The “G Word”

When I left the textbook behind, I struggled a little.  I am not going to lie.  This idea that we DON’T need to follow a prescribed curriculum… that we DON’T have to teach isolated thematic units… was so foreign to me that I didn’t know exactly how to handle myself with all that freedom.  I knew that the key was the “grammar pop-up” but I just didn’t know how to do that well.

I am STILL not perfect.  Good grief, if I ever think I am perfect or know all the answers, I am leaving the classroom.  There is always something new to learn and some way to do this better!  I am also not judgmental.  I know what is working well in my classroom but I trust that you, as a language teacher, know what is working in your room.  We can have a different school of thought about how to get proficient students!

For me, the whole metamorphosis came about as a way to provide EQUITY in language learning.  I was really feeling bad about myself.  I had been failing students.  Literally and more literally… There were at least 8 Fs every year in my 65-70 Spanish 1 students (more than 10%) and I simply thought that they just weren’t cut out for language learning… but these kids weren’t dumb!  They were just learners who couldn’t do it the way I was teaching.  There were also a solid 7-15 who didn’t take level 2 because Spanish was boring and it just didn’t apply to their life.  By level 4 I was always down to about 18-20… Still around 25% but mainly because we offer dual credit.

Grammar is becoming easier for me.  I do it mainly through vocabulary structures.  It is wonderful because I never see Spanish 4 students writing “yo hablar” like I did when I taught from a list… they may not choose the right form every time but they usually hit the right tense!


  1. How do I do present tense in context with novels? Example from Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos:

By the time we read this novel, we have done a lot of Q and A (personalized) with the 1st and 2nd person and we have talked about each other using the 3rd person.  For me, this novel at the beginning of 3rd quarter is a way to really focus in on the 1st and 3rd plural.  Marcos and Bianca, the main characters, are always discussing their plans and the omniscient narrator talks about them in the 3rd person so I ask “what does vamos mean” and they say “we are going to” and I say “what part says we?” and they say “mos”…. We use this same idea with past tense all year long RE-TELLING stories and parts of novels.  The “n” and the “mos” work across the board for me… It requires seconds in English and by the time we have done it for 9 months, even most of the slow processors have it!

I use infographics and ads but I do not use long authentic texts with these students.  They are here to have fun and become addicted to this secret code that is our new language together!  So secret is our code that if I speak English to them in the hallway, they answer in Spanish or say “no inglés por favor”

You’re teaching for June.  Put le with every dice.  Ask them what it means to make it me dice or te dice… OVER AND OVER AND OVER…   They will get it.  Some won’t get it until Spanish 2, some until Spanish 3… but you know why?  They would have been my 8 Fs the old way and they STAYED IN CLASS!!! And that is something to celebrate!

  1. How do I work on past tenses with novels? Example from Frida Kahlo:

Now that we have spent Spanish 1 and part of 2 being exposed to the past tenses, I can start to put some rules on why things work the way they do… So in Frida we learned that el padre tenía ataques epilépticos… but later it says Frida went to the park with him and her dad “tuvo un ataque”… Perfect time to explain that tuvo is because this was an isolated attack.  NO they don’t get it the first time I say it, but they never memorized all the preterite and imperfect forms for me when I was jamming them in via the textbook.  As a matter of fact, I was well into teaching before I became confident with the difference!  I knew the rules, but it took time to apply them.  This is true of our students!  So just keep finding ways (novels for learners are GREAT because they’re designed specifically to do this!) to point out the difference while teaching the structure in context… Here I would also be able to recycle the “Frida y su padre tenían enfermedades” What does that n on tenían mean???

You know already that when you ask students for the gerund form of a verb they say “we never learned that” but they studied it 7 times in elementary and are studying it now in English 2. LOL  They just don’t really care much about those grammar names… What they do know is that “hablando” means talking… and that is enough for me!

  1. How do I work on future tenses with novels? Example from La hija del sastre:

We are reading Sastre right now in our Spanish 3 reading club and making predictions about what will happen next.  This novel has a lot of future tense so it seemed like just the right time to do some “futuring”… We came across regresarán when the soldiers had said they will return.. So I showed them quickly that the án on the r of the verb meant will… and we worked as a group to list other things they might do… Then we figured out that dropping the n would tell us what Emilia, the main character will do… So we made predictions about her.  We stopped as we read, I had group Q and A and after 2 weeks, on Discussion Thursday last week, some of my fastest processors were already using those future verbs to join the discussion.  They are solid with va a…. but this was a whole new twist for them!

