El Internado Subjunctive Practice

Many traditional Spanish programs include the present tense subjunctive mood in their scope and sequence in year three, which is also when many teachers start using El Internado. Whether or not you are required to explicitly teach the subjunctive, your students should be hearing these constructions when you discuss the show.

I selected 10 scenes from each episode of the show’s first season. Sentences that use the subjunctive mood in Spanish often involve more than one person and tend to lend themselves well to discussion. For example, let’s take a look at a line from one of my favorite scenes from the series where Héctor is explaining his philosophy to his students on the first day. Héctor says something to the effect of, “No necesito que seáis los mejores. No, no lo necesito. Necesito que seáis buenos, que seáis personas.”

We can do a lot with this:

  • Why does Héctor believe this?
  • Does Elsa share this philosophy?
  • Which students agree with Héctor? Which one does not?
  • What do your own students think about what Héctor said?

I use these for Picture Talk and PQA while we work through each episode, however they would also make good prompts for a speaking or writing assessment. The text provides context for the scene so that the student can elaborate on what is happening. This would also be a great way to review the whole first season since the episodes are arranged chronologically (the slides within each episode are not in order).

Have you also checked out the free detailed episode guides that I wrote for the first season?

see links below to download this resource

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A Look Back on my First Semester Without Phones

Over the Christmas break, I made a list of things that I plan to do differently with my new students when we return from vacation to help run class more efficiently, increase engagement, build community, and reinforce our habits of mind. I’m specifically evaluating practices that I implemented for the first time back in August now that they have had several months to prove their efficacy in a real classroom with real students. It reminds me of a saying that we had a saying in the Marines that went, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” I’m excited to share with you how eliminating phones in my classroom has improved my teaching practice and my students’ experiences in class after just one semester.

Any teacher who has been in the profession for at least 10 years will tell you that something started happening around the time when smart phones started to become ubiquitous in schools. Cafeterias and hallways suddenly grew quieter as conversation largely ceased. Students started completing less work in class. Guidance referrals for anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues skyrocketed. Most disturbingly, the suicide rate of our teenagers started to climb precipitously.

Every facet of my teaching has improved since I adopted this policy. Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Personalized questions and answers (PQA). Calendar Talk. Special Person interviews. Movie Talk. Everything.

Take FVR for example. Phones are anathema to a well-executed independent reading experience. As good as many of the newer leveled readers are, none of them are more interesting than what’s happening on a kid’s social media feed if you let that be an option. Even in a deskless classroom, it’s very hard to detect a phone slipped into a book because a student can hold the novel and text or scroll through a feed with the same hand.

The students not having their phones makes me hold myself more accountable to deliver the language comprehensibly. There are many reasons why a student may not be successful in a language class. These range from attendance to attitude. When I have their eyes because they’re not on their phones and their heads aren’t down (I’m deskless), I’m removing variables from the equation.

A phone-free classroom helps keep me relaxed so I can make the class as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. We’ve all heard how a duck appears to glide effortlessly through a placid pond but is actually paddling like hell underneath the surface. This is me when I teach! Even though I’m speaking slowly and using more basic language than I would if I were conversing with a native speaker, there is so much more going on inside my brain. I’m constantly reminding myself to slow down and ask whether the students have seen or heard the vocabulary I’m using in addition to making deliberate gestures to increase comprehensibility. Looking out and seeing students on their phones, especially when I can see what’s on a student’s phone screen, is incredibly distracting and knocks me off my game.

I have students who are passing my class this semester who would not have been in years past simply because being on their phone is not an option. My phone turn-in policy helps all students be more present, but it is especially beneficial for my slower and easily-distracted learners. Many of these students have an IEP or 504 plan for issues relating to attention, so it is a logical step that is hard for anyone to be opposed to.

Telling students to put their phones in their backpacks or in their pockets so that neither the teacher nor the student can’t see them does not work in the long run. This used to be my policy, but by the end of the semester, you wouldn’t have thought I had one at all. Everyone is generally compliant for the first several weeks and you don’t see any phones. Once the honeymoon phase wears off, phones are peeking out of pockets and propped face up against their backpacks. By the time the “October Collapse” arrives, Snapchat stories become Snapchat novels.

One of the greatest benefits of the teaching profession is that you can re-invent yourself at the start of every school year. If you teach semester-long classes like I do, this opportunity accrues to you twice a year; at the beginning of the school year and again halfway through. It’s the perfect time to course correct and make necessary changes. If you haven’t held your students accountable for your personal device policy that you hopefully started the year with, now is a great time to press the reset button. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll “do better next year.” As Grant Boulanger says, “Continue as you intend to go on.”

