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 Go-Goals.org https://go-goals.org/es/
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 plástico 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 Sebastián 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… 🙂

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!!

I appreciate you SO much!

Thank you so much for sharing my units with your students. When I use them in my classroom, it makes me so happy to see my own students connect with the environment, current issues, and the world beyond my classroom. When you share YOUR students’ reactions to the units, it brings me even more joy because I know that the more these students know about our changing planet, the more likely they are to become good stewards of what we have!

To show my appreciation, my store will be 25% off tomorrow (May 7) and Wednesday (May 8) using the code: GIFT4YOU Have you picked up my latest unit Basura cero yet? It will be a great price during the sale and it will help your students wrap their minds around living with less waste!

Have a great last few weeks! My seniors are in their last week now and they are set to record some videos for their Nat Geo explorer partners from the group Jacana Jacana! We have had an awesome year learning more about the rain and dry forests and the cloud forest! If you haven’t heard of Nat Geo certification, I talked about it here!

My juniors have nearly 3 full weeks left so we are ending with a virtual trip to the Galápagos with my newest reader 48 horas and some of my supplementary resources:

Guayaquil Ecuador

Comida y bebida ecuatoriana

Galápagos Islands

I’m working on a travel unit that I used with my 4s this year but would like to bring down to level 2, a unit about body image based around a music video, and a unit on clean energy worldwide! I wish I could make more hours in the day so I could get them done AND juggle end of the year craziness at school!

Thank you again for sharing my units with your students! Please share pictures on social media so I can see what you guys are up to!!


This week one of my senior boys in Spanish 4 came to class very happy. His English class was reading a Shakespearean piece and he had really been struggling. He said, “but then she gave me this (flashes graphic novel in my direction)!!! It’s the same story but I totally understand it!!!” What a cool thing to do! We know that reading builds vocabulary in L1 and in L2, but with less text, how do graphic novels build proficiency? Well, I am not sure what the exact brain processes are but it works…

“Comics can also convey a great deal of information in a short time, while allowing the reader to control the pace of reading and re-reading,” says Tracy Edmunds, a curriculum specialist. “And research shows that processing text and images together leads to better recall and transfer of learning.”

We read a ton of Fluency Matters readers in my department. 4 per year! But we also read the Señor Wooly graphic novels. As much as my students gain from reading as a class and having common discussion, I feel like the medium of the graphic novel offers them the ability to build proficiency in different ways!

A graphic novel is a story rich in images, a lot like a movie talk. While there isn’t a heavy amount of text on the page, there is a heavy amount of story in the illustrations! This lets us make predictions, describe, and discuss in a lot of different ways! Have you ever given one a try?

In Spanish 2, we read Billy y las Botas… the Graphic Novel. We have seen the very first Billy video and Billy y las Botas 1 when we read it. From their prior experience, I use predictions to have them say what might be the same/different in the graphic novel. That’s high level language for a Spanish 2 class! The rich visuals really help them develop the proficiency to narrate a detailed story!

In Spanish 3, we read La casa de la Dentista. Again, we have seen the video for La Dentista but this reader is part of a unit on the supernatural in our culture and around the world. We are going to do some heavy reading: La Calaca Alegre, adapted versions of Chac Mool, El almohadón de plumas, and La casa tomada. Starting with the graphic novel lets me do a couple of important things!

  1. The first story of the unit is at the reading level of ALL my level 3 learners. Nothing gets them more fired up about a unit than starting with a confidence building read.
  2. The images helped me emphasize adding detail! This is an important intermediate skill! When they can see the story, they can make a movie in their head about what’s happening… learning to do this through graphic novels helps them try to “see” the story in text heavy resources.

“We live in a visual culture, bombarded with ads and content,” says teacher Marika McCoola. “While students are taught to read in school, they’re not often taught to read visuals. In order to prepare our students, we need to address visual literacy in addition to verbal literacy. Graphic novels and comics are one way to bring this visual literacy into the classroom.”

With a brand new Señor Wooly graphic novel in production… make a space for it next year… consider trying out this type of reading! Jim and I share some ideas for how to do it here on senorwooly.com. We didn’t make the cut for ACTFL next year… do you think the title was too risque?… but Jim and I both think graphic novels are a key piece to a classroom reading program. Check them out here.

Quote source: https://www.educationdive.com/news/graphic-novels-zap-literacy-and-fun-into-curriculum/521950/

Talking Trash

I had gone to Aldi with my good friend, a Sunday-post-church thing we do, to buy all of my healthy food for the week… You see, my resolution was to show love to myself this year… take time to get my eating, my finances, and my life in order! I had been really, really over extending myself!