That’s it… I showed them tendrá and vendrán because those will be important right now.  I’ll add saldrá later… but in context and in discussion so we use, use, use it… and we will continue to do so because taught is definitely not caught!


What about subjunctive, perfect tenses, double object pronouns, blah blah blah all those other things??? Just in context of the novels.  We start reading subjunctive in quarter 1, level 1 with Brandon Brown wants a dog… Su mamá quiere que vaya al doctor.  They don’t even bat an eye.  They read it and I say “vaya,” she wants him to but he may or may not want to go!  Vaya not va…

Se la dio- Gave it to her… What if I made it Me la dio “Gave it to me”  Ohhhhh Good job, clase!   All covered, just not all crammed in and then forgotten.  We go back again and again and again.

This does NOT create students who are grammatically perfect.  We are looking at getting them deep into the Intermediate level in 4 years and there is NO expectation of perfection at that level… Advanced speakers and writers make less errors but that level comes after college and time abroad or some serious exposure to language in their surroundings!  We have to be realistic about what kids CAN do!  Just because we have 3 of the 70 who began Spanish 1 who are knocking on the door of advanced at the end of 4 years doesn’t mean that is the norm!  As my friend Kristy Placido pointed out, they are actually the anomaly!  We can give them all kinds of side attention but focus our instruction toward keeping the others moving forward in proficiency!

Don’t be afraid to leave the traditional grammar syllabus behind and DON’T feel bad when it takes time to get it all figured out.  They will be hearing tons more language and will be much more engaged.  This will boost your enrollments and will make them feel confident.  Confidence leads to output and output leads to a future where our politicians and ADMIN value language because they speak one!!!


Music Madness

Inspired by this 2014 post from @spanishplans March Madness with Music, I decided that this year I would give it a try!

I searched through top 40 hits on Latino radio and I found 16 songs that I thought the class would like… but this didn’t leave room for any of our class favorites. It was tough because I knew a new song would have no chance against a song the class was familiar with!!

 In the end I selected 8 of our class favorites to add to the competition.  Our business teacher has a program that makes brackets and a poster printer so he set me up!  We gave the 16 new songs pairings in the first round and all 8 familiar songs had a bye.

Each day, students got a ballot with a space to write each song name and a space to vote for the favorite.  Their votes were based on a score.  They ranked the melody, rhythm, tempo, and instruments between 1 (low) and 5 (high).  The song with the highest score was the “favorite” and the song with the most votes at the end of the day advanced.

Round 2 (byes vs round one winners) held a few upsets.  My favorite song, Solo Soy by Dr. Krápula lost by more than 50 votes!

We are in round 3, the quarter finals right now.  I was SHOCKED that la Gozadera (which I love) beat Soy Raka by los Rakas, a class cult classic! 

Yesterday Sonny Monreal’s You are the One (the first song we do in Spanish 1 and everyone’s first love) got knocked out by Enrique Iglesias/Nicky Jam’s El Perdón.  It was tied at the end of the day  and my class said I couldn’t break the tie with my vote because everyone would get mad at me… so we brought in Cory the janitor and he watched the videos and chose!  🙂 I would have voted for  El Perdón anyway but I was glad I had him to blame when the Sonny groupies were mad.

In round 1, we watched the whole video (where appropriate, when it wasn’t appropriate we  watched a lyric video). In round 2 about 2 minutes of the song/video.  In round 3 we are only watching about 1 minute of each because they have downloaded them all already!

A fun side effect has been that they’re downloading THESE songs but also downloading other songs by the new artists.  It is such a small investment of class time to get them all kinds of Spanish listening at home!  Those lyric videos… they just made them want to go home and watch the real thing! 🙂  So many minutes of Spanish!

Try this next year!  We have bonded over the ups and downs of these battles!  Thanks @spanishplans for the inspiration!