Let me address some concerns that you might have as you’re considering the “nuclear option.”

1. “The students will revolt.”

No they won’t. In fact, in the four months that I’ve been having them turn in their phones, I’ve had several students casually tell me in private that while they didn’t like having to do it at first, over time they felt less tense when they didn’t have their phones; the exact opposite of what conventional wisdom about teenagers and their phones would dictate. They knew they could check them during our five-minute break (we have 90-minute blocks). You’ll see on their faces how calm they become when their brains aren’t looking for that next hit of dopamine. As a side note, I think all teachers, administrators, and parents should read up on the four “happiness chemicals” (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.) There are some major implications of these in our schools these days. I’m a huge Simon Sinek fan, so naturally I’m going to recommend “Leaders Eat Last” and “Start with Why.”

2. “Parents will complain.”

I have had zero parent complaints about this policy. Every parent who came in for parent/teacher conferences thanked me doing this and told me that they wish that more teachers would do the same. Interestingly, I heard this most often from parents whose children were struggling in other classes and had been told that phone usage was an issue.

A parent who demands that their child have their phone with them at all times does not have a pedagogical leg to stand on when you consider the role that interpersonal communication plays in a CI classroom or any language classroom for that matter. If they need to get a hold of their child, they can call the office and someone will be down to get them in about one minute.

3. “But technology is a tool.”

Of course technology can be a tool. I hear this argument a lot, but if the phones are being used as a tool 5% of the time and serve as a distraction 95% of the time, then I can’t defend their use in class. The off-task behaviors, ever-shortening attention spans, social isolation, bullying, and increased anxiety that result when students have access to their devices in class are a steep price to pay to be able to check a box on a rubric.

A large body of research had demonstrated that people who tout their ability to multi-task because of technology are in fact just very good at being distracted. Besides, many of the tasks that we think we need students to use their personal devices for can be accomplished without devices. Is having a student search for a QR code and scanning it with her phone to reveal a question any different than giving her a worksheet with that question on it?

4. “I don’t want to be held responsible if something happens to one of their phones.”

How you implement a phone collection policy, or even if you can, depends on your building’s culture and any explicit policies that may exist. Theft within the classroom is unheard of in many schools, while it is unfortunately an everyday occurrence in others. Some administrators understandably do not want to put themselves in a position to where they have to explain to a parent why their child’s cell phone got lost or stolen.

My phone organizer hangs on the wall out of the way and lets us focus on the discussion at hand.

If possible, locate your phone organizer by your desk or somewhere the students wouldn’t normally pass by during class. I also stand by the phones as students collect them at the start of their break and the end of class. These two steps alone will eliminate virtually any potential problems because they know you’re being vigilant.

5. Kids are sneaky. They’ll just find a way to use them anyway.

One of the features that I love about the phone organizer that I use is the large number on the front of each pocket. It is obvious who has and hasn’t put their phone up because each student has a pocket number. With one glace at my organizer, I can tell whether the class has complied with my device policy. I simply don’t start class until they’re all put away, however I’m tactful and allow the students to save face in case they legitimately forgot to do this on the way in. I am fortunate to have very small classes this coming semester (11, 15, and 17 students), so it will be easy for my class secretary to take attendance with the class roster which has the student’s assigned pocket next to their name.

My class “police officer” (read my post on how to do 31 different classroom jobs here) tells everyone to put their phones in the organizer at the beginning of class and after returning from their break.

What to Look For in a Phone Organizer

This organizer (available from Amazon and ships with Prime!) offers everything you need: the ability to hold the latest gargantuan iPhones, durability, and a sturdy hanging mechanism.

This organizer has four brass grommets running along the top and is sturdier than all the other ones I could find. I used two concrete anchor screws to secure it to the wall, but you could get creative with wall-mounted hooks or rods. The pockets hold their shape well due to the quality of the stitching.

While I ask my students to place their phones in the organizer with the screen facing the wall so that incoming notifications don’t distract anyone, sometimes they forget. This isn’t that big of a problem with this organizer because it hides most of the screen even on the larger iPhones.

In Conclusion

I’m not so naive as to believe that our students will magically start paying attention in class just because they don’t have their devices, but we can do better than the status quo low expectations that modern society has for interpersonal communication skills, after all, this is what we teach.

