AP Naipes de Conversación

So I’ve been using Señora Share’s outstanding AP starters in my AP Spanish Language and Culture class this year but I’m really having a hard time keeping my Thursday Conversation Circles going. So today, I came up with this game that I haven’t tried but couldn’t wait to share.

Kids sit on the floor in a circle with a deck of cards in the middle. The teacher gives the topic and says “go!” The 10 minute timer begins.

Kids begin with no cards. Every time a kid asks a question, answers a question, or even speaks a sentence within the context of the conversation, he/she draws a card up to 5 cards. Once he/she reaches 5 cards, that person can discard a card and take a new one from the pile.

The goal of the game (other than stimulating quick-paced conversations) is to be the first to make a run of 5 (A-5, 3-7, 8-Q, etc.) or a flush of 5 (i.e., all the same suit). At the end of 10 minutes if nobody has a run or flush of 5, the person who is closest to a run or flush of 5 wins. If one student has a run of 4 and another has a flush of 4, the flush wins. Any other ties can be broken by coin flip or rock/paper/scissors/(lizard/Spock).

Variation: play for the best poker hand. Most kids don’t know poker so this might not work.

Prizes for the winners! Keep a long-term record of winners for a grand champion if you wish.

Have a deck of Mus cards? Even better!

Like I said, I haven’t tried this yet but I feel like it’s going to be a popular game.

Let me know if it works for you, any modifications you can think of, and feel free to share with your colleagues.


A good start… Reflecting on 2016-17

This was my first year completely putting CI as the focus of my instruction.  I implemented various techniques gleaned from Twitter, fellow colleagues, the Mitten CI called conference, as well as TPRS methods I learned through various blogs & websites.  At the end of the year, I asked my students to fill out a survey that would give me insight into their reaction to the new way of learning. Here are my reflections on the year as well as on what I learned from the student surveys.  I want to do this publicly so it would give me some accountability as to the changes I plan to make for next year. I learned a lot throughout the school year, the most important lesson which is that I have a lot more to learn, which is a tough pill to swallow after 16 years of teaching. Nevertheless, I know that pulling CI at the center of my classroom instruction will lead to better communication and understanding of Spanish and I am pleased with my first try at it. As one of my students once said, the first pancake is never the best. I had some great successes and some failures along the way. I will learn from both of them and strive to get better.

Classroom Environment

Setting up a safe classroom environment based around strong relationships with the students has always been a strong suit of mine. Survey results seem to reflect this as well. I believe that implementing Capturing Kids’ Hearts training also lead to stronger relationships throughout the classroom. However, it’s tough to maintain this throughout the year. One of the biggest challenges that I have always had teaching is making sure to form relationships with every single student. That can be very daunting, especially when there are 180 students to get to know personally. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get to know every student personally. I want to focus on doing better. I tend to know some kids better than others and that is something that I’ve never been truly happy with. Next year I want to be sure to engage with the students on a personal level more often. 

Also, while we’re on the topic, some students expressed the desire to have one with more one on one conversation with me in Spanish throughout the year as opposed to just midterm and final. That is definitely something I’m going to work on next year. I want to provide more opportunities for the students to have conversations with me, both formally and informally, to both improve their language and improve our relationships.  Students actually like to speak Spanish with the teacher!  I, of course, do too.
One classroom environment area where I failed is my transition to a deskless classroom.  Students especially felt uncomfortable in this city environment, primarily because it was difficult to sir & take notes without a desk. I think this reflects more on my practice then the actual seating arrangement. I believe I try to maintain an more traditional way of teaching in some aspects.  I change the classroom seating without changing the classroom practice. If I did more activities in which the students just simply had to speak or engage with the language as opposed to writing things, I believe I would have been more successful without desks.  So this is one area about which I have a lot of thinking to do.   Is it beneficial to maintain the deskless environment or should I go back to desks so the students will feel more comfortable? This is a question that will cause me to do much thinking since I truly enjoyed having no desks in my classroom.  I believe that I could maybe work on rearranging the classroom to find a happy medium where the students will have places to write when necessary. 

Classroom Activities

It seems that my goal to maintain the use of Spanish for at least 90% of the time was for the most part successful.  I would guesstimate that I probably maintain the use of Spanish 90% or more on about 85% of the days. There were days where the use of the language was less than others. Again, I believe this speaks to the activities that I have the students work on. There were days when the students will be working on individual assignments or SmashDoodles where are use the language a lot less. I don’t know, it’s tough because usually it’s hard to maintain 90% of the language every single day. It can be very tiring, both to the teacher and the student, but that doesn’t seem like an excuse to me. I think those days where I didn’t use the language as much could’ve been filled with more engaging see I activities such as MovieTalks.  

I really don’t know why, but I also did not give as much homework as I had in the past. This was a mistake. I believe that the times that I didn’t use the language as much with the days that the students we’re working on activities that could better have been done at home. Next year, I really think that I am going to make sure that everything we do in class is based around communication and any worksheets or SmashDoodles will be done at home. This may not be a popular idea with the students but if it increases the amount of language used in the classroom and the amount of communication of the students engage with, it will be worth the few extra hours of work at home per week.

