I want to write a novel, where do I start?

Bianca-Novel-CoverI have to be honest, I didn’t know how to write a novel when I wrote La hija del sastre.  I was finishing my Master’s degree and had taken a class on the Spanish Civil War.  I wanted to bring what I had learned into my classroom so I designed a UbD (Understanding by Design-backward planning) unit that incorporated the cultural pieces.  But something was missing!


By this time in my life, I knew Kristy Placido, and she was a cool, famous author and I was a big fan.  She asked me if I’d like to meet Carol Gaab because she thought Carol might be interested in my Civil War unit.  OF COURSE I wanted to meet Carol Gaab!  I was so nervous, I bet I apologized 100 times during our conversation!  A little like this:

Carol- Oh, Carrie, you don’t want to have something to eat?

Me- No thank you. Sorry!

Carol- You don’t have to apologize!

Me- Sorry!

Continued for 20 minutes…


At this meeting, it was decided that I would try to write a novel to accompany my unit and the unit would become the Teacher’s Guide.  Well let me tell you, it was not easy!  I wrote the most Hallmark Channel story… full of running into each other’s arms and tears and gushy love… So then came the hard part… making it a real novel!  From this first novel to today, I have learned a lot of valuable lessons and wanted to share just a few with those who may be interested in writing novels… and by golly, if you’re a French teacher, write a darn novel!!! Your people need you!!!


  1. Editing is IMPORTANT!- I knew my story needed to be editing but I don’t know if I was prepared for how editing feels! At first, my heart wanted to see editing as my story being awful.  I wanted to beat myself up about being bad at this… but that isn’t at ALL what editing is!  Editing is about taking your story and making it the most engaging, well-crafted piece that it can be!  I was SO blessed to work with Carol during that process because her eye for what makes a good story is impeccable!  There are so many factors!  Is the vocabulary going to frustrate weak readers?  Is the story driven by emotion throughout? Is there enough repetition of structure for acquisition without “feeling” the repetition?  Will boys be turned away by the Hallmark movie moments?? J  As she taught me how to find the best path for my story, we co-authored my first baby!  La hija del sastre.  Since then I’ve written La Calaca Alegre- which I dreamt and it had no end so she was instrumental there again in helping me find exactly what I was looking for! Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos, and Vector.  I even wrote one last year that will live forever in my heart although probably never on paper!  The editing is the key to the best story in all of them!


  1. Cut the Cheese– HAHAHA Punny, right… One of my hallmarks is that I have a scene (or maybe two) that are impossibly coincidental… or that everything magically works out tying up 100 loose ends all at once. I’m learning to manage fewer balls in the air so that it doesn’t seem impossible that these books actually happened!


  1. Know your characters– When I wrote Bianca Nieves, I knew I wanted Salomé to be evil! I went back to the Bible story of John the Baptist and how Salomé wanted his head on a platter… There’s an evil lady, right? Her last name is Cuervo Real- Royal Crow. 😉 I listed things she could do to bully Bianca… before I ever wrote a word, I knew I wanted her to drive the story.  After Salomé was developed, I could drop the other characters into the scenes and stay true to her mean streak!  When I wrote Vector, I knew I wanted Antonio/Antoine to be like the main character in the Cortázar story “La noche boca arriba”… jumping back and forth in time… but he needed some “tells” that would make it obvious he was really jumping into that person. After a read aloud with friends on a writing retreat, we realized that if he blurted some French-Creole expressions as he was waking up, it would help him see that he was really there… how else would he know French-Creole, right?


  1. Leave the cultural meat in the Teacher’s Guide– There are SO many cultural pieces we want our students to know as we teach with novels, but when it comes to the story, write in little nuggets and leave the whole lesson to the guide! Students can feel it! “This is the part where we’re going to learn something.”  Let the story be a powerful narrative and either frontload those cultural bits or present them post-read as a way to clarify context!


  1. Don’t get too attached– The best advice I can give you comes back to the first point I made. Editing is so important.  If you get too attached to your story just the way it is, then it might feel painful to edit.  If you focus on creating the best possible resource for learners, you can walk through the editing process with an open mind!  Cutting out some out of bounds vocabulary or tightening up story events WILL result in a great product!  It isn’t a process meant to hurt feelings or say that a story isn’t good… it’s a process meant to make stories great!  Good grief, Stephen King has an editor who is working on his stories… and he is a MASTER storyteller!  I’m just Carrie Toth!  Why wouldn’t my story need the same!


