What the Heck is a Mentor Text?

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My colleague is an incredible English teacher and for the past couple of years she has been teaching her students to write well by letting them explore examples of great writing, mentor texts. When she needs to teach them about introductions, she lets them read texts with dynamite introductions. When she needs them to focus on adding detail, she lets them read texts that are written with tons of interesting detail. When her business and technical writing class needed to write resumes, they read great resumes. The best part of reading mentor texts is that they don’t just copy a writer’s style, they find traits they like in a variety of texts and try to make them their own.

I wanted to bring this idea to my Spanish 4 classes. These are students who have been building proficiency through LOTS of input for 3 years and are now ready to begin polishing what comes out. They are no longer afraid to speak or to write, they know they’re good!  I tell them as often as possible!  Now they need to start using all those seeds I planted along the way to grow into high intermediate and low advanced proficiencies.

How does it work? This week, as we are preparing for our final exams, we did past tense mentor texts. Remember what Laura Terrill says about grammar. If you have to teach it in L1, they aren’t ready for it. Day one was kind of a scramble because I had put everything into Nearpod and then students’ apps weren’t updated and they couldn’t access the slides because I had incorporated new features (tech is always so much fun). Since I had lost my main vehicle, we resorted to the old school method of  watching a couple of YouTube videos on the Smart board to see the “chart” and then talking, in TL, about the endings and which verbs they go with. I modeled for them how they would describe what they “used to be like” and then they wrote. 

On day 2, I used their writing as the model texts. I wanted to focus on seeing preterite and imperfect together in context so we looked specifically at passages like this: When I was 8 years old, I lived in a rural area. We had a lot of land and I liked to play outside. One day, my mind told me that I should climb a tree to play football. It said “You are 8 years old, this is a good idea”. I climbed the tree and I fell out. It was a bad idea to listen to my mind.

We went through the verbs we’d use and why, talked with the student about his experience (in TL), and just got a ton of past reps! Then they wrote about their favorite Christmas memory. I wanted to see where they were with using preterite and imperfect together. Remember, they haven’t had formal instruction on these verb names nor their charts. We have worked the endings, we have learned tons of past tense verbs in context,  and they have long been writing in the past tense based on “feeling”… but I want them to start to notice now. Some will go on to study at the university level and the reality is that they will need to be aware that their world is about to shift into a language class filled with grammar drills! I don’t want it to come as a surprise.

The third day, we talked about technology then and now. My goal for the day was to discuss what we used to use versus what we use today. This time our activity was oral but my model was still the mentor text. I gave them examples and then set them loose on Pixabay to find images that represented their past and present technology. When it was time, I modeled again with my images (a walkman and my Alexa) then let them start! They were all super cute and we got a ton of repetitions of past and present in context. The most amazing though was my student from Vietnam. She moved to the US in 6th grade and has very clear memories of her life before. For her past technology she picked a candle and talked about how her family had been so poor in Vietnam that they lived in a neighborhood without electricity. Today, she uses lightbulbs! 

Our last day was a chance to read a biography (From Vidas Impactantes by Kristy Placido). We read and then compared this historic figure with someone famous today. This is a task that often appears on ACTFL’s AAPPL exam which they will take in late February! By this time, they were really demonstrating that intermediate ability to say something wrong, hear it, correct it, and continue. 

Chances are good that you’re already using mentor texts in your classroom. My goal in the new year is to keep trying to use them in more effective and impactful ways! Happy last week of school to everyone who (like me) goes back on Monday!!

Circle the Wagons


Maybe you’ve seen me demo Circle the Wagons on Señor Wooly’s site with his graphic novel, Billy y las Botas or maybe you’ve never heard of the activity… This is a demo of my class as we wrap up the “Orangután en mi habitación” unit we’ve been studying.

I do this activity a LOT to get my students retelling stories we’ve studied in class.

Key reminders:

  • Students are not all at the same proficiency level and the gap between highest and lowest widens as they reach upper level language study.
  • This is in Spanish so if you teach another language,  you can get the idea of what we are doing (make a statement about the image, answer two questions about the image)  and  my little pop up tips but you won’t know what they’re saying! SORRY!
  • I would love to hear feedback but please nothing critical of any our Spanish!  🙂

I encourage you to teach the SDGs with units like Orangután, Homes of the world, Medicina o cura, Mar de plástico, Dame dame chocolate, Comer para vivir, Agua es vida, and Arctic Crime!

Here we  are doing Circle the Wagons!

From Desked to Deskless in Wildcat Spanish

The 2014-2015 school year was my first foray into the deskless classroom. I was a little nervous, but I wanted space for my reading lounge and flexible seating was the only way to do it.

