Material World- A unit on world homes

If you don’t have Peter Menzel’s photo books Hungry Planet-What the World Eats and Material World, please buy them.  The images are ALL OVER THE INTERNET but his work is spectacular and I want teachers to support him as a photographer!  I’d love to see him update these projects!

I wanted to do a unit in level two where students could talk about their own homes and possessions but also dig deep into what people in other parts of the world are lacking!  I’ve been amazed by how they performed as we worked our way through image talks, comparison and contrast, and deep thinking about how much we really have!  This is just the first draft of the unit but I’d like to share in case you’re looking for a way to bring the world’s people to your classroom!

I relied heavily on some suggestions from the National Geographic community for the supplemental resources.  If you’re not a National Geographic certified educator, I’d highly recommend it!  Access to the community and the suggestions alone is worth the time to create the portfolio!

Homes Unit Proofed


Teach like a scientist


As I am polishing my keynote speech for the WAFLT conference on November 4-5, it has become obvious that the topic I am speaking on is not limited to language teachers… we all need to lift our eyes up from what we’ve always done and embrace the idea of failure.

I have publicly stated on many occasions that I did not achieve National Board certification on my first attempt.  I was so sad/angry/self-loathing that I almost didn’t retake but my background in science pushed me to try again… you see, for scientists, failure isn’t an end.  It just means that ONE theory was wrong.  There are millions of theories out there to try.  I went into my second attempt at certification with some new tools in my teaching belt and passed!

I have been a hardliner.  There was a time when every spelling, every accent, every verb ending was a point off.  It left me feeling like I was missing something and it left my students feeling like they weren’t cut out to learn language.  I feared trying new things because I might not be good at it or the activity might flop.

After my “big failure” I left those hardliner days behind…. and do you know what?  My classroom is 180 degrees from where it was then.  I love going to work, my students have fun and learn all at the same time… I try new things (some are still flops) and encourage colleagues to do so as well.

Listen when I say that IF I HADN’T FAILED, I WOULD NEVER HAVE CHANGED!! What?  Seriously, I was comfortable in my rut and only when I was pushed out did I take some much needed steps to re-invigorate my attitude and to win students for languages.

Don’t look at your failures as an end.  Think like a scientist.  This didn’t work so what will I try next???  But don’t stop there.  You can’t expect your students not to fail.  Give them that re-take.  Explain a concept again if they didn’t get it the first time.  Take more drafts of that writing.  Our goal is to build their proficiency so giving them repeated exposure to the content is a great way to do it!!

My biggest failure was the first step of my biggest successes.  Don’t be afraid to try, try, and try again.

Butterfly Life Cycle in Spanish 3

We just finished our unit on Biodiversity and Conservation and I have always been interested in doing a unit on the monarch butterfly.  I started to look around on TPT and found this AWESOME unit on the Life Cycle of Butterflies.

I wanted to share what we have done and how much we have enjoyed it!!!

  1. We started with the KWL cards from the TPT unit on the life cycle of butterflies.  Students wrote what they knew and wanted to know on post-its and we hung them in the room.
  2. I ordered these baby caterpillars from (gotta love prime) and we began to do some in depth observing on this Butterfly Garden observation guide
  3. Day 2 we did centers with the level 3 readings from the TPT packet.  We had 6 centers (I laminated all pages and printed in color). Info (What is a butterfly reading), Vocabulary (butterfly parts posters), Egg, Larva, Chrysalis, and Adult Butterfly.  I set a 4 minute timer and had students move from center to center in groups of 4 reading the information.  The TPT packet included a document that I used to have students show what they had learned by describing the 4 phases of a butterfly’s life! The vocabulary they used was amazing.
  4. Day 3 we observed our own caterpillars again and recorded on our Butterfly Garden observation guide.  We also read and colored this book.
  5. Day 4 we went back to the KWL chart and recorded what we learned.  We observed our caterpillars one more time!  I think that they’ll form their chrysalis this weekend so I’m thinking next week we’ll be recording a whole different kind of data!
  6. Finishing up- We have other things to do in class so we’re leaving our butterfly study behind but we will continue to observe our little babies as they grow!  Watch for our pictures on Twitter @senoracmt #wildcatSpanish3




Si tú la ves + Free Unit of Study on Ecuador

After returning from a teachers only Ecuador tour with EF, Kara Jacobs and I were anxious to create something that would engage our students in the culture we experienced first hand… then Nicky Jam released Si tú la ves! The perfect bridge between the culture we wanted to share and the music we knew would engage them! Arianne Dowd, teacher author extraordinaire joined us in the attempt to create a unit that would include a song, movie talk, embedded readings, cultural connections, and a LOT of great Ecuadorian culture!

Kara and I can’t thank George Stewart and EF enough for the opportunity not only to see Ecuador but also for encouraging us to come up with a way to showcase all that we brought back with us!

Please enjoy this free unit!  Share with colleagues, and VISIT ECUADOR!

Si tu la ves TPT

Where would you go?