Have a great week this week, and exercise your writing muscles!


Wooly Week, 2018

Everyone at Señor Wooly has been so hard at work making great things for us to use in our classrooms this spring (and beyond!)  It got me thinking about the videos that are coming (which you’re going to LOVE) and the videos that are already on the site!

So many people ask what to do with the video (beyond the obvious watching it!)  I use the Wooly videos to create story units!  I milk a small group of structures from the song and use them to create class stories, retells of the story in the video, movie talks… the possiblities are endless!

I really, really apologize for my darting eyes in the beginning of this video (you’ll notice now bc I mentioned it)… at first I thought I’d try to read you some ideas that I had… but the eye darting was weird so I quit! 🙂  You’ll thank me about 30 seconds in!

In this video, I will share how I use songs that are “too easy”, “too hard”, and right in the sweet spot!  I hope it helps you think of ways to incorporate Sr. Wooly into your curriculum.


Be (or don’t be) my valentine! Song of the week!

February is coming and I always debate how to approach Valentine’s day.  Not all of my students are in a relationship… some really want to be, some are in bad relationships, some are uncomfortable with the kind of relationship they wish they had… it is such a touchy topic!

When I heard the song Corazón by Maluma, I thought it might be a fun way to address the holiday without getting too romantic!  Listen to the song if you haven’t heard it!  His heart is broken but he’s decided it is ok because now he can take all the little pieces and give them to all the girls! 🙂

Here is my song of the week packet: Maluma Corazón

If you want to check out others as well, Kristy Placido has a FUN video study of Prince Royce’s Darte un beso… Nelly Hughes has a Morat/Juanes’s new song Besos en Guerra and Martina Bex has Morat’s hit from last year, Amor con hielo.  All are perfect for the season of love!  Fill your February with great music!

The good, the bad, and the wonderful: 2017


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Sr. Wooly caught this image of me just before break in December…  Oh wait, that’s a video screenshot… but still, that’s how I felt!  It was time for a break!

2017 was a great year… but don’t forget, as you return to work looking ahead to 2018, that even an overall great year can have some HUGE bumps in the road!

Highlights: I finished my first year at a new school and started my second year!  I went to  Ecuador and the Galapagos with the amazing Kara Jacobs and had so.much.fun.  I went to iFLT, to ICTFL, keynoted WAFLT and CIIA, went to CSCTFL and ACTFL… I got National Geographic Educator Certification.  I sent my daughter to Spain for a semester abroad.  My son is getting better at both piano and guitar… and I had my 23rd anniversary!  What a year!

But with all the good came a big bump.  I wrote something.  Something I really loved.  It was a project I let myself get too close to!  Let me assure you, we can get WAY too close to our own work!  I thought it was the best thing I ever wrote and it was a stinker!! Seeing it in its finished form and then realizing it was not good enough for YOU to see in its finished form really made me feel bad about myself as an author!  But you know what?  I put it away.  I dropped it into the folder with such fascinating titles as “Bianca Nieves y Sábado” and “La Invasión”… the folder where things go to die!  And I put my heart into getting my Nat Geo certification… and slowly the funk is lifting! 🙂  It isn’t easy to see things we care about go down in a blaze of glory but it is so important!  Without these failures, we never grow!  Oh and that highlight of my daughter going to Spain… also a bump!  I miss her.  Come home, daughter! (Jan 12 is still so far away).

So please remember that for every huge success you have this year, there might be an accompanying huge fail!  Go back to your room in 2018 with a renewed desire to pick yourself up when things don’t turn out like you imagined!

“I know the plans I have for you…” Our plans are not always the right plans!

Happy New Year, friends!  Looking forward to seeing you at iFLT, CSCTFL, ICTFL, ACTFL…  Be there!

Map Talk

When I started the process of National Geographic educator certification, I was only thinking about the obvious resources… the magazine, the documentaries, the photos… I never knew their MapMaker kits existed! Thank you so much Abra Koch for this inspiration…

But it wasn’t just finding the maps! Abra told me she does “map talks” or “map stories”…. why have I never thought of that!? It is such a great idea!!!

