How Do You Start in Upper Level Classes?

I have always been a huge fan of Ben Slavic’s Circling with Balls (now sometimes referred to as Card Talk). It is how we start our level 1 classes and we modify it slightly to start level 2! Upper level students have a different skill set. I hope this little 2.5 day mini unit can help you see that although they still love to build community and still need tons of reps, they can talk about more than just what they did over the summer!

Mis ahorros mini unit

A Promise You Can Keep

It seems like just YESTERDAY I was reflecting on the 18-19 school year and remembering the joy that this journey brings me. A blink later, I’ve been to Costa Rica with an amazing group of students, I’ve written some new units, I’ve NAPPED, I’ve floated in my pool until I was a prune, I’ve been to Florida for IFLT19, I’ve taken a SILVER anniversary trip to wine country in Southern IL, and I’ve celebrated my 47th trip around the sun! It was an amazing summer! I’m sorry to see the relaxing days end, especially since my son is starting high school this year (and everyone who has already had a kid in high school knows that THOSE FOUR YEARS FLY BY) and I really enjoyed what I know are some of the last summer moments he’ll really spend hanging out at home with mom!

But now that the calendar page has turned to August and I’m watching my friends post pictures of their first days, I’m ready! Well… I posted a video on my Facebook that may prove that I’m not ACTUALLY ready… But internally, I am READY! I can’t wait to see the kids and get back in the routine!


Inspired by Meredith White, I have made myself a promise this year. A promise I know I can keep. It’s easy to overwhelm myself with a long list of things I’m going to do. I did it this summer! All inspired by Rachel Hollis and Girl Wash your Face, I promised about 10 things and did 5. Ok, 5 is fine but I should’ve started small and only PROMISED 5. So for the school year, I’m only promising 1.

I promise that I will make time to read. I love to read. I read at semester exam time when the world slows down a little. I read over breaks. I listen to books on long drives. I do not make a habit of reading during the active parts of the school year. But that is going to change. Reading relaxes me. Reading gives me new professional ideas and lets me slip into dystopian worlds (like the amazing series I just finished – Nyxia by Scott Reintgen). It lets me reset. So I’m going to read.


I think I can keep this promise. I have a nightstand. I can put my book there and pick it up every night before bed. I can keep a book on my desk at school too! I could sneak in a minute between when I arrive and when class starts! Or the last couple minutes of lunch hour! I can even keep one in the passenger door of the car for the times I am not driving (and lose control of the radio to my metal band loving husband). I will keep this promise.


I encourage you to set a small goal. Just ONE promise that will help you keep a great balance between teaching (which we love) and mental health (which we also love). I am never going to be able to “work less”… my brain fires on all cylinders ALL THE TIME… work helps me slow that train down! I can’t make a promise to take off Sundays (Meredith, I really wanted to join you in this but look at me typing a blog post AS I consider taking Sunday off… Maybe I’ll do every other Sunday??)… but I can promise myself I will do something I love and not stockpile my books for vacation times. I’m going to steal some vacation minutes every day this year! ­čÖé

Make good promises, have a GREAT year!

Last Day to Save!

Let Somewhere to Share help you with back to school planning! There’s no better time to fill your “bag of tricks” than the annual back to school sale!

From songs of the week to full units of study, movie talks to posters that help students find their way along the path to proficiency, you’re sure to find something to make the transition back to school smoother!

Some can’t miss favorites include: now just $9.60 now just $2.40 now just $2.40 now just $9.60 now just $4.00

Follow my store for new units throughout the school year! I’m really exciting about the upcoming release of my “A Week With..” series!

Getting you ready to go #BTS19

My teacher planner is bought and is ready to be filled! I love my time off but with 10 days until day 1, I am excited to go back and see my classes again! I have learned so much this summer and created a lot of new things! Time to tackle some new topics!!

Teachers Pay Teachers is ready to help us ALL go back to school as well! All of my units, from individual favorites like Basura cero and Mar de pl├ístico… a bundled of a semester’s worth of awesome lessons at 25% off the already discounted price… to new units like En guerra, Viaja conmigo (novice and intermediate units in one package), and Energ├şa renovable, I hope I can make YOUR planning this year easier!

Somewhere To Share on Teachers Pay Teachers

Don’t miss shopping with Placido Language Resources, The Comprehensible Classroom, and Comprendes Mendes Spanish Shop too!!! We want you to breeze through the year!

Don’t forget to use the code #BTS19 at checkout!