What would your best semester ever of teaching look like? For me, it looks like one where we are all present, care about one another, and listen to one another with the intent to understand rather than to respond. When I greet my new students tomorrow, there will be things I’m still worried about like my comprehensibility and the pace of the class, but I will fall asleep tonight knowing that I will not have to expend mental energy fighting the cell phone battle any longer.

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Spanish Machu Picchu Game

Do you have a deskless classroom and kids who like to/need to move? Do you want your students to be able to understand and answer questions in Spanish with more automaticity? Here’s a fun, no-prep game they will beg you to play. Think of it as a communicative form of musical chairs.

Why I Love This Activity

  • Students can output some language in a safe and fun setting. Even your lower students can stay in the target language because of the supports on each slide.
  • It is no-prep once you have decided which questions you are using.
  • This gets your students up and moving when you start seeing their eyes glaze over.
  • You can adapt this activity for any level; adjust the questions as you see fit. I’ve incorporated everything from easy questions from class novels, “El Internado,”  and Special Person interviews the many times we’ve played. Remember, the intent of this game is not to stump them with the questions, but rather for your students to hear more questions and provide them with a scaffolded response.

How to Play

  • Have a student (this is a job for your counter, one of 31 classroom jobs which I’ve written about here) count how many students are present. Project the slideshow (see the download link at the end of this post) onto your whiteboard.
  • You need to have one less chair than the total number of students who are playing. Put any extra chairs outside of the circle so that it’s obvious they’re out of play. I usually participate as well, so I count myself as a student. Arrange your chairs in a large circle.
  • One student volunteers to go out into the hallway while the class quietly discusses who will be “Machu Picchu.” It is critical that you do this quietly so that the person in the hall doesn’t hear who it is.
  • Have a student start beating a drum (here’s an affordable 10″ floor drum that is beautifully decorated with a diverse group of people from around the world) to signal the student in the hall to re-enter. If you don’t have a drum or a cowbell, you can just send a student out to get them.
  • The whole class chants “Machu Picchu! Machu Picchu! Machu Picchu!” and the drummer continues to drum as the student from the hallway re-enters the room. The teacher gives a student for the chanting and drumming to stop.
  • Advance the slideshow to the first question. The student from the hallway asks the first question to any student. As long as the student who is asked the question isn’t Machu Pichuu, then they just answer the question and the student from the hallway chooses who they will ask next. It’s more fun if they don’t go in order around the circle. Remind your students that they can look at the screen if they need help responding. I usually do one question per student, however you can use the same question again if there is a specific structure or vocabulary that you’re targeting.
  • If the student who is being asked the question is Machu Picchu, they say “¡Machu Picchu!” instead of answering the question. At this point, everyone (including the person from the hallway) has to run and find a new seat. I make it a rule that their new seat can’t be within two chairs to their left or right.
  • The person who is left without a seat goes out to the hallway and will be the one asking the questions for the next round.

Helpful Advice

  • This game will go smoother and your students will enjoy it more if they have already seen (and comprehend) the structures and vocabulary in other contexts such as Special Person interviews, FVR novels, Calendar Talk, and Weekend Chat.
  • You may need to provide some gestures or otherwise establish meaning if it seems that a student doesn’t comprehend the question. You may also want to do pop-up grammar in between the rounds. For example, “Class, what does the -as mean on the end of this verb?”
  • I tell my students that we will stop the game and do something else if I catch them surreptitiously giving away who is Machu Picchu to the person who was in the hallway. I know they want to get up and compete for a seat, but it is critical that they’re hearing these questions asked and answered. Just like the Mafia game isn’t fun when people peek when their eyes are supposed to be closed, this game isn’t fun when the rest of the circle moves to the edge of their seats as the guesser approaches Machu Picchu and gives it away.

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Fluency Through TPR Storytelling

“Fluency Through TPR Storytelling” (Seventh Edition) has a prominent spot on my personal and professional PD bookshelf.

Who Needs This Book

Fluency Through TPR Storytelling (Seventh Edition) is a book that will benefit TCI veterans and novices alike. Skilled authors like Blaine and Contee can explain the fundamentals while also giving more advanced practitioners what they need to take their teaching to the next level in the same book.

I’ve always struggled to think on my feet when storyasking, although I’m more comfortable  doing it now than I was in the first couple years of teaching with comprehensible input. I’ve realized that there were two reasons why I didn’t feel comfortable asking the same stories that others made look so easy. First, my own target language proficiency had languished between the time I studied abroad and when I started teaching. I was expending considerable mental bandwidth consciously thinking about the language I was going to use. Second, I wasn’t following the steps that those who developed this method had developed.

