you could also have someone who isn’t assigned to a team keep track of everyone’s score. I recommend that you review the procedures for placing a wager for Final Jeopardy prior to starting so that you don’t run out of time at the most exciting point in the game. A team can bet up to the amount of money it has. Teams in the negative can answer the Final Jeopardy! question but may not make a wager.

How to Set Up The Game

Write your questions so that the difficulty of the questions increases with the money. I like to re-cast the answer in a complete sentence when space permits on the answer card. This way, the students hear the correct answer posed as a question and then also read it immediately after.

I made the category title cards in Photoshop, but you could use any basic graphics program that come pre-installed on most computers.

When editing the PowerPoint to add your own questions and answers, be very careful not to change the order of any of the slides. If you mix up even one slide, the entire system of internal links will point to the wrong slides and the game will not work correctly. In this case, just download the file again and start over.

A Few Tips:

  1. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get through all of the questions. You need to account for the time it will take to get students into their teams, gather their whiteboards, markers, and erasers.
  2. Encourage team members to discuss the question within their group, but keep the game moving. Click the speaker icon in the lower right corner of the question slide to indicate that time’s up.
  3. Based on my experience, this is one activity where it is important to assign teams based on familiarity/ability with the game questions so that one team of high flyers doesn’t run away with the game and cause the other groups to check out.

At 78 years old, there’s a good chance that the show’s host, Alex Trebek, will retire soon. Let’s do our part to help keep this legend alive with this generation of students!

Jeopardy! Game Template – Microsoft PowerPoint

I created the above game for Episode 1 of El Internado. Simply make your own category title cards and substitute your own questions and answers to adapt if for your purposes.

You can download the “Korinna” Jeopardy font that I used in my file free of charge here.

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“El Internado” Is Leaving Netflix

What Happened & Where We’re At NowEl Internado cast

Spain’s Antena 3’s El Internado: La Laguna Negra will no longer be available on Netflix as of August 1, 2018. The show, which ran from 2007 to 2010, has played a prominent role in many CI classrooms in the past several years.

We’re left with two options: a.) discontinue using El Internado or, b.) purchase the DVD set and continue using the show as before. In my opinion, the show is too captivating and we have put in too many hours creating great supplemental resources to stop using it.

Why This Might Not Be So Bad

Netflix’s decision to pull the show is a two-edged sword. It’s unfortunate any time that such a compelling resource becomes unavailable to a motivated student who wants extra input outside of class.

I’ve always been ambivalent about students watching ahead. For the majority of those who watch ahead, it’s beneficial since they can focus more on the language because they’re not expending mental bandwidth processing what’s happening on the screen.

With that being said, I have experienced several problems when kids realize that the show is on Netflix. First, some students who watch ahead get bored when we watch it in class, especially when I really slow down to explain scenes that feature a lot of incomprehensible language that is critical to the plot. Second, some kids just aren’t good about not spoiling things. Paula’s eyes lighting up at the end of Episode 3 as she stares at her bedroom ceiling just wouldn’t be the same if you knew it was coming, now would it? Finally, some students unfortunately pay less attention to it than they would otherwise because they know they can catch up on what they missed anytime they want to at home.

I’m not going to lie, I like being in control of pacing the show and being the “gatekeeper.”  I traditionally showed it for part of class on Fridays provided we got everything done from earlier in the week. El Internado was a “carrot” that would be there for them on Friday if they had a good week (which they almost always did).

Why You Should Buy the DVD Set

Even though its first episode hit Spanish TV over a decade ago, it will be awhile until El Internado starts to feel dated (the characters’ flip phones might be the first domino to fall…) While the complete series DVD set runs around $195, you need to keep in mind just how much content (7 seasons of episodes that are 70+ minutes each) you’re getting for that price. If you used the show for 45 minutes once a week (including viewing time and discussion), how much was your cumulative saved planning time worth by the end of the semester? This isn’t even including the increased student buy-in that you are going to kindle from the first day you watch it.

There are subtitles on the official DVD box set, however they are only in Spanish, whereas you could change them to English on Netflix. This shouldn’t affect how you would use the show in class since we want to keep the input in the target language 90% or higher of the time.

the ants and the grasshopperTalk to your administrators about having the school purchase the DVD set now before school starts. Authentic boxed sets of older overseas shows like this tend to be produced in very limited runs. I predict that it will be sold out a few months into school as everyone realizes that it’s no longer on Netflix. Be an ant, not a grasshopper!

Do you need help convincing your administrator to either give you permission to use the show in class or purchase the DVD set (or both)? Download my admin letter below.