Powerful Units for Back to School

The summer has been so wonderful! I got to visit Costa Rica with a group of students who were SO excited to use their Spanish in the real world! I got to float in my pool sooooo many days because it has been unseasonably warm! My hibiscus plants were the most beautiful I’ve ever had. The bird feeders have been busy now that our trees are bigger! I had an amazing cohort and got some good quality time (and food) in St. Petersburg at iFLT. I wrote a new book! (Watch for Bananas this fall!) From time with my family and pets to lots of lunches with friends, I have milked this summer for all it’s worth. Now my brain is starting that slow transition back to “planning mode”.

As I consider what units I will shift around this year, I thought I would make a short summary of some of the things that you’ll find in the units I write! Remember that the structures you want or need to teach can be added to any unit! If something seems to have a lot of present tense, add reps of past tense structures by retelling stories, asking what students (or people in general) used to do. Make predictions to get future reps! Need to teach subjunctive? Just ask for recommendations, give suggestions, or find out what they think is important! The value of a good unit is that the CONTENT you are delivering can be the vehicle that helps them acquire language that can be used in any context!

I’m attaching a document with a break down of (and links to) some of my content based units that might help with your planning as you go back to school! I am working on one last one… green energy Costa Rica style! (The research for this one was fun!) Hope I can have it ready to kick off the year and talk to my students about my trip! Like them all? Try the SUPER BUNDLE!

Happy planning! I hope that as you enjoy your last few weeks of summer, these ready-made units let you relax a little longer!

Whats in a unit PDF
Whats in a unit DOCX

En guerra and Real Battles

When I saw the Sebastian Yatra/Camilo video for En guerra, I was immediately drawn back to some of my darkest hours as a teen/young adult. I just didn’t love who I was and there was truly a storm raging inside of me. I couldn’t stop listening to this song. I immediately sent it to EVERYONE I knew.

En guerra speaks the truth of so many of our adolescent students and our own children! I knew from the moment I saw the video for the first time that I wanted to use it in class… but when you watch the video, you’ll see why I knew it had to be packaged in just the right unit. I will warn you that you need to evaluate your school setting before deciding to show it. I am holding it back for my Spanish 4 students and I have planned it into a unit on adolescent mental health.

Self-esteem and mental health are such a delicate topic and yet so relevant for the students we see every day. I wanted to honor the message of the song AND let students know that mental health issues are not something to fear or be ashamed of. This is the reality for most of them! In this unit, they’ll explore the song but also some stats about adolescent mental health, a movie talk about Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, and some posed and unposed photo experiments.

(This unit could EASILY be used with a lyric video in place of the official video. The other activities are all 100% universally acceptable.)

I hope that this unit can be the start of opening a discussion about self-image and the importance of keeping lines of communication open with parents and other trusted adults throughout the teen and young adult years!

En guerra unit

Joy in the Journey

We’ve all seen the quotes. “It’s not a journey, it’s a race.” “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, just don’t stop.” “Life is a journey, not a destination.” We actually get bombarded by them so often that they lose their effect. We’re immune to the message. We start to just look past it.

But in education, it is true. We are on a journey. Every day in the classroom, we do a little bit better, we try another new thing that moves our students along the path to proficiency, we add a bold new unit or reader… but we feel overwhelmed, rushed, behind. The teacher next door is using 4 readers and I am only using one. The teacher on Twitter posted pictures of her students discussing green energy and mine are just learning to talk about their family life.

No more comparing!!! You’re on a different path than the teacher next door, the one down the hall, and the one on Twitter!

If I can convince you of any one thing this summer, I hope that I can convince you to embrace change at your own pace. If you’re beginning a CI journey (or a textbookless journey, or a deskless journey, or any journey), considering the journey, or are ready to dive in head first, set a pace that you’re comfortable with and add new units, readers, skills, classroom set ups and activities slowly. It’s tempting to throw everything you’ve ever known out the window to try to achieve the same results as another teacher but the changes that are most impactful and longest lasting are the changes that we take a little at a time!

My “CHANGE EVERYTHING” teaching journey started in 2005. I had failed the National Board process and I felt lost. I loved my job and my students. I loved grammar and worksheets. I thought I was doing a good job. I began to research some of the terms that had come up in my NBCT testing centers and I realized where I had gone wrong. I was teaching a curriculum, not my students. I went through the book at the same pace year after year, leaving everyone behind who wasn’t strapped in and ready for the roller coaster! In that research, through some simple dumb luck, I stumbled my way into best practice.

I began attending some sessions at my state conference with Susan Gross. She got me excited to “peel the banana” differently! I went back to my room and began by telling a couple of stories and doing some TPR. The next year, I blended story telling with the textbook. Then I added a reader… Then I got bold and ditched the textbook because I felt like it was holding me back from talking about the things my students wanted to talk about… Little by little I purged my curriculum and turned it into what I wanted it to be! I’m now 13 years in and every year I still add new things and make a few more changes. It is definitely a journey.