At the beginning of the year, while reviewing the syllabus, I told the students at the number one job was to stop me when they did not understand something. I set it at the beginning of the year and left it there. When I asked the students if they felt like I gave them the verbal and nonverbal tools to stop me when they did not understand something, the survey results show that I failed in this area. Next year, I want to give the students a green and red card so they can hold up when they do not understand something. It is also a skill that I will be sure to teach during the first few weeks of the year. Students need to know that when I ask them a question they should be prepared to answer in Spanish. However, if they can’t see the words that they want to say, English is fine. This is another skill that I did not emphasize enough with my students at the beginning of the year. Especially for students that are in the Intermediate Low proficiency, they need to show me that they are understanding no matter what language it is in.

Another area in which I would like to improve next year is spending more of the first few weeks of school teaching and using high-frequency verbs because I felt like the students did not feel as comfortable using those high-frequency verbs in the context. Students do not realize that knowing just a handful of verbs can help them communicate better.

One area in which I had much success was using acting, body language, and nonverbal cues to read to and communicate with students students.  This is a skill that I can build upon next year. If this is something that I am good at, I can exploit that to help students understand the language that there are hearing and reading.


Spanish 3

La llorona legend, La llorona de Mazatlán, holiday culture & vocab including the Justino video were successful ways to keep comprehensible input at the center of our instruction. I feel like two novels plus some other activities at the beginning of the year who are sufficient bases from which to operate. I know that my colleague and I have discussed more directly connecting the activities that we do from these novels and ancillary resources to the ACTFL Can-Do statements to focus on real world skills. While it was nice to learn about culture and read the stories, some of the students expressed that they didn’t feel that what we learned was useful in the real world. Language should be useful in the real world so by connecting to can-do statements we should be able to achieve more real world application. This will help the students see those connections as well.  It will also be helpful to have clear learning targets.  It was a great start and with a little bit of extra work we should make this curriculum better.

Spanish 4

I will continue to use El Internado next year as this was definitely a favorite of most of the students. What I will do better with the show is make it more comprehensible to the students. Even though the students just want to keep watching the show without doing any pre-viewing activities, I will be sure that we slow down and do the activities necessary ahead of viewing.

I also plan to use novels next year in Spanish 4. One of the aspects that the students did mention in the surveys, however, is that they did not feel that they have enough exposure to grammar.  Despite the numerous times that I expressed to them that grammar will not help them learn a language, I will provide opportunities for students to study and learn grammar outside of the classroom. This will allow students to feel better about the grammar but not take up any time in the classroom where we can be using the language to communicate. This idea of “flipping” grammar came from the CI Liftoff Facebook group so thanks to them for their support.

Spanish 4 will look different than it has the past few years- the benefit of being the only level 4 teacher!  This is the class in which I plan to make the biggest changes since Spanish 3 should require less planning next year than it did this year. Time management definitely was a challenge for me this year. Hopefully next year it will be easier. I know it won’t.


I will most definitely be spending more time on the conversation part of the test throughout the year.  I also plan to use more podcasts and continue watching El Internado next year.  Next year’s group will be much different than this year’s group. However, I will be thinking about ways to encourage the students to read the selections outside of class. One idea that I have had is to assign the reading 2 to 3 days ahead of the day that we will actually be discussing it in class. This will allow students who are very busy to have more opportunities to do the reading. Also, I plan to give more pop quizzes about the reading next year to encourage the students to read. I don’t want to make reading a negative experience, however it is absolutely necessary to spend a few days in the text. Perhaps I have been giving the students to little time to actually complete the very difficult readings. Even short readings that I feel should be easy for them can be very challenging and if they don’t have enough time the students most likely will not do it or not read in-depth.   Also, I would like to spend more time doing pre-teaching activities related to the vocabulary. This can easily be accomplished through TPRS methods that have been successful thus far. The biggest challenge for AP students is vocabulary and I want to focus more on vocabulary next year. They will want grammar and that will be accomplished outside of the classroom at home.

Final Thoughts 

It was a successful year with many small victories throughout. However, making such a radical change to my teaching style will take time to sharpen hone my skills. I am the kind of person who expects great results immediately and I did not get them. I know that I probably am being overly critical of myself.  Nevertheless, the students spoke a lot of Spanish and can produce a lot more than they could with the traditional style of teaching. Grammar and vocabulary lists are a thing of my past and I do not plan to return to that style of teaching ever. With communication is the center of my classroom, I don’t think I can really go wrong. I feel like this is a lot like learning the game of chess.  It’s easy to learn the basic moves but becoming an expert at it will take years. All I can do is try to continue to grow, reflect, and grow again. I plan to move forward with this next year and make it a great experience for both the students and myself. We had a lot of fun throughout the year and accomplish quite a bit. It will only get better.

PS: I used the diction function on the iPad keyboard to write most of this.  I did edit it but if there are some funky areas, I am sorry!

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 

(Like: http://bit.ly/2cqdmTO)

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 (www.teawithbvp.com) 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.