Chapter 6- Reading Club continues 

I’m still so pleased with how the reading groups are working!
In Spanish 3 today, we were on Chapter 5… Somehow I feel like it is the most important one.  There’s something about meeting this handsome soldier who will become our antagonist that just makes his plan, and in fact his whole power struggle, an anchor of the story.  So we read in a large group today!  We did most of the Chapter 5 TG quiz together after reading and as their assessment I had then do #2 on the quiz, a short writing about how Ignacio might put his plan into action! 
In Spanish 4, groups read their chapters and then did a “10 word summary”.  I love doing it!  For each page (1/2 or longer) they have to summarize what happened in exactly 10 words!  They really have to use their language to make the sentences exactly right!

Sketch Notes and Reading Club pals!

My reading clubs were on Chapter 4 today!  Spanish 3, the Hija del sastre group is partnering with Linda Kelchner’s group in Pennsylvania for a fun exchange!  

We got her package today with student predictions about the novel and a space for us to record what actually happens!  We sent the same back to them!  This was their activity after reading chapter 4!
In Spanish 4, groups read chapter 4 of their respective novels and did a Sketch Notes a’la Martina Bex

This has been a great way to end the year in Spanish 4!  Lots of senioritis in there!!! 🙂

Reading Club Update: Day 4, Discussion Thursday

On day 2, my Spanish 3’s reading La hija del sastre did activities directly from the Teacher’s Guide.  The independent group, the comprehension questions, and the cooperative group did a variation on the charades activity… Instead of acting out the variations of the words in new contexts, they drew a picture of what they read.

Spanish 4, who are reading different novels, did this Twitter activity Túiter in which they created conversations between characters in the novel that reflected what had happened in the first two chapters.


Day 3 we focused on protagonists in Spanish 4.  They drew their protagonist in the center of 9 thought bubbles and then wrote 9 descriptions of the person.

Spanish 3’s independent group did comprehension questions from the teacher’s guide while the cooperative learning group used the word cloud that accompanied Reader’s Theater in Chapter 3 to write a short dialogue that two characters in the novel might have had with one another after the events of the chapter unfolded.


I was excited, and nervous, to get to today…. Our first discussion Thursday.  I have never relinquished so much control to my students before!  I wondered how it would look to assess them as a large group after they had been reading in small groups.

It was AMAZING! From Spanish 2 (who are reading Robo en la noche as a class) to Spanish 4, everyone had discussion Thursday today.  I gave them this tally sheet and rubric so that they could self assess as the discussion unfolded: Grading Rubric Class Discussion

There were no long, drawn out “fact-offs” in which students just listed events of the novel because facts were only worth 2 points… There were GREAT questions… and questions are so important as students learn to communicate!  They listened to each other, elaborated on other students’ statements, and asked questions that came to them as they heard their classmates speaking.  Unbelievable.  I wish you could have been there!  Or that I could’ve bottled the flow we were in for a rainy day. LOL


So far I have nothing but happy thoughts about reading club.  If you’re following along with us, I hope you’re feeling the same!  It is NOT something I would do in the lower levels because as novices they need a diet of input…. in order to produce output, it has to go in! 🙂 But as Intermediates in level 3 and 4, it has been a lot of fun!

Next week we are looking forward to a letter exchange with @profe105 Linda Kelchner’s classes who are reading La hija del sastre as well!  Real letters!  Like SNAIL mail!  I think this should be fun!

Have a great weekend!

Day 1- Spanish 3 and 4 novel studies

In Spanish 3 we are reading La hija deal sastre.  Students had already completed their confidence survey and today met the members of their groups.  In both sections, grupo Alfa had 5 members, all of whom indicated they needed a little extra help.  We read chapter 1 together and discussed during and after the reading!

Grupo Cooperativo had a group A and B both with 4 members.  They read together and proved comprehension by creating a comic strip that summarized the chapter. 

Grupo Independiente read and answered the questions from chapter 1 of the Teacher’s Guide!  

No one requested a transfer and everyone stayed on task all hour!  I’d give day 1 an A-!

In Spanish 4 we are reading different novels!  The strongest group is reading La Guerra Sucia!  They get the lounge this week!

The history fans are reading Rebeldes de Tejas and have claimed the bean bags! 

And the ecologists are reading Noche de Oro!  They remember so much about Robo en la noche!  Great way to get them thinking about past reads!  They’re stuck at the tables this week but I promised that we would rotate next week!

Everyone, no matter the book, summarized in a comic strip!  It will be a nice review of the story on discussion Thursday!

All groups were right on task and had no trouble understanding! I give the Spanish 4 novel readers a solid A!  