The FAQ section is one of the more valuable parts of this book. This section is in  chapter 19 (I have the seventh edition), however I suggest you start with this section if you have been teaching traditionally up to this point or if you haven’t been to a Blaine Ray workshop yet. The authors address common misconceptions about TPRS and expand on other things that you have probably heard about the method.

Get Thee to a Blaine Ray Workshop

Between this book and the hundreds of hours of video that teachers around the community have uploaded of themselves asking TPRS stories over the years, you can probably figure out how to do this and get satisfactory results. However, I can’t overstate the value of seeing Blaine or one of his trainers demonstrate the process in person during a two or three-day workshop. I don’t know how you could leave his training unconvinced as to the efficacy of TPRS versus traditional methods (administrators attend his workshops for free for this reason). You’ll also make lasting connections with other teachers from your area who are making the switch to TCI.

I bought my copy of the book on the last day of a three-day Blaine Ray workshop in Dallas with Blaine himself running the training. This workshop was the first big step I took on my TCI journey, so I wasn’t too knowledgeable about second language acquisition research at this point. I wish I would have read this book first and then taken it to the workshop to take notes in and journal during my free time.

Blaine is a genuine servant-leadership kind of guy. I got a chance to chat with Blaine over lunch while I was in Dallas and he signed my book and wrote a nice message inside the cover for me. My “green Bible” now prominently resides in my bookcase in my study. I was willing to fly from Columbus, OH to Dallas even though there were workshops much closer (taught by his trainers) because of Blaine’s reputation for connecting with his workshop attendees. He even brought in his friend, Randy Brooks, who wrote Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (check out the cartoon on DVD, which is dubbed in Spanish). Randy told us about he got started as a songwriter and a storyteller. Of course he played some songs on his guitar during a break on the last day as well.

Fluency Through TPR Storytelling is required reading for any teacher who is interested in doing traditional TPRS and a great reference for anyone who is teaching with comprehensible input-based methods.

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Higher Than/Lower Than Brain Break

Here’s an extended brain break that you can use starting from the first week of a level-one class. It’s perfect for getting reps on the first-person form of the verb “I believe that…” or “I think that…”, making comparisons (higher than/lower than), and reviewing numbers 1-10. There are plenty of times where you can naturally insert rejoinders when someone gets eliminated, such as “¡Qué lástima!” (What a shame!) or “¡Pobrecito!” (Poor little thing!). You can also tell each student that it’s their turn when they’re up.

Change the order of the slides to “shuffle” the deck to make multiple versions of the game so your students don’t start remembering the order of the cards.

How to Play

  • All the students stand up and form a line facing the whiteboard. I tell them to “snake it around” so that everyone can see.
  • Explain the rules of the game. The objective is to still be “in” when the teacher reaches the end of the deck. The student at the head of the line reads one of the two predictions from the screen. The teacher advances the slide after the student makes their prediction (I highly recommend this high-speed, low-drag green laser point/presenter by Logitech). If they predict correctly that the next card in the deck is either lower or higher than the current card, then they stay in the game and go to the back of the line. If they predict incorrectly, they’re “out” and sit down. The ace is the lowest card. If they get a joker, they’re automatically out and have to sit down and listen to the sad music. If the next card is the same as the prior card, they’re safe and go to the end of the line.
  • Anyone left standing when the teacher gets to the last card wins.

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Spanish Future Tense Predictions Activity

This is a fun, no-prep activity your students can do to make predictions about their classmates for the future and to sneak in reps on Spanish future tense verbs. I encourage them to think of someone in our block, but I allow them to put down someone who is not in our class if a certain statement is more applicable. These statements should elicit plenty of discussion, especially if there is debate among the class as to who is more deserving of a nomination.

While I am going to use this with my Spanish 3s, there are enough cognates and context clues for use in any level if you go through and establish meaning for any vocabulary that you think they may not be able to recognize. The discussion that follows in a higher-level class could include students articulating why they nominated a certain person.

I don’t explicitly teach the future tense (or any tense or mood for that matter) with focused grammar instruction, however I want my students to recognize and comprehend the future tense when they see it even though most of them will default to voy a… + verb for quite some time when they say they’re going to do something. A wealth of research as well as my own experience shows that we retain language (and eventually acquire it) when we see and hear it in context in compelling situations like this one.

Have fun with this and let me know in the comments if you think of a prediction that I could include in a second version of this activity.

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Compare & Contrast the Day of the Dead and Halloween

I created this Venn diagram for my students to examine the similarities and differences between el Día de los Muertos and Halloween. I included a PDF and the original Word document in case you want to edit it.