My room at the time looked GREAT with chairs and pillow case pouches!photo-4-4.jpg

It was an adjustment! The pillowcase pouches were always falling off, the clipboards would turn up with graffiti, and the markers in the marker boxes would end up in other people’s pouches. I decided that they were too much trouble and the next year didn’t use them.

When I started a new job in the 2016-2017 school year, I went back to desks for a short time.  It was hard to get used to the amount of space they take up after 2 years of freedom!


My second year, I decided to ask for chairs and folding tables like I’d had in my old classroom. The admin was on board and I put together a collection of unused chairs from the cafeteria and tables from the storage room!

This year, they got me (and 2 other teachers) these beautiful new chairs!


When people switch to a deskless classroom, they often wonder how students write. For me it is simple! We store these folding tables at the back of the room and pull them out any time we need to do a writing assessment, centers, or other tabletop heavy activity!


The great thing about the tables is that I can set them up in any format I want! From a horseshoe to have a panel type discussion to individual table “islands” for group work, it is a quick set up and tear down.

The chairs have the added benefit of letting us turn to face one another easily with no barrier between. Our interpersonal communication is a lot more natural when we can easily move chair to chair and are free of desktops!

The best part, though, is that chairs can easily be stacked at the side leaving the whole room open! This allows us to utilize the floor space for some of my favorite activities like Floor Memory, Circle the Wagons, and MapTalks.


If you’re thinking of going deskless or have already done it, share your experience!


El Salvador Centers

In Spanish 3, I do a film and reader based unit on El Salvador and its Civil War. It is ESPECIALLY timely as the current situation at the border has its roots all the way back to this period in the 80s-90s!

We begin by watching the film Romero (it’s in English but I put on Spanish subtitles and we discuss in Spanish). We need to understand how his death really catapulted the country into war. Then we watch the film Voces Inocentes. We discuss the child soldiers in El Salvador and how it would feel to be taken. We talk about what WE were doing when we were 12 and compare that with Chava and his friends.

Then I do these centers – El Salvador Centers Share.

The centers let me quickly review all of the things we learned in the film study portion before tackling the reader based study of Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha 13 from Fluency Matters.

This reader (and TG) are one of the most engaging we do in all 4 years of study. Every single chapter is packed with surprises and action!

Upper Level Units

Every year, TPT throws a sale on Cyber Monday (and Tuesday) and every year, I visit my favorite stores to stock up!

Need fonts, borders, frames? My favorite store is KG Fonts and More.

Need graphic organizers, clip art, papers, borders, or ANY kind of template? You need Hidesy’s Clipart.

Need great units for Spanish students? Don’t miss Kristy PlacidoMartina Bex, Nelly Hughes, Allison Wienhold, Arianne Dowd, and Kara Jacobs!

I also have a lot of units that I use post SOMOS curriculum in level 1 and 2! Here are a couple freebies so you can vet my work: Viviendas del mundo y Hay un orangután en mi habitación

For a health unit, try: Medicina o cura

For a food unit, try: Comer para vivir o vivir para comer

For a biodiversity unit, try: Biodiversidad y conservación

For a water crisis unit, try: El agua es vida

For a sustainable cocoa unit, try: Dame, dame chocolate

For an ocean plastics unit, try: Mar de plástico or Mer de plastique


Nature versus Nurture

If you ever meet my mom, you’ll know exactly who I look like. It is 100% obvious that she influenced my “nature” with her genes. My dad was incredibly creative, impulsive, and fearless. I got a lot of those things from him. I know that they came through the “nature” avenue because I lost him very young and still developed a personality much like his.


What isn’t as evident is what I got via “nurture”. You see, my instinct is snap smart-alecky comments when I am hurt. My instinct is to get frustrated when things don’t go my way. My instinct is sometimes very un-loving.  This is where my mom has nurtured me to be a better person. Her beautiful spirit has made me stop and think before I speak and to remain calm in the face of frustrations. If I’ve ever made you think that I am kind… it is because of her.

When I look at the teachers in my school I can see this nature versus nurture puzzle at play as well. In the classroom, there are things that will come naturally to us. Things that we will do well without even knowing why. There will also be things that are challenging. Things that we have to nurture in our practice to continue to grow.