When I got home and started to prep the fruits and veggies for the week, I ended up with this:

I felt terrible! If I was making this every Sunday (never mind all the ziplocs I was putting my fruits and veggies in), imagine the footprint I was leaving with my waste habits. So I started reading… I’m a sciency gal, it’s what I do. 🙂

I found lots of cool replacement things… Bamboo toothbrushes, reusable bags and bowl covers… compostable coffee pods…

But I knew I wanted to get my students thinking about their footprint as well. They LOVE units that challenge them to think (in Spanish) about the world and their place in it. Basura cero was born! We did the unit in Spanish 4 and they blew me away with their final assessments. So much of what is here is because of the way they responded as we studied the topic!!

My dear friend Nelly Hughes (check out her amazing products here) proofed the unit and now it is ready to share with everyone! I hope that together we can really start to raise awareness of the many ways to use less, waste less, and compost more!

Check out Basura cero here and if you’re looking to teach the Sustainable Development Goals look at my other units like:

Mar de plástico

Los años dorados

Dame dame chocolate

Viviendas del mundo (FREE)

Medicina o cura

Claus Encounter: An Arctic Crime (FREE)

Educarse para superarse

Comer para vivir o vivir para comer

Biodiversity and conservation

Water is Life

Orangutan in my bedroom

If you’re TOTALLY new to my units, I have an SDG SUPER DUPER bundle here that includes all of the above units (enough to fill almost a full semester!) at a discounted price!

The Switch – A Predictive Activity

I had the best time starting this predictive 2 day unit with my Spanish 4 class today! It is a different way to do a movie talk… you do all the talking before watching the short!


I started by doing an anticipation guide type activity with screenshots and predictions. I love getting repeated exposure to the future tense by trying to predict what will happen in books and short stories!

Next, I used some screenshots from the film short to create a backstory to connect the students with the film before we watch tomorrow. I asked them questions about the images until we knew who the man was, what was in the boxes, and why he was in the room with the boxes in the first place.

We actually had a little time at the end of the hour so I asked them to draw what they thought would happen when he touched the button on the bottom of the box.

The box didn’t touch the ground because there were birds inside making it float.

Tomorrow we will make a doodle of what ACTUALLY might be in the box, not just our class story. We will watch the video for the first time, and we will predict what might happen next. I’m using it in level 3 so I will have them create a really great story to tell what happens after the… Oh wait, no spoilers. 😉

I hope you enjoy the unit. I love seeing their creativity when we predict!

Predictions, Predictions, Predictions!

When I saw this little film short, I knew it was the perfect little mini unit for predicting with students! Why predict with them? An advanced level speaker has good control of the three major time frames: Present, past, and future! If I don’t start making predictions in context early, how will they have enough exposure to the future tense to independently produce it?? Research says that worksheets and conjugations don’t do it… so we do it through engaging story!

Over the two days, students will spend a lot of time with the story before they ever see the video! They’ll start with a predictive activity called “The Handwriting on the Wall.” In this activity, they will look at screenshots from the video and decide which of two predictions (there is one sheet in the future tense and one using ir + a + infinitive) is correct. Discuss their predictions on day 1 and revisit this activity on day 2 after they’ve seen the video to see how they did!

They’ll follow this by looking at 5 screenshots from the story and answering teacher questions to build the backstory of the protagonist.

On day 2, they will start by reviewing the backstory that they wrote. I love sharing the stories that other sections of the same class created. Kids LOVE to hear their peers ideas and it is a super sneaky way to get repeated exposure!

They’ll follow this up by guessing what is in the boxes they have seen in the video. After giving them a few minutes drawing time, encourage students to share their ideas with the class.

At long last, they’ll watch the video (and hopefully be shocked) and then compare with the predictions they made on day 1.

Finish the class period by having them create a predictive epilogue using the included sentence frames!

It is a ton of great exposure to future tense and a great alternative to the traditional movie talk!

Hope you enjoy the activity! I’d love to hear how it goes. THE SWITCH

What Do I Do To Keep Reading Novel?

Isn’t it funny how short students’ attention spans are? By funny I mean… not exactly hilarious! They really keep us on our toes! When I am working through a whole class reader (or any story), I am always looking for follow-ups that give them repeated exposure to the story and its structures in addition to getting them thinking higher order thoughts!

Quip-Lash in Spanish 4

I want to share a couple of follow ups that work well no matter what kind of story you’re working with as a class! Reader, short film, music video… there is narrative everywhere!

The first is an activity I created called Quip-Lash. In this activity, student groups will try to identify the character who “would have said” a particular quote and race to be the first on the X to show the class.

Here is a printable set of Quip-Lash instructions and an example of the game based on Señor Wooly’s new song Una canción original.

The second is an activity I stole from Kristy Placido and then dubbed “The Scene Machine”. (I love naming things… What can I say?) In this activity, groups draw and write descriptions of 4 scenes from the story then move from “game board” to “game board” matching the descriptions with the pictures.

Enjoy these activities and share how they went on Twitter @senoracmt!