Brain Break #3: Números

With thanks to my Capturing Kids’ Hearts training…

With a partner, face to face, students count to three, alternating.

P1: uno 

P2: dos

P1: tres 

P2: uno, etc.

After 15 seconds, leader says “aplauso” and a clap replaces one.

P1: *clap*

P2: dos

P1: tres 

P2: *clap*, etc.

After 15 seconds or so, the leader says “¡brinca!” and a toe raise replaces “dos”. The only number said is “tres.”

Then, after 15 seconds or so, the leader says “¡pie!” and “tres” is replaced by lifting the left leg behind the right and slapping the bottom of the shoe with the right hand. 

So in the end it’s:

P1: *clap*

P2: *bounce*

P1: *slap foot with hand*

P2: *clap*, etc.

P1: *bounce*

P2: *slap foot with hand”

Takes about 1:30, takes minds off of a difficult task, gets the blood flowing, then back to work!

Brain Break #2: Enano/gigante 

Ripped this off from Misael again…great for a 1 minute activity to get the blood moving…

Like Simon Says, the kids get up and leader says “enano” and the kids “get short” by squatting or “gigante” and the kids get big by standing up as tall as they can.  The leader tries to trick the kids by saying enano twice or by saying the commands fast.  Kid messes up, kid is out.

After a minute or so, back to work!

Brain Break #1: Chocolate

I totally ripped this off from my tico friend Misael who is a chef in Costa Rica.  Start off in a big circle (4+ people) and have the kids stand with their palms up.  


Choco choco la la

Choco choco te te

Choco la

Choco te

Choco  la  te

The first to go takes his/her right hand, reaches across his/her body and says the first part of the lyric, choco, while slapping the hand of the person to their left.  That second person then says the next word, choco, and slaps the hand of the person to his/her left.  Play continues until the last “te.”  

If the penultimate person says “te” and slaps the last person’s hand, the last person is out.  If the last person moves his/her hand out of the way causing the penultimate person to miss, the penultimate person is out.

Continue play until there are 3.  Then the three form a triangle and play like this:

Hands up (like a high five)

Open palms for choco

Back of palms for la

Fists for te 


First person to mess up is out.  With two, play the same way with two hands.

Variation: when a word (choco, la, or te) is doubled, the person meant to say it must double slap the person to his/her left.

Either way, the whole group can say the lyrics or the individuals can say only their word.

Sounds complicated but it moves fast once you get going.  High school sophomores through seniors love this!

Professional development success!


It has been awhile since I’ve posted to the blog primarily due to the fact that I’ve been grading AP exams, started the process of getting graduation on track (I’m the commencement coordinator for our school), and preparing for our final professional development day.

Our school and district often allows us some autonomy with PD topics. I requested time to run a workshop with our high school World Language teachers about moving to a Comprehensible Input / communicative-focused classroom.  (Link to Google Slide presentation…it’s pretty bare bones. Here is the agenda which has some good resources at the bottom.)

The workshop was a success!  The only teachers in attendance (as this PD day was not required) were an ASL teacher and the other HS Spanish teachers.  That was fine, the small group worked well even though I had prepared to present to a larger group.

After watching (part of…lots of pauses for discussion!) the Bill Van Patten MiWLA presentation from 2013, my colleagues seemed to be coming to a solid understanding of the theory behind CI and communication in the classroom.  Of course, as many teachers are, this group is one of doers so they were fired up to start seeing concrete examples of what CI and communication look like in practice as well as start in on making changes to our curriculum.

Here’s what I learned from them:

1) Most teachers already do some form of communication and CI so this change won’t be as shocking as they thought.  They were happy to know that they won’t have to toss all of their good ideas from the past in favor of a new way of teaching.  Now it’s time for us to focus on making communication and CI the heart and soul of our curriculum.