El Internado Letter to Administrators – Microsoft Word Document

Don’t waste your time with the bootlegged boxed sets on eBay. While I’m no fan of how Antena 3 has treated educators in the U.S. who created resources for El Internado (and consequently put Antena 3 on the map in the Spanish teaching community here), as professionals we don’t want to support piracy. Non-original DVDs also tend to be poorly edited, feature lower resolutions, and lack subtitles.

What You Need to Know About DVD Regions

DVD region codes allow copyright holders to control international distribution of their content. For example, a film studio doesn’t want consumers in Japan to be able to watch a DVD from the United States of a movie that is still in Japanese theaters and vice versa. The U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada use Region 1. Europe, along with several other countries and zones, uses Region 2, and so on.

LG DP132H Region-Free DVD Player

A basic but name brand region-free DVD player like this one will let you play the DVDs from Spain (or anywhere in the world) for around $50.

Fortunately there are now region-free DVD players available that ignore region coding and will play all DVDs. This  LG region-free DVD player upscales non-HD content and ships free with Amazon Prime.

Back when I was in Mérida, México for my undergraduate study abroad program, I remember calling the Blockbuster movie store on the phone (now there’s a sentence that will make you feel old!) to ask them about the region codes on their DVDs. I ended up switching the region on my laptop’s DVD drive to Region 4 for the duration of my stay. This is an option if you don’t want to buy a separate player, but beware that most optical drives on PCs and Macs will only allow you to switch regions five times before it permanently stays on your most recent region setting.

While you’re here, make sure that you join the “Teaching El Internado” Facebook page that Travis Murray (another Buckeye State Spanish teacher) and I started. It’s a fun place to talk about the show, ask questions about how to use it in class, and share resources. We just added our 500th member this week.

What are you going to do for your classes this fall in light of Netflix’s decision? Leave a comment down below!

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Guatemala Infographic

I created this infographic to introduce my students to Esperanza as a class novel.The Esperanza teacher’s guide has some great presentations that will give your students a baseline understanding of Guatemala’s geography, economy, and political climate.
Guatemala infographic

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5 Things You Need to Tell Your Students on the First Day of Class

Our students arrive in our classrooms the first day with many different perceptions about what the class will be like. They are all wondering if the class is going to be difficult or if the teacher will be “nice.” Others wonder if the class is going to be boring or if there will be loads of homework.

Here is what your students need to hear you say on the first day of class.

         1. “I am so happy that you are here.”

We know that students enroll in our classes for myriad reasons: they “need their credits” for college, they want to be able to communicate when they travel, it is a graduation requirement, they want to live abroad, they want to be able to speak with their relatives, their friends are taking it, they think it will be easier than the other foreign languages that are offered, they want to be more competitive in the job market, etc.

On the first day of class with level one, I tell them how I never took Spanish in high school. They all gasp and wonder how it is that somebody trusted me to teach the language. I then tell them that I took four years of German and that it was not until my junior year of college that I became interested in Spanish and eventually added it as a major and began my formal study.

You never know just how much of an impact you will have on your students, or even if that impact will relate to the language you teach. We need to be just as thankful to have the kid who is here for her foreign language credits as we are for the one whose ambition is to teach French linguistics. Extend some grace to the ones who just see your class as one more thing they need to get through in their day before they can do what they really want to do. You never know who those kids will become.

2. “Acquiring another language is not hard, but it does take time. A lot of time.”

Are you teaching the language that you took in high school? Chances are that you are and that you took four or more years of the language. How many language teachers can say that the majority of their language learning occurred in a high school classroom as opposed to spending time in the host country, interacting with native speakers, and engaging with the culture through reading and watching authentic materials? Hopefully no one.

Our objective  as language teachers should be to get our students to the intermediate level of proficiency, from which they can take off on their own when we no longer have them. We must take advantage of every opportunity that we can to model to students that successful people (regardless of their line of work) do not stop learning once their formal schooling ends.

         3. “Language class is different from every one of your other classes.”

Chemistry requires explicit knowledge of electrons and how they work to understand how covalent and ionic bonds are formed. A pre-algebra student needs to either memorize or know how to think consciously about the slope-intercept formula, y = mx + b to understand and use linear equations. A language student does not need to know about morphemes (a unit of language that cannot be further divided) or be able to tell you the rules of ser vs. estar to understand and communicate in the language.

Most students who hear you say that memorization and conscious study will not be a part of the class may be left wondering what they have to do instead to be successful in the class. This is where you emphasize that listening and reading with the intent to understand and sustained focus will be the rigor that these students (and their parents) are seeking.