This week, in conjunction with my Arctic Crime Unit, I have used a street map to “map storytell” the backstory of Mrs Claus’s disappearance and the North Polar Region table top map from the MapMaker kits. Both led to a lot of aha moments and a great visual of where things are happening!

Try bringing maps into your stories! I think you’ll love it!

FAST Fridays and Second Chances

Before I tell you about Fast Friday, you need to know a couple of things about my practice! About 10 years ago I gave up homework.  I have no right to judge anyone else’s practice so please don’t think that I am… I did it because it was right for me and the students in my room.  Those who excelled did the work, those who didn’t, copied… and that was getting us nowhere.  Instead, I began to kick out the parts of my curriculum that wasted my precious class time and began to use those moments to get more input into my students.  Now they go home and listen to our song of the week or watch our class snapchat for stories (with Spanish captions) but they have no requirement to take my class home with them.  Its just what works for me… So it may not surprise you that I also accept late work.  If I am really going to make my grade a reflection of what my students can do in the language, it isn’t about what day they turned the work in it was about how well they were able to do it.

Anyway… about those FAST Fridays (Fostering Academic Success Today)… I am sure that at your school you have a group of bubble students.  These kids who aren’t the hard cases, determined not to do any work… the ones who just didn’t feel like charging their iPad last night so they didn’t hand in todays assignment because hey, a D is passing…  Our superintendent (you should all have a sup’t like ours… he is a forward thinker with an amazing school culture) wanted to try something to reach those kids.  The bubbles.  So he proposed that we try an hour early release for every student with all grades of C or higher and then use that hour at the end of the day to work in small groups with students to complete missing work, retake tests, get extra help… For me, it was a GREAT idea.  I know that for teachers who are firm believers in homework as a responsibility builder this has to be a difficult  adjustment but as I mentioned, I am about what they can really do in the language not about what they do behavior wise!  I LOVE IT!

We have now had 2 FAST Fridays… My homeroom group (we do grade check in all homerooms once per week) had two bubble students last year.  Boys who were PLENTY smart enough but just didn’t put that extra effort into keeping their work turned in.  Guess what… they started the year with some Ds and as we came up to our first FAST Friday, both kicked in gear and got their grades up to Cs!  They didn’t fall below the line between the Fridays either!  I have given a thousand hoorays and high fives because I KNEW they could do this and they’re proving it to me and themselves too!

On the other side of the coin I had some students who needed to stay yesterday for FAST Friday number 2.  These were kids who did not turn in work (although we do it together in class) but I allowed them a second chance, a chance to interact with that material that I considered important enough to assign in the first place!  We spent the entire hour speaking Spanish, catching up on those assignments, and re-visiting those cultural topics.  You know what happened?  All 4 students left the room with work turned in and grades back up above the bubble line… and each one learned something from the work they were handing in.  If I had said no to retakes, no to second chances, it would have been a lost teachable moment.

I don’t know if your school has ever considered something like this but I give it a hearty two thumbs up! What a positive way to show our students that we care enough about what is going on with their grades to help them dig out of the hole they have gotten into!

Narco Bling to Infografías

Some of the more shocking moments for my Spanish 4 classes have come from our study of Narcotraffickers. Two consecutive years, mid study, El Chapo Guzmán was in the news for prison breaks and arrests! The Ayotzinapa kidnappings were also smack in the middle of our unit… it raised the question among my level 4s, where is the news coverage of this and why don’t the newscasters highlight the stats about who is buying the drugs!?

As 17 and 18 year olds, they haven’t had much experience with how media works and so finding out that this drug war is a result of US consumption and that the money and weapons are coming from the US to Mexico is a shock for them. I think it is important! Often we see only the “build a wall to keep the bad hombres out” side in our media.

Beginning with the National Geographic documentary, Narco Bling and building pieces around Kara Jacobs’s Narcoviolence unit, we look at the cause/effect relationship between US consumption of drugs and the heavy armament of the cartels.

Their final product, an infographic on a Genius Hour topic is an infographic that they will present “art gallery style” a’la Sharon Birch!

As you consider whether to tackle heavy units with your upper levels, be sure to temper them with the good as well! One of my favorite parts of this unit is a commercial Zachary Jones of Zambombazo shared about the reasons to believe in Mexico! While we want students to understand that things happen around the world that are glossed or ignored in our media coverage, we also don’t want them to come away with the impression that they are not safe nor that people have worse violence problems in other countries than we have here! It’s all relative!