While I anticipate that many students will include more visual descriptors such as food, costumes, and makeup, these are the takeaways that I want my students to leave with following our study of the Day of the Dead:

  • Attitude toward death
  • Importance and role of family
  • Elements of indigenous civilizations and Christianity






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El Internado BINGO

Are you looking for something that will keep you in the target language and that your students will enjoy while you press “pause” on the series to give your students time to process what’s happening? Here is a BINGO game for the first half of the first season of El Internado: La Laguna Negra. There are 50 clues and 35 unique BINGO cards.

While I designed this edition (there are more to come!) to review what happened in the first several episodes, you can use this game at any point in the series since you can simply add details to the clues the more you and your students watch. If you aren’t to this point yet, download my free editable Jeopardy! game based on the first episode. You are having your kids doing ample reading in addition to watching, right? I have you covered  with free in-depth episode guides for each episode of the first season.

A Few Recommendations

  • You may want to project the clues on your whiteboard as you read them off to give your students a visual anchor, or you may choose to make it more of a listening comprehension exercise.
  • Laminate the clue sheets and the BINGO cards for use with dry erase markers.
  • Discuss what counts as a BINGO before you start playing. I’ve found that some students have played variations in which “four corners” counts as a BINGO in addition to the traditional horizontal, vertical, and diagonal.
  • For your more advanced classes, you could have your students use circumlocution to describe each of their winning spaces as they verify their BINGO with you before they can claim their prize.

While the program is back on Netflix for the time being, you can also order your own complete DVD set from the U.S. Amazon site or from Amazon.es. Remember to check the region setting on your DVD player before you buy (here’s an awesome name brand region-free player).


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How to Do 31 Classroom and Student Jobs

The “October collapse” is upon us. October can be a perfect storm of exhaustion, student apathy, a dearth of daylight, and a general loss of novelty with your classes. I have noticed an increase in social media posts from teachers who are feeling frustrated this time of the year.  I know I haven’t been stopping frequently enough to go over my classroom rules. Chances are you and your students are using too much English. Implementing classroom jobs is one way to re-center your classes and concentrate on the norms if things have gone sideways.

The beginning of the year or semester is the optimal time to introduce routines that make up the backbone of your class, however the myriad benefits of having kids do these jobs will still accrue to you if you start now. Students are more likely to buy-in to what you’re doing during the honeymoon phase when they still have a mostly positive attitude toward school, get along with everyone, and haven’t fallen behind in other classes. This is especially true for first-year language students, as they have never known anything else.

If someone new to TCI were to ask me about the three most impactful decisions I have made in my teaching, my answer would be:

  1. Having students keep their phones in a caddy on the wall at all times during class
  2. Getting rid of my desks
  3. Assigning classroom jobs

I use classroom jobs because they build community, lower the affective filter, and target high-frequency language. You can use most jobs for any age group and proficiency level as long as you provide the person performing the job with the language that they need to do it confidently. They are also the best way that I’ve found to teach boring subjects such as telling time, the weather, and the calendar.

Ensuring Success with Classroom Jobs

Having a written script that the student can refer to if needed is critical in making your “employees” feel at ease and eager to perform their jobs. This is especially true in the lower levels. Most of your students who have  a job that they do on most days won’t need them after their first several weeks in position, but the structures and vocab are there if they need it. I’ve included strips with common phrases and vocabulary that you can cut out and give to your workers.

Anytime I need someone’s services, I ask the student, ¿Me puedes ayudar, por favor? (Can you help me, please?) before soliciting their help because a.) this is one of the most powerful survival phrases for a language learner, and b.) it makes them feel that they are contributing to the class in a valuable way.

Should I Assign Jobs or Let Students Choose?

It depends on the job and how well you know your students. I use a student interest questionnaire on the first day of class to learn more about their capabilities and interests. Thoughtfully assigning jobs or selectively soliciting volunteers makes things runs smoother. The kid who regularly reads for pleasure outside of class will probably do a good job as your librarian.  Students who are on the lower end of the proficiency range of your class aren’t the ideal students to serve as the interpreter. Likewise, I’m not going to have the classroom “scapegoat” be a student who has indicated that he or she suffers from extreme anxiety when they’re put on the spot.

Some jobs require a higher degree of proficiency in the target language to perform satisfactorily and provide quality input for the rest of the class. For example, the “substitute” should have a reasonable command over the past tense since this is a core component of the job. Some jobs such as the electrician require minimal speaking and would be ideal for a less proficient student.