         4. “Errors are encouraged and will not be punished.”

This is where newcomers to CI instruction tend to feel the most uncomfortable. You have to be be able to tolerate the grammatical errors that are an inevitable part of language acquisition. You have to truly believe in your heart that communication can still occur with improperly conjugated verbs and incorrect gender and number agreement. Take a look at the ACTFL proficiency guidelines. Nowhere in the territory where the majority of our students operate (intermediate and below) does it say anything about perfectly conjugated verbs and correctly placed accents. It is not even until intermediate-mid that students are expected to navigate past, present and future tenses.

Only tell your students that you encourage them to take risks with the language if you actually mean it. Don’t tell someone that you want him to try to communicate and then penalize him when he uses the infinitive instead of the first-person when he’s trying to tell you something that he wants you to know about his life. You will only do this one time before your kids catch on that you were not being genuine. It will take a long time to earn back their trust and they will stay clammed up until that happens.

Making mistakes in language learning is not only necessary, it is a good sign. If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying enough to use the language.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                – Steve Kaufmann

Be patient with the kid who spells the same word wrong for weeks on end. His unconscious mind is teaching him how to spell the word; he just has not seen it enough yet. When it finally clicks and he produces it correctly, the result is so much more desirable than the kid who can spell it correctly because it was an isolated word on a list. The second kid has no connection to the word because he did not learn it in a meaningful context. Furthermore, the second kid is probably not going to get many natural repetitions of the word later on in the year due to the fact that so many of the words in textbook lists are low-frequency and that there is no time to recycle words because of the sheer amount of vocabulary per chapter. Go ahead and give him a pop spelling quiz five months from now and see if he can a.) spell it correctly, b.) tell you what it means, and most importantly, c.) use it in a meaningful context. The first kid should be able to do all three at the drop of a hat if it is a high-frequency word that you have recycled throughout the year.

I have always had an uncanny ability to remember and spell words after seeing or hearing them only once, but I cannot expect the same of every one of my students. The truth is that the majority of people without the aid of spell check are just average spellers. A select few are exceptional and a small percentage of the population have truly atrocious spelling in any language.

         5. “Everybody acquires language at a different rate.”

Anyone who is a parent of two or more children already understands this quite well. No two children’s language develops at exactly the same rate, but barring some underlying developmental issue, all children do eventually acquire their native language. There are a number of factors that affect the rate at which we acquire written and spoken language – whether the parents read to the child, presence of emotional trauma, nutrition, access to books, physiological differences, and even natural IQ.

All teachers, especially those in teaching in public schools, should be operating from a place of inclusivity. Accepting that a variance in individual language development exists is a non-negotiable for CI teachers. You are guaranteed to feel frustrated and ineffective until you accept this. Based on my conversations with parents, children whose first language emerged later are likely to experience the same when acquiring a second language. We have to accept that language acquisition occurs on its own schedule provided that our students are comprehending our input. You do not want – and thankfully cannot take – the responsibility of accelerating acquisition.

The pathway to proficiency is not a race. For example, my wife and I have two children, a six-year-old son and a two-and-a-half year old daughter. Our son was naming off national monuments by the time he was two-and-a-half, while our daughter only says a few short phrases such as “help me” and “bye bye.” There is no doubt in our minds that our daughter will eventually speak just as well as our son.

What do you make it a point to say to your students on the first day of class? Do you have a different message for your upper level students? Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear how you start your year off!

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TGIF! Personalize Learning with Weekend Chat

Are you looking for ways to build community within your classroom every Monday and Friday to get to know your students better? Do you want structures such as “I went”, “I saw”, and “I played” to flow effortlessly from their mouths? You need Weekend Chat! This is my go-to activity on Monday and Friday once we finish FVR (Free Voluntary Reading).

Here is why Weekend Chat needs a spot in your CI toolbox:

  • It’s a no-prep activity that works for all levels.
  • It’s highly personalized.
  • It uses a foundation of high-frequency language and adds vocabulary that your students actually care about.
  • It teaches your students how to ask questions, respond to questions, and ask follow-up questions to get additional details.
  • There’s no better way to get your level-one students naturally using the past tense.

I recommend that you start by telling the class about your own plans for the weekend (Friday) and what you did over the weekend (Monday). First, your students are interested in what you do outside of school. Second, this gives them some time to think about what they did or were planning on doing instead of you listening to crickets because you put the entire group on the spot right off the bat.

