Start a Fire in Me

One of my favorite songs on the radio is by the group Unspoken.  It’s called Start a Fire.  The chorus is so catchy “Start a fire in my soul. Fan the flames and make it grow so there’s no doubt or denying… Let it burn so brightly that everyone around can see that it’s you, that it’s you that we need.  Start a fire in me.”

It’s a great anthem for what needs to happen to me spiritually but it also strikes me as the way to come back for the new school year rested, re-energized, and ready to start fires in the souls of students who don’t realize yet how much language study could mean to them.

What are you doing this summer to fan the flames?

Money is tight… most of us know that the practice of school districts paying for a full conference/travel/etc are slim…

Money is tight… as teachers, how do we travel to build our cultural backstory and bulk up our language proficiency when a tour is upwards of $3500 today?  We don’t make that much money!

Money is tight… buying and using new materials means an out of pocket purchase.  If the district wants student engagement and retention to grow, they need to invest… but they just can’t.

So what do we do?

  1. This summer if you can’t do anything to get yourself out to a conference or to a country where your TL is spoken, immerse yourself from home.  Read Twitter feeds, read books that will inspire you as a teacher, and read in your TL.  Watch shows online in your TL.  Listen to music in your TL.  Make this a summer of immersion no matter where you are.  Immersion in language AND in educational practice.  You’ll be amazed how one little book or one great show can reinvigorate your enthusiasm for the classroom!
  2. Start a savings plan.  We all know that funding in education is just not available but an investment in yourself is important!  If you continue to learn, grow, and apply new ideas in the classroom, you’ll always feel ready to start with the next group!  Excited even!  Save a little each month and in the spring, sign up for that conference you’ve been wanting to attend!
  3. Start a long term savings plan.  If you’re needing a boost on your language proficiency or cultural knowledge, start saving for a trip to a country that speaks your TL!  Put a little away every month and in 2 years, you’ll be able to make that trip!  Check out your state language teaching organizations!  Most have summer scholarships that will pay for tuition and room/board while you attend language classes in schools in Mexico, Spain, etc.  Then you just have to worry about flights and excursions!
  4. Travel with students.  Aside from giving YOU a broader cultural base (at little to no expense) to draw from, traveling with students makes them hungry to see more of the world.  The more students we can expose to the world’s people, the more chance we have of creating life-long language learners.
  5. Think about “next year I’m going to”.  Don’t close the door to your classroom on the last day and open it (and this year’s plan book) again in August.  This summer set a goal to create ONE really awesome unit that will keep you excited to go back and share it with your students!

Have a GREAT summer!  Enjoy the break you have earned and feed your professional self as well!  The new school year will be here in a blink and just one little idea can make that transition back to the classroom an exciting one!

For Learner by Teacher or for Native by Native? Try both!

In Spanish 3/4 we are reading the novel Frida Kahlo from Fluency Matters.  Our focus is the difference in how we truly see Frida, pain and flaws included, in her self portraits but our selfies tend to reflect a polished and filtered version of who we are.

This novel gives me the opportunity to reach out through social media, literature for learners, but also authentic resources.

In Ch 3 we read how Frida contracted Polio as a small child.  Today we will read chapter 4 and learn how her leg was affected by the disease.  Our selfie of the day will be a body part we are self conscious about.  (I’m going with my second chin!) My authentic resource today is a group of infographics about vaccination schedule, reasons to vaccinate, and problems these diseases can cause!


Bring any and all reading materials you can find into the classroom!  You’ll never regret time spent reading!

Snapchat with Frida Kahlo Novel

We started our study of Frida Kahlo and the selfie yesterday.  I own the TG and a class set of novels and I am excited about all of the things that are already at my fingertips to make this novel successful… but I also wanted to integrate something that would leave a lasting impression on my students.  Something that they will remember every time they see an image of Frida!

Meredith White and Kristy Placido had me wanting to create a class Snapchat and this novel was the PERFECT place to bring it in!  It is great because they can all send me snaps and can see my story @wildcat_Spanish but I don’t follow them so I don’t have to worry about seeing something I shouldn’t!