Take into consideration the kinesthetic and social needs of your students. A kid who has trouble controlling blurting out may partially satisfy that urge by being the “sound technician”. Someone who enjoys sharing esoteric facts about random topics is the perfect “expert”. The “athletic director” is perfect for the jock who all of a sudden finds himself in a class with none of his teammates and is searching for a way to signal to his classmates what he cares about.

If you have two or more students who want to do the same job, have them audition for it. The rest of the class will love it and you’ll end up with the best person for the job.

Everyone gets a job in my classes. This helps keep everyone invested and listening with the intent to understand because they often don’t know when either I or the class will require their services. My experience is that all students want to do a good job with what they’ve been entrusted with.

When Do Students Get Their Jobs?

I assign some jobs on day one and others as the need arises depending on the level. For example, a Spanish 1 class is going to go awhile without having a librarian because they’re not going to be ready for FVR until later in the semester.

Resist the urge to assign more than a few jobs per day. Your students will get bored and it will feel like a chore for them instead of something fun that the class does together.

Do Students Keep the Same Job All Semester/Year?

That’s up to you. Because every student has a job, nobody is left out. Changing jobs requires a learning curve (some are longer than others). I teach 90-minute blocks over an 18-week semester. My students get very good at their jobs and the attendant phrases. I would say in Spanish 2 on up, the input they are providing to the rest of the class is actually pretty decent and it gets better the longer they hold that job.

How Do I Keep Track of Who Has What Job?

Don’t try to keep track of who has which job in your head.

This depends on how much space you have to work with. In any case, I definitely recommend that you write them down somewhere that both you and the class can see them. My average class size is 20 and there is no way that I’ll remember in the moment who has what job even though we only teach 3 classes. I printed out the names of each job in the target language, laminated them, and stuck them on my whiteboard with magnets. I go over and write the person’s name next to the appropriate job card as I’m assigning the job. I use a different color marker for each class. I’m fortunate to have a 16′ whiteboard, so there’s plenty of real estate for my projection area, my “Menu of the Day”, and my classroom jobs roster with space left to spare. Scroll down to the blue “Download” button to get a set of job assignment placards.

Don’t try and do all of the jobs, or even most of them, every day. Your students will get bored and the routines will lose their novelty. Don’t feel like you need to assign a job if it doesn’t fit your school environment or your class’s character. I’ve had classes as small as 12 in the past. In this case, those who wanted to have more than one job could have it.

I tell my students that I am the Director of Human Resources. I reserve the right to “fire” a student who isn’t taking their job seriously or performing it with enthusiasm.

Download the document with the job descriptions or scroll down past the download links to read about each job. Leave a comment and let me know if implementing these jobs has improved your classroom management.

Classroom Job Descriptions

Spanish Classroom Job Reference Sheets

Spanish Classroom Job Assignment Placards

athletic director

The athletic director tells the class what school sports events are coming up and informs them of recent results and standings. This person should be knowledgeable about a wide range of sports and professional athletes so that they can field questions from the teacher and the class.


You’ll use this person a lot if you do One Word Images and class stories. We’ve all had students who love to doodle. Put this person to work for you and help the class at the same time. It helps if this student processes the language quickly so that their drawings don’t prevent them from hearing the language.


Even though we don’t walk in lines through the hallway in high school, it’s important that certain things happen when we leave the classroom to read outside or go to the computer lab to work on Señor Wooly. I rely on the caboose to make sure everyone has retrieved their phones from the organizer on the wall and hasn’t left anything else behind, the lights are turned off, and there is a message written on the main whiteboard saying where we went in case a student arrives late or someone from the office stops down.


The calendar tells the day and the date. I prefer to already have this information written on the board and ready to go in the interest of time, but you could have your calendar write it instead. This person is also in charge of keeping track of students’ birthdays. Give them a copy of the school calendar so they can make note of scheduled late arrivals and holidays off for when they report out to the class.


The chef handles anything that has to do with food, whether that be passing out candy prizes or arranging the buffet table for our end-of-semester lunch/farewell party. Sometimes I’ll ask them what is being served in the cafeteria or have them confirm the main ingredients in a dish from the target culture.

This person is my assistant when we cook in class as I model each step before allowing students to try it for themselves.


The teacher asks the clock, “What time is it?” at various times throughout the class and whenever we are talking about when an event starts or ends. If there’s a clock in a Picture Talk or I’m wondering about what time it is in a picture, we rely on this person. Sometimes I’ll ask a random question about what time a certain class period starts or ends, the schedule that runs between our two high schools, or scheduled times for school events like football games and concerts. Going through a modified schedule on the first two-hour delay day of the year provides them with valuable information (especially freshmen) and gives them lots of practice with times.