For me, creating lessons is natural. I think of writing as a hobby that helps me relax and unwind. What is not as natural for me? Let me count the things:

  1. I am disorganized. While I can tell you where ANYTHING is in my room, you would never be able to find it because it is controlled chaos in there.
  2. I fail at the small stuff. I jump right into my lesson and forget to take attendance, notice if people are violating dress code, etc.
  3. I am terrible about those pre-post tests. I hate them and I just can’t force myself to act like it isn’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever had to do.
  4. I hate when I have discipline problems. Since I started using a story and reader based curriculum, I have very few, but when they do happen, I feel awful. I analyze everything I’m doing to try to figure out what I did to cause them to misbehave. In most cases, the behavior has nothing to do with me but I assume responsibility anyway.
  5. I lose things. All the things.
  6. I can’t remember anything. Ever.
  7. My room is not beautiful. I am a terrible decorator. It looks a little like a swap meet or a flea market.

What I believe is that if I nurture these weak spots, I can learn to do them better. This year, I’ve started organizing my FVR library. I think if I can get this one area organized now, next year I can tackle my desk. I am writing myself notes and using Siri to remember things, and it is helping! I think even if you’re a teacher struggling right now with a negative attitude about being in the classroom or with a department’s negative attitudes, nurturing some positive thoughts can help you end the semester on a happier note!

We’re going to be giving thanks for a lot of things this holiday weekend and I hope that when we go back to school on Monday, we’ll be able to find things to be thankful for there. When we find the hard things, I hope we can nurture the right attitudes to keep ourselves (and our students) on the path to fluency!


Environmental Health in the Curriculum

Whether you already teach with units that focus on biodiversity, water, ocean health, and good work conditions or if this is your first, I want to invite you to explore the SDGs (sustainable development goals) with your students.

In this unit, students will take a look at how some palm oil production harms orangutans habitats. Explore the topic with a movie or picture talk of the commercial “Hay un orangután en mi habitación”. Follow up with several activities designed for both novice and intermediate learners and a cultural reading about the pros and cons of palm oil production (also includes activity for both novice and intermediate learners). Finish with my Circle the Wagons activity!

By adding a song of the week to round out the 42-48 minute class period, this unit will fill 5 class days! I invite you to give it a try with your students! Be sure to let me know their reactions! Tweet me @senoracmt!

Orangutan en mi habitación unit

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Water is Life

I have been updating and adding to my Water is Life unit and I am SO excited by the big change. I’ve always done a “water walk” to kick off the unit. I got the idea when my church was raising money to help put a well in a community in Nicaragua. The high school youth group students did a walk carrying a bucket of water on their heads. Then they asked for people to fill a culligan water jug at church! They were in the paper and everything! (I live in a small town…)

So when I started teaching about the water crisis, I wanted that same impact. The feeling of walking while carrying water. My students have no prior knowledge so they need even the smallest experience with how this feels. And it has always been impactful…  but this year, it was even more so!

I moved the water walk! I decided to start with a new hook instead. We played the role of National Geographic Explorers and walked around our school area looking for places they had easy access to sources of water. They recorded their findings in “explorer journals” and took pictures with their i-Pads as they found many more sources than I noticed on my solo walk through!

In their journals, they drew pictures, speculated what plants, animals, and people used the water source. They recorded whether the water was safe to drink as-is or if it needed to be boiled.

After this hook, we began our unit. With the available water sources fresh in their minds, they were SO much more alert to the problems caused by not having fresh water nearby!

As we wrapped up the unit, just before our final assessment, we did the water walk. Sort of a “closing hook”.  The discussion that followed was FILLED with evidence that they had learned to use Spanish to discuss this relevant, current topic and that they were moved by what they had learned.

One of the greatest moments was when we were emptying our jugs and they were groaning about how many people needed that water and they were just pouring it out on the ground!

Check out our explorer journals here. I have to thank Abra Koch and Nat Geo Education for the idea and Martina Bex for the Explorer journal design! Nat Geo Educator Certification has been very impactful in my classroom! Check it out!

Mer de plastique

When I started thinking about my plastic ocean unit, I was inspired by some tweets and articles that had been catching my eye and tearing at my heart. More and more resources appeared as I was writing and soon it seemed like everyone from Nat Geo to PADI (Scuba diving) were campaigning for control of single use plastics. It had NOTHING to do with my unit but my unit happened to be finished at the perfect time! There was so much to talk about.

I never stopped thinking that I would like to reach more teachers, so I made a middle school science version called Plastic Ocean and now… With the help of Bess Hayles and Blair Richards, I get to present the three versions of Mer de plastique!!! They are the same unit, just different time commitments! If you want to dive ALL THE WAY IN:

Three week unit

If you have a little less time, try the ‘pared down’ versions of

Two week unit


One week unit

Don’t forget to share your experience on Twitter so that we can all find new ways to save our oceans!