People often wonder what TPRS and TCI instructors do to expose students to advanced level structures.  I’d like to share how I started my year in Spanish 4 as an example but keep in mind… Advanced Low language users are able to use present/past/and future times with enough accuracy to be understood by natives not accustomed to language learners.  That means that I spend the MAJORITY of my time in all 4 levels being sure that my students can narrate a story and have a discussion about a wide variety of topics in these three times.  I expose them to things like subjunctive and conditional through pop-up grammar and the superstars always take note and produce those things… but I don’t expect that type of production from everyone, it just isn’t possible with so many different abilities in one classroom!

When my Spanish 4s came to class the first day, they found a folded piece of cardstock on their seat that said “If I were NAME, I would…” They sat in the spot with their own name but then traded cards with a friend.  After everyone had traded cards, I asked them (always in TL) to draw 3 things they would do if they were their friend.  We spent a full week discussing these cards.  Every day, I’d pick up a couple of cards and we would get reps of conditional and imperfect subjunctive… I didn’t go overboard and teach the whole imperfect subjunctive… I just used one structure “If I were”.  The conditional is so easy that they were comfortable by the end of the week saying all kinds of things they would do if they were in their friend’s shoes!

Knowing that I can teach ANY grammar concepts and important transitional phrases through units that they like, I had them vote on what they wanted to study this year.  Top choice (to my great joy) was traveling!  I used this unit to continue with a second structure.  “If I had a lot of money, I would travel to… and I would….”  I shared trips I had been on, we did some authentic infographics about how to pack a suitcase and talked about what we WOULD pack… We read about their English teacher’s study abroad in Spain and had a backchannel discussion about whether we would enjoy a trip like that or not.  Finally, they told me all about a place they would like to visit and what they would do if they had enough money and time to go there.

100% of them used conditional verbs to say what they would do in the final written presentation (the summative assessment).  Having that context wrapped around the verbs really made it stick!  We’ll revisit this construction often this year, adding more subjunctive chunks to accompany it… but we will spend most of our year sharpening our ability to narrate in the big three with transition words, rich vocabulary, and higher comprehensibility!

As you look at your units, how can you take what you must teach and wrap it in a context that engages and gives a real-world purpose to the language your students are producing?

It was just one session…

In 2007 I was searching.  Things in my classroom were not right and I didn’t know why… and then I saw Susan Gross present on TPRS at the ICTFL Fall Conference.  It changed my career.  I’m not kidding you.  One session led me down a path that has grown my retention rates, increased scores on proficiency tests, and increased overall love for Spanish at my school!

I learn new things EVERY SINGLE YEAR from just one session.  My goal is to never pull out the same plans year after year!  I want to find ways to adjust what I am doing to better meet my students’ needs!

This year, there wasn’t just one session… there were two!  The first was Bryce Hedstrom’s session on “What’s the Password” at iFLT in Denver.  The book is available from Teacher’s Discovery but to summarize… use important phrases and sayings that do not translate literally as a password to enter your room every day!  As Bryce promised, it has led to a sense of community, it has let me SEE how my students are as they enter the room, and it has taught them some valuable expressions already!!!  I just love this and am so grateful for presenters who continue to challenge me to up my game!

The second session was also at iFLT from Carla Tarini!  Carla shared a mini session about 10 line stories.  Our news program at school, Wild News, is now airing one Spanish word of the day (used in a sentence full of cognates) to tell a story.  The first 5 days tell the basics:

There is a teacher.

His name is ….

The teacher has a problem.

He has a big problem.

There is a monster in his car.

Friday, the monster was the cliff hanger!  On Monday we have a holiday so on Tuesday we will pick up with the last 4 (normally 5) lines.  I can’t tell you the end… the kids might be reading… but I CAN tell you that students who aren’t even in Spanish have loved this!  I have loved watching!

This Friday, we will take a picture of the teacher (Carla uses faculty and staff in her stories) and a colleague who helped “solve the problem” in action!  This will be the background as they reveal the final line of the story.  I think they’ll be so surprised!

Carla and Bryce, thank you for sharing your ideas!!! You guys who haven’t seen even ONE session in a while, what are you waiting for?  And if you have seen a lot of great ones, present one yourself this year!  Your ideas make a difference way beyond your own classroom walls!

The Solar Eclipse: Classroom Apocalypse…

We have school the day of the eclipse.  It isn’t that we’re the only ones in the area… there are a few St Louis schools dismissing… we’re pretty much all going.  The problem is that when something HUGE is about to happen, everyone knows that kids can’t think about anything else.  Blizzard coming???  All they can think about.  Severe storms??? Taking bets on tornados.  Spring Break starts tomorrow???  You get it… Their minds are elsewhere.

So I decided if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  If we’re going to be interrupted… Ok, it is going to go dark as night outside and the sun is going to disappear… we’re going to be interrupted… I want to do it while still getting some good language input! So I made a cultural corner reading on the solar eclipse 2017: Eclipse Solar Cultural Corner.

If you’re looking for something to share that is comprehensible and not cumbersome, maybe this will be the answer for your students too!