I took the novel and looked at the content in each chapter.  For our introductory day, we were looking at 4 of Frida’s “selfies”… After we saw and discussed these autorretratos, I asked students to take a selfie that was a clear reproduction of one of these paintings.

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Today, after reading chapter 1, we focused on transportation.  Frida Kahlo’s father came to Mexico from Germany by boat. Their task this evening is to take a picture with a means of transportation.

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The rest of the novel includes:

Ch 1 Selfie w transportation (Guillermo came to Mexico on a ship)

Ch 2 Selfie w a member of your immediate fam (Guillermo loses and gains a wife)

Ch 3 Selfie w favorite comfort food when you’re sick (Frida gets polio)

Ch 4 Selfie of part you’re self conscious about (Frida’s “pata de palo”)

Ch 5 Selfie w something that represents a parent’s job (Frida takes pics w dad)

Ch 6 Selfie w your pet (Frida has a pet mouse)

Ch 7 Selfie with besties (Frida’s besties are the Cachuchas)

Ch 8 Selfie con tu amor (can be a star or something silly) (Frida falls in love with Alejandro)

Ch 9 Selfie en el centro (Frida goes downtown with Alejandro and catches the trolley)

Ch 10 Selfie de un cicatriz (Frida’s accident)

Ch 11 Selfie con una persona con quien NO debes casarte  (Frida y Diego)

Ch 12 Selfie en ropa rara (Frida dresses like la China Poblana)

Ch 13 Selfie con una cita que te guste (This chapter includes a great Frida quote)

Epilogo Selfie con tu casa (Museo casa azul)

I kept putting off getting a class Snapchat because it was new to me and I am always a little afraid!  I do not regret that I did it.  Today was only the first “reveal” day of the images and it really was special to see how much they loved seeing each other! Feel free to use our same selfie guidelines and join us or create your own!

Blow your Colleagues’ Minds: For real!

Are you trying to make a paradigm shift with little success?  How about a little game with your colleagues!?

How much do they know about ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines?  Play this little game with them and let them see how unrealistic many of our goals in language programs throughout the years have been!!

Top two reminders:

  • In many states, language teachers must be Advanced Low proficiency on the OPI exam to get certification.
  • In those same states, many teacher candidates without study abroad (and even some with) struggle to get past intermediate high.

To play the game:

  • Print all sheets. (Enough copies for groups of 3-4)
  • Cut apart the writing and speaking descriptors.
  • Allow the teacher groups time to place the descriptors beneath the level they think is being described.
  • When teachers are finished grouping, reveal the secret… ALL of these descriptors are either Advanced Low or Intermediate High!  Teacher candidate level.  Bold represents Advanced Low.
  • Look together at these descriptors and discuss how many we have been expecting as early as level 2 (perfection with past tenses) for years!!!
  • Discuss ways to design a curriculum that truly moves students toward Intermediate High proficiency!
  • Preparing the Troops Game

Interacting with the Authors

I loved creative writing when I was in high school.  I wrote stories about everything!  What I never imagined was that I’d use that love in my teaching career!

In 2010 I was taking a class (for my Master’s program) about the Spanish Civil War.  It was so engaging and I wondered how I could bring this rich culture to my own classroom.  I backward designed a unit that included all of the cultural features of the class but I knew that I couldn’t bring any of the readings to my high school level students!  The undergrads in MY class cried at least once a week because they had no idea what they were reading.  It was then that Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido asked me, “Why don’t YOU write a book?”

Let me tell you, that is NOT as easy as it sounds!!! I didn’t even know where to begin.  Fortunately, I had a dream (during a much needed nap) that turned into the basic story line!  Carol walked me through every step of creating an engaging story (for all readers, not just the girls) and managing vocabulary/structure to keep students from becoming frustrated.  This first novel, La hija del sastre, allowed me to bring both culture AND literacy into my classroom! AND my college professor started using the novel with HIS students!! What an honor!

