Lessons and Activities

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.

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.

Compare & Contrast the Day of the Dead and Halloween

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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






El Internado BINGO

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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).


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

Homecoming Bell Ringer

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Homecoming is just around the corner. I enjoy talking with my students about it because it’s a great way to build culture and community with my freshmen (as well as upperclassmen). Here’s a bellringer with sentence starters to get the conversation going.  For added effect, you can add a second slide with pictures of you as a teenager from your own Homecoming dances!

Homecoming Bell Ringer – Microsoft PowerPoint

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!

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.

Desert Island Survival Scenario to Teach the Conditional Tense


I love using hypothetical scenarios to teach the conditional tense. The very nature of activities like these encourage endless “what if” questions from the teacher and the class. In this scenario, the student can only bring four items from the list. The desert islandcatch is that there is an opportunity cost associated with each choice. If the student only chooses items used to procure and cook food, ask him how he plans to keep the bugs away, avoid a sunburn, and entertain himself. Your students will impress you with their answers as they defend their choices.

While the items in the inventory might not be high-frequency, this is also an opportunity to get loads of reps on “para que” (in order to). For example, “I would bring a tent so that I wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain.” Encourage students to come up with other items that they have the vocabulary (or use circumlocution) for as long as they can articulate why they would bring it.

The more spontaneous teachers might even be able to spin a student response into an impromptu story. If it has energy, go with it.

Like most of my resources, in addition to the Spanish version,  I have uploaded an editable English template of this activity so that teachers of other languages can readily adapt it to their classes.

Desert Island Survival Scenario (English)

Desert Island Survival Scenario (Spanish)