I’ve been walking the CI path for 13 years now! It wasn’t easy to get started but I’m glad I stuck with it!

I teach in a small, rural school. My challenges are different than the challenges you face if you’re in an urban district. I am in a department of 3, you may be in a department of 20 or a department of 1. Remember that we’re all working within the framework we’ve been given and that whatever changes we make for the good of our students have to be framed within the context of that department.

I hope you plan this summer! I hope you plan a TON of input for your students next year! I hope you plan to read with them, to build community with them, and to fill their cups with language input. I hope my scope and sequence for Wildcat Spanish can be of use to you. But mostly, I hope that you know it takes time. Every year, rather than rushing yourself to get it all done at once, stop to smile back on the successes you’ve seen through the pieces you managed to add to your curriculum! Did you ditch the chore chapter and add a reader? HOORAY FOR YOU! Find joy in that victory! Did your department agree to skip ‘the house chapter’ in favor of Viviendas del mundo? Just keep taking steps!! Watch for the joy in your journey to more effective practice!

On Patrol for a Passion Project

The school year does two things for me: It inspires me to create new things, to forge new community in the classroom, to do my best in the classroom… and it WEARS. ME. OUT. I’m serious. WORN OUT. I love to work and I will work on a lot of side projects all summer long but I will also do some things that help me clear my mind and re-ignite my creativity. I want to share one of those things with you.

On Patrol with the Broadcaster.

What’s your passion project?

When my colleague, Matt Donoho, asked me if I would take on the role of a female superhero in a podcast that he and his friends write and produce, I looked him square in the eye and said…


I hadn’t heard season one of the podcast but when I’m not working on my computer, I am driving somewhere so I had plenty of time to get caught up! I laughed, my son laughed… it was just a great, wholesome show to listen to as we drove to all of our different engagements!

Today, season 2 debuts and I am about to binge listen to the whole thing! I hope you’ll join me… and I hope that if you like it, you’ll give @MrDonoho a shoutout on Twitter. He is a talented guy!

I’m Lady Ilmatar… I’m not this buff but I would totally wear that cape and boots.

Don’t forget that in the midst of all of your summer reflecting and planning and scheming, you have to do some down-time things for yourself. Things that will help you re-center and cultivate those creative pockets deep inside. Whether it is listening to a podcast or participating in one, embrace a passion project that will help you return to the classroom in August ready to roll on another school year! It will be here in the blink of an eye!

Keep Calm & Reflect On

It was a great year in Wildcat Spanish. There were trying days but after a pretty rough 17-18, this school year was a piece of cake. As I enjoy my first day of summer break with a second cup of coffee, my bird feeders, and two (exhausted from a dog park visit) dogs, I am also reflecting on my year. I’ve found that if I completely shut down after I leave school, the urgency disappears and I forget to take the time to reflect on the highs and lows. If I don’t reflect on the highs and lows, I find myself re-making the same mistakes in the new school year!

Take time every year, as soon as you get out of school, to make yourself notes on what you want to do again in the new year and what you know you need to change!

I just finished listening to “Girl Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis. I loved this book. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with (I am pretty sure only those in privileged positions can chase their dreams the way Rachel has) but there are also things that really, really hit home for me. One of them: Why do you break promises to yourself? Rachel talked about how we always say we are going to do things and then when it comes down to it, we cancel on our own plans again and again. “I’m going to save up to go to ACTFL”, “I’m going to try X in class this year”, “I am going to invite a colleague in to observe and coach me”… what promises have you made yourself this year that you just let fall by the wayside as the year got busy and you ran out of time? Rachel asks what we would think if it were a friend or loved one doing that to us… What if it was your a loved one saying “I’m going to fix X at home this year”, or “I am going to invite you over for a barbecue”, or “I’m going to save up to come see you” and then kept breaking the promises again and again?? You would lose trust in that person!

As I commit to some promises to myself, I’ve made a list on a “stickie” on my computer screen. These are things I want to do differently in the new school year that require me to plan and prepare over the summer. Before I get into vacation mode and stop thinking of them, I wanted to write down these promises to myself right now, while the iron is still hot! I even gave myself some timelines to follow so it doesn’t all pile up in August!

Things that went well:

Essential Oils with Medicina o Cura unit.
SDG game from
Basura cero unit in Spanish 4
Mar de plástico in Spanish 3
Exploring Nat Geo style with Water is Life unit!