From there, I took my Chicano literature course, a dream, and some hard core editing and released La Calaca Alegre.  When I needed an anchor for my bullfighting unit, I wrote Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos. And when I wanted a tie to magical realism and embedded readings of some classics like La noche boca arriba and La continuidad de los parques, I took a dream and a plan and wrote Vector.  Each met a need in my classroom and each allows my students to build literacy skill as part of a meaningful cultural unit!

I didn’t write any of these things just for my students!  I wrote them for all of our students!  I want to see our language programs grow and flourish.  It shouldn’t be just the honor students who make it through the gauntlet to level 4!  Fill those desks!  Make learners and lovers of language!  If they can’t read the original “Quijote”, who cares!!!??? Will they love language class and advocate for it as a future admin, politician, or parent?

I also didn’t write these things and walk away!  If your class is reading something I wrote, connect with me!  I have times of the year (Oct-Nov and Mar-Apr) when life keeps me much busier than others… but I am usually able to find time to respond promptly to contact from student groups!

I may not have time to read 75 copies of “chapter 11 of the novel” to decide who has the best epilogue, but if you narrow it down to four and ask me to pick, I can absolutely do that!!  I probably can’t listen to 100 questions to the author but if you send me your top 10, I can answer those!!  If you have a class pose questions on FlipGrid, I’m happy to answer as many as I can!!!  I’ve done Skype type visits with classes who’ve finished a novel and have met for a TweetUp!

We are authors but we are also teachers!  Let us know how we can help make novels more successful in your classroom by connecting with your students!  We love meeting the people who use our materials and are SO grateful for your support of our work!

Salad Bowl with Robo en la Noche

We had the BEST time today and I actually have no idea how to officially play salad bowl!  It’s the story of my life!  I’m a visual learner and need to play once to “get it”… but I have heard so many brags about salad bowl I just did what I thought sounded right and it was FUN!  

I made cards that review some new vocab from chapters 1-6 of Robo en la noche by Kristy Placido available on fluencymatters.com! They could also be used for a Rainforest unit!! 

The cards are available as a free download on my TPT page! I also gave the detailed instructions of how we used them in class (which may or may not exactly be salad bowl).

I have my own little laminator (which I highly recommend) so I made a nice set of cards with cardstock and laminate!


With the cards in a deck (rather than bowl) in the middle, students sat in a circle on the floor and numbered off 1,2,1,2…


The first student on team 1 drew a card and had 20 seconds to describe the word without saying it!  Teams got a point for each word the team could guess.  And several teams got 2 words in a 20 second period!

We played all the way around and then did a second round in which they couldn’t talk, only gesture! This round was cut short in all classes by the bell… but it was FUN!


It took a while to prep the game but it was worth it!  We had a great time, used a lot of Spanish, and I can reuse it next year!!

Robo en la noche Ch 4 and the Copier

We had a great time today playing the game “The Copier” recommended to me by Kristy Placido via Cindy Hitz!

We had just read chapter 4 of the novel and students are starting to be familiar with some of the key topical vocabulary words in the novel.  In our version of the game we:

  • Broke into groups of 6 (in one class I had a group of 7 and one a group of 5 but 6 worked for most groups!)
  • Each student had a personal white board and marker.
  • I wrote a list of 8 key words and phrases on the board (el aviario, una jaula, el desayuno, cuidaba, pueden volar, cuenta un chiste, las aves, cortaron).
  • Groups were instructed that they should start with the first word (el aviario) and write a sentence of at least 6 words on their white boards.  The trick is that EVERY board has to be identical.  If they have a typo, they don’t get to advance to the next word!  I also gave them hints about errors like “birds are feminine” or “the cat isn’t a they”… When all were correct AND the same, they could advance to the next word.
  • The first team to complete all 8 words was the winner.  The other teams received a point for every word they had completed.  In one class, the first place team got to sit in the lounge during channel 1, in another they got to leave first… all depended on the timing of the class period!

This game was a lot of fun, it was a great way to review the action of the chapter and it was an easy pop up grammar lesson for students (level 2) who are into the intermediate zone and are ready to polish more!