I recommend that you jot down some brief notes about what your students tell you they are doing on Friday so that you can ask them how it went on Monday. They will a.) be impressed that you remembered, and b.) feel like you actually cared about what they had to say. Following up on Monday also gets you double the reps on vocabulary germane to the topic and contrasts the past and present tenses.

I do not accept “I’m going to sleep” or “I slept” as responses. You as the teacher really can’t do much with this in terms of follow-up questions. A student who responds with this every time may be trying to avoid interaction or it is possible that he doesn’t feel confident enough and/or doesn’t have the language to talk about  what he is really going to do or what he really did. You may need to scaffold this student’s answers and ask some yes/no and leading questions.

If you have a class that has trouble getting started with an activity like this, you can ask, “Who is going to the game tonight? Raise your hand.” At this point, you know who is going, so you can ask them any number of follow-up questions such as:

  • “With whom?”
  • “Who do you think will win the game?”
  • “Do you know anyone who is playing in the game?”
  • “How many games have you gone to this year?”
  • “Are you going to go anywhere to eat before?”
  • “What are you going to do after the game?”

Once you know about the student’s plans or what he or she did as well as a few of the above details, you are ready to start circling. This is where you ask those yes/no, either/or, and fill-in-the-blank questions.

“Class, Ashley rode horses with her best friend, Adi, on Saturday afternoon.”

“Who rode horses? That’s right, Ashley and Adi rode horses.”

“Did they ride zebras?” No, they didn’t ride zebras, they rode horses.”

I do Weekend Chat in our class circle (I’m deskless). Higher level classes can do this activity in pairs if you feel that they are capable of giving one another quality input. I have each student ask three other people what they’re planning to do or what they did. Once we reconvene into our circle, I’ll ask several students to share out what the people they talked to are doing or did. This is also a great way to reps on the third person verb form.

The real language acquisition value in this activity is the questioning process. Students need to hear you ask questions over and over before they start to feel confident in their ability to answer them.

Leave me a comment below and let me know how it went!

Spanish Weekend Chat for Friday (w/ L1 translations)

Spanish Weekend Chat for Friday (no L1 translations)

Spanish Weekend Chat for Monday (w/ L1 translations)

Spanish Weekend Chat for Monday (no L1 translations)

French Weekend Chat for Friday (w/L1 translations)   Special thanks to Terri Bierasinski!

French Weekend Chat for Monday (w/L1 translations) Special thanks to Terri Bierasinski!

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Arrrrr! How to Lead Your Students on a Treasure Hunt

pirate shipI do this treasure hunt as a stand-alone activity. However, it would be a great supplement to one of the Fluency Matters pirate novels. Los piratas del Caribe y el Triángulo de las Bermudas by Carol Gaab and Christine Tiday, Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto by Mira Canion and Carol Gaab and Nordseepirat by Robert Harrell are all great choices for level one or two classes.

I use this activity to get reps on:

  • Names of classes and subjects
  • Locations within the school
  • Adjectives to describe classes, personalities, and appearance

Here’s how you do it:

Make a packet of the pirate descriptions for each group or for each group member if you prefer each student to have a copy. I find that groups of three work best. Instruct each group to search for the pirates in the order that they appear in the packet. Make sure that the ninth pirate is the last one in each packet, as this station has the pirate who says, “Go back to Spanish class. Your teacher has the treasure.” Mix up pirates one through eight so that you don’t have groups following each other around the whole time.

There are nine pirates in all. Tape each pirate in a location that matches one of the descriptions that your students will use to find the pirate. The ninth station will have two pirates: one that fits the ninth description and one who says, “Return to Spanish class, your teacher has the treasure.”

For each pirate, the students need to translate what he or she is saying to English, write the pirate’s name, and describe him or her. The students write these in their packets.

We all have students who are great to have in class but who you might not want together in the halls in the same group given that they are completing this activity on their own. It’s also helpful to have one more proficient student per group to keep them on track.

I am fortunate to teach in a school where we can use the hallways and open collaboration spaces. You may want to get permission from your administrators to do this activity if you teach in a more traditional setting since you will have small groups of students going throughout the school to find the pirates.

treasure chest

I picked up a treasure chest like this one at Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby and Michael’s always have 40% off coupons on their websites that you can load on your phone.

You can probably pick up a number of tricorn pirate hats on clearance at those Halloween Express stores for the “captain” of each band of pirates. A CI/TPRS teacher can never have enough student props, right?

Please leave a comment below and let me know how your students did with their treasure hunt!

Pirate Treasure Hunt Instructions

Pirate Pictures to Hang Up

Student Packets with Pirate Clues

You can download the “Pieces of Eight” font that I used for this activity free of charge here.

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