The key with this job is to naturally work in as many reps of various times as you can. Your students will learn to tell time and understand times when they hear them without explicit instruction sooner than they will using traditional methods because the times will actually have meaning for them and the reps will be spaced out over time, which research shows is essential for long-term acquisition.

conductor of the orchestra

The conductor tells the class to stand up and leads the class in singing “Happy Birthday” and other songs that you may use. The conductor tells the class, “Good job!” and then tells them to sit down when they’re done singing.


The counter handles numbers that come up during whole class reading, PQA, and stories. The counter keeps a stuffed Sesame Street “Count von Count” under their chair. You can buy your very own 14″ Count doll here. When a number comes up that I want them to take note of, the counter says the number in the target language followed by their best impression of the Count’s “Ha ha ha.”


The custodian verifies that the room is clean before anybody gets up to leave at the end of class. I ask them, “Is there anything on the floor?” or, “Whose insert object is that over there?” For Spanish, this is an ideal way to get reps on important structures like ¿Hay algo…? and ¿De quién es…?.

This person is also in charge of letting me know when we’re running low on tissues, paper towels, and hand sanitizer.


The ecologist is responsible for ensuring that students are recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Even having a recycling bin literally right next to the trash can, it never fails that some people still throw cans and bottles in the trash. The ecologist will put these where they belong and remind the class about the responsible thing to do. My school also recycles paper, so this person walks around and collects used scrap paper when we’re done with it.


The economist handles all matters involving prices and currency exchange rates. You’ll find yourself using their services often during personalized questions and answers (PQA). The economist can research the names of currency for the target countries and keep a relatively current chart of the values of these currencies relevant to the dollar.


The electrician turns the lights on and off and also controls any fans, humidifiers, and diffusers. I am a Vornado fan-boy (pun intended and, seriously, I have three of the larger models at home and this whole room air circulator in my classroom).


The expert has the final say when the class can’t agree on a detail for a story or when there is debate over what is true or false. Don’t let people argue with the expert after they have made a ruling.


You can have a gardener even if you don’t have any live plants in your room. My gardener pretends to “water” my two artificial ficus trees each morning and my kids find it amusing. You could also have them spray your fake plants with a spray bottle. If you do have live plants, your gardener is responsible for watering them, moving them as needed to receive adequate light, and informing you of their general health. Just like the zookeeper is an expert on animals, this person can chime in when there are questions about plants.


I do a “this day in our history” segment every day. You’ll probably figure out who your history buffs are soon enough, or you could show your history/humanities teachers your class rosters and have them tell you. Depending on their knowledge and proficiency level, the historian can provide additional details or confirm dates while we’re discussing what happened on this day in our history. The historian should be comfortable saying these in the target language.


 The host greets visitors with an appropriate greeting in the target language. I have them say, “Welcome to Spanish ___ class!” and “Have a good day (or weekend)!” when they leave. Make sure you pick someone who will do this with some enthusiasm so that visitors get a good first impression. We practice the host’s lines before they do it for real so that the class can hear how these phrases sound different based on the number and gender of the visitors. Students who arrive late are also greeted the same way.

If an administrator is completing an observation or stopping by to do a walk-through, the host will offer him or her a seat within our class circle (I’m deskless).


Sometimes providing a translation in L1 is the quickest way to establish meaning. The interpreter will say or write the word in L1 per your directions. In higher levels (although I encourage circumlocution starting at level one), this person could use circumlocution to try to explain it to the class in the target language.


 I do Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) four days a week at the beginning of class. The librarian tells the class to go get their books at the beginning and to put them away at the end. This person is also in charge of ensuring that the books are facing forward in an orderly manner in our “library”, which is a spinning display rack.

I try to pick one of my stronger readers to be my librarian so that they can also recommend appropriate books to individual students for FVR.


 The medic gets bandaids from my first aid kit for students with minor cuts. This person will accompany students who aren’t feeling well to the nurse’s clinic. Since I teach in a STEM school, I choose someone who is in the health science pathway.


The messenger relays information or notes to and from the office. I pick a stronger speaker to do this job since I have this person report out to the class when they return. This should be someone who you can trust to get from point “A” to point “B” without taking detours to stop and talk with friends.


 I ask the meteorologist, “What’s the weather like today?” They can also make forecasts for the weekend and special events like football games and the Homecoming parade.