2)  One teacher shared how she was introducing clothing in a very communicative way while being observed by an administrator.  While she was doing a vocabulary introduction giving the kids good input using props and engaging the kids in conversation, the administrator marked her down as she thought the activity might be confusing to kids.  To me this was very important because it shows the need to educate the administration about the role of input in SLA as well as what they should expect to see when visiting our classrooms.  The point has been made that WL teachers are not teachers in the traditional sense and that language cannot be taught how other subjects are taught.  I am hoping to meet with our admin (maybe over the summer?) to educate them on the research.

3)  The culture of department is ripe for collaboration and we  will be going about this work with joy!  There are reasons not worth mentioning here about why this is but moving toward CI and communication is going to bring our department together in a positive way.

4) I’ve learned a lot by reading research and following great teachers on Twitter, there’s a lot I don’t know!  I guess that means that there is more to learn!

Next Steps

1) We are going to request district-sponsored curriculum days to work on this change during the upcoming summer break;

2) Between now and then we will be starting to develop a curriculum guide via a Google Docs template I have to make;

3) Personally, I will spend some of this summer developing materials and searching through the countless resources available on-line.  I’m certain my colleagues will be doing the same for the classes they will be teaching…ahem…guiding.

My goal has been for our WL department (in particular the Spanish division of the department) to become a world-class program.  These first steps put us on the path for that dream to become a reality.

Nevertheless, my mantra is and will continue to be:

Vista larga, pasos cortos

(Long view, short steps…Pitbull said this in the HBO documentary Latin Explosion and it has stuck with me.)

Paella Proficiency

OK, so I really like the ideas I’ve seen about explaining proficiency to the students, especially making tacos.  So, I wanted to make my own little explanation to my Spanish 3 & 4 students about proficiency so I used…PAELLA.  Here are my explanations of each level (which changes by class).

1) You got the paellera out but don’t know what to do with it!

2) You’ve got the rice out so you’ve got the bare minimum basics.

3)  You’ve added the azafrán  y cebollas (saffron and onion) so you’ve got some flavor to your sentences!

4)  You’ve added veggies so the dish is starting to come together.  You can quit now and have a delicious meal.

5)  You’ve made a true paella valenciana and have added chicken, chorizo, seafood, and lemons to make a truly beautiful meal.

I like this because it’s cultural and explains the proficiency guidelines in a different manner.  Plus many of my students are familiar with paella because they either attend ed or heard me talk about the annual Paella Party at the world-famous Zingermann’s deli in Ann Arbor, MI so that helps too.

Here’s a link to my document (.docx format).  Feel free to steal this idea!!!

Cross-curricular success-ish

I’m starting to learn the good/bag/ugly of this unit…

As a recap, I introduced the topic of health, fitness, and nutrition via a conversational PowerPoint then the kids surveyed each other on what activities they do and how often (see page 4).

The next step is where we are at now: the kids are in equipos of 5-6.  Their job is to aggregate the data and create two charts or graphs that represent a) the most popular activities of the class and b) whether the class tends to be an active class or sedentary class.  The final step is comparing the classes later this week.


When I was the center of the conversation with students, I was able to get them to answer questions

During the interview stages, the students spent a good portion of the time speaking Spanish (albeit guided).  They were also getting highly-repetitive vocab (spoken and read) while speaking and now analyzing the data.  For the most part, the Ss spoke lots of Spanish and some even made them mini-conversations…others, not so  much (which leads me to thinking about participation grades, another post soon I’m sure).

I’m leaving a lot of the graphing up to them which is really causing some cross-curricular and  analytic thinking on their part…an somewhat intended consequence of the lesson but I didn’t expect them to have to be so analytic.  I see some real critical thinking and problem solving happening here which is great!  I’ve longed to embed this in my teaching but explicit grammar and vocabulary teaching just didn’t allow for that.

My biggest problem, though…

I’m a little (ok, a lot) concerned about the lack of communication and/or input during the graphing days but I think the graphs can lead to more communication.  It’s not perfect, for sure, but at least they are reading Spanish (repetitive input) while creating the graphs.

I want to spend as much time as I can in the target language as possible (we call it #TL90 [90% of the time in the target language]) and this graphing part of the unit is not allowing for that.