There were great moments this year. Some days I was SO proud of what they said and other days, Spanish 2 came in saying “This is so dumb.” The great thing about students is that they keep you humble as heck. Just when you think you’ve found the perfect resource to engage every child in the room, one will look at you and say “I didn’t take Spanish 3 because I hate everything we do in this class.” *Sigh*

Some things I plan to improve for next year:

I feel really solid on my level 3/4 units and readers but I feel like I need more engaging content in level 2. I would love to have some units that I love as much as Mar de pl├ístico and Basura cero but I am SO BAD at reigning in the level to keep it strictly novice. When we do the Homes of the World unit, they always love it. One of my goals this summer is to do a unit on travel that will be specifically for these guys (plus a version that I use with my 4s) and a unit on green energy that will be the first little intro into the environment for my level 2s. These are both on my promises list so I have to make them happen. I don’t want to end next year feeling like I still didn’t even make a forward step in bringing the SDGs to the novices!

I feel solid in my ability to find songs my students will like but I feel very weak in using songs to their maximum potential. My friend Kara Jacobs is sooooo good at this… me, not so much. I frequently fall back on the standard Cloze. This is not engaging. Kids complete it then never look at the lyrics again. They download the songs and listen outside of class but I am not sure they are GETTING anything from it. So I am going to try to work with songs in better ways. I’m starting with En guerra by Sebasti├ín Yatra. My goal is to have this unit ready for launch with my level 4s in August. I want to use it to talk about body image and about negative self talk. (I think Rachel Hollis would approve. We need to give ourselves a lot of grace!)

Finally, I feel solid in my ability to build community in the classroom but I want to do a better job of taking that community OUTSIDE the classroom again. When I was teaching in my old school, our giving project “The Classroom without Walls” raised thousands of dollars every year to support different organizations at home and abroad. Since I started in my new school I have not. done. even. one. WHAT? Why have I let this slide? I have actually even PROMISED students that we’d do a fundraiser for an organization and then my busy life flew by and I didn’t get it done. In reflection, this is embarrassing to me. I made a promise to them and didn’t keep it. Next year, we get back on track. We will support local groups and international groups as we extend our lessons beyond the walls of the classroom.

Thank you for reading. I consider it a little extra accountability to tell YOU that I am going to do these things over the summer. (Blogging once a week – minus the three weeks I’m traveling- is also on the promise list.) I encourage you to take a moment in the first few days of your vacation and really consider your year. What better time to make yourself promises than when the emotions are still raw and powerful!? Have a great summer, relax, enjoy, and get ready for that awesome feeling of stepping into the new year in August 100% ready to go at it again!

Jacana Jacana and the Wildcats

In September, I received a notification that my class had been selected for the National Geographic Educator Explorer Exchange 2018/2019. I was SO excited. My Nat Geo certification has had so many perks for my students!! In the “pairing” stage, I had to give some topics that I’d be interested in studying with my Explorer partner. I, of course, said Spanish and the environment!

Nat Geo paired me with Janni Benavides of the Colombian group Jacana Jacana (a jacana is a tropical bird FYI). Our job throughout the year was to stay in contact, teach each other new things, and create some type of a ‘deliverable’ for NatGeo.

This music is perfect for level 2-AP learners! #authres

From Janni, we learned a ton about the rainforest, the dry tropical forest, and the cloud forest. From us, Janni and her homeschool elementary students, learned Baby Shark, learned about the difference in the woods in IL in the fall and in the winter, and we recorded three of Jacana Jacana’s songs in English to help reach both Spanish and English speakers!

Janni was so patient as my students tried first to learn to play the songs on the guitar and then then on the Ukulele! She met us on Skype and told the class about her home, her favorite birds, and her students’ experience in the different community homes participating in the home school program!

My students were so excited as they got to use their new language to communicate with both Janni and her students! Not a contrived situation, a real world experience using the language!

It’s not quite Colombia, but it will do!

We had our failures! Like when I forgot we had sprung forward and we got all set to Skype and Janni wasn’t online… because we were an hour early! We made due with Sr. Wooly that day…

If you can’t reach your first choice… ­čÖé

These are our final video products. The kids did all the lyric translations and learned to play and sing the new lyrics to the tune of the original songs! Thank you, Nat Geo Education for such an amazing exchange and Janni for your patience and generosity with my seniors!

Titi cabeciblanco


El bosque seco

Jacana Jacana’s music is a perfect authentic piece to add to your environmental unit because it is easy for students to understand and to sing! I’m hoping to be able to work on the cloud forest song with my incoming seniors in the fall! Just because the exchange is over doesn’t mean it has to end!!