Let’s Go!

As the new year starts and the second semester gets underway, I am more committed than ever to using Comprehensible Input (CI) strategies to improve learning outcomes for my students. I gave up my textbooks a few years ago, and CI allows me the freedom to explore student interests and still teach vocabulary in context. For me, the key is “in context.” Vocabulary lists alone will not improve fluency. As children, none of us sat down to study a list when we were learning our first language, right?

It was hard to “let go” in the beginning, of course. Change can be really hard! Sometimes my students don’t even realize they are being taught. I know, however, that those repetitions of vocabulary and structures are working their magic. Time will tell.

My students have been using the CI novels in class. We generally read one as a class. Many times, I’ll have them follow along as I read and act out the story. In some classes, students want to act out scenes. Usually, hilarity ensues!

My plan is in place for my classes. I hope I’m up to the challenge.



I am excited for class tomorrow because I have a PLAN.  I have been writing a story to use that meshes well with comprehensible input.  I have thrown in some of the Sweet 16 vocabulary that my students already know along with some solid descriptions of our characters…I am ready!

Students will be drawing and coloring…yep, coloring!  Hay un hombre delgado y bajo.  Lleva pantalones negros….


Our Spanish class was in for a treat tonight!  I had made arrangements to fix some Mexican hot chocolate called Abuelita.  It’s a mix of chocolate and cinnamon.  I adore it, and I can’t have it often enough.  I brought a tablet of it to share.  Marlis was in charge of bringing a hot plate and a can of condensed milk.  Carolyn was supposed to bring regular milk to add, but she went above and beyond to surprise us all with tamales—chicken and beef—from Milo and Max’s.  Chips and salsa made the fiesta complete.  WOW!

We all left class tonight with bellies full of great food and drink, but what’s more important, we all had a great learning experience.  The class ended tonight, and I’ll surely miss those awesome people.

Classroom Gaming!

How many times have we teachers had to “police” our students and take cell phones or iPods?  Why not harness that technology to engage learners instead?  Let that sink in for a moment.

I’m the weird teacher who assigns online homework using a variety of sites.  We use SenorWooly, Socrative, Zooburst, ClassDojo and Prezi.  I recently discovered ClassCraft, and it has been a fun week.  ClassCraft is designed to be used quickly in class.  The teacher can assign points for correct answers or deduct points for misbehavior.  There’s a section for adding questions, and students claim points for answering.  The graphics are awesome, by the way.

This is my daughter's warrior character.

This is my daughter’s warrior character.

The first step, of course, is to sign up.  I saw an option to change the game to Spanish instead of English, but there are other language options.  I noticed there is an app for iPhones and iPads, so students can even play on the go.  I divided students into teams and gave them an identity: mage, healer or warrior.  Players start with a predetermined number of points based on the role they play.  They can change the clothes of the avatar, and some can even get a pet.  When students earn 1000 points, they can level up and unlock rewards.  Rewards are preset, but the teacher can also customize things to fit the class.  A few preset rewards include the power of “invisibility” (two minutes out of class, maybe a bathroom break or a trip to the locker), using notes on a test (!) or a “free” question concerning the correctness of an answer on a test.

When my (homeschooled teen) daughter saw what I was doing, she demanded to have an avatar to play, too.  I made her account like I did the other ones.  Instead of having students sign up individually, I created user names and passwords that we could all remember easily.  Trust me—it simplifies life!

Once I introduced the activity to my Spanish 2 students, they were eager to play.  I gave them a day of two to learn how it would work.  I directed them to the assignment section, and they were on task!  I was generous with points for good behavior.  A few students completed all the assignments quickly, we discussed errors (so they won’t be repeated in future work), and we all had a good time.  Several students even asked me to post more assignments!  Has that ever happened in your class?  My reaction was to add work before they changed their minds!

Since students are grouped into teams, if one student misbehaves and loses points, a healer can decide to help lessen the damage.  If the team members think the teammate deserves the penalty, the offending student takes the damage.  One student told another, “The teacher did warn you to stop it, so take the damage!”

There is an option to challenge individuals or teams.  The teacher can spin the wheel of fortune and a random person or team shows up.  I picked fairly easy questions to encourage participation.  I also used my large screen projector to show students exactly what was happening.

I was invited to join a team as a healer, so I created my own avatar.  It was fun to change the clothes and learn my powers!  Don’t tell the kids, but learning really is fun!

My avatar was fun to customize.

My avatar was fun to customize.



The Teacher is Crazy!

Well, thanks to Berty Segal Cook, my students think I am loony. You should have seen their faces when they found out the test scheduled for next week has been cancelled. Then we tried some commands in Spanish. My students have been exposed to a lot of vocabulary, so they were able to do novel command combinations fairly quickly. Some students looked surprised (and a bit uncertain) when I told them to skip around the room or sit under a chair, but they were able to understand. That’s the most important thing of all.

I told them what the homework was, and a few students actually laughed. They were to choose six commands we did in class and draw a picture showing the actions. Colored pencils were passed out, and almost everyone finished before the end of the class period. I was happy to see they all felt successful and relaxed.