Am I worrying too much?  I know Bill Van Patten has said repeatedly  on his podcast ( that not everything done in class needs to be communicative but it should be the focus.  That still doesn’t stop me from worrying I’m missing something here.

Next steps:

We are going to do lot of communication summarizing our findings.  I’m thinking of doing a gallery walk of the graphs in partners and have them talk in Spanish about what they are seeing and maybe even write sentences summarizing what they learn.  We’ll also compare classes’ exercise habits.  Then we’ll move on to the talk about nutrition using this article: Top 5 Obese Latino Countries (adapted).

Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to fit a round peg into a square hole by adapting our current curriculum into a communicative setting so I’m doing the best I can.  I hope that this summer we can re-work some of the curriculum to make things a lot more interesting to the students.

A toe in the water…

Will it be too hot in the hot tub?

So, I did it: I announced to the kids in Spanish 3 & 4 that there will be no more (explicitly-taught) vocabulary or grammar quizzes the remainder of the year.  I just couldn’t continue on the old way in good conscience.

We are just beginning a new unit on health & exercise in Spanish 3 and I am trying to make this as communicative as possible.  Here’s what I have planned:

Document Link (ever evolving)

1) I cut the vocabulary list down to about 25 words.  Maybe that’s too many but I’m not teaching these explicitly.

2) I came up with a set of can-do statements.  Here they are:

Can-Do Statements

Interpersonal Communication

⃞ I can talk with a classmate about 3 things I do to exercise or stay in shape OR talk with somebody about 3 things I’d prefer to do instead of exercise.  In both cases, I can explain where, how often, with whom, and why I exercise (or why I don’t).

⃞ I can talk with a classmate about their eating habits including what I eat, when I eat, and how often I eat giving some details.

Presentational Speaking

⃞ I can describe my exercise & eating habits and how they relate to those of my peers.

Interpretive Listening

⃞ I can understand others when they describe their exercise and eating habits.

3) I created a PowerPoint/Google Slide presentation (click here) that I have been using to talk with students about what I like/dislike doing.  After going through this a few times, I began to ask them about what they like/dislike to do.  I thought they’d understand almost everything at first but…

A) they haven’t quite figured out what mantenerse en forma means…this is a tough word for them.

B) I ask them the open-ended question first but nearly every student needed me to drop down to a either/or question.

This formula is a great way for me to do a quick formative assessment of their learning.  It’s only day 2 so with more input they will get it!

Students are going to interview each other about what they like/dislike and how often they do certain activities and then we are going to create a profile of our class activities.   I’m thinking that students have to make a graph that represents some aspects of our class.  Not quite sure how I’m going to do that next.

Going Forward

We will move on to discussing our eating habits soon.  I’m planning to adapt this article about obesity in Mexico to be more comprehensible for the students.  We can discuss our own eating habits too.

I’m developing this on the fly. I still don’t know how I’m going to assess any of this.  That’s my biggest struggle.  Any ideas?

UPDATE: Several students stayed after both of my Spanish 3 classes and told me they like this new way of learning language so much  more than before!  They are really fired up to learn to communicate.  That keeps my fire for change burning!!!


The conversation begins…

Since I started teaching, I think I have a reputation as the grammar nerd.  I love grammar and have pushed my students towards high grammatical heights in the upper levels.  So when I started this process of moving my teaching from explicit grammar and vocabulary instruction, one of my biggest insecurities about the process has been breaching the topic with colleagues.  I’m not by nature an insecure person  but I’ve been worried.

Over the past few days, though, I started the conversation and my colleagues’ reactions have been great!  My colleagues, like I, am excited to grow professionally and support each other.  There is a very positive vibe to the department now (especially after very recently experiencing major personnel changes) and the future is bright.

We have a professional development day scheduled for May and I am hoping we can use that time to dig deeper into the topic of comprehensible input and implicit teaching.

Does anybody out there have any resources they could point me toward that would be good for our department to study and discuss, especially in the nascent stage of a major change?

Thanks for your time!