The photographer takes whatever pictures I request as well as some of their own. For example, I might ask them to take a picture of the notes on the board from a Special Person Interview and email it to me so I can post it on our learning management system. They can also take fun pictures during Reader’s Theater, running dictations, and other classroom tomfoolery. These pictures can help convey to parents what you do in class on Meet the Teacher/Back to School night.

police officer

The police officer verifies that all cell phones are in the caddy that is hanging on the wall. I’ve been very pleased with the quality, durability, and value of this one that is available from Amazon. This person also tells the class to retrieve their phones at the end of class once the custodian verifies that the room is in satisfactory condition. If you don’t have kids turn in their phones during class (or in addition to this), you could have the police officer be in charge of getting (or attempting to get) the class to quiet down.

I like to pick an assertive, self-confident student for this job. It helps if they naturally command a little more respect than the average student. I usually go with an upperclassman if one is available.


I always write my tentative plan for the day on the whiteboard so that students feel like they’re in the loop. After I check in with the secretary for the attendance, I ask the professor, “What’s the plan of the day?” or, “What are we going to do today?” You can also work on ordinal numbers by asking what we’re doing first, second, third, last, etc.

“What are we going to ___?” is a high-frequency, versatile structure that your students can use in real-world scenarios for making plans for meals, going out with friends, and much more.


The psychologist can call for a brain break when they feel the class needs one. Since this person is a student, they will have a better sense of when they need one than you will. They can also lead the brain breaks that they are familiar with.

Sometimes a student will report that they are stressed, frustrated, or generally not doing well when I check in with the class at the beginning. The psychologist could provide some positive affirmations or give advice. For Spanish teachers, this is an ideal way to get reps on Deberías


 I like to assign this job to a kid who I know needs to move around a lot. The secretary is in charge of handing out copies of readings and other papers, collecting finished assignments, and passing back graded work.

The secretary is also in charge of attendance. Make sure this person has an updated class roster; don’t forget to redact student ID numbers. Most importantly, ensure that the secretary knows who each kid is! This is a natural opportunity to have students properly introduce themselves to one another in the target language and build community from the first day of class.


I have the substitute ask the secretary, “Who wasn’t here yesterday?” It is the substitute’s responsibility to ensure that anyone who was absent the prior day receives copies of readings and handouts. The substitute collects enough copies of handouts for students who are absent.

This helps (but does not eliminate) students from coming up to me right before class to ask what they missed, or my personal favorite, “I wasn’t here yesterday. Did we do anything?”

I occasionally ask the substitute what we did in class the prior day in order to get reps on the preterit and imperfect first-person plural verb forms. This also helps remind them of the previous day’s topics and conversations.


 This one can be a lot of fun, but you need to make sure you pick someone who has a thick skin. The class will blame everything that goes wrong on this person. Everyone turns to this person and says, “Name, it’s all your fault!”

The cafeteria ran out of chicken tenders on Chicken Tender Tuesday? We didn’t get a two-hour delay for fog? The Fortnite server is down? It’s all their fault!

sound board/technician

This one is just a lot of fun if you have “that” student. Pick your most gregarious, attention seeking student to make sound effects at the proper times (it helps to have a cue) during stories, Reader’s Theater, and whole class reading of class novels.


The technician turns my projector on and off and helps me troubleshoot technical problems when they arise. Since I teach in a STEM school, I choose someone who is in the information technology pathway.


The zookeeper is the authority on anything relating to animals. Every class I’ve ever taught has had someone who is an animal lover. I take their suggestions for my “Animal of the Week” and have them confirm details about the animals we are talking about.

If you have a fish aquarium or other classroom pet, the zookeeper is in charge of feeding and taking care of it.

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Mystery of the Iced Tea Bell Ringer

Here’s a quick bell ringer/brain teaser you can open up class with since it’s still 80* in October. 

Prior to introducing the riddle, work in some PQA with the following questions:

  • “Do you drink iced tea?”
  • “Does anyone else in your family drink it?”
  • “Do you drink iced tea only when it’s hot out or year round?
  • “Do you like lemon in your iced tea?”
  • “Do you drink sweet tea or unsweetened tea?”
  • “If you don’t like to drink tea when it’s hot, what do you drink instead?”

In just this quick warm-up, we get reps on all of the following:

  • months and seasons
  • names of places
  • family vocabulary
  • structures such as “instead of” or “in place of”
  • “with” or “without”

El Misterio del Té Helado – Microsoft PowerPoint

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