Weekend Bloggy Reading

Spanish Class Activity

I was searching for a way to help my students understand how hard life can be in Mexico when I had a pretty fun idea. Depending on the size of my class, students work in pairs (or groups of three or four). Each group of students is considered a family unit and receives one index card telling them what they earn and the job(s) they do. Also included are the monthly expenses. Sometimes daily expenses are included, especially if someone in the family unit works in the city. Bus fare would be a daily expense to get to work. Here are some examples of the cards I have made.

Card 1: You are a single parent with two children. Your mother lives with you. You work in the city as a housekeeper and earn 200 pesos a day. You work four days a week. You have to pay the following bills: electricity 150 pesos/month, cable 100 pesos/month, bottled water 16 pesos each, bank payment 100 pesos/month, bus fare 24 pesos daily.

Card 2: You and your wife have four children. All attend school. You drive a tricitaxi in the village and earn 100 pesos a day. You can earn 200 pesos on Sunday if you decide to work seven days a week instead of six. Your wife does laundry and charges 25 pesos per dozen. Your bills include: electricity 200 pesos/month, cable 100 pesos/month, bottled water 16 pesos each, furniture payment 300 pesos/month.

Card 3: You are a single parent with one child in school. You work as a teacher in the city and earn 3000 pesos every two weeks. Your bills include electricity 250 pesos/month, cable 100 pesos/month, bus fare 24 pesos daily, bottled water 16 pesos each.

There are more cards, but you get the general idea. I try to mix decent jobs in with some unskilled labor so students get a picture of how I lived and how others there still live.

The bottled water refers to a large bottle like you see in many offices. I include it because the “agua potable” isn’t so good for drinking. My neighbor gave her kids medicine to kill internal parasites that come from drinking water that is not bottled. You should hear the students when I explain that to them! Bus fare applies to those working in the city. Sometimes people spend more on bus fare if the job is a long way from downtown. The 24 pesos cover a round-trip ticket from a village to the downtown area in the city.

Once the cards are distributed to the groups, I then issue the challenge. Students have to budget their pesos to feed the family they have been given as well as pay all the bills. They must make a menu for a month and account for every peso spent or saved. I, of course, post a list of the latest prices for food and other household necessities to assist them while they plan. The students usually are able to figure out a reasonable budget and plan for food. At this point, they are thinking how easy it was to do.

That’s when I have each group draw an “emergency card.” (I always snicker when these are chosen. I’m about to blow their budget to pieces!) One example of an emergency card: You agreed to be padrinos for a quince party. You must pay 2000 pesos for the cake. Another emergency might be: Your home needs repairs immediately. Pay 1500 pesos for supplies and labor.

Students then have to make their earnings stretch to cover these unexpected expenses. They get to decide what they can do without or come up with a plan to earn some extra pesos.



Fired Up in the Land of the Free

Yes, I am fired up today! I have some things to tell small-town America…things they might not want to read. Let me preface my remarks by stating very clearly: I love living in my small, rural town. It is a great place to raise my daughter, and we feel safe here. I appreciate all the kindness from the people in this Nebraska town. Thank you for accepting us.

This should come as no surprise to people who know me in this town, but I have to say it all anyway. I ask your indulgence. I am a Spanish teacher. I live and breathe the language. I was actually HIRED to speak Spanish and to teach it to your children and grandchildren. The reality is that when I see one of my students around town, I may actually speak to the student (gasp!) IN SPANISH. You should be proud when your student answers in Spanish–or even if the student gives an answer in English that shows he or she understood my comment! The absolute wrong thing to do is tell me to speak English because I’m in America. Why? Keep reading.

My job is to broaden my students’ horizons and to teach them the joy of speaking a second language. It allows the students to experience other cultures and think in different ways. I would also like to point out something you may not realize—the United States does not have an official language. The reality is that America is home to many cultures and languages. Your language is not the ONLY language. Your way, my friend, is not the ONLY way. Your beliefs are not the ONLY beliefs. My job is to help small-town students be ready to move from life in rural America (where people are mostly similar) to a global environment where speaking English and Spanish (or French, Chinese, etc.) could make the difference in dollars later.

If you are uncomfortable with my language skills, ask yourself why. What hidden issues do YOU have that make you feel that way? What prejudices do YOU have in your heart of hearts? Are you afraid you are the topic of discussion if you don’t understand the conversation? (I can assure you, that is usually not the case; it’s human nature to feel that way.)

A short while ago, some community members were upset that my students can recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. Why? Shouldn’t the focus really be on the honor and commitment of people to the flag no matter what language is used? I received a kind, supportive email from a veteran in our community who believes the language isn’t as important as the respect given to the flag. He is one of our nation’s heroes because he served the United States with honor and pride. Other community members might view me as unpatriotic because we say the Pledge in Spanish, but it’s not the case. My students willingly make cards for deployed servicemen and women, so your argument is not a valid one. My classes even have two adopted Spanish-speaking soldiers. Everything we do is somehow related to my subject matter whether it’s saying the Pledge or making cards to send. The sentiment is more important than the language. Do us all a favor and focus on the big picture. Understand that I care about your children, and I want them to learn as much as possible. I want them prepared for a bright future. Only education across the curriculum can do that. Trust me to DO MY JOB. After all, it’s why I was hired.

I think sometimes people just need something to complain about or they aren’t happy. My advice to those folks: pick a topic and go to it! It won’t keep me from doing my job anyway.

Old Glory

Old Glory