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!


Lotería de plástico

Whether you’re using my Mar de plástico unit or not, my friend Talia Sussman has come up  with a great way to get students thinking about their use and abuse of plastics with this take home Lotería de plástico! How many BINGOS can they get as they spend a week, a month, or even a quarter trying to cut back! Thank you to Talia (taliablock.com) for sharing and for allowing me to share!

Lotería de plástico

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!


To Speak or Not to Speak

Interpersonal Communication… The Silent Period… Presentational Mode… Affective Filter… How do we know what is right for our students? Honestly, I love reading the research but the truth is that we know what is right for OUR students by looking at OUR students.

Skits: For me, they didn’t work. I paired students up, they spoke English while they planned. They looked up a bunch of words in the dictionary. They either read in a monotone or presented with great enthusiasm… but no one understood them because they weren’t using the vocabulary we’d studied in class. So I nixed them.

Oral Presentations: For me, they didn’t work when it was one student in front of the class. It took a whole day in one section of Spanish 2 and 1.25 days in the other. It left everyone else with nothing to do while the presenter was speaking so I had to hush them all of the time. It was often like the skit in that students were presenting on a topic and had looked up words that the class did not know. So I nixed them too.

Then came the good ole’ speaking test. I gave a list of questions they might be asked and they planned how they would answer and responded to a set number of questions. Again, it took up a lot of class time leaving all but one student with nothing to do at any given time… It didn’t really show their ability because they had planned and memorized answers. It was boring. So I nixed that… Wow. I did a lot of nixing.

So what do I do then?

Gallery Style: If they are presenting a product, I have half of the class stand to present and the other half listen as “gallery patrons”. They listen to the presentation, follow up with 2 good questions and the presenter has to come up with 2 good answers on the spot. I wander around the room the whole time listening to the different presentations. In a class of 24-30 I have 12-15 rotations to be able to hear every student speak before I MUST ask them to switch places. I never need that many rotations (and if I ever felt like I didn’t hear someones presentation well, I would have everyone grab their product and record a FlipGrid presenting the work to me… then I’m able to get back to those I was not sure of).

Simple FlipGrid or LMS video: If I just want them to answer a specific question or tell what they know about a specific topic, I have them record their response on FlipGrid or through our Learning Management- EBackpack. I can then listen whenever I am ready! Whole class speaking assessed in 5-10 minutes! (Well… not graded but finished!)

Centers: If I want to have 1 on 1 time with them, I do a round of centers. While students do interpretive listening, presentational writing, and interpretive reading at the other centers, groups of 3-4 come to me and I can have a true interpersonal discussion with them about the topic. I love this best!

Story Retells: A great way to get them speaking is a 3 way story retell! I have mine start by telling the story to something with a face because we all need our warm up to be someone who isn’t judgey!


In round 2, they retell to someone sitting near them, and in round 3, when they’ve practiced and feel good about the story, they retell to me via FlipGrid! Each is on a 6 minute timer so even with the transition time, they are done in about 20-25 minutes!

Discussion Thursday: I use Discussion Thursday a LOT (and sometimes on Monday or Friday…) to get students having an interpersonal conversation about something we are reading or studying in class. By asking THEM to come up with the questions, to reply to each other, to agree and disagree, and to know when it is time to move on to the next question, I put the burden of leading the discussion on them. I am free to sit back and enjoy. I LOVE hearing them speak.

Comprehensible Input has a purpose. Of course we want to use the Target Language in class as much as we possibly can but why? So that our students become comfortable and confident using the language themselves! Plan for them to speak as a way to show off how much they’ve acquired in the class rather than as a practice to get better at something they don’t know yet! Fill them up with input and you’ll be amazed by what comes out!


The Year that is Going to Ruin my Life

Last year was hard. I have said many times that I spent the whole year trying to re-invent my lessons to engage a group of very quiet 4s and a group of VERY boisterous 2s… but this year is going to be the one to ruin the rest of my career.

They love everything. Level 4… loves everything.  The 2s who went on to 3… love everything. The new 2s… love everything.

They think my jokes are funny.

They think 10 min FVR twice a week is relaxing and stress relieving.

They think stories are fun.

They love Internado and Gran Hotel…

And guys…

Yesterday Spanish 2 was excited to do their written retell of Martina’s Oktapodi movie talk.

At first I thought it was just that they “seemed easy” because last year was difficult. Or that they were just waiting to show their true colors…

But they’re all.really.happy.

What am I going to do when I have a normal year again? A year with mostly happy kids and a few grouches? A year with students who don’t laugh at my dumb memes? A year when someone complains about everything?