Novel Study: CLASS novel (hija del sastre)

In Spanish 3, I have lots of great readers but not everyone is ready to fly out of the nest!  In talking with Kristy Placido at CSCTFL, she mentioned that her students often divide into groups to read.  Some read silently alone, some in a small group, and some with her…. What a great (DIFFERENTIATED) idea!  Kudos, Kristy!

As we begin reading La hija del sastre (by me), I want to lay some ground work for my students to do a fully independent novel study in Spanish 4!  So I am going to do a reading club in which we are all reading the same novel but in different ways!

I started with this survey:

Reading Club- Hija del sastre

Based on self-rating, I placed students into one of 3 groups:

Grupo Alfa: These students indicated that they read best when they have extra help.  We will read in my lounge area together.  They will not have additional comprehension activities like the other groups because I will be doing comprehension checks as we read!


Grupo Cooperativo:  These students indicated that they work well with others and can stay on task.  They also indicated that they like doing creative types of comprehension activities.  They will be in groups of four at the tables. Their daily activities will be ELA projects adapted from Pinterest for our Spanish class.



Grupo Independiente: These students indicated that they like to read ahead, read alone, or read strictly for comprehension not for creativity.  They will be working independently but will have access to each other when they have a question.  They will be reading in a separate table area.


This is the first time I have tried this and while my mind says that it is going to be a cool experiment in leveled grouping, we shall see what reality says!  I’ll share activities as we go!  If you want to read along with us, let me know!  Maybe we can collaborate on some activities.

Here are the character and event webs that I will give them back to back…. I want them to have creative liberty over how they web both!

Character Map       Event Map

Here is the grading rubric for class discussions:  I actually use this for ALL class discussions to keep them having a CONVERSATION not a fact-off!  I don’t keep track on the tally sheet any more!  I now have my Class Dojo set up with all the categories so I can keep it there.  The little Dojo sounds sure are motivating! 🙂

Grading Rubric Class Discussion

Novel Study: Different Novels

I’ll admit it, I’ve been covetous of English teachers’ novel studies for a long time and I’ve just been trying to figure out how it would work with my upper level students.  Completely unable to imagine what it might look like, I have been stalking English teachers like crazy and I have what we’ll call a blueprint in mind.  I am going to build this plane while flying it because sometimes the best way to see how something will work is to just see if it works!

The problems: I have a lot of good novels I am not using.  My Spanish 4 don’t need me to read with them any more.  I need to give lots of good input but also let them self select topics of interest… So I gave them this survey with 4 novel trailers to rank from 1-4!

Reading Club- Spanish 4 final read

Amazingly, nearly everyone got their first choice and my group sizes are 4-5.  (I do have one class that had two groups of 4 on the same novel.)

On Monday, students will be assigned groups and will receive the Reading Club welcome and rules for their novel:

Grupo Guerra      Grupo Oro     Grupo Rebelde

With only 5 weeks left and 14 chapter novels, we will read 3 chapters per week (Monday-Wednesday), will have a group discussion topic on Thursday each week.  Ex. Who is the strongest character in your novel and why?  and will do our normal Interpretive Internado Mania on Friday!  Oh and finish up our Musica Madness which is getting very heated!

Each day I will move from group to group asking questions and engaging them in out of the box thinking about the novels they are studying.

The final assessment will be a talk show.  I will host student group members as they role play characters in the novels in Dr.Phil-worthy situations!  The first day, 2 members from each group playing 2 distinct roles will be selected based on their comfort with using TL to set the example for subsequent days.  I’ll put the slowest processors in the middle and the middle at the end! 🙂

I’ll try to add posts regularly with some of the activities the groups are doing as they read.  And I’ll take lots of pictures!  Want to join us on the journey?  We might be able to set up some kind of partner school meet days in our Thursday discussions!

***Here are the character and event webs I’m giving! Notice the NOTHING! I want them to have creative liberty over how they web both!

Character Map      Event Map

Here is the grading rubric for class discussions:  I actually use this for ALL class discussions to keep them having a CONVERSATION not a fact-off!  I don’t keep track on the tally sheet any more!  I now have my Class Dojo set up with all the categories so I can keep it there.  The little Dojo sounds sure are motivating! 🙂

Grading Rubric Class Discussion

Day 1 Group summarizing activity: Comic Strip Retell