I’ve decided I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I am going to THANK GOD and plan some great social justice stuff for these guys! 🙂

Hope your year treats you well and that if it is a hard one, next year is like this for you!!

What’s the Role of Vocabulary in the CI classroom?

This is a great question! And it is one that many people disagree over! Let’s look at some things we know from the research of Krashen and many others.

  1. Poor readers have the smallest vocabularies. Giving extensive lists just puts these struggling students at a greater disadvantage.
  2. Exposure to oral language promotes growth of vocabulary.
  3. Repetition improves acquisition of vocabulary.

What I know from my personal experience:

  1. As a student, I was given massive lists of vocabulary in both Spanish and English classes, out of context. I did well on the tests because I am a great memorizer. My friends didn’t all do well on the tests and had negative feelings about their own ability.
  2. As a reader in Spanish and English, my vocabulary gets bigger and bigger all the time! My students are only 14-18, I have to be realistic even about what is a cognate for them. It took me a long time to develop the vocabulary I have.
  3. I learn vocabulary I am interested in at a much higher rate than that which I am not… ex: Jim, my husband, tries telling me a computer thing and I get anxious because I don’t understand what he is saying. I respond by speaking Spanish to him so he can see how ridiculous this conversation is.  ex: I tell Jim about my nerdy science readings online and he says “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

What I see in my classroom:

  1. I give a few words that everyone needs to know and then allow lots of room to add self selected vocabulary. The words they choose for themselves are the ones they use most often in conversation.
  2. Even though I don’t give all the clothing (numbers, rooms of the house, etc) at one time, they acquire them all slowly through the year!
  3. They acquire a TON of words through reading!
  4. They actually acquire the vocabulary we use in the classroom! Those old lists I gave were deceptive. It made me FEEL like they were learning a lot more vocabulary than they were… but it was one of those cram and forget type of things for most of the kids.

Vocabulary is important! (If we don’t have words, we can never communicate.) That said, vocabulary has to be sheltered. If we throw too much out, we risk losing enrollment and feeding the mindset of  ‘I can’t learn a second language.’

Try the chuck-it bucket as a way to pare down to the basics and then add a few enrichment structures for the real superstars! If you can present small chunks of vocabulary as the “required structures” for each unit, then the pressure is off for your slower processors to acquire more than they can and the spotlight can shine on your faster processors as they pick up the extra little things you share in readings, in class discussions, and in stories/movie talks.

Have a great year sharing your passion with your students and be patient with them and with yourself. We are never going to be perfect! As a matter of fact, just today I read in Daniel Pink’s book Drive that mastery of anything is like an asymptote (google that one if you don’t remember from math class).  You get close but you never quite get there! In the end of it all, your students will really blow you away with the language they can produce after a year… and even more so the more years they come back!!


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Subliminal Grammar

Beginning in level 1, I recycle the verb structure “ir + a + infinitive” to allow my students to acquire the three major times by the time they finish level 4. In level 1, our stories are told in the present tense and I do PQA using the present tense of all of our new structures. In the past, I would not have dreamed that I could introduce the past and future tenses along side the present tense but to my students, it is all just a “chunk”. As we retell stories and make predictions throughout level 1, I am planting seeds of the past and future. We use Ben Slavic’s idea of Circling with Balls to get to know one another and lay a foundation of our present tense verbs.

In level 2, we really dig into stories in the past tense. We still do a lot of dialogue about the story in the present tense so we don’t completely lose what we’ve acquired there… but now I present my structures in the past tense. I don’t focus on words like preterite and imperfect because, to be honest, they don’t care. I have never had them get fired up about a lesson on those grammatical structures. Instead, we set the scene for a ton of stories and learn imperfect in context. We discuss all the bumps in the road for the characters of our novels and learn the preterite in context. We have all year! I don’t need to rush. As Scott Benedict says: Teach for June! In a twist on Circling with Balls, we talk about what we did over the summer. It is a great way to get the preterite in their minds as we prepare for a year of creating a LOT of past tense stories!

In level 3, I add the future tense endings to replace our use of “ir + a + infinitive.” If they never use this again, it is ok. On the AP, the AAPPL, the STAMP, they can use either and still reach the high intermediate and advanced low scores. In level 3, we set 2-3 goals for the current school year and start our year by talking about everyone’s plans! This is such a great way to start the year! First, we build a sense of class community as we find out which goals people have in common and which are unique. Second, my students have to write on the AAPPL every year about their goals and plans!

I do have a level 3 student who is very interested in the rules so I made this poster and am going to have my husband print it on the school poster printer so she can look whenever she wants to impress me! future-poster_32078816 (1)


In level 4, I introduce some super common subjunctive structures. Please know that they have been seeing subjunctive constructions in their reading since level 1 and we continually pop up “why does this ending look different?” “Because his mom wants him to but he might not!”

I used to drill subjunctive to death. I used to go into every possible use of the subjunctive under the sun. I used to do chants to memorize subjunctive endings. I used to make them memorize the trigger words for subjunctive. I also used to have small upper level classes. I used to have students who still wrote “yo hablar” in level 4… and these were the superstars who stuck it out in spite of how hard it was!

Now we start the year making this “if…then” statement: “If I were (partner’s name), I would ___.” They just draw themselves doing the activity and I tell the stories with them. Some hits this year: If I were Savannah, I would give Steven all my money. (Steven was the partner.) If I were Sally, I would be fabulous.  If I were Alyssa, I would cheer everywhere. (even in the school bathrooms it turns out)

Now I teach the most common subjunctive constructions so they have useable chunks and I actually see them pop up in their writing! Correctly! Even in kids who may not be the superstar Spanish student.

I’m going to make them a poster too! I have a guy in Spanish 4 who also loves to know all of the whys!

I know that many believe that CI/TPRS teachers don’t teach grammar. And while it is true that we don’t drill grammar, I probably expose them to more grammar that they can use and understand than I ever did before! When I taught it from the textbook, it was just a few pages of the chapter and we would leave each grammar piece behind as we moved on to the next. Now, I carry these concepts through all levels, spiraling in new and more complex ways to say things. It feels painless because they feel what sounds right as they get to the upper level classes! It’s a hallmark of intermediate language to self-correct! If you see it, praise it. That means it is being acquired!

Don’t be afraid of the word grammar! It is part of every language. Be afraid of making grammar inaccessible to all students. Offer the chart-minded posters, quick explanations, a link to conjuguemos.com but for the others, provide the chunks they need to communicate. You’ll love the results you see if you are patient with the process!

Subliminal Grammar

Re-reading to answer questions

I’m always looking for ways to get my students to re-read our stories and yet be engaged in the second reading! Today we read the story from my packet for the song To’ My Love. As a really easy 5 point assessment I asked 5 questions. They had to find 4 answers in the text and highlight them and write a text message for the 5th.

It was ZERO prep, it was super effective, and it was a great exit ticket! You could literally do this with ANY story you read in class! Give it a try!

Screenshot 2018-08-23 16.55.13

The Train is Rolling

I started back to school last Thursday with a full day teacher’s institute. I had been in my classroom at the end of July shooting some tutorial videos with my students and Señor Wooly and already had the bug to get back in the swing but I did enjoy the three final summer weeks!

It’s funny, last year I had challenges in the classroom that I hadn’t had for 10+ years. It was a difficult year a lot of days. As the first day with students drew closer, I have to admit that I was a little nervous about a repeat! The year had left me tired from all the adapting, rewriting, and reworking I had to do to engage and encourage the students I had in front of me! Whether they wanted to be in front of me or not!

Last Friday, I even woke up with a stomach ache! I haven’t done that since my first day at the new school, the day the principal at my old school was mad at me for making popcorn for my 8th hour class, or the day the parent was mad because I taught about immigration (which he said is illegal). But the day came and went, and with it a whole new beginning! It was a GREAT day! We are going to have an amazing year in Wildcat Spanish this year. (Technically we did last year too… it was just exhausting!)

I’ve got 3 days in now and we’re doing all kinds of bonding in our new class communitites. In a variation of Ben Slavic’s Circling with Balls, my Spanish 2 are discussing what they and their classmates did over the summer (past tense stories), Spanish 3 have made 2 goals for the 2018-19 school year (future goals), and Spanish 4 are discussing what they would do if they could spend a day as a classmate (if… then with the subjunctive!) They’ve done their first FVR today (8 minutes at level 2-4), done their first song of the week (To’ my love- Bomba Estéreo), and are prepping for their first story from the same song packet! Before we know it, we’ll have a quarter behind us! And as crazy as it sounds, a whole semester… that second quarter goes by in a flash.

Have a GREAT year! Enjoy the ones you have in front of you and remember that if it is a challenging year, the next can be a new beginning! Don’t lose hope!

Sustainable Development Goals

Have you heard of the SDGs? If you are interested in tackling some of the sustainable development goals in your classroom but don’t know where to begin, there are teacher authors who can help you!

The 17 goals are:

  1. No poverty (free)
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well being
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequality (free)
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, Justice, and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for the goals

I’m trying little by little to create a unit to address each of the SDGs. My units are on sale tomorrow, August 21, for 25% off with the code BTSBoost18! Do you have a unit to share that addresses one of the goals?